Learning Through APC: Four things I learnt making a mid-career switch into the development sector

By Atikah Amalina

At the end of January this year, I took a leap of faith and left the teaching service after four years.  I was ready to explore other options, primarily my longstanding interest in the development sector.  Throughout my time in teaching, I’d remained involved in various work in the non-profit sector on the side, including running programmes with orphanages in Batam, coordinating bake sales to channel funds to charity causes and organising an awareness-raising trip to a refugee camp in Aceh.

Soon after leaving, I had the opportunity to work and learn with Asia Philanthropy Circle, a non-governmental organisation focused on bringing philanthropists in the region together to work collaboratively and strategically.  It was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands!  With that, I had the privilege to work with leaders who are not only inspired and inspiring, but were clear and unapologetic about their mission in the field.

My peers often ask what I do in APC and I would reply that I was learning so much every day.  Here are four things I had learnt from making the career switch.

1.   Philanthropists play a vital and unique role in achieving social good.

Working with APC opened my eyes to the different actors within the development field.  Being a grassroots leader and having worked closely on the ground for years, I had not been aware of the role of philanthropists in furthering social causes.

I developed a greater appreciation for the vital role philanthropists play in not only funding programmes and development but also in strategic and focused leadership in charting said development in larger regions.  I also began empathising with the need to cultivate better and deeper relationships between philanthropists, governments and grassroots leaders, and the important role organisations like APC play in the sector.

Partnerships and collaboration amongst the different stakeholders are truly the way forward in achieving the sustainable development goals.  Together, we are always better.

2.   Skills are transferable into the sector.

Many people fear making the switch, not knowing where they can contribute.  Coming from an education background, I came in clear that I had a set of skills that was valuable and could be utilised.  This includes, and was not limited to, research and curriculum development, people management, proofreading, and administrative work (teachers do a lot of administrative work too, unfortunately).

In my short time at APC, I met many people previously from sectors as different as banking and finance, who made a switch into the development sector and are thriving in various capacities.

Regardless of training or background, the development field is open and in need of many skills and talents.

3.   There are plenty of opportunities and support to do good in the region.

I was involved in various projects while working in APC – from working on developing peace-building in the region to supporting social entrepreneurship to putting together articles of the work being done by members for our newsletters.  Each area of work highlighted that the opportunities to work and contribute to social good are abundant, and each of us have the capacity to give back.

Being in the sector does not only look like working on the ground with beneficiaries but can also look like doing strategic work and building partnerships and channelling resources into the work.

4.   Choose your leader wisely.

I count my blessings in being able to work with the likes of Laurence Lien, Stacey Choe, Taila Mueller and others.  Working in a small office allowed me the liberty to observe the mechanics of an NGO and the leadership necessary to navigate the sector from a close distance I have never experienced before.  I have not been more inspired by my leaders’ work ethics, integrity and character, and it has been an honour to work with them.

Being inspired by my leaders gave me the certainty to do my best in my role, even and especially when it is difficult to measure the impact of my work.  Working in the social sector means impact may not be always immediately visible, so working with leaders who are able to maintain the vision and morale at work is very important.

I have since left APC to move forward professionally, undergoing a fellowship with the US Department of State.  APC has been a crucial phase in my career and am thankful for the support, guidance and friendship that have come out from my time there.  Making a mid-career switch may have been a leap of faith, but I am glad I had APC be the wind under my wings while I scouted the new terrain and navigated the way forward.

For anyone thinking of entering the social development sector, either as a fresh graduate or a mid-career switch, I wish you good luck and may you find a workplace like APC too (if not at APC itself!).