The NGO Apprentice

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January 4th 2006
Published: January 9th 2006
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Me at my DeskMe at my DeskMe at my Desk

A shortfall of mine - decorating.
So, many have asked - "Erica, what exactly is your job?" Ah, good question. As you probably know, I work for an International NGO (Non-Government Organization). My job title is "Admin Systems Training Advisor" and it actually describes quite well what I do, but to most people it sounds complicated so I often say "Operations." You see, you can kind of break NGO work into two sectors 1.) OPERATIONS: administration, finance, and logistics (procurement & delivery of supplies) and 2.) PROGRAMS: direct services to our beneficiaries, for example, like our doctors who set up clinics and treat patients. I work on the Operations side of things. And here's exactly what I do:

In Aceh, my organization operates in 4 provinces employing 300 Indonesian (national) staff and 15 International (Expatriate) staff. That makes for a lot of paperwork! In this regards, I have had to draw up new contracts for all our national staff in accordance with Indonesian laws and regulations; re-write/update our personnel policies; manage the staff evaluation process; and hire a handful of new people. There is a very talented Admin support team that I work with and it's been satisfying to be of use to them.
My boss, GailMy boss, GailMy boss, Gail

She's done everything - drove caravans across Africa, been blown up in Afghanistan, spent lots of time in the Balkans...

My organization started working in Aceh in 1999, providing assistance to those affected by the civil conflict, and it was a very small operation until the tsunami. In one year, it went from a staff of 23 to 315; from an operating budget of $1M to $11M. The systems in place have been straining under the sudden growth and it is part of my job to anaylze, make recommendations and "fix" whatever needs to be fixed. Are we storing our information systematically? Why is the payroll always submitted to Finance late? Which reports would be useful to Supervisors? My boss, Gail, is very strong in this area, so I rely a lot on her for direction but my experience at Headquarters is very applicable. To be honest, we've accomplished a lot these past couple months already but there's still lots more to do. I'm getting to see how a field office runs up close and I feel lucky to be learning under such an experienced person.

This part of my job has the most potential but kind of scares me too. On top of the basic training that I will set up for our employees (classes in
Admin TeamAdmin TeamAdmin Team

Goen sits across from me and has worked here for 5 years. I would be lost without him! Poppy is fantastic at her job and Budi is Admin for our field office.
English/Indonesian/Computer/Mechanical), I will also (hopefully) get to work with our community partners. We got a really big grant to do "Community Driven Regeneration" (CDR). It's kind of the new darling of the NGO world, but I'm really glad we're going all out to implement this here. We will go to local communities (maybe villages that are now living in tents) and assist them to democratically decide on a project that will benefit the community. Maybe they'll decide they need a school, or coffee shop or whatever. The point is THEY decide what they need, not US. Then we give them the money and provide technical assistance to see the project through to completion. If it is a large/expensive project, the community might need assistance setting up their operations - which is where I'll come in. If necessary, I will provide training to them on how to make contracts, keep financial records, procure goods, etc... It's a rare opportunity for an Operations person to cross-over into the Programs world. Can I really do this?? It's the one part of my job that gives me anxiety...Well, you know, you have to push yourself if you want to learn. Wish me luck!
Biljana - CDR AdvisorBiljana - CDR AdvisorBiljana - CDR Advisor

Biljana is one of my housemates and also the person who will help direct our organization in this new CDR model. She's decorating a Xmas tree that my friends sent from the States, but it took 5 weeks to arrive!

So - there you have it. I am not personally rebuilding homes or feeding starving children. I work in an office and sit behind a desk. But I am doing what I'm good at, learning lots, believe in the overall purpose of the organization and enjoying it all - even the challenges.


4th January 2006

meraviglioso,brava..grazie xo
5th January 2006

No anxiety necessary Erica . We know you have the heart,the brains and the desire to do it and do it all well. What more could they want.You're looking really comfortable in your office,guess you're right, it's where you belong right now. You make us proud!!!Miss you. Love,Auntie Nancy
6th January 2006

They sure have the right gal for this job! We are so proud of the work you do. Missed seeing you at your party. My Mom was so pleased you called her. You are always so sweet, and thoughtful! Sending much love, Cousin Jeanne
6th January 2006

Thanks for the encouragement! xo Erica
6th January 2006

Hey lady, Senid sent me the link (naturally...) to your site - it is so great and fun. I promise when I get back from my Africa trip I will chat with you from home - that is when I will get a cable installed at home, and we can Skype. You look healthy despite the Acehnese staple! I miss you here - the office is not the same. Take care, AK.
7th January 2006

about time
It appears that you are getting a handle on the job and that you are using all the skills learned to date and are learning new ones, great. It appears that you have in your boss, someone that you can aid you in your job. I'm still going to the gym, but took time out, 2 weeks, for Christmas and when I went back to the gym I gained 7 pounds. There is something wrong with this. We all missed you during the holidays, but you were in our thoughts. Lots of love, dad
8th January 2006

Thanks for the 411
A ha. I knew what your job entailed vaguely. Thanks for the details. Sounds like it's going well there. But my word, what a big expansion in manpower your organization had all of a sudden. That can't be easy to manage.
16th January 2006

Digging the Blog!
Hey Erica, Thanks for doing such a great blog! I have not seen a better answer the perennial question of “So, what exactly do you aid workers do?” than this entry. I know that someday you will find fresh brewed decaffeinated coffee. Although I can’t be of much help since I am devoted to the turbo-caffeinated beans of Africa! Best, Andrew
2nd March 2006

Inside scoop on Banda Aceh
Hi I am going to work in Banda Aceh and it would be helpful to have some pre-departure tips. Can you give me the low-down on what to expect ( Thanks!

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