5 things to Consider before pursuing a career in international development

Many of us have dreams of making some sort of difference in our world. Mine has been volunteering, interning and now working for non-profit causes that are targeted at aiding various social vulnerabilities. To match my passions, I studied International Development at postgraduate level and from the beginning, I knew my extracurricular experience would get me a well-paying job once I completed university.

It did not quiet turn out the way I envisioned as after moving to gain experience “in the field”,  I had unpaid roles for longer that I would have liked.  I have been lucky to work for one or two organisations that are known across the globe and continue to do what I love most. Although I have met lots of lovely people with a similar passion to make a difference, my CV looks good through roles I have had and I am now more settled, there is a lot I should have considered and known before pursuing a career in international development and taking the leap to gain experience in the developing context.  Here are are take aways from my experience:


The job market in Africa and other developing states is a difficult one in which thriving is dependent on who you know. I was extremely confident that my educational background and vast experience in the non-profit sector would score me that dream job. It did not work out that way.

Continue a thorough search, think beyond just making applications. Email relevant organisations and individuals to gain an insight into opportunities available and gain insight into what it is really like to work in development.

2.You may not get paid for a while

In developmental organisations, interns and those in junior positions either get paid little or nothing at all. There is no harm in working in a different sector to save money to tide you over should you get voluntary roles.

3.It is OK to want to earn money

To me for a long time, it felt wrong to earn lots of money when your job is to help people. When you work you get paid based on you position and how well you carry out your work. As time goes by I am learning that I work extremely hard to improve my CV and to better equip myself to help others. It is therefore also alright for me to be financially rewarded for this work. In as much as helping people is important, being able to live a comfortable life and take care of yourself should also be priority.

4.Incredibly frustrating

The bureaucratic nature of developmental organisations can get frustrating. For example, obscene amounts of money are spent on high level meetings with stakeholders, at fancy hotels. This comes at a massive cost. Money spent sitting at tables, writing long documents that no one will ever read and preaching your cause to a conference full of people who are on their smart phones the entire time could go towards helping more people. This can be incredibly frustrating.  Understand the sector you are getting into. Understand that donor funding comes with the need to be accountable for all actions and that resources will be poured into this accountability.

5.Expanding your horizon

Through my interests and experience, I could easily pursue a career in various fields including media and communications. I have now become conformable with the prospect of making a difference through other spheres.

You do not have to limit yourself to the sector that matches your academic qualifications and previous experience. Skills are transferrable therefore you can fit into any sphere while you search for the role that best suits you.


All things considered, helping people is a noble cause. It is a fulfilling career in which you rest knowing that you are at least making a difference in our world. Before pursuing a career in development and taking your career to “the field” ensure that you do your homework to make sure that you help others while being as comfortable as possible.

Featured image | punctuation marks made of puzzle pieces | Horia Varlan | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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