What CIM experts say about their assignments

Find out first hand how diverse and challenging it is to work in international cooperation. Gain an insight into what motivates integrated and returning experts, and discover how they see their work.

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Interview with Yannick Kühl

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Yannick Kühl

What do you do?
I work as an advisor on forests and climate change at the headquarters of the intergovernmental organisation International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) in Beijing. INBAR, which currently has 38 member states, is working to improve the living conditions of local producers of bamboo and rattan, while also conserving the environment, with the help of innovative cultivation and utilisation methods. To give you one example: we encourage the South–South exchange of knowledge and technology, and are working on bamboo-specific ways of developing a carbon accounting methodology.

How did you get the job?
Through the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM), which placed me as what is known as an integrated expert. I came across the vacancy published by CIM when I was looking for a new challenge abroad. It matched my skills perfectly and was exactly what I was looking for. I have a doctorate in agricultural economics, experience of working and conducting research in China, and am familiar with sustainable farming methods and shaping ecosystems. On a personal level too I was completely open to the idea of a longer stay in Asia. After an interview with CIM, my application was passed on to the local employer INBAR, which decided to offer me the job. My employment contract is with INBAR.

Why did you decide to work in international cooperation?
Since I was a student I’ve always wanted to work in international cooperation. Living and working in a global context makes every day an exciting challenge, brings sometimes unexpected but always valuable and satisfying experience, and brings me into contact professionally and personally with people from incredibly diverse backgrounds. This adventure, combined with a worthwhile job, opportunities to be creative and develop something new, and the chance to help shape positive change were what made up my mind for me.

Did you have any experience of international cooperation before your assignment?
Yes, I’d already worked on a bilateral research project with China. Now I’m back in China, but today I work for an international, intergovernmental organisation – not in the context of traditional bilateral or regional cooperation, but pursuing a global approach. I work with partners around the world – in Asia, Africa, America and Europe. That’s a completely new experience for me. It’s challenging, but gives me a chance to learn more and to broaden my horizons.

How did CIM prepare you for your assignment?
My previous job had already prepared me well for working in China, as the country of assignment, and in international cooperation as a field of work. But if integrated experts don’t have this previous experience, CIM offers special courses and seminars, and there are helpful packages even for those with experience: I was given several weeks of training for my assignment at the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ) in Bad Honnef, and I also attended internal advanced and further training Events.

Tell us about a typical working day.
There’s not really any such thing as a typical working day – every day is different. My work includes applied research projects, project management, establishing global partnerships, fundraising and capacity building. My job is enormously varied and that’s what makes it so attractive. It also calls for a great deal of communication and orientation within complex structures. That means that I spend a lot of time dealing with emails, on the phone and in online conferences. Another important aspect of my work involves gathering, processing and sharing knowledge – so a fair amount of my time is taken up with research and writing.

What do you like most about your job?
I very much enjoy the wide variety of interesting and interdisciplinary work, combined with the freedom to be creative. My role as an integrated expert allows me to support positive change processes from within: I’m the link in the chain between German institutions and my local employer, INBAR, and this forges lasting contacts and establishes new partnerships. The direct contact I have with local colleagues, and the fact that I’m integrated into the structures of my employer, allows me to pass on knowledge where it will be needed in future to launch and implement important processes. And I’m helping improve the prospects of local people, especially in poorer areas. Because my assignment is incorporated in the global Forest and Biodiversity measure, which GIZ is implementing within the scope of a programme for global partnerships with emerging economies, I also have the opportunity to gain insights into overarching political processes. The experience and knowledge I acquire in the course of my work enable me to help devise solutions to global challenges. Let me give you one example: I’m supporting knowledge transfer within South Asia and between China and Africa, where bamboo is being considered as an effective option for adjusting to and mitigating climate change. I’m also advancing the global relevance of bamboo on behalf of INBAR in the discussions at the UN climate change conferences.

What has been your most important experience?
The means to an end in Asia is not always as linear as it is in Germany. But nevertheless a lot can be achieved, even if things don’t always happen as planned, thanks in no small way to the good relations and mutual trust among colleagues, and even more importantly with partners. This is a very important factor in success.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in international cooperation?
Be open to new and different ideas and approaches. It’s important to be understanding, for instance, when dealing with setbacks, because decisions and reactions cannot always be gauged using western yardsticks. So much is influenced by cultural, political and economic factors. Of course it makes work exciting – but it’s a challenge, and calls for a lot of patience, tolerance and Stamina.

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Interview with Alexander Pforte

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Alexander Pforte

What do you do?
I work for the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan. As an advisor in the anti-corruption division I, and my Afghan and international colleagues, are responsible for ensuring independent monitoring and evaluation of national and international reforms to tackle corruption. At the same time, MEC is developing its own approaches and proposals for better countering abuse of power, for instance through transparent elections.

How did you get the job?
I wanted to work in Afghanistan and discovered that the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) places integrated experts with local employers worldwide. I sent in an unsolicited application and was invited for an interview, after which CIM included me in the pool of applicants. When CIM was looking for an anti-corruption advisor for my current employer, MEC, they contacted me, since my qualifications and experience fitted the bill. They put my name forward, MEC offered me the job, and gave me a contract. I arrived in Kabul in April 2013.

Why did you decide to work in a developing country?
My father worked in development cooperation, so I spent a lot of my life in developing countries and emerging economies. That naturally gave me an interest in development issues. Since what interests me most is emergency and transitional assistance, I decided to start my career in Afghanistan.

