Careers in International Development

The Career Panel took place on Thursday March 30th.

John Heller
Deputy Director of the Synergos Institute’s Multi-Stakeholder
Partnership Building program 
Synergos Institute

Synergos is a 20 year old non-profit organization dedicated to
decreasing poverty and increasing equity in developing countries. The
Institute works in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Its main approaches
involve the creation and strengthening of philanthropic organizations in
developing countries, the engagement of global philanthropists, and the
building of large scale partnerships between government, business, and
civil society.

Prior to joining Synergos, Heller worked for three years with the Council on International Educational Exchange, where he organized a series of faculty enrichment seminars in twelve countries. He previously served as a P{eace Corps Volunteer in rural Thailand. Heller has completed numerous assignments as a cross-cultural trainer, reparing business executiWomen’s World Banking, Office.com and the Open Society Institute. For years as the Marketing Director of a commercial real lestate firm complement Heller’s non-profit experience. Heller, who speaks Thai and Spanish, holds a BA in sociology from Haverford College and an MA in International Affairs from CU.

He says:

7 principles

I. Know what you want to do. Have clarity of intention. You don’t have to know this right away – take time to figure out what you want to do, talk to people, and then once you have honed in on your passion, do not get distracted away from it.
II. It may take a year to get the right job, but don’t freak out! Post SIPA, I did varied consulting work for about 9 months, and worked my way into Synergos, which I am really happy about.
III. Its all about relationships: every job I’ve ever gotten has been through a contact. That’s not to say that every job must have a personal connection, but its extremely important to meet and network with people.
IV. Focus on life choices and life happiness. Envisage an environment that makes you happy; things like what you wear to work, who inspires you, and your relationship with your boss will play a more important role than you think, in making you want to go to work each day.
V. Be uncommonly perceptive to opportunity. Every job you have, as short-term consultant, an extra research aid, an administrative assistant, is an opportunity to get more involved and get one more foot through the door. Pay attention to the needs of your employers, follow up on potential leads.
VI. When applying for a job, meet the needs of the employer. How does your experience fit their requirements? In your cover letter, don’t talk about the classes you’ve taken, talk about how class xyz will specifically help you tackle a particular issue that the organization you’re applying to, deals with.
VII. Know your own value, when negotiating jobs. Do research, know the market, salary ranges, etc. Just because you are the one looking for a job doesn’t mean that you can’t have a say in how your value is assessed. You are probably the harshest judge of yourself, so do objective research.

Katarina Holm-DiDio
Staff Development Officer 
United Nations – Secretariat

Katarina currently works as Staff Development Officer at the UN
Secretariat. Her responsibilities include providing career advice to UN
staff, development, and facilitation of career development workshops,
and managing global reassignment programmes for UN staff. Katarina joined the UN Secretariat Staffing Service in2003 through the National Competitive Recruitment Exam (NCE) as a Human Resources Officer working closely with departments on their recruiting and staffing needs. Prior to joining the UN she worked as the Assistant Director at the Office of Career Services at SIPA / CU, where she managed the internship program and taught professional development workshops. She has a Masters Degree in Social Sciences.

She says:

• Work with people who interest YOU!
• Connect with CU alumni at the UN (or wherever you want to end up).
• Be an intern wherever and whenever you can.
• If your ultimate goal is a big organization like the UN, gain work experience at smaller organizations that might be easier to get into as inexperienced students. There you can enhance your area expertise, get your name out there, and fork out your own path to the UN.

Kristen Laursen
Senior Program Director for Asia and New Initiatives
Episcopal Relief and Development

Kirsten M. Laursen is Senior Program Director at Episcopal Relief and
Development (ER-D) which is the humanitarian arm of the Episcopal Church
in the US. ER-D emphasizes community based programs focused on food
security and health. She has worked for both church-based and secular
international development organizations for more than 20 years. Laursen holds a BA from Georgetown School of Foreign Service and a Masters in Anthropology and Education from Teachers College. She has been involved with development programs in 24 countries around the world, with most of her experience being in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. Previous positions include Deputy Director of an ecumenical development organization, and Director of Training and Community Education for Helen Keller International. A specialist in education and training, she has developed adult training and learning models for women’s reproductive health programs, behavior change and communication strategies. Laursen has also worked on international campaigns to eradicate trachoma, river blindness and vitamin A deficiency; with much of this work done in collaboration with the WHO and UNICEF. She coordinates the tsunami response program for ER-D in India and Sri Lanka, and is also working on a long term earthquake rehab program in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

She says:

I wanted to be an interpreter → I was really into Soviet Studies → I took one African class → I was hooked → Now I pursue social justice issues!

