How an NGO in the Solomon Islands helped Kate decide on her career path

From writing grants to planning local infrastructure, this volunteer experience was key for Kate’s career plans in urban planning.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Kate Haughey was one of 13 students selected to be a part of the Volunteer Service Abroad UniVol program. This helped put her on the path to a career in urban planning combining her skills in human geography, history, urban planning and sociology.

This program is a collaboration between the Wellington-based NGO Volunteer Services Abroad and Otago, Victoria, Massey and Auckland universities. This global program gives young people the chance to live and volunteer with partners in the wider Pacific. Volunteers work alongside locals to share knowledge and skills with assignments based on the needs of the local communities.

Urban planning student Kate and a group of young children she worked with while volunteering in the Solomon Islands

Kate worked with a local non-government organisation (NGO) in the Solomon Islands called Development Services Exchange, where she worked as a Grant Writing and Fundraising Advisor. As part of the role, Kate applied for grants and liaised with potential donors including UNDP, Oxfam and DFAT.

Understanding how the lived realities of people living in low income countries differ from mine. As a white, tertiary educated female it was an eye opener. We live and work so differently in different parts of the world, so I learned a lot about how we prioritise our time or goals. It took me a long time to accomplish things in the Solomon Islands as I found that deadlines weren’t very important, and people would, more often than not, be late to meetings, events, or work. It wasn’t that these things weren’t important, but we all had different priorities or ways of living.

A street market areas in the Solomon Islands

Moving from high school, to uni, to the workplace can be a big shift for many students and learning how to apply the skills from one area of life to another is a skill within itself. These kinds of soft skills are a key element to what makes people successful when it comes to creative ideas and problem solving.

My assignment objectives constantly changed while I was in the Solomons. Each day presented itself with different tasks. Some days I would be researching and applying for relevant grants and meeting with potential donors, other days I would conduct good governance training, design workshops and create social media content.

INGOs and international governments administer large amounts of money to the Solomon Islands annually to improve infrastructure, education and governance practices. Unfortunately, projects in the context of low income countries often result from the imperfect coordination of civil society, governments and donors, and as a result well intentioned projects are often not executed properly or do not meet an actual need in the community. My time at DSE highlighted for me the importance of involving the people on the ground in the promotion of development and sustainability initiatives – through a bottom-up approach to development.

Kate volunteering in the Solomon Islands, pictured standing on the tarmac with a light-plane aircraft

This experience has been instrumental in Kate’s goal to work in urban planning in a way that involves local communities and to meet the needs of people.

A career goal of mine is to work with Ethos Urban or ARUP. Their work in community infrastructure, urban revitalization and climate positive projects are something I would be overjoyed to be a part of.

Now, more than ever, I feel driven to work towards this dream job.

Experiences like study abroad and exchange, or opportunities to put your experience and studies into practice, are vital when it comes to navigating the transition from study to work. Kate's experiences led her to follow on from her undergraduate degree with a Masters in Urban Planning. This experience helped her confirm what her career goals were and her graduate degree will help her further develop the skills to get her there.

A young girl from the Solomon Islands in a garden area

Find out more:

The UniVol Program is not affiliated with the University of Melbourne but an example of how important it is for students to get a range of experiences. The University of Melbourne has other study abroad and exchange programs to help you develop your skills.

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