Aid Work: What Recruiters Really Look For

Submitted by Piero Calvi on November 7, 2006 - 10:47pm.

Some home truths

Many candidates interested in working in international development and emergency aid are convinced that finding a job in this sector is just a matter of knowing the right people inside organisations and getting recommendations from them. This is absolutely not the case. Many others think that if they get the right kind of education - a master's degree in a relevant subject, for instance - they they automatically qualify for a job as aid worker. This is not true either.

It's difficult to board a moving train, but once you're on, you can move easily from one car to another. That's what it's like in relief and development. The key can be summarised in one word: experience.


Experience rules

The extraordinary importance recruiters inside international organisations give to experience is also the reason why good education is not a guarantee of employment in the sector. It is not an exaggeration to say that, when considering a CV, a recruiter looks first a foremost (and almost exclusively) for experience: how long the candidate has been in the field, regardless of the specific positions. Then, and only then the recruiter considers what the candidate has been doing, what kind of organisations s/he has been working for, the job titles and so on. By and large, these two criteria "make or break" the success of an application. Education, especially for low to mid-level positions in the field, is much less important.

It is not difficult to see why recruiters are so obsessed with experience. Recruiting an international aid worker is a lengthy and expensive process, often carried out by organisations that are constantly "budget challenged". The last thing a recruiter wants to do is to go through the recruitment process and send the successful candidate to the field, just to have him/her returning home after a few weeks with some sort of psychological crisis, problems adapting to the new environment, or simply seriously frustrated.

Let's face it - aid work is not for everybody, and you need more than strong motivation and good qualifications. The recruitment officer has only one way to make sure that you are "the right stuff" and that is the fact that you have done this before, that you "survived" and that you had a good enough experience that you want to do this again.
This may sound very frustrating to those who have not yet boarded the train. How do I get the experience organisations ask of me if I can't get to work for the very organisations which can provide me with that experience?

Nonetheless, you must keep in mind that organisations do not succeed in meeting all their personnel needs and a large job market is there, constantly creating hundreds of vacancies. With solid motivation, you should not be discouraged: building the necessary experience is not impossible.

In a future article I intend to review the many possibilities offered in the field of unpaid voluntary work, which are an excellent way to prepare for future employment in this sector. A period of overseas volunteering is a great stepping stone for accessing: (a) semi-professional positions, meaning paid volunteer work offered by a great many organizations; and (b) professional positions, which specifically require previous experience in developing countries.
If you're after a field-based aid worker job, investing some USD 5,000 of your own finances to cover the expenses for a year of overseas volunteering is an incomparably better choice than investing the same amount or more in a Master's degree course.


About the Author

Piero Calvi-Parisetti works for the GIGnos Institute. He has written a comprehensive manual on job-hunting and working in relief and development. Written mainly with aspiring international aid workers in mind, it is called "Working in International Development and Emergency Aid". It costs USD 19.99 and is available at You can download the first part of the manual for free.

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Submitted by Mustiky (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 9:55am.

Hello Calvi,
I have to admit to all your points regards to the quest for recruiters seeking for experience candidate as there primary test mark in filling there job vacancies.

About the issue of investing in oversea volunteering with grassroots charities is quite the best option for newly graduates or intending/would be aid workers can do to seek for experience. This option can equip an individual as pontial condidate for incoming jobs within the field.

I guess it's worthwhile for one to read your book. Thats alot!!

Submitted by John Roche (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 12:27pm.

I think you should be clear about exactly what type of work within "overseas development" you are talking about. It is a diverse industry. For instance, to work in a government aid agency, or with World Bank, etc., you'd struggle to get a job without a masters degree - so i'd question your statement that it's better to spend a year volunteering than to pursue further study.

Submitted by Paul Currion on November 8, 2006 - 3:06pm.

John, I agree with you that you're unlikely to get a job with the World Bank without a master's degree.  However perhaps it should be mandatory for anybody working for the World Bank to have done at least one year's voluntary work in a grassroots organisations, in order to counter that organisation's tendency to approach problems from the top down?

Submitted by myraidgoups on November 9, 2006 - 1:44am.

I don't have a master's degree (or even a bachelor's degree, for that matter); neither had my former supervisor in UNICEF. However, my knowledge and experience have been sufficient to get "onboard the train" with various NGOs and a UN agency. Yes, it has been a struggle (and I am sufficiently fed up with the consequences to now pursue a Master's degree in international public health), but it is definitely not the case that not having a master's is an automatic disqualification.

Submitted by scubadiving on April 27, 2012 - 6:23pm.

Hi Myraidgroups,

I would like to know if you ever did your MA in international public health....and where you did it? (I also do not have a BA but know that a lot of universities nowadays accept people on their work experience...


Submitted by Nina Springle on November 8, 2006 - 1:47pm.


There are many pertinent points here that ring true. I have to say as a job seeker in the field of international development for the last couple of years, I am yet to find a way to board the train. I have spent many years in fact living in Africa, running my own business initally but later took a year out to volunteer for a grassroots community based organisation. This does not seem to have been enough.

As a result, I am currently undertaking a Masters degree. While this may not make me any more attractive to recruiters, in my opinion, it has enhanced my understanding of development and aid issues more than words can say and it should be questioned how culturally sensitive and appropriate Western workers can be without some training in this regard. The potential to do more harm than good is ever present and with the benefit of hindsight, I believe we have an obligation to humanity not to unthinkingly continue the damage that has already been inflicted on many communities.

Even if the Masters doesn't help me to get that elusive job and I have to go back to volunteer again, I have to say I feel that the education I have received through study has enhanced my potential as a development worker and I feel more confident that I can make a positive contribution.


Submitted by Carlotta (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 2:17pm.

Dear Mr Calvi,
just a quick comment on your points.... firstevoll if the Ngo and the international organisations would be really hunting their personnel on a meritocracy based system I would say not so many idiots would be spread all around...
Secondly I would add that as aidworkers- development or emergency as well- we are accountable to the Affected Population ... so choosing the right person to be placed in the right position is not only a matter of efficent budgeting but I would say rather a matter of operative quality.
Thirdly and lastly two small points: the junior aid workers are not to be considered"stuff" but persons with their Dignities and among those that have invested in master programe there can be someone that has decided to undergo this kind of path to understand how to avoid previously done mistakes.....
ok these were my points....
from a junior perspective!
thanks for the attention

Submitted by Shadrock Roberts (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 3:39pm.

While I agree with a majority of what Mr. Calvi says, my experience is exactly the opposite concerning the need for contacts inside an organisation or project. I have been privately - and often - told that without a contact on the inside that c.v. you sent in, e-mailed in or completed on-line is as good as dead. Certainly, experience matters... but there are a lot of folks out there who owe their position more to *who* they knew than *what* they knew. As frustrating as it is: the importance of networking should not at all be underestimated.

Submitted by Graham Wood2 on November 8, 2006 - 3:49pm.

