19 March 2020

My UEA Story: Kiana Alavi

It’s Okay to go outside the box 

Since the age of the, I had planned to come to the University of East Anglia to study international development. My brother studies there eight years before I did so I grew up wanting to follow in his footsteps. Since then, all my decisions were based on this dream, all to ensure that nothing would jeopardise or delay it. And there I was, eight years later, studying at the university I had dreamed on attending, studying a course that would help me build the career I had envisaged. 

Before graduating from studying BSc International Development with Environment and Society (with overseas experience) in 2014, I would regularly find myself conflicted about what life had waiting for me after university. Whilst studying at UEA, all me peers and I knew about the sector was that we wanted to be a part of it. Little did we know that the development sector was comprised of numerous avenues and career opportunities. 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to gain some work experience during my time at UEA. I worked as a communications Assistant at the Association or the Protection of Refugee Women and Children in Iran, working directly with Afghan refugees and translating reports. During this time, I also conducted my dissertation on the drying of Lake Urmia in north-west Iran. The work experience helped me gain knowledge about a topic that was not taught in my core modules and I became extremely passionate about them. This experience not only gave me a sense of direction for my career but also allowed me to start to = prepare myself for life after graduation. In fact, both opportunities (work experience and dissertation research) has helped me get to where I am today! 

Upon leaving UEA after graduating, I found myself in the same situations as countless other graduates; unemployed and struggling to find even an unpaid internship. In that period, I applied to more jobs than I ever thought I would in a lifetime! But I was luckier than most other graduates, as I had my overseas experience to add to my CV. This allowed me to get two key internships in London at RedR UK and FilmAid International. The roles were incredibly different. One was centred around monitoring and evaluation and programmatic work – particularly around the Ebola response – and the other was external communications. Whilst I enjoyed both internships, I realised that I am more passionate about communication roles.  

After this, I dedicated my time towards building a career around my already existing passion for photography, media and communications. I had done numerous internships in campaigns and communications teams in various large and small organisations before ending up at Save the Children International as their Global Campaigns Officer. Within this role, I Helped coordinate the global campaign (Every Last Child) and had the opportunity to visit project sites in Jordan, close to the Syrian border. 

Prior to this contact coming to an end, I was offered a job at WaterAid UK, to work as the Engagement Officer for End Water Poverty, a global coalition that WaterAid is a member of. End Water Poverty works with over 150 member organisations (NGOs and civil society organisations) in over 90 countries in order to reach Sustainable Development Goal 6 and end the water and sanitation crises. Having worked in the humanitarian sector, this has been a change of pace; from working in a reactive field where changes in situations such as the war in Syria would significantly impact my workplan to an environment where my work is contributing towards longer-term changes. 

Being the Engagement Officer for this coalition means producing and managing all communications outputs as well as their global campaigns. Although we are based in a large organisation such as WaterAid, the End Water Poverty team is very small; allowing staff members to take on more responsibility therefore learn more. Within this role, I tend to travel often, either for meetings, field visits of content gathering trips. Within my first year here, I have had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands and Kenya for meetings, Zambia to deliver a campaign and gathering content regarding the cholera outbreak as well as Madagascar to visit WaterAid projects and gather more content. This role has also presented me with the opportunity to travel to New York in July 2018 to attend the High Level Political Forum and Launch a report at the United Nations. 

Although it as only been four years since graduating, I can say with full confidence that this role has and will continue to prepare me for the career I have been working hard to build. One thing I will never forget, is the long and draining hours I – and many other graduates – have gone through to get to where we are today. 

My message to Students 

My message to the current UEA students or recent graduates is this, don’t be afraid to try and working within different segments of the development sector. It is very easy to want to be a part of the sector, but it is extremely difficult to find out what your role and contribution would look like. It is absolutely normal to think outside the box and see what your passion is, what your skills are and how it fits into the sector.  

While at university, volunteer as much as possible to see what’s out there waiting for you and become part of youth-led groups to not only learn from other students/graduates, but to also reassure yourself that you are not alone in this journey. 

We are all on a similar path towards making the world a better place.