Career (last few roles/organisations, or your main or favourite):
Regional Manager, Asia – Australian Volunteers International (2011-present)
Worked with Muslim Aid Indonesia in Java, West Sumatra and Aceh (2007-2010)
Program Coordinator, Mekong sub-region; East Asia Manager – Oxfam Australia (1993-2007)
Almost all my working life has been in overseas development and humanitarian relief, with jobs based overseas and in Australia. It has been an extraordinary privilege to travel to remote communities in Asia and elsewhere, and sit with local people as they plan the development they want. I’ve had jobs based in the Middle East, Cambodia and Indonesia, and Australia-based jobs that have required me to travel frequently in Asia and the Pacific. In Australia, being part of developing strategies for real change – how to address the causes of poverty and to work with multi-disciplinary teams across several countries to plan and implement strategies.
What was your first job?
After I graduated, I worked for a while as a cook in a Fitzroy pub. I got a letter out of the blue asking me if I was interested in a teaching job in Lebanon – an application I had made to an aid organisation a year before, and given up on. I taught English and French at Brummana High School for 2 years. The civil war had already been running for 6 years when I arrived; at the end of my first year, the Israeli invasion of 1982 happened, and I went to work with the Middle East Council as an administrator for an international medical team. I returned to MECC after my contract at the school finished, working as information officer for the Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Team.
How have the humanities helped you in your career?
They’ve been essential. Communication, processing and sharing information is central to what I do, and my training in the humanities was largely around that – how you turn several hundred pages of reading into a 2500 word essay; in language study, learning to detect and convey small nuances.
Languages and literature encode culture, history, sociology and much more. The disciplines have enabled me to learn far more broadly, in very diverse fields. Skills learned from studying European languages were what enabled me to learn Arabic and several Asian languages.
Why do you think the humanities matter today?
The world is changing rapidly; it’s not possible to choose one field of study that will equip you with all the knowledge you’ll need over the course of your career – any one field is likely to change out of recognition during your working life. The humanities, as I studied and was taught them, trained my mind to be able to learn for myself – I’ve needed to pick up all kinds of knowledge in very diverse areas, and it was the core skills I learned in my one undergraduate degree that have enabled me to do that.
What are you reading now?
Indonesia Etc – Elizabeth Pisani (just finished). Highly recommended.
Nora Webster – Colm Toibin.
‘The Economist’ cover to cover every week, and ‘From Poverty to Power‘ blog by Duncan Green.
Planning to tackle Patrick Modiano over summer.