Tag Archives: Peer coaching

Your organisation isn’t going to help you, help yourself.

This post originally appeared at How Matters

Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter how large or how small the organisation you work for is. If you work in aid and development, it’s up to you to look after yourself. Sure, there are exceptions out there. Anecdotally, Save the Children and MSF are both large organisations that are investing time and money into the mental health of their staff. But the reality is, for the bulk of them, the onus is still on the individual to take care of their emotional and mental wellbeing.

A volunteer in a large government volunteer program was working in an area of considerable stress, dealing with victims of sexual violence on a daily basis. She had put in an application to continue her association with this small local organisation, through another volunteer scheme managed by the same company. After she experienced mental health issues, she informed her employer that she was struggling and needed help.

The response that she was given was that she was jeopardising future placements through this company by requesting help. Quite simply, she was showing that she was not of the right fortitude to deal with the requirements of the job. They did however tell her that she was entitled to three hours of free counselling services. Over the 12-month period of her contract.

We put people in places where we demand a great deal from them, and expect our pound of flesh. But rather than give them the tools to do the job that is needed, we treat them with suspicion that they are incapable or weak when they need help.

How did it get like this?

Two years ago, WhyDev ran its first pilot program into peer support, aiming to match isolated aid workers around the world together, to support each others mental, emotional and professional well-being. Back then, the idea that aid workers were able to reach out for this kind of support was something of a novelty in itself, even more so than it is now.

An older man who had worked in the aid and development sector for a couple of decades felt the urge to write to me out of the blue. His email started politely, though (unsurprisingly perhaps) condescendingly.

“I am sure that you are a nice and well intentioned chap”, he wrote, much like the old uncle with a pipe in one hand and a cricket bat in the other, poised to strike you on the bottom just as you think you’re getting off with only a verbal warning. He continued to tell me how in his considerable experience working in conflict and post-conflict areas, he was yet to meet anybody who could benefit from this kind of support. What we were doing at WhyDev was, in his own words, “creating yet another coffee-club for people who ought to pull themselves together and stop whinging.” He urged that I “should put my considerable energy and brainpower into something worthwhile.”

adversity

It speaks volumes about the capacity of someone to provide empathy when their solution to a problem is to grin and bear it. It also says more about the aid and development sector when people who we can assume are in higher management positions have this attitude. When they were our age, they toughed it out, and learnt how to “stop whinging”, the younger generation simply needs to do the same.

It is for this very reason that progress from organisations towards true comprehensive mental and emotional support for aid workers is slow. Look at an example of who is green-lighting them (or not, in this case).

I have two simple suggestions on how we can start to improve the situation from an organisational point of view. The first is employ more women in management positions. The science has shown again and again, that on balance, women have more characteristics than men that are suitable for management. Humility, sensitivity and emotional intelligence, just to name a few. Surely these sorts of characteristics, not the overconfidence that male managers tend to display in their own opinions, are more likely to result in organisations that know how to care for their employees’ mental and emotional health. Not only care, mind you, but give them the right tools to do the job.

The second comes back to title of this piece. Realise that, for now, organisations are generally not going to provide staff with the sort of support that they need. This doesn’t exonerate them of their responsibility to do so. It means individuals who work in aid and development need to let them know that it is something valuable to them. And support each other. Changing the perception of mental and emotional needs of aid workers will take a long time. But collectively, it is possible.

John Steinbeck’s quintessential bromance novel, Of Mice and Men, contains one of my favourite passages that encapsulates what working in isolation feels like.

A guy sets alone out here at night, maybe readin’ books or thinkin’ or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin’, an’ he got nothing to tell him what’s so an’ what ain’t so. Maybe if he sees somethin’, he don’t know whether it’s right or not. He can’t turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too. He can’t tell. He got nothing to measure by. I seen things out here. I wasn’t drunk. I don’t know if I was asleep. If some guy was with me, he could tell me I was asleep, an’ then it would be all right. But I jus’ don’t know.

