Saturday, July 3, 2010

Careers in Global Citizenship? My Journey

Being a global citizen is great as a philosophy, but can it pay the bills? I have been making it my life's work to find out.

For myself, I generally look for careers in global citizenship that have a mission to promote the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of a place. Vague, right? I can only compare it to that cliche about art "I know it when I see it." Unfortunately, this is terrible branding and people often assume I don't know what I want to do with my life. Instead, I try to be flexible. You can't rule out corporate jobs because companies are starting to give their CSR (corporate social responsibility) professionals real responsibility. Plus, eco-companies are getting bigger and finally starting to hire non-entry level positions. You can't rule out the federal government due to new mandates to hire sustainability officers in different agencies. When these will actually be hired, I don't know, but it's worth it to trawl usajobs.gov every now and then (I once saw a posting for a six-figure organic farmer at the White House!) So it's hard for me to say "I am looking for X position in X company" because I don't want to be boxed in. But employers want specialists with technical skills. Save theory and transdisciplinary studies for academia. (Of course I love academia too and don't want to rule that out!) To me, a global citizenship career is one in which the professional is given the appropriate amount of space to be creative in making real social change to reduce the gap between the world's rich and the world's poor within the context of the organization's mission. Still too vague?

Without a set definition, how does one find jobs in global citizenship? Idealist.org used to be my bible, but I have found that it is a great resource for volunteering, internships and entry-level positions. At some point, a lady wants to advance in her career. I recently found devex.com. I heard of it before, but yesterday I bit the bullet and paid the $19 for the month of access to articles. You can post (yet another) profile and join (yet another) social network. If you are serious about international development, I highly recommend paying the money. I've seen other organizations charge far more than that for access to job postings, and they only have entry-level and volunteer jobs. Devex has a range of job postings and interviews with HR managers about how to frame your cover letter and resume. My only annoyance is that the articles seem to be geared for applicants who are coming from high-paying corporate jobs who need to justify why they are applying for these positions. Since I'm not one of those, I don't feel like that advice is relevant for me. Perhaps the advice is to go corporate for a few years and transfer back into the non-profit world! For those interested in climate jobs like I am, stopdodo and the climate-l listserve are two you MUST be on. They have the most exciting job postings. Of course, there is reliefweb and preventionweb.net for development jobs.

Well, those are the job listings. So what? I've been sending out my resume since the middle of March and nothing. Of course the missing piece is networking. I've been busily updating my LinkedIn account and joined some green and sustainability groups that post some cool jobs. Every time I apply for a job, I look to see if I have a connection with someone in the company. More importantly, I check my alma maters. I truly believe that tuition pays for the network you belong to when you leave the school. I cannot tell you how many leads I have had just from talking to alumni. One alum even helped my friend find an internship even though he never met me, and my friend was from a different school! (Note to self: pay it forward.) Unfortunately for me, I didn't check where alumni work after they graduate when I applied to the school. If I did, I would have seen that they do not tend to go into the sectors I want to go in, making my direct connections slim. Moral of the story: if you are looking for a graduate program, don't forget to research alumni careers!

My Journey
So far, not so good. We hear about these romantic diplomats, partying Peace Corps deploys, and hard-as-nails women sacrificing their lives to help one more orphan. Then of course you have the bright and talented folks who eschew family connections because they want to "get there on their own." What I wouldn't give for a dad who is the VP of a major NGO or aunt working in the World Bank! --I love my dad and aunts, but their jobs just aren't sexy enough for me ;) -- I thought getting some degrees would help, so I got a masters in sociology and studied international relations. That pretty much made me realize how little I knew so I backpacked through Central America. I learned alot about what it takes to live under the poverty line. Completely out of money, I signed up for Americorps whose mission is to alleviate poverty by putting people into poverty. Now, I really enjoyed my job and landed a position in Lake Tahoe, so no complaints. But I got the feeling that the program relied on trust fund kids who could ask their family for things like a car, and sorry, I grew up on welfare in a family strapped by medical bills (the really, really bad kind). I tried to travel again to gain international experience and wound up an au pair in Switzerland with a single mother who couldn't pay me. So I went back home and took up a full-time non-profit job, a part-time adjunct professorship, and some odd-jobs here and there. I absolutely loved teaching even though I was terrible at first. It took some time to get the hang of it, and really it was my passion that sealed the deal. The chair of the department gave me so much freedom, she even let me design two brand new courses (that are still being taught today!). I also loved my non-profit gigs, but I couldn't help feeling constrained by bosses. I wrangled some innovative projects but just wished I could have unleashed my creativity. So, I decided to go back to school. While there, I made it a point to publish anything I could, present at conferences and work on projects with faculty. This also expanded my network, but still not in the areas where I really need it. I decided to write my thesis on internally displaced persons after Katrina. I moved to New Orleans, and I'm applying for UN jobs. I'm asking myself "How do I advance in my career?"

If you are wondering the same, I'd love to hear your experience. Of course, advice is always welcome too!

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