How to get a job in International Development

The results of a national level report lead by CASID and CCUPIDS on the Career Paths of International Development Studies Graduates are now available. This report addresses questions about how International Development Studies education in Canada impacts on the careers of graduates and their pathways from university into the workforce.

Finding a job after graduation can be a challenge in these difficult times of government and NGO cutbacks. As a result, Robert David, one of our professors with a long experience as a development practitioner, put together his recommendations on how to land a job in development. See information below the video.

  1. Gain work experience and expand your network of contacts here and abroad.
  2. Obtain a stable job at a decent salary in your preferred area of interest.

The following are possible ways of building valuable experience and finding work in the field of international development, including in humanitarian assistance. This document starts with suggestions for those with little or no prior experience in job searching, such as using the university’s services, volunteering and doing internships. It then discusses specializing, creating your own job, and finding work abroad, and provides many internet links containing information on entry-level or more senior positions. Note that many of the sites in this document include information on more than one option (ex. volunteering, internships, and career opportunities), so it is recommended to browse through all of them. The list is not exhaustive; there are other means and organizations (especially smaller ones) that are not included here. If you know of or discover other possibilities that should be included, please let me know at Good luck!

Use University of Ottawa services
Work as a volunteer

Doing volunteer work here or abroad is one of the best ways of gaining experience, making contacts, showing your capabilities and motivation, and getting hired on contract work, or in a temporary or permanent position. Browse local NGO Web sites whose names appear on this page or in one of the sites listed below.

There are a number of organizations or even companies that organize voluntary internships abroad for a number of weeks or months. The catch is you have to raise funds or pay for the internship yourself! Here are a couple of suggestions:

Listed below are some of the larger organizations in Canada and the UN. Other developed countries have similar programs for their nationals, should you have another citizenship.

Do an internship

Pursue your studies by specializing in a particular field: humanitarian assistance (logistics, management), project/program management, public administration, international affairs, healthcare, environmental stewardship, alternative energies, institutional fundraising, accounting, administration, international law or some other area (preferably in high demand).

Go find work abroad

You have knowledge and abilities that many organizations look for: international language skills (English, French, Spanish, etc.); writing (concept papers and project proposals, communications, Web site content, etc.); research; project management, administration and finance, as well as familiarity with a certain number of funders (CIDA, NGOs, foundations, etc.), among others. And you can propose ideas (see “Create your own job” below).

Choose a country/region that interests you, preferably one where there is a lot of international assistance (ex. Haiti, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, certain African countries, Bangladesh, West Bank and Gaza). Make inquiries with the national and international organizations working there, and try to find a paid or volunteer position.

Create your own job

It is sometimes possible to propose to an NGO a project in development education or even a project in a DC (perhaps with a partner organization you know) and then work without compensation to obtain one or more financial contributions from different sources. If you get the funds, then the NGO hires you for the duration of the project to implement the project. All of it under their corporate name, supervision and approval processes, hopefully working in their office.

Another riskier but perhaps more satisfying proposition is to go it alone. You find your own funding, alone or with others. Once you’ve secured funding, you can either propose to collaborate with an NGO or continue on your own, in which case you may need to legally register your group as a charity, or incorporate, as needed.

Later, when you have gained more experience, you could work as a private consultant and try to obtain contracts. In this case, it is useful to have a clear skill-set relevant to development (such as project planning and management, facilitation skills, evaluation skills, or technical skills like water management, engineering, health provision, business management)

Work for a Canadian NGO
Work in the Canadian government, federal agencies or crown corporations

(internships and jobs; best to talk to someone there to find out the possibilities)

See also  international  sections  of  other  govt  departments  such  as  Finance,  Human  Resources, Environment, etc., to learn of the possibilities since many are all involved in some international work.


Work in a foreign organization
Work for a humanitarian NGO

(volunteers, internships, jobs. Some of the larger organizations are listed below, but there are many small and medium-size organizations working in this area)

Other possibilities

There are many other avenues that you could pursue in development or international affairs. Here are just a few of them:

