Recap: International Development & Humanitarian Careers Event

Written by Sophie Coller, Careers Consultant, Faculty of Humanities

Missed the International Development and Humanitarian Careers Event this March? Don’t worry, we have summarised the event for you and picked out all the top tips.

If you’d like to catch up on the speech given by the keynote speaker Gareth Owen OBE, Humanitarian Director for Save The Children UK, see the recording. Gareth talked passionately about his own experiences of working in the field, about the current, devastating picture unfolding in Ukraine and about the desperate and growing global need for humanitarian work. He gave insight into his own driving forces within a thirty-year career that has borne witness to evil, devastation, hope, and the indomitable endurance of the human spirit.

Some key learning points from the breakout rooms included the importance of maintaining personal wellbeing in a sector where the hours can be long and the emotional strain can be great. Students were reassured that they can take time to develop the skills they need to succeed within the sector and that finding your place and fine-tuning those skills can be a process. You do, however, need to be open to opportunities and willing to become very self-aware to help you figure out where you want to fit into the sector. There was much emphasis on the importance of transferable skills and being able to recognise and articulate these from other experiences and from your studies, particularly where you have found it hard to gain explicitly relevant experience.

One of the key pieces of advice for routes into the sector was the importance of getting your foot in the door “part luck, and part putting yourself out there” and networking with others. The benefit of possessing a second language was also emphasised and students were encouraged to think about their own strengths and what they can offer. Making the most of opportunities alongside studies was offered as a top tip. Students were also encouraged to follow the themes of “Covid, Conflict and Climate” to find donors, organisations, and project work to get involved with.

Top tips from the speakers:

Gareth Owen OBE, Save The Children UK: “If you truly believe in this line of work, then pursue it! Pursue it with vigour, pursue it with patience and know that you will find your way. Make your contribution to the humanitarian world wherever you end up professionally… you don’t have to be working within an institution to do that and the more experience you build up the more likely you are to end up in an institution”.

Mike Bird, Operations Director, Wiego: “At interview, you need to demonstrate motivation for the role… think yourself into it… because if you’re not up for it, then that will come across. The trick is understanding yourself and knowing what it is you’re looking for.”

Mubarak Ali, Funding Coordinator, Oxfam Somalia / Somaliland: “Firstly, know your passion, why you want to join the sector and what really motivates you. Secondly, know the skills required to succeed in that sector; consider if you already have these or need to develop them. Then identify good organisations that are leading in this sector and hunt through their adverts to check what skills and motivations they are asking for.”

Shakirah Mustapha, Programme Officer Syria Mines Advisory Group (MAG): “Don’t underestimate transferable skills, even if you are doing a job that is not related to International Development, take the fix that you need from all the different jobs that you may have… those skills are still useful within International Development.”

Ahsan Abbasi, Head of Mission, Médecins Sans Frontières: “Explore more about humanitarian work; it is diverse and it might be what you are looking for. Once you are into it, keep applying, don’t give up, you will succeed!”

Emma Richardson, Student Success and Development Officer, UoM: “My top tip has to be to volunteer! Use your passions. Don’t just volunteer to gain skills, it’s not transactional in that way, think about what makes you tick in terms of the areas that you want to make a difference in. Follow that passion and find volunteering opportunities because there are so many out there that you can then hone your passions and let them drive you forward. Then you can develop your skills and your employability and make connections along the way. Don’t just see it as a stepping stone, see it as a journey alongside your humanitarian endeavours, it will keep you grounded in the issues.”

Dr. Stephanie Rinaldi, Research Programmes Manager, HCRI, UoM: “Do not underestimate transferability or your contributions…you can transfer the skills and you can also be really clear and strategic in the way that you frame your contributions.”

Hanul Oh, Operations Analyst, Sustainable Development Vice Presidency Unit, The World Bank: “Be really confident and be open. You’re really good enough and you can be anything from now on… if they don’t hire you, you can become your own boss. This is the time in history where you can actually start something online right off the bat, so I would recommend that everybody document your research journey, your humanitarian volunteer work, translate something if you speak other languages, or fundraise for some causes because that becomes your portfolio. You can hire you yourself, so good luck everybody!”

Rania El Rajji, Human Rights Professional: “Look beyond the career path; I don’t think of Humanitarianism as a profession, and I think that there’s a lot of pressure for us to take the shape of organisations. It’s important to look at yourself as an individual and look at your career from the perspective of what you want to change, what you want to do as an individual, regardless of what organisations will push into. You will find yourself with yourself and your personal life often and there will be a lot of challenges, so you need to make sure you have gone where you wanted to be.”

The full event recording can be found here. The keynote speech is approximately ten minutes in, and the top tips start at 31 minutes.

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