Experienced Supply Fellows offer professional advice to younger partners
14th May 2019
At the RHSC’s General Membership Meeting in Kathmandu this year, 13 experienced RH supplies experts were paired with young partners for a reprise of last year’s Supply Fellows Initiative, a mentorship scheme designed to encourage participants to learn from one another and navigate the meeting together. This year, participants joined a career guidance breakfast session in which younger fellows sought more experienced partners’ advice on surviving and thriving in RH supplies-related work. Some highlights of the discussions follow:
Q: General Membership Meetings can feel quite cliquey and intimidating for newcomers. What can I do to integrate better?
- We all feel excluded at times. Be curious. Take a problem you might be grappling with and discuss it with someone.
- Make any connection at all; go up and talk to someone.
- Unlike many large conferences, RHSC membership meetings are more geared to connecting people. Continue to jump into conversations; the more you engage, the easier it becomes.
Q: How can experienced professionals help break down the barriers young professionals face when trying to get ahead in this field?
- Invite younger people to write blog posts for your organization. When you mentor someone, check in with them regularly, even when there isn’t anything pressing on the agenda to discuss.
- Follow up, ask what you can do for them, what they need, don’t forget about them.
Celebrate small victories. Things are changing incrementally all the time!
Q: What is one piece of advice you would offer young people as they continue in this career?
- Whatever role you play, you need training in finance and administration. Even if you have an accountant, you need to understand the financial side of things yourself.
- It’s a small world. You never know who your future boss will be. Don’t burn your bridges with anyone. Be on good terms with everyone as far as possible.
- Make a commitment every day to be happy. If you are tied up in a job you don’t like, find another. You have to feel you’re making a difference.
- Get project management training designed for NGOs, like PMD Pro.
Q: I’ve been in this field for five years and I feel we’ve hardly moved the dial. It’s disheartening. How do you stay motivated?
- Celebrate small victories. Things are changing incrementally all the time. Somebody once described the RH situation in West Africa as “the Wild West of family planning” but now things are really happening, with the Ouagadougou Partnership’s efforts. (36 percent increase in donor funding for family planning in Francophone West Africa and 1,681,000 additional women helped in using modern contraceptive methods.)
- Social change takes time. We’re changing the minds of people. Don’t always expect change within the life cycle of a project, whatever the donors might expect.
Q: My organization gets funding one year at a time. It’s hard getting people to work for you if you cannot guarantee their jobs for the next year.
- Unfortunately, this reality is not unique to youth-led organizations. Throughout the non-profit and for-profit world, most players face similar challenges. Keep at it. Lean years are often followed by fat years.
Q: A lack of confidence is my biggest barrier. How can I overcome this?
- Own your space. Even changing the way you speak can help. Many young women inadvertently undermine their own credibility by adopting an inflection where their voices go up in a question mark even when they’re making a statement. Change small things like this and you will find yourself feeling more confident.
- Always memorize the first slide of your presentation!