Talk to as many people in the development sector as possible to find out what they do and how they got there. There are many roles in development and half the trouble is figuring out which one is suitable for you.
|Name: Megan Jones|
Main country of residence: Nepal
Current Position: Child Protection Consultant
Qualifications: Bachelor of Business (Honours)
Currently completing a Master of Social Science (International Development)/ RMIT University
Years of experience (development/overall): 1/12
Languages: English (Native), Nepali (Beginner)
What is the nature of the organisation you currently work for?
I am currently consulting for UNICEF, a UN Agency specifically dedicated to children. UNICEF works across many areas, however in the child protection section we focus on protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse. My role has specifically focused on children in residential care, although we also deal with child trafficking, child labour, street children, gender based violence and harmful cultural practices.
When did you first start working in international development?
I started my first role in international development two years ago when I worked for a local NGO in Nepal. From there I undertook further studies in development and was able to secure an internship with UNICEF.
What was your first international development role?
My role was with a local Nepalese NGO in the capacity of a volunteer. I worked on their Women’s Empowerment Program, mostly in relation to microfinance. I also assisted the office with funding proposals and budgets. I was involved in these areas as I have a background in finance. From there I started studying development and after participating in the Himalayan Field School run by the University of Sydney, I was able to secure a position with UNICEF (Nepal) as an intern.
How did you obtain your first development role? Did you apply for it, and if so how many applications did you submit to get your first role? Was the role paid or unpaid?
For both the volunteer placement and internship I contacted the organisation directly and sent a cover letter (in the form of an email) and CV. Both roles were unpaid (!).
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.
I previously worked in the finance sector in London. Despite having many transferable skills I have found the transition to development difficult in terms of having those skills recognised. In saying that I think having prior work experience is invaluable when entering the development sector. Probably the most valuable skill I obtained from my previous work experience was managing teams of people across 13 different countries. Not only did I gain great project management experience, but I was exposed to managing people from many different cultures. This experience has been very valuable and definitely transferable.
What was the nature of the first organisation you worked for?
Local NGO/UN Agency.
Did you have experience in the field before obtaining your first paid development role?
I am still to obtain my first ‘paid’ development role but I hope that will not be too far away. I think experience in the field is very important to obtain prior to gaining your first paid role. You need to prove that you can do the work. The market is also extremely competitive, so gaining as much experience as possible is always an advantage.
Do you consider field experience important in obtaining your first development role?
Yes – definitely. It gives you great exposure to the issues you might face and enables you to understand what it is like living and working in a developing country.
How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?
I think it’s very important but I also think you have to have the right skills for the positions that are available.
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?
My previous profession was in Chartered Accountancy. I started in the graduate program of a Big 4 accountancy firm and then moved to London where I worked for another Big 4 accountancy firm and multi-national company. I had consultancy and project management positions and even though I was based in London my worked spanned several countries in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Israel and Russia where I regularly travelled for work.
What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?
I would say the main advantages are: (1) having the opportunity to work on interesting projects that have the ability to instigate change and (2) working with a diverse range of well-qualified people. The biggest downside is the strain on your relationships and difficulty in forming new ones when you change country regularly. In saying that, you do meet a lot of interesting people with varied backgrounds.
What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?
Talk to as many people in the development sector as possible to find out what they do and how they got there. There are many roles in development and half the trouble is figuring out which one is suitable for you. Once you have an idea, try and gain experience in that area by volunteering or taking an internship until you get a paid role. I would suggest building on or using the skills you already have, as it will be far easier to enter the field this way. Finally… don’t give up!