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Volunteer stories: Laura's story

Laura Whittaker – Assistant to the Director of Programmes and Operations

Laura Whittaker with Azafady friends

I'd been working in management consultancy at Accenture for more than a year and had grown extremely tired of the corporate world. In my spare time, I was running a small venture through my old university, sending architecture and engineering students to rural Uganda to work on grassroots building projects. I knew vaguely that international development was something I was very interested in, but had no formal knowledge or experience of the sector. On a whim I decided to apply for a job with SEED Madagascar, and couldn't quite believe it when I was on a plane just two months later.

It's difficult to say what my expectations were when joining SEED Madagascar. I knew that I was interested in development, particularly from a 'bottom up' or grassroots angle, but I had no desire to specialise in a certain field and wasn't sure where this left me. I really wanted some experience of working for an NGO overseas, to learn how everything worked and fit together - project development and delivery, finance, volunteering, education, policies and procedures, linking the UK and Malagasy organisations - everything!

In the most wonderful ways, I learned all of this and more at SEED Madagascar. My role as Assistant to the Director of Programmes and Operations allowed me to see all the workings of the NGO, contributing in different ways to all the departments, working closely with the Malagasy staff as well as the international staff. I learned what it means to be a small, grassroots charity applying for funding for projects that are thoroughly researched and designed, always with the community at the centre. I also learned that I really didn't want to specialise, and that's OK. To use an analogy I heard recently, I want to be able to see the whole elephant. Some people like to stand very close and know every little thing about the elephant's tail, or feet, or eyes; I prefer to be further away viewing the scene as a whole, no matter how fuzzy it can be!

Since leaving SEED Madagascar I've continued to pursue a career in development. This summer I will complete my MSc International Development, which I have been studying for part time alongside working for Teaching Leaders, a UK education charity which aims to reduce educational disadvantage. Working in Madagascar has been of enormous benefit for my degree, giving me a real sense of what I want to do in my career and basing my learning around it, as well as having invaluable experience to use for case studies and examples in seminars and having the best anecdotes! The office environment in Fort Dauphin may have been quite different to the UK, but I returned well prepared for joining a charity here with very valuable experience to contribute and I feel that my career has progressed significantly since working for SEED Madagascar.