Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Working 8 to 6 (with an hour for lunch)

NOTE: Because this is a public forum, I won’t be naming my employer directly. You all know who I work for- if you want to ask me something specific, send me an email.

Several people have asked me to describe just what it is that I do. I’ve been here just over a month and I am finding my way in this fellowship, but I will give my general impressions so far. I’m finding that my responsibilities change as I finish one task or project, so this might all be different by the end of the month!

Basically, my job here is to learn as much as I can about the organization so that by the time my year is up (or before), I will slide right into a new job as a program manager. (Knock on wood.) I am not assigned to any one specific program, but am floating between all departments, including the finance department, to get a feel as to how they work. This is really a unique opportunity within the organization- project managers that don’t come through the fellowship program are forced to learn how the organization works while managing a project and its staff- I get to do this at my own pace and without having to supervise staff. My coworker Suzie manages the HIV/AIDS/TB prevention project and has really made clear to me how lucky I am to get to know the systems at my own pace. She was thrown into a several-thousand dollar project without more than a two week orientation; what is effectively my year-long orientation will give train me to be a better manager in the future.

So, what exactly am I learning? Currently I am working on a few projects. The most pressing is the task of closing the findings of our 2003 internal audit. Unless we as an organization address the findings, our “ranking” as a country program will slip. Many of the findings have been addressed already, but no one has had any time to report them back to headquarters. I am currently writing the memo that will be sent hopefully in the next two days.

Another project is writing a proposal to train our organization’s staff on HIV/AIDS issues. Addressing the world-wide HIV/ADIS pandemic is a top priority within the organization. The organization soon saw that the disease didn’t only hit the communities in which we ran projects, but that it hit staff as well- if not with staff members having the virus themselves, then by having family members and other loved ones die from it. (If you think of Botswana, for example, with its estimated 40% prevalence rate, then you can understand this realization.) They therefore developed a policy to reach all staff, teaching them about the disease, funding workshops, establishing a progressive insurance program for national staff, and other activities to raise awareness and fight stigmatization. As this is a new project, guaranteeing funding is a competitive process and I am writing the application to secure monies. We won it last year but had to forfeit funding because there were no qualified consultants available to give the trainings. I have been investigating the HIV/AIDS situation in Angola, local testing and treatment centers (VCTs) and helping formulate the project outcomes.

Another project I believe is the result of someone’s sick sense of humor- you might think so too if you read my previous posting. Today I was informed that I will now be the final signature on the vehicle logs. This is part of the financial learning process- double-checking mileage, making sure that the tanks of gas match the mileage and receipts, etc. I won’t have to compile any of this myself, just check all the reports once a month to make sure the assistant did them correctly, and sign off. Really- of all the finance projects to have me come in one, they picked the one thing that really makes my life difficult here: TRANSPORTATION!!!

Those are the projects I am currently working on. I will also be involved on some interesting projects in the next few weeks- participating in a “listening project” to gather lessons-learned from relief projects conducted during the war; helping to develop our strategic plan for the next five years (this is really interesting to me, because we are transitioning from post-conflict work to more traditional development projects; it will be interesting to see which direction this country programs goes into); assisting in the closure of our agricultural project (which involves selling off hundreds of yokes, hoes, and tractor tires); and others. Of course, there is the usual grunt work- last week my big project was making an organizational chart, and I have a stack of 35 agricultural manuals that I am punching holes into and making into binders. (The binders project is for my friend Mark, who has been really helpful to me, so I am doing this more as a favor than anything.)

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