International development organisations


Organisations whose work includes international development cross a variety of sectors.


Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) take the majority of new entrants to the sector. Whilst household names such as Oxfam and Save the Children are the most well-known, they receive many applications and can afford to be choosy and often expect candidates to have at least 2 – 3 years of relevant experience (e.g. with another NGO). 

However, there are thousands of smaller, less well-known NGOs which can offer excellent opportunities for new graduates. NGOs are often categorised by whether they are "development" (long-term programme work) or "humanitarian" (short-term, disaster relief) or a mixture of both ("dual mandate").  It is not essential to have a relevant Master's degree, but it's increasingly the norm. Some kind of previous experience gained through volunteering or paid work is essential.

  • Exclusive resources - contains links to the Vault and other careers libraries which contain guides to working in NGOs and allow you to download books for free.

International organisations

These are organisations such as UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), WHO (World Health Organisation), WFP (World Food Programme) and the World Bank. 

They have a high profile and their professional ranks tend to be extremely difficult to enter for new graduates, unless you are recruited via their Young Professionals Programme (or equivalent); but this requires either a PhD and some relevant internship experience OR a Master's degree and significant relevant work experience (i.e. at least three years at the professional level as opposed to the "analyst" or "associate" level). 

While you can gain useful experience working on the local staff in the country or regional offices of international organisations, the local staff can find it difficult to move to the expatriate/HQ staff; there is often, in effect, "a glass ceiling." It is fine to get experience in these offices but probably a good idea to move on after a couple of years if you want your career to maintain momentum.

  • International Organisations Day - links to specific organisations and copies of presentations from previous IOD events (an LSE Careers event run in Michaelmas term).

National governments

Many national governments run graduate training schemes in their International Development Agencies/Ministries. They usually don't require much prior work experience; the number of vacancies is low and competition is high. There may be nationality requirements – or the need to be fluent in the national language – at least in the central offices. In the field most vacancies are filled by local nationals.

A sample of useful websites:

Think tanks and academia

This sub-sector employs a relatively small number of people. For academia you will need a PhD and a record of research and publications. For think tanks it’s more flexible, but most entrants have a Master's degree and prior research experience. The most well-known development think tank in UK is the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) which, amongst other things, runs an established and well-regarded Fellowship scheme, the deadline for which is usually December.


In the UK this is a small field. There are about 8,800 trusts but only the largest 300 or so actually employ staff. Globally there are some influential foundations, such as the Clinton Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A minority (such as the Clinton Foundation) run programmes themselves, but their principal role is the distribution of grants and assessing applications.

Private sector

The private sector is playing an increasing role in international development. One area is development consultancy – commercial firms that take on contracts (usually from government or international organisations) to carry out international development work. Some of these organisations are very specialised (such as Social Development Direct) whilst others are divisions of large management consultancies (such as Accenture). While it is highly unlikely that graduates will be taken on as consultants without significant prior work experience, it may be possible to find “associate”, intern and volunteer positions in this sector.

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