Working as NGO Country Representative in Angola
By Jonathan Paci on December 12, 2010
For almost two years I lived in Luanda, Angola. During this period I had the opportunity of representing, as Country Representative and Project Manager, an NGO who was awarded several grants to implement 3 main projects in the area of Health and Capacity Building.
Projects were financed by the EU and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for an overall budget of almost 2 million euro.
The biggest project was in the Health sector for a total value of 1.2 million euro. The other two projects covered the remaining budget and focused on capacity building of rural communities living in remote areas of the Country.
As Country Representative I had broad responsibilities for shaping the vision and strategy for the Country Office, providing high level oversight over all areas of the implementation of the projects.
The first challenge I had to face in Angola was the opening of the country office together with the recruitment of all the staff which was needed to carry out the projects' activities.
Choosing where to open an office in Luanda is not an easy task since rents are incredibly high. Fortunately I was in contact with another NGO who supported me in the initial installment and gave me all the appropriate information to be independent. Choosing a house is not just a matter of price but it involves also security concerns and logistics. After a few weeks I managed to find the right spot and the right building where to open the office and start this new adventure.
It wasn't the first time I had lived in an African country. Previously I had worked as a Project Manager Assistant in Harare, Zimbabwe, and somehow I already knew what to expect, but this experience was a completely different one.
This time I was the only person in charge of the country office, from the oversight to the design and successful implementation of projects' activities, everything depended on me.
In Zimbabwe I had to assist Senior Managers in their daily reporting activities and the writing of working plans together with assisting them in their expenditure forecast and daily accounting, now, as only expat, I had to rely on myself (and headquarters) to ensure the effective grant management and the fulfillment of annual targets.
A high degree of coordination among my office and headquarters was required, but also on the field with local partners, other NGOs and donors had to be put in place. The issue of overlapping activities among NGOs working on the field is quite common when there is a lack of communication and this is definitely something I wanted to avoid.
I therefore organized the quarterly coffee & tea meetings (4C&TM), (an occasion which soon became famous among expats to also arrange leisure events), to discuss about what we were doing on the field and what was happening in the context we were sharing. These meetings became a great occasion to share knowledge also regarding potential funding by donors.
Due to my easy going personality it came quite natural for me to cultivate relationships with people, including the handy relationships with potential donors. The 4C&TM (quarterly Coffee & Tea meetings) were definitely one way of maintaining working relationships with people but an active part of my job was to interact with local and international partners, relevant government agencies and community leaders by leading and representing the organization to external audiences and stakeholders.
As a Country Representative and Project Manager I had to work on all aspects of programming to ensure efficiency and accountability and to appropriately address challenges as they arose. I had to ensure that costs were managed in line with approved budgets, review and approve monthly financial statements and budget variance reports. I had to make sure that all administrative, financial, HR, and other operations procedures and policies were followed rigorously.
I had to develop and maintain the country office security plans to ensure safety of staff and assets. I had to make sure that country office staffing was maintained at appropriate level and within budget.
All projects activities have been carried out within the planned frame and stated budget and have been highly appreciated by local partners and donors.