Crooks, a black, stable hand with a physical disability, is always someone who is on the periphery of everything. He has no measuring stick to which he can exist in his life. It’s just him. But we can help each other, by first helping ourselves.

DevPeers: Improving aid through peer support from Weh Yeoh on Vimeo.

Early results of the largest survey of humanitarian workers ever show that burnout is a key issue already. At WhyDev, we are raising funds for the next iteration of their peer support program: DevPeers.

We are currently halfway to what we need to get the program launched. Without it, we cannot support the hundreds and thousands of aid workers out there. All help is appreciated.

You can also register your interest in DevPeers as a participant.

Asking questions that get real answers

“We all think you’re a member of the CIA,” my friend’s meditation group informed her. Yes, it might seem odd that, even at 85 years old, she lives alone outside of town, takes frequent flights around the US, and drives across the southwestern desert in her Jeep.

But their suspicions came about in good part because my friend does not like to answer bad questions, and so she often evades them with the nonchalance of a spy. When the group was asked to go around and say their names and “a bit about themselves,” she gave her name and then – instead of sharing the number of years she had been meditating – simply stated that she’d lived in the area for a few years.

And indeed, rote, meaningless questions often elicit, and I think deserve, rote, tired answers. How often can I, who moved to Toronto from the US last August, genuinely answer the question, “How are you finding Toronto?” (That phrasing is by far the most common.) How many times does the recent high school (or college, or PhD) graduate really want to answer, “So, what are you going to do now?” Are aid workers tired of the bland question, “How was [Haiti, Kenya, Peru, etc.]?”

It’s not bad to ask questions about any of these topics. Usually we ask because we are sincerely interested in someone’s response to a new city, hopeful about their next job, and curious about far-off countries.

But how can we form better questions to encourage genuine conversation and more reflective answers?

Better questions about travel often ask people to relay a single story from the trip. Travelers will no-doubt have funny, scary, or crazy stories that are unlikely to be shared in answer to a generic, “How was the trip?” question. Instead of accepting the answer, “the people are so great there,” probe further to see what made them great. An entertaining New York Times travel article created a taxonomy of “world’s friendliest people,” encouraging more precise descriptors. Were they welcoming, friendly, not as bad as you’d thought? Better questions will get at these interesting distinctions.

Another way to get better answers is to give people time to think before they answer. The extra moment of thought might cause the answerer to shake off their memorized answer about the great transit system, the amazing health care system, blah, blah, blah, and bring up more interesting stories of finding the swing dancing community and shopping in Italian corner markets. Be warned, once we ask the question and tell them to take a moment to answer, we better be willing to listen when the reply comes out.

Carefully preparing and thinking about questions is how my peer coach and I have structured our biweekly calls. A few days before each call, we email each other with issues we’re having or about areas in our work we’d like to improve. This helps deter just complaining about work, redirecting us to topics where we can actually coach each other. Or maybe this format just works because we’re both type A (in a good way).

Forming good questions is also crucial for receiving good information from grant partners. A grant report form that asks, “How is the project going?” will get a dull answer and, “How have people benefited?” is both a vague question and a leading one. Again, asking for stories and letting them know we’ll have follow-up questions can create an evaluative dialog, rather than a useless (for both parties) report.

We’re pretty programed to ask people what they “do.” With so many people piecing jobs together, and the indescribable nature of many “development” jobs, this question may be a conversation stopper rather than starter. When I asked my post-PhD friend about her future plans she answered that she’s in “transition.” Even my bad question led to a interesting discussion about what she might be transitioning to and what she’ll bring from her PhD to a new job.

If you really want to get to know someone, Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and mystic, suggests, “ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” And, in answering the person can clear up that no, they are not with the CIA; they just were waiting for a good question.

 

Last chance to be part of the Peer Coaching Pilot Program!