I accept that there is no single solution to entering the aid world, and I don’t think that Piero is saying that. However, he does discuss the most likely route.

Having spent many years recruiting (and also, as now, times looking for work) my view is that experience is frequently more important than academic qualifications. Although I have Masters Degrees, it is usually more my experience that I am selling to prospective employers. They want to know that I can live and work effectively in sometimes dangerous, nearly always challenging, multi cultural environments. They want examples of how I have used my skills to good effect.

My first NGO job happened because I was in the right place at the right time and knocked on the right door. This was some 15 years ago and is increasingly less likely to happen as recruitment becomes ever more professional.

Carlotta (above) may not find it helpful to describe potential colleagues as ‘idiots’. As with any line of work there are people who are not doing a good job. There are though very few indeed who do not strive to do their best and to be as effective as possible. None us maintain constantly excellent standards all the time and we all have more to learn.

Certainly there are many roles which require post graduate qualifications. Increasingly, too, many people have them. There has been an explosion of Masters degrees in development and related issues as well as a range of specialist ones in human rights, logistics and so on. Few of these existed even a decade ago.

If you want a UN or World Bank type job then you will need higher qualifications. Paul (above) is right, though, in suggesting that while there is a chance this will lead to work it by no means guarantees that the person will be effective. Consider too the growing number of training courses that are around the world, delivering usually practical skills and looking at real case studies.

Internships and volunteer roles are a potential way in. There are those who see this as unethical for a variety of reasons. However, they do offer the chance to gain some experience and develop new skills. It is by no means certain, though, that they will lead to a full time post.

To anyone looking for a first, paid role without experience my view is that the odds are against you. In a recent role I was responsible for recruiting unpaid interns. For each vacancy we had at least 50 applications and at times more than 100. Discounting ‘speculative’ ones, at least half of these had Masters degrees and an ambition to work in the field.

The one area where I would not necessarily agree with Piero concerns the ‘who you know’. Networking in any field can bring results and having contacts may help, even if it is finding out about possibilities before others. This again suggests to me that attending training courses may be more effective than just having a further academic qualification.

One final point; there are always exceptions to any general rule!

Submitted by Lawrita (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 4:49pm.

Having worked in humanitarian aid for 12 years, I agree and disagree with Mr. Calvi. I do believe grassroots work is important. I did over two years in the field in a rural community and I agree that the experience enhanced my skills in communicating and understanding communities at that level. But I disagree as I think education is very important as we need to professionalize this field. After working in the field after 8 years I went back to school and received a Masters in Humanitarian Assistance from Tufts practitioner program. I am so glad I did this as I was able to get a better understanding on the theories on tough issues we face in the field such as Human Rights, Protection, Democracy, Governance and I could go on and on. I also disagree because many of the jobs I have gotten are through networking as this field can be very hard to get into without knowing someone.

Submitted by Atif (not verified) on November 8, 2006 - 5:54pm.

I agree with almost everything Piero Calvi-Parisetti has to say. it's not just relevant to Aid work, but any sort of career. experience counts, BIG TIME.

However, i don't understand the point of stating this fact. everyone knows it, and it doesn't really help anyone who doesn't have the experience. experienced people need to assist the youth (with no experience) in getting it. inform them about the volunteer opportunities and internships.

Just telling them experience is supreme doesn't help, they know it, if they don't already, they will find out the hard way... sooner or later.

Submitted by Tom Longley on November 9, 2006 - 1:15pm.

Atif -- Piero set out to address some misconceptions that in his opinion are widespread amongst people seeking employment in as a humanitarian relief worker, namely that a lack experience can be compensated for with Masters degrees and personal connections.

I take your point that experience is important in any career, but Piero's argument is that most employers don't have to fly their new recruit half way around the planet to work with a multicultural team in a potentially hazardous environment.

Submitted by crcurrent on November 9, 2006 - 5:14am.

lots of good advice and discussion - thanks!

as someone who has a master's degree and several years experience living, volunteering and working in e. eur and who is not 20-something (nothing wrong with that, i've just been around a little longer so have done a lot) - i feel like my cv's, letters and online applications are disappearing into a black hole. the worst was yesterday when i saw jobs RE-POSTED because the org apparently didn't have any qualified applicants! those were jobs that appeared to be a perfect fit for my experience and education.

it seems to me that who you know is a key element. the question is, how do you get to know those people? how do you network? how do you figure out who you should be talking to? what do you ask so you don't come across as a desperate loon ready to pounce on them for any job?

Submitted by Vanessa12 on November 9, 2006 - 9:48am.

I agree with crcurrent, i do have 2 years experience in the field, have a masters degree, and life experience in third world countries; and it seems that networking is the only 'qualification' that I am lacking and cannot get to grips with. I often go to seminars, training, and yet it is difficult to get to know the 'right' people.
With regards to volunteering and unpaid internships, they just seperate the people who can afford it from the ones that cannot, and not necessarily the best people for the job. In an area where we aim to help people, the humanatarian community and human rights community, in the UK , is just sending out the wrong message.
If anyone has any ideas for networking, they would be very welcome, thanks :)

Submitted by C Nixon on November 12, 2006 - 2:54pm.

I would love to add some perceptions on this . My views are based from 13 years almost continuous aid work including several assignments with World Bank, plus assignments with Bilaterals (NZAID, KFW, etc) with International agencies (Red Cross IOM) and a variety of large to very small NGOs. At some point I must have been interviewed by the majority of NGOs either successfully or unsuccessfully.

In addition to that I have lived in developing countries (based from Cambodia) for most of the last 12 years - I have worked post conflict and post disaster situation in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

My wife is an ex-refugee and we retain strong ties with her extended family and village in rural Cambodia.

I would agree with some of what Mr Calvi says but not all - he seems to suggest that NGOs are unique in being concerned about the costs of a failed recruitment - not so. many years ago I worked in offshore oil and gas and costs of helicoptering people unnecessarily to and from ships and platforms and airfares around the world from failed recruitments are as high or higher than NGOs face. In almost every sphere, including upper corporate management the costs of unprofessional or failed recruitment are astronomical and to be avoided wherever possible.

What Mr Calvi clearly misses is that "successful" recruitment is not about just putting bottoms on seats in remote parts of the world and filling positions. Successful recruitment is about putting skilled and experienced people into programmes to run them effectively, economically, sustainably and in an appropriate manner with good quality - that means responsibility to the donors for the funds they entrust to the NGO and also responsibility to the beneficiaries we are sent there to help.

It also means not burning out those valuable staff out and bringing them home in one piece mentally and physically so that they can maintain some continuity in their normal life and in the contribution to the humanitarian cause.

Recruiters sometimes forget that the money their agency has from donors is not "theirs" - the agency is effectively a "trustee" to ensure the appropriate and economic, safe, sustainable and effective use of the donor funds for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

Recruiters, as a key part of the chain of responsible aid delivery need to remember their ethical, moral and professional obligations to their agency, the beneficiaries, the donors and the people they recruit to do so appropriately - not just fill gaps potentially with idiots and misfits who may be so stupid or insensitive that they can last the length of their allocated mission.

