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International development


International development concerns the long-term and sustainable improvement of humanity's well-being.

Work takes place across the developing regions of the world addressing issues such as health and education to poverty and inequality.

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What is international development?

Organisations and projects in international development work across developing regions of the world, focusing on different aspects of well-being, from health and education to poverty and inequality.

Many organisations are also involved in providing emergency aid, but the primary focus of international development is on long-term, sustainable improvements.

Much has been achieved already, as shown by some of the outcomes from the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

International development covers a huge range of career options, which can be broadly divided up into the following categories:

  • Programme roles – implementing projects, coordinating technical input in the field, etc
  • Policy and research roles – evaluating outcomes, making policy decisions, etc
  • Outreach roles – fundraising, campaigning, lobbying, media and communications, etc
  • Technical roles – requiring specific expertise or training, e.g. medical, engineering, legal, etc
  • Support roles – HR, finance, IT, logistics, etc

Find out more about the different types of roles


UN Millennium Development Goals

The UN Millennium Development goals were set in the year 2000 by 191 world leaders and are listed below:

  1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Outcomes include:

  • more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990
  • the proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions have fallen by almost half since 1990
  • enrolment in primary education in developing regions increased to 91%, and gender disparity has been eliminated
  • mortality rate of children under five has been cut by more than half since 1990
  • between 2000 and 2013, new HIV infections have fallen by 40%

Visit the website for more information


The future of international development

The world is changing and the international development landscape is changing with it.

In a 2014 DevEx survey on The Future of Global Development, nearly 1,000 senior development professionals from across six continents were asked for their expectations. 

They predicted:

  • new sources of funding from emerging donors such as oil-rich middle eastern countries and the private sector
  • new alliances and partnerships between governments, philanthropists and the private sector
  • a growing appetite for innovation
  • a stronger lead from the developing countries themselves, rather than from external organisations or governments

All of this could have a significant impact on the types of employers and jobs available in the future – perhaps creating opportunities for innovative start-up companies or increasing the number and range of sustainability roles within large corporations.

Useful websites to find out more are:

  • Eldis – up-to-date and relevant research on international development issues
  • Bond – news, views, resources and jobs
  • World Service Enquiry – information about careers in international development and aid.

Finding work experience

Relevant work experience is vital, and much of that will be obtained through unpaid volunteering, either during or immediately after your degree.

There are a number of approaches you could take:

  • Some of the larger NGOs offer more formal volunteer internships, including Oxfam and the Red Cross.

Charity Job - search for volunteer internships

  • There are a number of organisations that will help you to find overseas field experience, although most of these will involve some degree of self-funding. Take a look at:

International Citizen Service (ICS)

2Way Development

  • Student or youth-led organisations offer an opportunity to explore and discuss development issues and to campaign for change. Examples include:
  • If you have contacts through friends or family, you could travel to a particular country of interest and approach local NGOs once you get there. 
  • Look for work experience in a UK based NGOs head office. This will be helpful if you have an interest in policy jobs, and might lead to an overseas secondment if you make the most of this networking opportunity
  • Search the jobs databases listed at the bottom of this page for volunteering opportunities and internships
  • Register for the UN Volunteers online course and look for opportunities to use your skills.

How do I find a job?


This is a very competitive sector and unless you have a specific technical skill that is crucial to a particular project, you will need some relevant experience, ideally overseas prior to making applications.

See our work experience section for further advice.


In addition to practical experience, successful candidates often have either a social science or relevant vocational degree. It is possible to enter the profession without a masters qualification, but in some roles such as policy and research, it is likely to be a requirement. 

International organisations such as the United Nations run a range of prestigious development-related programmes and internships. 

Many of them include a masters or PhD in their entry requirements.

Most roles within research organisations and think tanks will require a masters or PhD qualification and some previous research experience.

Policy and research roles commonly require a masters or PhD-level qualification, ideally combined with practical experience.


It is essential that you are good with people. You are likely to change project team, employer, country, etc. regularly throughout your career and you must be able to adapt to your surroundings and communicate with those around you.

Self-sufficiency, problem solving and effective decision making are important, as is the ability to learn a new language.


Typical international development employers can be divided into five broad categories:

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

NGOs are the main entry route into the sector.

Don't just focus on the big names as they are inundated with applications, and successful candidates will often have two or three years' experience already.

Take the time to investigate the thousands of smaller organisations that may be recruiting.

Check out: BONDNGO VoiceWANGO and RedR-UK.

International organisations

These organisations are globally recognisable and offer prestigious opportunities to a small number of exceptional candidates – mainly those with masters or PhD qualifications and relevant work experience.

There may be some entry-level roles in their local or regional offices, but it can be difficult to move from there to the formal programmes.

Check out: United Nations Development ProgrammeInternational Development Association and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

National government agencies

Graduate schemes are likely to be open to nationals only – see their eligibility criteria.

Entry onto these programmes is highly competitive.

Check out: Department for International Development.

Research organisations and think tanks

Most roles will require a masters or PhD qualification and some previous research experience.

Check out: Institute of Development StudiesOverseas Development Institute and Development Studies Association.

Development consultancies

Entry-level roles are likely to be at intern or volunteer level, as consultant roles will require significant experience in a specialist area.

Check out: Triple Pundit's list of consultancies



There are numerous roles available in international development and different countries and organisations will often give them different titles.

To browse a large selection of jobs, searchable by terms such as 'entry level' or 'internship', subscribe to the DevEx job vacancy database.

Alternatively, ReliefWeb has a jobs section which can be searched by 'years of experience'. This will give you an idea of the roles and job titles out there currently and help you to research the entry requirements, etc.

Prospects has a useful overview of the role of an international development/aid worker, which includes information on typical responsibilities, skills, work experience, etc.

They can be generally classified as:

Programme roles

These roles may also be described as 'on the ground' or 'field' roles. Competition is fierce and relevant experience, e.g. technical, country-specific, overseas project management, etc. is vital. Typical job titles include 'Programme Officer', 'Field Coordinator' or 'Project Manager'.

Policy and research roles

These roles often require a masters or PhD-level qualification, ideally combined with practical experience.

Job titles may include 'Policy Analyst', 'Policy Advisor', 'Research Assistant', or 'Programme Advisor'

Outreach or advocacy roles

These roles involve fundraising, campaigning and lobbying, and job titles may include 'Advocacy Advisor', 'Fundraising Assistant', 'Development Assistant' or 'Communcations Officer'.

Support roles e.g. HR, finance, IT, logistics, etc

An office-based administrative role is a good entry route for new graduates with limited experience. It will give you an opportunity to understand the organisation, network with the right people and be the first to hear about interesting projects and vacancies.


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