5 steps on the way to a career in international development

Photo courtesy of SIANI

SIANI Youth held its first event in the Student Union of the University of Agricultural Sciences in Ultuna Campus in Uppsala. The purpose of the event was to create a space for sharing experience about how to start a career in international development. The event attracted students from universities in Uppsala and Stockholm as well as representatives from Sida, Swedish Development Forum (FuF), Föreningen Sofia, Future Earth (Framtidsjorden) and YPARD Sweden.

The event reflected the SIANI Youth’s sloganfor Youth and with Youth in time”: it was initiated and organized by SIANI interns, with Ebba Ulfbecker, an agronomist student of rural development at SLU and an intern at SIANI, taking the lead. SIANI's other interns Miron Arljung and Axel Bovin were heavily involved in the design and preparations the activity as well. The event provided an opportunity for students to network with actors working with sustainable agriculture, natural resource management, rural development and poverty alleviation internationally.

Representatives from Sida, SIANI, SLU Global, Association Sofia, Swedish Development Forum (FuF) and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) presented different ways of making the first steps on the way to an international career. These talks were also complemented by presentations from MFS students, who brought the experience from their first international projects done within their studies. The second part of the event was organized in the world café format, during which students got the chance to talk about career opportunities with representatives of each organisation presented at the event. Based on the discussions at the event, here are five bricks one can lay in the foundation for a career in international development:

1. Do voluntary work and internships

Are you interested in working with international development issues, like rural development, sustainable agriculture and poverty alleviation, but you do not have any experience? Our tip is to start engaging with an organisation working with these issues. You can participate in seminars and workshops or write blogs for them. To learn more about these exciting platforms, we advise you to take a look at the websites of FuF and YPARD.

Another possibility is to do an internship with an organisation, like Future Earth or Association Sofia or SIANI. They are striving for sustainable development and agriculture in various ways and one can find a project that matches personal and professional interests. There are internship opportunities abroad in low-income countries, as well as in Sweden. FuF is a portal where you can find such internships. Doing an internship is valuable in order to obtain the right skills, make professional contacts and experience how things work in international development - it could point you in exciting career directions!

2. Try interdisciplinary education

Do you want to build the right set of skills and knowledge for a position within the sector of international development? The nature of global challenges is so diverse that interdisciplinary education is essential to understand and correctly address the problems that society is facing. Ola Möller, Senior Policy Specialist at Sida, explained the benefits of obtaining an interdisciplinary university degree. He emphasized that the international development sector needs expertise in agriculture, natural resources and social science. A lot of people living in poverty are dependent on agriculture and other natural resources, so understanding the interconnections is crucial for managing development sustainably.

3. Look for Minor Field Studies (MFS)

While doing your Bachelor or Master’s thesis, MFS- scholarship from Sida is a great chance to gain experience about professional work in a low- or middle income country. Students from all disciplines can apply. MFS covers fieldwork for a minimum of 8-weeks, providing time for collection of material to a thesis project. Miron Arljung and Lovisa Neikter are two Master’s students who got this opportunity and told about their experiences at the SIANI Youth event. Miron did a study about fair trade coffee certifications in Costa Rica and Lovisa did her study about social impact of REDD projects in Uganda. Doing an MFS is not only about obtaining real world data for your thesis, it’s also about getting hands on experience on how it is to work with international development and poverty alleviation.

4. Do a Master's degree

By this point, maybe you are feeling that international development is what you want to work with in the future. If you have high ambitions in your career, accomplishing a Master’s degree is more or less a standard today and many employers see it as a minimum when they advertise new positions for work in international development. Young professionals today have higher level of education than ever before, which means an increased competition. As Annika Burström, program manager for internships at FuF, highlighted during her presentation: “if you want to be in the business in the long run, a Master’s degree is essential for an international career.”

5. Apply for Sida’s entry level professional programs

Perhaps you would like to increase your professional capacity in international development after accomplishing your academic degree? Then Sida’s entry level professional programs, called Bilateral Associate Program (BAE) and Junior Professional Officer (JPO), are excellent opportunities for you.  Sida recruits young academics to the BAE and JPO for positions abroad at embassies, cooperation organizations, national authorities or UN organizations.
The expert programs are for those who have a Master’s Degree, are under the age of 33 by the time of the application and have minimum two to four years of paid working experience.

So you can see that there are many doors to knock on if you want to pursue a career in fighting poverty, saving the environment and creating a sustainable future. Hopefully, this short guide could inspire you to proceed!

SIANI Youth would like to thank all the students and organisations who participated in the event together with us. Become a member of SIANI to stay tuned for more events, news and networking opportunities!

Read more about the event Planting a seed – growing an international career.

This post was written by Ebba Ulfbecker & Axel Bovin