Regrettably Mr Calvi's approach and definition of successful recruitment has led to some major but hidden failures - people who broke through all sorts of ethical, moral and even legal standards in some cases, produced inappropriate delivery of aid programmes, unsustainable work and culturally inappropriate results - I have personally witnessed and documented instances of knowing criminal negligence by people in the field as well as numerous sad results of highly inappropriate work which in some cases was not only unsustainable but positively dangerous - as confirmed independently by other auditors. However, these can be seen by some recruiters as "good recruitments" as the candidates stayed in the field for the duration – irrespective of the quality they produced.

I am not alone in this At least one International organisation has placed on the internet its review of its construction programmes pointing out how badly these were done - even commenting that they had no institutional ability or technical expertise to support the programme, used inappropriate personnel, and "had construction programmes managed by political scientists" - congratulations to the credit of that organisation of admitting that.

The DEC audit in Aceh one year on commented on the inappropriateness and lack of sustainable and safety standards in the implementing agencies saying they were driven by needs to produce visibility rather than quality or sustainability.

USAID was heavily criticised in thoroughly documented reports in the Herald Tribune and in Congress of its Afghanistan programme for lack of quality, safety and sustainability.

The Washington Post only a few months ago published a thoroughly researched report on the damming quality of construction in post Tsunami Aceh - quoting specific examples of major agencies needing to demolish large numbers of houses and inappropriate cost overruns / excesses

The report "Afghanistan Inc" published about two months ago criticises (and with my 5 previous missions in Afghanistan I tend to agree) appalling excess and deficiencies in lack of sustainability, lack of safety and lack of quality in Afghanistan construction aid programmes

There are at least two major audits I have participated in which I cannot be specific about due to confidentiality, but these revealed gross deficiencies in quality, programme control and safety - in one case a senior expatriate aid manager knowingly disregarded safety warning by sets of consultants to accelerate work for visibility and politics.

Recently another extremely large NGO has been heavily criticised in Pakistan for their inaccurate, biased and politically motivated statements and also their lack of sensitivity to the local cultural considerations – I agree as I witnessed this personally along with local staff while working for a different organisation in the mountains of NWFP in Pakistan.

The Tsunami Coalition provided a truly excellent report earlier this year and some quotes from that report are:

· The quality and capacity of the international relief system is inadequate
· Quality and capacity are closely linked, and all major relief responses have raised questions about the quality of the response.
· Greater and more consistent investment in personnel, coordination, assessment and quality control, including agency certification/accreditation, is necessary.
· The tsunami response highlighted major weaknesses in international staff profiles, staff quality and continuity.
· The recurrence of many of the problems seen in Rwanda and other emergency responses, and the failure of agencies to meet their formal commitments to, for example, Sphere or the GHD principles, suggest that the various quality initiatives are not having a sufficient impact.
· The quality delivered by a normal business is driven by its customers. The same model of quality control does not operate in the aid sector.
· The limited impact of the existing, voluntary quality initiatives suggests that we are unlikely to see any major improvement in the quality of humanitarian response.
· Humanitarian agencies have much to learn from the successful approach adopted by the IFIs [World Bank, Asian development bank and their consultants / contractors] : expedient cooperation among all partners (above all, the national governments), significant influx of expertise and visibility, and use of teams of analysts to reconcile and compile the various sources of information.

So the question is ……. is it enough to put bottoms on seats … are the recruiters capable and knowledgeable about the jobs they are recruiting for …….. My wife is an ex-refugee, whose village we both have strong links with, in addition to most of the last 12 years of my life I have been living and working in rural Buddhist and Islamic communities and I have worked in 17 countries …. she was more staggered than me when a recruiter for a very large NGO told me I did not have sufficient cultural awareness or knowledge of communities……. a comment like that coming from a young recruiter sitting in an office in UK to a 50 year old sitting on a mobile phone in his wife's village is nothing short of bizarre ……. but all to common.

Additionally how do we care for our people … I mean how many recruiters have ever heard of People in Aid - let alone comply with it.

The humanitarian sector is not alone in progressively "neglecting" and "abusing" its greatest commodity - if we follow the press, as so often happens the military and humanitarian sectors – so opposed - but so similar often follow similar paths. Currently the concerns in the military , in parallel to humanitarian workers, are …. contracts of service are too long, people are away from family and stabilising influences for progressively longer periods now, staff are not given adequate respite for extended high pressure requirements (R&R requirement) , insufficient compensation to warrant the pressure and costs, inadequate psychological support and debriefing, poor field management and absence of sensible or sustainable strategies at the highest levels of (political command). We in the humanitarian sector are not alone, indeed we work in similar conditions to military and face the same personnel management deficiencies as are being worried about in the UK, US, German, Canadian press for their soldiers.

There is a very interesting report Engineering UK 2005 … produced by Engineering Technology Board in UK. Now as some recruiters, possibly following the bruising international reports of aid deficiency and negligence in the NGO sector are now seeking to employ "Chartered Engineers". To be honest I doubt many of these NGO recruiters would know what a chartered engineer was and what is required to reach that status. But as a chartered engineer myself I was interested in the report and drew some conclusions (by very rough calculation and assumption) and parallels for the aid humanitarian aid sector (I exclude the World Bank, Asian Development bank, etc, Bilaterals and Professional Consultants from these comments, though some of their detractors and critics could take note)……

The message which is explained in detail below seems to be ……
This is not just about money but it is how do we supposedly help people in a humanitarian way - if we are not prepared to take care of the welfare and sustainability of our own people (see "People In Aid Code" et al) ???????

It also seems to tell our beneficiaries - we are not prepared to pay the cost of quality people to assure their welfare and sustainability and safety ...................... and maybe that is consistent with what at least 5 international reports have said in the last 18 months - the aid sector lacks experience and competence, quality is low, sustainability is poor and the quality of work and materials is inadequate

So my analysis by which I arrive at this as well as my personal observations in the field and that of people in my wife's village, and other locations is ……….

NOTE FROM THE REPORT: - Engineers are in UK one of the lowest paid professions according to the report and official statistics - the following figures should be seen in that context - and that training, and experience come at a cost - you get what you pay for !!!!!!!

According to the UK report, which is from a highly credible source an average chartered engineer in 2005 earned GBP 53000 pa

Assume for aid work it is tax and NI free at say 30 percent = GBP 37,100 excluding tax and NI (if they stay overseas long enough to be non resident)

But without NI the person would need to make their own pension plans or voluntarily pay NI say 2 % of gross = GBP 1060

So basically a mid range engineer would tax free but allowing pension have a without tax salary of about GBP 38,160

But in the private sector and USAID and other - long periods away from home and working 6 days per week instead of 5 days typically attract a weighting of say 15 to 30 percent excluding risk and danger

So that then increments to say GBP 43,900 to GBP 49,600 ........... plus danger money for Iraq, Afghanistan, and some other areas ..... tax free and expenses paid.

