Overseas Development & NGOs
Development work is a challenging career for a graduate to enter after a first degree. Postgraduate study can be highly valuable but work experience is absolutely essential. The sector is very difficult to define but encompasses opportunities in the UK and overseas with NGOs, multi-lateral development agencies, government departments, consultancies and universities to name but a few. The sector requires people that are committed to global issues; this commitment must however be matched by tailored experience, skills and qualifications.
AGCAS - the professional body for higher education careers advisory services ,has produced an Industry Insight for Charity and Development Work which provides an overview of what it is like to work in this area
|International aid/development worker|
Overseas development is a very difficult field in which to work. Development organisations tend to recruit only those that can clearly demonstrate their commitment to the sector via volunteering and work experience. It is important to gain relevant experience while at university but also as a graduate; this is likely to be in the form of longer term unpaid internships although paid employment in entry level roles is feasible. Work experience opportunities exist primarily with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) but also with other organisations in the field such as consultancies, government departments, think tanks, universities and international development organisations. When considering work experience your priority might simply be to get into a relevant organisation. This is a perfectly sensible approach to adopt but it is also worthwhile considering specific aspects of the development sector that interest you. This might be in terms of particular areas of development (e.g. human rights, education, conflict resolution, and sustainability) or career pathways (policy, campaigning, administration, fundraising, project management etc). Doing this may help you to be more selective in where you look for work experience but also assist you in considering alternative opportunities linked to professional skills development.
Development NGOs are likely to give preference to candidates who have been involved in fundraising, campaigning or administrative support for specific causes or voluntary organisations. As a student it is possible to actively engage in causes that interest you on both a domestic and international front. Consider relevant student groups at Durham; ‘Amnesty International’ and ‘People and Planet’ are two examples of development organisations that have a Durham University representation. This is one positive way to ‘get involved’ and demonstrate your commitment to, and knowledge of, the issues surrounding development. Student Community Action is not a development organisation but it does present an opportunity for students to engage in topics relevant to development, such as health and education, within the local community.
A very limited number of graduate internships (unpaid or low paid) are offered by prominent organisations such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and People and Planet, but smaller agencies can also be a fruitful source of volunteering opportunities at home or abroad. Opportunities are posted on the vacancies section of our website but also refer to organisations like Idealist, World Service Enquiry, Experience Development and OneWorld. Unfortunately there is no central database of opportunities so patience, persistence and networking are necessary to track down openings. BOND is a very useful body with which to identify British NGOs in respect of specific of volunteering opportunities. Wango is an excellent global directory of NGOs.
Sourcing work experience overseas, particularly as an undergraduate or recent graduate, is difficult but important if your long term goal is to operate in another country. Many NGOs that offer internships do so only in the UK; this does not make the experience any less valuable as you are still working in a development context and contributing to international issues. Occasionally NGOs do offer field based internships. One notable example is Merlin; they offer a 6 month UK based internship with the possibility of a further 4 months in the field. The World Service Enquiry produces a guide ‘Volunteering for Development’ which details international development organisations that will accommodate volunteers. This resource is available in the Careers Centre.
The ‘gap year’ providers are a more expedient means of sourcing overseas experience but the costs can be prohibitive. Bunac is an example of an established gap year organisation offering volunteer opportunities across the globe; placements range between 5 and 33 weeks but this will cost between £1300 and £3200. A comprehensive list of gap year groups can be found on the Year Out Group website. The Voluntary Service Overseas Youth for Development scheme is a more cost effective option for those aged under 25 and incorporates one year of international development experience. Competition for places is high and applicants require at least one year’s relevant experience; this can be accumulative paid or unpaid experience. Another option to consider is the International Citizen Service funded by the Department for International Development (DFID). This programme of development experience is specifically targeted towards 18-22 year olds and costs are determined by family income: in some situations participants will not have to pay anything towards an overseas experience. Further information is available on the DIFD website. Other interesting development schemes include:
The above schemes, in common with the vast majority of overseas opportunities, require self-funding and often particular skills and experience.
