Changing Purpose By Changing Career 

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Is it possible to move to a humanitarian organization after having worked all your life in the financial sector?

Do you have the relevant experience to work in the humanitarian world?

These are issues some professionals tend to ask themselves when thinking about: 

  • finding a higher purpose in their professional life,
  • possibly earning less but doing more good, and 
  • wanting to make a positive impact on the planet and society.

In contemplating these points, many conclude that the answer is to move from the corporate sector to the non-profit one…


Is it easy to make this move?

NO, but remember:

1) Change is always possible,

2) Your transferrable skills and previous experience will be valuable and enriching in the NGO sector. 


NGOs and Compliance

Due to the complexity of environments that NGOs operate in, it is challenging to meet many unique compliance risks, both internally and externally.

For example, NGOs need to focus on core competencies and reaction speed. But it can also pressure organizations to cut corners and ignore key internal controls if they slow operations.

NGOs are therefore not immune from corruption or other compliance risks. Manage these risks effectively is challenging. Unless NGOs start to recognise and embrace this risk, their reputation – and the associated public confidence – could be badly affected.

Furthermore, managing risks allows NGOs to keep their resources focused on greater goals. 

Compliance awareness is crucial for NGOs, to manage regulatory risk and maintain a positive reputation by avoiding any civil and criminal enforcement and fines. 


What are the core skills I can provide to an NGO as a compliance specialist? 

Because of the unique environment and work that an NGO does, a compliance specialist can help in the following ways:

  • Reducing an NGO’s legal risks by establishing the required policies and processes to be compliant with the relevant laws and regulations (cross border movement of good, bribery, fraud, tax and other industry-specific laws).
  • Protecting the organization from negative press.
  • Keeping up-to-date with relevant laws.
  • Managing multi-task projects and performing risk analysis.
  • Writing policy and procedures.
  • Implementing, monitoring and testing processes.
  • Training staff.
  • Making management aware of irregularities.


What are the soft skills I can provide to an NGO as a compliance specialist?

Leadership, team spirit, and empowering others

To manage several projects simultaneously and harmoniously you need to provide clear directions, motivation and team assistance. With an amicable and understanding approach, I created a harmonious working environment that allowed the team to thrive. 


Ability to plan and prioritize work

Managing compliance requires excellent project management and multi-tasking skills. Most of the time you need to deal with the implementation of more than one project simultaneously. Without strong planning and prioritizing skills, I would not be able to successfully achieve my goals. 


Attention to detail

Compliance specialists must be analytical and detail-oriented without losing sight of the big picture. My experience in auditing and compliance helped me to learn how to dig deep into cases and tactfully ask the right questions by using strong communication and interpersonal skills. Compliance specialists should be able to look beyond the obvious and always be alert to any violation of ethics or rules. 


Problem-solving and delivering results

Problem-solving capacity is one of the key skills you need in compliance. Almost every compliance incident is difficult, complex, sensitive, unexpected and requires active listening, analysis, decision making and delivering an effective solution promptly. Sometimes this requires interpreting confusing or abstract laws or ethics and determining how to establish and integrate best practices. 


Capacity for working under pressure and meet deadlines 

The ability to work under pressure involves dealing with constraints that are often outside of your control. In the past 10 years, compliance has become a very fast-moving environment due to increasing regulatory requirements and new law enforcement. This brings uncertainty and the obligation to fulfil requirements with limited resources and limited knowledge within the given deadline.  


Excellent oral and written communication skills

As a compliance specialist, I had to communicate and cooperate across all divisions of the organization, including management, members of the board, shareholders, other stakeholders, auditors, lawyers, and regulators.  


Adaptability & Flexibility

Adaptability in a professional environment means being flexible and having the ability to adapt to changing work conditions while keeping a positive attitude. These changes can include new laws and regulations, a changing IT system, a new boss, new colleagues, or working in a new country. For compliance specialists, it is imperative to be able to complete the projects smoothly and without major delay even when things keep changing. During a career in compliance, you need to adapt yourself to change, but also teach, convince and accompany other colleagues during the transition. 


In conclusion

It is natural to want to work in the humanitarian field at a certain stage in your life when you want to make a difference to other people’s lives.

Compliance specialist can offer many transferable skills to the NGOs.

A good CV is not enough, though, to get your foot in the door. You need to develop personal contacts with those who can help you, and learn how to pitch to an NGO how they can benefit from your skills and your previous rich professional experience.

Be prepared to take a big step backwards in terms of salary and seniority. However, it is fulfilling work and makes you proud of giving back to society. Go for it !!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Handan Karamemis Handan Karamemis

My background in compliance and audit has brought me expertise in managing multiple projects thanks to strong organizational and prioritization skills.

During my professional career, my key focus has always been to find robust solutions and deliver quick pragmatic results. As such, I have gained sound experience in risk analysis, establishing new controls and standards.

My main characteristics are:
- Adapting easily to fast moving challenging business and regulatory environments.
- Taking responsibility.
- Being recognized by both colleagues and supervisors for creating good working relations.

I am now exploring how my past experience, skills and qualities can be put to use in philanthropy, sustainable development, Fairtrade and humanitarian affairs (health, food, energy, environment, climate).


  1. Martin Damary


    I would point out that you don’t need to work in the humanitarian (or human rights, or development) field in order to make a change to people’s lives. You can be in the “for profit” or the State sectors and also work hard – through your job – to ensure the well-being of others, wherever and whenever you can. But I do see that there would be some limitations that you might want to overcome, and joining the non-profit sector might indeed be one of the solutions.

    There’s another point I would like to make. The “non-profit” sector in many ways is no different from the commercial sector. You just have to be sure that no profits are generated, that you do not have shareholders or owners that can take any excess funds. But for the rest? You have products that you are trying to sell. For sure, the beneficiaries of those “products” might not be those who are paying for them. But the mechanism is not that different. Also, you have staff, a duty of care, you need to follow various legislations, you need to care for your reputation. In other words, I don’t see why it would not be possible to move from the “for profit” to the “non profit”, or vice versa.

    Finally, you make a valid point about compliance. We non-profits tend to chafe at certain restrictions – quite rightly so. Laws designed to prevent the financing of terrorism, for example, whilst extremely important, are sometimes badly thought out and can end up having the opposite effect. So we need to push back against certain laws and restrictions – but through a legal framework, not by simply pretending these laws do not exist.

    I look forward to your next article in Geneva Business News.

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