UK inflation announced the other day is slightly exceeding target of 2 % and the increase in cost of living index is even higher .......

So increment the above by only 2 percent per annum and the AVERAGE (wizz kids or brilliant ones excluded) ........ becomes GBP 44,800 to GBP 50,600 net of tax and expenses - remember those figures

and this is based on averages ---- while engineers in aid work are actually some of the most resourceful and have initiative that would place theirs skills and knowledge well above average !!!! an average engineer in UK (or anywhere) is typically not required to control a GBP 20 million project with constrained resources, security concerns, local labour and other constraints typical in aid work --- and to boot with limited HQ support.

Now for aid workers nobody is in it for the money .............

But compare to those figures above ..... some agencies are seeking Chartered engineers to run GBP 15 million to GBP 20 million projects .................. and the salary range ?????

……… on offer is GBP 18,500 to GBP 25,000 per annum ............ and not all expenses met (so this figure is reduced by out of pocket costs to counter insufficient per diem etc)

If your family is in UK or similar they still incur large costs ......... so agencies are paying about half and expecting people to work 7 days ....... with minimal home leave ......... and as such people finish one assignment and have to go straight into another to make ends meet ......................

...... OR
....... the personnel leave and the organisation and the humanitarian sector faces high staff turnover, burnouts, lack of continuity and consistency, and reducing quality

Animals are rarely working UK now, but in UK the RSPCA would have fairly strong things to say if animals (traditional draft horses, fairground ride animals, dogs etc) where actually worked as hard as some agencies would try and work their staff over very extended periods

This is not just about money but it is how do we supposedly help people (the beneficiaries) in a humanitarian way - if we are not prepared to take care of the welfare and sustainability of our own people ???????

Some agencies sometimes forget that the money they have from donors is not "theirs" - the agency is effectively a "trustee" to ensure the appropriate and economic, safe, sustainable and effective use of the donor funds for the benefit of the beneficiaries. To fail to find and retain appropriately capable, expert and experienced persons to implement the programmes properly - any such agency could at best be considered to be in breach of its "duty of trust" ……. at worst "obtaining funds by deceit".

as noted earlier - recruiters, as a key part of the chain of responsible aid delivery need to remember their ethical, moral and professional obligations to their agency, the beneficiaries, the donors and the people they recruit to do so appropriately - not just fill gaps potentially with idiots and misfits who may be so stupid or insensitive that they can last the length of their allocated mission.

Bad recruitment also seems to tell our beneficiaries - we are not prepared to pay the cost of quality people to assure their welfare and sustainability ...................... and maybe that is consistent with what at least 5 international reports have said in the last 18 months - the aid sector lacks experience and competence, quality is low, sustainability is poor and the quality of work and materials is inadequate ..........

............... and then the Tsunami coalition stated that NGOs and humanitarian agencies should learn from the IFIs (World bank and Bilaterals) about providing professionals, networked co-operation and better co-ordination ........ and they actually pay their consultants "above average" ...... but the difference is they DEMAND and generally ENFORCE quality.......

Eur Ing Chris Nixon, Chartered Engineer -

Submitted by terscott on November 14, 2006 - 12:22pm.

Chris nixon is bit direct but his (her) point is about right. There is some terrible quality and unsustainable and culturally insensitive and disrespectful aid out there. And I am sure a lot of it is dangerous as the reports say. These are reports by credible organisations, some of who are Agency or donor M&E teams and we should take them seriously.

What are we telling the people of Sudan and Indonesia and Afghanistan and Iraq - "we do not think you are important or valuable enough to justify quality and safety". Or worse still maybe we are telling them their culture and beliefs make them less than us so we just go through the motions of helping them

I do not want to point a finger but it seems clear to me that whoever failed in the implementation and the management - there is a common linkage. If the recruiters knew what they were doing, and understood the requirements of the positions (instead of what chris nixon referred to as just bottoms on chairs in far countries), if the recruiters where not remote from, and if they cared in a specific way about the people in these terrible conditions, and if the recruiters were thorough and professional, it would likely be different.

If the recruiters got it right and were doing their job well then the bad staff and bad managers would never have got into the field to make this disgraceful mess that is documented in those reports. Some of these reports are on the internet and every recruiter should be required to be familiar with them. If the recruiters got it right in the first place, then good managers and competent and committed staff would presumably have been in both the field and in the HQ. As a result those competent staff and managers would never have let this happen.

And I do not want to point fingers but I looked at mr piero calvi's blog and he is collecting data from aid workers but he only wants to hear from people aged 25 to 35.

Mr calvi, such a narrow and young age group is not only not representative, it is discriminatory and agism, which is illegal in some countries. Considering the opinions of a narrow age group and excluding others is contrary to human rights and also eliminates many of the most qualified and experienced people. What are you trying to do, Mr calvi ? – are your promoting mediocre aid delivery instead of quality and making aid work a low paid young persons club instead of a reputable profession of quality ?

Are we interested only in cheapness - and "OK don't worry about safety and quality and culturally correct and relevant aid". Is anything acceptable so long as the recruiter in HQ can keep the cost down and keep the staff on the job – irrespective of conditions, safety and quality of aid delivered ????

Nixon also mentioned "People in Aid Code". Is it right to limit the work to younger people, possibly because they have less personal financial obligations, just in the interests of economy, but at a cost to the quality and integrity of aid ?

And by using possibly less experienced people at lower rates, we potentially burn them out and in some cases placing them beyond their competence so that they carry the burden of conscience when things go wrong beyond their control or expertise. Is this right, professional or humane, or are we not exploiting our own people in a manner contrary to the humanitarian principles that we all talk about.

Mr calvi, how much actual time have you spent in the field suffering the winters and snows and jungles and deserts and other practical field difficulties of the aid work "in the field" ? – or are you a desk aid worker who sends other sometimes unskilled, but cheap, young people out to do things well beyond their experience – and leaves them to cope with the conscience of any failures, and the results of their burn-out as a result of pure economy driven recruitment. That is not humane or humanitarian or professional and is false economy. In a round about sort of way nixon seems to say that. With what you are saying and promoting, Mr calvi, you need to be more clear about your credentials and your agenda – especially if you are going to write books and try and sell them through these articles.

Submitted by Tom Longley on November 14, 2006 - 12:50pm.

Hi Terri -- Chris Nixon and yourself raise some good points, but how does attacking the personal integrity of the writer better help those on "the outside" understand recruitment in this sector?


If you were to write 500 words to help people who are jobseeking in emergency relief understand recruitment procedures, what would you tell them?

[Edit: You can learn more about the author here: piero_calvi_parisetti/en/index.html]

Submitted by breannekaiser on November 14, 2006 - 3:07pm.

