What development workers say about the Development Service

What motivates development workers to take up an assignment in a partner country? What did they do to prepare for their assignment? What experience did they gain in the partner country? Read on to find out more.

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Interview with Katrin Hermsen (National Women Commission, Nepal)

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Katrin Hermsen

What is your professional background?
I have a Master’s degree in comparative social studies, a German ‘Diplom’ (equivalent to a Master’s degree) in social work and am a fully trained and state-approved social care worker.

What is your job as a development worker?
I advise Nepal’s National Women Commission on results-based planning and monitoring, as well as communication, knowledge management and team building.

Why did you decide to become a GIZ development worker?
I think that development worker assignments are really interesting because they combine specialist knowledge and practical experience with intercultural challenges. And of course there’s the chance to work with a partner organisation every day, to ensure an exchange of views among specialists and to deliver advisory services, which I find attractive from both a professional and a personal point of view. I’ve always been interested in international cooperation and human rights as well.

Tell us about a typical working day.
It’s not that easy to describe a typical working day. When I arrive at the National Women Commission in the morning, the first thing I do is to talk to my colleagues. A morning discussion always marks the start of our working day, and offers an informal forum for sharing information. Then it’s time to start providing advisory services, and this can take a wide variety of forms. With more than 40 staff, there are lots of very different issues to tackle, and individual employees often come and consult me. I also use the contact with individual employees to provide targeted advice. So my working day generally consists of meetings with individual colleagues and with the entire workforce, holding workshops or providing advice on preparing monitoring documents. I often accompany the Women Commission on monitoring visits to different districts of Nepal. And I’m frequently asked to support the Commission at meetings with members of the government or non-governmental organisations, and to advise them accordingly. Business trips and meetings sometimes crop up at very short notice. I also believe it’s important to maintain contact with GIZ’s country office in Kathmandu. That means I also have things to do for GIZ Nepal, such as giving an introduction on gender to new development workers. Obviously I also work at the computer, develop ideas, comment on documents, and write and answer emails. It’s anything but boring!

How do you find working for GIZ’s Development Service?
As a development worker I have the chance to use my technical expertise and intercultural skills on a massive scale. I face challenges and pose challenges so that I can give the partner organisation the best possible advisory services. In my work I’m in constant touch with people and I see time and time again how important it is to find a common basis for communication. There are a huge number of linguistic, cultural and technical challenges. To put it in a nutshell – I love my work!

What has been your most important experience as a development worker?
Communication skills are the key to good advisory services. This means both the ability to speak the local language and the ability to retain a balance between culturally appropriate communication and challenging communication with a view to triggering change. Technical expertise can then be built on the foundations of communication.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for GIZ’s Development Service as a development worker?
If you’re going to enjoy your work and encourage change, it really helps if – in addition to having the requisite technical expertise – you’re highly motivated, speak the language, and are interested in the local culture. You’ll also have to cope with frustration sooner or later. My advice then would be to take a realistic look at yourself first, and see if this is right for you.

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Interview with René Rösler (financial systems development, Laos)

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René Rösler

What is your professional background?
I’m a fully trained bank clerk and I also studied business administration and economics with a special focus on international development cooperation.

What is your job as a development worker?
I work in the microfinance sector and support the establishment of village banks as well as an umbrella organisation for village banks. In Laos I work with the partner organisation both at local level and at provincial level. Our project is pursuing a multi-level approach (micro, meso and macro levels), which means we have to consult closely with the national level project management.

Why did you decide to become a GIZ development worker?
I think that the challenges of development cooperation in partner countries can only be effectively mastered if the needs at local level are fully understood and taken into account. As a development worker on the ground I play an important part in ensuring that this is the case. That’s why I find the job so important and the work and interaction with local colleagues at this level incredibly exciting and enriching.

Tell us about a typical working day.
I can break down my working day roughly into three main priorities. At local level my work involves regular visits to the village banks where I support and advise the national experts. I always seek direct contact with the village bank committees, which are made up only of villagers, who have other day jobs, for example as farmers. In addition to delivering advisory services, I get to know the day-to-day challenges faced by village banks. The second priority area of my work is advising the umbrella organisation of village banks, which represents the interests of village banks at regional level and also aims to improve the quality of the individual village banks. The third part of my work involves close cooperation with national level project management. Since GIZ is supporting the village bank approach in several provinces of Laos, regular exchange helps us to get to grips with more complex development issues together, and enables us to learn from one another.

