The secret language of Oxfam employees

Can you imagine?

You finally start your internship at Oxfam Novib. You are so excited and can’t wait to get to know the organization better. But then, during the first meeting, it feels like you don’t speak the same language as your colleagues.

This is one of my experiences. Starting the internship, my colleagues gave me a warm welcome and tried to do their best to make me feel comfortable. However, the organization has a very specific jargon with acronyms and abbreviations. For example, Terms of Reference (ToR), Track Record (TR), and Theory of Change (ToC) have an explicit meaning here.

How did the other interns experience this, and do they have tips for future colleagues? I asked Weronika (Youth team), Leonie (Youth team), Jana (Youth team), Marlies (Gender and Justice team), and Windy (Conflict and Fragility team).

Word cloudExperiences and examples

Windy: “I struggled with the understanding of the acronyms defining project names and themes. For example, unit names such as C&F (conflict and fragility) R2F (right to food) or project titles such as WPS (women, peace & security), ARC (Addressing root cause) or SP (Strategic partnership).”

Marlies: “The technical writing and the use of acronyms makes it difficult to understand the sentences. For example: “A feasibility study will be conducted on a Capacity Development Fund with a fee-for-services mechanism that can contribute to sustaining the ELC/network/hubs as one of the options to be explored under the ELC business models”. Would you understand what needs to be done? I think a rather simplistic way of writing would be better to say the same and make it easier for outsiders to understand.”

Weronika: “At the beginning of my internship, I did experience some problems with jargon and the use of acronyms, mostly when I was reading documents provided by Oxfam. Even though, they were incredibly interesting, understanding them would take me a very long time, for I needed to check a meaning of a lot of words.”

Leonie: “When I read through the papers of previous youth projects, I discovered short terms such as WiP (work in progress), ToC (Theory of Change), SMEs (Small-medium-Enterprises), YAC (youth as active citizens).”

Tips and Tricks

Windy: “I had the idea to create an ‘acronyms dictionary‘ on a shared google excel sheet for the other interns and experienced staff, so we could add commonly used acronyms and their definitions. So my tip is: make up your own list or highlight the words you didn’t understand and ask staff for help. OR refer to the Acronyms dictionary I created and don’t hesitate contribute to it.”

Jana: “Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues – they’ll be happy to help you out. Also, Workplace (one of the digital communication platforms we use here) has integrated a really cool application called OxBot. You just chat with or tag OxBot and it automatically searches for the word/acronym your looking for in a digital library. Within seconds you get a reply with more info about the term you were looking for!”

Leonie: “Use the glossary list in the papers where the meaning of such short terms is mentioned.”

Marlies: “For future writing, I would argue to move away from the technical writing and include a more simplistic way of explaining. Use more visuals/info graphics to clarify, or use concrete examples, like interest stories, of what has been achieved rather than just explaining the methodology behind your work.”

Weronika: “I would mostly try to google the words or ask fellow interns, and read as many documents as possible to get clarity on the topic. If all this would fail, ask more experienced colleagues.”

Like with every new experience, give yourself some time to get used to the organization. With the tips above, you will feel at home before you know it.

This blog was written by Jackie, an intern at the Gender & Justice Team. Contact Jackie on LinkedIn.

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