Shaping the Future…..

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 by alexneumuller

It has been 5 months since my return from Cape Town to London (UK) and a lot has happened that in short encompasses job search/application, two key-hole surgeries on the hips, finding a place to live, and most importantly a change of direction in my career.

I think we all know that job search, application, rejections, interviews can be some of the most stressful time in one’s life. I m not sure where on the scale it comes alongside purchasing a home, getting married or having a death in the family. Yet being rejected on numerous occasions plays havoc with ones self-esteem and motivation. For May, June and the beginning of July I spend my time applying for jobs in the Development Sector based in London; applications numbered around 100 that went from the A-Z of the Development Sector, yet resulted in three interviews. Two that were for an internship at two London-based NGO’s and one full-time position at the Sigrid Rausing Trust. The applications for the internships were done more out of reserve/backup that anything else, and I admit openly that my preference was not with them, simply because I felt that I have paid my dues in regards to internships in the past. The Sigrid Rausing Trust opening was something I truly believe in ‘Giving Grants for Human Rights Issues’, yet I only made it down to the final five candidates out of 250. But I do hope that maybe one day I can strive to achieve something similar to what the Sigrid Rausing Trust is currently achieving.

The failure of getting a job in the sector I wanted to work in and establish a career, meant that I had to look at the sector from a different angle. Did I want to be a little cog in the machine or did I want to make my own destiny? Can I achieve change without working for some big NGO or government organisation, or is there another way of achieving lasting impact in the work in one way or another. Could I not start my own company that in the long-term gives me the opportunity to help a small number of people to achieve change? Change that I can see with my own eyes, change that I have myself been a significant part of, not just been the guy in the background who write a report.

How could I achieve this; could I not start my own business, that in the long-term has the financial clout to help other make it in various sectors and help other less fortunate than me. Even if I m only helping 10 kids to make it through school and university through financial assistance, or one day finance a project that builds a school with kitchen and sporting facilities in the middle of Tanzania or elsewhere.

Without giving too much away; I have started a project with my partner that involved Run, Cycle, Swim and Yoga with launch date being Spring 2011 in London (UK). The feedback until now has been fantastic and this project has the ability to lead to great things in the future. A future that I m not only able to share with my partner, but which is a key step for myself in following my believe that I m capable of affecting change; just in my own way.

So watch this space….. ☺



Success or Failure?

In AIDS Accountability International, Resource Consulting Services, UNAIDS, UNGASS, Volunteer on March 18, 2010 by alexneumuller

6 months ago I left London after spending a year as a researcher with Resource Consulting Services (RCS), a consultancy that specializes in research, strategy development and implementation strategies in the extractive and agricultural sectors. This position was my first job since having graduated with an MSc from Bristol University and gave me significant insights into the Development Sector and where my career might be heading. The opportunity RCS gave me is something I will be forever grateful, especially with the job market at the time having been more than difficult. Yet I knew by last summer that in the long-term I could not stay with RCS, as my long-term interest has been the HIV/AIDS sector and the policies surrounding it. RCS has gone from strength to strength since I have left, and my former colleague did state that I left to early! This of course makes me think if it was the right decision to leave RCS, but I do believe that my time as a volunteer with an organization that operates in the HIV sector in South Africa would stand me good deed and help me to find myself and my direction in life.

After much applying and lack of success I found an organization that was keen to take me on as a volunteer researcher. This organization was AIDS Accountability International (AAI), originally based in Stockholm, but having just opened up a Rating Centre in Cape Town, they were keen to get a volunteer on board under the guidance of its Scientific Director Per Strand. AAI is an independent rating organization whose aim it is to hold leaders accountable for the commitments that have made to respond to the AIDS epidemic, with its research focusing on government accountability, implementation and impact I think nothing is better than a free lunch, as it would benefit AAI and especially myself. I arrived in Cape Town with high expectations and little knowledge on HIV/AIDS and its accountability issues surrounding them. My hope was that by the end of my time with AAI as a volunteer that I would gain invaluable knowledge and having learned the in-depth issues surrounding HIV and accountability, that when I returned to Europe I would find a job or an internship in another respectable development organization.

