1) How to join a CSO/NGO?
There is no specific way of joining a CSO/NGO; some of them advertise their job vacancies publicly whereas others, prefer to hire through their established networks or by word-of-mouth. The very established ones may engage head-hunters and recruitment agencies whilst others may look for potential colleagues from among its members, volunteers, interns and so on. The more informal the organisation, the more likely is the recruitment done through personal networks, recommendations and by word-of-mouth unless the posts they are looking to fill, fall outside the general expertise of the group. Often, compatibility of the recruits/applicants with the organisational culture, vision and mission, as well as goals and objectives are crucial.
As the world of CSOs/NGOs become increasingly established and ‘Development Studies’ is increasingly recognised or even instututionalised, the expectation of CSOs/NGOs staff in terms of their educational level, knowledge spread, and expertise also increases. It is common nowadays for CSOs/NGOs when advertising for job vacancies to ask for at least, an undergraduate or graduate degree, even for entry-level work. However, like any organisations or institutions, different skills sets are needed for CSOs/NGOs to function properly. So you can be an Accountant, an Administrator, a Receptionist, a Store-Manager, a Human Resource Manager, Logistics Operation Manager, Researcher, Campaigner, Journalist, Photographer, Artist, Organiser, Educator, Lawyer, Banker, Entrepreneur, a Multi-Media Consultant/Designer, a Program Analyst, Computer Software or Application Engineer, Fund-raiser, Writer, Public Relations Officer, etc., and it is still possible to find your niche in a CSO/NGO. The important thing is, regardless of your professional background or skillsets, you have a good understanding of ‘Development’ issues or have done some ‘Development Studies’ so that you can apply your roles and responsibilities from a broader viewpoint and can appreciate your work from a critical perspective.
As employment opportunities shrink with economic downturn globally, CSOs/NGOs paid work has also become very competitive. Increasingly, employers ask for not only a competent level of relevant education, such as ‘Development Studies’ but also for adequate or even substantial work experience. Gone are the days when employers offer ‘on-the-job’ training for school-leavers. More and more, employers expect recruits to’ hit-the-ground-and-run’, as soon as he or she is hired because with budget cut and shrinking development aid, CSOs/NGOs are downsizing like business corporations. As a result, staff and employees are expected to work independently and deliver results with minimal guidance and supervision. In some CSOs/NGOs, staff may even be required to raise funds for their own projects in order to keep their jobs.
Having said that, however, since CSOs/NGOs are there to tackle social issues and community concerns, as long as there are humans, there will always be the need for CSOs/NGOs – this line of work is so relationship-centred that it is unlikely for Artificial Intelligence to take over for a long time to come. That human touch, the need for human-judgement and consideration cannot be easily replaced by machines, algorithms and technology.
In general, CSOs/NGOs jobs are more suitable for those who like to work in a creative, challenging and dynamic environment, that is people-centred and imbued with a mission that is idealistic, altruistic or visionary. As most of these organisations or institutions are non-profit or are straight out charities, staff and volunteers are expected to give themselves to their work, to be self-motivated, dedicated and sincere. Thus, such kind of work is not for those looking for solely high-income; aspiring for high-flying careers or simply, nine-to-five jobs prescribed by job descriptions. Nonetheless, as the field of ‘development work’ and CSOs/NGOs work become more and more established and recognised nationally and internationally, staff are better paid and working conditions have improved considerably nowadays.
To get a job in CSOs/NGOs, it is helpful to engage in volunteer work or internships during your studies so that one, you get to understand how the organisations operate first-hand. Two, help you figure out which types/scales of CSOs/NGOs suit you best. Third, to find out what roles and areas of work within such organisations you will find most satisfaction in engaging with, so that you may want to specialise your studies accordingly. Last but not least, volunteering during your student days, allow your prospective employers to know you better. You are more likely to be hired when a vacancy comes around.
Due to the nature of work undertaken by CSOs/NGOs, which tend to be people-centred, employers usually prefer to hire people they know they can work with, rather than spending money and time on complicated and tedious recruitment procedures. In CSOs/NGOs work, the ‘fit’ between the persons – the roles/responsibilities – and the team/organisations are paramount. This ‘fit’ can be more important than just the kind of degree you hold, the educational level or qualification you have. Having a degree in ‘Development Studies’, nonetheless, can be a pre-requisite and certainly, an advantage.
However, we should never be too proud to begin from the bottom of an organisation or a small CSO/NGO when we are new in the job market. Often, a beginner learns a lot more when starting out in a small CSO/NGO than the more established ones. Knowledge and experience in the organisation counts as much as the GPAs you have in your transcripts. This applies to selecting prospective staff, interns and even volunteers. Never too proud to start from wherever you can find a foothold in a CSO/NGO. And of course, you can always start one of your own too, given the availability of financial and human resources – and guts!
2) What is life of a Professional NGO worker like?
