What is international development?
International development is understood in different ways depending on who’s providing the definition—sometimes it’s strictly economic development, other times it’s helping provide a range of services to the poor and disenfranchised, or it could be regarded as empowering people in other countries to identify and solve their own problems. The UN’s Development Programme covers seven areas of international development: fighting poverty, fostering democracy, preventing and responding to disasters, protecting the environment, preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, empowering women, and “growing national capacity” (economic growth and delivery of aid and public services).
Would a career in international development be a good fit for me?
For those with foreign language skills, experience living in a foreign country, research experience on international issues, a desire to live and work abroad, or any combination of these, international development may be a very fulfilling career option. Liberal arts postacademics might be especially qualified for positions in communication, economic advising, education, project management, research, or coordinating social services.
What are my other career options for similar types of work?
There are many other opportunities for those who want to make a difference in the lives of people in other countries, including jobs in government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations, and business. If you’re interested in this type of work but not sure which sector to try to break into first, know that international development professionals are likely to move between the sectors at some point during their careers. This page focuses on government, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations.
International Development Jobs in Government
For international development work in government, the most desirable languages are Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Farsi, and Polish. The government agencies most likely to need employees from liberal arts backgrounds are the State Department, USAID, and the Millenium Change Corporation, though positions are also available in the U.S. Treasury Office, Department of Energy, and others.
The job application process for any federal job takes a long time--about as long as the academic job search--and may involve exhaustive background checks. Through these jobs, you have the opportunity to serve your country and help people around the world on behalf of the United States. For all government jobs, go to the website for the Office of Personnel Management.
The U.S. State Department employs foreign service officers, also known as the diplomatic corps, in their Washington D.C. offices and abroad. See the LACS handout on the diplomatic corps for more information.
USAID (United States Agency for International Development)
USAID has been around since 1962 and is the federal government’s main arm for international development. They offer paid and non-paid internships for graduate students.
Read the profile of an international development intern 
The Peace Corps is a well-known program that places people who have little experience in international development into two-year appointments in challenging living situations abroad. LACS provides a handout about the program and how to apply for it. For post-academics, you should know that the Peace Corps hires people of all ages, not just recent college graduates. Experience is particularly needed in these areas: agriculture, education, forestry, health, engineering, skilled trades, business, the environment, urban planning, youth development, English teaching for commerce and technology.
LACS guide on Peace Corps
Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC)
The Millenium Challenge Corporation was formed in 2004 by Congress, and focuses on alleviation of global poverty. The MCC partners with countries that apply to its programs by identifying their own challenges in sustainable development and poverty. They offer jobs and summer internships.
Millenium Challenge Corporation Jobs
International Development Jobs in Non-governmental Organizations
There are literally thousands of NGOs involved with international development. The term “non-governmental organization” was coined by the UN and is a subset of nonprofit organizations, though not all nonprofits are NGOs (particularly nonprofits that work exclusively within the U.S.).
Directory of development organizations - over 7,000, divided by region
Idealist.org - for jobs and volunteer opportunities at nonprofits, both domestic and international
International Development Jobs in Inter-governmental Organizations
This sector of organizations exists at the international level and includes institutions that are neither government, nonprofit, or business. Perhaps the most familiar example is the United Nations, but positions are also available at the World Bank and others. See Columbia University’s handout for other institutions.
The United Nations (UN) includes 193 Member States and is best known for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance. The UN Development Programme is one of many programs and subsidiary bodies and focuses on crisis prevention, education, empowering women, building democracy, and other such goals.
The World Bank is an international financial institution whose mission is alleviating poverty, and provides loans to developing countries for capital programs. The World Bank’s Young Professionals Program is open to graduate students who are 32 years of age or younger, who have taken at least three years of graduate coursework, and who specialize in one of the following areas: economics, finance, education, public health, social sciences, engineering, urban planning, and natural resource management. Acceptance to the program is extremely competitive. Applications are accepted May 1st through June 30th.
- Visit the LACS library in FAC 18 to read more
- Browse web pages and job boards to learn about the variety of development jobs
- Attend a Peace Corps Coffee Talk, held every first and third Wednesday at Starbucks (504 W. 24th Street) from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., and talk to former Peace Corps volunteers
- Make sure your passport and vaccination records are current
Print and Web Resources
IMF’s Directory of Economic, Commodity and Development Organizations
“What is Development?” on Volunteering Options website
UC Berkeley's International Development Organizations Web Archive - a list of international development organizations. You can typically find job listings by going to “About Us,” “Careers,” Employment, etc.)
International Development Jobs and Consulting Opportunities
Devex - website providing networking opportunities for international development organizations and professionals, listings of recently launched projects, and job postings.
Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs handout on careers in international development
LACS Peace Corps handout
Foreign Policy Association’s Global Job Board
Institute of International Education
Hachmyer, Caitlin, ed. Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Guide to Global Volunteer Opportunities. 12th ed. Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2008. Print.
Eberts, Marjorie, and Margaret Gisler. Careers for Good Samaritans and Other Humanitarian Types. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
Plawin, Paul. Careers for Travel Buffs & Other Restless Types. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.
1. “What is Development?” on Volunteering Options website
2. United Nations Development Programme
3. Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler, Careers for Good Samaritans and Other Humanitarian Types, 3rd ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 41-43.
4. Paul Plawin, Careers for Travel Buffs & Other Restless Types, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 44.