Do I have what it takes to work in international aid & development?

“I just want to make the world a better place.”

Sure, who doesn’t? Let’s cut to the chase; you are going to need a lot more than enthusiasm and the desire to make people happy if you want to work in international aid and development. This is an especially tough area of work to break into and there is a lot of competition for positions.

You need to be decisive and effective. You are going to be spending huge sums of other people’s money on important projects and there will rarely be the option of running over budget or getting extra personnel on board. You are likely to be over worked and underpaid, safe in the knowledge that there are hundreds of others willing to take your place.

What options do I have within this field?

International aid and development is one of the most important areas of work in the world. Without the hard work and dedication of the people that work in this field, millions of people across the world would suffer.

If you consider the fantastic work done by international aid workers in response to the Haiti earthquake disaster and the devastating floods in India, the importance of this work becomes even more apparent.

However, the career options in this area may be less obvious. Let’s take water engineers or web developers as a couple of roles that may not immediately come to mind.

Of course, many health professionals, teachers, fundraisers and administrators get involved, but there are an increasing number of economists, sociologists, psychologists and other professionals immersed in the exciting world of international aid and development.

Your options are incredibly broad. You may find yourself working in the UK or abroad. You may be working on a short term project or focusing on a lifelong aim. Your work could focus on building wells, implementing education strategies or organising the logistics of moving hundreds of tonnes of food supplies to a disaster zone.

What subsectors can I work in?

Although there’s a lot going on, international aid and development work can be broadly divided between the following areas of work:

  • Projects
  • Fundraising
  • Advocacy
  • Reporting
  • Planning.

All of these specialist career paths can be undertaken in the UK or abroad.

Reporting is an important part of international aid and development, which has the dual role of quantifying the issues that exist and measuring the performance of projects that have finished or are currently underway. This often involves people working out in the field, meeting people, asking questions and collecting data.

The information gathered in reports is great for planning future budgets and projects. Once the issues are clear, action can be taken, plans can be drawn up and money can be allocated. The same information also serves as the basis of advocacy.

Advocacy and lobbying are incredibly important aspects of international aid and development. This process is used to persuade companies and governments to support, condemn or review certain issues, situations and projects.

From time to time, new projects are considered necessary. These can have short, medium or long term goals. For example, the Millennium Development Goals are long term objectives, whilst a short term goal may be in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

New projects need to be planned and resourced with contingencies made for the many contributing factors that make international aid and development such an interesting and stimulating subsector.

Often, you will be working with fewer resources than you would hope for, to tight schedules and in a constantly changing landscape. Consequently, a career in international aid and development can be highly frustrating and, at times, disheartening. At the same time, this is a great field to pursue if you’re energetic, positive and up for a challenge.

Check out the occupational profile of an international aid/development worker to find out more!

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