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A Day in the Life of an International Development Specialist

10 June 2021

A Day in the Life of an International Development Specialist: Solving World Problems

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Do you feel an inward drive to help solve the world’s problems? 

Then a career in international development is worth considering. 

There are many different paths you can go down. You could work for a global intergovernmental organisation, like the United Nations, an NGO (non-governmental organisation), or a charity. You might conduct research, draft policy, manage projects from your home country or deliver aid on the ground in affected areas. 

Whichever route you choose, you’ll be working to promote human welfare and economic development in the areas across the world that need it most. 

To gain a better understanding of what life in the field is like, we reached out to Perseverence Ganga, a Programme Policy Officer at the United Nations World Food Programme. Perseverence has over 15 years of experience behind him, having worked at a range of NGOs in Africa and the Middle East. Prior to his current role, Perseverence was a Food Security Cluster Coordinator in Damascus, Syria. He is currently head of office on the ground in Ethiopia, working to provide food and livelihood assistance to local communities. 

Looking for an insider’s perspective on international development work? Read on...

Interested in gaining a unique, 360-degree experience of international development? Perseverance is just one of the amazing speakers on our International Development Programmes. Each is jam-packed with immersive career simulations, exclusive site visits and personalised career coaching, all designed to give you a more hands-on experience of the industry.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What does a typical day in your working life look like?

I work for the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP) as an expatriate foreign expert on mission, and my role is programme policy officer (head of office).

My responsibilities are to coordinate all UN WFP operations in my region in Ethiopia, where we assist a million beneficiaries with humanitarian food, cash and livelihood assistance. 

I manage about a 100 professional staff; 5 are foreigners like me, and the rest are local Ethiopians. I represent WFP in Government and NGO humanitarian partner meetings. I am the Senior UN staff in my area of operation, so I also represent the UN and all NGOs. 

The region I work in is in the southern part of Ethiopia, bordering Somalia and Somaliland. It is a remote place. The situation is quite fluid so at times routine is almost impossible, but as a senior manager I deal with strategic issues and set the strategic vision for my team. I also get to travel a lot. 

Being in the field entails working long hours and having fewer weekends, but we break every 6 weeks for rest and recuperation and the organisation pays for my ticket to travel home.

What first inspired you to consider international development as a career?

Working as a humanitarian has been a dream of mine ever since I was young. 

I was always fascinated by the UN political architecture and its influence across the world, the way the organisation helps people, and encourages them to live under an agreed set of rules. 

I also used to watch a lot of documentaries on UN work which further inspired me to seek this career. 

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If you love humanity and want to help solve world problems, this is the job for you - go for it!

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What’s the best thing about your job?

To see people in distress get out of their situation because of what my team is doing is something that I take pride in every day.  

Our support changes lives. We are able to give people hope to keep on going. 

Seeing children able to go to school because WFP provided food for them… to me we are feeding dreams. 

That’s the best thing about my work.

What’s the hardest thing?

The hardest thing is being away from my own family for extended periods of time, which is a huge sacrifice.* 

That’s why our work really has to be a true calling: you have to sacrifice a lot of your own needs in order to help those whose needs are greater.  

*It is not uncommon for UN employees working in the field to spend extended periods away from home. This is usually offset by periodic home leave, often paid for by the organisation

What has been your biggest achievement since starting your career in international development?

My biggest achievement has been setting up two offices from scratch in some of the remotest parts of the world. 

These offices in Ethiopia have nearly 300 staff combined and were set up in line with my strategic vision. Seeing things continue down the path we set out, even 10 years on, is very rewarding. 

“If you love humanity and want to help solve world problems, this is the job for you - go for it!”

What are the perks/incentives, financial and otherwise, for a graduate looking to become an international development expert?

The perks can be very good, far better than you get with office jobs in the big cities in the UK.

These can include danger pay (a special allowance for employees who are required to work in dangerous conditions or locations), rental subsidies to help with rent, family medical insurance, life insurance, child allowance, a good pension for fixed term contracts and a tax-free salary. You can also get paid home leave on fixed terms contracts. 

In some organisations, graduate entry salaries can be around £35,000 to £40,000 before tax. This often includes tickets to and from your duty station, as well as medical aid.

You also get to travel a lot across the world with a diplomatic passport!

To see people in distress get out of their situation because of what my team is doing is something that I [take] pride in every day

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Are there different pathways or specialisms aspiring humanitarians can choose, and if so, what are they?

Yes, many: nutrition, politics, international relations, logistics and supply chain, procurement, public health, agriculture, engineering, information systems, ICT, human resources, social work, food technology, geographical information systems, history, aviation, food security…*

*Want to know more about jobs in the field? Take a look at the Prospects international aid/development worker job profile

Did you do anything to improve your employability whilst still at school?

I volunteered for the British Red Cross and also interned with an NGO.

What did you study at university?

A bachelors in nutrition, a masters in public health and a masters in applied development studies. 

What was your first job?

I worked as a nutritionist/clinical dietician at a government hospital. 

I worked there for 3 months after graduation. I was working with very sick and vulnerable children, which wasn’t easy. The diets I had to prescribe them meant the difference between life and death.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I am a tech enthusiast, so I’m interested in robotics and artificial intelligence. I am also a farmer in Zimbabwe.

Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in international development?

If you love humanity and want to help solve world problems, this is the job for you - go for it! 

It is highly rewarding, both in terms of your personal fulfilment and ability to impact individuals, and also to help make the world a better place. 

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