Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector
1. What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?
I’ve been CEO of Dóchas, the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations, for the past 3 years.
2. How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?
I’ve always believed that the best ideas come through collaboration, so when this role came up at Dóchas, the Irish Association of development NGOs, it seemed the perfect opportunity. I get the chance to connect people together on issues that I am passionate about – development, human rights, the importance of a vibrant civil society and much more. I love it.
And I’ve worked in international development forever – well, my career started in 1998 when I got my first volunteering job with the Irish agency, APSO, in Kenya. But I lived overseas when I was growing up, with Nigeria and Zimbabwe being the most memorable, so I always knew I was going to live and work in Africa, and as a result, a career in international development seemed obvious.
3. What do you love/enjoy most about your job?
Connecting with people through our conference, workshops and seminars. For example, last year Kumi Naidoo, now head of Amnesty International, came to speak at our annual conference. He blew me away – his passion, insights, courage – what a thrill to meet him. And I have been quoting him ever since. Hoping to get an equally inspiring line up for our conference this year – everyone should come, May 3rd, Croke Park!
4. And what are the most challenging parts of your job?
Time – there never seems to be enough of it. There are so many things I want to do but simply can’t get to it all. You feel sometimes that you are letting your members down because there is so much we want to be able to offer them. But as I’ve learnt, I have to see this as a marathon, not a sprint.
5. How do you relax?
My two amazing young kids do the trick – well, not necessarily help me relax, but certainly switch off from work because I love spending time with them. And between the busy trips to soccer or GAA training I try to fit in a short run or two each week. Since the new year I’ve also become addicted to my new Headspace app – that 10 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning is amazing.
6. What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?
Openness, curiosity, and a willingness to learn, are the traits that I hope make me fit for this role. No day is the same, and I have to be ready to take on board new ideas and run with them. I hope I’m also approachable and honest, so I love it when a member rings up for a chat, or to talk through an idea.
7. What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?
Working in international development is a huge privilege – you get to meet inspiring people in the strangest of places. But it’s not an easy career, or a stable one, and certainly you can’t expect huge financial reward, so if you want to a career in it, you need to be passionate and driven by justice and a belief that you can make a difference – even if it won’t always feel like that.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Quite mundane I’m afraid – when I was starting out I was told to learn about the nuts and bolts of programme management. Not glamorous or exciting, but it gave me a good structure for analysing change and impact. Having that strong grounding, technical skill, if you like, has given me the strong foundations to go on and do what I do.
9. What has been the best moment of your career so far?
Last March I was asked to represent Coalition 2030 at their official launch in the Mansion House. Coaltion2030 is a group of over 40 agencies, drawn from domestic, international, environmental NGOs, as well as the trade unions, working to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals. As you can imagine it was a huge privilege to be asked to represent them. But then the nerves set in. As a got ready to deliver my speech, my mind went blank. I panicked. But there was no escape.
You’ll be glad to know I did get through it, and what I was most pleased about, is that my speech focused on the human face of the SDGs. This is a transformative agenda that places the lives and dignity of the poorest people at the centre. I really hope I got that message across. We have to do whatever we can to make sure the SDGs become a reality for those people that feel excluded and marginalised, or live in fear from conflict, climate crisis or abuse.
10. What are your career aspirations?
I care deeply about social justice issues, especially women’s rights. I hope I can continue to contribute to that struggle in whatever way I can.
If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing Laura at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!