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What are Some of the Different Routes into Development Work?

Written by LIDC

November 30, 2017

In November 2017 London International Development Centre held a networking and careers event geared toward students interested in beginning careers in the development field. Held at Queen Mary, University of London, five panellists spoke about the different routes they took into the development field. The career paths were varied, from DFID graduate scheme to moving abroad, but each speaker was willing to share their thoughts and insights into a field where direction is not always clear and opportunities for advancement are elusive.

Each speaker had graduated within the last seven years and spoke in depth about the benefits, challenges and nuances to a career in development work in areas ranging from academia and NGOs to the private sector, social enterprise and corporate trust funds.

The five panellists were:

Anjuli Borgonha: Communications Officer at London International Development Centre (Moved overseas and volunteered)

Bradley Heslop: Co-founder & Director at WSV (Trade not Aid- set up a social enterprise)

Sarah Marks: Digital Health Strategies Specialist at Malaria Consortium (DFID Graduate scheme)

Oli Bowler: Consultant at The Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (Career Change)

Emma Cowan: Girls Education Challenge Fund (Sierra Leone), Programme Manager at Plan UK

Read below some of the key insights from the event!

Getting your career started

  • Look for work abroad, whilst the experiences of the panellists differed in many ways, they all found their passion for development whilst abroad as they each knew that after transformative experiences in the developing world that they would like to continue to pursue careers in development.
  • Take advantage of volunteer opportunities, no matter what they are. Volunteering in your community or abroad can open doors to networks of people in the development community and give you valuable experience.
  • Find alternative routes, if you are serious about a job in development, look for opportunities outside large NGOs. Consider finding other ways into development such as academia .


  • Look everywhere, whilst it is easy to check websites like, or, always keep an eye out for opportunities from your contacts, and other sources such as Facebook and LinkedIn groups
  • Be patient, it can take time to find your ideal job in development. Often you will have to start in roles that may not be your ideal but can still open doors.
  • Be persistent, often you’ll have to be persistent with an organization, keep making them aware of your interest, and when a position opens you may be on the recruiters mind.
  • Make your own work, if you are able to find avenues of funding you can build your own organization from the ground up.
  • Sell yourself, always make your transferable skills prominent in your job applications. Even if you haven’t had lots of experience in a niche you want to excel in, make the most of the experience you already have.

Some parting words of wisdom from the panellists

  • Development work is not always what its ‘cracked-up’ to be, extensive travel can wear down people and living nomadically can put stress on family and friendships.
  • Take advantage of contacts, know who the players are in the field you want to enter. Get mothers, emails, or at the very least try and reach out to them on LinkedIn.
  • Rejection will be inevitable; the trick is to cast a wide net. 
  • Be flexible, endemic in the development world is chronic lack of funding and an extremely competitive job market. Be willing and able to adapt and reframe.
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