Interview with Stefanie Simon (economic promotion, Ghana)

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.