  • There are many jobs in related fields that have a strong international component, such as the environment (see ECO Canada), human rights (ex. Ligue des droits et libertés, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, OSCE), labour (ex. Canadian Labour Congress and ILO), universities & colleges (Canadian Bureau for International Education), health (ex. Worldwide AIDS Coalition or on malaria, polio, leprosy, etc.), journalism (ex. PEN International) or in other fields of endeavour.
  • Large and small foundations sometimes support international projects or work exclusively on international issues (ex. One Drop Fdn, Ford Fdn, Bill & Melinda Gates Fdn, George Soros Fdn, etc.)
  • There are literally hundreds of independent or university-linked research centres that study developmental and international issues where you could assist researchers, do original research or policy analysis (for internships or jobs), in Canada (SIDGS, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Institute of International Affairs, CD Howe Institute, Conference Board of Canada, Institute for Research on Public Policy, Institut québécois des hautes études internationales, Munk School of Global Affairs, etc.) or abroad (Council on Foreign Relations, Institut des relations internationales et stratégiques, International Crisis Group, International Institute for Strategic Studies, etc.)
  • Work for a professor who has obtained a contract to assist a foreign government, organization or company in development, healthcare, education, women’s issues, management, economics, agriculture, finance, conflict management, peacebuilding, or in some other field of endeavour.
  • Work in the private sector as a consultant (ex. Universalia), or for other companies that bid for GAC and other government work related to international development (see MERX at and type in “GAC” in “Search” box for their present call for tenders. You may be able to find out who might be bidding for them and offer your services early in the process).

Good luck in your job search!

Alumni Profiles

Many of our graduates have found exiting opportunities in international organizations, government and non-governmental organizations.  Here, they describe their jobs and offer their insights into how to find a job in international development.

Sepideh Soltaninia

Sepideh Soltaninia

Graduated 2013, Honours BA in Development and Globalization (Co-op option)

March 2011 was a telling month in Syria. The events of that month - and those of the months and years that have followed - have defined a generation, not only in the Middle East, but across communities around the world.  In March 2011, I had only reached the halfway point of my education at the University of Ottawa. Much of that time had been spent outside of campus, doing field research in South Africa, at co-op terms in Public Safety Canada and CIDA, in the bustling classrooms of Bangladesh’s BRAC University and, that spring, in Paris.

Read more from Sepideh

Shantelle Binette

Graduated 2014, Honours BA in Development and Globalization
Ginette Gautreau

I am currently working with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as a Network Capacity Builder for partner organizations in Rwanda. In that capacity, I’m helping to strengthen the planning, reporting, monitoring and evaluation capacities of five organizations in Rwanda who are collaborating on a major food security/sustainable agriculture project funded by MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. That work includes gathering input from stakeholders (participants, farmers, extension workers) to incorporate into the planning for the next phase of the project, and helping to design a monitoring system to capture and reflect all that is happening.

Read more from Shantelle

Anca Paducel

Anca H. Paducel

Graduated 2011, Honours BA in Development and Globalization (Co-op option)

In 2011, I graduated from the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Development and Globalization (CO-OP). That same year, just shortly after my graduation, I moved to Geneva (Switzerland) to pursue a Masters in International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, where I continued on with a Ph.D. in the same discipline. In September 2017, I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis, which evaluates, using a randomized field experiment, whether and how intergroup encounters may affect competitive victimhood beliefs that are a source of ongoing armed conflict and an impediment to intergroup reconciliation. The research was carried out as part of a conflict prevention project entitled, “Bumbatira Amahoro – Keeping the Peace: Engaging Youth Leaders to Prevent Conflict in Burundi”, that was implemented around the 2015 elections in Burundi.[1] Just as I was completing the Ph.D., I was presented with the rare opportunity to join the monitoring and evaluation team of the Office of the Inspector General at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva as an Associate Evaluation Officer, where I continue to work today.

Read more from Anca


Ginette Gautreau

Ginette Gautreau

Graduated 2014, MA in Globalization and Development (Co-op option)

Like most students, when I was about to wrap up my MA degree, I started getting worried about my job prospects with every passing month (or maybe that’s just me, I am an obsessive planner!). I decided as I began writing my thesis in third year that I would start keeping an eye on job postings and apply here and there for those that appealed to me. I had completed all my coursework, and two co-op placements with DFATD and I wanted to set myself up for a smooth transition into my career.  The door opened for me in the form of an office manager position with the Humanitarian Coalition.

Read more from Ginette

Sarah D'Aoust

Sarah D'Aoust

Graduated 2012, MA in Globalization and Development; 2009 Honours BA in Development and Globalization (Co-op option)

When I decided to pursue my studies in International Development at the University of Ottawa I wasn’t sure where I would end up! I hoped that eventually I would land a job that was related to my field of study, where I could have a tangible, positive impact. After undergrad, the job prospects weren’t very promising, so I thought it would be a perfect time to do my MA. I was looking forward to learning more about development, and doing some original research of my own.

Read more from Sarah

Back to top