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Careers in international development: a resource list

Earlier this week, I gave a talk at the University of Warwick, where I studied for my bachelors degree. I spoke to an audience ranging from freshers to post-grads on building a career in international development. Instead of presenting from a particular end point or a particular organisation, I gave four pieces of advice and described how I had put these into practice.

They were:

  1. Invest in yourself with continual learning
  2. Build relationships
  3. Figure out the sector
  4. “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable” – Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I promised I would share some resources online, so the students didn’t have to worry about writing down references. My 2013 post on breaking into international development is due an update, but for now here are some of the resources I’ve found the most useful in the past few years. I expect to update this list as I discover (and remember) more.

Books

  • The start-up of you: As the title suggests, this book argues that you should treat your own career as a start-up. That means building networks, learning continuously and adapting as you go along. They call this ‘permanent beta’, but you don’t have to buy into the tech-language to get something out of the book.
  • How Change Happens: Duncan Green gives a realistic account of how power and systems shape change, and what an activist can do to influence this. I recommended this as a great introduction for avenues of change-making. And the PDF is free on the website! You can also read my review.
  • Strengthsfinder: This recently came back into my life as the organisation I’ve just started working for asked for my results (woo, communication, individualisation, ideation and input if you’re interested). The methodology is simple: you take an online test with lots of questions and it tells you your top five ‘strengths’. This is made much more useful as it also tells you how to make the most of these. Giving the talk was actually me taking an opportunity to work on communication and woo.
  • How to Find Fulfilling Work: Roman Krznaric gives a framework for thinking about your career. Exercises to reflect on your own experiences are interlaced with wisdom from many sources. It’s only a short read, but packed with goodies.

Online

  • 50 ways to get a job that makes good: Does what it says on the tin. This website is especially useful if you don’t know where to start and want to take action. It has sections – from Starting, to Finding my Purpose, and Applying to Jobs, and has a handful of ‘missions’ for each of these. Some of them (e.g. Describe your Dream Job) are fairly standard. Others (E.g. Win over someone who cast you aside) are less conventional.
  • This Needs Brave: Alanna Shaikh offers international development career advice with a big heart. In her own words: “I love coaching people. I love helping them find their own answers. I think that we all need to be very brave in this damaged world, and I want to help people be as brave as they need to be.” Browse the blog posts and consider signing up for a coaching session.
  • 80,000 hours: If you want something more evidence-backed about which path will allow you to do the most good, 80,000 hours is the place to go. Part of the effective altruism movement, the organisation offers free advice on how to maximise your impact, perhaps throwing up some options you hadn’t thought about.
  • London International Development Network: I started this network on Facebook in an attempt to get people who work in development, or aspire to, to talk to one another across organisations and sectors. Events are in the pipeline.
  • Newsletters and Links Round-Ups to subscribe to: If you don’t know where to start with learning about development issues, this could be useful to you. I share the newsletters I get by email as well as some of the best round-ups within the development blogosphere.

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Do let me know in the comments or on Twitter if there are any awesome resources that I’ve missed. And good luck!

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