EPAfrica: A gateway to my career

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Here’s an interesting fact for you, 91% of our alumni include volunteering for EPAfrica on their CV. That is an incredibly high percentage, especially as so many of our alumni have a whole host of experiences to choose from. Of course, I have always known that EPAfrica offers its volunteers what recruiters love and call ‘transferable skills’, but what exactly are those skills and is it more than just a tick on a CV box? Certainly for me, my experience with EPAfrica forms a critical part of my resume, and directly helped me secure my job at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). When I applied to the FCO three years ago my time as a Project Worker (PW) with EPAfrica was central to my interview discussions. In particular, we explored how I had collaborated with both my PW partners and allocated rural secondary school to get to the heart of the school’s needs and develop sustainable ways to assist. We discussed how we monitored the improvements, how we used evidence to ensure we were pursuing the correct ‘policies’ and how we guaranteed buy-in from the school so that they would continue to maintain that library long after we left.

In developing a tailored investment programme to fit the needs of my EPAfrica school, the skills that I had developed and deployed were also directly relevant to a job in foreign policy-making within government, Same skills just on a bigger scale. Overall the interviewer was very interested in my experiences with EPAfrica, especially as I could talk passionately and quite uniquely about it. Living and working in a foreign culture is also key for a diplomat posted across the world. Through EPAfrica, I proved that I could survive – and thrive – getting to know and understand a new place, people and ways of working.So EPAfrica certainly helped me to get my job, but it hasn’t stopped there. Being on the Management Committee and then Board of Trustees for EPAfrica has given me experience far above the grade of my current job. This has allowed me to improve my decision-making, risk analysis and programme delivery skills which I have then been able to apply to my day-to-day job. Running the EPAfrica Summer Team as Project Manager also had direct crossover with my role on embassy security, both requiring a strong logistical organisation element, often under time pressure. Understanding the Kenyan context was also really helpful when it came to working on the Westgate Crisis with the FCO last year.

Now working in the Embassy in Cairo, my role includes running HMG sponsored programmes in the Western Desert and draws on my work as a Trustee in developing a theory of change and monitoring and evaluation. And it has worked the other way too – applying what I have learnt at the FCO to EPAfrica as the Crisis Management Training and Protocol showed (although let’s hope we don’t have to use it!).

So, was EPAfrica a gateway to my career? I’d argue that EPAfrica has definitely been – and continues to be – not only this, but so much more! I have found a high degree of ‘cross pollination’ between FCO and EPAfrica that is mutually beneficial for both organisations – and, most importantly, for me. When I worry that I’m being ‘institutionalised’ by government, EPAfrica provides me with a fresh and exciting perspective. When I worry that EPAfrica is at the smaller end of impact, I deploy the skills I have honed with EPAfrica to my job with the FCO looking at a much bigger scale – the world! For me this is symbiosis at its best.

Looking to expand your skills and experience? Apply to be a project worker.

Jenny has been involved with EPAfrica since 2009, when she was a project worker. She went back to Kenya many times, as coordinator in 2010 and 2013, and Project Manager in 2012. She then worked on our Goals training, and joined the Management Committee, in charge of the UK Program in 2011. She recently became a member of the EPAfrica Board.