The response has been overwhelming. As of Thursday 28 November, over 285 people have registered to be part of our Peer Coaching Pilot Program.

Today, we will close registration and begin matching people one-to-one and get them started on their peer coaching partnership. Just to give you an idea of who has registered, here is a snap shot of the peer coaches:

  • Over 70% are women
  • Just shy of 58% are aged between 26-35. Only 17% are older than 36 years of age
  • Almost 75% have 5 years or less experience working in aid/development
  • And, a whopping 91% indicate that they want to be matched with someone in the SAME sector

If you are young and just getting your career moving, then this program is for you. At the same time, we have a small, select group of very experienced professionals who are looking for a peer coach of similar standing. This program is open to everyone working in aid and development and neither age nor experience should discourage you.

In addition, it is not limited to ‘being in the field’ or even in the traditional aid sector. You could be working at community-based organisations in regional Australia or at a social business start-up in Kolkata. If you are working towards social justice, human rights and a more peaceful world, then peer coaching will work for you.

Although we encourage more men to apply (as with dating in the aid world, there seems to be a noticeable lack of men), gender is not an important determinant.

It is also shaping up to be a truly global network of peer coaches. Participants are living in the U.S, Haiti, China, Cambodia, Kenya, Ghana, Laos, Solomon Islands, Belgium, Niger, Uganda, UK, Madagascar and Nicaragua to name just a few.

This is your last chance to be part of this innovative, experimental and career-changing program. You will be matched with a peer of similar professional background and experience, and given extensive support from the team at WhyDev on how to get the most out of your peer coaching partnership.

Don’t miss out. Register here.

 

Welcome to the launch of our Peer Coaching Pilot Program!

Update 26/11/12 – Registration for the Pilot Program closes Friday 30 November, 2012

It’s been a great year for WhyDev. We redesigned our website, have a new logo and added some invaluable team members – Allison and Daniel. We also wrote a post on why aid workers make great lovers and over 25,000 aid workers with self esteem issues clicked through and read it.

And then, there’s peer coaching. To get more background information, we suggest you start by reading these previous posts.

Back in February, with the help of our partner, Shana Montesol Johnson, a certified executive coach who blogs at Development Crossroads, we introduced the concept of peer coaching for aid workers. We put out a survey to see whether or not there would be interest in being part of a peer coaching program. Within a matter of weeks, we had over 350 people respond to tell us that they wanted to be part of our program.

In June, with the support of over 76 generous people, we raised funds to develop a professional and comprehensive peer coaching program. We’ve been hard at work getting the pilot program going, and we think you’re going to be impressed with how it has turned out.

To understand how the peer coaching system works, you can view the video we used to gather support :

To give you an idea of what we’ve been hard at work doing, we worked remotely with a professional from South Africa in creating an algorithm to match aid workers from different parts of the world. In partnership with Shana, we formulated guidelines, terms and conditions, coaching agreements, risk management strategies and other resources to give participants the best possible experience.

And now, after many months of hard work, we are pleased to announce that we are ready to accept registration for our pilot program.

We have already contacted those who signed up on our original expression of interest survey back in February and if they contact us in time, they will get priority. But in total, for our pilot program, there are only 400 spots available. That’s right, only 400.

How will the Pilot Program work?

We will gather information about you and what your expectations of peer coaching are. Once registration is complete, we will start to match peer coaches together. We will have a bunch of resources to give you including a Peer Coaching Agreement that you and your peer will complete. This will be used as a contract between peer coaches to negotiate and make clear expectations.

Throughout the program, we will be monitoring your peer coaching relationship and checking in on you to see what is and isn’t working.

After a period of four months, we will end the pilot and re-evaluate how it all went down. This will help us to develop the program in full for next year.

If you are one of the first 400 people who manage to sign up to enter our program, you will receive a full pack of resources detailing further how peer coaching will work.

The cost of the pilot program is 100% free. All that we ask is that you work with us to help us to improve what we are trying to achieve. This means participating in evaluation activities, such as a post-program survey so we know what went well and what didn’t.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up here!