With my time at AAI coming to an end today, the question I would have to ask if I found my time at AAI a success and if it really would help me find a job back in Europe. The basic answer is yes, but at the same time I have to put out some criticism aimed at myself. The one key component I have learned is self-initiative. This is something I sometimes struggled with, due to my knowledge having been limited, but I do know that if I want to make a success of myself I will have to learn to take more responsibility and take initiative on many more occasions. I think my lack of knowledge sometimes showed, and this ensured that I did not input as much as I wanted at times with AAI. Yet on a more far-reaching scale I would consider my time at AAI a success, with me having contributed to projects that have ranged from writing country narratives, their Woman Scorecard and other rating initiatives. Guidance and inspiration came from people such as Per Strand, Phillipa Tucker, Irene Harris and from people outside the sphere of AAI such as Nicholas Garrett and Gemma Oberth. People who believe in their work and their ability to make a difference.
With much of my research at the time having concentrated on gender related issues, sexual minority groups such as Men who have sex with Men, Sex Working and Injecting Drug User and the availability of disaggregated data, the key component I have learned that there are to many gaps in countries reporting of HIV data. This comes in addition to countries that have a successful HIV response, yet fail to submit any worthwhile disaggregated data through the UNGASS reporting system. I will not go in-depth into the shorting comings of the UNGASS reporting system, as I have covered this in a previous post, but with the 10 year mandate of UNAIDS coming to an end, and a new set of indicators and mandate having to be agreed upon, one would hope that the updated reporting system will result in stricter reporting guidelines. Currently one knows that often the disaggregated data exists, but countries fail to submit them for various reasons. Yet one hope that through more civil society action, and organization such as Aids Accountability International, that the accountability and transparency of countries HIV response and data will improve, hopefully not only in the long-term, but as soon as possible, with the HIV epidemic doing some significant damage to countries current and future economic base.

I leave with high hopes knowing that I have learned and gained valuable knowledge in the HIV sector that will hopefully ensure that I will be employable in the Development Sector and be able to make a difference to peoples lives. I have been given every opportunity in life, often these opportunities I threw out of the window or ruined by my own laziness or stupidity of actions. But with my priorities in life having changed in the past few years, I firmly believe that now is the time take the opportunities that will rise from my time at Resource Consulting Services and AIDS Accountability International and truly achieve something meaningful to those affected by the failure of action of others.


Acceptance in the name of Long-term Health

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2010 by alexneumuller

The past 4 weeks have been difficult from a sportive perspective due to an injury to my leg. In a short context, my quad and iliopsoas muscle on my right leg decided that enough is enough and gave up on me. This is not an injury that had occurred overnight, but more likely been the fault of having underdeveloped muscles in some areas of my legs and has meant that some muscles had to compensate for the weakness of others. To put it bluntly I have weak glute, abductors and hip muscles. This is of course not good if you run a lot as they are key to being able to run efficiently and long distances.

Since mid January and my last cycle race there has been no cardio excercise, no swimming, no running and no cycling, due to not wanting to aggravate the injury any further. For everybody who loves their sports, they will understand how difficult it can be to not do any kind of cardio excercise or excercise full stop. Consequently I have spent the past 4 weeks every day in the gym for rehabilitation. On this note; I dislike the gym to an extent that I lack motivation to do anything in there. 75% of people who go to the gym don’t do sports for the same reasons as I do, this might sound harsh, but I don’t care about being body-beautiful or having big muscles. I do sport as a choice to live a long-healthy life and to be able to compete on a level where big muscles and small lungs don’t get you anywhere. So knowing that I have to continue using the gym for approximately another 6 weeks to strengthen my legs and ensure my injury heals is a pretty big motivation in ensuring that I don’t have to spend too much time in the gym in the near future.