Did you have any experience of international cooperation before your assignment?
Through my father’s work, I obviously gained indirect experience and lots of impressions. Apart from that, though, I had no practical experience.

How did CIM prepare you for your assignment?
CIM organises courses at the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ) in Bad Honnef for integrated experts before they leave for their assignment. My three-week preparatory course included workshops on safety and security, the country and culture awaiting me in Afghanistan and useful introductions to various topics including advisory skills and stress management. I felt that I was well-prepared when I finally boarded the plane for Afghanistan.

Give us an idea of a typical working day.
Every day begins with a short meeting of all divisions to discuss the plan for the day before we all go to our own desks. I spend most of my working time in the office, where I perform research into various issues, coordinate my colleagues’ activities and appointments, review the status of reform projects and plan the next steps in research and evaluation work with my colleagues. I often meet with representatives of other organisations and institutions to conduct interviews, for instance, or confirm sources. My working day ends officially at about 17:00.

What do you like most about your job?
The direct and very close cooperation with highly motivated and highly qualified Afghans who are working hard to improve their country. As an integrated expert I’m employed directly by a local organisation and am fully integrated into local structures. In spite of my limited mobility, this gives me many opportunities to come into direct contact with Afghans and their authorities. This gives me the opportunity to gain insights into the culture of the country. And I’m delighted that my work and the efforts of my colleagues is helping to foster development in Afghanistan – it’s often a question of very small steps, but I believe they are very important.

What has been your most important experience?
Coming straight from university I first had to get used to the difference between academic work and practical work. Apart from that, my most valuable experience so far has been learning how to achieve the goals of my work in what was initially a completely different cultural environment. It’s vital to respect cultural traditions without compromising your determination and professionalism.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in international cooperation?
Do it! It’s really worth taking up the challenges! The world needs people who can not only think outside the box, but who have the courage to leave the box far behind them. International cooperation can make the world into a genuine global village.

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Interview with Nikola Rass

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Nikola Rass
What do you do?
I work for the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), an international intergovernmental organisation in Tunis, Tunisia. OSS members include 22 African states, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Switzerland, as well as many UN organisations. OSS helps Saharan and Sahel states to implement the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to protect and ensure the sustainable use of biodiversity. This can take the form of training in natural resources management and fostering an exchange of knowledge, for instance. I’m establishing a climate component, which aims to support the population in their efforts to adapt to climate change. It also includes bringing decision-makers on board and raising awareness of this issue by organising relevant training.

How did you get the job?
I worked for the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) for three years, where I was primarily involved in international environmental policy. This sparked my desire to work inside a regional organisation dealing with the implementation of global environmental policy. CIM’s job description was exactly what I was looking for – OSS has been working as a regional advisory centre for UNCCD member states for 20 years. After going through CIM’s selection process, they gave my name to OSS, and I was offered the job.

Why did you decide to work in international cooperation?
I’m interested in people from different cultures and have been working in international cooperation for almost ten years. I’ve gained experience in various countries over that period. For me it’s important to be able to trigger changes. Being based in Tunisia also attracted me because I’m very interested in the change process in Arab states, and the chance to work in Tunisia allows me to learn more about the Arab culture.

How did CIM prepare you for your assignment?
I spent several weeks at the training centre in Bad Honnef, attending courses on the country and culture of my assignment, intercultural communication and advisory processes, as well as security training – it was excellent preparation. Along with other integrated experts I also spent a few days at CIM’s Head Office, finding out more about corporate policy and the CIM/GIZ monitoring and evaluation system. I was also able to discuss my future assignment with other experts in the field during this time.

Give us an idea of a typical working day.
My work in the office is fairly standard: I answer emails, work on project reports and applications, undertake other project management tasks and engage in discussions with colleagues. It’s rare for me to have a typical day in the office though. I’m frequently on the road – in my first nine months alone I attended workshops and regional meetings in India, Mauritania and Mali. I was also at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland. New activities and tasks are constantly being added to the agenda – and that’s precisely what I find so interesting and exciting.

What do you like most about your job?
As an integrated expert I’m part of international cooperation, yet I’m employed by a local body. I’m on the staff of OSS and am getting to know the organisation from the inside. That’s very exciting, and it gives me a much better understanding of the working dynamics, potentials and limitations of an organisation.

What has been your most important experience?
German working culture attaches importance to efficiency, effectiveness, forward planning, linear progress and the ability to accept one’s own mistakes. Other countries have other values. My most valuable experience has been opening up to the country and its culture. This is particularly important in the working context. It’s crucial to listen to one another, to learn from one another and to accept one another. Let me give you an example: ‘German’ planning doesn’t work in Tunisia the way we expect, and things are often only done when we would consider that it’s far too late. Yet so far, every workshop has taken place, even if the flights are only booked on the last day or the venues reserved at the last second. There’s no point in getting upset about things like this. It’s much more important to invest in inter-personal relations and to take time to ask colleagues how their families are.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in international cooperation?
I find it difficult to give any general advice, because the possible fields of assignment are so very different and so varied, as are the expectations and wishes of every individual. I think everybody must consider what they expect from a job in international cooperation, and ask themselves whether they’re only interested in gaining short-term experience in a foreign country, or whether they’re prepared to live abroad in the long term, and to remain mobile. They should consider their long-term goal and look realistically at their own strengths and skills. These are all very individual questions and international cooperation offers a wealth of individual options.