How to build a network of like-minded people

Back when I’d first moved to Bonn, I was pretty sure I was going to become a photographer. So I bought a DSLR, made my family pose for hundreds of photographs, and spent hours playing around on LightRoom, trying in vain to become a pro with the Adobe Suite.

It was during this photo-frenzy that I met Katrina. She wanted to get rid of her telephoto lens, and I was under the impression that the more lenses I had, the better of a photographer I would be.

We met one evening just after a 6pm drizzle, and, standing in the cobblestoned city centre, discovered we had lots more in common that a love of beautiful images and the gadgets that make them. Months later, when I changed jobs and moved to an office that was five minutes from Katrina’s building, we met for lunch. She was in a rush that day, but still found time to share lots of smiles AND paid for my meal. I figured we’d see each other soon, and I’d repay the favour, but a couple of years went by and we never met up. I started working from home, Katrina had a baby, we lost touch.

Two weeks ago, she called me.

“Malaika, I’m really struggling. I can’t stand my job, everyone just talks about money, money, money, I’m ready to quit and do something new, but everyone is telling me I’m crazy.”

Katrina, you’re not crazy, I told her. “It’s completely reasonable to want to do something you’re truly passionate about, and it’s part of what makes life really good. So why shouldn’t you have that?”

“Yes, I know,” she said, sounding morose. She sounded pretty down, and when I asked her what was getting to her, here’s what she said:

“But everyone around me talks only about money, benefits, security, etc. I can’t find like-minded people who are not all about that, and therefore -I actually don’t think that I have any appropriate connections. Not just to find a good job, but rather people who are on the same page as me, who will not stare at me with a blank face while I explain why I have decided to quit a job that provides me with a lot of money, benefits and security. Honestly, I am tired of explaining it already. And of that face telling me – YOU MUST BE CRAZY!”

“Katrina,” I wanted to tell her, “There are hundreds of people in the world who don’t talk ONLY about money, benefits, security. You’ve just got to go out there and meet them!”

“I am sure you have a lot of acquaintances who are like-minded,” she said. “I would love to become a part of a community that maybe shares ideas, or works on joint projects to make a difference in people’s lives, environmental issues, social projects, etc. How do I meet them?”

Here’s what I told her about where to get started:

‘Expats in…[your city] Facebook groups.

Because so many NGO workers are expats, and vice versa, you’ll always find opportunities to discuss social issues among others who have come to your city from another country. Worried about living in too-small a town? Even the tiniest villages have expats, or Peace Corps Volunteers, or recent graduates teaching English. Some of my closest friends in Madagascar were French agronomists working in the tiny town of Ambatondrazaka, where I lived, and though we were just five foreigners, when they offered to host dinner parties, I invited the local Peace Corps Volunteers, and suddenly we were a group of ten people passionately discussing climate change and the sustainability of rice farming. Expat groups tend to be inclusive, friendly, and treasure troves of connections when you are job-hunting.

Internations.

Although my least-favourite way to meet people (since most of their events seem to revolve around alchohol and attract many with poor social skills, Internations exists in nearly every capital city, hosts well-attended events, and exists for the express purpose of bringing locals and expats together. Many people tell me that the crowd Internations attracts varies enormously by city. You can try attending at least one event, and give yourself the goal of talking for at least 15 minutes with at least one person. The last time I did that, I met a Rwandan refugee who spoke perfect Spanish, an Australian surfer and his Dutch-Chinese-Singaporean girlfriend, and an American economist, all of whom have since become close friends.

Intern groups.

Back when I first moved to Paris, I was considering doing a consultancy at the OECD, a job I’d long salivated over. A friend invited me to an after-work event organised for the “young” people who come from all of the OECD’s member countries to intern there, or those who work at the OECD and don’t already have a Paris-based friend circle. The first time I went, to a dark bar in the 15th arrondissement, I spotted a girl wearing a bright red dress that fit her perfectly, and began a conversation about clothes from Zara. Besides being wise and beautiful and super-smart, she was gentle, and had kind eyes. I liked her so much, I got her number and we met the next week to have Saturday brunch. Despite her crazy schedule and the fact that we lived on opposite sides of Paris, a friendship blossomed, and though we’d met at a networking event, we never talked about work. But when she did talk about education policy, her brown eyes alit with true passion for the topic, I could relate, and she listened without judgment to my career and personal worries. Paris has the OECD and UNESCO, but you can find people of all ages passionate about policy and global issues wherever there is a major UN agency. Bonn has its group, Geneva has the massive UNING community, New York has its UN interns. Many of them also hang out at Internations 🙂

CouchSurfing.

Besides being a way to host people, CouchSurfing attracts every brand of crunchy granola former hippies, many of whom are passionate about environmental conservation, and will happily join you for an Al Gore book club or show you how to start composting. Simply using the ‘Events’ feature to create an event around a topic of your interest, or look for the group nearest your geographic area and write a post inviting people who are equally passionate about sustainable fashion or refugee relocation to get in touch.

Student events.

