After quitting my job in March I had a couple of weeks to sort everything out before flying to South Africa with Chloe for a short holiday to check out some meerkats. After that we travelled to Namibia by bus (Intercape buses are a great way to get around southern Africa).
In Namibia we have spent two months volunteering with a local NGO: Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, helping a bushman community in Bwabwata National Park, in the north-east of Namibia, to set up a college for trackers. We were doing a mix of spending time with the trackers to learn what they are doing, business planning (writing concept notes for potential donors, drawing up financial projections etc) for the tracking college, and also developing and delivering a training program to help trackers develop a specific experience they could offer to tourists and help them get paid work (there is about 97% unemployment in the community). We both found supporting and coaching people who don’t have a job but have a lot of potential is incredibly rewarding. It was hard work but it made a massive impression on us. Despite leaving Bwabwata a couple of weeks ago we are staying in contact with people there and continuing to help from a distance. Key reflections from this work include:
- Working directly with people is more fun than staring at a screen
- Coaching is great fun
- Working outdoors in such a beautiful setting is fantastic
- Don’t come to a community with a preconceived idea about how to work with them and what they might want – they will have their own ideas
- Making a difference requires follow up and a long term relationship – don’t be too outcome focussed in the short term as people may not fit your plans
- Your local contact is crucial – make sure you can get on well with them.
We had also arranged to do some research work for WWF – on the back of our previous experience of working on climate change in the UK. We spent two weeks working intensively to develop a report and prepare a presentation. We worked harder on this than we worked in London (no break in evenings or weekends). We had no big name of an organisation to fall back on – just the quality of our work – so it had to be good. It was an interesting introduction to independent consultancy work. My key reflections on it were:
- The deadline nature of the work really makes you focus
- It allows you to learn through focussed research
- There is freedom in that you can work when you want to and are more geographically free – you can take projects wherever you want
- Make sure you have a clear brief and terms of reference before you start
- It can make you feel like you are having an impact
- Really focus on the areas of knowledge that will be of use to your clients – not just of interest
- There is a lot of interesting work out there if you can find it.
So that is where I am now. It is June 12 and it feels like a long time since I was dragging myself out of bed everyday to catch the 159 bus to go to work in London. So much has happened, I have met so many people, made new friends and tracked further down a different mental pathway.
Current thoughts on what I might want to do next:
- There are three areas I am currently interested in:
- Coaching individuals
- Energy access – we saw directly the impact this makes to people
- Large scale renewables
- Consultancy is something to think about
- I’m interested in starting something – not sure what or how or where though.
- Location - ? No idea – but want to be part of the action
So, no real conclusions. More reflection time needed. We are thinking of kite-surfing down the Quirimbas Archipeligo off the coast of Mozambique next, so hopefully we can work it through in our heads then!