- INSMS International Network for Students of Migration Studies
Head of Office and Programme Manager at SINGA Switzerland
Elody from SINGA shared with us how important it is to create your own path within the migration field and social sciences in general, as they often do not give you a specific profession. She also reminds us how important it is to give the voice and space to people that have the actual experience, rather than striving to change the world for them, without them.
Photo credit: James Geen
Elody is 26, and holds a master’s degree in Arts, Cooperation and Development Studies from Université Libre de Bruxelles. She is Head of Office and Programme Manager at SINGA Switzerland, an organisation that supports people with refugee and migrant backgrounds to start their own business in Switzerland. It also serves as an international network that unleashes the power of migration through entrepreneurship, community building, and other pioneer projects. As SINGA is a small organisations, Elody has the ability to work on a lot of different tasks:
“I have the chance that my days never look the same: one day we can work on implementing strategic goals for the upcoming years, the other day we can be supporting entrepreneurs for their business plan or pitch deck, the next day organising workshops, meeting partners, creating fundraising documents. It is very motivating, but you also need to stay flexible and well organised with your time and resources!”
She says she is very grateful for a job that has a strong impact for the entrepreneurs they support, as well as a strong meaning for her colleagues, their community that enables the incubator, and all their partners. They also have the flexibility to make important decisions quickly, and work in a non-hierarchical environment. Elody says she always knew she would contribute to inclusion and diversity, and in the broader sense also social justice on her career path but did not know much about entrepreneurship when she first started the job. She realised only later, looking back on projects that she and her friends developed that the job itself requires an entrepreneurial mindset:
“You identify a need, a "problem" a certain type of people /customers have in your community (university, city, neighbourhood, friends, etc), and you try to come up with a solution that is easy and creates value for them. And then you find partners or team members that will make this possible and sustainable.”
No clear profession in Social Studies
Like most people in the migration field, she spent some time volunteering during her studies, and later got some internship opportunities at NGOs that were, unsurprisingly, unpaid. Despite the difficulties on the journey to get the first experience, Elody says it is important to stay positive, take baby steps, and stay focused on what really matters for you. She also advises to use this time to get new contacts in the field: “a broad network and great connections is usually what is a very precious thing you can get out of unpaid positions.”
The main challenge she faced after her studies was the broadness and lack of profession after completing Social Science studies. Her advice is to make your own path:
“Find where you have facilities, the thematics that truly motivates and inspire you, focus on those, and develop them. It can take some time, but it's truly important to confront yourself to the outside world, the reality, the real people and the issues they are facing, specifically in the migration/asylum sector.”
She believes that university should not be the only thing you do with your time but that after graduating, you should have other experiences you can sell to employers besides your grades and research projects. She finds especially soft skills, such as empathy, team leadership, and being solution-oriented more and more valued by recruiters. You can use your free time to develop such skills in either a side job, through volunteering in local organisations, or even by starting something yourself. These types of experiences also give you an insight into how structures, NGOs, and companies are organised, and which challenges they face.
“Very important: this will also make you understand in which type of professional environment you feel more comfortable. Try out several things, and have some fun too!”
After graduating, Elody started an internship at SINGA, where she is currently Head of Office and Programme Manager. She decided to work in Switzerland partly because of family reasons (she is Swiss and Portuguese), and partly by chance.
“I was looking for opportunities in several countries at the time when I found out that SINGA was opening a new chapter in Geneva. I knew the organisation already from Belgium, where I was living at the time and had collaborated with them for some of my personal projects. So, after the interview process went well and after almost 5 years away from home, I decided that I wanted to implement what I learned abroad back to my home country and try to contribute to the professional inclusion of people with refugee and migrant backgrounds in Switzerland. A challenging topic, but above all a great human adventure!”
Forgetting to give the voice to the people
When it comes to the migration field in general, she says she always sees very well intended projects with a big vision that strive to save the world, but often forget to give the voice and space to people who have the most concrete experience of issues they are tackling. She says that in reality projects cannot be successful or have a positive long-term impact if they are not focused on the needs of its first beneficiaries, and if they do not know how important it is to be able to follow the needs rather than following the problems, and how they can evolve over time.
She also says that the way we speak about migration is very important:
“We need to share stories, life experiences, and visions that value what we can bring to each other. As Nobel prize of literature 2021 Abdulrazak Gurnah says, "Nobody comes to a new country with empty hands". We have so many talented people in our communities: let's live in a society where we spend more time valorizing the experience of people with different backgrounds rather than always bringing them back to "what they lack" in order to "be integrated" in their host societies.”
This is also why entrepreneurship makes so much sense to her, as she believes we need to showcase the solutions and opportunities migration brings, rather than focusing on a particular issue. To any project officer in the migration field she recommends reading the Hope-Based Communications guide from Thoma Coombes.
Tips for success
“Follow your instinct and what is important to you! The more you know yourself well, the more you will find a space where you feel comfortable growing professionally. It's not just about finding a job or an internship or a new opportunity, it's about how you can add value to a certain area with your own background, your perspective and your ideas.”
*INSMS is always looking for interesting career paths of former migration students. If you would like to share your professional history with the network, please contact us by email: email@example.com, Subject: P2P campaign