Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

Entries in Development (15)


Humanitarian Aid vs. Development

Humanitarian aid and development are two distinct but related fields.  They are connected because the places where international humanitarian assistance is required are often places where development is too.


Bottom line is that humanitarian aid is providing emergency, live-saving assistance, to people in need, and other activities meant to alleviate suffering.  There are three types of humanitarian emergencies aid workers respond to:  man-made disasters, natural disasters, and complex emergencies, which are a combination of both man-made and natural disasters (i.e. a conflict induced famine).  These emergencies can be rapid onset (an earthquake) or slow onset (a famine we know is going to happen because of a drought the previous growing season).  The difference is rapid onset occurs in minutes, hours or days following an event, whereas slow onset emergencies develop over a period of months and years, and can be planned for, though they usually aren't.  Some of these emergencies are highly publicized (such as Haiti or Bosnia) and receive lots of assistance while others are hidden or forgotten, such as the decades long war in the Congo which no one seems to care about (in part because journalists don’t go there since it’s difficult to get to and you can’t stay in a nice hotels or take a quick R&R to the U.S. or Europe).  As previously mentioned in another post, this media attention is important because one single New York Times article can equal 1,500 lives saved since the press influences the level of political action.


Development is simply improving the quality of life for populations, and doing so in a matter that is sustainable over the long-term.  There isn’t much that is lifesaving, though development does extend the amount of time people live by improving health, which is usually a function of decreased poverty levels and increases in education.  Traditionally, development interventions have been about stimulating economic growth, with increases in GDP per capita being correlated with higher education levels and life expectancy, which are assumed to be proxies for people being able to live long, creative and productive lives, which is the ultimate goal of development.  If you look at the UN’s Human Development Index, which ranks countries by their level of development, you’ll see that they focus on GNI per capita, (up until 2011 it was GDP per capita), life expectancy at birth, and the mean and expected amount of schooling a population receives (the previous indicator was a combination of adult literacy levels and school enrollment rates).


Nowadays a lot of emphasis has been given to the health and education sectors, with the belief among some practitioners being that improving these two areas leads to increased GDP per capita and an improved quality of life.  Others, such as myself, place more importance on having the right economic policies (a stable macroeconomy and a business enabling environment), internal security and the rule of law, and honest and effective governing institutions. 


Bridging the gap between humanitarian aid and development is an undefined field that can be described as “transition assistance.”  It’s essentially about helping to build the capacity of state institutions to respond to their own humanitarian emergencies without substantial international involvement.  This is because the actor with primary responsibility to responding to emergencies is the nation in which it occurs.  Yet often the systems of these governments are overwhelmed (and the less developed you are, the quicker that happens).  When these systems break or are stretched to their limit, then the international community has a responsibility to get involved in order to alleviate suffering.  The idea behind transition assistance is that if you can get states to handle the emergencies on their territories internally, then you can move on to other emergencies and help build the capacity of those states, thereby placing less stress on the aid system, and start working on long-term development issues, which is next to impossible if you’re focused on actions to save lives.  


Notes on USAID

For the last month I’ve been preparing a class on Iraqi politics for military units rotating into Iraq to finish out Operation New Dawn, which transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom last October, and which is scheduled to end once the Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States expires on December 31st of this year.


Classes ended yesterday and I’m happy to say mine went off rather well, which is a relief since it is my primary deliverable on this contract, and it had been a long time since I spoke in front of a group of about a hundred people. With that complete, it’s time to update the blog.


Last month, at the Center for Global Development, (the CNAS of the development community), USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech entitled: “The Modern Development Enterprise.” The speech, available here, goes into detail about the steps USAID has been taking and will continue to take in order to transform into “the world’s premier aid agency.”


Shah began by describing the Obama Administration’s approach to development as one that is “focused on sustainable economic growth, committed to mutual accountability, [and] selective in scope and concentrating foremost on results.” He then went on to discuss in depth how USAID has been executing that approach and highlighted the need for continuing to do so because “development is as critical to our economic prospects and national security as diplomacy and defense.”


He mentioned that one way USAID has been attempting to change the way it does business is by focusing more on strengthening the internal government systems of a developing country to provide public services for its citizenry, as opposed to USAID just providing various forms of aid to populations. Says Shah: “Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.” And when it comes to health care, “instead of scattered approaches that fight individual diseases one at a time, we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.”


