Regina, from Zimbabwe, was a Progressio Development Worker in Somaliland with the Horn Youth Development Association (HYDA), from August 2010 to January 2012.
What have you done since leaving Progressio and what are you currently doing?
I had a short stint with the BBC World Service Trust, now rebranded BBC Media Action, where I managed a multimillion UNICEF-funded Nutrition, Health and Hygiene Project and a UNDP-funded HIV Health Project in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
After an exciting eight months of project management, I joined the United Mission in South Sudan as an Information Analyst. My current job entails collecting, coordinating and analysing information from a wide range of sources to be used as a decision-making and planning tool for the State, building effective networks with State Authorities, international partners, civil society and the humanitarian community, and maintaining up-to-date knowledge and understanding of political, social and security issues.
Please describe your role and the partner organisation that you worked with as a Progressio Development Worker
As a Development Worker with HYDA, my role was to develop the partner organisation’s media initiatives, transforming and strengthening the management of resources and programme-specific communications. This included activities to enhance the partner organisation’s visibility in national, regional and international media, and helping to develop programme-specific communications and media strategies, organisational development and capacity building techniques and methods.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker?
Before joining the Progressio family, I had already been exposed to the Development Worker model twice and so I did not think twice about it when I first applied for the placement. I was looking for a unique chance to make a difference both to myself and others. Being a Development Worker meant I would be able to change other people’s lives for the better and tackle the structures and rules that keep people poor (both economically and otherwise). It is not something that happens overnight, but every little effort goes a long way! Most of all, I love working with people because I believe I am a charismatic person, even if I say so myself. If you have to work with people from diverse backgrounds, you will definitely need that…and in abundance too!
What struck you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model/approach?
Progressio works for justice, development and the eradication of poverty, using capacity building and advocacy as tools for achieving its mandate. Both justice and social equity have the same values or principles – equality, rights and fairness. It would be fair to say each of them cannot have much meaning or carry any weight without the other. I firmly believe in these concepts and my interpersonal and relationship-building skills, developed from a not-for-profit and communication orientated background, blended in well with the Progressio Development Worker approach and mandate.
What did you enjoy most about your role, and of your experience as a Development Worker?
Managing and coordinating the partner organisation’s resources, right from setting budgets to developing and implementing strategy, was a varied and infinitely rewarding role. Development Workers are placed with local organisations to enable them to give local communities the strength to find their own solutions to the problems they face. Knowing that as a Development Worker I played an inspirational role gave me pleasure beyond measure and motivated me to do even better in my role.
My former jobs armed me with ambition and entrepreneurial skills and these came in handy when it came to working in a less structured and more democratic environment. I think in a way the ability to blend in comfortably with the local community and live among them is one thing that local communities admire most and feel good about. It sends that message that, “I am one of you”, and fosters strong social and working relations between the Development Worker and the community. Working as a Development Worker is not just about giving, it enriches you in terms of cultural exchange (cultural diversity) and believe me, that I got plenty of!
What were some of your main achievements while working as a Development Worker?
Working collaboratively on every level, I ensured programmes were efficient and effective and built strong external relationships with government officials, donors and both Progressio and other NGO partners to create opportunities, synergy and coordination. The partner organisation were exposed to national, regional and international platforms through a revamped organisational website and internal and external networking. Through the use of one of Progressio’s comprehensive Capacity Assessment (CAP) tools, I was able to point out the staff training needs and organisational gaps, while the same tool was also used to steer the strategic planning process during its initial stages. Staff were developed and inspired, ensuring they were enthused and able to achieve their goals. Funding proposals yielded positive outcomes as the partner organisation secured funding for its health programmes during my tenure. I believe the partnership with the donor is still on-going. Two other programmes (a youth and a women’s programme) also got donor funding during my stint with HYDA.
And what were some of the key challenges and lessons learnt?
As in most parts of the world, some people in influential positions can easily throw a spanner in the works, rendering efforts made useless. I am used to driving growth and managing critical relationships in a challenging environment, particularly if that growth is positive social change and contributing to the future of the people I am working with. Somaliland is a changing country and so are the programmes. Being a strategic thinker means I rely on my leadership and creativity to lead on this change. The ability to plan strategically and coordinate people, projects and resources, came in handy as I felt confident managing change and influencing others. Generally, it was smooth-sailing as most Somalilanders are honest, understanding and willing to give it their all.
Did this experience change you as a person in any way? If so in what way(s)?
I have learnt to be empathetic, open to other people’s perspectives and way of conducting things and, above all, I have learnt in my line of work to approach anything I do with humility and tread very cautiously. I have been unfortunate to witness in some instances how a careless approach has brought about disastrous consequences. My job gave me an opportunity to have first-hand knowledge of Somaliland and a sound understanding of international development issues. My motivation, passion and innovative approach helped me really make a difference while the ability to be sensitive to other people’s ways of doing things enriched me in terms of learning alternative means of overcoming challenges. It is true that every day we learn something new and better, and we will never gain from it until we open ourselves and be receptive to these inputs, regardless of who is giving them to us.
Did your experience as a Development Worker influence your career/future direction, and help you to get to where you are today? If so, how?
My role as a Development Worker at HYDA included programme design and implementation, as well as working with government, civil society, academia and research. Setting up robust systems to review project outputs, ensuring quality management of the projects, work plan, staff and resources, and being involved in the design and coordination of monitoring and evaluation activities, played a major role in my decision to settle on project management as my next challenge – hence my move to BBC MA. My current job also entails maintaining up-to-date knowledge and understanding of political, social and security issues – a skill that I gained solid experience of while I was at HYDA.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a Development Worker?
If you are not flexible, have no patience and are not willing to venture into the unknown, then a Development Worker role is not for you. Be prepared to get involved in situations where you take a risky short-term decision in order to ensure that a longer-term goal would be achieved, or a future problem avoided. If you value the contribution each person makes to the success of the work/organisation you are placed with, you can expect a wide range of rewards, benefits and flexibility that will ensure you enjoy a good work/life balance. Above all, be passionate about being a Development Worker, you will enjoy it!