MSc Project Planning and Management (2005 - 2006)
How would you introduce yourself?
I’m Frances Morris, a former MSc student (Project Planning and Management) in 2005-2006. I’m English, but have been based in the Netherlands for the past 25 years, hence consider myself very ‘European’. I began working in the consultancy sector on EU-funded international cooperation projects back in 1997, purely by a happy accident and without any real project or donor management skills; my first project experiences were therefore based on common sense and good communication skills, which was the most I could offer. Since leaving BCID in 2007 and returning to the Netherlands (it was difficult to leave, I kept finding work to do!) I’ve worked as Project Officer Research in the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (now part of Erasmus University Rotterdam), and have just finished a short term contract with the international NGO Plan Nederland. Both jobs have had a main focus on institutional fundraising and proposal preparation, which has meant a sideways move from actual project management. But the management of planned projects has to be included (or at least carefully thought out) in any proposal preparation; this is a skill I learnt at BCID and which has stayed with me.
I’m currently ‘between jobs’, but for a few months now have been working on a voluntary basis for the Agra-based education and child development NGO Indian Dreams Foundation, again on proposal preparation, but to work for them more effectively I really need to go and visit and see exactly how it is at grassroots level.
How did you come to study at the BCID?
My first project experiences were focused on implementation. I found myself to have some knowledge gaps regarding the different factors involved in project management, so was looking into possibilities of further education, to become a more effective project manager. I was lucky to have found the MSc course at BCID by looking through the university prospectus where I found the perfect degree for my aspirations. It had an academic focus, of course, but was practically orientated, giving insight into development policy, the actors involved, the politics and strategies, and the various ways development aid could be delivered and monitored.
A second reason for finally choosing BCID and Bradford, apart from the course content and the backgrounds of the academic and research staff was because of its location in West Yorkshire, which was close to my original family home and with a local population of down-to-earth, welcoming people. A friend had told me, ‘people are all friendly in West Yorkshire’ ...... well, not all and the streets get very dark and cold in winter, but I was happy to have chosen Bradford.
How was the Bradford experience for you?
No exaggeration, it was wonderful – one of the best and most rewarding personal investments I’ve ever made. I was nervous about becoming a full time (very mature!) student again and had thought of distance learning, but remember having a heart-to-heart phone call with a BCID’s admissions administrator, who told me that it would be worth it, that I would fit in, that I would meet the most interesting, supportive colleagues who would remain friends for life – and it was all true. The course content was exactly what I needed; I managed to find part time work on campus to help pay the bills, attend language classes, joined the social activities and built a lasting network of friends.
In 2010 I decided to study for a part time research degree (MPhil level) and of course, BCID was my choice. I’m now - very, very - slowlyresearching donor-(NGO)-recipient relationships, focusing on donor-imposed project management procedures and how they affect the ability of recipients to deliver effective aid interventions. But I go so slowly that the aid architecture seems to be changing as the post-MDG 2015 deadline approaches; but I am not too worried; the research keeps me up to date and hopefully will help me to become a better practitioner, should a project opportunity arise in future. To have the opportunity to do research next to my other commitments is quite fulfilling.
Has the degree helped you in what you are doing now? How?
Yes, I’d go so far as to say a Masters degree has become absolutely necessary to continue in development work, at least here in the Netherlands. I feel fortunate that I have a practically-focused Masters in development studies, combined with a first degree in agriculture. As I mentioned earlier, my first project management experiences were based on common sense, good communication skills and a good dose of cultural understanding, but now I can be more critical, consider why are we doing it like this, and what’s behind all of this. And I’ve developed research skills, which allows me to critically evaluate and analyse donor documents.
But it’s tough, looking for the next development job, as so many people chasing the same vacancies. Networking and flexibility are the ‘name of the game’. I have an advantage with my pre-Masters practical experience, English mother tongue with a decent working knowledge of Spanish, Dutch and French – working in the development sector requires at least bilingual abilities, but without the Masters, and without the continuing support from and access to BCID that the MPhil research now provides, I’d feel quite lost, it remains a stimulating experience.