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So you want to work in international development?

Written by Darcy Knoll, communications specialist with CARE Canada

Five years ago. It’s the end of a long day in the Philippines, visiting villages impacted by typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the country.

This would be my first time abroad with CARE. I’m travelling with a fellow Canadian, an experienced aid worker who would regularly deploy to hotspots across the world with little notice.

“You must sleep well on the plane considering you fly to so many places,” I say.

“I don’t actually sleep,” she responds. “I sit there on the plane and, in a bit of a zen-state, I just think about how lucky I am to be able to travel to these places and do this work.”

According to a study in 2011, charities working in international aid and development employed more than 14,000 full-time and nearly 32,000 part-time employees in Canada. These numbers do not include the thousands of volunteers who provide their time and energy. This work is possible thanks to millions of donors across this country who support efforts to fight poverty or save lives in crisis.

So what does it take to work in international development? Before we dive too deep, allow me to answer a few questions:

  • Yes, you can have a full career working in international development.
  • Yes, you can have a family and work in international development.
  • Love travel? Some positions do offer the opportunity to support teams across the world.
  • Hate travel? You can still work in this field without leaving Canada.

The hours can be long and the realities we face may be tough. In the end, if you want to work in international development, what we need is passion coupled with unrelenting optimism that we really can change the world.

Anyone can be an aid worker

Well, not anyone, but through my six years at CARE, I have met people from a variety of backgrounds in this field: teachers, engineers with various specialties, lawyers, security experts, gender specialists, journalists, doctors, veterinarians, accountants, IT specialists - the list goes on.

The reasons that bring many to this career are varied. Some want to give back to their home country, others are simply eager to learn about the world.

International development is not just handing out aid items or digging water pumps. The needs range from farming solutions for families facing climate change, helping women develop new skills to market and expand their businesses, arranging sanitation systems for a sudden influx of 10,000 people, and helping women safely give birth in far-flung communities.

To do this work requires a broad structure of global professionals to run and evaluate projects; manage complex finances, logistics and IT infrastructure; advocate for change; raise funds and work with journalists; and keep staff safe in some challenging places.

A degree in international development is great, particularly alongside one of the specialties noted above.

The hours can be long and the realities we face may be tough. In the end, if you want to work in international development, what we need is passion coupled with unrelenting optimism that we really can change the world.

Learn more about careers at CARE Canada