Jobs in International Development?
March 10, 2005 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the US, about to finish a graduate degree in about a year and a half, and I am interested in a career in international developmnent, and I was curious what different options I might have. Do any MeFiers have recommendations what areas I could go into? Pay is a concern for me, as I have fairly significant debt from undergraduate and graduate school, so I was not really looking at the nonprofit side as much. I was thinking of government or private sector, but I wanted to know what thoughts you all might have. Can I do private sector without working for some place that's exploitative? I'm really not sure what's out there past basic government jobs, so maybe someone has some suggestions. I've looked at books too, but i figured asking MeFiers might be good.
posted by jare2003 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you would be interested in non-profits if it weren'tfor the student-loan issue, you might look into loan-forgiveness programs. I think I've heard that there are programs that partially forgive student loans to encourage graduates to go into non-profit work.
posted by duck at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2005

Briefly, some general points: a good place to start looking is the jobs section of The Economist -- not necessarily for the jobs on offer, since they tend towards upper-level executive positions, but as an indication of the various public and private development orgs out there. It might be worth considering whether you want a desk job in the US (or elsewhere), or a field job; if the latter, narrow down the places where you'd consider working. Lastly, look for an internship of some sort over the coming summer, if your finances allow it.
posted by riviera at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2005

Response by poster: THis summer i'm working for an NGO in Nicaragua (funded through a scholarship through my university)

duck: i'm unaware of loan forgiveness programs - usually those are for people that go into teaching, no? or perhaps you're speaking of loan-forgivness programs from the university I attend. (Cornell, where i am now, does not do that)
posted by jare2003 at 4:26 PM on March 10, 2005

If you're a US citizen, the Presidential Management Fellowship is a good choice. It puts you on a fast pay track and they repay your student loans - $10,000 a year up to $60,000.

You choose a 'home agency', e.g., the State Department, CIA, FBI, DoD, USAID, etc. You spend two years rotating through various placements before nailing down a permanent position at your home agency.

The State Department and USAID are your best bets for development-oriented stuff. I have friends who've done it and have had amazing experiences - some of them in development, some of them doing things they can't talk about.

Alternatively, the World Bank has a junior professionals program. Not sure about loan forgiveness there, though.
posted by nyterrant at 4:32 PM on March 10, 2005

Jare: I didn't have anything specific in mind when I posted that. It's not something I know anything about, but I had heard in passing that such things exist both from university's and from outside organizations. I figured I'd mention it in case you'd never considered the idea.

A quick google-search suggests that they are not just for teaching, though I did not find anything geared specifically towards international-relations. But then again, I wasn't looking that specifically or carefully.

If you would like to work in the non-profit sector it might be worth your looking into, or maybe another mefite knows something about this.
posted by duck at 4:39 PM on March 10, 2005

The UNDP has another programme called Lead which might provide what you're looking for. If this is just a loose search right now (sounds like you've got time in school still yet?), the MIT International Development Forum is planning an "Alternative Career Fair" for this fall. The sustainability/ID/AT focus has gotten pretty big here, so I expect it'll be well done.

(I'm glad you posted this question - I was going to get around to it some day, honest. And my thesis. Right.)
posted by whatzit at 4:43 PM on March 10, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the thoughts so far!

PMF *is* awesome.... i plan to apply for it --- i have family in govt, and they say by far it's the best way to work for the federal govt. and pay starts out good (40s) and after two years in PMF can be in the 60s. (wow)

Does anyone know what's out there in the private sector?
posted by jare2003 at 4:58 PM on March 10, 2005

Grameen Bank provides things like banking services and mobile telephony to some of the poorest countries. For example, they give women in Bangladesh a loan to buy a mobile phone. The women set up a business selling calls on the phone to people in their village. The women pay back the loan, and pocket the rest of the money. Grameen Phone sets up the phone towers. They get the loan interest, the women get a livelihood, and the villages where they live get connected to the rest of the world.

Generally, opportunities in the private sector are thin. You could look for a job in a developing country with a big multinational like Nestle. Companies like Starbucks have corporate responsibility offices, and they may have positions that involve development work, such as working with coffee growers. If you really love bonds, some of the big banks have emerging market debt practices, but that's hardly development work.
posted by nyterrant at 5:06 PM on March 10, 2005

As a place to start on the private sector, there's quite a bit of thought being done on "eradicating poverty through profit" - so finding ways to open the markets of developing countries, or doing manufacturing/distribution in them in such a way that drives infrastructure development. It's a philosophy that may or may not coincide with yours.

Some names can be gleaned from places like this World Resources Institute conference. I remember P&G as being one of the big big companies working in this area.
posted by whatzit at 5:28 PM on March 10, 2005

This is my basic run down on international development from what I have observed working in this area.

There are usually two sides working on any project: project management (usually not based in the field, although it may involve some visits) and technical experts (who have expertise in specific fields e.g. law and governance, water and sanitation, engineering, gender mainstreaming) who are likely to work in the field, sometimes in a short term position (eg two years) and sometimes as a consultant who does short stints here and there.

Outside of the project sphere, there is a third side to it - proposal writers/business developers who put together the tenders for companies to win business either from their government's aid agency (USAID for the USA) or from international bodies such as the World Bank. This job usually involves monitoring what tenders are coming up (pipelines), locating suitable consultants, putting together a work plan or proposal, describing the company's previous experience in the area and how it ties together with this proposal.

The different sectors you could work for are: government, international bodies, NGOs, companies who implement programs after winning tenders (some are profit, some are non-profit, some might be attached to another organisation like a university). I don't think the private sector is necessarily exploitative.

I can't comment on the wages situation in the USA. In Australia, you will get the most money operating as a consultant to NGOs/government/private sector, but obviously that requires experience (although it is worthwhile keeping an eye out for opportunities for "Young Professionals" or "Less Experienced Professionals". As a regular employee, the NGOs pay least. Not sure how it stacks up between government and private sector, at the lower levels here, government would be better pay. I am not really familiar with which companies are the big operators in this area in the US, but you should be able to work out who USAID is awarding contracts to and look at those companies.

A good introduction (though from a British perspective) is Working in International Development (Sussex - UK) which has a broad outline of the profession and what you should think about.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:05 AM on March 11, 2005

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