Paula Simoes dos Santos, Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme Intern, UN Women

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My internship was based on my skills and knowledge so far. Once you are in the field and have done some good work, you will be noticed and will get offered positions that might not be advertised to everyone.

Name: Paula Simoes dos Santos

Main country of residence: Cambodia / Australia

Current Position: Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Programme Intern

Organisation: UN Women


Qualifications (and University): Bachelor in Communications (Brazil), Masters in Development Studies (University of Sydney)
Years of experience (development/overall): 1 development / 8 overall
LinkedIn Profile/Website Address:
Languages (and level of fluency): Portuguese (native), English (fluent) and Spanish (fluent)


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

UN Women is the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, and it was established in July 2010 to accelerate progress on meeting women’s needs worldwide. In Cambodia, UN Women advocates in legal and legislative frameworks to improve gender equality and employment, and to reduce poverty, negative effects of migration and violence against women. It promotes the economic empowerment of the most excluded women who are from ethnic minorities, HIV positive and/or with disabilities.

When did you first start working in international development?

2014 at UN Women in Cambodia.

What was your first international development role?

My current role as a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme 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?

I applied to many internship roles at the UN across different countries. I had to submit my CV, cover letter, examples of work and do Skype interviews. As with all internships at the UN, the role is 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 have been working with social research and public opinion for the last eight years. I originally decided to do a Master in Development Studies to enhance my research skills and learn more about societies, behaviour, policies and evaluation. In the beginning of my studies I wasn’t quite convinced that I could use research in development, but since I started my internship I realised that most projects in Cambodia (and most likely other places) need to be research-based. UN Women uses research (quantitative, qualitative or both) before creating or suggesting new policies and advocating for changes. It also uses research in monitoring and evaluating programs and evidence-based issues. Given that, my skills in research in the corporate world are valid and welcomed.

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

I did not have any specific experience in Development, but I was a member of Rotaract in Brazil (where I grew up) and developed projects in poor communities in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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

I think it’s important to have experience living in developing countries and being amongst locals. There is a need to understand cultural differences, local habits, political situations and barriers, in order to empathise with and better comprehend local issues. We’re all used to making assumptions and thinking that our way of doing things is correct and should be applied everywhere, but this is not the reality. Working in development requires patience, adaptation and persistence, and those are things you learn when you are in a challenging environment.

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

I think networking can be useful, but I wouldn’t just rely on that. In fact, my internship was based on my skills and knowledge so far. Once you are in the field and have done some good work, you will be noticed and will get offered positions that might not be advertised to everyone.

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 my career in research, as a project manager and lastly as a senior researcher.

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

The advantages are that you’re working towards something meaningful and making a difference, even if it is small and takes a long time to see results. You are building capacities, working as a team, sharing knowledge and constantly learning!

They disadvantages are that you might need to move countries more often than you would like, and learn to adapt in difficult environments and a foreign culture. There is also too much bureaucracy and diplomacy. Changes are slow, as policies need to be approved across many levels.

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

Start small. Apply for internships and volunteer programs in developing countries. Once you are in the field you will get a better understanding of the type of work, what to do and how to move to other positions and areas.



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