I’m Stephen Ladek and I’ve been an international development and humanitarian aid professional for more than a decade. I currently live in the paradise of Costa Rica with my wife and three children.
In the beginning…
Like so many of us, I didn’t begin my career focused on serving those in need in some of the world’s most challenging places. I struggled though undergrad (dropping out, much to my parents dismay, on 4 different occasions), finally getting things done with a degree in Farm and Ranch Management. Then, as you’d expect, I immediately dove into a career path in information technology. While I failed to cash in on the then “dot-com-millions,” I did have a great run that ultimately led me from coding web services to a position recruiting IT talent from places like the Philippines, Russia/Eastern Europe and, of course, India.
The “a ha” Moment
One day, waking up in my hotel room in New Delhi, I was confronted with a frustration that I couldn’t shake: why, at the dawn of the 21st century, do we continue to try to solve problems by killing each other? I knew at that moment that my passion lay on a path other than giving interviews to IT professionals. So, I did what any of us would do – I started calling the people I trusted and asked the very innocent question: “How do you become an Ambassador?”
Shifting career paths
Along with a major does of reality about how diplomatic positions are dolled out, those calls led me to the starting block many of us share in the development and aid sector: a Masters Degree (for me this was International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University). There, I quickly realized I would not be a good candidate for government service, but I did get lucky and was able to cut my teeth on real work in Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iraq. After finishing school, that experience led to other positions with some of the largest NGOs in DC.
The Birth of ISG
After getting engaged, my now-wife-of-almost-10-years and I knew our next move was to live and work overseas. So, we had a little competition to see who could get a position first. No kidding: she received three offers, while I tallied zero. That would, fortunately, be a fantastic turn of events for me because, in 2005, on our airplane ride to our first posting in Jordan, I founded International Solutions Group. Over the last 10 years, ISG has helped improve the performance of Donors, Governments, UN agencies, NGOs, IOs, and CBOs in more than 30 countries. (You can read the full ISG story here).
At the beginning of 2014, I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that has helped me to build a successful career and company and allowed me to live in places like Jordan, Hungary and Costa Rica. If there is anything that is certain in our sector, it’s uncertainty: job stability, precarious funding, changing political foci, location of the work, natural disasters. It is a full-time job just keeping up. Further, it is an open secret that the nature (and availability) of funding is changing, donors are increasingly calling for better efficiency, effectiveness and greater impact, we need to better leverage local capacity, corporations are becoming serious players… and so much more. Aidpreneur.com is an online community for development and humanitarian aid professionals focused on how we can do our jobs, run our organizations and use donor funding better.
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This Is Important
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not a “guru” with a secret formula. And, most importantly, this profession ain’t easy. Just like you, I get up everyday ready to break my back serving those in need in some of the world’s most inhospitable places.
I do consult and I do get paid for the work I perform (after all, I have to help put food on the table!), but selling you is NOT the focus or point of AP. Rather, its about sharing ideas, techniques and ways we can make the delivery of development and aid assistance better – for me, you and, most importantly, for those who need it most.