In this blog we look at the international development consulting sector, including the types of roles you might find and possible entry routes.
But first, let’s start with a couple of questions – it is really, really valuable to reflect on: why do you want to work in this area? What exactly do you want to do in it?
Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers right now but keep it in mind as you read on and begin to explore working in the sector.
International development consulting is a diverse area in terms of the organisations and work delivered. There is no escaping the fact it can be highly competitive, so knowing your true motivations early on will help a lot as you begin to forge a path. Now is the time to do that research, think about your existing skills and those you might need to develop.
International development consulting, an overview…
In summary, international development consulting organisations work in the field of international development, where they advise and support governments, international agencies, non-profits, or corporations on specific projects.
There are a mix of specialist consultancies, such as IMC and Dalberg, and large management consultancies such as PwC which operate in this area. Devex.com is a great resource for finding out more about the key players, and you can browse a worldwide list of development consulting firms on the Better World Info website.
Breaking this down a little further, development consultancies bid for work from government aid agencies. Previously, this was the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK, which has now been replaced by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Given this is a fairly recent change, we are yet to see how this will impact work with development consulting firms. USAID and EU Aid are other examples. Development consultancies also bid for work from international organisations such as the World Bank. Charities, NGOs and foundations also work closely with development consultancy firms to deliver their projects in the field, as do multinational firms such as Vodafone, Unilever and Mars.
So, the international development consulting industry is composed of for-profit firms, non-profits, hybrid models, and various multinational institutions.
A closer look at the work involved
Common areas of work include: Project management; funding; accounting and finance; logistics; procurement; HR and recruitment; communications; law
Areas of specialism include: Environment; climate and sustainability; knowledge management; disaster risk reduction; economics and finance; education; engineering; inclusive growth; monitoring and evaluation; social development; trade and investment; governance and policy; health
Work is project-based and you will often run multiple projects simultaneously. You may find that those working in the sector have a mix of public and private sector experience. And of course, travel can be very likely for many roles.
From speaking to people within the sector, we know that the following are just some of the key attributes and skills that catch an employer’s attention: strong teamwork and communication; business acumen; creativity; resourcefulness; persistence and resilience; sensitivity to the issues you may be working to support. Often, certain technical skills will be required (or the willingness to develop them) as well as language skills.
Where to find the right experience
Explore the various careers events, public lecture series and departmental activity coming up at LSE.
Undertaking volunteering and internships with NGOs can help build relevant knowledge and skills. Fieldwork or overseas experience can also be incredibly valuable in helping you understand the context and issues, which could be something to explore in the future.
As we’ve mentioned, international development consulting is a competitive field and sometimes it’s a case of exploring different routes into consulting, which may include a different role before reaching your chosen destination of a particular firm.
So how can you build the relevant skills and experience that a consulting firm is looking for? Consider the various players in the field which might offer a way to gain experience or to develop a specific functional skill or expertise. If you have previous relevant experience, consider whether this can help you shape your route into the sector.
Keeping up to date
Do your research into the various development consulting firms. Check the websites of those you are interested in. Follow latest recruitment news on LinkedIn and Twitter – we know, for example, that Adam Smith have used Twitter in the past to share recruitment news. Timelines vary for each firm, some have a graduate scheme, others recruit at different times of the year. It can also be worth making speculative applications.
Watch the news and stay up to date with the political situation and what major donors are doing, what the key issues affecting the sector are and so on. At a recent alumni event covering International Development more generally, we heard our guests sharing that we might see more partnerships, social enterprises and entrepreneurship in the international development space over the next decade – so think about the skills you can offer and how you can be a part of that picture!
As we mentioned above, considering why you are interested in the sector and what you would like to do is much more valuable than a generic interest in development. Understanding the different jobs and where you fit in will be crucial to your success. Reach out to people working in the sector too, like LSE alumni – most people want to help!