Getting a job in international development

Interested in working in international development but not sure where to start? How do you get your foot in the door? In our latest blog, AI’s Carrie Brassley talks about balancing work with studies and finding ways to gain experience in the sector. Carrie

“I realised I wanted to work in international development when I was in my early twenties and I remember looking on the African Initiatives website almost weekly searching for job vacancies that I could apply for. Where I could I volunteered for AI, trying to learn as much about the organisation as possible and taking on board lots of different opportunities that came up.

It seemed that most candidates for paid positions needed to be qualified to degree level in a subject relevant to international development and for this reason I decided to go back to university. Having left higher education after studying graphic design for a year, I wanted to study something I am felt truly passionate about. I signed up to the Open University to complete a part-time BSc (Hons) in International Development, Globalisation and International Politics; a four year course of which I now have just one year remaining.

Working full time whilst completing a distance learning course part time has its ups and downs. One of the perks is not having to live on a student loan or build up lots of debt, however, it does mean saying goodbye to your social life. From October to June I don’t get many free weekends as I’m studying; and taking annual leave for the purposes of revising or writing essays isn’t much fun! However, the ramifications of getting a degree in something you’re really interested in can be great. I started my degree whilst I was working as an office manager in a recruitment company. After two years of studying and building up years of office experience (and continuously checking the AI website for jobs), I finally found a role that I thought I was suitable for.

I started working for AI two and a half days a week as the administrator whilst my last employer kindly allowed me to reduce my hours there. I immediately felt at home and enjoyed the contrast of going from a global private-sector company to a small, close-knit charity where I could begin to see how the organisation works as a whole. Studying development at university was, of course, also really helpful in understanding the benefits of AI’s grass-route and partnership-based approach to international development. As new ideas in tackling poverty and inequality impact both academic teachings and development practitioners, studying and working simultaneously is sometimes really useful. Going back to university has given me the confidence and the knowledge to answer questions from our team of volunteers who sometimes have no prior knowledge of development.

Whilst my degree has given me a good history and overview of development, it’s wonderful to see real-time improvements to the livelihoods of individuals due to our projects in Tanzania and Ghana. I’m now working as a trust fundraiser and it’s great to feel like my work in the UK is directly helping our beneficiaries overseas. I went back to university because I wanted to work for African Initiatives, and now that I’m here, I feel that I definitely made the right decision.”

If you’re interested in volunteer opportunities at African Initiatives we’re always keen to hear from you. To enquire please email carolineb@african-initiatives.org.uk