13 Australian heroes you haven't heard of: Alison Darcy - Former Program Development Manager at CUFA.

Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.

With that in mind, let us introduce you to Alison Darcy, Former Program Development Manager at CUFA.

1. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?

I work for a small organisation and this means that no two days are ever the same. My role is very diverse and can include preparing writing communication pieces, conducting monitoring and evaluation trips and making recommendations as to how to improve the impact of aid projects. My day can also be filled by providing training and working with and collecting data from in-country staff from across the Asia-Pacific region (daily via Skype), preparing donor monitoring reports, designing and writing proposals to secure funding for expansion and developing community projects.

2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?

I completed International Studies as part of my undergraduate degree and developed a real passion for humanitarian/aid work. After university, I volunteered in rural Nepal, which was an eye-opening experience that sealed my desire to work in international aid/development. I also competed in fundraising events for international development organisations such as Oxfam Trailwalker. From there, I completed a year long assignment as part of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) program in Bangladesh and upon returning to Australia, volunteered in international development organisations before joining a small Australian international development organisation.

Alison Darcy. Image supplied.

3. What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job are the field trips, visiting projects and meeting the women, men, girls and boys that are supported by Australian Aid and other donors and seeing the impact that the work is having on their lives. I often visit project sites and the thanks and gratitude expressed to the people of Australia (and other donors) is really powerful. Even without a common language or a translator, the message is clear and sincere. It’s very rewarding and inspiring to see the difference and hope that aid creates.

For instance, I was in Tacloban in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and the gratitude from the Filipino people for Australian (and other) donors helping them get back on their feet after the typhoon was really evident.  The project I was monitoring was focused on helping financial cooperatives recover and serve their communities post typhoon. Everyone I spoke to, from the community, to financial cooperative staff to the local partner we were working with was exceptionally grateful (there was a big banner saying thank you to the donors hanging up at each community I visited!). I was fortunate to be invited to a ‘groundbreaking ceremony’ where the appeal funds contributed to the re-building of a financial cooperative (the actual building) that was critically damaged by the typhoon, in the ceremony thanks was extended to all the donors.

Another really rewarding part of my job is working with in-country staff as they are so passionate about helping the people within their country. It’s uplifting to see their own personal and professional growth and how innovative and passionate they are to deliver projects to improve people’s lives.

There are various challenges in working in development including: juggling multiple priorities with tight timeframes, managing stakeholder expectations versus community needs, ensuring that the biggest impact is made for each dollar spent, working in cross-cultural environments, jet lag, at times being challenged by difficult and confronting situations and delivering high quality and effective programs with a reduced aid budget.

Alison with a couple of her colleagues. Image supplied.

4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?

I have found Australians to be generous givers whether that’s by volunteering their time or providing financial support for causes close to home such as their local community, natural disasters (both home and abroad) or charities that they are closely connected to and passionate about.

5. Do you think that the Australian government is currently meeting its global responsibilities in terms of aid?

No. I am a big supporter of the Australian Aid campaign and I believe the Australian government should increase its commitment to aid and understand the important contribution that Australian Aid makes, not just to our neighbours across the Asia Pacific, but also to the future prosperity of Australia.

6. What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?

In my opinion, they include civil unrest, displacement and resettlement of refugees, natural disasters and the corresponding emergency response to ensure communities become stronger and more resilient.

7. What do you see as the most significant challenges for women in the developed and developing world?

For women and girls in the developing world, I see this challenge as being providing women with equal rights and a voice for decisions that affect their future – most importantly, in terms of education and giving them the confidence, self-belief and courage to have a voice in governance and leadership roles.

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I believe strengthening the opportunities for women so that they are equally represented in leadership, government and Board positions is important. As is dismantling the stereotype that women, in order to have a successful career, need to make sacrifices (whereas the same pressure isn’t necessarily on men).

8. What can everyday Australians do each day to make a difference?

Find an organisation that you are passionate about and connect with them by donating, fundraising, volunteering and reading/watching about the amazing work they are doing to make communities stronger and more resilient across the region.

9. Do you have any advice for young women who want to do aid work?

  • Volunteer (either at home or abroad). It’s an excellent way to get first-hand experience as to whether a career in aid work is for you. It’s a competitive sector and volunteering/practical experience can help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Take a risk and grab those opportunities – you never know where they may lead. Also, be flexible and don’t discount entry level/admin positions as this is an excellent place to start (even if you have experience in other sectors) and can easily lead to new and exciting opportunities.
  • Build relationships. If you are working/volunteering overseas (or in Australia and working with people overseas), take time to get to know the people you are working with, the country itself and the culture.
Alison with another colleague. Image supplied.
  • Talk to people in the industry and find out what they do on a daily basis, the challenges and the highlights and ask them for advice.
  • Find your passion and be realistic about your expectations. I think it’s really important to be working in an organisation/for a cause that you care about. Aid work isn’t always glamorous. People sometimes think that working in development is all about travel and holidays – it’s not. A lot is desk-based and often, things don’t go to plan. There are late nights, long hours, tight timeframes and different expectations to manage. By working for a cause you feel strongly about it makes the difficult times easier and really makes you appreciate the ‘small wins’/impact/difference aid can make when you read the stories or have the opportunity to visit the projects on the ground.

Alison now works for CARE Australia as their ANCP Coordinator.

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So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

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