Paidamoyo Chikate

Paidamoyo Chikate  

Year of Graduation: 2013

Major(s): Gender Studies and English Literature

Current Position: Policy Analyst and Presidential Fellow at Open Society Foundations (OSF), NY Office, University of Minnesota- Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Global Public Policy

Please give a brief description of your current position. What path did you follow to get to your current position?
Once I left CSB/SJU, I was certain that I was going to be involved in gender policy and really hone in on the base that St. Ben's provided me in the field. I worked for MPIRG for a year working on the Equal Rights Amendment Bill in MN and then decided to go to grad school for public policy. While there, I worked for the Women's Foundation of MN as a program and development specialist and for the MN Governor's office as a strategic planning consultant since I became interested in strategic planning during graduate school. I think one of the most important things I did to lead me to where I am now was when I found an interest, I ran with it and tried to enlist myself as a protégé to professors and professionals in my field of interest. I came to OSF after one of my mentors mentioned that he thought I would grow here and really begin building my career in the international arena with a focus on gender equality. I applied for a position and after an extensive application process, was offered the position.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Be aggressive. Send out emails to enlist yourself as people's mentees. To be quite frank, people really appreciate this because they are willing to help students and are flattered that you want to be like them so use that to your advantage. Aggressiveness means not taking the first 2 "no's" that you receive; after that maybe think of ways to reroute the conversation or ask that person for people he or she may know who can help you. Do not feel shy because in many situations, this kind of aggressiveness means you are eager to learn, willing to push hard for what you want and employers value that. If you are job hunting, remember to take care of your mental and emotional health because job hunting is a full time job in itself. If you feel down, call a friend or go for a run so that you come back with a renewed energy for your work. In the same vein, when you apply for a job, email the person who is hiring and ask them out for coffee. Ask them questions about their role and the job that they are hiring for. The worst that can ever happen is that they say "no" to free coffee but you will stand out from the crowd for being proactive and showing genuine interest. In terms of this specific international career path, I would say learn a new language or two- that is valuable in the field and is seen as someone who can think in multiple different ways and also really identify with the cultures whose languages he or she can speak. If you can afford it, travel abroad and do an internship or consult for an organization as a way to build a solid base. I highly recommend the Bosnia trip at CSB/SJU- during interviews, people always ask about that trip and why I did it. Finally, exude confidence and if you can't, fake it till it comes naturally to you!

What skills are important in your field? Critical thinking is one of the most useful skills in this field. We have to look at policies of governments, organizations and departments within our own foundation and see how they impact the world and those we serve. Public speaking skills are also highly valued and I was fortunate to hone those through CSB Senate and then as president of the Public Affairs Student Association in graduate school. I would also say communication skills are very important. Having been in MN for a while, I had to somewhat relearn how to be very direct and less passive aggressive especially in tense situations where a decision has to be made. Lastly but most important to me is compassion. We work with very underrepresented communities or very tense issues (abortion rights in Northern Ireland, police brutality in the US, and migration issues in Europe just to mention a few). These issues are in many ways heart wrenching so you have to be compassionate to the needs of those who are powerless and help them restore their full power and humanity.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The most rewarding part of my work is the diversity in the work I do. I do concentrate on women's rights but on a day to day basis, I may be immersed in discussions about the increases in homicide in Latin America and what we as a foundation can do about that, fiscal governance and corruption in Africa, early childhood development, drug policy worldwide or tackling the closing of civil society due to refugee and security in Europe. OSF works hard to make sure that employees not only concentrate at what they are good at but cast a wide net and capture the skills and topics that one may not be an expert at. That kind of excitement is something that is very important to me and it keeps me on my toes which I like.

Most challenging?
The organization is very big. This makes it difficult to not only understand all the processes but to also learn them very well and be able to use them effectively in my job. The good thing is that there is a lot of support for new employees and one can take refresher courses that are offered monthly if needed.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Where do I begin? Firstly, CSB/SJU gave me a very solid foundation. When I left college, I knew what work I wanted to get into and that helped me shape a path for myself towards that goal. Sitting on the CSB Senate really helped me understand what governance was, albeit on a smaller scale, it helped me practice diplomacy and public speaking as well as learning to agree to disagree. I was also an RA, which helped me practice leadership skills among my peers. This is invaluable now because I work with people who are older than me that I sometimes have to ask difficult questions. As an English major, I had to do a lot of research and that helped when it came to graduate school where that was my bread and butter. In graduate school, I served as a research assistant and teaching assistant and that again built my confidence among peers. One of the best things that helped me get here was building a network of mentors. I took a look at people whom I admired and wrote to them telling them that I needed them to be my mentors. These people have helped me write personal statements, given me recommendation letters, connected me to people that they know in my field and have been an invaluable emotional, mental and professional resource. Without them, I would not be where I am. So if you take anything away from all this, remember to build a rock solid network. Do not think this an inconvenience to your mentor because 10 times out of 10, they want you to not only succeed but exceed their own success.

(September 2016)