Sara Belfrage grew up in Sweden dreaming of one day making a difference in Africa. However, even she couldn’t predict just how powerful of an experience working for WFP would be. As a programme officer helping WFP innovate how we do our work in Kenya, she’s discovered again and again what being a humanitarian with WFP comes down to: the people we help. Read on for her full story and some career inspiration.
What do you do for WFP in Kenya?
This is my third and last year as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO) with WFP. I work as a programme officer in WFP’s Innovation unit in Kenya. I was part of the team assessing and designing cash and voucher programmes as an alternative way of reaching the hungry with food assistance. (You can learn about WFP’s Cash and Voucher programme here.) Now, I am working on how to integrate considerations of gender throughout WFP’s operations in Kenya to improve how we reach the people we help here with smarter programs and safer, more dignified assistance. As part of this project, I designed and implemented a feedback mechanism that enables beneficiaries to voice their opinions and concerns about the assistance they received.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my work right now is determining the types of challenges and risks the beneficiaries we help are facing; that way, we can figure out how to design our programs to reduce those risks. It is critical to understand the environment we are working in.
Why did you choose to work for WFP?
At the time, I was seeking out more international work experience particularly in the humanitarian sector. I’d always wanted to work for the U.N. and especially for WFP since it is one of the more operational U.N. agencies. When the WFP JPO vacancy came up, the job description called for someone with my experiences and background – particularly my work in Africa in microfinance.
What has made the biggest impression on you during your time as a JPO for WFP?
One of my most fascinating and interesting experiences working with WFP happened when I was out on a three-week mission in the northern part of Kenya called Samburu. I was leading a team of 15 people and our aim was to study the local markets and different supply chains to know if cash or voucher programmes would work in these areas. We drove for weeks to cover remote markets and villages. I interviewed village leaders and people in the communities we visited. I saw places I never thought I would see and I met people that I never expected to get so close to. I got to understand WFP’s work much better, in particular who the people we are working for really are.
Do you have an advice for those who wish to pursue a career in the humanitarian field?
It is very important to get experience in the field in order to pursue a career with WFP. I started at a very small NGO in Uganda, but as a result I got great hands-on experience and knowledge that helped me get my foot in the door at WFP. There are many small NGOs out in the field that no one really knows about but that do great work. That is a great place to start a career in the humanitarian field. Research what organisations match your interests.
About The Swedish JPO Programme
The Government of Sweden is a sponsor of the WFP JPO Programme. Between 2005 and 2013, Sweden sponsored six JPOs with WFP. WFP currently has two Swedish JPOs who are supporting our Nutrition Branch at WFP Headquarters in Rome and our Programme and Innovation Unit in Nairobi, Kenya. Additional information on the Swedish JPO Programme is also available at: http://www.sida.se/Svenska/Om-oss/Jobba-med-bistand/Internationella-tjanster/Junior-Professional-Officer-JPO/
About Sara: Sara has a BA in Political Science and a MSc in Development Studies. She’s previously worked in the microfinance sector in Uganda and also in Sweden, where she travelled regularly to Africa.