With only a shoestring budget at your fingertips and a few staff members to help you deliver multiple projects, working in human rights NGOs is a completely different environment to most workplaces. A certain skill set and attributes are particularly useful for human rights professionals to have in order to be able to survive in NGOs and avoid burnout. No doubt, in the long run, it will even sustain the NGOs’ ability to continue to carry out the important work that they do as well. Such skills could make or break both human rights professionals and NGOs alike.
For many human rights NGOs, projects are run with a very small team. To be able to manage a project through effective planning, execution and closure of projects with minimal resources and time in your hands can be quite a feat.
Human rights professionals will need to be able to see the bigger picture when defining the project scope, creating a strategy and schedule to deliver it as well as identifying project risks and developing responses to mitigate them. This will ensure the maximum value is achieved within the available budget and in a timely manner.
Every day will not be the same in an NGO workplace. You may go into the office with plans to complete certain tasks during that day only to find other work has emerged that needs to be dealt with immediately first.
Time management is fundamental to keeping NGOs afloat. You need to be able to work to accommodate for both proactive and reactive work by working to urgent deadlines and re-evaluating less pressing deadlines. Working within a small team also means being prepared to take a step back on your own activities or put in some extra hours in order to support team members when they need you most.
Funding is a constant obstacle for NGOs. Most NGOs rely on being funded by grants and donors in order to be able to carry out their activities. Lack of funding often results in closing particular projects and services as well as redundancy of staff. It is the lifeline of the organisation’s sustainability.
To continue their work in NGOs, human rights professionals will need to develop fundraising skills including the ability to build relationships with trusts, major donor bodies and private individuals. Often professionals will need to be able to think outside the box with an entrepreneurial attitude towards fundraising. Creating online crowd-funding campaigns using concise copy to persuade people to give as well as organising money-raising events can prove useful for situations requiring immediate funding for a specific project.
As the majority of projects, if not all, are funded by grants and donors, accountability and transparency run through the work of human rights NGOs. Skills in monitoring and evaluation are extremely important to facilitate reporting back to funding providers and stakeholders accurately. Being able to maintain strong relationships with funding providers will also give you an advantage in formulating an agreement upon a monitoring and evaluation framework that works for both.
Despite the amount of paperwork it can often involve, monitoring and evaluation skills keeps human rights professionals’ work in check. It helps determine progress by tracking achievements and facilitates decision-making to continuously reform programs and activities in order to ensure they are efficient and effective in making an impact upon the communities they serve.
Being able to communicate on behalf of others is a key skill to ensure the voices of victims of human rights abuse and marginalised communities are heard. Telling their stories and narratives effectively, and infused with empathy, can greatly influence an audience and in making a real difference in gaining support for their cause.
Advocating for clients at NGOs requires great listening skills which will pave the way to help them explore options to seek redress. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It requires human rights professionals to be sufficiently emotionally robust to be able to support vulnerable people to work through the trauma they may have experienced as a result of the injustices they have faced.
Working for human rights NGOs, however large or small, has a lot of potential to develop your skills. Within a small workforce, human rights professionals often find themselves wearing multiple hats by utilising different skills to meet a vast number of organisational needs. These skills will come in handy in the majority of human rights roles and will definitely boost your value to employers.
The NGO workplace is a great place for both entry level opportunities as well as for developing their career further. It suits those who wish to shoulder greater responsibilities. As human rights NGOs depend upon the skills of their staff to keep themselves functioning, it can be a rewarding path to take.