Always the student
I’ve long believed that the development sector is all about knowing what matters. Whether we’re talking about urban development in Timor-Leste or agricultural projects in Pakistan, development—for me—is a profession that is intimately tied to continuous learning.
Coming from the Philippines, a career in development was not a popular choice among my peers. Up to today, I still have a difficult time explaining exactly what I do to my friends. Most of them pursued careers in advertising and banking, while some setup their own businesses.
I guess part of the charm of this profession, at least for me, is that it is not for everybody.
I’ve always had an appetite for understanding how the world works at a granular level. And this field offers me unique opportunities to learn different sectors and work with established international experts.
Something bigger than myself
My journey in the development sector began in 2007, when I was a wide-eyed college senior. I interned for a USAID-funded project, which assisted the local government in securing further funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The project had several components focused on capacity building and anti-corruption.
I was enamored by the idea of working for something bigger than myself. The idea of the potential impact of the project that I was involved in, to the country was overwhelming.
On one hand, I was participating with high-level meetings with government executives to discuss policy and planning. On another, there were days where I was tasked to wash dishes during meeting breaks (after all, I was an intern!).
But, at that point, I was quite happy to just come along for the ride.
Going beyond the Philippines
Keen on learning more, I joined an international development-consulting firm in 2009. I took on a role under the Business Development and Project Management Team. This allowed me to take a deeper dive into both proposal and business development—mostly for urban development projects involving the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB).
This marked my first foray into international projects, as we worked on comprehensive urban development projects across Asia. This was also the first opportunity where I got to travel internationally (to Kathmandu, Nepal) for work.
While this was a stark contrast to my previous roles, where I was on the field as a junior technical expert, I reveled in the opportunity to learn a different side of the business. This enabled me to gain a more wholistic understanding of what development professionals do.
I joined FCG Singapore in 2017. In a time when gender equality in the workplace is still a prevalent issue across the world (especially in developing Asia), I am happy to be part of an organization that empowers women.
While I was initially focused on business development, my involvement in project management has expanded in the last two years. Between myself, Auli Keinänen and Katri Palosaari, we are managing 10 to 12 projects across Asia, including ones in Kiribati, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Vietnam. Prior to the pandemic, our team was actively travelling to project sites—working with field experts and collaborating with key stakeholders.
Auli has always encouraged us to take a ‘hands-on’ approach to managing projects, which enables us to gain a more in-depth understanding of our work. In most of our projects, Auli is fielded both as an Environmental Technical Specialist and Project Director. We operate on the principle that there are benefits to Business Development when you have specialists that are well-versed in both technical expertise and project management. This approach has garnered some success, and if we grow this further, could lead to even more. Our day-to-day interactions continue to inspire me to become a better version of myself.
Being a Beginner Again
In my years in the business, I have noticed that the experts who thrive in this sector are the ones who keep on learning, trying new techniques, testing new approaches, and truly collaborating with colleagues and other experts.
As for me, it has been a decade since I was fielded as a junior technical specialist (in Monitoring and Evaluation) and I had never got the chance to become an “expert” on it.
Since then, the development sector has evolved - there are new skills sets required, others have been merged and certainly, those that will still emerge.
While I continue to improve on my business development and project management skills, I will also take on the opportunity to begin again. To find a suitable expertise that piques my interest and develop my skills further through formal learning and on the job training.
For many of us, the coronavirus crisis calls to mind an event that has reshaped society in lasting ways—from how we work and how we travel to how we manage relationships. But it has also reminded me of the value of our work in the development sector.
Most of the challenges the world faces demand international collaboration. While I do not mean to over romanticize our work, I find it inspiring to work with development professionals from different countries to make a meaningful difference in communities that need it the most.
And in a time when everyone is being separated by social-distancing protocols, it is reassuring to know that there is a place where development professionals from across the world can continue to work together.
Join our forces!
We are looking for a project manager to be based in Manila, Philippines to be involved in projects and programmes, especially in developing countries and emerging markets! Read more and apply latest on June 30th.