A few weeks ago I got a note from a soon-to-be college graduate who was looking for advice about entering the international development sector. Thank you to the people who wrote back to “Bill” with advice, as I hope that advice will be useful to many people seeking out this work. If you haven’t read his original email or the responses to it, you can do so here.
As I said I would, I am posting the response I sent to “Bill” a few weeks ago when he wrote to me (and before I posted these blogs). If you have further thoughts of advice, please share them!
Hi Bill -
Thank you VERY much for your email. It makes be happy to know that the things I have written have been useful to you. I understand your feelings – I am sort of in the same position! I am just about to finish my 1 year program at Oxford and now I need to figure out – what is next? How can I use my talents and interests to best impact the world in the areas I believe in? It’s very tricky to figure this out! I think part of the answer is that there is no one answer. There is no right path. It sounds like you ARE on one of the best paths, as you are already thinking about this very hard and LEARNING. That’s key! So seek out positions where you can learn. That might be with a development organization (like PEPY), an organization working in the US (like The AdVenture Project http://www.theadventureproject.org/ that supports organizations around the world), a group that rates/reviews NGOs (like GiveWell http://givewell.org/ in NY), etc. If there is a place you really want to work, you might want to reach out to them and volunteer your time for a few months. That might mean writing notes to donors or working on a newsletter – but you’d still get to learn about the issues the organization was facing.
Something like a Fulbright would be fun/interesting – but it wont be likely to give you the mentorship you are looking for. I have seen many people go through Fulbright or the Peace Corps and not take the role very seriously or be put in a location/position that was difficult and then fail to learn or contribute very much. So perhaps something where you are working underneath people you respect is more what you are looking for.
Other learning experiences – that I have not seen first hand, but have heard of include http://globalcitizenyear.org/ & http://thinkimpact.org/ – and both of those experiences allow you to learn development theory in real life settings. Of course, an alternative is to go back to school to study these things, but I tend to think that people get a lot more out of school if they have real life experience to base it on (I know that’s how I work).
I am working with a solar company in Tanzania at the moment – and though I have not worked with them myself – I have worked with many people here who used to do work with SIC http://sichange.org/ – and it sounds like they have a really great model for educating both the young foreigners who work with them in the summer and the young Tanzanians they work with all year. They might be worth looking into.
I also really liked Illich’s speech and I often read parts of it during presentations to students. I made this mock conversation with Illich once: http://lessonsilearned.org/
If you want to read some more things about these issues, or watch more talks on development/social enterprise topics, try these places:
http://www.ionpoverty.tv/ – new website with videos of social entrepreneurs giving advice to millennials on this sector
http://www.povertycure.org/ – an organization aimed at improving the effect of aid from christian charities (typically giving things away, sending their young people abroad to build churches etc) by educating people about what is and isn’t working in development – TONS of great videos
Development blogs: (there are tons, but here are some I sometimes read!)
http://aidsource.ning.com/ (social network – haven’t seen it before – but see that some of these people are connected to it)
http://aidwatchers.com/ – Easterly’s blog which is not in use anymore but still has great content
Articles / Resources / Other things:
The first 25 pages of Easterly’s White Man’s Burden (required!)
http://reader.pepytours.com/ – a posterous reader which collects the articles we put up – so like a “What the PEPY Tours team is reading” RSS feed
As far as the educational hotel chain – it is still something I’d really love to see exist, but I am not sure if I want to manage hotels! I go back and forth on this Some friends and I are meeting up in September though to talk about how we could work with people like you – young people who want to get into development work or social impact jobs, but are looking to learn. Would it be ok if we looped you into a conference call at some point to get your feedback once we have some ideas brewing?
Also, how would you feel if I posted your email below onto my blog (with just your first name – and I can remove your school if you like so people don’t know who you are). Then I can ask other friends/people I know in this space to answer what they would give you for advice. You might get lots of interesting (and contradicting!) ideas – but it would certainly give you a lot to read and think about!
Let me know!
Once again, thanks for your note, Bill. I appreciated it!