Many of us first got introduced to human rights and social justice work at university. And universities that offer international development degrees often host events to foster networking, increase awareness, and sometimes even raise funds for a particular issue. International development degrees are not specific to global capitals; BYU in Utah has a thriving programme, as does Dhaka, Perth, and Santiago. Look for the major universities in your town or city, and pencil the events on their website – many of which are free and open to the public – into your calendar.

 

Do you have any suggestions for Katrina on how to meet like-minded people? Where have you met your best friends?

 

I have so many different experiences. Which ones are relevant?

“In your guide-book, you mention that we must include ONLY the relevant work experience for each application. Yet there are areas that are so inter-related that it is hard to say whether it is relevant or not.

“Example: I have experience as a research assistant at university, internships at NGOs, the European Parliament and at a UNESCO institute. So, when I apply for a job at an NGO, should I scrap my experience in academic research? Or when I apply for an international organisation, should I scrap my experience as a freelance foreign trade consultant?

“In the international arena there are so many inter-related fields (education, development, trade)… I would hate to scrap some of my working experience knowing that it could eventually be considered as useful by the person reading my CV.”

Your dreams come true: a PAID internship in Paris

jasmine-ng-coverphoto

This post originally appeared on WhyDev.

 

One horribly hot and sweaty summer, I found myself sitting on our itchy mid-century beige sofa, applying for job after job while my roommate went off to her paid internship at a large, multinational organisation. I was envious; I, too, wanted to get dressed up in nice clothes and go do important work that would affect the lives of millions of people, but after sending off literally hundreds of application forms to human rights and international development organisations, I was no closer to getting a job, or even an interview.

The year before, I’d fallen in love with international development after a stint at a microfinance in Madagascar, and thought I had what it takes to make it in this field: an understanding of specific development needs, a passion for helping others, an eagerness to share knowledge, and the gift of being a “people-person”.

But working in Madagascar, like in so many developing countries, was emotionally and culturally challenging, besides, I wanted to improve my French. I sent out email after email to organisations all over France, but it seemed completely futile, because lots of positions required EU nationality. I began to feel horribly naïve, thinking NGOs would be interested in my education, international experience, creative mind and great set of soft skills.

Towards September, just when I was getting really desperate, came a lovely, warm email from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris: was I available for an interview on Skype, 3pm Central European Time? A week later, my internship was confirmed, and I was over the moon.

But while large organisations like the OECD can teach you a great deal about the international development system, and I was eager to get started, Paris is expensive, and the idea of living from hand to mouth was daunting, to say the least.

Happily, the OECD traineeship program pays every intern at its Paris headquarters a monthly stipend of 554,40 euro, which can be supplemented by a grant from the Erasmus+ Traineeship Grant, awarded by partner universities in participating countries and ranging from €390 to €700 per month for the duration of the internship.

Best of all, you don’t need a French or European work permit to start working there. The majority of the interns are affiliated with a University in the OECD countries (particularly France and the US), but you don’t need to be an EU citizen or come from an OECD member country in order to apply.

Wondering how you, too, can be selected for a paid internship at the world’s premier policy organisation, living and working in the heart of Paris?

Here’s how:

1. State your skills clearly.

The OECD selects for applicants with academic backgrounds in a discipline related to the work of the organisation’s research-oriented work, (which can range from social affairs, trade, agriculture, development, education, to employment, finance, and statistics), with strong quantitative skills and international experience in research and analytical activities. The more you emphasize these points and demonstrate your ability to undertake tasks requiring these skills, the better your chance of being selected.

2. Cater to the role, and not to the organisation as a whole.

There are over 15 Directorates at the OECD and the intern network is quite localised to each Directorates. Most intern roles involve some form of research work, reasoning, analytical and writing (drafting or synthesising) skills are very much valued. In my application to the OECD’s Business and Industry Advisory Committee, I headlined my published research on financial regulatory frameworks, and work experience in knowledge management, liaison, and coordination – the latter of which were specifically requested in the job description.

3. Demonstrate that you’re a global citizen.

The OECD produces policy recommendations for 35 member countries around the world. It’s a big responsibility. You’re expected to be capable of working in a team in a multicultural and international environment, and the OECD requires written and spoken fluency in either English or French.

4. Show the link between your studies and the OECD internship.

Most interns are enrolled in programs such as international relations, public policy, economics, political science, and other fields relevant to the work of the organisation. Those who are still working on their master theses usually link their topic to the work they do at the OECD. In my emails with the HR manager, I mentioned that I was enrolled in a Master’s degree in international public policy, and that the internship would help me better understand my coursework and reading.

5. Show you can do the job before you get the job.

Although you’re applying for an internship, your application is the first element of communication in a relationship that might last longer than six months, particularly if you’re asked to stay on and start a consultancy, or a full-time job at the organisation. HR will look for candidates who demonstrate their likelihood of performing well before they ever set foot in the organisation’s Paris headquarters. Hard work and commitment are extremely appreciated, and you can improve your chances of being selected by demonstrating your passion for the research topics on which you’ll be focusing, and your commitment to the discipline.

 

Ready to apply but not sure where to begin? Click here to get the exact scripts and techniques I used to successfully get a position at the OECD.

 

Top photo by Jasmine Ng, with kind permission.