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Creating Lasting Impact in Development Aid

Creating Lasting Impact in Development Aid

So glad you're here, welcome! We know first-hand that building your dream impact career isn’t straight forward. While you may have been told to climb some kind of career ladder, you’re probably feeling more like you’re navigating an open sea or following a zig zagging path. To help you find your sea legs, we’ve gone behind the scenes with some incredible career zig zaggers and ocean navigators to discover ‘How They Did It'.

These are the inside stories of how impact happens, from people you may not know but that are doing some pretty great stuff. They’re stories not just about what they did, but how they did it, so you can get some practical inspo to help build your own impact.

Please meet the delightful Leah Uhe, an international aid and development professional, who is passionate about equality and access.

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Tell us a bit about your role and where you work.

I am the Contract Management & Program Support Coordinator at CARE Australia. 

CARE Australia is an international humanitarian aid organisation fighting global poverty, with a special focus on working with women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities.

Before we start, what was your first ever job?

As a waitress, running meals up and down the stairs of my best friend’s family Chinese-Malyasian restaurant.

Can you describe what your current role encompasses day to day?

I support colleagues working in the countries where CARE’s programs are delivered throughout the project cycle. This means helping with project design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, reporting, and ensuring we are compliant with donor contractual requirements - always with a view to build local capacity.

This means my work can be quite varied, which I enjoy. One moment I’ll be reviewing a DFAT report, explaining how an education project reaching ethnic minority children in Cambodia has pivoted in response to COVID-19. The next I’m drawing up contracts with delivery partners, then making sure the right amount of funds get exchanged, and arrive at in-country offices on time to keep projects running.

What drives and motivates you?

I’m really motivated by the potential of girls! We know that when women and girls have fair opportunities, it’s one of the most effective ways to create sustainable outcomes in poor communities. I’m excited by the new technologies and initiatives that are creating smarter ways to invest in these women. 

Learning about social injustices motivates me to take action. Coupled with a belief that we can do better. The extreme inequality between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ globally is simply unacceptable. I believe the global community can work together better, share opportunities, and that we are smart enough to choose actions that prioritise an overall better outcome for the whole.

What did you study, and when you set out to do this, what did you imagine your career would look like? Did you ever imagine it would be this?

Initially, I wasn’t sure what my career would look like. I had broad interests, so I studied a double degree in Arts & Commerce. I loved the mix and flexibility this course provided. I figured out in my first semester that a career in economic development was an exciting way to pursue my passion for social justice, so I ended up completing an Honours in Economics, and structuring my units to learn as much as I could about poverty, inequality, and the systems and policies that might hold answers to addressing these issues.

We love a zig zagger! Tell us about an experience or job you have had that has taught you skills you use in your job today.

I’m very grateful for the advice I received from mentors within the NGO sector to accept an unexpected graduate role in the private sector - which at the time felt like a huge ‘zig’ far away from the development sector career I was so determined to establish. 

But, the experience I gained from working in a fast-paced, profit driven company in a variety of commercial roles has been invaluable for my career. By staying focused on soaking up transferable skills, and appreciating opportunities to learn from highly successful, smart professionals, the experience has helped me to make a much more useful contribution to the causes I am passionate about - be it in concurrent volunteer roles, or once I eventually moved to the development sector full time. 

 

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Do you have any advice for someone wanting to build the skills and experiences to create impact in your industry?

Volunteering is a great way to build experience in the INGO sector. Particularly if you are interested in the programs side of development work, in-country volunteering seems almost essential experience in order to develop a good understanding of project operations and development context challenges. I’m continually drawing on the lessons I learnt during my AVI assignment in Indonesia in my day to day work with in-country colleagues. Volunteering can also be a great way to start building networks in the sector, as I found from supporting teams at World Vision and Kiva.

INGOs also benefit from people making cross-sectoral moves. You can learn a lot from being on the ‘other side of the table’. So if you are currently in a different industry, stay focused on acquiring transferable skills like project management, systems thinking, risk management, and process improvement. And keep your eye out for opportunities to put your hand up to organise the women’s committee, or help lead your company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, to further align your experience. 

How has community played a role in you being able to take action on the big issues or challenges that you’re passionate about?

Caring about and taking action on big issues such as climate change and poverty can be daunting and at times, disheartening. It can feel like we aren’t making progress or moving too slow. So having a community of like-minded passionate people also fighting beside me has been important to spur me on and help me to ‘keep the spirit’. 

I’m grateful for the small community of sector mentors and fellow volunteers I’ve built through my various volunteer roles. They are generous in their support and career advice, and always keen to get excited about the latest article we’ve read on impact investment or moving the localisation agenda forward etc. 

I also really value opportunities to engage with different communities that view issues and solutions differently. Being open to learning from other communities and challenging our usual way of thinking is important for working together on the big issues, and may even cause us to reassess what our role should be in ‘taking action’. 

Where do you turn to for inspiration and motivation?

Learning about grass-roots movements where communities are working together and coming up with new, smart solutions. For example, a recent local initiative in Bali where communities are supporting those in need by exchanging plastic waste for rice is really inspiring. Seeing clever locally led ideas like this that are both sustainable and empowering really gives me a boost of encouragement.

And finally, if people want to follow you and your work, where can they find you?

Visit care.org.au to learn more about an INGO doing great work.

Also I have to plug Threads of Life which is an organisation that I love, having supported their work firsthand. Please check out their exquisite crafts which are helping to alleviate rural poverty and revive traditional weaving techniques in Indonesia.

 

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