A missed application deadline did not stop Joy. Her perseverance paid off and she landed an internship position as a script writer with the G.O.L.D internship program. But she immediately found out that script writing was not her cup of tea. So, instead of taking all in stride and waiting for an opportunity she preferred to come up, Joy spoke out to have her duties aligned to something that she felt was better fit.
She then moved on to to Anti-corruption Coalition Uganda as an unpaid intern for three months and went on to volunteer for two years thereafter. What exactly compelled her to volunteer for two years unpaid? Well, she knew that it was getting the skills and building her personal brand that mattered during the first few years of her career. To survive, she had to look for ways of earning income through a side project. After netting a more permanent position as an advocacy officer, Joy got into a prestigious fellowship program and is now working on an exciting civic tech project, Fix My Community, that uses open data, journalism and tech to bring transparency and accountability to communities.
There does not seem to be much standing in the way for this social science graduate of Makerere University. Her work has taken her all over the world and she shows no signs of slowing down. Read on for more about Joy’s inspiring career path, how she always achieves her career goals and the advice she has for recent graduates.
Take us through your career journey.
My first job was a sales girl selling men’s shirt for a commission. I didn’t last more than a day but I don’t regret the experience. I learnt a thing or two about how to make a sale. In my second year at campus, I worked with Standard Chartered Bank as a direct sales representative. I quit after eight months because it did not fit into my direct career goals.
After completing my degree, a friend of mine approached me about the GOLD (Generating opportunities for Leadership and Professional Development) internship program. The program was supported by USAID in partnership with John Hopkins University of Public Health, Center for Communications Programs in Uganda. Unfortunately, the deadline had passed and I would have to wait up to next year to enroll. I did not let that deter me. The next day, with CV in hand, I made my way to their offices in Bugolobi. Despite the fact that I did not have an appointment, I was determined not to go home without speaking to the boss, Amos Zikusooka.
My prior experience as a sales associate served as confirmation for the work I could do. In fact, he noted that my CV did not look like that of a recent graduate. Two days later, I was enrolled into the program and I did not have to do interviews like the rest of my colleagues who had already been enrolled. From this experience, I realized that sometimes, all we need to do is be a little proactive about career opportunities. Even when someone says no, persist but don’t be pushy. If I had listened to my friend about the expired deadline, I would not have made it into the prestigious G.O.L.D program.
You were assigned to do script writing at first. What prompted you to make the switch? What advice do you have for people who are doing work that they are not that keen on doing?
My supervisor at the time thought that script writing with Young Empowered and Healthy (YEAH), the team for the rock point 256 project was a good fit. I realised that I couldn’t do it all. After some serious soul searching, I boldly approached my supervisor and discussed my passion of working with communities. He actually commended me for my openness and highlighted that one cannot perform while working on things s/he isn’t passionate about.
What did you do then?
I was reassigned as a Community Health Intern (CHI) at WellShare International formerly Minnesota International Health Volunteers for one year. Going to Arua for a first time was hard because I had to leave family and comfort behind for a new place while earning a monthly stipend of 230,000/=. One thing that kept me going is that I loved what I was doing.
My work involved implementing the Uganda Malaria Communities Partnership Project in the 7 districts of West Nile for a year. I mobilized and empowered communities to change their health seeking behavior.
Working here introduced me to a reality that women in rural communities where I worked occupied the private realm. That is, they didn’t speak in public, hardly made decisions and occupied few technical positions. Among the 16 partners we worked with, only two organizations had a female representative on the Board of Directors. This agitated me. So I developed a tool for mainstreaming gender equality in Community Based Organizations. Through training and implementation of this gender tool, an action plan of having two female representatives was implemented. Much as this gender work was not connected to the kind of work I had originally been assigned to do, it helped me widen my job description and seek out experiences I otherwise would not have got access to.
Tell us about your work with Anti-Corruption coalition Uganda (ACCU)
After completing the G.O.L.D program, I joined the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), as a Capacity Building Intern. Three months later, I successfully applied for consideration as an advocacy volunteer. As a volunteer, I trained local leaders in the four regions of Uganda on political accountability. I volunteered for two years and during this time, I did not earn a salary. To survive, I had a side business selling snacks to my work mates and that is what catered for my transport and lunch. At the time, I looked at the job as a means to an end. To me, it was a gateway to the career I wanted and I was slowly building my brand as a high performer.