 

Who are the peer coaches? Results from the survey revealed

To date, we have received over 330 positive responses to a peer coaching initiative. This prompted the team at WhyDev to begin a crowdfunding campaign at Start Some Good. With only 7 days to go, we have raised over $4,000 thanks to 63 generous supporters. This amount will ensure that we get the pilot peer coaching program off the ground and running effectively. However, if we can reach the full funding target of $10,000, we will be able to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of a peer coaching program.

In a recent interview I gave to Jaclyn Schiff of Pangea, I revealed some of the intriguing results of the survey. Now, in the lead up to the end of the crowdfunding campaign and the beginnings of the pilot program, we would like to share the full results of this survey.

Gender

Male 94 28%
Female 242 72%
Transgender 1 0%

Age

Below 18 1 0%
18 to 25 73 22%
26 to 35 184 55%
36 to 45 52 15%
Over 45 27 8%

Years of work in international development (either in the field or head office)

Less than 1 64 19%
2 94 28%
3 49 15%
4 32 9%
5 17 5%
6 14 4%
7 11 3%
8 7 2%
9 3 1%
10 7 2%
11 to 15 19 6%
16 to 20 7 2%
More than 20 13 4%

Field of work

Agriculture 28 8%
Climate Change and Environment 19 6%
Disability 3 1%
Disaster Management 8 2%
Education 34 10%
Food and Nutrition 14 4%
Gender 10 3%
HIV/Aids 7 2%
Health 45 13%
Humanitarian Financing 5 1%
Logistics and Telecommunications 4 1%
Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding 10 3%
Protection and Human Rights 16 5%
Recovery and Reconstruction 4 1%
Safety and Security Safety and Security 1 0%
Shelter and Non-Food Items 2 1%
Water Sanitation Hygiene 12 4%
Other (please specify below) 115 34%

Peer coaching is likely to bring several potential benefits, each of varying importance. On the scale below each answer, please tell us how important you think each benefit is to you. – Discussions related to a career in international development

Not important at all 2 1%
Somewhat unimportant 9 3%
Neutral 28 8%
Somewhat important 105 31%
Very important 191 57%

Peer coaching is likely to bring several potential benefits, each of varying importance. On the scale below each answer, please tell us how important you think each benefit is to you. – Troubleshooting work-based challenges in my current job

Not important at all 3 1%
Somewhat unimportant 11 3%
Neutral 38 11%
Somewhat important 122 36%
Very important 160 47%

Peer coaching is likely to bring several potential benefits, each of varying importance. On the scale below each answer, please tell us how important you think each benefit is to you. – Research, sector-specific (e.g. education, health, etc.) discussions

Not important at all 2 1%
Somewhat unimportant 21 6%
Neutral 48 14%
Somewhat important 156 46%
Very important 102 30%

Peer coaching is likely to bring several potential benefits, each of varying importance. On the scale below each answer, please tell us how important you think each benefit is to you. – Moral or emotional support from somebody in a similar situation

Not important at all 2 1%
Somewhat unimportant 20 6%
Neutral 69 20%
Somewhat important 123 36%
Very important 120 36%

Peer coaching is likely to bring several potential benefits, each of varying importance. On the scale below each answer, please tell us how important you think each benefit is to you. – General chit chat

Not important at all 22 7%
Somewhat unimportant 70 21%
Neutral 102 30%
Somewhat important 111 33%
Very important 22 7%

How would you like to interact with your peer coach (more than one answer can be chosen)?

Skype 256 76%
Email 225 67%
Face to face 119 35%
Other 39 12%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Ideally, how often would you like to interact with your peer coach?

