Our Perspectives

A recipe towards a career in international development


youth in BelizeConsider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Photo: UNDP in Belize

As I am about to transition to independent work from a very rewarding life with UNDP, young professionals often ask for my own recipe towards a fulfilled career in international development. After mentioning that any accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder, I point to the following principles:

Prepare for diversity. I was lucky to experience both geographic and functional diversity, but modern careers will include, it seems to me, an even greater mixture of jobs, contracts and organizations than when I started. Consider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Often these skills are technical, like education, health, logistics, etc.

Technical or generalist? A career is a long affair, getting longer and with inevitable ups-and-downs. If we started from a technical background, we may grow into more managerial positions or, as in my case, be a manager who enjoyed picking up specialized skills along the way, but always guided in my choices by what I loved doing.

Competencies. To me, the ultimate UNDP competency is what the social enterprise and media platform DEVEX calls “Integrator, someone who understands multiple specialties and how they impact each other and excels in fostering collaboration between various stakeholders who may not be accustomed to working together, like government, private sector and civil society.  I cannot think of a more important dimension than Integrator at the field level and particularly so for the UN Resident Coordinator.

Be ready for Adventure: There is no denying that crisis environments have multiplied since I started at the UN. I experienced natural disasters (including at home), revolutions, attacks and lost shipments but many others had worse. Follow your security training, don’t be a “cow-boy” and always, always remember that you represent the United Nations.

Compromise with the ones you love! My spouse and I both compromised to accomplish our respective ambitions. We also tried to give our kids some stability amidst nine postings on three continents. Be ready to compromise with the ones you love, even if it means passing up a promotion! Sometimes “up is not the only way” and in hindsight it may turn out for the best.

But of all the sources of satisfaction, the greatest and most durable will come from interacting with the people we are meant to serve: the surest way to assess a program’s potential and pitfalls is to check it against one’s own knowledge of the issues, gained inside a community (power sharing, gender, etc.). It is also the only way to carry on with a sense of service amidst this life’s uncertainties and a sometimes frustrating bureaucracy.

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