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Lessons for a Career in Humanitarian Aid

10 December 2012 at 10:25 am
Staff Reporter
A career in humanitarian aid and development can be fulfilling and rewarding and there are many opportunities within the sector, the Vocations in Aid conference has been told in Melbourne.

Staff Reporter | 10 December 2012 at 10:25 am


Lessons for a Career in Humanitarian Aid
10 December 2012 at 10:25 am

A career in humanitarian aid and development can be fulfilling and rewarding and there are many opportunities within the sector, the Vocations in Aid conference has been told in Melbourne.

From opportunities in disaster response to logistics deployments and volunteering, the one hundred plus delegates who attended the Mandala Foundation's Vocations in Aid conference heard that it is possible to break into the industry without specific experience in the humanitarian sector.

Keynote speaker Suzanne Edgecombe who is the director of corporate planning and reform at AusAID said she was "amazed" at the scale of career opportunities in the sector.

Edgecombe told the conference that prior to taking a role as director of humanitarian and emergency response with AusAID she had no international disaster or humanitarian response experience.

"But I could manage projects, I could communicate, I could solve problems and I was flexible," she said.

She said her manager at the time assured her that: "Aid, international development, humanitarian assistance can be learnt".

"It's knowledge and skills and diverse backgrounds that all contribute to effective aid outcomes," Edgecombe said.

Volunteering in developing countries was also a hot topic at the forum, where Australian Volunteers International's Karla Wesley told the crowd that moving into the international development space was a "leap of faith".

Wesley said that aid work is not just about a career. "It's a commitment… It's a lifestyle change," she said. "It literally is a new way of being in the world."

"One of the things about working in international development is that it's teaching you to read the world in a different way," Wesley said.

Prospective humanitarian workers and volunteers heard real life accounts from aid workers and volunteers with varied experiences of working in the 'field'.

One-time GAP year volunteer and now marketing officer for Lattitude said that while she found her volunteering experience teaching English in Russia "challenging", the challenges were outweighed by the new experiences volunteering brought her.

"Seeing a new culture was an amazing opportunity and the friendships I made I still have now," she said.

Engineers Without Borders' Rasika Mohan told the conference that halfway through her masters degree in international development she made the decision to spend time gaining professional experience in the field.

"I started looking around for organisations that would leverage off my professional competencies. I wanted something that would leverage my skills but at the same time expand my experiences," she said.

Mohan told the would-be aid workers to be clear about what they want from the humanitarian experience.

"Look for organisations which you think you are aligned with. Visit their offices if you can.

"In saying that, be like water; be open to new experiences because when you get on the ground you might have to throw all your expectations out the window," she cautioned.

Recruitment specialists from international aid organisations advised the conference on how best to gain employment within an aid organisation.

World Vision International's Les O'Donnell said that it is important potential candidates differentiate what attracts them to not only the work but the organisation they are applying through.

He said that opportunities in the sector tend to be specialised in nature given that World Vision tries to employ nationals as staff in the countries in which they work.

O'Donnell told delegates that recruitment is increasingly shifting to online mediums.

"If you don't have a LinkedIn profile – get one," he said. "Whether it’s Twitter or LinkedIn, we are always seeking new ways to recruit the best candidates."

International Women's Development Agency's Sally Horne said that the key attributes required for aid work are: the ability to build trust and relationships, a collaborative approach, speaking another language, communications and the ability to analyse complex social issues.

Delegates at Vocations in Aid were encouraged to visit the many agency exhibitions at the conference, where they could ask questions about the type of work available, recruitment, education and courses available and the skill-sets needed to gain employment within the sector.

The Mandala Foundation runs the Vocations in Aid Conference annually in December – see

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