More than once a week 4 1%
Once a week 92 27%
Once every few weeks 216 64%
Once every few months 20 6%
Less than once every few months. 1 0%

These results will help us determine a number of different aspects of the program – matching, support, monitoring, etc. The survey is still open, and we would love to keep receiving input. Completing the survey will also give you an opportunity to go on the peer coaching mailing list. This mean that you will be the first to hear about updates, progress and the eventual launch of the pilot program.

To put a face, or rather three, on these results, below is a video from three aid workers who support peer coaching (and could end up being your peer coach). We asked them why they think this program is a good idea:

How WhyDev’s Peer Coaching Initiative Aims to Help Aid Workers

By Jaclyn Schiff

Most of you have probably already heard about WhyDev’s peer coaching initiative. This one.

It’s a neat idea. In fact, I was kind of surprised that something like this doesn’t already exist! But I wanted to find out more — how did the idea come about? What model will the peer coaching be based on? So I talked to Brendan about what has been decided and what comes next.

In the interview, Brendan reveals for the first time results from a survey of the aid and development community. Listen in around 11:20 to hear these results and learn about an unexpected finding.

This is part of a series of interviews for Pangea, a new online show for people interested in global issues. I welcome your thoughts on the interview, questions and ideas in the comments. Or catch me on Twitter — @J_Schiff. And remember there are just 10 days left to donate money for the launch of the initiative on Start Some Good. So if you like what you’re hearing, head over and consider contributing!

 

Jaclyn Schiff is a writer and content strategist based in the Washington, D.C., area. Her work has appeared in several publications, such as Kaiser Health News, The Huffington Post, CBSNews.com, NPR, PBS MediaShift and Women’s eNews. 

Don’t change the message. Change the messenger.

Everything that we do in development is about selling a message. Whether it’s conveying an organisation’s work to a corporate donor, convincing the public that foreign aid actually works, or recruiting people for a local HIV-testing program in Zimbabwe, we all need to convince people of what we ourselves believe.

Despite all his, discussion in development rarely revolves around the most effective ways in which we can influence other people. Previously, on whydev.org, we talked about the tendency to hold onto existing biases more strongly whenever views are challenged. When a message goes against the grain of what people already believe, convincing them of this message is complex, and requires effective strategies.

Courtesy of a recent study cited in New Scientist, here is one strategy that may work better: change the messenger, not the message.

Around the middle of last year, Republican politicians in the United States claimed that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was a potential cause of intellectual disability, despite a lack of strong scientific evidence. Unsurprisingly, whether or not people believed them was highly correlated to their political stance. In one study, subjects were questioned on their beliefs across a wide range of issues, and then classified as liberals or conservatives. Scientists then examined their attitudes towards the HPV vaccine. When presented with balanced arguments for and against administering the vaccine, 70% of the liberals and 56% of the conservatives thought it was safe to do so.

The experimenters then created fictional experts who portrayed themselves as liberals or conservatives. With the more “natural” pairing of the liberal expert arguing in favour of the vaccine and the conservative expert arguing against it, the number of liberals who supported the HPV vaccine increased, and the conservatives who disagreed decreased. No surprises there.

The interesting result occurred when they swapped the messengers around, so that the liberal expert argued against the vaccine and the conservative expert argued for it. Under this scenario, 58% of liberals and 61% of conservatives supported the HPV vaccine. In other words, simply swapping the messenger around resulted in more conservatives than liberals being convinced by the safety of the vaccine, a complete reversal to initial findings.

This seems to suggest that it’s not so much the message that is crucial, but instead, the messenger. Recent calls from British PM David Cameron to end foreign aid to African governments who do not uphold gay rights do not acknowledge this research. Apart from the futility of such a threat, the British leader is only likely to bring up not-too-distant memories of Western imperialism and aid conditionality.

Who then, is the best messenger to convey the message we want to give? Let’s go back to the three examples that I opened with individually.

