Countries: Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, East Timor, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Uganda, USA
Sectors: Emergency response, peacebuilding, early childhood education, agriculture, value chain, market systems development, microfinance, civil society, disaster preparedness/reduction, economic development.
Positions held: Field Monitor, Communications Officer, Project Manager, Program Manager, Regional Program Officer, Country Director, Interim Executive Director, Interim Chief of Staff.
Languages: English, French, Serbo-Croatian
The answer seems simple now, but took coaching and a great deal of reflection to get there. After more than twenty years in relief and development, I know where I have the most impact and from where I derive the greatest energy and motivation. After a great deal of scouring of job descriptions, I realized the best way for me to have a job that allows me to focus on what I do best was to create it myself.
Now I can focus on the people, projects, and skills areas and engage and partner with people I value and with whom I share the same goals. I want relief and development workers and their programs to live up to their full potential and bring about the positive change that is their motivation.
I know what it feels like to be at the top of the pyramid, ultimately responsible for every decision- big and small; responsible for raising enough funds to keep programs running in the community, people employed, and the doors open; balance what you and your team know is the meaningful path forward for those you serve with what institutional donors with political interests have decided is right- all while managing an insecure work environment occasionally experiencing rapid onset disasters.
In order to be successful in leadership roles in the field, I have always been guided by these beliefs:
Everyone has talent: Over the years I have become a strong believer that everyone has talent. A good leader will figure out what talent each person has, push them to develop and maximize it, and configure and re-configure the team to ensure that people’s talents are matched correctly with their role in the team. Often, people have just lacked opportunities to discover, build, and express their talents- or may simply lack the confidence in themselves.
Ask and Listen: I approach everything I do by asking a lot of questions, and listening to others, before drawing conclusions and making changes or recommendations. Checking my assumptions about what I know and don’t know, and what others have done or not done is an important part of my approach.
People appreciate honesty and transparency: Although transparency can sometimes feel tricky and risky (it is!) I have always found that in the long run, people appreciate being treated as adults and shown respect. The long term organizational benefits of being open with people, even when it is hard on management in the short term, are always worth it.
My job is to work myself out of the job: When I was a Program Manager, my goal was always to nationalize my position, in other words, build up the capacity of locally-hired staff so that it was no longer necessary to bring in third-country nationals to fill that role. I see the objective of any program or international NGO to be the same- we should always be incorporating skills and knowledge transfer and capacity building, at the individual professional level, and programmatic level.