Tiana Razafimahatratra, a Foreign Service National working at USAID’s Madagascar misson, tells the story of her first days working with USAID.
When I told my former colleagues from CARE that I had been recruited by USAID to join the mission in Madagascar as a Foreign Service National (FSN), their first reaction surprised me. It was to talk of stars.
“Stars?” I asked.
Yes, answered my friend Malala. She then went on to detail the US flag: “It’s full of bright stars. And now you are going to become one of them!”
My response was that I was proud to join this strong development agency and that I was impatient to contribute to the brightness of USAID by leaving invaluable legacies for my country, Madagascar.
My first day at the Mission was chock-full of surprises, and I have carried the memories with me for the past seven years. November 29, 2004 was the day for a presentation of the “Managing for Excellence Report” – MER for the Environment and Rural Development (ERD) program, during which the ERD team had to present achievements, results and challenges. Despite my recent arrival, I was put right in the thick of things and asked to participate in a major presentation to share our achievements. This was also going to be my first introduction to the Mission Senior Staff.
Emotions were swirling: excited and proud, but also anxious about being publicly exposed to those I considered as USAID veterans. The portfolio presentation was planned for the afternoon so that I had time to prepare with the team during the morning. My responsibility was to present the evolution of Madagascar’s forest cover as a result of USAID’s ERD program. I flashed back to what my friends had said upon learning of my new job: bright stars. This gave me the strength and willingness to face challenges.
I have to keep shining, I thought. Be bright for USAID, be bright with your new team, be bright for your country, and be bright for yourself. Don’t see stars due to dizziness and nervousness, but be clever and deliver the best.
So I steadied my nerves and worked directly with my new ERD team while listening to team planning. I also asked for our audience profiles and their main interests. Based on my knowledge of Madagascar’s environment program and USAID support program, I brought my analysis and perspectives to the table. I like to think the presentation went well, and that day was indicative of my work at USAID: full of challenges, but also that mix of supervision and independence that has been so crucial to my professional development. Starting from this day, I was so proud to be part of and valued by the USAID team. It was an exceptional starting point with USAID so that I am always challenging myself to keep up the good work.
During those first few weeks and months, I met my new FSN colleagues. Without fail, I was impressed by their commitment, by their genuine pleasure at being at work, and by the evident spirit of teamwork and pride.
I have worked for USAID/Madagascar for six years now. Before starting at USAID, I knew what words such as “empowerment” and “ownership” meant on an abstract level, but now I really grasp them. I love my job, and, through hard work and unwavering commitment, it is a pleasure to say that I am good at it. I have been made to feel like a pillar for the USAID Madagascar Environment Program while leading environmental compliance for all Mission programs.
I can say that I am seen among USAID Madagascar as the institutional memory by overseas consultants who are seeking information on Madagascar’s environmental program.
Professional progress is encouraged at USAID – I was never given the opportunity to stagnate. I work as the Mission Environmental Officer (MEO) to ensure that all Mission programs are in compliance with regulatory guidelines as established in 22CFR216. I have been recognized by the Regional Environmental Advisor as one of the best MEO within the Africa region. I am very active in developing required environmental documentation for the mission programs and building capacity for both Mission staff and partners. I have expanded my technical assistance to the Africa region, and I challenged myself during a two month fellowship in Washington DC as the Environmental Management Advisor under the Office of Program, Policy and Management of the DCHA Bureau. I was highlighted as a critical contributor to the DCHA environmental portfolio in the development of an important paper on the role of democracy and governance in climate change, in the review of several FFP environmental assessments, and in the mentoring of other Fellows on the implementation of USAID environmental procedures.
USAID does a great deal not only for the developing countries in which we work, but also for the FSNs. I have been trusted to be a leader in my field and given the tools to do so; this has allowed me to shine, like the stars on the US flag we admire.
I can only hope that my commitment to my work exhibits how FSNs serve as critical components of the USAID workforce: we provide intellectual rigor, continuity and country perspective to development work in the field. Above all, we carry with us that sense of wonder and belief in the value of our work that elevate this agency from a company like any other to one of the best development agencies in the world.