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Callie Frye’s Guide to International Development Careers

October 14, 2015
Woman with long, thin hair twists smiles at camera

Callie Frye

By Callie Frye:

Growing up, I always felt this need to service people in need globally. It has always been a passion of mine to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity in other countries compromised by humanitarian crises. I have learned about the nonprofit sector in depth in my graduate courses at DePaul University, but I gained so much practical experiences from my internship with Handicap International U.S. (HIUS) made possible by the Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program coordinated by the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD). If not for HIUS and USICD, I would not have learned how the nonprofit organization works programmatically and financially. I finally understood how the concept works in regards to grants management portfolio, meeting federal donors’ requirements, revising concept notes, and finalizing programmatic and financial reports from field reports. From those experiences, I have gained knowledge and confidence because I had hands on experiences. Most importantly, they have broadened my interests from refugee issues to disability inclusion. This means when providing humanitarian aid, we must also pay attention to most vulnerable groups like women and girls with disabilities, LGBTQ with disabilities, indigenous people with disabilities, and especially refugees with disabilities. Braced with rich, practical experiences from interning for HIUS and USICD, I want to share the toolkit with all of you who may be interested in a diverse sector of international development.

This toolkit is designed to guide you to the broad and expanding field of international development. With the increased public consciousness, the need for skills in this emerging area of international development is vast and encompasses a broad range of opportunities. In developing and post-conflict countries especially, there is a widespread lack of capacity and expertise in economic and social development. Knowing that development is practiced both internationally and domestically, I focus in this toolkit on international development.

International development is not easy to define because it is a complex subject that integrates change involving interrelated economic, legal, social, cultural, political, and environmental dimensions. It also encompasses a broad range of disciplines and endeavors to improve the quality of people around the world. Both economic and social development are deeply rooted in the field of international development as well as many issues such as humanitarian and foreign aid, poverty alleviation, the rule of law and governance, food and water security, capacity building, healthcare and education, women and children’s rights, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, and sustainability. In the recent years, the widespread international law enactment of infrastructure reforms in developing countries and emerging economies has resulted in the establishment of new regulatory regimes, institutions, contracts, policies and practices that have changed the landscape of international development dramatically.

To prepare yourself for the extraordinary range of possibilities in the practice of international development, this toolkit provides an overview of the organizations and opportunities that may interest you both during and after studies. First of all, one must develop an understanding of the different types of international development settings and practices, as well as general advice on entry into an international development career including personal assessment, the role of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), and government agencies, and how to build a career after entry into the field.

A personal assessment is critical before commencing upon a career in international development. It gives a powerful tool to analyze your motivations, expectations, and the challenges involved in a career in international development. Begin with what attracts you to international development, what issues are you most passionate about, which regions of the world appeal to you the most, preferences of work settings, and the abilities to handle the lack of available comforts if working abroad such as clean water, primal food, physical environment, and lack of access to world news and events. Once narrowing down and discovering your specific areas of interests, you will be able to know which organizations you will be interested in working for.

The role of the NGO in international development requires a much deeper understanding of local and community-based groups to effectively assist the poor and marginalized populations. NGOs also play a significant role in lobbying for the rights of certain sectors including advocacy for the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities. Many NGOs are now shifting from their traditional confrontation role to more collaborative interactions with business and government. For the competitiveness of employment in the NGO world, there are endless opportunities available for motivated, passionate candidates to work in development-focused organizations and to contribute in meaningful ways to global development. The most common advice for people looking for careers in the world of NGOs is that salary should not be one of motivators.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are international, supranational organizations that have only states as members. IGOs can be single-issue or multi-issue organizations as well as regional or global in their scope. The main purposes of IGOs were to create a mechanism for the world’s inhabitants to work more successfully together in the areas of concerns. In the increased need for globalization and interdependence of nations, IGOs have come to play a very significant role in international political systems and global governance. Getting a job at IGOs or the UN takes a whole lot of networking, persistence, and creativity with some luck. It is often when you are at the right place and know the right people at the right time.

Government agencies around the world, perhaps more than any other sectors, drive public policy and set the frameworks for international development. The priorities and agenda in international development vary among government agencies depending on their political culture. For example, progressive regimes tend to call for the full inclusion on their agenda in foreign aid such as girls, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ. Working abroad for your government agency, you need to constantly familiarize yourself with world news and able to represent your country well by tackling these issues yourself.

While you can earn very well working at IGOs and government agencies, do not sway away from NGOs completely due to low salary because the job itself is rewarding enough. All you need is experience, experience, and experience hence working at NGOs will serve you well when applying IGOs and government agencies. However, a few points to keep in mind, entry-level programs at IGOs and government agencies in the US are highly competitive and many require a minimum of year prior experience and often have age limits. Also, application processes can be very lengthy – it can take up to a year, sometimes much longer. In conclusion, I recommend you to not focus a job search solely on IGOs and government agencies. Be sure to pursue along with other options. Good luck!

Callie Frye is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Callie Frye is completing her internship at Handicap International.  Learn more about the internship program at  Read Callie Frye, and the biographies of other interns.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or Handicap International.

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