Careers in International Development: Summary of panel event

This is the fourth post in our 5-part mini-series summarising the Public Affairs and Community Engagement (PACE) Panel event we held on 11thMarch 2015.  Other posts in the series can be viewed by clicking on the ‘PACE Event’ tag at the bottom of this post.

Sector overview

The panel was made up of representatives from LeedsDEC, Maxwell Stamp and a third representing ENDIP and Future Africa.

What is defined as the international development sector will vary depending on who you speak to.  Broadly speaking however, it can be defined as those organisations – be they governmental, non-governmental, charities, public or private sector – whose focus is on supporting global development, particularly among the more economically disadvantaged regions and communities.

Although diverse and global, the International Development sector is relatively small, extremely competitive and continually under pressure.  Typically, organisations in this sector are not for profit and may be charities, NGOs, social enterprises or public sector organisations.  In terms of the panel members at this event, Maxwell Stamp bucks the as it is a for profit consultancy firm whose clients include organisations such as those listed previously as well as other private sector organisations.

Range of roles and typical entry points for graduates:

The sector is diverse and therefore offers a wide range of roles.  The range of roles covered by the three organisations attending include education, consultancy, project management, supporting business enterprise, livelihood projects, and OAP benefit projects.  Roles within the sector could be in pretty much any professional field as well as lots of other generalist or specialist roles.

Getting in: How panel members did it

Previous experience is required within this sector: most people interested in this sector will have undertaken a certain level of voluntary experience in order to gain paid employment due to the competitive nature.  The representative from LeedsDEC worked in mainstream education prior to completing an MA in global studies which then took her to LeedsDEC, working in education to promote international development from a local community.

The representative from Maxwell Stamp worked at Save the Children and Mercy Corps prior to moving into the for profit sector.  He has worked on projects supporting an implementation of an OAP system in Uganda and livelihood projects in Bangladesh.  His background in the charity sector gave him excellent experience to then work in a consultative role supporting initiatives outlined by DFID.  He says the public perception of international development being supported only by NGO’s is shifting to much of it actually being backed up by for profits as this is where the money is.

The representative from ENDIP/ Future Africa mirrored this viewpoint, as Future Africa supports areas with extreme disengagement within youth groups by engaging them in enterprise. This is an alternative to Micro Finance which can become a vicious circle of dependency on outside funding.  The aim of enterprise based projects is to get community buy in which ensures a strengthened community and can help combat crime, poverty, abuse and neglect as well as improving communities’ economic position.  His background was in multiple NGOs both in Africa and the UK, working on the ground getting to know communities before taking on leadership roles.

All three carried out extensive voluntary work with multiple organisations to gain experience which supported them in their chosen career path.

Skills needed

Building relationships and networking

Being able to build extensive networks is key, as all organisations in this sector interlink.  The very nature of the work means it ultimately covers all issues and organisations must be able to work together to provide relevant support initiatives.

Transferable skills

You must have a transferable skill set as experience is so lucrative! Some suggestions from the panel included joining an Amnesty – or other relevant – group or society at university, for example, and taking on a lead role within that group. It was also noted that there are some excellent schemes enabling people to work or undertake voluntary work abroad but that many of these opportunities were not as reputable as others.  If you are considering undertaking such a project it is essential to thoroughly research the organisation beforehand and to choose them very carefully.

Written & verbal communication

Bid proposals and technical writing are also key; all three panel members confirmed that writing skills are essential due to the high level of writing required.  Being able to confidently speak to large groups of people is also essential due to the high levels of advocacy these issues require.  A second (or 3rd/4th/5th+) language is incredibly useful because so much of the work supports people who do not speak English.

Being enterprising

All three panel members stressed that being enterprising is key to support work in this area.  Both in terms of being able to make things happen with limited resources and spot opportunities, as well as having knowledge of organisations you can work with to help support communities.  One example given was of GSK working closely with Save the Children to produce a soap which could be sold in one bar but be used to wash hair, skin, clothes and kitchen items.  This meant that families don’t have to buy four separate products; they only needed one, saving them money.

Sources of further information and support


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