How to make a difference globally from anywhere — is it possible to build a flex-place human rights career?
Is it possible to pursue a ‘global’ career without needing to uproot your family even once?
In this world of electronic communication and flex-place opportunities, there must be many options available for a smart person to create a career working from any location and contributing to the betterment of policy, social understanding, and individual lives. If there can be on-line mediation, there must be a possibility of impactful distance human rights work (research, policy analysis, etc.), even when there are no employers within the city one lives.
The aim of the Human Rights Flex-Place Work Project is to collect stories and advice from people who have pursued a career in human rights that is not location-specific (either living in a city but working on issues the impact of which is meant to reverberate far away, or moving for reasons other than one’s own career and working globally on projects that are not tied to the location in which the person is living). If flex-place employment is the new frontier, there must be room for flex-place human rights work. Help me collect stories and information about what is possible.
Comment: Laszlo Sarkany, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Candidate
My very first reaction to the ‘human rights flex-place project’ is: what a cool idea! I myself have thought about this in the near past. In the past two years I was fortunate enough to attend the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meeting of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the UN in New York in 2011, and then in The Hague this past fall. I was a member of an NGO delegation, an NGO based in Brussels, Belgium. It closely monitors the activities of the Court in order to enhance the Court’s field presence and completion strategy, among other aims. My involvement with them was made possible after I interviewed the ‘Secretary General’ of the NGO for my Ph.D. dissertation which deals with explaining the establishment of an independent Prosecutor for the ICC. All it took for me to get involved is simply asking the question: can I come along and help out?
The NGO offers legal internships on a yearly basis. They have certainly suggested to me to at least apply, but living in Brussels as an intern is financially quite prohibitive. My thought was that I would be able to do this type of an internship from my home in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with the aid of Skype, e-mail, telephone, etc. In addition, I am connected to a number of university libraries – and have access to their databases – here in southwestern Ontario which would make working for the NGO quite efficient. Naturally, I would like to complete my dissertation first before embarking on yet another project. However, technology and the work itself do seem to lend themselves to ‘flex-place’ projects.
So, I think in order to bring the idea of a ‘human rights flex-place project’ to fruition the key will be to approach a number of organizations and propose the idea. The key will also be in the approach itself. It is a novel idea, especially if one is expecting monetary compensation. To date – and to my knowledge – there a few initiatives which even require individuals to be involved in the project in different parts of the world (For example, ‘The Standby Task Force’, and the following website www.ushahidi.com) These projects employ volunteers yet the experience of working with these initiatives will certainly have far-reaching rewards, in no small part because these initiatives in and of themselves are new and technologically and logistically, at the very least, ‘cutting edge’.
Of course, given the global economic ‘stagnation’ if you will – and especially after a fairly large ‘recall to the workplace’ of Google employees – companies and organizations could be less inclined to prefer their employees to be ‘working from home’. Yet, once again, I cannot help but emphasize that if one makes an irresistible ‘pitch’ to an organization about the utility – and the indispensability – of one’s work for said organization, anything is possible!
The ‘human rights flex-place project’ is a very novel, ‘cool’, and, I think, appropriate idea – or even initiative – for those who are interested in human rights work. Technological innovations will most certainly continue to aid a number of different projects and initiatives in this area, especially in conflict mapping, for example. It is important to note however that because this is a novel idea one certainly needs to be a certain ‘trailblazer’ in bringing this initiative to fruition. And, that is what makes it so exciting!
Comment: Robert Stewart, Ph.D. Candidate, Consultant
I do think that it is possible to pursue the career-interests that the student describes without uprooting oneself. I’m thinking in particular of independent contracts that one can do from anywhere and consulting firms that one could work for that specialize in research and policy analysis work and that don’t have any particular concerns about one’s physical location. For example, international evaluation contracts can mostly be done from anywhere – I say “mostly” because many do involve some short period of field research work; but the vast majority of the work is done from wherever the contractor wants – and they certainly allow for a meaningful engagement that can have a positive impact. Moreover there is definitely a lot of evaluation work that focuses on looking at programs, projects and organizations (from INGOs to UN agencies) focused on human rights and international development more generally. The challenge then is for the student to develop his/her skills and contacts to be able to compete for these contracts or to be of interest to such consulting firms since my sense is that there is a fair bit of competition in this field. But it’s definitely doable!