“Ask me anything” (part 3)
Last part of my AMA with the Reddit folks! This part was definitely more job-related, but I hope you enjoyed the discussions!
Q: What would you suggest for someone hoping to get a career at the UN?
A: My best advice would be not to focus on the UN but what type of job would like to have. Focus on what, more than where. I have written an article on Idealist with more details. Especially for those of you who are just starting – not sure if it is your case – try local NGOs and national NGOs. If you are really gunning for the UN, try looking at National Offices first. Internships in the HQs (Geneva and NY) don’t translate into jobs after or that much of a valuable experience. Also, take a look at UN programmes such as UNV, in which you are a volunteer with all your expenses paid, but that usually translates into great experiences and you are able to parlay that to a “fixed-term” post and JPO, where your country or A country finances a P-2 (entry-level professional position for a year with the possibility of a year extension.
Q: What internship/opportunities did you pursue out of undergrad? Do you see a specific field of development work that has had the most impact? I’m currently an international studies undergrad still figuring things out and contemplating joining the peace corps.
A: While I was doing my undergrad degrees, I first worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross, then went on to working as a paid intern for a local NGO for 2 years. After I graduated, they hired me as a full time staff. Well, again, impact is very condition and context-dependent. I think the development work that has most impact is the one that is able to deliver the foundations and the services most needed to that country or community. On a personal note, I like working with communities and people. I think it recharges me. But, working on this, you will understand that every position, every one has their value. You need the fundraising to implement your projects, national support helps with ownership and the sustainability of your actions, M&E is important because it helps you keep track of what you are doing and your results. Plus, we can’t do it all alone. So, we need other organisations with other technical skill to help as solve the complex issues we are dealing with.
So, my advice is usually: do what you love! What are the subjects that appeal to you? What are the topics you love delving into. This field really demands specialisation, but that does not mean you have to specialise on a subject. You may find that you love a lot of topics in development and work with all of them being a cross-cutting specialist – by specialising on Programming, M&E, Knowledge Management, Communications…
I think the Peace Corps is a really great programme! It gives you opportunity to challenge yourself in a new environment as well as helping you define what you want to be as a professional. International Development is all about your accumulated experience, so that is a pretty great place to start.
A: I’m graduating in a few weeks with a BS in Economics. I have zero related work experience, but some volunteer experience abroad. I hope to partially compensate for this omission with an excellent academic record.I’m looking to be a research assistant in the field of economic development, specifically something that would prove useful if I decided to do graduate work in economics. I don’t care where I work, as long as I work in the service of the poor. Innovations for Poverty Action seems like the biggest clearinghouse for work like this, but if you have other suggestions I’d love to hear them. I realize you’re closer to development practice than development research, but I imagine you come into contact with research.
Q: I’m closer to applied research than purely academic research, that’s for sure. Even though I do think we all got important roles in the discussion of aid and development, I’m just impatient and usually like to see the research in practice or being used for something. Guess that happens when your parents are accountants.
There are a lot of interesting fellowships for Economics, I think you should take a look at: Proinspire Business fellowship, Acumen fellowship, Kiva fellowship, IDEX fellowship and IDEO fellowship. Especially, because again, even when you are a Research Assistant, your previous experience will come a lot in hand. It also helps to have a blog or a web portfolio of your articles. Innovations for Poverty Action does a pretty sound work, but I would take a look at http://acumen.org/ ,http://www.skollfoundation.org/ , even http://www.grameenfoundation.org/.
Most of the organisations that try to tackle Poverty have to done some background research for it and that can be you. Best of luck!
Q: Any advice for someone who wants to work at the UN? I’m hoping to work in climate change adaptation / disaster risk reduction at UNEP or UNDP.edit: I’m currently living in Cambodia working as a journalist, plan to start a masters in climate change adaptation in 2015
A: You can work with one, the other or both! Well, just explaining, UNEP usually does not work with DRR. Within UNDP there is an area of Environment and Energy, which works closely with Crisis Prevention and Recovery (where I used to work), who has the mandate for Disasters. I would also take a look at UNISDR’s website http://www.unisdr.org/ , specially in the section “Who do we work with” to have a better picture of who is working out there. Again, I have written a recent article on Idealist that has more details on how to work at the UN, by not focusing on working at the UN. Your international experience already comes to your advantage and there are many organisations working on DRR and CCA in South East Asia, so you already have an unique advantage to this field. Unlike the HR at the UN, you can call those and ask if can sit down for an informal interview or “use” your journalism background to get to know more about them. I’m not saying to pretend to make a story about them, but you more than most will be used to cold-calling and getting the information that you need.
Q: Wow thanks a ton man that’s actually very stellar, practical advice! Go reddit!
Q: Hi OP, I’ve just completed my BA in IR/ ID and I’m scouring MA programs across Canada. My specific interests are conflict, development, and IPE (I’ve been taking a look at UBC’s poli-sci program since some advisors are working in fields I’m very interested in). Just wondering where you completed your master’s and what kind of advice you would have for someone researching programs in a field similar to yours.A little background on myself: I have almost two years work experience (off and on) for the federal government here in Canada, one term with Health Canada working on the Canadian Network for Public Health Intelligence, and the rest of my terms with DFATD, specifically with MEP or the Development Policy and Institutions division. I am taking the year off to work and travel and hope to be back in school (somewhere) in fall 2015. Budgetary cuts in the government have put downward pressure on hiring here in Ottawa in both the federal government and in the local NGOs (who have downsized due to funding cuts). So things are bit tough for the moment here, but I believe, like usual, they will pick up in the coming years (hopefully beginning with the 2015 federal election!).Thanks for any and all advice. I’ll be sure to check out your newsletter, cheers!
A: Canada is a great case study (of what not to do) of when a government (Harper) decides to obliterate a country’s international reputation and development work. It truly breaks my heart because I know a lot of wonderful people who used to work for the Canadian cooperation and who now have their hands tied because of the current government’s narrow perspective on development. I’m sorry for the little rant. It’s just this government’s attitude goes completely against all Canadians that I know, who couldn’t be any nicer or caring. So, I would just assume those guys are not Canadian and they are secretly trying to ruin Canada’s reputation around the world. Now to your actual question the best CSD (Conflict, Security and Development) programmes in Canada were Simon Frasier University and – as you have mentioned – UBC. I don’t know if that’s change, but most of practitioners and major Human Security studies and projects came from those two Universities. I have friends who recently (last couple of years) studied at Alberta and they were pretty happy with the programme, but those were Poverty and Development oriented. If you are trying to boost your academic background and get to know what is being discussed elsewhere Canadian cities have hosted ISA (International Studies Association) global events for the last… 5 years (?), so I’m sure you will have the opportunity to interact with different scholars with different perspectives.