I’m cross posting a blog by Weh Yeoh, Sub-Editor at WhyDev on the importance of mentoring & connecting isolated aid workers. Worth supporting it!
International development work is often difficult, exhausting, and isolating. Many people who seek to serve and live abroad often become burned out by the overwhelming nature of their work. In isolated places, often the only people you can turn to for support are your boss or your partner. For various reasons, neither of these are a good choice.
However, we know that the support of a peer is an easy and effective way to reduce stress, burnout and, just as importantly, have access to someone to bounce ideas off.
This is why we, at whydev.org, have decided to build an online platform where international aid volunteers and workers can connect and discuss their challenges and experiences, allowing them the opportunity to support others across the globe who are also making a difference. Knowing that the world of aid and development is under-resourced as is, we think our idea fits well. This service does not require more resources to be added to the sector (in the form of professional mentors, coaches or counselors), but rather, builds on existing resources that are not connected.
We would like to think that it’s the first of its kind – an international support network for isolated aid workers.
Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea. Since asking for expressions of interest earlier this year, we’ve had over 320 people sign up to our pilot program. This is great news for everyone involved, because the larger the pool, the more likely we’ll be able to achieve a good match.
One international aid worker said, “I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.”
It is perspectives like this that make us want to keep working towards creating this platform. But, this is where we need your help. We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign over on StartSomeGood where people can chip in amounts of money, small or large, to help us get this project going. If you are reading this post, chances are you are either working, studying or are at least interested in aid and development. Therefore, you’re probably the right demographic to understand the difficulties that aid workers can face across the globe.
Jennifer Lentfer, of How Matters, writes that having self-awareness of your own qualities and needs is crucial in becoming an effective aid worker. If you want to help us to build a future that supports the needs of aid workers across the globe, then this may be a worthwhile campaign for you.
Like anyone interested in smart aid and development, you’re probably interested in sustainability. So, just how sustainable is your funding? Good question! Once the platform is built, we think that we can keep the service running by adding in a tiered system of participation, so that it is self-sustainable.
Our vision is that peer coaching should always be accessible at no cost, as we promised right from the start. That option will remain, and people will still be able to be linked up to suitable peer coaches around the world at no charge. However, we think that people may also be willing to pay a small amount of money to get a value-added service. As such, we’ll be adding in different levels of participation so that those who are willing to pay a little extra will get a little more out of it. Whatever we make from this can then be fed back into the project to account for running costs. That’s why seed funding is so vital for us – the major outlay is not running the program, but getting it off the ground.
We’d appreciate it if you would consider donating whatever you can to our StartSomeGood campaign here, and spreading the word far and wide about what we’re trying to achieve.
For the final word on the topic, here is Brendan, speaking from Ghana:
You can donate to our campaign on StartSomeGood here.
Weh Yeoh is a current job-seeker based in Cambodia. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed a MA in Development Studies at the University of New South Wales. With experience in the NGO sector both in Australia and in China, with Handicap International, he hopes to combine his interest in development and passion for visiting far-flung destinations in the future. You can view his LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter here.
Don’t miss this chance of having a say on a great service to overcome isolation in international development: peer mentoring.
This is a blog originally posted by Shana Montesol Johnson in WhyDev.org. I’m re-publishing by request of the author and WhyDev.
The problem: isolation
If you have worked in international development, you have probably experienced isolation. It seems to be a fact of life in this industry. Field-based expat staff may be the only person at their level in their local office, or the only expat on the team (or one of very few), separated from their local staff counterparts by cultural, language, and organisational barriers. Even people working in the home office may feel isolated. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable sharing their struggles with their boss. Or maybe the boss him/herself is the problem.
Many people working in aid and development tend to spend a lot of time talking about work with their spouses, partners, or close friends. This can be a great source of support. However, it can also put undue pressure on the person who is getting an earful. Over time, they may tire of hearing the same complaints. Someone who doesn’t work with you – or work in development – may not “get” your work context. And a spouse will likely have a hard time remaining neutral and impartial because they have a stake in their partner’s career success.
In situations of isolation, it’s great to work one-on-one with a professional coach or mentor. However, this is not always possible, practical, or financially feasible. An alternative that works well is peer coaching.
What is peer coaching?
A peer coach is someone who is at a similar level to you in your organisation (or even in another organisation). He or she knows and/or understands your work context. While not trained as a coach, he or she is willing to coach you according to a simple (yet effective) peer coaching model. This involves actively listening without judgment, reflecting back what he/she is hearing, asking probing questions, and helping you generate concrete action steps to move you forward.
Peer coaching is different than mentoring or advising. It is not based on the premise that your peer coach knows better or is more experienced than you. A peer coach’s job is not to give you advice or tell you what they think you should do. A peer coach’s role is to listen, to provide a sounding board, and help you find the answers yourself.
Whether you are studying, beginning your career in aid and development, or a seasoned professional, it’s great to work one-on-one with a coach who can help you identify blind spots, gain clarity on your priorities, and help you design actions that will bring about desired changes. This what Cassie and Leanne have established:
Cassie and Leanne (names and details have been changed) both work as managers in an international development NGO. Cassie is based in Nepal, and Leanne is in Bangladesh. As expat staff, the only other non-local in their offices are their bosses — and sometimes they don’t feel comfortable sharing all their struggles with their supervisors. Cassie and Leanne met at an internal training that brought together international staff from various country offices. Since their organisation does not offer executive coaching to staff at their level, Cassie and Leanne decided to team up to provide peer coaching to each other.
They conduct their coaching sessions via Skype. They take turns sharing what’s on their minds, and providing coaching/feedback. They cover a range of topics, whatever is pressing: tough decisions, managing a difficult relationship with a boss/staff member, tricky cross-cultural issues, musings about career moves.
Leanne reports that one of the main benefits of peer coaching is simply the opportunity to think out loud. By talking through a problem or challenge, she ends up coming up with a solution that hadn’t even occurred to her before the peer coaching session.
Cassie values the opportunity to vent, share, and trouble-shoot with someone who understands where she is coming from. Since they have similar roles in different parts of the same organisation, the two women don’t have to explain all the details of their respective situations.
They admit that they could benefit from scheduling their peer coaching calls more regularly. Sometimes their jam-packed work schedules mean that several weeks go by between peer coaching sessions. But they also know that if a crisis comes up, or a decision needs to be made, they can set up a last-minute call and have a thinking session when it’s most needed.
Find a peer coach
We are excited to announce that, through a collaboration between whydev and Development Crossroads, we are launching a peer coaching matching service. We believe that young professionals, graduate students, and others starting out in international development could benefit from peer coaching. We want to develop a service that best matches up with your needs, and supports your peer coaching relationship. We also want to know if you would actually use such a service!
We are still in the design phase, and would like to use this opportunity to get your thoughts through the online survey below. Would you want a peer coach? What would you like to get out of such a relationship? How often would you keep in touch? How much input and oversight would you want from us? These are the type of questions we would love to get your thoughts on.
Please take 2 minutes to complete the survey, and you are more than welcome to provide feedback in the comments below.
Peer coaching survey
Click HERE to complete the survey.