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The key to ending extreme poverty is…passion?

The key to ending extreme poverty is…passion?

There is a famous Saturday Night Live clip with alumni and actors like Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. Watch below:

The catchphrase “more cowbell” became cultural zeitgeist in the early 21st century. Pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Kardashians. It became part of my vocabulary, randomly dropped into conversations with friends during the heady days of high school. Yep. I was still in high school when this sketch aired.

Gotta have more passion?

At a recent conference in Melbourne hosted by Monash University and the Australian Council for International Development, I had the privilege of being part of the closing plenary (in addition to WhyDev co-hosting and organising a Student Forum). My focus was on the next generation of development practitioner and higher education.

I suggested, among other things, that we don’t really know what we want from graduates in terms of attributes, competencies and employability. In particular, I have a gripe with “passion,” which was highlighted at this year’s Devex Career Forum. When a panel was asked what the sector is looking for in talent, one of the top two attributes identified was…passion.

I’m not convinced that passion is a key attribute that we should be looking for in graduates and job applicants. But, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise or have my bias reinforced.

So, I have a simple question that I would like to crowdsource:

Featured image shows stones stamped with “passion.” Photo from DeviantArt.

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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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8 thoughts on “The key to ending extreme poverty is…passion?

  1. J.

    What Cynan said.

    “You need passion…” sounds like something that INGO mid-level HR staff say when they get stuck speaking at career conferences.

    1. Amplified x1000 when 100 mid-level HR staff say the same phrase year-in, year-out. Lazy.

  2. Of all the interview panels I’ve sat on, I can tell you how many had ‘passion’ as a selection criteria… zero. As Amanda above said: passion for what?

    I’d rather employ someone who can demonstrate relevant competence plus professionalism (maturity?), than giving priority to “passion”.

    By the way your googleform isn’t working Brendan – “You need permission. This form can only be viewed by users in the owner’s organization.”

    1. Thanks Cynan. Form fixed.

      I agree, but hear it so much that I’m afraid it is part of the selection criteria.

  3. Anna V

    My question is: Passion for what? For participatory program design? For artisan cheesemaking?

    I believe that any endeavor is better when there is passion behind it. Yet referring to ‘passion’ without any qualifier or specificity just empties out the word. It can now be added to a long list of buzzwords that become popular because ambiguous placeholders are easier to deal with than meaty, potentially controversial values and concepts.

    Maybe you’re right. If employers don’t really know what they want, ‘passion’ is a handy placeholder.

    1. Exactly. When someone says, “I’m passionate about child labourer”, it causes me to pause. Is that something to be passionate about, or are they passionate about ending it? English, right?

  4. Passion is great (and can certainly help you be more resilient when you get really frustrated with your work, which is bound to happen in any sector), but I’d much rather add new colleagues to my team with skills that help us all work better and get the job done.

    Those could include (depending on the job):
    – being a strong technical writer
    – writing for external communications
    – a good design sense for presentations
    – data visualization
    – data analysis (quant or qual)
    – program management
    – ability to prioritize effectively and manage an ever changing work load
    – solid interpersonal skills
    ….I could go on.

    I would also note that at the end of the day, liking your colleagues and enjoying working with them goes really far – so being a generally approachable, thoughtful person may also trump “passion for the work” in my book.

    (Those are my personal thoughts and are not meant to represent any corporate hiring ideology from my employers past or present)

    1. Thanks Amanda. Writing, interpersonal skills, management. I think these three alone are oh so key. Particularly, being able to work with other people and relationships.

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