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3 tips for launching a career in international development

If you’re interested in developing a social-impact career, there are very few straightforward paths to follow. This week, we’re sharing the advice and stories of a few people in various fields to help shine a light on the opportunities that exist in the social sector. Today, Asiyah Sharifi—a lawyer who focuses on gender justice and women’s entrepreneurship in Afghanistan—shares her tips for launching a career in international development.

Photo credit: United Nations - Geneva, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: United Nations – Geneva, Creative Commons/Flickr

When it comes to international development and human rights, we’re often drawn into the conversation by the magnitude of the problems that pop up on our screens. Last year in particular, KONY 2012 and Half the Sky encouraged many people to spring into action by making donations or volunteering. Others became eager to build a career tackling social issues around the world. But how does one get started?

Asiyah Sharifi, a lawyer who focuses on gender justice and women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, has spent 12 years navigating the international development field, focusing on the rule of law: how laws are created and enforced in developing nations. Asiyah became interested in law while she was an intern at the International Rescue Committee, working with refugees, where she noticed people needed help with basic legal issues, like how to deal with difficult landlords. This revelation prompted her to pursue a career as a lawyer and work internationally, specifically in Afghanistan, her home country.

Her commitment to helping people leverage law to create better lives has led her to take on various roles in various sectors: from working with the Ministry of Finance in Afghanistan to help set up their legal department to her current role as head of legal and regulatory affairs at  Afghanistan Financial Service (AFS), a private company that provides legal and financial support to businesses and nonprofits operating in Afghanistan.

Do you want to launch a career in international development?

Here are Asiyah’s tips:

  • Learn a language (and other hard skills). “Language skills are critical. If you know what region you want to get into, pick up language skills. It’s a risk to hire someone internationally; it’s not enough to be eager. You have to have an added value and language is one of them. And what can you offer that’s not already in that country? This is where a technical skill is important too. Soft skills are more difficult to translate internationally. An engineer might have an easier time finding a work.”
  • Embrace the different sectors. “Internationally, it is recognized that the economy needs to move forward to generate jobs and growth. Because of this private sector work is key in addition to NGOs. So keep your mind open when looking for opportunities to work abroad.”
  • Do the unsexy work. “The work that one has to do overseas may not be interesting. A lot of the work I do is legal; a lot of writing, editing, a lot of paperwork. People looking to work internationally want to travel and go all over the country. But this is not a vacation. Be truly open and able to do the work that is needed. You can’t come and only do work that you think is interesting.”

Next steps

  • Ready to find an opportunity working internationally on development or human rights issues? Check out our job listings in Africa, Asia, Europe, and our websites in Spanish and French.

Asiyah Sharifi is a lawyer with experience in public, international and commercial law. She has worked in both international development and the law, with a specific focus on the rule of law and gender justice. Asiyah has an extensive professional network in Afghanistan and the United States, and is fluent in Dari and English. Learn more about Asiyah

7 Comments

  1. Would it be possible to also feature the dangers of working for NGO’s?
    I think it’d be a good sort of wake up call to idealists like us, too. =)

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