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We Want You!

Development Intern is now 18 months on from its first ever post, reblogged from a wordpress site I started so I could vent my frustrations somewhere away from the office.

I really enjoyed blogging. I loved trying to write my way through issues I was grappling with at work – both professional and theoretical. I liked discovering and engaging with the amazing development blogosphere. I liked getting recognition for my thoughts and having people respond to what I said – a massive departure from the relative anonymity of a long-term intern.

But I couldn’t keep it up.

Successful blogs need to be updated regularly and I just didn’t have the energy or, frankly, the inspiration to keep churning out three pieces a week. My blog wound down. Other (much better and more popular) development blogs closed down as well: Think Africa Press, Kariobangi, even the mighty Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. Too often, the burden of keeping such sites going is concentrated on one person and it gets to be too much.

So why not get other people involved? I had figured out the tricky back-end business of putting together a website and built a modest audience. I realised I could

With a relatively stable bunch of regular writers, we’ve put out close to 100 posts in that time. A lot of them I think are genuinely great blog posts which I often refer back to in my academic and professional life. 18 months is actually relatively long lived for a development blog. But things inevitably start to slow down. People lose interest or get distracted by work/university or run out of things to write about or get poached by thieving Australians running a different website*….

But I don’t want this site to run down. How can I stop that? By inviting more people to get involved!

Running this site has shown me that a) there are some amazing voices out there that deserve a platform (probably a better one) that I can give them and b) having more people involved means you cover more diverse topics and gather different points of view. Of course I should get more people on board.

Join us here!

This was previously our internal writers group. We post ideas for blog posts, discuss articles and generally help each other out. Now, I’m inviting you guys to join. I will continue to act as editor and site manager, helping you craft your messages and promoting them as best I can. I will also regularly post ideas for articles anybody can write.

This is blogging made easy. Here’s to another 18 months with you guys.

___

*Obviously, I’m super proud of Jennifer becoming editor at WhyDev and only very occasionally curse out Brendan and Weh.

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Experiences

Working In Aid Without Volunteering

Written by Chloe Safier. Chloe currently works as the Regional Gender Lead for Oxfam in Southern Africa. Opinions here are her own and do not reflect that of Oxfam or her other affiliations. Chloe can be found on twitter @chloelenas

Jennifer Ambrose points out on her post, “Volunteering: The Paradox at the Beginning of an Aid Career” that many of those who work in development aid or humanitarian fields start their careers by offering their free labor in the form of volunteering in a foreign country. Ambrose points out the swath of problematic issues with this well trod path, not the least of which is that it puts (often young) people with little experience into rural contexts that require highly specialized expertise for any kind of real contribution to occur.

It also creates opportunities for those who can afford to work without compensation – most often those come into the situation with some money or cushion – and leaves those who can’t afford to work for free at a big disadvantage.

As someone who specializes in gender, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the gender inequality elements of the paradox Ambrose describes; namely, that the majority of the unpaid work force is women. In the case of the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics” in 2013. A 2009 study by InternBridge found that as many as 77% of unpaid college internships are held by women.

But I’m a firm believer that there are alternative ways to break into the international development field besides volunteerism and unpaid internships, and finding these alternate routes may help ameliorate some of the problems inherent with the volunteer/intern model (though it doesn’t, of course, address the bigger power and gender inequalities that lead to those problems).

One colleague of mine began his aid career working on the factory floor of car company. Another started as a corporate lawyer, another was a journalist, and another was a policy analyst for a US congressman.

My first job out of college was a (paid) position working for a faith-based non-profit in Boston, which included a mix of community organizing, event planning, and volunteer coordination. The job served me well, partly because it taught me some of the basics of being a working professional: project management, being accountable to a team, working with diverse groups of people, and how to craft an agenda for a meeting that actually results in a decision, to name a few.

But what’s been most useful in applying and interviewing for positions in international development has been the ability to tell my story as a coherent narrative (which, funny enough, is a skill I picked up in community organizer training). I’ve found that being able to fluidly link my work with Boston community groups to my work in the development sector by explaining the natural progression of my interests has made me (I hope) a more compelling candidate.

In interviews, I tell the story of how my two years of experience working for a community based group in the US gave me a set of experiences which propelled my interest in a graduate degree that focused on gender, law and human rights; this then led me to a job focused on gender justice and women’s rights in international development, and so on.

I have been an unpaid intern and it was mostly a good experience, but in retrospect, I’m not sure if it was necessary – had I been hired for a paid job in a different field, and continued my due diligence of networking and continuing to develop my skill base and technical expertise, I think I could have translated those acquired skills to the work I’m doing now.

In a recent job interview, I pointed to my first job in Boston to demonstrate how I’d been able to work in diverse communities, participate in community mobilization, and develop new leaders. I had tangible professional skills, and a story arc for what brought me from point A to point B, from domestic work to international work (even if, at the time, the plan wasn’t exactly mapped out as such).

I can’t speak for all the hiring managers in the international development sector, but in my case, I was offered the job.