Conveying an organisation’s work to a corporate donor

Often, it is the fundraising department, sometimes coupled with someone who works “in the field”, that tells corporate donors how money donated impacts people’s lives. However, a more ideal messenger could be someone who doesn’t even work for the NGO – perhaps someone who works within the corporate sector itself. Apart from speaking about the good work of the NGO to colleagues, this person is also able to discuss the tax benefits of regular workplace giving.

Convincing the public of the merits of foreign aid

Again, having someone outside of the aid sector could be the best messenger. A trusted public figure with an average income (i.e. not Bill Gates) might be best able to explain how he or she saw the impact of aid work on a recent trip overseas. It is crucial that this figure is someone the public can relate to. Recently, Jet Li was criticised for encouraging people in China to donate more willingly to good causes, as they believed it was his responsibility, as someone wealthy, to do more of the donating himself.

Recruiting people for an HIV testing program in Zimbabwe

Rather than foreign NGO workers, a local Zimbabwean who was diagnosed with HIV and successfully treated for tuberculosis may be a more effective person to convince local people of the need for testing. Having a voice that local people can relate to could lead to the message being more influential and believable.

In life, there are many other instances where we also need to sell a certain message. It could be telling friends about the value of caring for the environment, eating foods that we think are healthy, or why watching back-to-back episodes of Glee on a Saturday night is not only bad for your social life, but also your general health and wellbeing. In development, we need to give serious thought about how the issue is being framed. But, before we even do that, we need to be selective about who it is that is doing the framing.

 

This post originally appeared on How Matters, a site that explores the “how” of doing development work, in all it’s shapes and forms. I highly recommend you add it to your list of regular reading.

You can follow this author on Twitter here.

 

On dreams and those who live them

Richenda Vermeulen, friend of whydev, sent out the call for bloggers to write about dreams and how they enrich, fuel and motivate our lives. But also how they change, how they come true, and how we struggle to reach them. You can see the posts others have written on her blog here. Here’s Allison’s take on what she’s learning about the nature of dreams and those who attain their dreams.

I’m in that shimmering phase of life where your dreams start to find you.

I used to think dreams started from the inside and worked their way out, that they came from your core and grew until they got so big you couldn’t contain them anymore and had to act.

I still think that’s true to a degree, but as I said, I’m now seeing that my dreams are finding me.

My dreams didn’t include working on a project to potentially help thousands of people across the world; now I’m one of three people here at whydev working on a peer coaching initiative for aid workers that may in fact do so. (You can support us as we work towards this dream over at StartSomeGood.) They didn’t include learning how to improve how organisations run until I started my first real job in an organisation; now I have dreams of doing an MBA. (One day, I hope to meet someone that makes me dream about family and domesticity in a way I don’t right now.)

These are just two examples of how two of my dreams found me. Now they influence the conversations I have, the plans I make, the things I read, the people I learn from, the friends I have, the way I perceive the world. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say they influence every aspect of my life.

As my dreams have found me, I’ve been more and more interested in observing those around me who have reached their goals and lived their dreams. As I work towards my personal and professional dreams, I find it helpful to look to those who are living their own dreams.

Here’s what I’ve observed about those who realize their dreams.

  1. Their dreams are feasible for them

This does not mean that they will find it easy to realize their dreams. It just means their dreams are possible for them, that these people have figured out what they’re good at and passionate about and have a dream at the intersection of the two.

This seems obvious, but it’s not to everyone. I think of people who dream of being teachers without recognising their impatient personalities make working with children impossible, or those who dream of success on Broadway without facing that they can’t really dance. These are dreams that aren’t feasible.

The best dreamers know themselves well so that their dreams line up with their passions, skills, experiences, and personality.

  1. They are surrounded by others chasing their dreams…

Chasing your dreams can require single-minded focus, at times to the exclusion of other aspects of your life. I’ve found it to be much easier to lock myself away to work on a project when others around me have understood why I would choose studying/blogging/working on a Saturday night over going to a wine and cheese soirée.

The people who truly understand those kinds of things are the ones also sacrificing things for their dreams. They understand, and they encourage and support you as you pursue your dreams.

