NPSIA Abroad – Thomas Orr, Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellowship Program 2015-2016

Thomas Orr, a recent NPSIA graduate, is the winner of the competitive and coveted Aga Khan Fellowship for the 2015-2016 session. Here’s his story!


Thomas Orr

JV: Introduce yourself for us.

TO: I am currently an International Development Management (IDM) Fellow with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC)’s International Youth Fellowship Program (IYFP). I am almost finished the IYFP’s month-long pre-posting Management Training Seminar. After that, I will head off to begin my eight-month placement in Tajikistan.

I recently completed a Master of Arts in International Affairs with a Field Designation in International Development Policy at NPSIA. I hold a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Political Science with a Subsidiary in Development Studies from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

I worked as an evaluation officer for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development for a year from 2014-15. During this position, I gained technical expertise in development evaluation and came developed an appreciated of the bilateral donor perspective.

JV: Why did you apply for this fellowship? How does it align with your studies and/or your career plans?

TO: The fellowship supports my objective of building a career in international development. The field experience offered by the fellowship could help me develop a career in development policy, programming, or monitoring and evaluation for a variety of employers, including DFATD, NGOs, multilaterals, consulting firms, foundations, or social enterprises.

I also love travelling! So, the prospect of living and working in a place I have never been before was very appealing to me.

JV: What was the process like?

TO: You can apply for the fellowship on the application page. There are three “steams” you can apply for, and you can only choose one. For more information, check out this page.

The initial application requires that you answer a series of questions, provide your university transcript(s), obtain recommendations from 2-3 referees, upload your résumé, and upload a scanned copy your most recent degree.

If your application is deemed to be of acceptable quality, you are then contacted for an in-person or Skype panel interview.

AKFC staff then recommend lists of candidates to a variety of potential host organizations in the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), based on the quality of the candidates and the needs of the host organizations. The host organizations then choose their top candidate, and these individuals are sent offers.

JV: Tell us more about your placement.

TO: I will be working as a Monitoring and Evaluation and Report Writer with the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) Tajikistan. The position will be based in the mountainous town of Khorog, Tajikistan. It falls under the International Development Management (IDM) fellowship stream.

My host organization (MSDSP) engages in a variety of development activities for the remote, rural, and mountainous communities of Tajikistan. Its activities include strengthening local civil society, fostering rural small and micro-enterprise development, supporting income-generation through agriculture, and providing and maintaining essential infrastructure.

My role will entail supporting MSDSP’s activities with regards to planning, monitoring and evaluation. I will be doing things like planning, research, rural site visits, data collection, data processing and data analysis, reporting, and presentation of findings.

JV: What do you hope to gain from this experience? What are you most excited about and what are you most anxious about?

TO: I applied for the fellowship in order to gain field experience in international development, make new connections, and build skills in development management – including building on my existing skills in evaluation.

I am most excited to gain some field experience, to contribute to my host organization’s important work, and to see a new and beautiful part of the world! I am a bit anxious about missing my friends and loved ones back home in Canada.

JV: Any tips for students interested in applying next year?

TO: Here’s a few things:

  • Know yourself – What do you want to get out of the fellowship? What do you have to offer your host organization? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Questions like this are very important to AKFC; you will be asked about these things.
  • Read the application instructions closely – There are a number of things you need to provide. AKFC receives tons of applications. Don’t let them discount you by messing up small details like providing the wrong document or formatting your résumé improperly.
  • Take time to reflect on the application questions – They require thought and introspection. Watch out for spelling, grammar, and diction mistakes!
  • If the program appeals to you, take the plunge and apply – It is a very good program. My experience with the program so far has been excellent, and all of the past Fellows I have talked to have had a great experience.

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