Hi - I have been following this lengthy discussion it terms of who education vs. experience. The obvious for some is that a Master's degree is required for most positions (ie technical, mid-career) but it is undisputed that experience matters most. Personal experience and statistics may support or refute this argument, but what why is this important to me? I am a recent graduate student and have completed 4 international jobs / internships in developing countries (with NGOs and an international court) but none of these have been "field work" perse. So I am now in the beginning of my career search. I do not "know" anyone and apparently I do not have enough experience. I also, like many my age, have too much debt to volunteer for a year. So I am seeking suggestions in how to jump start my search and hopefully land a job. Should I move to a developing country and begin my search there? Are there any internship / volunteer positions that pay for a flight / stipend, etc?

Submitted by C Nixon on November 14, 2006 - 3:31pm.

Well Tom I don't know that they was an attack on the writer, Mr Calvi.

More properly the point is being made, as has been made in a number of internationally published reports that we are not cutting it the aid sector. That's not an attack on the author.

And hey, Tom, it is a valid question to ask what someone's background is when they are referring to quite a narrow sections of the aid sector and making generalisations across the whole sector which may not be representative, but could confuse a newcomer.

But as you ask I have put very specific suggestions below as to what a new aid worker may look for, and what routes I think they might usefully follow….. bearing mind the terrific breadth and depth of the aid sector.

But first lets briefly clear the air though, Tom……. as I say if it were an attack on anyone or anything I would believe it attacks a system that Mr Calvi described which seems to have some potential and actual serious flaws and deficiencies in terms of (a) humanitarian principles, (b) delivery of effective aid, (c) compliance with the duty of trust to donors (which includes school kids and old ladies) (d) discrimination on the basis of people's age and obligations and also (e) shortfalls from requirements of the "People in Aid Code of Practice" to which most agencies ostensibly subscribe.

The Tsunami report actually said……..
· Greater and more consistent investment in personnel, coordination, assessment and quality control, is necessary.
· The tsunami response highlighted major weaknesses in international staff profiles, staff quality and continuity.
· The ....... failure of agencies to meet their formal commitments to, for example, Sphere or the GHD principles, suggest that the various quality initiatives are not having a sufficient impact.

To me that's what the diligent aspiring aid worker wants to look for - the organisations that are addressing these matters. The problem is how does the new recruit find out ?????

And from my point of view if you want to consider my comments as an attack on short sighted recruitment policies ……. that is a fair comment and I accept it

I also agree the reports should be required reading for ALL professionals, especially some as crucial in the chain as a recruiter but also probably the aspiring aid worker….

So what should the aspiring candidate do ……………………………………….

If you have a look at the RedR forum a young aid worker would get some pretty good ideas from some of the discussion topics. I am not sure if it is available to all, or just members, but I know RedR provides a series of questions a candidate should ask when being recruited and is invaluable - it gives a lot of information, but also some organisations are a little reluctant to answer all the questions - but hey this is your job and your life and likely your safety for the next 6 to 12 months. I like an agency and a recruiter that takes the time to answer those questions, and I recommend that list of questions.

The advice I would personally give is to try and get on some practical courses where there will be a good mix of experienced and less experienced aid workers. This helps you build networks, but more importantly it gives insights into what the workers face - technical, emotional, financial and so on. But check the course out to see that they are real and that they have a mix of experienced and inexperienced people and that the facilitators / trainers are reputable. Example I know one organisation running a course on gender – and the attendees at the end could not explain to me in a recruitment interview the difference between "gender" and "biological sex" - that was the first thing I was taught by my gender instructor !!!

Also aid organisations vary enormously - some have agendas, some have no agendas at all, some cut costs at the expense of security and well being of their staff and others go to considerable lengths to ensure the safety (both physical and psychological) of their people. I would say the best I ever encountered was the Danish Red Cross (though I am not a Dane) and in general the Red Cross Movement (and most International Organisations) is very concerned with the wellbeing and support of its people. The view being that people perform better when they are not overstressed or overtaxed. When they perm better, they deliver better aid.

My advice then is to use the networks and practical advice obtained, as well as the actual content of the courses, to at least find and start with a larger organisation that is properly resourced and able to mentor and supervise staff. This is not only about the welfare of the staff - it is also that mistakes in aid hurt the most vulnerable. You cannot really be blamed if you did not "know" or where "not told" - but the consequences of throwing people in at the deep end can be very damaging – both emotionally and psychologically, and also because an aid worker with no track record who makes a mess may well have blown their one chance - while the same error by an experience person with an otherwise unblemished record and more resilience may be less damaging.

Another aspect that the inexperienced should be wary of is do not, in my opinion take "anything going", if you do not have the financial resource to carry this. I have had it happen to myself and seen countless others take on unrealistically low paid jobs thinking they can get by. In reality you finish a mission like that and straight away either are in financial worries or are trying desperately to get another mission …. there is no break and this quickly leads to burnout. The key symptom of burnout is you do not know it is happening to you.

Furthermore, Mr Calvi's comments I would say have a fairly narrow spectrum that is not truly representative of the aid sector as a whole.

There are small NGOs, there are huge NGOs, there are the international organisations (Red Cross, IOM, etc), there is the UN and there are Bilateral and Multilateral donors, and then there are the consultants (individual and large multinational) that serve the donors and now serve some of the NGOs. I will stand by my belief that of those probably only the smaller and medium NGOs, and a small number of the large NGOs allow their recruitment policies to be "thrift driven". I know in some specific cases, it is not the policy of the agency, but the personal policy of the recruiter. I have personally in at least one instance asked senior management to overrule the policies of a misguided and short sighted Human Resources Department - to the credit of the organisation concerned that they did so and positive changes were effected with significant improvement in calibre of staff and improved remuneration.

Additionally the aid sector is loosely divided into relief and development and the two are almost worlds apart in their requirements and priorities. Development in many ways would give a young aid worker some better insights and grounding on cultural tolerance and participatory processes. Development programmes to, quite often have more capacity to absorb people starting in the sector. So my advice would be initially try some development work, and if you deal with the cultural issues from both your own side and the side of the beneficiaries, maybe consider relief. I would certainly not recommend throwing a young aid worker straight into relief, especially if the agency was so financially challenged that they were making economies in staff.

So my point is that its all "aid" and the quality varies from "silk purse" to "sows ear", which often is linked to the remuneration. As example I have today been presented with a contract that would remunerate me well - but it also requires I have professional indemnity and public liability insurance - the "client" is prepared to pay adequately, but they are determined to insist on and enforce a standard. I have no problem with that. If you want to be in that part of the aid sector, you are going to need solid academic and / or management qualifications and very likely professional institution membership (as that is linked to insurance). That is the other end of the aid business.

My advice to the aspiring aid worker then, is to first do some solid reading and internet searching and find out which part of the aid sector you want to be in. Then establish what you need to reach your objectives - a masters degree, a lot of field experience, or both. From personal experience I will say that there are few positions that do not require a mix of both. Pure experience does not readily allow you to think outside the box and sometimes perpetuates out of date or inappropriate solutions. A degree alone produces an academic approach and may not be practical, or "street-wise" enough to pick on the useful stuff that comes from local communities and local conditions

I do not doubt for one minute that Mr Calvi is correct. As I said, concerns about failed recruitments are not limited to the aid sector. I am not disputing that. What I am saying earlier is that it is not as simple as just finding people who can go the distance - as that can be unhealthy if someone is doing that just to get by, by turning themselves off.

