In your role as an international aid/development worker, you will focus on meeting the needs of people and communities in the developing world...
You will seek to work with developing countries to set up long-term, sustainable solutions to problems. You could also work on development projects in fields such as education, sanitation, health and agriculture, as well as in urban, rural and small business development.
Work in this sector is diverse and encompasses:
Career areas include:
There is currently a shortage of doctors and water engineers.
Humanitarian and disaster relief work may call for highly specific skills and experience and usually involves short-term assignments.
Your job will vary according to seniority, organisation, project or employer and location of the role (UK or overseas), but may typically include:
Direct comparison with UK rates is complicated, as pay may be supplemented with items including accommodation, travel, medical allowances, hardship allowances, passage back to the UK and allowances for partners and children. It may also be taxed differently.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Overseas working hours may be long and unpredictable, particularly in emergency relief situations.
Part-time work is unlikely for overseas posts. Fixed-term contracts ranging from a few months to three years are typical for overseas postings, making career breaks, as well as periods of unemployment between assignments, a possibility.
Many people who enter this area of work have a degree in social sciences or a relevant vocational subject, although not all posts require a particular degree. The following subjects may increase your chances:
Entry without a degree is unlikely unless applicants have substantial relevant experience.
The Development Studies Association (DSA) maintains a list of relevant undergraduate courses, postgraduate taught courses and postgraduate research opportunities. It is a good idea to get some work experience in development before starting a postgraduate course. This will provide context for further studies and also help to identify the most relevant academic or professional qualification to undertake.
It is also possible to pursue postgraduate courses in international development management, international development studies, international health management, aid management, global social policy and other development-related courses.
A background in areas such as finance, IT, fundraising, HR or marketing may offer an alternative entry point into development agencies for those seeking to work in development without being directly involved in managing overseas projects.
Applicants need to recognise that international aid/development is a challenging and extremely competitive career area to break into. It is essential to do some research and raise your level of knowledge and understanding of how the sector and organisations operate before applying.
You will need to show:
The key to getting your first post in the sector is relevant previous experience. Getting relevant voluntary or paid work experience is essential during, or following study, either overseas or in the UK.
Most university students' unions offer opportunities to volunteer. Internships can often be taken during summer vacations. Formal internship schemes are more common in larger charities such as:
Organisations that provide information and advice about getting involved in volunteering include:
Most routes to gaining overseas experience require some self-funding. The Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) runs a programme open to applicants with relevant post-qualification experience. VSO's International Citizen Service (ICS) scheme is a programme for 18 to 25 year-olds that provides an opportunity to work with its partners in over 40 countries.
2Way Development is a UK-registered social enterprise that places volunteers with established development charities in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East for a fixed fee of £850.
Development and emergency aid organisations employ more than 100,000 people worldwide. Charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are the main employers of aid/development workers.
NGOs include voluntary and religious organisations. They vary in size, structure, regional focus and their capacity to employ paid staff. Some offer predominantly UK-based roles in finance, fundraising or overseas project management. Some deploy experienced staff in developing countries.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administers the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme, which provides hands-on experience to young professionals (usually aged under 32) pursuing a career in development. JPOs are sponsored by their respective governments, although note the UK government is not currently sponsoring JPO positions.
Employment for recent graduates and those with a relevant Masters degree and experience is offered by The World Bank. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) also employs postgraduates. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) employs graduates with Masters or PhD qualifications in economics.
Major international organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), base their employment intake on which countries are underrepresented in their international quotas. Internships are offered by various UN organisations. A comprehensive list of all United Nations websites is available through the United Nations System of Organisations.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has set up an International Development Network (IDN) for planners with an interest in planning and international development.
Look for job vacancies at:
Vocational training tends to be delivered through volunteering, internships and short courses. RedR offers one to three-day introductory courses on relief work, and BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development) and Medair also run relevant short courses. The World Service Enquiry (WSE) publishes booklets on volunteering and working in aid/development, which are suitable for those in the early stages of seeking a job in the sector.
Details of other short courses are listed on the DSA website.
The DFID provides its staff with a comprehensive induction process designed to help them do their job effectively as quickly as possible and to identify their individual learning needs. As each person's career develops, they are able to choose from a range of training options including traditional training courses, conferences and seminars, e-learning, coaching, mentoring and job shadowing.
Not-for-profit organisations are not usually able to offer as much formal in-house training as other organisations, as there tends to be less funding available for staff training.
Engineers and vocational degree holders are usually members of their relevant professional bodies and may work towards professional accreditation or chartered status. They may participate in relevant professional training.
There is no one set career pathway for international aid/development workers. You need to carve your own career and make a careful assessment of your own skills and abilities. You have to be prepared to review and change your career plans as development priorities shift.
The public sector may offer graduates more structured career development. Development specialists in the DFID work for up to five years in the UK and abroad before achieving adviser status.
A vertical career path within one non-governmental organisation (NGO) is unlikely. Moving between agencies to gain experience is common, often with a mix of UK and overseas posts. Competition is intense for domestic and international posts. Working overseas may be difficult without higher or specialised qualifications, for example in health promotion, micro-finance or logistics.
Posts such as country or regional programme manager generally require at least five years' experience. Recruitment at this level is increasingly global, with a noticeable move towards appointing well-qualified nationals with the appropriate cultural background.
There is a growing trend for organisations to decentralise and base themselves in, or close to, the developing countries in which they are involved.
Consultancy may be an option after you have gained considerable experience, although there may be increased competition for consultancies in certain countries.
For those with appropriate experience, short-term humanitarian relief and emergency aid assignments may form part of long-term career development within, for example, healthcare or engineering.
For engineering-based volunteer opportunities, see Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Personnel are sourced from registers of screened specialists, such as RedR and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who may be seconded at short notice from their usual employment.