“Understanding the realities of the communities with which your organisation works is essential”
Anja Delaquis is a trainee with Helvetas in Nepal. In this interview, she shares her experience working in Nepal and how participating in the SDG Youth Programme has allowed her to gain insight into the world of international cooperation.
Anja Delaquis is one of five selected participants in the SDG Youth Programme in 2022. Anja has a Master’s in Global Affairs and was recruited as a trainee for Helvetas in Nepal and Switzerland to work on digital transformation. She shares her experiences and impressions of working in Nepal, as well as some of her challenges and learnings.
Learn more about the programme
What attracted you most about the SDG Youth Programme?
The SDG Youth Programme was a fantastic opportunity as it allowed me to gain practical experience in digital transformation, in which I developed a deep interest during my studies. While I had previously researched how innovation and, specifically, digital solutions can be leveraged to create a positive impact and improve human well-being, I was missing the hands-on experience of how to apply it to a project or programme context. As an SDG Youth trainee, I did just that – worked on digital topics at a strategic level at head offices and applied this experience to projects in Nepal. It was a unique opportunity for me as it revealed many different contexts and offered insights I was certain would otherwise have been difficult to gain within a year.
The variety of tasks has allowed me to obtain a comprehensive understanding of different roles within the context of international cooperation.
What is your typical day as an SDG Youth trainee?
It is challenging to describe a typical day as an SDG Youth trainee at Helvetas, as the role includes a diverse range of activities. During my time in Switzerland, I collaborated with colleagues from different areas of work. Tasks ranged from contributing to further developing Helvetas’ strategies and initiatives to supporting knowledge sharing. In contrast, my days in Nepal are more dynamic and less predictable, with more time spent outside the office visiting project sites. Understanding the realities of the communities with which Helvetas works is a major priority, as we aim to support project teams in identifying and co-creating digital solutions with users that address these challenges. The variety of tasks has allowed me to obtain a comprehensive understanding of different roles within the context of international cooperation.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in Nepal that you didn’t already know or expect?
Before coming to Nepal, I was aware of the socio-cultural and geographical diversity of the country, but not of the extent and layers of complexity it adds to working in this context. I am constantly learning about new aspects, and my co-workers have been very helpful in explaining various connections between the current context and Nepal’s history. On a more personal level, I was deeply moved by the hospitality and warmth of the people of Nepal. My co-workers and others I met along the way made a great effort to help me settle into my new environment and to show me the beauty of Nepal and its culture.
I was occasionally forced out of my comfort zone, but this taught me that it is often easier to find a solution on the spot than it might initially appear.
What are the main learnings for you and your personal/professional development (both challenges and pleasant surprises)?
One of the most important lessons I learned is that being culturally sensitive and embracing authenticity at work are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I found that while cultural adaptation is important, authentic self-expression and personal insights are what drive meaningful and intentional contributions. I found this challenging at first, because I was so focused on adapting to the cultural context that it hindered my ability to meaningfully contribute beyond my specific responsibilities.
Working in Nepal has also taught me to be more flexible and patient. I feel most comfortable when there is a well-thought-out plan and everyone is on the same page. But in Nepal, things happen more unpredictably, and problems are solved as they emerge. I was occasionally forced out of my comfort zone, but it taught me that it is often easier to find a solution on the spot than it might initially appear.
What was your experience of headquarters vs country office/assignment?
I have greatly benefited from the opportunity to work both at the headquarters in Switzerland and the Nepal country office. Working in Switzerland, I developed an understanding of Helvetas as an organisation and strengthened my methodological and thematic knowledge. It allowed me to analyse issues on a meta-level and consider how broader developments impact the organisational level. In Nepal, the project context was the key focus area, but the previous experience allowed me to bring in broader considerations and draw parallels with similar projects in other partner countries.
The calendar of events is also distinctive. In Switzerland, working days are structured with meetings planned well in advance, whereas in Nepal, the week sometimes begins with an empty calendar, but ends with just as many different encounters and tasks accomplished. It undoubtedly requires more flexibility, but it is tremendously rewarding to experience the impact more closely.