I am now a Program Officer Advocacy where my work involves liaising with investigative journalists to conduct undercover investigations. I also do some work around strengthening anti-corruption working groups, following up and exposing corruption cases, as well as collaborating with key government agencies mandated to fight corruption.
How did you land the prestigious Community Solutions Fellowship? What advice can you give to someone who wants to get a prestigious fellowship?
The Community Solutions Program is a professional development program for the best and brightest global community leaders working in transparency and accountability, tolerance and conflict resolution, environmental issues, and women and gender issues. Fellows participate in a four month US fellowship with a nonprofit organization or government agency. The program has structured virtual learning and networking via the Online Community Leadership Institute. Participants design and implement follow-on projects in their home countries.
I came across the opportunity on the internet. I was at that point in my career where I had gained experience and I had some significant achievements in advocacy work so I thought that it would be a great fit. Getting a fellowship opportunity is about marketing yourself. You need to know why you are applying, what you will bring on board (once accepted) and what you are going to do after the fellowship. An interesting question I was asked was, “Tell me an instance where you failed as a leader and what did you learn?” This question was important to me because so many times we are afraid of failure. But we shouldn’t be because when you fail at something, you learn something. Anyone interested in a fellowship should also invest in growing their skills and personal brand.
How has your work with ACCU and the fellowship contributed to your intended career path?
I have used the fellowship opportunity to learn international research, civic tech and how to use open data to increase transparency and accountability. As a fellow, I conducted research projects on how open data can be used to increase transparency in oil states. I have also designed a civic tech initiative, Fix My Community.
Tell us more about the Fix My Community project
Fix my community is a civic tech initiative that will use tech, open data and journalism to improve public service delivery. The tech-tool will be a safe SMS powered channel which allows citizens to report corruption and transparency violations. Public officials will access these complaints and act upon them. Journalists will be provided with valuable data for their stories and investigations. The goal is to ultimately improve public service delivery in Uganda.
To design the project, I copied a leaf from Sunlight Foundation, which is the leading open data, civic tech and transparency watch dog in Washington DC. I was thrilled with the way they use technology and data driven journalism to hold government accountable. I also looked at existing solutions in Uganda to come up with something quite accessible and which could bridge the gap between citizens, government, media and civil society.
How can someone expect to get into anti-corruption as a career?
Everyone can do transparency work regardless of their field. For example, a techie can design a tool where people can report cases, a mass communication major could work on communicating anti corruption to different audiences, a journalist could write data driven stories and a teacher could build capacity through teaching others how to tackle corruption. Transparency work is about making a difference through improved governance and service delivery. Think about how you can contribute. Your field of study does not matter.
What are some truths about working in governance? What are the challenges and what are biggest rewards?
Governance work is not routine. It’s all about creativity and being a good team player. The rewards from this work are seeing improved transparency and accountability in governments operation. There is a misconception that our work is to witch hunt government, which isn’t true. Much as we hold governments accountable, we also strengthen the complaints and feedback mechanism between citizens and government. I sometimes go through my transparency and accountability complaints and/or cases with a satisfied smile. Nothing is as rewarding as seeing a school completed or someone’s pension (finally) paid.
One of the biggest challenges that we face in transparency work is building sustainable solutions. It’s not always easy to get funding for governance projects. People come up with lots of solutions but they don’t know how to roll them on to the communities.
What advice would you want to share with young people who are just starting out in their careers?
Do not focus on making money. Instead, think about building your skills and personal brand. Parents should not put so much pressure on children to earn lots of money straight after completing school. The money will come after you have built skills. Do something you love because it will show in your performance and rewards.
One thing I wish had known before I started working, was how to come up with a Personal Leadership Plan (PLP). With the right guidance under a mentor, I would have made good career choices. Thankfully, I now have one which keeps me on track about my career goals.
What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
I have been told no numerous times. There is a time I was really tired of applying for jobs. Those years when I had to volunteer for two years without pay were very hard. But they were not useless. I now know who I am and what I can achieve.
How would you define career success?
Doing what you love and doing it so well. It makes me happy that I get to do what I love. And because of this, it’s easy for me to come up with ideas quickly. I see lots of jobs I am qualified for but I don’t apply for just any job. To me, career success is not about earning lots of money. It is about the impact you leave behind and personal satisfaction.