CSO/NGO life is as varied as any other professions in the world. There is no one type. In general, the nature of the job does allow for greater flexibility, in terms of work structure and lifestyle, and you can inject more of your creativity and imagination into your work. It is most suitable for those who enjoy working independently and at the same time, do not mind working with a team of like-minded people, to create something new and exciting. For those who like a dynamic work environment that values the uniqueness, talents and gifts of each and every staff, intern or volunteer, then a career in the CSOs/NGOs sector is for you.
However, it can be stressful too. The work can be all consuming especially, if you are dealing with crisis or emergencies like COVID-19. For instance, there is currently an advocacy group (CSO/NGO) in the U.K. that is campaigning against racism due to the spread of COVID-19 and its association with China and Chinese.
Working in CSOs/NGOs can also mean less economic security or stability than a ‘company job’ since most CSOs/NGOs rely on external funding that require periodical reporting and applications. As the respective contract period of CSOs/NGOs staff aligns with the increasingly intensive or shortened cycle of fund-raising, reporting and proposals submission, work stress and pressure comes with the territory. It is not uncommon for project staff in CSOs/NGOs to be running programmes at the same time as developing new ones, to ensue for survival of their organisations.
Moreover, since the work is very closely linked to the wider socio-political and economic environment e.g. regime change, economic boom and bust, social upheavals, war and civil strife/unrest, the CSOs/NGOs must adapt quickly to changing circumstances to survive. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see these organisations set up and then close over time, or they change their identity, adjust their scope of work and even move locations because the external contexts, in which they operate in, have changed beyond their control. One recent example is the relocation of Oxfam international from its traditional headquarters in London, U.K. to Kenya. In other words, CSOs/NGOs workers must be able to appreciate changes in their workplace and their work partners – ‘change is the constant’ in CSOs/NGOs work. Consequently, the staff turnover can be high too, as compared to say, the government or Civil Service.
It is better to enter CSOs/NGOs work with eyes opened then with rose-tinted glasses. Due to the nature of work, stress, exhaustion and burn-out can be common in some organisations, especially if the team does not work well together or the context in which you are working in is stressful, risky, or even dangerous. For instance, educating local communities about the importance of polio vaccination or education for girls, or eradication of child labour in hostile environments can be life-threatening and take a toll on your personal lives, as a result. Hence, persistence and patience are important qualities in CSOs/NGOs workers.
Further, the world of CSOs/NGOs are as diverse as the universe or as small as the microcosms of a society. Despite our ideals and motivation to do good for the humankind, all CSOs/NGOs struggle with human limitations and weaknesses all the time. Corruption, nepotism, politicking, discrimination, and injustice also exist in the world of CSOs/NGOs. This can happen within the organisation, between institutions, and even across countries. Take for instance, the differences between CSOs/NGOs located in the Global North and the Global South. A well-funded and established CSO/NGO in the Global North may operate like a multinational corporation, as compared to a self-initiated, locally based CSO/NGO in the same country that survives on donation, volunteer contribution and occasionally, government subsidy.
Conversely, a well-resourced and institutionalised CSO/NGO in the Global South with consistent overseas funding can provide much better working conditions and higher pay than say, even a small or medium size enterprise in the same country. Hence, leading to the ‘gentrification’ of CSOs/NGOs workers in developing countries that gradually, remove them from the realities of the grassroots or local communities that they claim to serve. Such a situation tend to be more apparent in countries where socio-economic equity is vastly unbalanced, or the disparity between the rich and the poor is stark and where CSOs/NGOs workers tend to come from the urban, middle-or upper-class/caste in developing countries. To sustain your sense of justice, service and idealism, which is why you choose to join a CSO/NGO in the first place, thus requires constant self-criticism and self-awareness so that we continue to ‘walk the talk’. Integrity, sincerity, credibility, accountability, transparency are five important principles for CSOs/NGOs.
In conclusion, if you are aspiring to lead a life full of possibilities where you can put your talent, skills, knowledge, imagination and creativity to work; you are adventurous, curious, independent and you also enjoy working with and, for people, ‘Development Studies’ and CSOs/NGOs work is for you. Most importantly, this is a field in which your job satisfaction comes primarily from serving your community and the world. And that, to be part of a global network of thinkers and practitioners from across cultures excites and inspires you. CSOs/NGOs by virtue of its vision and scope, broadens your worldview and helps you become more accepting and appreciative of differences among people.
Nowadays, more and more governments are recognising the value and unique contribution of CSOs/NGOs in nation-building, global trade and commerce, as well as in international relations and diplomacy. Hence, government institutions are increasingly partnering with CSOs/NGOs in specific projects because they realise that CSOs/NGOs can reach out to communities that they cannot, and CSOs/NGOs can accomplish certain goals and purposes better than them. Experienced and knowledgeable CSOs/NGOs workers are recognised as experts in their fields and are invited by governments and corporations to work with them, as consultants, advisors and staff. In a nutshell, it is the kind of work that allows you to express your passion, rather than jobs you do because you have to.
이 글은 세계 여러지역을 돌며 10년 이상의 NGO worker로 일한 professional이자, 정치 사회학 교수의 글로 저작권은 세이에 있습니다.