The aid and development world now is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Many young aid workers go out into the field in isolated positions with minimal support from their organisations. As such, they often burn out quickly, feel isolated and lonely, are unable to talk about work issues and most crucially, are unable to help the people they are trying to help well. We want to create a future where people in these situations can support each other through peer coaching. It’s all about building on existing resources to provide a new service.
A peer coach is someone who is on a similar level to their peer. He or she knows and/or understands the other’s work context. While not trained as a coach, he or she is willing to coach according to a simple (yet effective) peer coaching model. The best organisational development work is now beginning to focus on ongoing support for change agents, not training. Peer coaching provides this ongoing support for critical change, involving actively listening without judgment, reflecting back what he/she is hearing, asking probing questions, and helping to generate concrete action steps.
Peer coaching is different than mentoring or advising. It is not based on the premise that a peer coach knows better or is more experienced than his or her partner. A peer coach’s job is not to give advice or say what someone should do. A peer coach’s role is to provide ongoing support: to listen, provide a sounding board, and help people find the answers themselves.
We have linked up with a Shana Montesol Johnson, a certified career/executive coach, to pilot a peer coaching initiative, where we match peer coaches across the globe and provide guidance on how this interaction should occur. We have already conducted a survey, and over 300 aid workers have responded positively to peer coaching. This tells us that there is a clear need for this service, but we need funding to develop a truly great service that can support these isolated aid and development workers.
We are aid and development workers who have worked or are working in isolated conditions in foreign countries. We understand that as young workers in the field, there is often no support from organisations in terms of mentoring or coaching. We have an established website and network, whydev.org, that focuses on aid and development from a younger person’s point of view. We want to leverage the work that has already been done to further support isolated aid workers in the field. After all, if we do not support those who are out there helping others, how can we expect them to do great work?