Matthew Ho, Resource Economist, Secretariat of the Pacific Community

Albert Park, Suva, Fiji

Be prepared to apply for lower-level positions in development even if you’re experienced in another field.

Name: Matthew Ho Current Position: Resource Economist – ODI Fellow
Nationality: Australian Organisation: Secretariat of the Pacific Community
Qualifications (and university): Master of Science in Political Science and Political Economy (London School of Economics and Political Science); Bachelor of Economics (Honours) in Economics and Economic History (UNSW)
LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/matthew-ho/9/596/4b6/ Years of experience:
4 months development; 7 overall
Languages: English (Native); Cantonese (Limited); German (Elementary)

 

Tell us a bit about your career before moving into development/not-for-profit.

Prior to moving into the development sector, I worked as an economic modeller and economic policy adviser in both the public and private sectors. Before my current role, I worked in the Sydney office of an Australian consulting firm as a consultant in the economics and modelling practice area, specialising in computable general equilibrium (CGE) modelling and the development of customised industry forecasting, economic, financial, and demographic models. Before that, I worked for more than 3 years in Canberra as an economist in the Australian Public Service, with roles with the Treasury and the Productivity Commission. During my time as a public servant, I specialised as an economic modeller and in the economics of climate change mitigation.

How did you make the transition in development and to what extent were your previous skills transferable?

I made the decision to transition into a development-related field while studying for my Master of Science. The opportunity to do so appeared in the form of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Fellowship Scheme, which offered successful applicants a two-year posting with a developing country’s government or a regional organisation. I was accepted and offered a posting with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in its regional office in Suva, Fiji, which I took up after completing my Master degree and resigning from my consulting position. My existing skills were highly transferable, with my experience as an economist and a public servant being relevant to my new role as an economist with a regional intergovernmental organisation.

When did you first start working in development and what was your first role in the sector?

My first role in the sector was as a Resource Economist with the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

The SPC is a regional intergovernmental organisation operating in the Pacific that aims to “develop the technical, professional, scientific, research, planning and management capability of Pacific Island people and directly provide information and advice, to enable them to make informed decisions about their future development and well-being”. Its headquarters are in Noumea, New Caledonia, and the organisation was founded in 1947 as the South Pacific Commission. Originally consisting of six member countries with territories in the South Pacific, its membership now includes 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories as well as four of the six founding members.

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

I found out about the ODI Fellowship Scheme from a university email newsletter. I was fortunate enough to be accepted after my first application. The role is paid.

Do you consider field experience important for working in development?

I do believe field experience to be important. Even in the short time I have been living in a developing nation, I have had many of my preconceptions challenged, shattered and even confirmed. There are some things about how a country operates and functions that are really difficult to truly understand until you have lived there, and developing countries are no different. I think it would be challenging for anyone who has not lived in a developing nation to work in this field. Of course every country is different, and many experiences are specific to a particular developing country. However, the experience of having lived in a developing country is particularly useful for those from developed countries in helping to cultivate the right mindset and learning general, transferable lessons about working in that environment.

Did you have experience in the field before obtaining your first paid development role? If yes, do you think your field experience was essential to your job application?

Not really. My previous experiences were in developed countries, although I had worked on projects involving developing countries. I had also briefly interned in a non-government development organisation as an undergrad.

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

Networking can’t hurt. I was fortunate enough to be able to snag my first role in the field through the ODI Fellowship Scheme, and contacts were helpful for references.

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

Be prepared to apply for lower-level positions in development even if you’re experienced in another field. Otherwise find some way of gaining experience of working in a developing country even if it isn’t in a development role. Once you have some experience in development or in a developing country, it makes things a lot easier. Talk to people who are working in the field to get a better idea of what options are available out there.

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