International Development

International Relations & Development, Human Rights

Photograph of Ending AIDS by 2030 Event

International Relations

This is an interdisciplinary profession focused on the relationships among governments, people, countries, and organizations, and is ideal for someone interested in world affairs and global challenges. People in this field find work in foreign service, policy, consulting, economic development, diplomacy, trade, security, and various other areas.

International Development

Broadly defined, this profession focuses on the development of capacity and implementation of long-term solutions to problems that individuals, communities, or governments have. At the core is the goal of reducing poverty and inequality. Work is often multi-disciplinary, including areas such as: the environment, innovation, technology, and food

Consider the following to help fine-tune your interests and consider how you will contribute to development work:

  • Sectors or issues you are passionate about.
  • Skills you would like to use.
  • Populations you’d like to work with.
  • Type of organization you’re interested in, e.g. nonprofit/non-government, government, multilateral.
  • Region of the world you might want to focus on.

There has been an increased focus on sustainable solutions and effective delivery of aid resulting in a growing need for innovative thinking, use of technology, and ability to monitor and evaluate work. 

Human Rights

Another broad and multidisciplinary field, human rights, is often defined as rights and freedoms inherent to all human beings, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been established as a roadmap to guarantee these rights. A career in human rights is ideal for someone interested in social justice. Work can include promoting, defending, and monitoring the rights of others. Individuals are needed to do things such as research, monitor, investigate, report, film, campaign, and negotiate. Sadly, vulnerable people can be found worldwide, so consider narrowing the causes you care about, as well as populations you’d like to help.

Finding Internships

To gain experience, test your interests, and ready yourself for the job market, use your time at school and during the summers to learn more about the field and build key skills. Keep in mind the importance of gaining regional and/or technical competence. Identify an organization whose mission you value, and check their website for opportunities, or be proactive and contact them. Organizations that arrange international opportunities are also plentiful. They typically charge a fee and provide a range of services that might also include: placement with a host organization, orientation, housing, in-country support, housing assistance, and development training. Evaluate these organizations carefully to determine whether there's a good match with the opportunity—as well as with the organization—and speak with several past participants about their experiences.

Finding Jobs

Since these are broad career fields, and oftentimes multidisciplinary, entry-level jobs can be found in many settings. Identify organizations whose mission you value and check their websites for entry-level opportunities, which can include a post-graduate internship or fellowship. Learn more about the recruiting structure of the organizations to help you plan your approach. Identify your interest areas and seek opportunities that will help you get experience and build skills. Foreign language ability, interpersonal skills, and cross-cultural competence are very important.

Global Opportunities

These career fields are inherently global. Opportunities can be found with an organization based in the U.S. that carries out their work abroad, an international organization based abroad, or an organization with international work in the U.S. Consider opportunities that will help you to get field and administrative experiences, based on your areas of interest. To learn more about options and opportunities, identify and attend relevant career fairs, events, and conferences. To learn more about specific topics or gain insight into a country or region of the world, attend the HKS International Development Conference, African Development Conference, or other relevant conferences.

Graduate and Professional Programs

While advanced education is often preferred or required to enter or progress in this field, it could be helpful to first gain postgraduate experience to help you to fine-tune your interests and goals. Increasingly, schools prefer experience, and you’ll be more prepared to identify the type of advanced degree you’d like to obtain. Professional school options are numerous! Deciding which program to pursue can be challenging. While you might consider a master’s degree in either international relations, development, or affairs, other degrees can allow you to focus on these topics as well. For instance, a master's of public administration (M.P.A.) can have an international development track or a master's in business administration (M.B.A.) can have a social enterprise focus. For a legal or social justice approach, a juris doctor (J.D.) or master’s in social justice could be helpful. A Ph.D. in economics could be helpful in addressing the more technical aspects of poverty alleviation. Another option is to pursue joint degrees.