chapter  3
Navigating the Boundaries of an Anthropological Education in a Nonprofit World
ByChelsey Dyer
Pages 15

Over a one-and-a-half-year period I worked at two nonprofits, Witness for Peace Southeast (WFPSE), a small international nonprofit that focuses on human rights issues created by United States military and economic intervention in Latin America, and a large environmental organization in Australia, Greenpeace Australia Pacific (GPAP). Though the organizations differed in size, location, and interests, my work at both generated similar queries about how anthropology can be used outside of the academic setting. However, for both roles with the nonprofits, I was not hired as an anthropologist. Instead, it was assumed that my anthropological learnings would bolster my work and creativity throughout the job. I hoped this would hold true. Nonetheless, with both positions I struggled to determine how my studies would amplify my work, as little I learned in school spoke directly to working outside of the field of academia. My story begins in 2013 when I graduated with a master’s in anthropology from

George Mason University. When I began graduate school I wanted to use my anthropological education to work from within the US government and better international relationships. My master’s was aimed to buttress my passion for humane US policies with the knowledge, skills, and qualifications necessary to pursue my goal, which, simply put, was to help people. However, as my education continued I quickly decided that I was uncomfortable

working within an institution in which the results of my research could be taken piecemeal and used to justify already existing policies that needed alterations. I adhere to the notion that all anthropological work should be published publicly. And so, I decided I wanted to pressure the system from the outside instead of working within it. Getting my master’s in anthropology to “further my career” was not about increasing my salary (though I hoped this would be a happy side-effect), it was intended to assist me in finding my niche in the world, to make my daily life more meaningful through an education that gave me the skills and knowledge to

make a sustainable change in the ills of the world – specifically the impacts of US militarization in Latin America. Throughout my struggle to find my career, I have slowly learned that my career does not define me. I define my career. My passion, my interests, my love and knowledge of anthropology, and my own need to have a job that I feel pays earth and humankind for my existence, defines what I do. As I child I always sought as much information about a situation as I could

gather. I knew there was always more than one side of a story, usually more than two or three. As an adult, this impetus transferred over into a passion for anthropology’s holistic nature. I have always wanted answers, but not the simple ones, the complex, tangled, gray, and messy answers that reflect the veracity of life. To me, anthropology’s power lies in its ability to provide these answers, answers that can bring new perspectives to policy debates, social movements, and anything and everything in-between. Anthropology was not just a degree, it was a tool to help me find a career that fills a personal need for meaning, a meaning that I contrasted and nourished throughout my time in the nonprofit field. The experiences I encountered in the nonprofit world helped me establish my

own rules of conduct and ethical protocols as an anthropologist. However, more questions were also created. Is there a uniform definition of anthropology, or is it based on individual application? Where does anthropology end and the nonprofit business world begin? This chapter explores what many graduates and students are keen to know. What is the job hunt like in the nonprofit industry post-graduation? Does an anthropology degree help you find employment in a nonprofit? How do you use your degree at your job? I will relate my personal and professional journey as I exited graduate school, sought nonprofit employment, and arrived at two positions in nonprofit organizations in which I sought to define what anthropology was to me while reconciling the sometimes rigid academic structures of thinking, discourse, and methodology into existing worldviews of nonprofit organizations.