This has meant that that past four weeks have slowly taught me an acceptance of in the name of Long-Term Health. And I don’t mean this in a negative way, such as feeling sorry for myself. Its more about knowing when to quit and ensure that ones own body will be healthy in the long-term. I have learned that when there is a niggling pain, that I shouldn’t always train through it, and that more rest-days are appropriate. I also had to accept that I will not be able to cycle the Cape Argus which is in four weeks time, the biggest timed cycle race in Africa, a race I had been training for and done qualification races for to improve my seeding. Although it is in four weeks time, which might just be enough time for me to be able to cycle again, yet the question I had to ask myself if its worth it? Is it worth to do the cycle race with no proper training, no cycle training with a muscle that might only just be healed. The risks outweigh the advantage, I do not want to re-injure the same muscle again, and be out of sports for even longer. A decision that has been for me an acceptance of defeat. A defeat of my stubbornness. Yet this can only be good thing in the long-term.

On a final note, I m signed up to do 2 Oceans Half-Marathon in the first week of April with the Eskimo. Will I be able to run that? I do not know as of now, but I will try. But at the same time I will not compromise my long-term health.


Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

In Homosexuality, LGBT, Uganda on February 17, 2010 by alexneumuller

The basic outline of this proposed Bill is the criminalization of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for people who have had previous convictions, are HIV-positive or engage in same sex acts with under 18s. Additionally this bill covers penalties for individuals, organizations, non governmental organizations that work in support of LGBT rights. This bill seems to have a relative high chance of being passed, with President Museveni although stating that there is a need to exercise ‘extreme caution’, yet he also has stated ‘We used to say Mr and Mrs, but now it is Mr and Mr. What is that now?’ Uganda is already heavily influenced by the church and which had resulted in a lack of prevention and treatment for gay men. Subsequently if Uganda’s parliament passed this bill, the country will not only put itself years back in its HIV-response for LGTB groups, but there is the danger of anti-homosexuality swaying beyond the borders of Uganda.
The reason why this had drawn my attention is due to the fact that in my current job description its involves putting transparency and accountability into HIV-data that are released by countries around the world. This is not only to ensure that countries are more open in their HIV-data, but also to ensure that through the disaggregated data more effective HIV-responses can be created. We have a responsibility to encourage openness and to fight against stigma and criminalization of people living with HIV. The failure to stop the Bill, will result in state-legislated prosecution of LGTB. Prosecutions one should be ashamed of in today’s world where tolerance and acceptance is key to not only an effective HIV-response, but more importantly, key to ensuring a better future for everybody.


Improving Accountability?

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2010 by alexneumuller

How can international human rights and development NGOs strengthen accountability to the poor and excluded rights holders with whom they work?

In today’s development sector there is a lack of accountability by NGOs and INGOs to the key stakeholders for whom they are working for with the aim of achieving change. The key stakeholders in question are namely the poor and often excluded right holders. Current norms dictate on how advancing rights are to be executed and achieved; yet key issues of accountability and transparency do not have a normative approach. Subsequently there is a necessity to strengthen and hold NGOs accountable for the resulting consequences on the poor and excluded rights holders.

The current approach of a tiered top-down approach in policy implementation that includes, to name a few, criminal laws, NGO guidelines/statues, shaming of failed transparency and the establishment of accountability mechanism only creates at the bottom. The top-down approach as important it is, fails to connect to the key stakeholders whose situation they are working to improve. The failed incorporation to these groups is often due to their lack of involvement in activities beyond a community level, but also often due to low illiteracy levels and access to technology.

A more honed and specific solution is required. On a one level there needs to be greater emphasis on those NGOs that fail to provide any type of transparency and accountability. In addition to this NGOs must stop trying to reach the largest number of people with their projects, and instead combine their resources with other similar projects in the same region. This by itself would result in improve accountability within the NGO sector, as the combining of similar projects with similar long term aims would result in NGOs auditing each other. On a more key level there is a need for a more expansive community based approach. By this I mean involving key locals not just at a community level, but at a policy planning level. By integrating the poor and excluded rights holders from the beginning of a development project, the combination of support and pressure upon NGOs Planning Stage would ensure a much wider openness to all. Giving the poor and rights holders the knowledge and means to demand change from the offset would result in not just improving development planning, but would also result in the empowerment of the poor and the excluded right holder. It would further force NGOs to be accountable from the planning stage to those whom they work for. The change of awareness, capacity and practices would occur over time, yet the greater opportunities for further participation of prior excluded rights holders would subsequently ensure the fulfillment of their given rights and in turn ensure NGOs accountability.

