What sparked your interest in spending this summer as a work-learn student at CIRDI?
I chose to take up a summer work-learn position at CIRDI as it offered an excellent opportunity to deepen my knowledge of resource governance issues from a Canadian perspective, as well as to contribute my skills and background in program management, monitoring and evaluation for a complex portfolio of projects related to sustainable development.
Natural resource sectors are at particularly high-risk of perpetuating social inequality, environmental degradation and human rights abuses due to a variety of structural and context-specific issues. Coupled with increasing demands for natural resources, the scale of these challenges is expected to grow in the immediate future. A summer at CIRDI allowed me to better understand how these mega-trends are playing out within particular markets, and the potential role of the private sector in mitigating the negative impacts of resource development in the Global South.
Was CIRDI your first international development experience? If not, how was it different from your previous experience in the field?
I had previously worked to advance consumer protection and trade union rights in line with global sustainable development goals. My in-country experience focused on Europe and Asia, although I was responsible for managing projects in collaboration with project partners in The Americas, Africa and Pacific regions as well. Unlike my previous roles, my time at CIRDI did not involve direct field experience.
What was your role and what projects did you work on?
My main responsibilities were to support and strengthen processes for results-based management and reporting to CIRDI’s primary donor – Global Affairs Canada. This involved aligning project-level impact metrics with institutional-wide performance targets for existing and new projects, and providing advice on developing CIRDI’s technology platform for streamlining the reporting process. In addition, I drafted an organizational strategy for embedding and advancing Gender Equity across CIRDI’s work.
I also had the opportunity to participate in strategic discussions about CIRDI’s role in the broader development assistance landscape, efforts to address climate change and improving resource governance.
Finally, I provided an analysis of CIRDI’s program development and fundraising process and provided recommendations for improving the speed and efficiency of CIRDI’s pipeline for new projects.
Do you feel you were able to make real contributions to these projects?
CIRDI has a fairly “flat” organizational structure, and CEO Cassie Doyle invited active participation and meaningful contributions from students who were part of the Work-Learn program at the outset. I believe this early signal from senior leadership was crucial to setting a tone within CIRDI about the tremendous value students can bring to ongoing projects, from technical skills to region-specific knowledge. In my case this translated to a high degree of involvement in organization-wide strategy and policy discussions, and a genuine appreciation by CIRDI staff of my skills and experience in the development sector. These positive interactions with CIRDI staff provided much needed insights into my strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly raised my sense of self-efficacy and competitiveness as I look ahead to the job market next year.
What was the most challenging part of your time at CIRDI?
It was a challenge to balance multiple priorities over the summer at CIRDI. As the work was highly interesting, timely and relevant, it was difficult to keep to the allocated 20 hours per week, while writing my dissertation and managing the responsibilities associated with having a young family. Although these challenges are common to many graduate students, from my perspective, the flexible work culture (such as later start times and home-working) at CIRDI was very helpful in my efforts to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
What moments will you remember with a smile?
The highlight of my summer at CIRDI was the opportunity to interact with its fantastic staff. They are a talented, knowledgable and hard-working group, and in my experience very collegial and warm. I especially appreciated being the first student to receive the “Loon Award” – a weekly staff-nominated acknowledgement of notable contributions. It was a lovely, fun and motivating little gesture.
How will this experience help you in your career?
My time at CIRDI has reaffirmed the importance of local partnerships in delivering technical assistance effectively. Each of CIRDI’s projects are implemented through impressive partnerships with host-governments, academic institutions, civil society and local communities. CIRDI staff have developed a strong repository of approaches to foster and maintain this ‘social-capital’ despite unique and challenging operating contexts (such as conflict-affected and fr
agile states). I have also come to appreciate the significant impact of political transitions on how development aid is delivered, both within our domestic context in Canada, and for host governments such as Mongolia and Colombia.
Overall, my role at CIRDI has enabled me to update my knowledge of current trends in results-based management and Canadian development assistance priorities. I have gained valuable exposure to resource governance experts within CIRDI’s network, and built positive working relationships with CIRDI staff. The skills, knowledge, and professional network I have been able to develop over this summer aligns well with my future career plans.
Where to from here?
Following the completion of my PhD, I hope to take on a senior-management role within an organization working to advance the business and human rights agenda globally, and expect to continue academic research on related themes.