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#12 Establishing field cred

January 6, 2011

The ex-Expat Aid Worker who’s working back at headquarters for awhile can easily be mistaken for just another run of the mill person working at an aid agency. It’s extremely important for ex-Expat Aid Workers (eg., those no longer working “in the field”) to unassumingly drop in little clues that establish “field cred” if they want to stand out and be taken seriously by their co-workers and peers who work in Programs.

This can be difficult to do at large global meetings if the facilitator doesn’t give enough time to go around the room for everyone to do a full 5 minute self-presentation (useful to establish meeting hierarchies based on position and field cred). So the ex-Expat Aid Worker needs to be creative.

One way of establishing field cred early on is introducing yourself by where you used to be first, and then where you work now. “Hi, I’m Joe and I was based in Kosovo for awhile, but now I’m working as a Project Technical Field Support Administrator (eg, Text Bitch) at UN Agency #2” or “I’m Joanne. I lived in a rural community with no electricity or running water in Zambia for 3 years before starting my current position as Resource Mobilization and Grant Support Systems Deputy Assistant Manager (eg., Spreadsheet Bitch) at Big Organization Zero.”

Another way to drop in hints that you’ve spent time “in the field” is to seek out participants who are not native English speakers and talk to them in a language other than English when people are around to hear you. You can also drop hints that you’ve got field cred by always pronouncing the names of cities and countries the way a local would (eg., Nee-ka-ra-wa instead of Nik-uh-rah-gwa).

A good facilitator will make it easier for ex-EAWs and current EAWs alike to establish field cred by opening a workshop or meeting with an icebreaker that allows people to mingle while answering a question like “What was the most dangerous and difficult job you’ve ever had?” or asking people to line up according to the length of time lived in a “developing country” or spent in a war or disaster zone. Another good practice for facilitators is simply allowing a slightly longer time for introductions, and having participants list off their favorite job ever, and why. This allows people to share not only the most difficult country they’ve lived in, but also to express their passion and experience in specific areas like “working with victims of torture in Afghanistan,” or “supporting women rape survivors in the DRC.”

Another creative way organizers can help all categories of Expat Aid Workers make the most of meetings is to create name tags that list the participants’ current organization and position and then offer a space underneath to list the last 3-5 countries that the participant has worked or a spot for hobbies, where the Expat Aid Worker can list something obscure or awe-inspiring.

Lastly, the ex-Expat Aid Worker looking to establish field cred and be noticed should listen closely and try to get into a working group with the older, well-settled male who introduces himself by first name only and doesn’t wear a nametag. He will normally give a self-deprecating smile, look around the room and say, “Well, I’m Bob. Heh heh. I don’t do much around here.”  (Hint: He’s the most powerful person in the room.)

Without field cred, an ex-Expat Aid Worker might as well forget about being listened to at global program meetings or being taken seriously by anyone in the program department. Nonchalantly establishing field cred is a critical skill if the ex-Expat Aid Worker wants to be considered for a better paying position back in the field as a real Expat Aid Worker.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink
    January 7, 2011 1:01 am

    You could also try establishing your credibility by using the experience you have gained to make more informed comments or add more value to the discussion. Basing your credibility on the quality of your contributions and not simply on the fact that you happen to have spent time abroad might work better in the long run!

    • wdave permalink
      January 7, 2011 6:25 pm

      um….yeah. way to miss the point.

    • baboon permalink
      January 21, 2011 5:31 am

      Did you seriously just use the phrase ‘add more value to the discussion’? What is the typical value of a discussion before you ‘add value’ to it – 68.5? 23.6?

      • August 25, 2011 12:12 pm

        Do you really think experience doing something doesn’t “add” wisdom to those who have only read about doing those things? I do. I guess that makes me crotchety. I would much rather hear ideas coming from a room full of guys with “field cred” than a bunch of college interns with “new” untested ideas.

    • rav permalink
      June 5, 2012 5:24 am

      Erm, let me guess, you are German and work for GIZ, DKH or some such org right? And your favourite line is ‘Das ist nicht in ordnung!’ ja?

  2. Chris Laughlin permalink
    January 7, 2011 4:18 am

    You are brilliant. Thank you. That is all.

  3. Ayesha~Hasan permalink
    January 7, 2011 7:01 am

    Love it!

  4. Courtney permalink
    January 8, 2011 1:16 pm

    Hah, love it, this is hilarious and only too true, especially in Washington!

  5. Amelia permalink
    January 8, 2011 5:06 pm

    Genius! I suggest using the other categories on this blog for facilitator ‘questions’ such as: what’s the weirdest pet you’ve had, or biggest piece of artillery you’ve picked up? Find the person in the room who’s had the worst disease (well, not including VD, not so likely to go down well in a group setting).
    I’m going to practice some ‘off hand’ replies right now….

  6. January 9, 2011 11:20 am

    I find it funny that people even have to develop “field cred.” I do know that many of the “aid workers” never aided anyone other than giving another expat a ride some place. I love the blog !

  7. Wayne permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:15 pm

    Great blog. Love it. And oh so very true.

  8. Mzee permalink
    January 22, 2011 6:14 am

    Another way to establish field cred is to use a name or “handle” or “call sign” when replying to blogs that signals to anyone who is alert to these important nuances that you have extensive field experience where it matters.

    Where is matters, of course, are field locations that are consdered security risks. That’s security risks for the Expat Aid Worker (who else is there?). To be taken seriously the Expat Aid Worker must be able to recount ‘securuty incidents’ in detail. It helps if the securty incidents occured when they were “in-country” (see how easily it slips off the tongue with a little practice?), and helps even more if they were involved in some way. More cred still if the Expat Aid Worker smokes to settle shattered nerves (keep a packet of local brand cigarette handy for special occasions). If possible pepper the convesation with casual jargon (note that Nairobbery is a little overcooked these days).

  9. November 23, 2011 6:32 am

    Best ‘establishing field cred’ I have ever heard:

    I once had a christmas dinner hosted by this older Irish nun who ran a hospice in Uganda. I had heard many tales of her exploits – she had introduced morphine to the country in the 90s – which had me in awe of her field cred anyway. She would never speak of these things, just about cake recipes and her many dogs.

    At one point in the conversation people were talking about Nigeria and some regional electoral violence going on at the time. Someone turned to our host and said, “Didn’t you spend some time in Nigeria?” She appeared not to hear the question, it was repeated a couple of times until she thought for a second and saying, casually, “Oh yeah… I lived there for about nine years in the 60s.” Yeah, during the Biafran war, obvs. She then turned back to her dinner and steadfastly ignored all follow up questions.

    Lesson: Underplaying your field cred is probably the best way of establishing it. Also, being a chain-smoking, foul mouthed, ex-nun is pretty badass.

  10. Poacher permalink
    February 6, 2012 2:05 pm

    Hi, you all know who I am, now let’s cut the bullshit and get to the subject in hand so I can get away quickly to do something worthwhile – I have to catch the Antonov out of Stansted tonight …


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