Carving my Career in Development: 5 Insights from working with the UNDP

Contrary to popular belief, your undergraduate degree does not limit you to your field of study. As someone who completed a B.Comm. in Human Resource Management at the University of Guelph and is now working at UNICEF Canada, it has been my personal experience that it is a combination of our passion, experiences, and education that steer our career paths.

One of the most pivotal moments in my career was the time I spent in the field with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kosovo. As someone who hadn’t taken a single international development course during my undergrad, my time in the field helped me identify my strengths, an academic path forward, and ultimately helped me solidify a career in the field of development. Even if you don’t think the field is the place for you, getting out of your comfort zone to work in the field has value, and here is why:

GAIN PERSPECTIVE. The level of experience and exposure you gain from working in the field is something you cannot learn in a classroom. You are not only learning about issues that plague a society, you are living within that society and come face to face with these issues on a daily basis. For some, it can make your work more meaningful because there is a very clear link between your work and its impact. For others, it can be challenging to cope with the level of poverty you are often surrounded by.

LEARN TO ADAPT. You will likely be working in the developing world, meaning it is almost guaranteed that things will not run as smoothly as you are used to. Learning how to go with the flow and adapt quickly is a skill that will help you succeed in any fast-paced environment. This applies to both work and personal aspects of spending time in the field.  

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES. Field offices often have a tight budget, meaning it is not uncommon to find team members working long hours to balance multiple roles. This however can be extremely beneficial to someone who is early in his or her career, as it presents an opportunity to take initiative and stand out amongst your peers. In these environments, you may be able to gain experience beyond your job description and amplify the skills you develop.

FIND A MENTOR. If you are lucky, you will be able to gain a mentor while working in the field. Having someone who can guide you and provide insight based on his or her own experiences can be extremely valuable as you move forward with your career.

IS IT THE RIGHT FIT? Working in the field isn’t for everyone, however sometimes the only way to figure this out by committing to time in the field. Along with learning if the field is a good fit or not, you will also gain knowledge of the practicalities of working in this sector and may be exposed to different areas of development which you can continue to pursue at home.       

Zakiya Pirani holds a a B.Comm. in Human Resource Management at the University of Guelph. She received a Masters in International Migration from the Brussels School of International Studies at the University of Kent, where her research focused on the integration and resettlement of newcomer youth into Canadian society. She has worked and consulted for several NGOs, and currently works at UNICEF Canada in Community Engagement.