Lambert Mbom

With a staggering unemployment rate and the search for jobs (fulltime employment for many), Virginia-based International Relief and Development (IRD) decided to contribute to the recovery effort and relieve some distressing citizens. It organized a networking event, a job fair of some sorts on Tuesday January 11, 2011.

The conviviality and camaraderie evident in the exquisite Palomar Hotel Conference Center in Rosslyn, Virginia generated more than enough heat to beat the wintry snow gathering outside and even more sooth the unemployment stupor.

A reception desk staffed by four of IRD’s corps served as initial point of contact. Each guest received upon arrival a sign-in sheet for data collection; upon completion, one had the opportunity to present one’s resume and to receive literature on IRD’s mission and activities. This arrangement was simply classy and helped a lot to ease traffic in the Vivace Room.

Just at first contact, one could decipher the true hallmarks of IRD. Rooted in its DNA is the desire to help and to be of help. This was amply borne out by staff that showed they had imbibed IRD’s philosophy.

Looking rather perplexed, as I waddled through the crowd, a young woman walked up to me and inquired if I needed help. I was too shy to say so; she left me, not without describing to me where the different sectors of IRD were located in the hall.

Each guest received a “cheat sheet” at the entrance entitled “recruitment outlook.” It was a panoramic view of the job opportunities available at IRD. I quickly scanned through in search of what even remotely resembles my sphere of competence. True to the advert for this event, IRD ‘s eyes were on “business development professionals and seasoned chiefs of party, engineers, program and finance professionals with 10 years or more of experience.” There were opportunities in business development, infrastructure, security, health, community stabilization, democracy and governance and finance.

My face fell for my initial inspiration for this event was an opening in the communications department – communications associate to be specific, listed on IRD’s website. As I fidgeted with the list, my heart throbbed for some strange reasons and I could feel a cold rush of sweat down my spine. It was just devastating when I did not find anything on communication.

Not wanting to feel disappointed, I tried hard to convince myself that may be security could be a good alternative. This too did not fare well as the available positions had to do with security risks an area I have neither expertise nor experience. I was counting on the fact that security jobs are common among African immigrants in the US.

Then I said let me try healthcare, another popular employment source; after all, with the avalanche of experience working in a group home and as a residential counsellor could be relevant. This self-brainwashing or consolation was short-lived as I discovered the positions available were mainly senior level management in nature.

I turned next to Community stabilization and the sheer number of aspirants lined up to present themselves made it evident that mine was going to be a very long shot in deed.

Having learnt to always be upbeat, positive and make the best out of every situation, I decided I was going to write a story on the event. While I made up my mind on this self-assigned task, yet another lady approached me. She quickly asked my country of origin and I said Cameroon. She joyfully indicated she too is Cameroonian. Then she inquired to know what my interests are. Imagining she was also job-hunting, I paid scan attention to her, reluctantly telling her I am a freelance journalist. As would be imagined, I was too ashamed to let her know that in fact, I had no place in this event. The cynicism of a disgruntled job seeker was in display.

By some stroke of luck, I met the IRD’s Communications guru Jeffrey Grieco fondly called Jeff. I waited in line to introduce myself to him. He seemed to have been the most popular person everybody wanted to chat with or get his attention. I clinched a spot and asked him a few questions.

As to the raison d’etre of the event, Jeff quickly pointed out that such events were normal within the DC metro area and given too that IRD has new interests and new contracts, the event was necessary. IRD deployed its entire ‘etat-major’ with the different sector leaders cheerleading the event. He also indicated that the event provided an opportunity for IRD to fill its resume bank from where it shall pick out qualified candidates to staff various missions abroad and IRD’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

In answer to whether the event had lived up to expectations, it was a resounding yes. Even though intended for mid-level and senior level, many of whom had come in earlier on in the evening, Jeff noted that this was a home run far above expectations. More than 250 persons showed up, he revealed, majority of whom were below the mid-level, yet relevant to IRD’s mission.

In terms of IRD’s priorities, Jeff jocularly harped on building infrastructure, community stabilization programs around the world especially in conflict and post conflict countries like Yemen, Pakistan Iraq, Afghanistan etc he added it is also IRD’s business to provide healthcare; and one crucial area for IRD is working for democracy and good governance.

