#12 Establishing field cred
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.