Archive for April, 2008

From the Armchair to Uganda: International Activism as a Means of Professional Development (CDG talk: 21 April 2008)

April 22, 2008


Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is usually associated with building water treatment facilities or teachers trying to bring English to African schools. In this context it is surprising to find out that a librarian is needed out in Uganda. This was where I started out from before listening to a talk by Sara Ellis.

Sara spent the first 18 months of her stay in Uganda as an Organisation Development Officer with the Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE) in Kampala. The library had some old, out of date materials, but it was difficult to throw them away as books are like gold dust. Although there are 56 indigenous languages in Uganda, materials in the local languages are scarce and children from the age of 8 or 9 years old are taught in English.

In September 2005 Sara changed post and started working at the Kibala District Civil Society Organisations’ Network. Sara highlighted the huge challenge of attracting funding. Sara trained people on book-keeping systems, gender policies and fund –raising, and she enjoyed working with people immensely.

Sara emphasised how she had gained both professionally and personally from her stay in Uganda. For more information on working as a VSO volunteer, follow this link.

Then followed a talk by a very dynamic speaker, Maria Cotera, currently Vice President of the CDG. Maria spoke about how as an information professional you can make an impact at regional and national level as well as internationally, even if you haven’t got the guts to go and work in a foreign country!

Maria has had the opportunity to travel to several countries, including Buenos Aires, Oslo and South Africa as a delegate at The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conferences and latterly as Lead Convener of the Women, Information and Libraries Discussion Group of IFLA.

Being a professional activist comes naturally to some of us, but not to others. It is about more than just going to work, it is about being active and looking for opportunities. One common thread that emerged from both talks was the use of transferrable skills. Examples include organisational skills and time management, project management, problem-solving skills, creativity and imagination.

Some of the most challenging skills to develop are influencing skills and fund-raising, meaning the ability to relate to and inspire others, including the ‘Big People’,  such as persuading Bob McKee, Chief Executive of CILIP to do a sponsored slim as a means of raising funds for international projects.  And last but not least, interpersonal and leadership skills.

So the message from today’s event was very clear: don’t just be a couch potato and think about it but get out there and be a professional activist.

I believe that you should never underestimate the value of transferrable skills, in declaring them to your employer, when you are applying for a new job, or indeed, when preparing your chartership portfolio!

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