Jeff was quite confident that in spite of the Republican controlled house and the party’s agenda of fiscal responsibility bent on cutting spending, US international development effort and agenda would neither be thwarted nor affected.

The high point of this event came in when I met with IRD’s President and CEO Dr Arthur B Keys Jr. He is the brain behind IRD’s success story. He defined IRD’s mission as one intent on helping people honourably attain self-sufficiency. IRD accomplishes this through its multi-sectoral engagement of development. Essential to the distinctness of IRD’s work, he opined, is the fact that IRD seeks to go to where everybody else has not been or would rather not go.

On the challenges besetting the organization, Dr Keys pointed to the fact that given the exponential growth of IRD within 12 years of its birth, maintaining this robust growth and being able to remain creative and on the cutting edge of international development was central to him.

To Dr Keys, this event is comparable to a funnel through which individuals whose skills and experience match the demands of IRD would be “drafted” and sent to the fields.

Stranded on the floor, looking somewhat dazed and in search of some “occupational distraction”, Dan Puls IRD’s Chief Advancement Officer quickly came to my rescue. Once again, in characteristic IRD style, he engaged me in a discussion. Noticing my passion for communication, he introduced me to IRD’s social media pilot program namely: His passion for Africa especially for Sudan was breathtaking as he recounted different events organized for Sudan. In the spirit of the evening, he generously offered to “hook me up” with a pal of his that had links with the African media outlet –

As the evening wound down, I got to meet Jim Lanning through Dan. Jim is a man of many worlds, in fact a polyvalent. He saved my evening. Hearing I am from Cameroon, he asked if I had met one of IRD’s cadres of Cameroonian descent, Elsie Tama. Nego, I retorted. He darted across the hall in a bid to connect us. Much to his dismay, Tama said she had already spoken to me. She turned out to be the same person I had snobbishly put away under the mistaken assumption that she too was prospecting for a job. I was lucky she gracefully agreed to an interview.

Having been there from the genesis of the IRD project, she spoke with ease on the mission of the IRD as a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to work for the poor and vulnerable. Again, she proudly noted that IRD would go where no other NGO would go. IRD would do whatever it takes to get to the most difficult of places to provide requisite services.

Elsie intimated that one of IRD’s greatest challenges was the lack of enough money to accomplish the great feats IRD would love to undertake.

It was quite heart-warming to learn of IRD’s presence in Cameroon among its worldwide locations. There, she was resettling refugees from Central African Republic and Elsie noted that plans were afoot to expand programs in Cameroon to include agriculture.

When pressed on the issue of good governance as a precondition for development, Elsie was quick to point out that IRD does not let governance issues get in its way or let political issues deter it from accomplishing its mission.

I transitioned then to getting feedback from some participants. For Ivoirian born Kader Cisse a freelance consultant in DC, it was quite a very positive event with great people, good discussions, good networking.

Cameroonian born Patrick Elat, a consultant within regulatory environment and finance, described the evening as wonderful and very interesting. He noted that IRD’s personnel were very available and ready to help. The event proffered him an avalanche of very useful pieces of information. He rated it as 4 on an ascending scale with 5 as excellent. This initial stage had been very successful and he hoped the efforts would bear fruits in follow up. He stressed that follow up was critical for him.

Luna Liu, Graduate Assistant, Executive Master of Public Management Program of the University of Maryland thought it was a good event. She however left quite discouraged albeit. She did not get the chance to talk to senior level management. She was forthright on the fact that IRD did not care about junior professionals like herself and found much to her dismay and discontent that there were few to no opportunities for international students.

I might not have gotten a job offer but in its essence this event expanded my network or circle of friends. One thing is certain – it was a golden opportunity to think outside my regular box and surely if something comes up, I can count on these folks. Thanks to IRD and kudos for the event. Its level of professionalism can only be described in the superlative and this is indicative of the calibre of work IRD accomplishes in the field.

IRD desribes itself as ” a non-profit humanitarian and development organization dedicated to improving the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. IRD specializes in conflict and post-conflict environments and works in more than 40 countries. With the help of local groups and donors, IRD builds sustainable, community-based programs that address relief, stabilization and development needs in the areas of health, agriculture, infrastructure, emergency response, and governance. For more information on IRD, visit