How do you find working for GIZ’s Development Service?
My experience to date has been very positive, thanks primarily to the excellent cooperation with my partner organisation. The contribution development workers make is very much appreciated here.


What has been your most important experience as a development worker?
I’ve seen first-hand that, in order to achieve good development cooperation, there must be a knowledge transfer from local to national level. Since development is an ongoing process, it’s not enough to use one-off impressions or past experience as the basis for national programmes and strategies, since these would not truly mirror the needs of the actual target group.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for GIZ’s Development Service as a development worker?
Without at least a rudimentary knowledge of the national language I wouldn’t be able to understand or interpret many processes and important cultural subtleties. That’s why a high level of cultural sensitivity is so important. In addition to the many technical and social competencies that today’s development worker is expected to have, a bit of serenity and balance helps me cope with the day-to-day challenges under working conditions that aren’t always easy. A development worker should also be genuinely convinced of the worth and validity of the project concept.

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Interview with Winfried Scheewe (organic agriculture, Cambodia)

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Winfried Scheewe

What is your professional background?
I’m an agricultural engineer, but I also completed a commercial apprenticeship.

What is your job as a development worker?
Since October 2010 I’ve been advising the Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association (COrAA), an association of cooperatives, small businesses, farmers and non-governmental organisations working to promote organic agriculture in Cambodia.

Why did you decide to become a GIZ development worker?
It was the chance to become involved in the field of rural development that made up my mind.

Tell us about a typical working day.
Since the partner organisation has relatively few employees, I spend some of my working time communicating with members, but also with other interested groups and individuals, generally by email. In addition, I advise colleagues and board members on their numerous and very diverse activities. Sometimes I accompany colleagues when they visit members in rural areas.

How do you find working for GIZ’s Development Service?
I had previously worked for a smaller seconding organisation, but I see the advantages of a larger organisation, which can provide direct support to development workers in partner countries if required.

What has been your most important experience as a development worker?
My work is very varied and frequently takes unexpected turns, which then lead to new activities that were not originally planned. I’m constantly having to acquire new knowledge.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for GIZ’s Development Service as a development worker?
It is, of course, important to be well prepared in technical terms and in terms of advisory methods, but it’s at least as important to be patient and flexible so that you can respond to unforeseen developments and requirements.

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Interview with Stefanie Simon (economic promotion, Ghana)

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Stefanie Simon

What is your professional background?
I’m a consultant by profession, and am currently employed as a development worker for a chamber of commerce in Ghana’s Western Region.

What is your job as a development worker?
I support my partner organisation across the board – from simple processes in the office to appointments with other organisations and delegations, to large-scale projects such as international conferences and new services for member companies. That’s why I find the term ‘development worker’ a bit of a misnomer. What I really do is advise.

Why did you decide to become a GIZ development worker?
The project sounded fascinating, the country sounded exciting and I wanted to try out something new and different. Having worked in the private sector in Germany for a few years, I wanted to broaden my horizons and go well beyond my own comfort zone.

Tell us about a typical working day.
For me, there’s no such thing. My day depends on my ‘client’ (my partner organisation) and its day depends on its clients (the member companies). I’m involved in many day-to-day processes though, including the weekly meeting to set the ‘to do’ agenda, smaller tutorials that I give for the whole staff, project meetings, etc. These are rarely planned in advance, however. They tend to take place spontaneously. Even meetings outside the organisation are only rarely planned. All in all then, my working day is fairly unpredictable. When the power and the internet cut off suddenly, there’s not a lot more I can do. It helps to be prepared for all eventualities and to take things as they come.

How do you find working for GIZ’s Development Service?
GIZ offers an attractive package which gives development workers good coverage. In Ghana a great many precautions and steps are taken to ensure everything runs smoothly. Nevertheless, development workers in partner countries have to fend for themselves. That has advantages; you are independent and responsible for what you do. But it also has a downside, especially in terms of feedback. You have to realise that there’s nobody here looking over your shoulder and telling you what’s right or wrong. You can only see what was right or wrong from the way others react.

