Sounding off on pushing development at home

Is lack of international work experience a detriment when trying to land a development job? Photo by: Jeremy Wilburn / CC BY-NC-ND 

Although international experience is valued by recruiters in an industry like ours, it’s not always necessary to land a job. In fact, many people break into global development by working in their home countries first, Devex’s Kate Warren noted in last week’s Career Matters column.

According to Warren, working at home can make for a fulfilling job if you would like to do good without having to subject yourself to complex and sometimes dangerous environments abroad.

In comment to the article, Devex readers shared their experience, noting that even when applying for jobs at headquarters, recruiters still look for overseas stints.

Without such experience, job applicants may lack the contextual understanding to perform well at headquarters and would be vulnerable to misleading ideas about development, human rights and charity, among others, said David Zakus, a professor of distinction in global health at Ryerson University in Canada.

“Working in the home country is an excellent career option for some, but requires good prior preparation (like all jobs) with actual contact with the people one is wanting to make a difference for,” Zakus wrote. “And the higher the job the higher should be the expectation of this actual contact.”

Yuri Zelenski noted the lack of international experience among NGO executives, which he cautioned may leave them unable to interpret local data, thus prompting questionable decisions on aid policy and implementation. As a result, he claimed, many international NGOs have lost their marketplace and sources of financing.

To remedy the situation, Zelenski, an evaluation, research and policy consultant at DGZ International, recommended improving the hiring criteria for mid- and senior-level personnel to include three to five years of field experience.

“From perspectives of international development professional, I want to emphasize that field experience is not about personal comfort, satisfaction or ‘travel itch,’ but it is more about essential organizational needs and sustainability,” Zelenski wrote.

James Millier credited his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer for launching his career in fisheries. He has now worked in 33 countries in Africa over a span of more than three decades.

“The challenges of life and work abroad are many but can be very rewarding,” Miller concluded. “However, we all must recognize that for each successful project, there is a strong, multi-talented support team based in the US or somewhere.”

Given a choice, would you prefer working at headquarters or overseas? Share us your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.