Teaching is a viable means of gaining overseas development experience but a relevant TEFL qualification may be necessary.
International Development organisations
Large development organisations like the UN, World Bank, World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation do offer work experience opportunities. Eligibility criteria are usually very specific so it is important to research individual organisations carefully. Typically internship opportunities are open only to those undertaking a relevant postgraduate qualification; in many cases specific experience and skills may also be required. The International Labour Organisation is an example of an international body that will consider final year undergraduates as well as graduates and postgraduates for internship opportunities. In contrast, the UN Headquarters internship programme is open only to those currently enrolled in a Masters or PhD course.
The British government is actively involved in development issues, primarily through the Department for International Development (DfID) but also other department and agencies including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Home Office. Formal work experience opportunities are limited but it is possible to approach departments speculatively. The FCO is one of the few departments to offer placements; refer to the FCO website for more details on the opportunities available, including the PUPS scheme of which Durham is a part. For general information on work experience in the Civil Service refer to their recruitment website.
Evidence of working with a diverse range of people and issues is significant. In addition to targeting development organisations for work experience, it is important to consider UK charities and statutory providers that engage in domestic topics. Experience of this nature will help you develop your knowledge in areas that interest you as well as presenting you with the opportunity to engage with different communities. One possibility might be to target domestic organisations that work specifically with refugees such as the Refugee Council. Charities often need volunteers to undertake support worker roles and work directly with groups or individuals; volunteer opportunities are also available in the public sector through hospital trusts and local authorities (e.g. Youth Services).
The number of organisations with whom you could volunteer or gain work experience is mind boggling! To help manage the options available it is useful to use charity directories; resources of this nature will help you to refine your choices by location and/or purpose. Examples include:
It is also helpful to peruse volunteering websites such as:
Occasionally work experience and volunteering opportunities will be advertised via the main charity sector job sites:
Internship and structured work experience opportunities are not readily available in this area of work. However, an internship in a different context is still an incredible source of organisational experience and skills development, particularly as development organisations seek highly qualified, professional employees with backgrounds in finance, marketing, communication, administration etc. Large charities such as Cancer Research, Banardo’s, Red Cross and Oxfam do offer internships; the placements may not be specific to development but the exposure to different causes and issues will be beneficial.
Typically, formal internships are aimed primarily at students in their penultimate year; closing dates can be as early as December and January! The internships last 8-12 weeks; they are usually salaried and involve structured, project based work. Opportunities are advertised via our vacancy service, which is available through the Careers Centre website, but also through the main graduate careers websites such as Prospects, Target Jobs and Milkround. It is feasible to undertake work experience with SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) through the ‘Step’ programme. A further option is to approach organisations speculatively with a persuasive CV and covering letter.
Beyond graduation it is important to continue building the relevant skills and experience necessary to work in the development sector. Ideally this might be a long term internship or entry level post with a development organisation. If this is not forthcoming employment within the UK charity sector, or in appropriate fields such as health, social care and education, is relevant. A further option is to seek employment or experience in a completely different environment but one in which you can develop professional or technical skills that can be applied to the development sector.
Additional information - work experience
- Case study - Durham student's development experience in India (PDF) (last modified: 19 September 2012)
Overseas development is a challenging area in which to find employment in that competition for opportunities is incredibly high. This is particularly so if you are applying for field based posts overseas; the requirements in terms of qualifications and experience tend to be very specific (e.g. project management, medicine, engineering, economics, administration). Overseas development organisations are no different to any other organisation in that they are seeking qualified, experienced staff. This is something that is very hard for a graduate, even with higher qualifications, to compete with. The solution is not necessarily straightforward but options include developing transferable experience outside of the development sector, possibly via a graduate scheme, or targeting entry and assistant level opportunities with NGOs (e.g. clerical support, research assistant, support worker, information assistant). The larger development and aid agencies, such as Oxfam and Red Cross, occasionally recruit graduates and regularly advertise vacancies; consequently it is important to use the vacancy pages of individual organisations. Smaller NGOs represent an important means of getting ‘your foot in the door’ as they are more likely to recruit generalists, responsible for a number of areas (e.g. marketing, communication, volunteer co-ordination), rather than highly qualified specialists. Evidence of relevant experience and commitment remain critically important even after graduation. NGOs recruit long term volunteers and interns; this is not ideal financially but represents an excellent means of developing skills, experience and contacts.
