After years of working as a contractor for various United Nations (UN) entities and Australian-funded international development projects, Jeffrey felt like his career had hit the ceiling.
Armed with an engineering degree, he began his career working for UN Habitats building houses in East Timor. After years working on urban planning projects, he landed his first school project, which involved not just building schools but also building toilets. This led to an interest and career shift into water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), where he could utilise his skills in both engineering and planning. With a rewarding career path now clear in his mind, Jeffrey turned his attention to the one thing still holding him back: the lack of a masters degree, which is an expectation of all UN employees.
Jeffrey reached out to his network for advice on what and where to study. One of his friends handed him a University of Melbourne course guide and suggested he consider a Master of Evaluation.
“He told me evaluation skills are always in demand, so it will help you progress your career within the United Nations, and then when you retire, you can work as an evaluation consultant. I looked at the course guide and saw how gaining evaluation skills and knowledge would help me to be a more effective project manager. And I’m pleased to confirm it has indeed been the case.
“With my background in engineering, I was very familiar with quantitative analysis, but through this course I learned a lot about qualitative analysis. One thing that really opened my eyes was learning that what’s true in one situation isn’t necessarily true in another situation, or what’s true for most people isn’t true for everybody, and how you can use a qualitative approach to identify those differences.
“For example, I heard a story about a project in India that installed water pipes next to every house, so the women didn’t have to walk to get water. But after the pipes were installed, the women destroyed them. Why? Fetching water was their opportunity to go out and meet with their friends. With the pipes supplying water directly to their homes, they didn’t have that reason to leave the house, which they actually welcomed. So the experts don’t always know best. They might think, where I’m from, people love having running water in their sink so that must be the same everywhere, but that isn’t the case.”
The Master of Evaluation is a 100% online course, so Jeffrey was able to study in whatever country his work took him to. He valued being able to complete the course while working rather than having to put his career on hold and return to Australia to study. Even though he only communicated with his classmates online, Jeffrey said he was still able to form connections and learn from others.
He completed the course part-time over four years, and after he graduated, he landed that long sought-after job at UNICEF. He is currently a WASH Specialist at UNICEF North Pacific Field Office, where he is responsible for all WASH activities in the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau. In addition to helping him achieve his career goals, the Master of Evaluation has been instrumental in helping him design better programs and be more effective in evaluating results.
“I learned how to generate evidence, which has become more and more relevant to me. For example, I wrote a project proposal to a donor, and someone from another country office said, ‘hey, how about we change one of the indicators? Instead of the number of people trained, we want to know the percentage of people who have improved their knowledge on parenting.’ Thank God I have learned that I can do a pre- and post-test, or I can do a case study, and I can present that evidence. Imagine if I had no degree in evaluation, and someone changed my indicator. I would have been struggling!”