Passion is not static, and it should not be. As most students do and are supposed to do before deciding which courses to take or which programs to enroll into, self-reflection is critical to help make such decisions. The reflecting process is different from an individual to another. It is an easy process for some students, while for others, it is a time consuming and depressing one. When deciding, many factors come into play. Some of those are passion, interest, course content, commitment, past academic performance, career prospect and employability, affordability and last but not least family opinions (youth village, 2018). Before deciding to join Global Challenges at the African Leadership University, I had to go through the same process of reflecting before making a decision. I looked at all the available options, passions, interests and other factors mentioned above. I am of the portion of those in which the process was frustrating and depressing as I did not have a fixed passion that I was sure I needed to follow, but regardless, I joined. Back to the initial statement of how passion is not static and how it should not be, I recently realized my passion for development, specifically in education. After the realization, I decided to research what international development is, the sector’s work, and how to start a career in the area.

Working in international development is becoming increasingly competitive. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images (Gedde, 2015)

What is International Development?

When someone thinks of international development, the first thing that comes to mind is rich and prosperous countries helping poor and desperate countries to develop through aid given to non-profit organizations such as the World Food Program to carry out development projects in these countries; or as some say; “how to help poor people get richer” (Lentfer, 2017). That idea is not to be dismissed because it holds some truth. However, even though that is how it might have been in the past, considering countries like the United States of America, Japan and Europe alone spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on development assistance. (Rosenkranz, 2009). The distinction from the definition provided above is that it is not only governments involved in international development work, but many Non-Government Organizations are dedicated to that. Some of these organizations focus on specific sectors such as environmental conservation, education, health and peace-keeping, to name a few, and others are broader and provide assistance in development in diverse sectors. Examples of those involved in a specific field are the Education Development Center that focuses on education development in developing countries, the Doctors Without Borders and GAVI in health development and the World-Wide Fund nature in environment development to name a few. The others with a broad focus covering a large portion of NGOs are OXFAM that focuses on alleviating poverty in general, The World Vision International and Save the Children are the most known interdisciplinary organizations (human rights careers, nd).

International Development Work

International development is extensive and multidisciplinary, although organizations involved can either be interdisciplinary or field-specific. Because of the aforementioned, the work these organizations involve in is also very diverse and requires expertise. Depending on the nature and type of an international development mission or project, the work is also different for each one of them. Some of the work involves humanitarianism, conflict management, charity, emergency relief, health education and women’s right advocacy, to name a few. Some of these can apply to diverse development projects, while others are applied to specific ones. Examples are advocacy work that can be used in any field from education, health, environmental conservation, governance and more. Despite these differences and maybe similarities, all share a common mission of addressing poverty and social injustice (humans right careers, nd). All of these diverse works mentioned and more can be classified into two types derived from the two classifications of Non-Governmental Organizations by the World Bank, namely, operational and advocacy (Malena, 1995). Some organizations are involved in both, especially large ones, while others have a single focus area (humans right careers, nd). The need for development work and the type of work needed varies from place to place. The work needed in a particular country is different from the other depending on different factors such as the economic situation, insecurity, poverty and more. Development work in developing countries will differ from that in developed or under-developed countries, from war-torn countries to peaceful countries.

Bauschard (2017)

International Development work in Africa: dependency, lack of inclusion and diversity

It is hard to believe that in the years of 1955-1965, when most of the African countries gained independence from western countries, mainly European countries, some of the African countries were economically ahead of many Asian countries such as China that lagged behind countries like Burundi, Malawi and Burkina Faso based on the per capita income basis and Ghana and South Korea had an identical per capita income in 1957 (Ika, 2012). In approximately 60 years after the independence of Africa from colonialism, despite the amount of aid that African countries receive from western countries for development, approximately 1 trillion US dollars since the 1940s, there is still a problem with the coordination of these aids and what they are used for despite the arguably good intentions behind these aids (Moyo, 2009). That is one reason why the countries mentioned above that were either behind or at the same level as Africa in the 1960s are far ahead now, and African countries are still lagging. Some of the reasons provided are the dependency of African countries on these aids and the lack of diversity and inclusion of Africans in the development projects carried out in Africa.

Since Independence, African countries are recipients of foreign aid. The aid comes in different forms from those provided directly to the countries or through development programs carried out by government organizations or non-governmental organizations (Kwemo, 2017).  There is no doubt that these programs contribute greatly to the development of the countries where they are carried out and provide lasting results. Although that is the case, the question remains why does these countries not improve economically and prosper despite how long they have been receiving aid. Many experts argues that foreign assistance creates a culture of dependency (Kwemo, 2017). There is also a problem of lack of inclusion of Africans and diversification of international development workers which is another reason that leads to limited impact of international development interventions. Although a lot have been done to improve diversity and inclusion, representation is still small for some demographics especially African women and the undermining of Africans participating in the work (Bruce-Raiburn, 2019) (London School of Business, 2019). To solve the problem of under-representation and undermining of Africans in International Development, Africans are the ones that needs to take the initiative to participate by studying courses related to the field and participating despite the challenges as it will show that Africans are able to engage in the work and even better than westerners especially for development work done in Africa as they understand the context better.

Starting a Career in International Development as an African graduate

Starting a career in international development is never easy. It requires a bit of persistence and hard work aside from passion and empathy. Looking at how things are done, it is like a ladder, and climbing from the bottom is quite difficult since there is much competition. The requirements for entry in a specific field of choice are pretty hard. Most development jobs are experience demanding. The good thing is that there are several ways to gain that experience, mainly from volunteering or just doing internships in other related sectors. It is not even limited to NGOs and extends to government work. This not only provides experience but also expose individuals to beneficial network opportunities. It also improves skills required in mostly communication (writing), problem-solving ability, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and project management, to mention but a few. Honestly, it is a long-term commitment, but again it can be highly compensating. Apart from the feeling of accomplishment because of doing an admirable job of “making the world a better place”, the results of your efforts are often visible, although physically and mentally challenging. Other perks may include working in touristic countries, travel expenses, hardship bonuses, courtesy vehicle and schooling for children is sometimes covered (Ben, 2008).