Volunteering for Development Work
There are thousands of volunteer opportunities out there, offering you the chance to get involved in whatever your particular passion or geographic preference is. The most famous organization for Americans is the Peace Corps, but there are numerous other organizations and agencies that offer opportunities for committed volunteers.
Most volunteer assignments are just that: volunteer, meaning you won't be drawing a salary. In some cases, though, you may draw a stipend. A stipend is a living allowance to cover basic necessities, so that while you might not be saving any money, you won't be out of pocket either. Some programs will cover airfare and housing. When evaluating whether or not volunteering is feasible for you, consider loan-forgiveness -- many universities have loan-forgiveness programs for graduates who choose to work in the nonprofit sector.
Many volunteer opportunities require you to pay the organization for the opportunity to volunteer. Think seriously about these types of opportunities, especially for "volunteer" programs that are for teaching English. While it is great to have the support these programs offer, you could easily be paid for doing the same work.
Qualifications for Development Careers
Development careers can be extremely competitive, especially for entry-level graduates. Many professionals in the field, especially senior-level ones, are hired laterally from private enterprises and bring strong technical and financial skills to their positions. The more prestigious organizations, such as the IFC (International Finance Corporation), the ADB (Asian Development Bank) or the World Bank, are almost impossible to break into except in very low level, clerical positions. For example, the IFC regularly receives more than 10,000 applicants every year for its two-year Young Professionals program (about 20 are eventually accepted). Being hired by the World Bank out of college requires a degree from a top university as well as excellent connections.
A notch down from the large international development and aid banks are a large number of NGOs and smaller government affiliates. The emphasis for these organizations, which generally keep very lean administrative costs, is to get as much bang for the buck as possible. They are looking for superior technical skills and individuals who can bring as much as possible to the organization. A commitment to, and passion for, human development is also crucial.
If you are looking to enter development, the easiest entrie is via volunteering. While some programs may be competitive, the selection process for voluntary assignments, not surprisingly, is nowhere near as competitive as for paid positions. The Peace Corps has one of the most rigorous selection processes. It can take up to 12 months after the initial application to be accepted into the program.
What do volunteer agencies look for when they place volunteers? Above all, commitment and stamina. For many volunteer positions, job experience and academic accomplishments are less important than a dedication and a passion for what you are about to do. Remember that even though you may be footing the bill for some of your travel and living expenses with various programs, you still represent an investment for a nonprofit organization. They will want to make sure you don't leave before the end of the agreed upon term.