• Define international development for yourself. Know your passion, and bring it out clearly in conversation, for example when you’re networking.
Don’t be linear in your studies, work and play outside the box: its very helpful to have something quirky on your resume!
• I believe its crucial to work in a country other than where you grew up.
• Areas of potential interest and worthwhile pursuit: research, advocacy, policy, disaster response, academia, public-private sector partnerships. And you can become more involved in these without necessarily doing the Peace Corps!
• I believe that public-private sector partnerships are especially important, since NGOs by themselves have very limited capacity. We need more social entrepreneurship!
• At an understaffed company, you can create a job for yourself, if you’re confident, capable and self-assured and content enough. An organization that doesn’t have internship positions might just open one up for you, if you can effectively convince them of their need for an extra pair of hands, and your ability to rise to the task!

Dan Lipka
Director of Special Programs
Westchester Children’s Association

Dan Lipka currently acts as Director of Special Programs at the
Westchester Children’s Association (WCA). Before joining WCA, Dan Lipka
spent four years managing the domestic grants network for the
International Rescue Committee’s Resettlement Division. Prior to the IRC, Dan worked as a political and corporate Analyst for the worldwide strategic market research firm Penn, Schoen, and Berland. Dan has also worked as a Legislative Coordinator for Stateside Associates in Arlington, VA and as a Legislative Aide for former NY Assemblywoman Naomi Matasow.

Dan received his BA from SUNY-Albany and recently received his Executive Master of Public Administration from CU’s SIPA.

He says:
• Remember that traveling overseas requires family compromises
• I got into IRC because they needed a writer, and my technical skills were in writing
• Peace Corps is good for discovering your skills if you’re yet unsure about what you you’re good at / what you want to do. Then you can take that expertise, and that awareness of your expertise (which translates into confidence) to other organizations, like the IRC, as fieldwork under your belt.
• Do your research, always know what you’re getting involved in.
• Bigger organizations might not be as fluid in terms of creating new positions just for you.
• International development is a growing field, so there’s more competition, expertise and exposure…but not more money!
Often, you’ll be overqualified and underpaid, since NGOs and other non profits do not make a lot of money and are generally understaffed. But the point, anyway, is to use the money your organization makes for service provision wherever it is needed, not so much on staff salaries. Remember this nonprofit sector mindset!
• Keep your contacts as you move through jobs.
• Use your CU degree – talk to professors, colleagues and interns for holistic and specific knowledge of a technical area, a region, an organization, a subject field.

Ignacio Saez-Benito
Project Officer, Early Warning
Office of Emergency Programmes
UNICEF New York

Ignacio Saez-Benito works as Early Warning Project Officer with UNICEF’s
Office of Emergency Operations in New York. Prior to his current responsibilities, he worked as Assistant Programme Coordinator with UNICEF in Chad and as Assistant Programme Officer with UNICEF’s Emergency Operations Center in NY. He was also seconded to UNICEF Paraguay to be acting Programme Coordinator for a month. Before that, he worked as a researcher with the Carter Center in Atlanta, and with Newsweek magazine in NY.

From 1995 – 1999, he worked as a Brussels-based EU and NATO correspondent for the Spanish media. In 2001 he graduated with a Master’s degree in Intl Affairs from SIPA. He also obtained a Master’s degree in Intl Politics at the Free University of Brussels, and studied journalism and political science in Spain and the US.

He says:

• Try to picture yourself 10 years after you graduate → identify what you want (and don’t want) in and by that time, and work towards that over those 10 years.
• Don’t be afraid to take risks. Its ok to turn down a “better” or more high paying job for one that seems more personable and fulfilling. Each time, ask: where will this job take me? What doors will it open, or close?
• Cultivate relationships!
• Don’t be intimidated by job references, descriptions, requirements. You’re the toughest judge of yourself, so don’t close doors without giving things a shot, first.

Moderator/Facilitator
Professor Jacqueline Klopp

Jacqueline Klopp is an Assistant Professor of International and Public
Affairs and is the interim Co-Director of the Program in Economic and
Political Development at the School of International and Public Affairs. Her research focuses on the intersection of development, democratization, violence and corruption. She is the author of articles for Africa Today, African Studies Review, African Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, and the International Peace Academy. She is currently working on “The Politics of Violence in Democratization” and a project on democratization, civil society and the internally displaced in Kenya. She received her BA from Harvard University in physics, and her PhD in political science from McGill University.

For more information, or questions, email Richard Kurz, Director, Graduate Student Career Development
Center for Career Education
Columbia University
2960 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
1.212.854.7195 (direct)
1.212.854.5640 (fax)

1 Comment »

  1. you can also get some career advise from your teacher or even from professionals ;;:


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