Some things I learnt along the way…
Sadly, last week marked the end of my official journey as one of the first WhyDev Fellows. I decided to try to approach it from the outset with an open mind, and in doing so, I have been able to meet some incredible people and learn some pretty valuable lessons along the way. So, as I prepare to pass the baton to the newest round of fellows (who are currently being recruited – apply, trust me, you won’t regret it!), I thought I could share a few of the things I have learnt along the way.
1. Forge an alliance
(I don’t mean a military one!) At the orientation for the Fellowship, a very wise lady gave us some sage advice that stuck with me. On adjusting to life and work in Cambodia, she said ‘get yourself an ally’. What she meant by this was try to build a relationship with a local who you can count on to tell you, truthfully, what’s up.
It struck me immediately because I realised that I was very lucky to already have one from the time I had spent in Phnom Penh prior to the Fellowship. Besides the obvious benefits of having a wonderful new friend, Leang has helped me time and time again to avoid cultural faux pas, has prevented me from getting myself into danger and has counselled me on how to approach a difficult situation at work. She has literally helped me with everything from donating blood to choosing appropriate wedding outfits! It will take some time, but if you can build a trusting relationship with someone who knows the lay of the land, you will most likely feel much more comfortable in your new environment.
2. You can donate blood
Speaking of donating blood, if you can, you should. There is so much talk at the moment about the negative impact of voluntourism, and particularly in Cambodia – #StopOrphanTrips (and rightly so) – but that doesn’t mean people looking to create their own positive impact should abandon this urge. Giving blood is a really viable alternative to other more harmful practices.
It might seem a little daunting (hence why I had to have Leang hold my hand), but it was really easy and safe. If I am still in Phnom Penh and you want some company, I will happily come and hold your hand (especially since you get pretty epic free snacks after).
3. It takes time
This one may seem a bit obvious, but everything takes time. It takes time to settle in to a new country. It takes time to settle into a new work place. It takes time to break into the role you want. It takes time to feel like you are achieving things. SHEInvestments is a really small organisation, and the team shows up every day and works incredibly hard to put in motion changes that won’t have a tangible effect for a really long time, working against a system that is very deeply embedded in the social fabric of Cambodia. The business training and mentoring SHE provides to women entrepreneurs doesn’t turn them into overnight success stories.
This isn’t something to feel helpless about though – it’s something to celebrate. One of the main things I learnt from my time with SHE is that you have to keep at it. The groundwork you put in now – whether it be as a graduate building experience and networks, or as a business woman investing in and enterprise – will pay off in the long run. In a few years time, SHE will have a continually growing network of women leading businesses with increased confidence, and they will all be supporting each other, amplifying each other’s success. Long-term impact takes time, but it is worth the work.
4. Pretend you aren’t networking
Something I came into the fellowship wanting to work on was building networks, except, I (like most people) hated the idea of networking – for all the usual reasons (it’s awkward, I’m a bit awkward, I’m taking up their precious time etc). As a WhyDev Fellow however, I started to meet and get to know all these interesting people working in development or related fields and before I knew it, I had started to build said network.
I was really genuinely surprised by how many people were so open to meeting up, sharing their story, taking me under their wing, giving me advice or just being a friendly face around town. Now I have all these amazing people checking in on me, pointing out opportunities, suggesting next steps and I did it without explicitly ‘networking’. Phnom Penh is a great place to get to know like minded people, so don’t worry about the official ‘networking’ and just be open to meeting new people – they will definitely be open to meeting you!
5. Want to learn something? Ask!
Do you want to learn about a particular topic, issue or practice? Then you should definitely ask. Between the SHE team, the WhyDev crew and the wider Phnom Penh development crowd, there is some pretty incredible knowledge at your fingertips – and like I said above, people are really open to sharing it. There are so many NGOs operating in Cambodia alone; a culture of sharing and cooperation will reduce overlap and increase efficiency – you start this process by asking a question.
6. Say yes
(Just one more, I promise!) I came into the Fellowship as a Media and Communications officer and I was worried; I studied International Relations at university and didn’t know if I would be able to transfer my skills into this new area. With plenty of encouragement and support, I found that I could handle it confidently and, in the process, have been able to develop a completely new skill set, which is pretty cool.
Saying yes to the opportunities that have come my way in Cambodia has led me to some of the most rewarding and memorable experiences I could have hoped for. Eat lunch with the SHE girls, go to the wedding, eat the spiders, climb the mountain with the scary monkeys, camp on the island (with the most unorganised campers ever), eat with the family who rescued you from the rain, sing the Titanic song at Karaoke, go to your friend’s uncle’s cousin’s nephew’s sister’s village, take up someone on their offer to show you around. Seriously, say yes.
Apply for our Fellowship program here.
All photos courtesy of Prue Allen.