International Communication Consultant: May I share my story and secrets

Workshop preparation. Athens, Greece

Workshop preparation. Athens, Greece

Many people have asked me how do you become an international consultant? It is not an easy question to answer, and my journey and work has been particularly focused on the development sector and communications. As I’ve met others along the way, I realize there is not one path to get here, but I want to share with you my journey, so that it can maybe inspire you to take a leap or go in a direction that you didn’t think was possible. It showcases the ups and downs, the graceful the struggle, the turns and flows, and emaphsizes a process, which is ongoing.   I share my journey via May two year increments.

May 2004: Months into a first job in . Felt the walls of the cubicle slowly take over my soul.

May 2006: I’m frustrated. I’ve already quit my first job out of college working in advertising in Detroit. It wasn’t a choice out of being logical or practical, it was a choice for survival. In between those dark cubicles that lurked negative energy and several impediments to my creativity. I realized I wasn’t intellectually challenged, and my vibe was out of whack, which eventually led to health issues. I write in my diary, goal: international communications consultant.

May 2008: After having spent a month in Ecuador working in public health projects in Lago Agrio, a small town in the “jungle” near the Colombian border, I was saved. I worked diligently and compassionately on several I noticed with Bolivar and his clinic that campaigned across surrounding villages, focusing on empowering leaders in the community and engaging particularly with those who were to-be mothers or mothers with children under 3. I was re-inspired. With this experience, I applied to grad school where I completed an array of international projects, mainly with a clinic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico (with focus on eliminating dengue, via community methods and addressing diabetes, which was quite rampant in this small seaside community that was on the verge of a big hotel boom along the Mexican coastline. It shared the coast with big brother down the street, Cancun. Then there was a summer in Jordan to tackle the Arabic language and undertake a secondary research project reviewing the water crisis and the communications and community methods used to address this increasing regional and global concern. Off to New York City to find a job, because the big apple was calling. Maybe it was Jay Z, maybe it was “that” McDonald.  I don’t know why, again it wasn’t practical, but it felt right.

May 2010: I’d wrapped up two years in the city that never sleeps. The skyscrapers skyline, stiletto walks and subway stories were in full effect in my vision. I’d spent two years at a boutique public relations agency working on media training, press conferences and partnership engagement in the area of infectious diseases, mainly those diseases that had associated vaccines. Living and working in the city was a buzz, and I found my true home in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, near the big park,  the library where I lost myself on the weekends, and alongside the Botanical garden, where you could find peace serenity and escape from the bustle and hustle of the city, and of course the farmers market that would prop up during the week and Saturdays. From Amazonian to concrete jungles, I was hungry for something else.

 May 2012: I have about six months to go in the highlands of Piura, Peru, where I have met and lived with the family I never knew I had. We worked together on community health and environmental issues, again focusing on women and children issues, but ensuribg that the men were part of the dialogue, as well.  I was able to further expand on partnership building and training, working closely with the colleagues at the health clinic,  those at the municipality and regional government.

May 2014: I’m one year into living in Rome. Another one-way ticket booked without a job nailed down, but it worked out. This is where it really took off. Rome, Italy, the mecca of global food and agriculture was beckoning me and I was drawn in by the bella città. There was lots of food discussion happening, including pasta concoctions and pizza a taglio options. After numerous applications, and intensive networking, I landed a short 6-week contract. Jesus, that is not much to make a career out of. Although it was brief, I gave it my all and was able to carve out a position for myself at a place I continue to do consulting, again focusing on communications and partnerships in the realm of food and agriculture all in the lens of achieving global goals. [Cue audience clapping and hooray shouts.]

May 2016: We’ve stepped into the South of France. We are now a family of three and I am thinking life is over as I formerly knew it.  A few months later I’m contacted by an old colleague to help organize a delegation and communications around a major global conference focusing on issues related to biodiversity. Afterwards, another colleague reaches out to support communications and partnership on another project, this time also requesting me to facilitate a workshop back in Rome. I was craving the stimulation and reconnecting back to the work after much invested work in my new job (which is actually the equivalent of aFrance CDI, motherhood) 

May 2018: We are now four. I’m concerned my career may be over. How will I manage now? Plus my French is not as perfect as I’d like it to be, I’m barely surviving the days, and boom, another colleague reaches out and I’m back in business, giving my all to facilitate a retreat for a development impact team, which actually opens the door to a flood of more opportunities. We are now full effect on a newer project, that really has grown some legs, I’m running along with it and happy to travel, communicate and learn more from a institutional and political perspective, quite new for me.

As I reflect on these two-year intervals below, here are my takeaways:

1.       All or Nothing. In whichever role you have, give it your all. If you are serving coffee or have only a 6 week contract, it is a learning process and stepping stone, in disguise.

2.       Gut. Whenever you don’t feel right, or you are feeling a negative pull, follow your institution. Be bold and daring, because you might just need to take that extra leap to land your next gig.

3.       People. If I look back, especially in the recent years when I made more of a jump into consulting in the international arena, my connections pulled me back. Work is work, but having a good attitude and clear communication with clients and colleagues will get you further than a basket of accolades and a tray of prestigious degrees.

4.       Family. For me, starting a family was a priority, and I was very nervous about comprising my career. In many ways, I have pushed harder and taken bigger risks and tried things that I hadn’t before, and it largely comes from the mother power. Once you give birth, you feel invisible and you want to continue to give birth to new projects and ideas.

5.       Just do it. And stand for what you believe in and what turns you on. You have heard this over and over again, and I will say it again, just start. Please take one small step. Do it today, not tomorrow, not next week, not when the weather is better, not when the blog post is perfect, not when your resume needs one last look, not when the website needs cooler graphics, NOW or never.