I get that question a lot. Often times, people go on a trip abroad, perhaps a volunteer travel trip or their first experience in an “emerging market”, and they come back wanting to “change the world” – as so many of us do….. and their first instinct is often to go into international development.
I got an email this week from another person with a similar experience. Having gone on a recent trip to Africa, he came back wanting to change professions into one having an impact on the issues he saw on his travels, and he wrote to me to ask if I thought he should change fields of study and go into international development.
I thought I would post my thoughts on this, in case it is useful to others as well:
Thanks for your note! I guess my main thought is you can change/improve the world from ANY job. In [your prior field of] film – look at Participant Media – they funded Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, etc etc….. they are helping to bring awareness and advocacy to areas that are in big need of change. Working in international development can be appealing – but actually we also need to change our own tax laws (go into your own countries politics), trade barriers (become an activist, politician, advocate tax lawyer), environmental justice (become a scientist who communicates our need for change), etc…. you can change the world from nearly ANY type of job.
I really like this quote:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes YOU come alive, and then go out and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I think that quote should be preempted by an assumption that it is being spoken to someone who has just asked the question “How can I do good in the world?” The answer then is don’t go around saying “What does the world need?” because, as you and I both know, the world needs a LOT of things. Instead ask yourself, “What am I good at? What do I LOVE to do? What could I do and get inspired about and be GREAT at?” And then do THAT aligned with an effort to do it IN SERVICE TO A BETTER WORLD. You can align your learning to be the best at doing that, whatever THAT may be.
I hope that helps.