By Jessie Date-Ampofo
What challenges do you face in starting a development career? You have to try to stand out amongst thousands of qualified candidates. Perhaps $15,000 is not pocketed away for your next international volunteer trip.
If you live in an international hub like D.C., Nairobi, or Bangkok, there are at least events and networking opportunities, so hopefully you can make connections and stay up-to-date.
But maybe, like me, you live in a place void of international development opportunities. As isolated as you feel, here are a few ways you can stay connected to the development sector when you can’t compare travel maps with your co-workers just yet.
1. Stay updated
The Internet is filled with resources to help you get started when field experience or a Master’s degree are out of reach. Make a list of bloggers and news sites that cover different aspects of development, and do your best to keep up. I use Last Week Today (Ed: Yes!!] and DAWNS Digest to stay current. Twitter is a gold mine of conversations (debates), links to relevant news and different perspectives. You can use the #globaldev hashtag to follow live updates.
Another way to get information is to start reading books and journal articles. Knowing what everyone is blogging and tweeting about is fruitful, but your own research is necessary if you need to form an opinion. Find books on the topic areas that interest you, or search for syllabi to see the readings assigned in different development courses. Then, start learning on your own. You’ll gain an understanding of the core issues and prominent viewpoints in development, and have a stronger foundation when you finally start working in the field.
2. Take an online course
Platforms like Coursera and edX offer free online courses on research methods, writing and even designing sanitation systems. Jeffrey Sachs has a Coursera class on sustainable development, and Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee have an edX one on global poverty. There are also tutorials available online for things like learning basic statistics, advancing Excel skills or studying foreign languages.
3. Get local
Of course, you don’t have to live in a ‘developing’ country to contribute to development. Shop consciously, and consider the effects your purchases will have on the environment and other people’s livelihoods.
You can also help people in need where you live through volunteering locally. From advocating for a bill to helping with an after-school program, volunteering can make a big impact in your community. Getting involved locally is especially important if you don’t plan to move somewhere with more development opportunities – improving your own community is a good way to invest your time.
Your community may not have development organisations, but there are probably other service groups available for gaining skills and some friendships. I joined my local Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter, and, though no other members are interested in development, the group provides management training and networking opportunities that will be useful in any work environment.
Similarly, if you’re currently working in another field, develop useful skills by finding tasks at work that relate to your future goals. For me, that means taking hold of social media and learning to manage budgets at my corporate job.
4. Network online
If getting local doesn’t fill your desire to connect with development enthusiasts, try networking online. Reach out to learn more about the sector and how to navigate your way into it. The willingness of professionals in the development sector to respond to e-mails and questions from a confused young professional has surprised me. Discussing your plans and questions with professionals gives you the opportunity to decide what area of the industry interests you. I have changed my direction a few times, and found some areas to improve (okay, I will learn statistics). Even when there are no development workers nearby, the marvelous Internet can quickly connect you to many people in the sector.
5. Make your own opportunities
You can also start something of your own–no, not an NGO. I started The Development Book Club after getting into a Master’s program and realising I couldn’t afford to go. Though disappointing, I realised waiting until grad school to learn was not in my best interest. I still plan to get a glittery diploma someday, but in the meantime, I’ve gained a small community of people with similar interests and covered a lot of material I should ideally know before grad school. Think about what part of development interests you, and see if you can create a community right where you are.
6. Be present
While dreaming of the day you get your big break, don’t forget to soak in where you are. Anxiety over the future won’t make it come any faster. Recognise that, if you can’t handle life where you are, it may not get better just because you leave or start something new. Use your time in limbo to work on becoming the person you want to be, professionally and personally.
Jessie Date-Ampofo studied Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Toronto and now lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Though not currently working in development, she volunteers locally and is reading through as many development books as she can.
Featured image is farmland overlooking Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.