How to become an aid professional

by David Week on 05 November 2010


First: you need to know what an aid “professional” might look like, and the hazards (and potential strengths) of being an aid “amateur.” There’s been a small debate on the blogs recently, and Saundra of Good Intentions has posted a cool summary of the results, here.

Everyone starts at some time as an amateur, and learns from there. Sometimes the first step is in the field. Sometimes it’s in a donor-country office. Sometimes its in an academic degree course. And if the pool of professionals is going to grow, we in the development community need to provide paths for new professionals to enter the field and grow.

It’s good to remember too that:

  • Mhd Yunus was a development amateur when he founded Grameen—he was an academic economist. And he seems to have made a contribution without a degree in development.
  • The word “amateur” comes the Latin “amare”, to love, and the word “amateur” originally referred to person who worked for love of what they were doing, rather than for payment. In that sense, no matter how professional we become, it seems like a good ideas to always remain an amateur at heart.

My next post will be reflection on my own career path, and what lessons might be drawn from that.

  • And if the pool of professionals is going to grow …

    Let me play devil’s advocate here. Is the pool of professionals really to grow?

    • Hi Michael

      First: sorry about the delayed reply. I was in Cambodia, and moving fast.

      Second: good question. I think the idea of an “aid professional” is linked to the idea of an “aid donor”. Most development happens organically, using country systems, and with professionals experienced in those systems. The donor industry is a different kind of animal, with special requirements. In general, it is best served by people who understand those requirements. Nothing mysterious about that: just the same way in which the health industry is best serve by professionals that understand health, the education industry… etc.

      Will the aid industry grow? I think it is. Therefore (by my reasoning) the demand for aid professionals will grow. On the other hand, there has been a countervailing trend towards using in-country systems. Maybe the two will balance out.

      But even if they do, we need a way for old consultants to be replaced by young consultants. So if I were rewriting this post today, I might, instead of “if the pool is going to grow”, just say “in order to maintain a viable pool of professionals.”

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