Want to get into development? Volunteering might be your way in…

Volunteering is one of the best ways to get into development work. Cara Shaw, who has been volunteering with us since last August, tells us about her experiences in order to help others learn more about what it’s like to starting out in development:


I started volunteering with African Initiatives (AI) in August 2013 following my undergraduate degree in International Relations and Development Studies. I knew I wanted to work in international development, particularly in the area of women’s rights, but I didn’t know whether I wanted to go into research, communications, fundraising, monitoring and evaluation, or what? There are so many roles you can do within the development sector.

Volunteering with AI has been great because I have been able to try out different roles. I started out on individual giving – writing letters to previous supporters to see if they would like to donate again. Then I spent some time supporting the staff on trust fundraising – researching charitable trusts and planning which to  apply to.  It’s quite a specific skill. My undergraduate degree taught me to think critically, but you also need these practical skills if you want to work in the development sector. This experience has also been useful in helping me understand how a development project works.

Outside of the office, I have volunteered on AI’s Global Education project, Another Brick in the Wall – visiting local community events and festivals and running activities for children to learn about global issues. I used to work as a teaching assistant, so this project has been a really fun way to combine my interest in international development with community engagement and working with children. It’s been fun to think creatively about global issues and about how to make these interesting to children and their parents.

In December I took on the role of Conference Intern for AI’s annual Women’s Rights Conference. The event was a great culmination of my time at AI as I got to meet many of our supporters, as well as one of our partners from Tanzania – Maanda Ngoitko, the founder of an entirely women-led Tanzanian NGO, the Pastoral Women’s Council. I found her really inspiring and following the conference, Maanda and I have stayed in touch and she has now asked me to go and volunteer with PWC in Tanzania! I’m in the process of working out funding, but I know that this would be a fantastic next step, and a way to use all of the skills I have learnt at AI with another fantastic NGO.

If anyone is interested in getting into in the development sector, I would recommend contacting charities like AI directly and telling them a bit about yourself and what you are interested in doing. AI has volunteers from all walks of life who want to offer their time and skills for a fantastic cause, to meet new people and to learn new skills. I think the most important thing is to be flexible – I never thought that starting out as an individual giving intern, I would end up running activities at local community events, organising a conference, meeting partners from Tanzania and being offered a position with a Tanzanian NGO!

African Initiatives is looking for friendly volunteers to be trained up to run interactive and engaging stalls at local festivals & events, based around global themes such as diversity and development. You’ll need to be able to commit to one evening training session in St Pauls, Bristol and at least one local community event.

You’ll gain skills in event management, global education and the tools to interact with the local community about important world issues.

Email Holly for more info holly@african-initiatives.org.uk or see our website for other opportunities.

~ We would like to say thank you to our volunteer Mike of Locksmiths Nottingham for web support in his spare time ~