The strengthening of accountability to the groups in question will be firstly through the combining of NGOs with the same long term goals and their cross regulation and secondly through the vital involvement of both the poor and rights holders at all stages of Human Rights and development phases in both policy creation, planning and implementation.


The need for more!

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 by alexneumuller

It was 15 years ago that I was glued to the TV in anticipation of the Rugby World Cup Final between South Africa and New Zealand. Yet my interest in this final did not stem from my interest in rugby, or better say lack of interest in rugby, but because of one man. A man that was seen as an inspiration, not to South Africa, but to the New Zealand rugby side and its hope of winning the World Cup Final. So what is wrong with this image? Nothing from the point of view of being 15years old and simply not being aware what was happening in the reality of the world. Did I know what the Rugby World Cup or what the Springboks meant to South Africa as a nation? Or did I even know who Nelson Mandela was at the time and who used the World Cup to portray South Africa upon the world stage as a united country? The simple answer was no.

Yet 15 years on, this wonderful event is replayed in my mind from reading the book ‘Playing the Enemy’ by John Carlin and having watched the not so good feature film ‘Invictus’. It reminds me that there was a bigger picture to the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995 and that the country was divided by colour and struggling to unite. The central role that Nelson Mandela played in using rugby to extend a healing process, a process that by no means is finished, reminds me of the need for people in not only in position of power to lead by example, but by ordinary citizens as well. There is a need for a moral code to inspire people to unite a country, yet this trait is something that often enough politicians and society lack in today’s world. The failure to inspire each other, from politicians to the masses and vice versa is a cause of concern. The lack of a moral code has resulted in the failure of following the laws and regulations of South Africa, and the so often question of what the government should do for you.

Yet there is a need not only to ask what the government can do for you, but also what you can do for your country. This is what is key to the success of not only South Africa as a country, but also what countries around the world are struggling with. I for one know my shortcoming and I have often enough failed in thinking beyond myself, yet having revisited the fateful events of the Rugby World Cup in 1995 has reminded me that we all have to take responsibility of a country’s failures. Simplified; we can all do a lot better.



In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 by alexneumuller

Do I suffer from an addiction? By definition an addiction is ‘the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that psychologically or physically habit-forming’. I m not addicted to smoking, alcohol or anything drug related, yet I clearly suffer from an addiction, although I have not yet understood why.

I think I suffer from sport addiction! Not in a sense that I do sports to ensure my body looks beautiful, but more on the level of health and achieving competitive goals. I train hard, maybe to hard. Training has included training twice a day with one rest day a week. This has formed into a habit that hard to break. Even when I feel tired I will get up at 6am to go for a swim or cycle before work. And in the evening I would do core and strength exercises. The effect this has had on me was a transformation in my health, in a positive way of being able to run distances never done before and feeling fantastic. Yet I forgot that my body is not used to this kind of training and something had to give, especially being as injury prone as I am. Some of my muscles don’t function properly, subsequently other muscles are compensating for this. This compensation has resulted in my hamstring and glutes not firing properly and have resulted in an illiopsoas strain. The basic outline of this is that I m not able to do any kind of card workout, as all cardio based workouts use this muscle.

So here I am 2 weeks into doing no cardio or strength workouts with only some swimming in the past week, which have not helped the cause of getting better. Subsequently, I m 4 days into a week of no cardio and no strength workouts to give my body a rest. This is where the suffering starts. The idea of working all day and then just going home without any kind of workout is soul-destroying. I have always held pride in myself with my self-discipline in regards to sports, work and not-drinking, yet this was achieved by venting any kind of frustration or anger out through training. Yet with no training to vent my anger, frustration or energy, my proud self-discipline has been thrown out of the window. This has resulted in me getting mood swings, talking to much and eating myself through a good 5000 calories a day. The effect this has is not a good one, although the realization has set in that I have an addiction.

Will I be able to break this addiction? Or will I continue to suffer overtime I have injury. The honest answer to this is that I just don’t know…..