John Manning

Major: English
Year of Graduation: 1992
Current Job: Program Officer, CHF International, Silver Springs, MD

He spent 10 years working abroad in international development, primarily in microfi­nance, and has 13 years of experience in the field.

What makes you look forward to coming to work each day?
I think both the opportunity to affect good in the world and the variety of activities that I support is what drives me. The work I do has a positive impact on so many lives in so many ways. A food security project in Ethiopia helps families diversify their income stream and improve their nutrition; an HIV/AIDS program in Rwanda offers opportunities to ac­cess services to orphans and vulner­able children, and promotes healthy lifestyles; microfinance programs in Ghana and Liberia offer small busi­ness owners access to affordable credit not previously available and contrib­utes to the growth of each country's economy.

To be an essential part of these activi­ties and to see direct tangible results of my work is extremely exciting. I get a true sense that my work is meaningful, and that I am not merely a cog in some impersonal machine.

What are some of the things you were involved in during college that helped you initially begin your career?
I was in Cross Country, Track and Field, work study in AV, and took part in various groups and clubs such as year book, newspaper, and drama. It is hard to say any of these helped me to "begin" my career, but all have been valuable in my career. Long distance running taught me the value of persis­tence and pacing (time, resources); AV helped in solving time sensitive, com­plex systems in creative ways, often on the fly. Other activities helped de­velop my writing and critical thinking skills, public speaking skills, and skills leading and persuading people.

Most importantly, my diverse inter­ests exposed me to a wide variety of people with different experience, tal­ent, backgrounds and motivations.

How has the liberal arts education you received at CSB/SJU helped you?
The education I received at CSB/SJU has helped me by exposing me to many disciplines and giving me the tools to continue learning on my own. People are often surprised that I run multiple bank branches and manage complex loan portfolios without any formal business education, but I be­lieve that a solid liberal arts education is essential to be successful in any job. The rest can be learned.

Describe a typical day at work.
At HQ, morning is usually spent looking through e-mails and deciding which tasks need to be completed in which order. I'll contact the field as needed (given the time difference, it has to be first thing in the morning), usually to discuss funding oppor­tunities, reporting, resolve finance questions, or offer technical support. Afternoons are spent getting contracts signed, working on reports or proposal submissions, or developing tools for use in the field. In the field I usually have a fixed assignment to complete, and concentrate on that task, as well as provide technical support as required.

What advice would you give to students as they contemplate their major and/or career choices?
I highly recommend studying a diverse number of subjects, even those you don't like. In my daily work I use math and business (I set up banks and manage lending portfolios) though I have no business degree. In the field I needed to learn and use foreign languages. I need to know how to use various computer programs and how to write for a variety of audiences.

If you are considering development or working abroad, a specialty is im­portant, but being able to function as a generalist is essential. More often than not, you'll be the person who resolves issues and makes sure things are done properly, and it is so much easier if you have a working knowl­edge of many different subjects.

You should have a love of learning, and a desire to sponge up everything around you. To function in the field, you'll find yourself needing to be a quick study on many different sub­jects.

Finally, go into a field that interests you and makes you happy to go to work. I've met too many people who make good money but are miserable. Money is great to have, but it is poor compensation if you hate your job. (And 40% of your post-college life will revolve around your work. Do you really want to be unhappy 40% of the rest of your life?!)