Giles Dickenson-Jones – Economist and former Asian Development Bank intern

I’d say right now the best advice I can give is to be persistent and pragmatic. Persistent in that you might only get one response per 20 applications so you just have to keep applying, and pragmatic, in that you need to really bring something to the table when coming to international development.

Name:  Giles Dickenson-JonesMain country of residence: Australia Current Position: EconomistOrganisation: The Institute for Economics and Peace
Qualifications: Economics (Honours) – University of New EnglandMasters of International Development – University of Sydney
Years of experience (development/overall): 1 Development /6 Overall  
LinkedIn Profile/Website Address: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/giles-dickenson-jones/38/994/2a0
Languages: English  

What is the nature of the organisation you currently work for?

Presently I work for an organisation called ‘The Institute for Economics and Peace’, which is a not-for-profit think tank which explores the relationship between peace, business and prosperity. For me this involves research and economic analysis on factors which influence peace, conflict and development.

When did you first start working in international development?

My honours research focused on trade and economic development in Papua New Guinea, so the interest has been there for a while. However, my first role was actually working in the Australian Treasury as part of their aid and international development team.

From there I then was able to secure an internship with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila.

 What was your first international development role?

What probably got my foot in the door of international development was my internship with the Asian Development Bank in 2011. Although I had known since I was studying that international development was something I was passionate about, it wasn’t until I was lucky enough to get accepted into the program that I think I managed to really get an insight into the kind of roles that were out there for somebody with an economics background. I personally can’t recommend the ADB’s internship program enough, it was extremely well-run and an amazing opportunity to work with some of the most talented people in the field of development.

 How did you obtain your first development role? Did you apply for it, and if so how many applications did it take to get the first role? Was the role paid or unpaid?

The ADB internship program operates through a competitive application process. Essentially, projects are posted online on the ADB’s website with a description of a specific internship projects. In many ways it’s almost like a consultancy, in that they typically have an idea of a piece of research which would be useful, which people bid towards. Of course, applications are quite typical insofar as they require the usual essays/cover letter and CV. I actually applied twice, and was successful in landing a role which was focused on climate change’s impact on road project. Although it was more focused on engineering than economics, it was an amazing experience which I’d highly recommend.

For more information on the ADB internship program, see here: http://www.adb.org/site/careers/internship-program

If you had previously pursued a non-development career, describe how you made the transition and the extent to which your existing skills were transferrable?

My transition was seemingly quite natural, insofar as I was able to move to a team which focused on development issues within the Treasury. I was quite lucky to have been working in a large government agency which had teams which covered a range of topics, so I was able to strategically move myself closer to working on economic development issues. From there I then sought roles which were completely development focused, such as the internship with the ADB.

Being able to construct sensible economic models with little data is something I often had to deal with while at the Treasury and this definitely came in handy in my first roles in development. I’d also say being able to be creative was important, as much of the work I was doing at the ADB was ‘uncharted waters’ insofar as the work I did had not been done before (it still hasn’t as far as I know).

More generally, I’d also say that having prior work experience was invaluable, both as it made me a more competitive candidate and as it provided me the insight to talk to a wider audience. To give you an idea of what I mean, in my current role we communicate with other NGOs, United Nations agencies and organisations such as the World Bank, so having an appreciation of their needs and the incentives they face as a consequence of my wider work experience has been important.

 What was the nature of the first organisation you worked for?

The first development organisation I worked for was the Asian Development Bank, which is a development bank which focuses on alleviating poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Before this, I was employed by the Australian Department of the Treasury as part of their ‘Graduate Program’ (similar to a young professionals program).

Did you have experience in the field before obtaining your first paid development role?

I had barely travelled before I undertook the ADB internship, however, this is unusual. I believe they ask in the application process the extent of your travel.

Do you consider field experience important in obtaining your first development role?

More generally, I’d say having experience overseas has been helpful. I also spent a lot of time networking while I was undertaking my internship and the general consensus is that it’s essential. One of the simple reasons for this is it is likely to give you a great deal of insight into how little you really know. Humility is essential in development.

How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?

To date all the development roles I’ve had have been a result of directly applying through the organisation. However, I hear time and again that networking is the key. From an NGO’s standpoint this makes sense, as advertising a position is more cumbersome and potentially more risky than going through staff networks to recruit somebody.

In brief what other roles have you had throughout your career and if you did not start your career in development what was your previous profession?

I started out in the Australian federal Treasury working on tax modelling issues. As an economist this experience has been invaluable as its allowed me to build up a great skill set which can be used for looking at development policy.

What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?

I am lucky to work in a high-profile NGO, doing some really interesting and useful research. So on the plus side, for an economic analysis role my work gets lots of attention. Probably the main negative is that because our organisation doesn’t implement its research, sometimes I can be quite far from the impact I’m having on the ground. However, this is common for many roles that development economists fulfill. It is something worth keeping in mind of course, as some people need to directly see the tangible application of their work, so if you’re in the economics game and this is you, think tanks might not be what you’re looking for. Having said that, I find that the work I’m now doing has much more sway than what it did in government.

What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?

Being relatively new to the industry I’m sure there will be revisions to this, but I’d say right now the best advice I can give is to be persistent and pragmatic. Persistent in that you might only get one response per 20 applications so you just have to keep applying, and pragmatic, in that you need to really bring something to the table when coming to international development. By this I mean, if you have a skill/trade and experience before you try to make the move you’re going to be a much more competitive candidate. This might mean making some sacrifices when working towards your ‘dream job’ too.

For me this meant getting my runs on the board with some solid work experience as an economist before pursuing postgraduate studies in development, so that I could match my subject-matter knowledge with ‘hard skills’. I would also say that if/when you do pursue postgraduate studies (such as a masters) that you try and incorporate skills and experience that are useful for the roles you’re targeting such as incorporating field experience into your masters program through a field school.

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