Lorena Paz, Coordinator Quality, Finance & Control at Oxfam Novib and Webster Alumna”
“Now I’m surrounded by like-minded people.”
Introduction: Lorena Paz established her career in finance in the profit sector; however, she came to a crossroads when she wanted to make a move from the private sector to the non-profit sector. She stayed true to herself and decided to stop working and go back to school. Now she feels very happy in her job at Oxfam Novib.
Wish for a career move
I’ve always been concerned about what’s going on in the world and how it affects us all. We are all interconnected; what happens, for example, in Saudi Arabia, in China or in my home country, Venezuela, affects us all somehow. I have been living in the Netherlands since 2000 and after all these years it has become my home. I still have my roots in Venezuela but having lived in different countries has enriched me, and all the new experiences have made me more and more aware that we all share this world; we should focus on that instead of narrowing our focus on the country that we live in.
My educational background is in business, and I developed my career in the private sector. Because I’m very analytical, somehow financial management has always been in my path. I liked what I was doing, but I came to a point where it was not enough. So I thought, how can I contribute to a good cause? Deep down, I've always had a bit of an activist inside me, although you would never see me in the street shouting for a cause I believed in. But I have always wanted to make the world a little bit better. At one point or another, your essence comes out. You can decide not to do something with it; there are always enough reasons not to act on it. Doubts and questions can come up, like ‘Are you sure it’s the right moment to stop working and go back to school?’ and ‘Will there be jobs available that I like?’ But you have to stay true to yourself and focus on what is really important to you. So my question was, how can I combine what I do (my professional background) with doing something for a good cause?
International NGO Master's program
When I came to this crossroads where I was not completely happy with my existing job, I did a career coaching program that helped me put things in perspective, and around that same time I was surfing on the Internet one evening when I came across Webster University and learned about the International NGO Master’s program. When I visited the campus, I noticed how diverse the university is. That caught my attention right away. My intention was to start with one course in international law, part time, but in no time I got so enthusiastic that I decided to do the program full time. It was nice to be around people who shared the same passion about international relations. We talked about interesting issues and shared the same concerns. It was not only going to classes, but also going to the extra events that were held, for example, the site visits to the American Embassy and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs.
When it got time to start taking skills courses, like Project Management and Grant Writing, I was very interested in finding a real project for the course and putting the new knowledge to good use. That’s how a fellow classmate of mine, Paula King, and I came in contact with The Bijlmer project, a collaborative project between Webster University & Christian Aid & Resources Foundation (CARF), situated at Amsterdam Bijlmer. The Bijlmer Project is a research and intervention-based project focusing on the psychosocial needs of victims of human trafficking who were bought and sold for sexual exploitation. We asked if they were interested in a project plan on how to structurally develop their fundraising activities. One thing led to another. They were really happy with the work that we were doing, and to this day I’m still involved with the organization. It feels good to be able to give something back.
From the private sector to the non-profit sector
Although I do have the same kind of job as I did before I started my Master's, being responsible for the financial and control activities, I don’t think I would have gotten that position without my Master's and the volunteering I did, because it shows that I was focused on a career move from the profit to the nonprofit sector. When I read the job description, I knew I could do it. It was a really good fit, so I felt really confident when I wrote the cover letter. I sent a tailored CV with my cover letter to Oxfam Novib, and a few weeks later, I got an invitation for a job interview. Time wise it couldn’t have been better because I was just finalizing my capstone.
Although it sounds easy to make a career change like this, you have to prepare to apply for jobs; job opportunities don’t just fall down the sky! I had been looking for a job for a while; I got rejections, but it gave me experience writing a cover letter and CV, and doing job interviews. So my advice is, don’t wait until you finish your Master's, start the job search process early and think about what you want. People recruiting like to see that you know what you want, instead of replying, “I like everything.”
Now that I work in an organization like Oxfam Novib, I see the difference between the people who work for a non-profit organization and the kind of people I had always worked with before. I have already made friends, and I haven't even been working there for a year. The people are definitely different; they are very well informed about what is happening, allowing for interesting discussions. Now I’m surrounded by like-minded people, people who love a discussion. That’s quite a big change. The Master's program was an intensive study and a very good experience. Before my Master's degree, I had arrived at a point in my life where I really wasn’t t sure what to do next, but now I feel I’m in the right place.