Nadia (Rei) Erlam currently works at the Gender Institute at LSE after graduating in MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities in 2015. In this blog Nadia (Rei) explains how volunteering can really help in skills development for a future career.
I currently work at the Gender Institute at LSE supporting the administration team and in developing student-led resources. What I want to emphasise to you is this: one of the main reasons I got this position was because of my volunteering experience. There were others who applied to this position who had more qualifications than me, but I had a lot of volunteering experience which meant I was the best candidate for this position. Previously, I have volunteered with Women in Prison (WIP) who work with women in the UK who have been involved in the criminal justice system, Mind who are the UK’s leading mental health charity, and Fearless Futures who are the first organisation in the UK who train women to teach girls in school about gender inequality.
These experiences meant I gained really useful skills in various roles in these transformative organisations and they set me up as a valuable candidate for the role I am in now. At WIP, I was a Policy and Campaigns Volunteer and I was working on many things there including website management, policy analysis, the monitoring of policy developments, newsletters, and articles. The last article, I wrote was about why girls in care often end up as women in prison (31% of women in prison have been in care as children) after noticing a lot of absent discourse on this topic.
As I was a volunteer at WIP, I also go to change the nature of my role a lot. After I told my supervisor about my interests in supporting front line staff, I got the opportunity to do so. Front-line staff often have vulnerable clients who have very complex needs. I would volunteer with them at The Hub at HMP Holloway which, before Holloway prison was closed by the Government, was a space women went when they were released to re-adjust and find support and advice before going out back into society. Advice could be on things from access to adequate mental health services, to legal aid and benefits.
Knowing how to analyse data was a huge part of my master’s degree, and also of my volunteering position at WIP were I analysed data (such as from surveys that were conducted on the quality of healthcare women received in prison). This provoked further volunteering opportunities and meant I volunteered for a time with the Women’s Equality Party. Here I reviewed comparative measures on London childcare costs, and this was published in the party candidate’s leaflet which was distributed to all households before the general election in 2015.
The most rewarding side of volunteering is giving your time to organisations that need your energy and help. My volunteering matched what I really thought was important, my areas of expertise and experience, and they were the types of work that made me feel fulfilled. Volunteer in places that are important to you, that means you will have such a drive and you will feel really positive about what you are doing. At Mind, I taught young adults how to manage their emotional and mental health. In these kinds of contexts, you can see your work having a direct and inspiring influence on others. I really enjoy that.
The training I have gained in my volunteering positions has been highly important in other respects I did not anticipate. My training with Fearless Futures, for example, not only developed my ability to deliver insightful workshops on gender inequality, but has meant I have received further training in safeguarding and being aware of the needs of vulnerable people. Additionally, I received Mental Health First Aid Training which, again, are skills that could be really helpful if needed.
I have a neurological disorder and mental health disabilities which can be complimentary to my work if managed correctly. However, this meant that developing my communication, social skills, knowledge on equality policy in the workplace, and confidence in the workplace was absolutely essential before I could get paid employment. This meant not only that now I can manage these aspects of myself much better, but also that I know my rights in the workplace in terms of discrimination. My volunteering work with Mind gave me a plethora of tools to manage my own emotional health day to day and allowed me to assert critiques over how mental health is treated and categorised in Anglo-American societies, further helping me to comprehend and navigate my own neurodivergent state of being.
I have often had the pleasure of working in innovative environments with strong feminist ideals, where colleagues have been friendly, very progressive and open-minded. This, I realised, are the environments I feel most comfortable in and are the types of working environments I work best in. Therefore, my volunteering roles really made me realise the types of work contexts I would thrive most effectively in. This is another way which volunteering was invaluable for me, as otherwise I may have never realised this. All of these experiences also gave me many contacts in the sectors I really care about, and greatly widening my networks. Thanks to the volunteering I partook in, I now have a support structure in place to widen my career possibilities.
Volunteering is so important, both for the development of students and for charities, and I really recommend it to students who can commit some time to these rewarding projects. These projects equip you with relevant skills that will help you navigate the working world as well aspects of yourself and your day-to-day life outside of work. Thanks to the brilliant resources for you here at LSE, this is the perfect opportunity for you to partake in some amazing volunteering opportunities.
If you’re inspired by Nadia (Rei) to get involved in volunteering check out opportunities here and overseas on CareerHub and if you want help choosing the right role for you we can help – book a one-to-one appointment with us.