WHO IS LINDA RAFTREE?
Linda Raftree is a co-founder of Kurante, a company dedicated to helping organizations better understand how technology can improve development outcomes. Our interview with Linda Raftree re-emphasized one of Aidpreneur’s long held beliefs: that there are “multiple paths” into development and aid.
Linda has worked at the intersection of community development, participatory media, youth, gender, and information and communication technologies since 1994. Linda began her development career in El Salvador. While studying at a local university, she became friends with a Finnish classmate who offered her a job as a translator in a local NGO. After serving within several roles for the NGO, Linda was eventually hired by Plan International.
In addition to Plan International, Linda has worked for several other large development and aid organizations. She has advised The Rockefeller Foundation’s Evaluation Office on the use of ICTs in monitoring and evaluation and conducted research on adolescent girls and ICTs for UNICEF, the role of ICTs in child/youth migration for the Oak Foundation, the use of mobile technologies in youth workforce development for the mEducation Alliance, and ICT-enabled monitoring and evaluation for Rockefeller. Linda is also a co-founder of Regarding Humanity, which encourages debate and dialogue around the portrayal of ‘the poor’ in the media, social impact work, and non-profit marketing. She coordinates Technology Salons in New York City and advocates for greater dialogue and discussion around the ethics of ICT use and data privacy in the humanitarian and development space.
When asked about the future of Kurante, Linda remarked, “we don’t see ourselves as the next Chemonics. As long as we can do meaningful work, Kurante doesn’t necessarily need to grow. It’s not in my blood to be concerned with that.” Still, Linda and Wayan are planning to continue formalizing the objectives and activities of Kurante in the near future.
Towards the end of our interview, Linda commented that the development industry is experiencing a “disruption,” in which new, and smaller organizations with customer-focused mentalities are entering the market. Furthermore, the needs and problems of countries are shifting, and there are more elements to consider for organizations attempting to abate these countries’ issues.
Given these trends, Linda suggests that development and aid professionals must focus on developing their leadership styles, and not be afraid to take sensible risks. And for younger professionals, Linda believes you must be humble, inquisitive, and prepared for your assumptions to be challenged. Above all else, just remember, this is a career path for those that wish to support the misfortunate, and not for those seeking the limelight.
PS – Linda also writes ‘Wait… What?,’ a blog about new technology and community development.
You can connect with Linda here:
http://lindaraftree.com/ (“Wait… What?”)
IN TOR 073 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Linda’s unplanned career path, the simplicity and freedom of her decision making.
- A very personal (in Linda’s word “cathartic”) account of balancing family and marriage when a development career takes priority.
- Disruption, revolutions and breakthroughs she expects for the development field.
- How maintaining personal values, selectiveness at work and curiosity keeps Linda strong.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Regarding Humanity
- Technology Salon, NY
- Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
- Consulting, personal branding and marketing
- Work-life balance
- Brooklyn, NY
- El Salvador
- Los Angeles
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
What Linda does
Started as a freelancer, founded Kurante (running in esperanto).
Strategy, implementation support, partnership building. ICT-intensive work.
Cross disciplinary team, academics, entrepreneurs, private links.
Stumbling into development
Anthropologist, married her key informant in LA, moved to El Salvador during civil conflict. Wife of a guy in the ‘barrio,’ worked as English teacher. Sense of development work.
Got tired. Took a class at a university, met friends, joined an NGO as a translator with big pay upgrade, moved around and up the organization. Not much career planning, clear path.
“I have a hard time working inside structure, and learned to get away with not following rules.” The NGO gave her a lot of space, she saw things nobody would or could.
She has had the luck to be asked to do specific things by organizations, instead of her having to push them to hire her, which is harder.
Jumped into consulting after had a large base.
Shaping her consulting brand
Little planning (or money). “It was a leap of faith. I can always go back to translating.“
“We don’t do a lot of marketing or self promotion. People who know what we’ve done come for us.“
Dependency on networks and her blogging.
Things always change along the way.
Agencies focus too much on scale for Linda’s taste. Local nuances and contexts are valuable.
Role of technology in scale and development. Linda does not like to think of development as something that is delivered, or technology as a silver bullet.
Working with large organizations is difficult in terms of adaptation and feedback, can be wasteful. Institutional change for agility is important.
The change Linda expects
Re-evaluate the idea of ‘local.’ The U.S. has many local problems on its own.
Disruption in the development field, for new players, new rules.
Focus on the ‘customer,’ climate change, participation. Linda expects big changes.
Strong leaderships will define success in organizations and brands.
Linda is not overwhelmed
She maintains her set of values. “There are things and approaches I’m not interested in working on.“
Linda has kept faith in the programs she’s been involved with.
She is a naturally curious person, enjoys getting into unexplored fields and challenges.
Surrounds herself by curious, analytical, ethical people. Keeps her interested.
A natural researcher, to always focus on things that are useful.
In El Salvador it was easier to find balance, less personal decision-making.
“It becomes a challenge when you want to work more than you want being a wife.“
Partners must be on the same track, understand if she gives priority to her career.
Her children turned out OK, she’s still active and traveling around the world. They recognize Linda’s sacrifices and search for opportunity.
How she sees herself
Linda doesn’t see herself or Kurante as the next anything.
Not a fan of pushing paper, so growing is not a priority.
But formalization is important, find focus and differentiation.
Would like to write, aware of the challenges involved in publishing.
Keep simple, frugal, always open to options.
Listen, be humble, inquisitive. “Your assumptions will be challenged, get used to it.“
If people haven’t done things in your innovative way there is probably a reason.
Development is a highly social field, be mindful of people, the rules of interaction.
Avoid getting “completely sucked dry.” “Development organizations don’t have the best HR.” Burnout is too easy, competition is strong, there is always someone ready to take your place.
Do it as long as it is still stimulating.
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