Antonella, in Uganda with AVSI Foundation, a new start in the Nonprofit sector
We have contacted our alumna Antonella Iudici, fellow of the June 2017 Edition of our Master PMC – Project Management for International Cooperation, to ask her about her ongoing experience with AVSI Foundation after the Master. Antonella talked about her job and feelings in Uganda (while right now she is in Mozambique, working as an Operations Manager) and we were happy to notice how positive her time on the field was for her.
“Looking back, I can say that I owe my current confidence to my previous failure in the private sector, when I realized that environment was not for me. Back then, I thought leaving my permanent contract with a for profit company to look for something unsure was a failure, but now I see that it has been my greatest strength. This is why I became aware of what I wanted.
I have always felt more at ease in context where I can clearly see how my contribution and working hours are useful for something more than just my salary. And that’s how my personal predisposition and my values led me to work in the Nonprofit sector. Sharing a mission with the people next to me and having an impact gives value to my work more than anything else and it pushes me to do my best. I also like the work environment a lot. In light of my previous working experiences, it was easy for me to understand that sharing a mission makes me feel more comfortable.
After a year in the for profit sector, I decided to enrol in Social Change School’s Master. One of the last moments of the Master consisted in the Job Interview Challenge, which I did with AVSI Foundation. I spoke with C.S., responsible of Human Resources. I had already done plenty of interviews, so I was quite discouraged and had not given the Job Interview Challenge much thought.
For me the Master was very useful to understand my skills and my limits. While talking to C.S., she introduced me the vacancy, asked about me and told me she thought I could become an Operations Manager. At the time, I didn’t even know very well what an Operations Manager did. She shared with me an open job position, she asked me to take a look, because she believed I would like it. The experience needed was more than what I had, but C.S. told me that, within a couple of years, I could have reached it. Reading the vacancy, I was indeed impressed by it, because it was something quantitative but at the same time entailed the engagement of people and human resources. I told her I was interested, why not? So, she said they could give me the chance to make some experience with them, because I had an interesting profile. I did a second interview with the responsible of their local offices, F.B.. I honestly didn’t have high hopes, as I saw myself working in monitoring and evaluation or administration. I thought those were the two fields in which I could have used my skills better. We still didn’t know where I would be sent or when. And then C.S. wrote to me, saying they had found the place. I was there, ready with Google Maps, because I thought they would send me to an unknown place! And instead she told me my destination was Beirut. I had just been to Lebanon with the School for our Field Experience! So, I went for the first part of my training period with the Finance Manager. Beirut is one of the most structured offices of AVSI and they recommended me to learn as much as I could from there. I thought I would be staying in the same area for a longer time, to be moved to another office later on. But a month after arriving, I received an email from C.S. proposing me a position in Uganda as Administration of AICS projects (Italian Agency for Development Cooperation). After less than a month of training, I already had a job. Thinking about going to Africa made me very happy, and so I left for Uganda on September 1. I fell in love with the country, the people were fantastic and Kampala was beautiful. It was great. I was always working in administration, but I was following projects in the North, so I got to visit the field to see how the project was going at least once a month, working with local staff. I had a year contract, but they told me that I would probably stay there for two years. Of course, adapting to the African mindset and way of working was a challenge. You have to change your own mindset or else you won’t make it. After a month, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it. AVSI was the lead of one of the projects I was working on and I was responsible for the administration of the other two organizations as well, always interacting with locals. I asked them to have a meeting, and they wouldn’t show up and turn off their phones… It was impossible! Among everybody else, I remember a person in particular, who I was unable to manage when it came to deadlines and deliveries. In the end, we became friends and respected the deadlines of the project. I have been good in the office too, even if at the beginning everybody was looking at me like the “typical white person” that arrives and starts to give orders. In these situations, flexibiliy is always the best approach.
The purchasing power in Uganda is extremely low, and many had told me that I wouldn’t be able to find true friends in the country, that everybody would have tried to use me. But they were wrong. Once a girl came to visit me at my place with a bag full of clothes, because she had noticed I liked wearing long skirts and dresses. I felt the beauty of humanity and this was not the only moment. Another time, when I was about to leave, a colleague couldn’t attend the goodbye lunch and wrote me a message saying she was sad I was going because she was learning a lot from me. This message made me particularly happy because at the beginning she was reluctant to follow my approach, as she is a stable and self-assured person. And this is what cooperation is all about. If you just look at it on its own, you will not be able to understand, but if you focus on the impact, on constant change (even in the way of working) that will go on even when you aren’t there anymore, then it takes a completely different meaning.