That also places an unreasonable pressure on an aspiring aid worker who may be feeling the pressure, or out of their depth and feels they must go the distance irrespective or risk their career. My perspective is as I have stated that if that is the case that the agencies priority is to keep you in the field irrespective of your stress, your competence or confidence, you should not be working for this agency - but it does not mean that you are a failure, or that you will not go on to be a highly effective aid worker.

And if you are preparing yourself for aid work thoroughly, as you should for any career, the networking and meeting experienced professionals at courses and meetings and even in forums will alert you to those agencies that may not be suitable for you.

Similarly through courses and networking you will build practical skills and knowledge about aid as what is the most appropriate route and agency for your particular aspirations. It may in fact be that you then decide the best way is go and do that Masters, or for others join a development programme, or do some more practical courses and join an appropriate agency. A number of international agencies such as the World Bank and large NGOs offer internships. This is an excellent "way in" and a safe way to learn about the job.

There is another caution - again the large organisations, especially IFIs often offer "young professionals" entrance opportunities. Don't leave it too long to apply if you want to go that route. In that respect, the candidate needs to check out the specific plan themselves, and its entry details - but it may well be that while you are out in the field getting all that volunteer experience, you may be missing the window of opportunity to enter a "Young Professionals" career entry path.

Final caution – if you are thinking of volunteering, check out the insurance angle. You may not be worried about a salary but if you accidentally tread on a mine in Somalia, it would be nice to know you will be well treated and medivac'd and hopefully compensated a little for your future disability and ongoing treatment. A number of organisations encounter problems insuring people who are not salaried employees, and you should check that you do have insurance for the unforeseen if you are a volunteer..

Some organisations, like the Red Cross will require that you undertake a basic training, indoctrination and evaluation (week to 10 days). This is brilliant and prospective workers should apply and take note of the recommendations at end of the course – it teaches crucial skills, networks you to the organisation and similar minded individuals and also gives you an evaluation by trained experts of what you are best suited for and at what level. Similarly the RedR has always undertaken an evaluation of people planning to go on the register, and that organisation has an active policy of facilitating new blood into their training courses.

I don't believe that Mr Calvi is being attacked - rather that the scenario he describes of agencies putting almost total emphasis field time, with a much lower priority on applicability, and appropriateness for purpose and competency is not acceptable. The subscribers to this forum are not alone in that –we can read the published reports and audits - they send the same messages.

If I have any criticism of Mr Clavi's position it is that it is not appropriate to take a thin slice of the aid sector spectrum, and hold it up as representative of the whole very wide spectrum as noted above. It is also as pointed out by others inappropriate to consider the aid sector as 25 to 35. I know a good number of people who entered the aid sector and have been mega useful when they were 40 years or more because they brought live skills and experience as well as technical skills.

And I will go so far as to agree one point, without it being referred to as an attack on Mr Calvi. I do agree if the audits and reports are showing such dismal performance in the field we have to ask why ???? Several reports have been specific in identifying poor management and technical skills which are inappropriate. Now without attacking Mr Calvi - who is it that is responsible for recruiting poor managers and technical people, and why are they recruiting those people. And yet on the other hand the Tsunami Coalition report says lessons should be learned from the IFIs (World Bank, etc) and I can assure you most of the International Agencies, UN, Multilaterals and Bilaterals in my experience look for competency, and experience, and tenure in the field.

So find out all you can - your career is an investment and any investment should be thoroughly investigated in advance. When you know where you want to go - plot your course accordingly.

Submitted by breannekaiser on November 14, 2006 - 3:48pm.

I just wanted to say thank you to C Nixon for some insight into finding a job. I have been highly discouraged and frustrated in recent weeks, so any insight is great regarding possible starting points.

Submitted by Tom Longley on November 14, 2006 - 4:24pm.

Hi Chris --

Like other pieces that we have sent out as Aid Workers Exchange articles, Piero's article does not claim to be a comprehensive review of the sector. Rather, it is an accessible and thought-provoking way into a larger issue. It raises a couple of points, discussion of which acts as a guided tour through the subject for those who are just starting out, or those who don't follow (or have time to follow!) it closely.

It also forms a great place for an exchange of views, as shown by practical and sensible responses like your own, which we'll certainly point out to others with similar queries. It would be good to pin down precise links to the reports and other resources that you cite, if they are online, or find and publish them if they are not.

Submitted by C Nixon on November 14, 2006 - 4:59pm.

I do not have all the links to hand but I have downloaded them and anyone can contact me at if you have trouble to find and download. One "Afghanistan Inc" by Corpwatch is too big for me to e-mail. The rest I can send if you cannot find on

The ones I have immediate access to are :


Afghanistan, Inc - Corpwatch – by Fariba Nawa




real time evaluation of tsunami response in asia and east africa, second round - International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies -
Final Report - December 2005


Tsunami Evaluation Coalition - Joint evaluation of the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami: Synthesis Report -July 2006


International Herald Tribune – After the Tsunami, Anger – Promises of Aid Have Fallen Short Of Reality – 27 July 2006




A Rebuilding Plan Full of Cracks - Washington Post - Sunday, November 20, 2005


Additionally I suggest you have a look at the UNDRO report from 1982, Shelter After Disaster - its a very old report but it identifies many many issues that are still very current - as the reports above are suggesting.

Submitted by Piero Calvi on November 15, 2006 - 1:16am.

I would like to thank everybody for the most interesting discussion here.

I would like to make one point clear and perhaps add a comment of mine.

First of all, I need to clarify that I am neither the inventor nor an advocate for the "truths" I talk about in my short piece. The concepts I expressed were related to me by a number of recruiters and human resources specialists of organizations of the emergency AND development sector - NGOs, Red Cross and UN operational agencies. In the case of the UN, the "truths" apply to the plethora of short-term positions (6 to 24 months) available through the vacancies system and not to the permanent positions. I have no vested interest in the matter - I am an university professor, teaching at one of the very masters that I insist are useful to people who already have experience.

My comment is in reaction to the view that the poor "quality" of some of the aid workers is due to lack of further education. I am convinced this is not the case. To make a good water and sanitation engineer or commuinty microcredit specialist you do not need a master's degree or a PHD. Poor "quality" - when it exists - is related much more to lack of cultural awareness, sensitivity, common sense and other basic competencies which are not taught in universities. If a training gap exists, I am the opinion that the problem lies with organizations, which may not provide adequate briefings, induction courses and on-the-job training. Furthermore, some individuals should never make it to aid organizations, because the have the wrong motivations and lack the human qualities needed for aid work. This problem too is not addressed through formal education.