  1. … but they’re not afraid to go it alone

I was recently reminded of a quote from composer Jean Sibelius: “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”

Well, I may one day put up a statue to William Easterly, but for the most part Sibelius is correct. The best dreamers understand this, as they inevitably face some robust criticism.

In a post on dreams, this may be the time to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. Thank goodness he didn’t abandon his dream when faced with opposition.

  1. They learn from others smarter than themselves

It requires humility to learn from others when pursuing a dream, and it’s not always easy to open yourself up to suggestions from others for something as personal as a dream. But it’s worth it.

I’m never so excited about my dreams as when I have the chance to discuss them with other like-minded people who are smarter than me. They make me think about achieving my dreams in creative ways I never would have considered, and that’s exciting.

  1. Their dreams are dynamic

There’s a poignant passage in the book “The Alchemist” where a merchant describes his dream to visit Mecca. For years, he’s watched people pass through his shop on their pilgrimage to Mecca, and now he can finally afford to go himself.

Yet he doesn’t. Instead he confesses, “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

I can’t imagine anything sadder or more untrue. I’m continuously amazed by the dynamism of those who dream big, how their dreams expand and evolve and lead to new dreams. For these people, the realisation of one dream often leads to another.

This gives me incredible hope. When I’ve achieved a dream, it doesn’t mean I’ve reached the end of dreaming. And if one dream doesn’t come true, another dream will find me.

***

I feel blessed to be chasing my dreams, and there have been many times that I’ve turned to a friend and said, “We’re living the dream!” Indeed, as I was mid-way through writing this post, a good friend called to excitedly share how she’s getting closer to realising a dream she’s had for a while. Dreams are all around me.

Often I’ve said it facetiously, but here I’ll say it seriously: I’m living the dream, and I’m fortunate to be learning from others who are too.

What have you observed about those who realize their dreams? Are you living your dream in aid and development?

Peer coaching: it’s happening, but we need your help

Back in February, we announced a new initiative of ours – Peer Coaching. In a nutshell, we are partnering with Shana Montesol Johnson of Development Crossroads, to develop a peer coaching matching service. Since asking for expressions over interest, we have had over 300 people from across the globe contact us to say that they want to be part of our pilot program.

Why do we think that peer coaching is so important? We know that there are many people working in the field of aid and development across the globe with minimal support and guidance. We are aware that resources are limited in the humanitarian field. However, we also know that through support networks, and specifically, peer coaching, we can increase the return on investment for these workers and enable them to be more effective in helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

We want to provide a service that matches them up, so that they are able to support and learn from each other via Skype, email or other methods. This service therefore does not require more resources to be added to the sector (in the form of professional mentors, coaches or counselors), but rather, builds on existing resources that are not connected.

We’re doing this because we think that the need is out there. And because of comments from people like this:

“I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.” – E, 18-25 year old male, Honduras.

However, in order to get this project up off the ground in a reasonable amount of time, and with good quality, we’re going to need your help.

We reckon we need at least $3000 in seed funding to dedicate a solid amount of time to building the platform, providing the right guidelines for peer coaching, and matching people together in the most effective way. Building the platform will involve spending time on infrastructure – website redesign, functioning and creating a space so that matching can occur. We’ll also need to build the database of peer coaches from the ground up and create the resources to support peer coaches as the program continues.

If we reach our funding target, we think that we could get the peer coaching service up and running within a month.

What will happen if we don’t hit our tipping point and don’t get funding? We’ll still do the program of course as we originally planned, but it might take a bit longer and may not be as comprehensive and professional as we would have liked.

So, this is where we need your help. We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign over on StartSomeGood where people can chip in amounts of money, small or large, to help us get this project going. If you are reading this post, chances are you’re either working, studying or are at least interested in aid and development. Therefore, chances are, you’re the right demographic to understand the difficulties that aid workers can face across the globe.

