As I talk to aid workers of all ages (early 20's through post-retirement), in all roles (cubicle farmers, marketers, hardened field veterans...), working for most every kind of aid organization (tiny startup charities to mammoth UN agencies), feeling some level of being dissed/abused/maligned/taken for granted/underpaid is anecdotally the most common theme.

So, draw the lines for yourself now: what would it take to make you walk? What would it take to make you walk away from a job in the aid world? What would it take to make you walk from your current job? What would it take to make you leave the aid world/humanitarian sector entirely? 

Be as general or as specific as you want.

Tags: aid, aid career, aid worker, development, humanitarian aid, international aid

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LCD, you highlight what I think is a key issue for many humanitarian workers dealing with challenges of the role, organisation or sector - "my interests, work, and identity are all tied up together.

Similar to an earlier response, I would ask myself three questions:

 - Have I contributed all that I can in this space? 

 - Do I still believe in the work that is being done?

 - Am I still relevant and required here?

If the answers to these questions are affirming, I'm more likely to look at alternative measures for continuing the work in some shape or form.

A complete breakdown in the belief of the work is a key contributing factor in walking away for me.

I also think Elle asks a great question regarding strength and walking away from work with can be such a significant and intimate part of your identity. If I wasn't working in this role/organisation/sector - what would I do/ who would I be?

I am currently working as part of a team whose identity is changing significantly and rapidly without a real opportunity for input into the process. I struggle with the shift in team dynamics, having gone from a  very small  'family' to a mammoth beast I don't easily recognise. Interestingly enough, I can deal with being underpaid, I can manage with often feeling like the work is taken for granted by management, I can even deal with the increasing level of abuse from our client cohort. But what I do struggle with is the total lack of connectedness I now feel to this team. In saying this, I wouldn't necessarily be prepared to walk as long as the answers to the questions I listed above are all still yes.

I walked once (to another aid job) because the mission creep had gotten so bad the approach was trying to achieve things it could not possible achieve and at the same time I was exhausted and extremely frustrated with management not open to discussions of what the mission should be an how it could be achieved. I'm glad I did. I think the one thing that could make me walk away from the humanitarian sector entirely would be getting stuck in a job like that.

So it's a bit over-used and cliche, but I like that phrase, "Not all who wander are lost..." Sometimes the walk away is what is needed to really dig into an area that you've been trying to find the courage to jump into.  The reasons I've changed job are the same reasons I seem compelled to move house every few years and get that longing-to-flee feeling when I see an airport/train station/dusty, dog-eared pack on some random on the metro. My biggest jumps away were to the "acceptable" stops like grad school, and then to try something related but tangential so as to seek that ever elusive balance (read: no home support to be a traveler...) once the kidlets arrives. The things that made it an easier decision to pack out?

(1) Management that thought that "leadership" was equivocal to attempting all decisions by committee, and doing lip-service not only to honoring internal relationships but also forgetting that there were people on the other end of every non-decision

(2) Office malaise / griping / negativity /  bullsh*t whining.  When you're shot on for being a rational / sober / informed / non-emotional voice in the majority of circumstances, well, sometimes it's just not worth the hassle.  

Good Q, J. 


I like this. Good thoughts, Pia.

I read this post earlier and took the day to think about this question. For me, its a question of developing your "redlines" and making sure you stick to them which can be difficult when pride gets in the way. In terms of walking away from the aid world, it's more a current feeling like you can't get experience if you can't get hired but you can't get hired without experience, the proverbial double edged sword.

In terms of walking away from my current job, I was faced with this dilemma last July and against my own better judgement I changed my mind which looking back in hindsight I really should not have done that. This dilemma came after what I can only describe as an extremely heated exchange with my boss to the point I became so angry I was crying. I had never felt that level of verbal abuse before and to be honest that for me has become a huge redline. I realize there is a difference between someone being angry and someone being hurtful for the sake of being hurtful but I will never put up with that again.

To me money is not a huge issue as much as other benefits like health insurance are because as I have gotten older I have realized I can get by on pittance but health insurance can suck the savings right out of your account faster than you can say giardia.

In terms of leaving the humanitarian sector entirely, I have made the difficult decision that if by September I have not gotten another job in the humanitarian sector then I will give up the search and return to the job I had when I was putting myself through graduate school. Its not a job I enjoyed by any stretch of the imagination but I also realize that I am getting older and need a little more stability in my life than living 3 month contract to 3 month contract.

I recently thought about this question in light of a career in marketing. I was asked just yesterday -- what are your plans post-marketing?

I didn't know how to answer the question except to say marketing, to me, is a bit like working in general -- pays the bills, funds my vacations, keeps the brain active, and and and... But will I ever "escape" it? or get away from it? Or make it post-marketing? Or walk away?

Are those even options given my particular skill set, career experience thus far, etc etc etc?

Perhaps it's not a question of "what would make you walk?" (answers to that are endless) But rather, could you ever really walk away, and actually get away?

so, basically, "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave..."

Kudos for the excellent music reference!

Yes, this is really the thing for me.

can we walk away? are we really going to be accepted in any other work culture or setting (ultimately selling something, which is what most companies are about actually)? are our skills going to be valued? but worst, supposing we find an employer open enough to value difference: will we find any Meaning in that other work environment/tasks/ultimate goals (selling shampoo/cars/insurance/dreams/smoke).

I have found it very, very difficult.

Is the need to earn your life as anyone else, the fact of being able to do the job, and the wish to travel and discover a valid reason to work in aid? yes, no, who says? Not sure this is the reasons sought for by hiring managers though.

Is there a level of disenchantment/cynicism/plain sadness as seeing what you put in and what you get after, say, 18 years, that, once reached, prevents us from doing a good job?

Do we need to believe in this to work in it? most other industries (except Religion, it you allow me the provocation) do not required its workers to believe....

According to this infographic, looks like more millennials (24%) consider an employer's policy on social media important when considering a job.  Maybe the new generation will force orgs to re-examine their attitudes/stances on blogging, etc.

See article here:

That is, of course, assuming that the aid workforce would comprise solely Americans.

You haven't replied to your own question J. What would make you walk?




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