NGOs are not the only employers that engage in development issues: the private sector is strongly represented in terms of consultancies (e.g. Crown Agents), law firms, banks, insurance companies, retailers, engineering and construction companies etc. Not all of these organisations will engage in development issues in a manner relevant to you but they do present alternative employment options. National government bodies such as DfID and international organisations like the UN, EU, World Health Organisations and World Bank are potential employers but opportunities are limited, particularly without relevant experience and postgraduate qualifications; it is important to research internship schemes and young professional programmes as entry routes into multilateral development organisations. Other government departments and agencies offer the possibility of engaging in international affairs as do political think tanks (e.g. Overseas Development Institute), public affairs consultancies, research institutes and universities.
A further option is to seek employment in non-development charity work. There are many common features shared by NGOs working in the developed and the developing world, particularly in respect of key themes and issues.
There are some very specific job sites dedicated to overseas development; refer to the examples below as a starting point. There are also some very useful job sites that focus on the broader sectors linked to development such as international relations, not-for-profit, education and health. It is not feasible to document all of those resources here but please refer to the appropriate careers folders in the Careers Centre.
A selection of useful websites that you could make use of to search for vacancies from a variety of employers are:
|Third Sector Jobs||
Postgraduate study can potentially be very useful in respect of a career in overseas development; in some cases it is a requirement. The value of a postgraduate qualification is very much determined by the content and relevance of the programme to the areas of development that interest you. Postgraduate study can certainly not be viewed as an alternative to work experience; it can, however, enhance your employability in respect of higher level roles within the sector, particularly those concerned with development policy. It is quite common for multi-lateral development organisations such as the UN to stipulate relevant postgraduate study as a prerequisite for internship opportunities. NGOs are less inclined to place the same level of emphasis on postgraduate study but it is often still viewed as desirable in a very competitive job market.
The question of what constitutes relevant postgraduate study is a difficult one to answer in that the sector is incredibly diverse requiring a multitude of specialist knowledge and skills. A broad based course in development studies is a means of developing your knowledge and will potentially improve your employability, particularly if it is allied to practical work experience. It is important to research courses carefully, particularly in terms of the destinations of graduates. Some courses will be very academic and others more practical; one is not preferable to the other but it is important to consider a programme of study in the context of your longer term career plans. There are more specialist development courses available linked to regions, themes and topics; these can be particularly useful if you are focused in what you want to do and keen to develop knowledge and skills specific to the needs of employers.
Postgraduate study linked to specific areas of employment (e.g. economics, education, finance, marketing, engineering, medicine, planning, logistics) are also useful options to consider as you are developing professional expertise and qualifications that can be readily transferred to development organisations. It is feasible to study subjects like engineering, economics, education and finance in a development context.
The Development Studies Association produces a very useful course directory detailing both long and short study options. Further information on postgraduate courses can be found on the Prospects and FindaMasters websites. Research the courses on offer before you apply; don't assume that they are all the same, particularly as the development sector is so diverse. It is vital to approach admissions tutors at an early stage to establish specific entry requirements. The majority of ‘general’ development courses are open to applicants of any degree discipline but institutions may also seek very specific evidence in terms of relevant development experience. There are no absolute deadlines for postgraduate courses in this field but it is recommended that you apply early.