International Non-Government Organisations, or iNGOs, are non-profit groups that operate independently of a government. The primary purpose of an iNGO is to provide developmental aid and relief to developing countries, and their work often focuses on one of two areas:
- advocacy – where the focus is to defend or promote a specific cause and seek to influence public policy organisations or;
- operational – where the focus is on the design and execution of development projects.
Refine your interest
The sector offers a wide range of opportunities spanning many areas of specialism as well as numerous job roles and functions. As the first step of planning your career, it is important to refine your interest. Consider what kind of work you would like to do, think about where your values and interests lie, and define which skills you can bring to an organisation.
Some things to think about include the pros and cons of working within a larger well-known iNGO compared to a smaller organisation. Are you primarily motivated to focus on a thematic area (e.g. sexual health, education, sanitation) or region? Consider the organisation’s funding (is it private, public, or a mixture of both?). Does the organisation have a focus on one thematic area (e.g. WaterAid) or span multiple (e.g. Plan International)?
Each setting will offer different opportunities, where you will thrive best might also come down to personal preference of working environment. Understanding this will help you identify and target iNGOs whose work and aims connect with your own.
Identify necessary experience
Once you have established an area of interest you can begin to think about the experience you may need. The majority of roles will often require relevant experience, and as a beginner you can gain this in a range of ways.
Volunteering is an unspoken essential in the field of international development and allows you to both gain valuable experience and demonstrate your interest.
You could consider volunteering for a related cause or volunteering overseas in a region of interest. However, your experience doesn’t need to be international; advice from alumni working in the field is not to overlook the benefits of gaining work experience in local NGO settings. You will still gain relevant skills and show your interest in working within the not-for-profit sector. As well as this, doing an internship or part-time work in a relevant role, function or even trusteeship for a charity can help you gain valuable and relevant experience.
iNGOs typically don’t recruit in the same way as other large organisations – you won’t tend to see them running large recruitment drives or campaigns.
Networking is therefore very useful in this sector as you may find an entry point through someone within an iNGO or someone that is working in an area or location you’re interested in. Spend time researching your organisations of interest, learn about their internal team structures and keep an eye out for entry-level roles to see what types of candidates they usually seek. Speak to current employees, read their blogs and follow their social media platforms to keep up to date with their work. Doing this in the months leading up to making your applications will give you plenty of time to learn and pick up information.
Check specialist sites
While NGOs often advertise roles on general job boards, the most effective way to find open positions is by checking the organisation’s own website and jobs boards that target international development jobs such as:
Taking the next steps
A common question asked by students is whether they should take their first job in a different area of the organisation. For example, whether a student interested in working in policy should start in an administrative role within their target organisation. iNGOs operate in the same way as any other business – this means you could be working in a range of positions including administration, policy development, donor relations, or supporting HR functions. Alumni working in the sector advise that this can be a good way to get into the organisation, learn the inner functions and hear about internal recruitment. If you decide to take this route ensure you create a plan about how you’ll move across, network to keep up to date on any new positions and don’t lose your focus!
When writing your applications, try to scrutinise your interest in the sector and the organisation. It’s vital to move beyond wanting to help or contribute and important to be critically engaged with issues facing the sector or work of the organisation. Follow relevant blogs and websites to help you develop your understanding of the sector, for example, LSE’s Professor in Practice, Duncan Green’s blog and Bond.