What has been your most important experience as a development worker?
It’s not very helpful to show somebody exactly how to do something. What is valuable is giving them the opportunity to find out for themselves. That sometimes means letting things go wrong. And I’ve realised that some cultural values are very deeply rooted. In my case, punctuality. And for that I’m definitely in the wrong country, but I’m learning a lot about patience.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for GIZ’s Development Service as a development worker?
It’s not an easy decision to sign up as a development worker, and it’s not easy to carry it through. You have to recognise your own limits, and be prepared to constantly go beyond them. But if you’re willing to do so, you can have a wonderful time, and learn a lot yourself.

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Interview with Lucia Fetzer (peace expert, Rwanda)

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Lucia Fetzer

What is your professional background?
I have an interdisciplinary background with a B.A. in cultural studies and an M.A. in European studies. I specialised in various conflict contexts (including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Bosnia and Sri Lanka). These are also the countries where I gained work experience, mostly with civil society and state bodies involved in international cooperation.

What is your job as a peace expert?
I support the partner organisation IBUKA, which is a network for genocide survivors. Together we have initiated a project in Southern Province in which volunteers are trained in trauma management and conflict transformation. These volunteers then mediate within their own environments when conflicts arise and alleviate the symptoms of trauma that are often linked to these conflicts. In this way they help the reconciliation process in their own communities. I’ve been involved at every stage of project development, in planning, implementation and evaluation. I’ve also supported networking, initiated a regional exchange of experience via Civil Peace Service partners in Burundi, and advised IBUKA on organisational development issues, including fundraising and PR.

Why did you decide to work for GIZ as a peace expert?
The pivotal factor in my decision was my general interest in conflicts and inter-personal interaction. I was curious to see how people in other cultures deal with conflicts. As a peace expert I have the opportunity to explore this at grassroots level and to learn about others and about myself through intercultural exchange.

Tell us about a typical working day.
My working days vary enormously. Mostly I work in the office in the south of the country with the local expert. We discuss matters, document project activities and plan the next steps. Sometimes we are visited by volunteers who tell us about their progress and the challenges they are facing, or by other Rwandan civil society or state partners working in the same field. We often undertake field visits in the three districts in which we are working. Either we hold workshops which are attended by 30 of the total of 90 volunteers, or we visit individual volunteers and their ‘clients’ at their homes to investigate the peacebuilding impacts of our work and to listen to suggestions as to how it could be improved. About one third of my working time is spent in the main office of my partner organisation in Kigali, the capital city. Here I attend strategic meetings to strengthen IBUKA and help mainstream the knowledge on conflict transformation gained in the south within the organisation. I also support communication between IBUKA and GIZ. At regular meetings with other peace experts and partners of the Civil Peace Service, we refine the country programme together. And we’re stepping up cooperation between partner organisations.

How do you find working as a peace expert for the Civil Peace Service programme?
Exhausting and enriching! On the one hand, I’m very much responsible for what I do and have the opportunity to work closely with local partners and target groups, which gives me endless opportunities to make my own contributions and to help achieve results. It’s very satisfying to see the direct impacts of our work on the local population. On the other hand, processes are often sluggish and in some cases destructive. That makes it important to be able to distance yourself and to know just how much you can take. I see the Civil Peace Service programme as very much team-oriented though, and have received huge support and backing from within the programme.

What has been your most important experience as a peace expert?
I’m impressed by the strength, openness and willingness to learn demonstrated by people who have experienced incredible suffering. My role as peace expert gives me direct access to the stories of ordinary Rwandans’ everyday lives, and allows me to see the changes these people go through as a result of the empowerment process we have initiated. Seeing how genocide survivors, who until recently were having problems coming to terms with their own trauma symptoms, are now supporting others and helping them cope with the suffering they have gone through, or how they achieve reconciliation with perpetrators, is a very moving testimony to humanity and hope.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work as a peace expert for GIZ’s Development Service under the Civil Peace Service programme?
If you’re going to work as a peace expert, it’s important that you enjoy intercultural communication, that you have the will to listen properly, and that you’re a good team player. Before you take the step you should take a long hard look at your own ability to cope with frustration and consider how flexible you really are, because few things actually work out on the ground as planned. It’s absolutely essential to have effective, tried-and-tested self-protection mechanisms.



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