You might also be wondering about how sustainable your funding is? Good question! Once the platform is built, we think that we can keep the service running by adding in a tiered system of participation, so that it is self-sustainable. But first, we need to get the service started and that’s where the seed funding comes in.

We’d appreciate it if you would consider donating whatever you can to our StartSomeGood campaign here, and spreading the word far and wide about what we’re trying to achieve.

http://startsomegood.com/Venture/whydev/Campaign

If you have any questions at all about our campaign, please do not hesitate to contact either Brendan or myself. We’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

For the final word on the topic, here is Brendan, speaking from Ghana:

You can donate to our campaign on StartSomeGood here.

Why I became involved with whydev and why you should too

Weh: Brendan and I have a very exciting announcement to make. We’ve been on the whydev journey for 2 years now, and the time has come to expand the team. When whydev was started in May 2010, we weren’t really sure about the direction in which the site would go. Fortunately, whydev has grown immensely, and we need the help and guidance of talented individuals to help move whydev in an even better direction.

And, that talented individual is Allison Smith. Allison has only written one post for whydev so far, but it was a cracker. Moreover, she has shown us privately, and will show you publicly, that she is more than capable of helping guide the direction of whydev to where we want to be. Allison has a background in communications, so it seems only natural that she take over much of the work in that area. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Allison in the future, and we are ecstatic to have her on board.

Allison:

After two years as a collaborative and participatory platform for those interested in global issues, it became clear to both Brendan and Weh that there was an unfortunate lack of Canadian and female presence on the whydev team. So I was asked to join, and begin today as Sub Editor and Communications Manager for whydev.

Okay, so perhaps Brendan and Weh thought I’d bring more to the table than an extra X chromosome and a different accent (you can read more about my professional background here). A major part of my role will be managing the blog (help me out by pitching your ideas to me at allison@whydev.org, but I’ll also be helping out with various other things going on around the site.

As Brendan, Weh and I discussed joining the team, there were a few things from our conversations that stuck out to me and made me want to come on board. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they’ll make you want to get involved, too.

  • Experience not necessary. The first sentence under “about dev” reads “whydev.org is a platform for everyone interested in discussing a diverse range of topics from international development and foreign aid to career advice and morality.” Note my emphasis on “everyone” – it’s not for those just who have years of experience in development. It’s for everyone with an interest in these issues, and I’m a perfect example of that.
  • Tone not judgmental. The whydev team affirms that you can be critical without being cynical or judgmental, and that approach resonates with me. There are many (hilarious) snarky aid blogs out there; it’s good to have a space that is more accessible.
  • Censorship not practiced. This clinched it for me. Whydev is committed to discussing ideas from a wide range of perspectives, regardless of personal opinions of those on the team, because it’s the discussion that’s important, and not the promotion of a whydev agenda. This is unique from many sites and blogs, which by nature are often run by one person or a particular organisation with a particular perspective, and in my view this distinguishes whydev.

So there you have it. Those are some of the whydev values that made me want to be involved; I hope you feel the same way, because there are certainly lots of things to be involved in. Here are a few things on the horizon:

  • Peer coaching. If you’re working in aid and development and have ever felt isolated, you should take a look at this initiative.
  • Face-to-face networking events. These face-to-face networking opportunities serve as a physical whydev presence and are a chance to discuss development with others.
  • Rethinking development studies. We’ve been approached by a university to help rethink what development studies is all about, and will be getting the whydev community’s input on this.
  • Diversifying content. We’re looking at partnering with folk and organisations who specialise in visual and audio content, so that our content is more diverse.
  • Website and logo redesign. To reflect all these changes that are going on, we’re going to have a new website and logo up and running in the near future. More on this soon.

In a nutshell: lots is going on, and we want you to be a part of it. If you have ideas for whydev to pass on, or any good vegetarian recipes, drop me a line at allison@whydev.org. You can also say ‘hi’ on Twitter at @asmithb.