Working for a better world: This Life Cambodia's Hayley Lee Allen
Inspiring jobseekers
7 min. read

Working for a better world: This Life Cambodia’s Hayley Lee Allen

People find amazing jobs on every day. This is part of a series of articles that go behind the scenes to meet some of the people and organisations that are finding each other through

Today’s story is from Hayley Lee Allen, who found her role as the Strategic Partnerships Officer at This Life Cambodia – an international development / community development organisation based in Siem Riep, Cambodia – after seeing the ad on

Congratulations on your new role at This Life Cambodia! We’re guessing it’s a long way from your first ever paid job?

Thank you! I am so happy to be living and working in Cambodia to assist This Life Cambodia build the skills and knowledge of communities here so that they have the opportunity break free from poverty. My current role is light years from my very first (paid) job, which was fitting and selling shoes in a shoe shop in a small Victorian country town. That role was 3 nights per week, after school. I was 14 years old. It served me well to cover any extra curricular activities I wanted to take part in.

Tell us about your education – what did you study, and has it had a significant impact on your career so far?

I took on a Science / Arts double degree at the University of Melbourne, but at that age I hadn’t really decided my career path – so I moved on from that, tried a few other courses and eventually found myself seeking the bright lights of the Arts. I have since completed an Advanced Diploma in Event Management and a Graduate Diploma in Management (Arts & Cultural Management).  Both these courses positively impacted my career trajectory within the arts industry, especially as the arts has become more formalised over the years. The management, fundraising and communications principles were also easily transposed to suit international development.

Tell us a bit about the rest of your career before starting at This Life Cambodia.

My work history chiefly involves administration, production and management in comedy, music and visual arts – across both commercial and not-for-profit arts organisations. I coordinated comedy productions at The Last Laugh in Collingwood for a couple of years and then worked with Laneway Festival for the first 4 years coordinating all aspects of that festival across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. I also worked in artist and tour management with artists such as Gotye, The Temper Trap and Clare Bowditch. Seeking a more fair and formal workplace arrangement, I moved into events management at NGV and then with Melbourne Recital Centre. I also worked as an Electorate Officer with the Parliament of Victoria.

What inspired you to first become involved in international development?

I first read Emergency Sex & Other Desperate Measures in 2004 (the story of 3 UN workers), and from the very point of finishing that book I wanted to experience working in a developing country, towards the reduction of poverty and conflict. I have travelled to South East Asia a number of times, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and experienced when travelling through Cambodia.  Experiencing the poverty here first hand really affected me. On returning to Australia, when I caught myself preferring to read articles on the response to the Ebola crisis in Africa than looking at art on walls, I realised I was ready to make a move; to live and work internationally, and dedicate time to working in international development.

How did you first come across

I remember when Ethical Jobs began! It easily turned into my go-to employment website because I became very disheartened with other sites; I couldn’t find anything meaningful beyond a promise of money if you worked your life away.

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What does This Life Cambodia do, and what first attracted you to the organisation when you saw the ad on

This Life Cambodia (TLC) is a non-government community development organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. TLC undertakes its work by listening to communities define their own needs and solutions, engaging with communities to address their own needs and advocating alongside communities so they are empowered to challenge inequality, and break free from poverty. TLC currently operates four programs including: This Life Beyond Bars, a vocational training and family support program for juveniles that have come into contact with the law in Cambodia in the absence of a juvenile justice system; Community Responses to Violence against Women and Children, a program to educate the local authorities and community about gender-based and domestic violence and build robust responses to this; Lower Secondary School Development Program, a 3 year action cycle that builds capacity for school communities to develop and invest in their local schools; and the Community Research and Consultancy Program, our research, monitoring and evaluation arm.

What attracted me to this organisation was their professionalism amid so many NGOs that don’t seem to have their systems, policies and procedures together. I also researched some media on TLC’s Executive Director, Billy Gorter, and was inspired with his activist history. He also made me laugh!

Many people who work in not-for-profit organisations are well aware that they could earn a more lucrative salary in the public or private sector. What has motivated you to continue working in the not-for-profit sector?

There are a number of reasons:

I do not value money above all things.

I got very tired of bending my talents to suit “higher-ups” that didn’t appreciate them, just to get in line for a meagre promotion.

I have and continue to work with some big hearted, intelligent, creative and understanding people in the NFP sector.

I seek meaning in my professional and personal life. Both the arts and international development sectors are rewarding and meaningful for people in general.  Both sectors can change lives, so I guess I have a social conscience.

Ultimately, I want to do some good for the world in my workday; given the amount of time we spend working in our lives, I cannot reconcile being unhappy with what I am working for.

And, finally, money doesn’t make me (or anyone) truly happy.

This Life Cambodia is fairly young having been around for just eight years. What’s in store for the organisation in the coming year?

This Life Cambodia has positioned itself very well as a high-impact, grassroots organisation with a unique approach to sustainable development initiatives. We are often approached by other NGOs to demonstrate what and how we design and deliver the programs that we do, so TLC’s profile is growing.

We are in store for some big things in the coming 12 months! The programs that TLC deliver are backed by manuals and clear operational direction, so they are easily measurable. ‘Measurable’ feels like a buzz-word sometimes until I look up and around and remember that there are over 4,000 NGOs operating in Cambodia – and it’s the quality that makes TLC stand out. TLC was just announced as a finalist in the STARS Impact Awards (UK), which recognise high-impact organisations working in international development – a great accolade for us. Our team are 95% Khmer and the intelligence and dedication of the staff here coupled with a sincere belief in what they do means to me that they deserve this recognition.

What advice would you give to the many ethical job-seekers that dream of a landing a job like yours?

Go for it! Number one: check! That’s where the jobs will be.

One thing I learned along the way is that the international development sector is competitive. There are a lot of passionate and talented people looking at the same roles as you. I suggest revealing a bit of your personality in your application – you are moving countries for this so you want to be as sure as you can of the people you will work with, and that they get a good idea of you too. You’ll need them when you land in a foreign country!

Remember you will be living in a country other than your own and that respect and tolerance are key. Be prepared to adjust your expectations of how things operate. Spend time researching the organisation and country in which you are going to live. I researched and read a lot before I moved, and I admit that (naively) I felt prepared. The surprises started the moment I arrived! But, that’s what makes it such a great adventure.

Fantastic advice, thanks Hayley!