Where I’m At
One of the great things about getting a place on the ODI Fellowship Scheme in February 2013 is that I’ve had the luxury of a couple of years where I haven’t had to be planning my next steps. That felt good after questions of my immediate future preying on my mind since I was 16 (when I did not have the imagination to think I could ever end up in Zanzibar).
However, my contract at the Zanzibar Planning Commission will finish in October and I will move on. I love these islands and their people but two years is a good length of time in a small place (despite what the UK International Development Committee says about longer postings).
I expect work to get busier and busier up until the end and I will be able to achieve more in each day given what I’ve learnt about the language, the country and the systems. I’ll be working with others to finish the Energy Sector Review, organise careers fairs and whale surveys, plan and deliver Results for Prosperity ‘Labs’ in education and health, train and support colleagues in soft skills, review the current five-year economic growth and poverty reduction strategy and (insh’allah) have a draft of the new strategy ready by the time I leave. Most of all, I’m going to learn a huge amount. But that’s for another blog post.
Frankly, I don’t know what I’m going to do next.
I don’t know what continent I’ll be on, let alone which country. I don’t know whether I’ll be working for the private sector, government, international organisation, NGO or social enterprise. I’m going to be in a situation where I’m not committed to a job or a flat (and probably not a relationship but who knows). The radical freedom could easily paralyse me into inaction.
I could be terrified by this but right now I find it hugely liberating.
For the first time, I have the chance to really choose where I want to concentrate my effort and time and think a bit more long-term. That doesn’t mean I’m going to make a ten-year plan but it does mean I’m thinking about (a) the skills, expertise and connections I have, (b) how someone like me can create the most change for good in the world, and (c) what I can learn to enhance and complement my strengths and deal with my weaknesses.
A Rough Plan
I’m not planning to go straight into another job (though it could still happen). Immediately after the end of my contract I will travel around Eastern and Southern Africa, reading, writing and meeting those working in the development industry. I hope to make a personal project of some kind out of this but I’m in the early stages of working out how to do this. I’ll also take the chance to be a tourist, go gorilla trekking and see Victoria Falls.
Learning Swahili has shown me the joy of speaking another language well enough to have a proper conversation with a native speaker. It has also given my the confidence in my language-learning abilities. Therefore, I’m picking up French again over the next year (I did it for A Level) and will go on an immersion course at the beginning of 2016 to really step it up and gain a long-term skill.
After that, things are more open. Part of me wants to travel more – maybe Northern India, Central Asia and South-East Asia. If I took this option, I would make a point to ensure I pick up some skills along the way – maybe web design and coding, Photoshop and video-editing – as well as read all the books and reports I’ve been saving up over the last couple of years.
Working towards a job without applying
At no point do I want to be avoiding getting a job because I’m worried about applying. I want to learn and travel because the freedom I’ll have is rare and special. I want to use that in the most creative way I can and set myself up for something awesome.
I’m using a website called “50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good” that presents fifty exercises such as “rethinking your industry“, “sitting quietly in a room for 45 minutes” and “Go to a jobs board then leave“. I have a year before I need to be starting another job and aim to go through most, if not all, of these exercises to give myself some structure.
As well as background reading around the options available, I plan to talk to a lot of people about what the future holds for development practitioners in a complex world, whether I want to influence policy, be a disruptor or just Do Development Differently. One person I met up with over Christmas suggested I work in arms trading to then work out how to stop it!
I’ll record at least some of my journey on this blog. I welcome all help, suggestions and mentorship so please comment or get in touch by whatever means makes sense to you.