Finally, I believe that having a network of contacts (essential) has nothing to do with being "recommended" by some high-placed buddy (of little use and even possibly damaging). When you have spent one year in the field - even as an unpaid volunteer - you end up knowing a lot of people in the business, and these are the very people who can TELL YOU that vacancies exist with other organizations, provide you with insight on the recruitment process and support your candidacy BECAUSE THEY HAVE ACTUALLY WORKED WITH YOU.

Thanks again for reaing this.

Submitted by C Nixon on November 15, 2006 - 5:40am.

Dear Piero and others. Can I clarify.

Certainly I would not suggest and have not suggested that you get all the answers and good quality from having a masters, or from having all field experience. Indeed what I said was in nearly all cases I encounter it is a mix of both ...... and then I explained why.

I have a batchelor of engineering and am a charterded engineer and the rest is practical experience plus some courses.

There are some things you cannot learn in the field effectively - such as calculating an earthquake resistance for a school.

I am glad you raise wat / san as an example as Sri Lanka was a good example of showing that the NGOs (not all, but some) did not come close to the required Sri Lankan quality standards for water in the wells they cleaned and some NGOs were using very cursory testing in comparison to Sri Lankan standard.

Practical experience is valuable, but there is a limit to what you can learn in the field .... and if you are not careful the pressures in the field can lead to some pretty bad practices being used short-term, which the newcomer picks up and propogates believing them to be standard. I am sure Mr Calvi agrees as a doctor, he could not have learned all his skills in the field. I also understand Mr Calvi was priviledged enough to serve for the ICRC and I am sure he would agree that the ICRC uses meticulous but very balanced recruitment procedures and that ICRC goes to some sigificant trouble and cost to support its people in the field - very much more so than the average NGO, in my experience and as I am also advised by various other parties.

I went to some trouble to specifically say why field learning can aid or in other cases constrain the ability to think abstractly for novel solutions "outside the box"

Can I please set the record straight and correct any misunderstanding. What I did say and others have apparently agreed is.

1.) Independent reports are confirming the quality of aid being provided is unsatisfactory - even to the NGOs and Donors

2.) Those reports identify poor management and lack of skills and lack of competency

3.) The IFIs are doing it better in terms of technical quality, co-ordination and networking than the NGOs

What I (and others have said) is there has to be a reason why there is insufficient capacity and competence in the field.

We can debate were you get those skills from, be it a university, a short course, or field experience.

But this does not change the fact that it is the job of a competent and professional recruiter to identify appropriate staff to do the job.

I do not disagree with Mr Calvi that too many recruiters (in the "NGO" type area shall we call them) place priority on what they perceive as important - and cost and minimum administration in re-recruitment is high on the list. It is actually a fallacy to say a person in the field for 12 months is better than someone for six.... continuity is a plus, but if conditions are demanding it is better to have an orderly and planned change of people ratyer than burn-outs, diminished quality of work, stressed team relationships, etc - purely to avoid the administration of a re-recruitment.

A number of recuiters do not see these issues partly as they lack experience and / or have their own perception, their own agendas and priorities and often have little understanding of the implementation requirements - so they focus as Mr Calvi says on making their life efficient - cheapest possible recruitment and remuneration package and keep people for as long as possible in the field with very long commitment contracts.

Normally the first thing I am told is "you know we are an NGO and we cannot pay a lot" ....... which is not strictly true when a couple of the large NGO type CEOs are reportedly on very significantly more than GBP 100,000 per year. I do not have a problem for that as skilled management and responsibility costs money but it does men that talented and skilled people in the field for those organisations should also be renumerated appropriately.

What is being said is that we agree that in some parts of the aid sector (but not the whole sector) the emphasis is often on ecconomy of recruitment - and as Mr Calvi pointed out originally, they may look at length of field experience rather than its specific relevance to the current job requirement.

And we are saying look at the consequences of this short sighted recruitment approach to the quality of aid delivery and the integrity of the aid sector. But we are also saying look at the hidden consequences and costs to the individual aid worker. By becoming an aid worker you agree to live and work in constrained and demanding circumstances - you do not relinquish your right to have some quality of your life - and if you do your ability to think and function and conduct your work and relationships is compromised.

We are also saying that this is not by any means representative across the whole aid sector and many organisations do take the time and the trouble to consider competence rather than just field time.

I have to say that my experience with UN short term is somewhat different from Mr Calvi's in that even 3 and 6 month positions more often than not require 10 years experience and often a Masters degree (or a good batchelor degree and very specifically relevant experience, rather than general field time). But I guess individuals have different experiences.

I would on that point suggest applicants aspiring to World Bank or UN positions in addition to checking the normal sources such as RelfNet and Reuter AlertNet, possibly consider contacting and being on databases like Developmentex, RedR and also subscribing to some job notification services like DevNet (which I think is about $30 per quarter)

On one point that I do think is necessary for the newcomer to understand, as I explained in detail in and earlier thread, is that there are serious personal risks to just taking "any job, that may be going" and also while volonteering can be good if it does not compromise other opportunities - at least check out risks / insurances / repatriation, etc - especially if the agency's policies are economy prioritised rather than focussed on delivery of sustainable and quality aid. This is not my opinion alone - read the reports which are referenced in an earlier thread.

And the last point is that in reality the aid sector is immensely broad and diverse. I will have to respectfully "agree to disagree" with Mr Calvi - not everyone is recuiting in this manner - I would say it is probably limited to a number of NGOs, but I have never seen it in consultants, UN, donors / IFIs and only very rarely seen it in International Organisations.

I have personally undertaken extensive recruitment for my project teams and on several occaisions as as a consultant recruiter. These recruitments have been for small and large NGOs, International Organisations and consultants to IFIs and donors - I and I am pleased to say the organistaions I have worked for have never placed economy and length of field experience as the priority. The priority has always been the ability of the worker to function properly in the field for the role they are sent to undertake (management, technical, administrative) and to support their team. That is mixture of technical skill, practical technical experience, personality, adaptability and their ability to endure the specific demands of the environment they are sent to. Our recruitments thankfully although not always the cheapest solution have to my knowledge been successful.

Submitted by Peter Bowbrick on November 24, 2006 - 4:59pm.

