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Rising Star: A Career for a Humanist Philosophy
His "big break" came when he realized he could build a career in line with his humanist philosophy. Writing from Uganda and soon bound for Afghanistan, David discusses the unique world of humanitarian work, infusing his responses with original thoughts on life, careers and the world in general.
Name: David Knaute
School: University of Bordeaux
Major: Political Science
Years Out of College: 5-10
Title: Program Manager
Company: Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development
"My first job for a non-government organization (NGO) was not a first 'humanitarian' experience as such. In this sector, it is common to go through a period of similar experiences as a volunteer/intern before being actually employed. Therefore, I came in with my own ideas on how this works and what I would like to achieve. Very soon, however, I discovered that to grow in an organization, one has to bear some tasks and responsibilities that seemed not to be part of the initial terms of reference. The fun part of the job is not always taking the lead. Also, every organization, be it private, public, or associative, is associated with specific constraints and opportunities, which cannot be avoided."
"On a personal level, my first job showed me that ambition for success doesn't necessarily means greed, but rather that success is achieved step by step, through self-awareness (regarding your own strengths and weaknesses), efforts and the willingness to learn more, the capacity to change, and a sense of modesty towards the outer world and other people."
From Then to
"I am still young and a career takes off with years. A career also has to be dynamic - people learn and change and the surrounding environment - and full of surprises. That is what I have believed since my early studies. Meanwhile, I always strongly felt I wanted to work internationally. Then, travels, my personal humanistic 'ideology' and other personal factors - and a bit of luck! - led me to work in the humanitarian sector."
"The humanitarian sector is facing various types of prejudice from the society at large. Many people have it hard to believe that it is a professional sector, that people in it have proper skills. However, I like to say and repeat that to be a manager or an engineer for an NGO is much the same as being in the private sector. Confusions and prejudices came from the past, when too many 'humanitarians' were hidden missionaries, or volunteers with a great heart, only. This has changed."
"I live in exotic countries - Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Uganda - but first and foremost my daily routine is like any other. Depending on the mission, I deal with more or less exciting contexts, if exciting can be defined as traveling to remote places, visiting unusual communities, sharing the life of refugees. Exciting can also be defined as: having to respect short deadlines, managing large sums of money and supervising great number of staff - and that is definitively part of the humanitarian daily reality."
"Usually, I try not to think of my next job. What matters for me is to be 100% focused on the job that I occupy at this moment. Also, I believe that by working my best, I already prepare the ground for my next job. Indeed, the skills and experiences I will have in the future can only be obtained now, and it is not through anticipation that I will succeed. Even more, past experiences should not be put in the bin since the past is the reference from which we can learn. I am always surprised when I realized that a humanitarian situation reminds me of another situation I came across on the other side of the planet. Then the lessons learnt (that's our humanitarian jargon) can be applied. But as you ask the question, I shall reply."
Did I Ever Think I'd End
"My school curriculum was very broad. Actually, I could have ended up doing anything I wanted: politician, of course, lawyer, journalist, civil servant but also economist, sociologist and whatever else. As I said before, several factors shaped my decision to work in the humanitarian sector and whether or not I have thought about it, I have no idea. However, I know that if someone had told me a long time ago that I would work in Africa, I would have been...excited (to use the terms of a previous question) as I had never been out of the European continent. In the end, humanitarian action is a logical choice for a graduate in political science, since it encompasses domains such as organizational management, cooperation and negotiations with government authorities, decision-making at policy level. I must say, other people like my parents would not have imagined me, for sure, ending up in Afghanistan and the question should probably be directly posed to them."
"The best advice I have heard so far is
'be accurate'. It may be the best advice for me because I
used to lack accuracy in my work. Credibility is gained once
people let you work and consider they do not need to check on
your work at all, because they know you can make it - and
that you are accurate."
"Also, any choice has to be essentially genuine. People who forced themselves into a career they didn't endorse, take the risk of being counter-productive, being disenchanted by the environment they live in and being unhappy. All jobs are great as long as the worker is respected by his/her colleagues and the society at large. It is a shame that the society imposes a scale of 'good' and 'bad' jobs on a discriminatory basis, with criteria such as: how much money you make, is it manual or intellectual, blue, white, golden collar type of jobs."
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