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March 10, 2009


Development work and organisations

From large development organisations and banks, such as the IMF and the World Bank, funding giant multi-decade projects, to small NGOs organising grassroots projects, to volunteer agencies providing everything from fence builders to business consultants, global development has become a huge industry. Development is a broad term, but the following groups of organisations are generally included under this umbrella:

  • Public multinationals: Huge organisations like the United Nations, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB)
  • Multinational NGOs: Large non-government organisations such as Amnesty International, CARE, Engineers Without Borders, Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • Smaller NGOs: Hundreds of locally based, often grassroots organisations devoted often to one particular issue or problem, be it women's health, micro-finance or political education
  • Volunteer organisations: Organisations that rely on volunteers, though they may pay a stipend

There are also private companies involved in development work and branches of private companies that work as a nonprofit on development-related issues. For example, many of the major consulting and tax consulting companies have arms dedicated to the issues of development, privatization and economic development. Their clients are mainly governments and the public multinationals.

There is a wide range of opportunities under the "development" umbrella, and just as wide of a variety of people working in this industry. Development gurus range from top-level senior executives to junior volunteers straight out of university. Opportunities run from micro-finance to building bridges, from environmental work to helping democracy take hold in remote corners of the world. Many development organisations focus on economic development and financial skills. While there are certainly still opportunities to help villagers build houses, more and more opportunities focus on small business development, nurturing local entrepreneurship and providing sustainable business skills.

Volunteering for development work

Volunteering is often the first step many people take to get involved in development work, though volunteering can be an attractive option even if you don't envision a long-term career in this field. Volunteering, either on a long-term or short-term basis, is a great way to experience another culture while making a difference.

There are thousands of volunteer opportunities out there, offering you the chance to get involved in whatever your particular passion or geographic preference is. One of the longest-established organisations is Australian Volunteers International, but there are numerous other organisations 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 spending out of pocket either. Some programs will cover airfare and housing.

A number of volunteer opportunities require you to pay the organisation for the opportunity to volunteer. Think seriously about these types of opportunities, especially for "volunteer" programs for teaching English. While it is great to have the support these programs offer, you could easily be paid to do the same work.


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