Can I comment as someone with vast experience and exceptional academic qualifications? There are 50 million economists in the third world. Any that I work with have at least a masters degree from a western university, and 10 years of deep practical experience of their own country. They ask, quite rightly, why they should listen to any aid worker whose qualifications are no better than theirs and whose experience is at best wider and shallower. Too many westerners believe that “My country is richer than yours, so I am smarter than you.” Or “I am white” – though they would never voice this. Africans ask, I ask, why should anyone who is not a top expert in his own country presume to advise them.
When I started, Zambia had 50 black graduates, and the colonial civil servants were leaving as fast as they could, so my BSc (Econ) was useful. Nevertheless, I got out as soon as possible, to get proper education and experience. I did not return until I was at the top of my profession – and experienced. How can anyone who has not seen a state of the art system operating efficiently advise the third world? A vast experience of inefficient obsolete systems does not qualify you to advise.
You need education to be able to learn from experience. Without the analytical framework to acquire knowledge from what you see, you are just a tourist. I have almost never felt myself to be overqualified to do my job. Third world problems require the best economics.
I am only too well aware that some of my colleagues routinely save the client government millions or save thousands of lives in a short consultancy, and they do not get paid any more than the rest of us. I know that I have to match this, otherwise it would be a waste of aid money to employ me.
It is annoying, therefore, that the aid industry hides my qualifications, deleting two degrees and fifty publications from my CV, but emphasizing my experience. “Experience sells consultancy, and the last thing the client wants is an ivory towered academic.” But on the other hand it means that the people I am advising treat me as another badly qualified economist who has travelled. This causes friction – and who has not had this friction from trying to advise people who think that they know as much as you?
Someone referred to a junior desk officer rejecting him on the grounds of lack of cultural sensitivity. It sounds as though the aid worker had committed the cardinal sin of rocking the boat by trying to get change, or, even worse, objecting to the theft of aid funds. Junior desk officers get promotion by not rocking the boat. That is why the aid industry has achieved virtually nothing in my lifetime.
Peter Bowbrick

Submitted by Paul Currion on November 24, 2006 - 6:17pm.

I wish I had those.  One question, though:

There are 50 million economists in the third world... They ask, quite rightly, why they should listen to any aid worker whose qualifications are no better than theirs and whose experience is at best wider and shallower.

Regarding economics, they probably shouldn't listen to aid workers.  On the other hand, I probably wouldn't want an economist to build the pit latrines in my village, set up a judicial system or build the national telecommunications backbone.

Educational qualifications that lend specific expertise are important (although given the track record of development economics, I'm not sure how useful that subject is), and I agree that aid workers should have something to offer beyond just being enthusiasm.

Submitted by C Nixon on November 24, 2006 - 7:36pm.

Well folks I honestly believe that this has been an incredebly useful and enlightening debate - in fact Mr Calvi's initial submission has promoted a very healthy exchange of ideas - not only about how people get jobs, but probably more centrally about:

(a) how well the NGO / humanitarian element of the overall aid business is performing or not performing, and

(b) with the unprecedent recent funds for Afghanistan and then the Asian Tsunami, how effectively and professionally NGO / humanitarian element is benchmarked against other elements of the aid sector - such as IFIs.

Irrespective of how people became "qualified" for aid work, be it academically, practically or as a misture of academic and practical training, nobody seems to be disputing what is being said both in this forum, in the reputable international press and in idependent expert aid sector group reports and audits ---- and was originally identified as far back as 1982 in UNDRO reports but particularly highlighted now due to

(a) the number of robustly documented reports, and

(b) the huge funding currently available to NGOs / humanitarian groups, which removes justification for shortcuts and under-resourcing.

Simply the quality and sustainability and even safety of, especially but not only sectors like shelter and reconstruction, is unacceptably poor.

Along with these reports there seems to be some agreement that the wrong technical and management people are being put in the field.

And this would seem, as I and others have pointed out, to be some sort of HR, recruitment weakness in humanitarian / NGO recruitment.

Mr Calvi pointed out that he did not institute or practice the apparently short-sighted policies of recruitment, which he also agrees put some unsuitable people in the field and then do not support them. What he did say was these were practices told to him by recruiters, and that seems a fair enough observation.

My observation, and indeed my concern is that we do need balance in these debates if they are going be productive and if we are going to be improve anything.

So far, running through the threads, I have not detected anyone inputting to this discussion that identifies themselves as a recruiter within a humanitarian agency / NGO. To me that is a bit worrying because it can say several things -

a) this forum is not, for whatever reason balanced and /or

b) it is not reaching the right people and / or

c.) if it is reaching the right people they don't consider these issues and the highly documented shortcomings in aid delivery as sufficiently significant to warrant comment.

I for one would really like to hear the point of view of the recuiters - I mean do they:

a.) know the weaknesses and deficiencies in aid delivery occurring and do they read these reports,

b.) feel quality and sustainablity in aid delivery is important

c.) ensure when recruiting they have a specific understanding of the requirements of a recuitment to ensure the appropriate mangement and technical people are provided to do the job

d.) feel that recuitment is adaquate or inadate and what are the challenges

e.) feel that recruitment policies and standards are in any way linked to plethora of examples of failing aid delivery standard in particular (not all) areas, including safety and competency

f.) have suggestions as how these challenges can be met and overcome.

My suggestion would be that if the folks subscribing to this forum know recruiters and senior management, or even donors ..... how about e-mailing them a link and asking for them to add some thoughts so we get some balance .... and possible end up with a haethy and proad discussion, which may through its participants raise some awareness and address some of the challenges.

Lets welcome some new blood and perspectives in the discussion
Chris N

Submitted by Peter Bowbrick on November 29, 2006 - 12:09pm.

Paul Currion will be surprised to hear that I agree with him on development economics. My African colleagues call it "Black Man's Economics". It is supposed to apply in Africa, but not in Europe. Anyone trying to apply it in Europe would be fired on the spot. Which is why I said you should be top of your profession at home before you start. I am an agricultural economist, not a development economist, and in my work I very seldom meet development economists.

Yes, third rate economists have a disastrous effect on the Third World. So do economists who consider that they are first rate economists from first rate universities, and that this means that they do not have to get their hands dirty getting the facts (experience) and that they do not have to use every bit of their economics to solve problems in 'simple', 'backward' economies.

But what is this about aid workers digging pit latrines? It is insulting to suggest that villagers are unable to do this themselves - as they used to do in the past. You are pauperizing them by doing it for them. Worse, employing an expensive aid worker on this means that you are not employing the aid worker who would generate the money to finance many times more latrines. It is all about leverage: put limited money where it will have the biggest payoff.

And Nixon and others are right. So many of the problems are at home with desk officers, in the selection of projects, and in the selection of people. It is not a matter of chance that some aid organizations and some countries have the reputation of being totally ineffective in helping the Third World.

Should we do a survey of people in the business to identify the least admired aid organizations, and to bring this to the attention of the politicians?

Submitted by jimdiggerson on September 16, 2009 - 10:32am.

I completely agree with the statement that recruiting an international aid worker is a lengthy and expensive process, often carried out by organisations that are constantly "budget challenged". It is an evident issue I must admit.
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Submitted by ankhkare on January 26, 2012 - 3:53pm.

As far as I recently noticed, every employers are looking for people who already finished a certain degree. Other way said, in order to find a decent job, we need to have a good education. Personally I finished a physical therapy degree and I really can say that this set my life. I'm so glad because I managed to make it happen.

Submitted by neilsmith on September 8, 2010 - 9:17am.

I interviewed several NGOs when designing this international development jobs site. Essentially, as this article mentions recruiters wanted the possibility to filter candidates based on their experience, be that regional or country experience, donor related experience or sector related experience.

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