My colleague who worked as a policy analyst before starting an international career is also able to demonstrate how that experience allows him to make a unique contribution to the international development sector; as someone who understands the ins and outs of US politics, he’s been able to position himself as someone who can translate on-the-ground experience in Ethiopia (where he currently works) to high level policy forums. The former journalist was able to translate writing and reporting skills to provide sharp and effective communications (and a strong network of reporters) for an NGO.

I’d argue, and I’m sure many of my colleagues would agree, that variety in our past work experience, and in our cultural backgrounds and identities, adds richness to the work environment and depth to the work itself.

If the only route to working in international development is by studying international development and getting entrenched in conventional aid industry thinking, we’re not going to bring new ideas or innovations into the field.

Which is to say: there are a lot of ways to get to where you want to be. International experience is critical, absolutely. But we, as a sector, can’t expect that the only way to get international experience is to have one type of experience, international or otherwise. And those seeking to work in the sector must develop all types of skills that can contribute to this work, so that people with real skills can make real contributions in a way that is not extractive or problematic in the way that Ambrose describes. One entry point would be to develop skills that are difficult to obtain in contexts where international aid works – technology, agriculture, engineering, monitoring & evaluation – to name a few.

Of course, in the current economy, getting hired for any kind of job- volunteer or paid- is a challenge. But it would be a lost opportunity to the development field and those who benefit from aid work to suggest that only those who have chosen to volunteer away from their home country or work for free are the only ones who have something to contribute to the collective goal of making the world a more just place to live.

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Advice, Support

6 New Year’s Resolutions For Development Grad Students

With the New Year under way and a new semester just around the corner, development students are setting resolutions that will help them learn about the field and prepare them to embark on careers in international aid. The Guardian’s recent series on New Year’s Resolutions for Development Professionals prompted me to share some resolutions specifically for graduate students in development.

1. Read blogs

The aid and development blogosphere is rich with knowledge, opinions, and anecdotes about all aspects of the field, and provides a great complement to classroom learning. Reading blogs allows students to engage with the field informally, dig deeper into topics that interest them, keep up-to-date with new research, and see debates unfold in real time.

Though updates on many blogs have become less frequent lately, there are still dozens of excellent ones, with a tremendous amount to be learned from them. Some great bloggers to check out include Chris Blattman, Ken Opalo, Duncan Green, and the teams at WhyDev and Humanosphere. [Ed: we have an extensive reading list for the internet addicted bottom-rungers here]

On a related note, the aid Twitterati is very active and offers links to relevant posts and abridged versions of the discussion found on blogs. Both The Guardian and WhyDev recently posted lists of top development Tweeps to follow.

2. Read non-academic books related to the field

Students (myself included) often find it difficult to commit to doing much outside reading, but I’m not suggesting everyone study extra statistics textbooks in their spare time! Rather, I think reading non-technical books is a low-stress, enjoyable way to deepen our understanding of development and aid.

Books that informally address material learned in class can help the concepts sink in and give students a chance to see how these concepts get applied in the real world. Similarly, memoirs by aid workers offer insight into the life for which students are preparing themselves. For example, Zen Under Fire, written by a human rights lawyer about her experiences working in Afghanistan, thoughtfully discusses struggles many aid workers face in both their personal and professional lives.

Novels and non-fiction works set in developing countries can also provide a new perspective and some cultural understanding. For suggestions of books from (literally) any country of interest, take a look at A Year of Reading The World.

3. Connect with students in other schools and programs

No more reading resolutions, I promise! It has become very clear to me that there are many, many different ways to approach development work – public policy, anthropology, economics, public health, gender studies, business, even engineering. All these fields and many others offer their own approach to development, their own lens through which to view development issues, their take on the most important problems and the most effective solutions. Even among the APSIA schools, which offer somewhat similar degree programs, each school has its own bent on the study of development. Connecting with students from other programs and schools can offer great insight into the many approaches to development and enhance students’ understanding of the field at large. In short, resolve to attend a happy hour.

4. Learn a relevant computer skill

Admittedly more technical (and probably less fun) than the above resolutions, becoming proficient in a relevant computer skill can only be beneficial. In my job-search and networking experience, many organizations are looking for employees and interns who are skilled at Stata, ATLAS, GIS, CSPro, HTML, or other software or languages. Do some research to identify which one is most relevant to your goals, and see if it is taught in any courses or workshops at your school or through online tutorials.

5. Listen to foreign language podcasts

On a somewhat similar note, resolve to keep up a foreign language. Most students in international development speak at least one foreign language, though maintaining proficiency probably isn’t a priority for most students while they’re in school. Since you will likely be called on to use another language during internships and future jobs (including in interviews), it’s advantageous to stay familiar with it. I’ve discovered a simple way of doing this is to listen to foreign language podcasts while commuting, which at least keeps comprehension and vocabulary from getting too rusty.

6. Watch Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

At one point or another, regardless of the exact type of aid work you ultimately do, you will have the responsibility of portraying people from other countries. It could be in official reports for your organization, on a personal blog, during conversations with other aid workers, or in letters to your grandmother. For the sake of both dignity and accuracy, it is critical that portrayals – in whatever form they take – go beyond stereotypes, simplifications, or a “single story.”

Please share your own resolutions and recommendations for blogs, books, and other resources in the comments.

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