How can I work in economic development in Latin America?
May 11, 2008 6:25 PM   Subscribe

How can I work in economic development in Latin America?

Background: I just graduated with a BA in economics, my Spanish is somewhere between an intermediate and advanced level, and I'm a U.S. citizen.

I am interested in working in any Spanish-speaking, South American city.

I'm also interested in working in any kind of industry as long as my job directly created or supported economic development. This could range from working in real estate or finance to providing support to small business entrepreneurs.

I do have preferences though- I would prefer to work in real estate development or to attract businesses to areas with high unemployment rates.

I am also interested in working for any kind of organization with any kind of mission, whether a completely for-profit, huge multinational, a non-profit/NGO, or anything in between.

I know there must be organizations out there with jobs like these that could make use of someone like me. How can I find them?

I appreciate any information at all.

I should also note that I spoke to the career services office at my college about this, and they were completely unhelpful.
posted by Ashley801 to Work & Money (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The people I have known doing that sort of work got their start via the Peace Corps or other (often church-based) volunteer positions. The pattern seems to be that you need to establish a track record a) in a sector (eg economic development) and b) living and working effectively in a foreign country. Since so many Americans (and Europeans, etc) can't hack difficult work and living situations, you don't hire untested people -- you hire someone who can say "no problem, I worked in country X for three years and loved it."

So I think your order of business needs to be to first get some time on the ground and demonstrate your capabilities, and second to look for paid employment in that sector. It may take a voluntary situation to get started, and to begin to hook into the networks of people who make those hiring decisions.
posted by Forktine at 7:54 PM on May 11, 2008

I'm opting for bullet point format as much as I can. My background is working in development through a university for 3 years, including a Masters thesis. Primarily Brazil, but also other places.
  • network through your university. Forget the career center. Have you talked to your econ advisor? Other profs in the department (or others - do you have a real estate department? urban planning?) who you also know or can meet with can be huge opportunities. A big part of their job is knowing people all over the world in their field, and they may know people who want people or people who have funding or... you get the idea.
  • consider getting your experience in the US first. There's some really cool programs that are multi-national economic development innovators. Have you seen the ones where people can funnel their remittances into "accounts" with a company so they know where the money goes? These are so cool! The work is often US-Mexico, like Patrimonio Hoy (which helps funnel remittances to build new houses). I know, you want to leave now (been there!), but at least get yourself some practical experience in an organization with fingers outside the US while you keep looking for the dream position. This is also a networking move.
  • is there a reason you have not considered doing this through graduate school? IFF (meaning, if and only if) you know what you're interested in and want to focus on, you might consider a relevant Masters' that would include field work.
  • why are you focusing on cities, and why on south (not central) america? for one, much of the real work needs to be done in smaller cities and rural areas. if you really want to make a difference, your time is best spent in areas that are under-served by existing programs. i guarantee you (first-hand!) that the lion's share of money and effort goes to urban programs because they are visible and easily accessible. when I compare the work I did in Rio with the work I did in the sticks (1 hour from what could be called a town with a straight face, and 7 hours from the state capital), the work in the sticks generated much more economic opportunity and community return than what we were doing in our partner community in Rio.
  • improve your Spanish, or learn something new (Portuguese, French, will keep you in S.America/Carib). Spanish bilinguals are easy finds, so intermediate will not help you stand out.

    Um, I think I covered everything I wanted to. Sorry I'm so long-winded.

    (Also, I know someone who has a small microfinance program going out in Argentina somewhere. If you wanted to memail me some sort of intro letter/more info about yourself and your goals/a resume, I could see if he's interested in someone at the moment.)

    (Also, I'll second Forktine on the maybe having to go voluntary first, and on the reluctance to invest in untested people. The benefit of going as a volunteer first is it gets you on the ground and into the networks of others on the ground. Once you're in-country and in-person, it'll be easier to switch into paid work. I have one friend making that transition now in Ghana.)

  • posted by whatzit at 4:26 AM on May 12, 2008

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