Working In Development

15/10/2010 at 12:18 pm 2 comments

I addressed a large group of Trinity College students last week, at an event hosted by their Careers Advise desk. I was asked to give my thoughts on how to get a job in the overseas development sector.

I started by asking why anyone would want to do such a thing. The sector is characterised by low salaries, high levels of frustration, few chances of promotion and often uncertain funding arrangements and work contracts. In addition, there are other sectors where one can work, and still have a great impact on global poverty. (see for instance the importance of journalists for Development, or the role that banks can play in micro-finance, or of academics, etc, etc – You don’t need to be an aid worker to help make poverty history).

I went on to talk about the declining role of the aid worker, as a result of the changing role of NGOs, and of the many skills available in developing countries. The aid sector needs fewer expats, and more people with highly specialised skills.

I also, of course, mentioned the relevant websites, such as and And I mentioned the Dóchas Wednesday News, our free events and jobs listing:

And then mentioned the opportunities with Irish Aid: the UNV programme, the JPO programme and the Department of Foreign Affairs Human Rights internships.

I left them with a series of key messages:

  • There is not one path into Development. There are many different ways of being engaged with global poverty, and many different possible roles.
  • You need to be clear about your skills – don’t just study the theory, but make sure you add something to the mix – an MA in Dev is not enough.
  • Learn a foreign language. Development is essentially about people. And people that are able to communicate across cultural barriers have a distinct advantage.
  • Get Involved: Volunteer – It helps you get experience, and it helps you understand the territory. (And it helps pad your CV)



(PS: following some comments, I feel I need to clarify the call to volunteer to help build your CV: obviously, don’t assume that the only worthwhile volunteering can take place abroad – there is plenty of need for volunteers at home. And above all, make sure you are familiar with the Code of Practice on Volunteering: )


Entry filed under: NGOs, Overseas aid. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Another Ireland is possible Why are there so many NGOs?

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