A4ID is contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, following on from the Millennium Development Goals
Last week I was with the charity Advocates for International Development (A4ID), who partner commercial lawyers with International Development organisations in need of pro-bono legal advice.
As the ability to ‘make a difference’ is quite high up on my priority list, getting some experience with a not-for-profit was important to me, and I hoped that working with A4ID would provide insight into International Development (another of the 25) and Law too.
This is an organisation that can make a difference to local communities as well as to governmental and international policy. This broad impact is why the charity appealed so much to me.
Whilst working there, I had the opportunity to speak to several of A4ID's employees, and so asked them about their backgrounds. Almost all of them had been solicitors and several discussed their disillusionment with working in traditional commercial law – many have moved over to the charity sector so they could use their skills in a more meaningful way. Others had backgrounds based more in human rights law and a couple had previous experience directly in International Development.
Elisabeth Baraka, Head of Partnerships and Legal Services, shared her experiences and career path. She is also driven by a need to make a difference, but growing up, had ‘no sense of the wealth of opportunities’ there are to do so. Not sure how to start, she became the fourth generation of her family to go into law.
After several years working in litigation, she made the decision to move out of private legal practice, taking a Masters in International and Community Development and beginning to work part-time for an organisation which provided services for the homeless.
Elisabeth spoke about the many professionals in highly-pressured and highly-paid jobs who say they do it ‘for five years and then they’ll quit’. Except, in her experience ‘so few people actually do’.
Beyond this, she found that little from her school or university education prepared her for the need to creatively and innovatively solve problems – so much of education requires learning by rote with a minimal level of independent thinking and complex application of that knowledge. Over the course of her career, Elisabeth found herself having to retrain the way she worked to think more creatively.
This issue is part of the wider issue of the skills gap that government has identified with recent school leavers and graduates, compared to the needs of employers. Part of this is that those who have just left education may know their facts, but often do not know how to apply them to work-based situations.
However, her advice to readers looking to move into a charity or humanitarian organisation from a profession – ‘consistently follow what you’re passionate about and you will get there’.
You should ‘take that pay cut as soon as possible’, as the younger you are, the less it will impact you. Taking a substantial pay cut when you have a mortgage, children and are accustomed to a certain lifestyle, is much harder than doing so before you have those financial commitments; it’s ‘easier to walk away from’.
Whilst it was great to understand how the organisation worked, I realised that I had been hoping to learn more about Law and International Development, rather than how to broker the relationship between the two. A4ID do not do the pro-bono work itself so my time with them was more about learning how a charity works from a more operational perspective. It was interesting to find out more about this area, as operations are the backbone that keeps any organisation running.
Whilst the work that A4ID does makes a huge difference, it does so at one step removed, in a more enabling capacity – it enables others to make the difference. I think I am looking for something where I can make more of a direct impact, and perhaps my International Development placement later in the year will provide the chance to explore this in the way that I’m looking for.
However, for someone already working in the legal sector looking to make more of a difference, this is a small but critical area which provides an alternative to traditional careers through a more nuanced aid perspective, along with benefit of the flexibility for a good work/life balance.
This article is also available in the Careers section of the website.