Entering the field of humanitarian work can present many exciting and fulfilling career opportunities. There are many professional directions and paths that graduates can take, many of which are dependent upon the specific field of study and specializations undertaken. Careers can be made in variety of venues, from work in the field and in country offices to international non-governmental organization headquarters and consultancies. Though many degree programs are more generalized and offer flexibility in one’s future career path, others provide more specialized training and, as such, it’s important to have goals in mind and knowledge for how to successfully pursue them. Careers in humanitarian work can span many sectors, industries, and, of course, countries, if international work interests you.
Consultant or Mediator
Those who earn a degree in international or humanitarian law have a plethora of options when choosing a career path. Using your education and knowledge to act as a consultant/advisor or mediator to a large international organization is one of them. In this role, you will use your degree to handle disputes and advise the board on how to proceed with humanitarian responses or qualms with countries in which they intend to work. Furthermore, you may be called upon to assist the organization in dealing with their own government. In the United States, for example, a humanitarian lawyer may be asked to assist in dealing with various government bureaus and even Congress. Humanitarian lawyers can interpret laws and decisions by courts, assist in drafting and negotiating treaties, and advise their clients on how to handle conflicts. Salaries will depend entirely on the organization one chooses to work for, whether this be in the corporate world or for an INGO or NGO. Furthermore, some humanitarian lawyers work pro bono for beneficiaries, such as refugees and migrants, who are unable to find suitable assistance and defense.
Large international humanitarian organizations require award managers. While people located in the country offices where the programs are being applied are responsible for identifying the needs of the population, award managers are most often based in the headquarter offices of a Western country. Award managers act as the mediator and communicator between the country office staff and the donor. These managers are in charge of writing and editing project proposals, agreements, and requests for funding. They take these documents to the relevant donors, secure the funding, and monitor the progress of the project from afar, though they often make yearly visits to the project sites to make sure everything is being run as planned. For example, an award/project manager at a UK based INGO may be responsible for securing funding from UK AID or establishing partnerships with larger organizations, like UNICEF. This career path requires a degree in a relevant field, such as humanitarian aid, human rights, or international development, plus a demonstrated ability to manage projects and meet strict deadlines. The salary will depend entirely on seniority and the size of the company. In the United States, a project manager at a large NGO could make upwards of $40,000 per annum, while some postings in the UK list the salary as around 25,000 GBP.
This is an advanced position within an organization or it can be secured independently as a consultant. Becoming a technical advisor requires specialization and years of experience within a particular area of aid. For example, all INGOs will have technical advisors to develop programs in the following critical areas of humanitarian response: education, hunger and livelihoods, WASH, monitoring and evaluation, program development and quality, health, and psychosocial health. Because these are specialized, your education and previous experience must match the field. Someone with a degree in Public Health (and with years of experience) would be qualified to be a health programming technical advisor. To progress toward this career, young professionals should apply for coordinator or junior officers positions within their chosen sector. Pay for a technical advisor is very high for the humanitarian industry, starting around 40,000 GBP and becoming increasingly negotiable with age and experience. Technical advisors can work at an organizations headquarters or be deployed to the field to evaluate problems and provide programmatic solutions.
Project Officer in the Field
Getting field experience is the crème-de-la-creme of the humanitarian aid industry. Your opportunities will increase greatly if you have experience working in a region, especially if you remain there for years instead of responding to one disaster on a short-term basis. To become a project officer in a country office, you will certainly need a Bachelors related to the sector in which you hope to work, but a Masters degree is always preferred. Additionally, many organizations will require you to speak the language of the area. For example, most field positions in Western Africa will list fluency in French as a requirement. Pay for working in the field is not known to be very high, especially if you are directly employed by a local organization; you will receive a pay scale on par with nationals. However, the experience will allow you to progress upwards in your career much more quickly, possibly leading you to running a country office or returning to your home country with invaluable project implementation experience.