Additional institutional improvements enacted recently include an attempt at procurement reform, the creation of a policy planning and learning bureau, and the reestablishment of USAID’s budget office.


Shah went on to announce USAID’s new evaluation policy, the big takeaway from the speech, which hopefully leads to more learning, accountability, and better results in the way U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent. The new policy emerged, Shah notes:


“[Because] the results [implementing partners] claim often have little grounding in fact . . . [there often exists] a relationship between implementing partners and evaluators akin to that between investment banks and ratings agencies. Just like investors couldn’t tell the difference between AAA bonds and junk, taxpayers can’t tell the difference between development breakthroughs and subprime development.”


So from now on, he says:


“Every major project will require a performance evaluation conducted by independent third parties, not by the implementing partners themselves. Instead of simply reporting our results like nearly all aid agencies do, we will collect baseline data and employ study designs that explain what would have happened without our interventions so we can know for sure the impact of our programs.”


Shah then committed to releasing the results of all evaluations within three months of their completion, “whether they tell a story of success or failure,” and that the data would be integrated into the dashboard.


“I want the American taxpayer to know,” says Shah, “that every dollar they invest in USAID is being invested in the smartest, most efficient and most transparent way possible.”


You can find the entire evaluations policy here.


In the rest of his speech Shah covered USAID’s plans on attracting more talented employees, attempts at cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse by building a culture of oversight, and in general, his plans for running USAID more like a business that focuses on results, holding people accountable, and getting the most bang for the taxpayer dollar. Key to doing so, he says, is by creating structures and a culture that supports initiative and innovation on the part of the workforce.


My thoughts after reading the speech are that USAID seems to be doing a whole lot more to address the organizational challenges associated with running the agency, as opposed to focusing on actual programs overseas. This is a good thing. Addressing both are certainly important, but you can’t really do the latter successfully until you’ve first tailored organizational systems and culture in a manner most conducive to achieving your goals. This is especially important in stabilization situations. Failure to do so has been the subject of much criticism in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.


Shah’s reforms are more focused on true development (economic growth and capacity building) as opposed to post-conflict stabilization activities, but they none the less make sense since USAID’s primary mission is development and by strengthening weak states we can help prevent them from turning into failed states where conflict erupts. By developing a culture in which people and organizations are held accountable and where evaluations are transparent, USAID will be able to do a better job in the future, regardless of the nature of its involvement.


Back to Iraq

Over a month ago I published my most recent blog post and since then a lot has changed.  In December I was at Duke’s Sanford School and studying for a Master’s in International Development while consulting for a start-up called Statecraft.  Now I’m in Fort Benning, Georgia, and getting ready to fly to Iraq where I’ll be working as an instructor at the U.S. military’s Counterinsurgency and Stability Academy in Baghdad.


In the interim, a couple cool things have happened. . .


My friend Paul Miller published a piece in Foreign Affairs on how to “Finish the Job” in Afghanistan.  We’ve known each other since our time as undergrads at Georgetown and happen to share very similar career paths.  He’s the only one of my friends from college who does the kind of work I do.  He also blogs on Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government and teaches courses on state-building at the National Defense University. 


The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was also released.  For those of you tracking issues related to stabilization and state-building, plus humanitarian aid and international development, this is a very important event, though what actual impact it will have is up in the air.  The QDDR is the State Department’s and USAID’s version of the Quadrennial Defense Review, which the Pentagon uses to guide its operations and express its thinking about current and future conflicts.  As expected, the best commentary comes from the folks at the Center for Global Development and the numbers crunchers at the Stimson Center’s blog The Will and the Wallet.  Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy also has a good summary of the document and can be relied on for updates on all things development and diplomacy related.  The QDDR is about a month old, but something folks planning on working for the U.S. government foreign policy positions should get to know, especially if they’re involved in D3. 


As for me, I plan on returning to Duke, most likely for the spring 2012 semester.  My teaching job is supposed to last until August, but rather than going back for the fall, I’ll see if I can hop over to Afghanistan.  If not, I’ll spend the rest of my time in Central or South America where I’ll travel, surf, write, and learn as much Spanish as I can.    


I hadn’t planned on taking a leave of absence and heading back to Iraq, especially since I was enjoying living in the U.S. again.  In the middle of finals the position came up and I realized the experience of teaching and traveling the country (when classes aren’t in session we visit units on the ground to evaluate operations, local conditions, and what lessons can be learned) is something I can’t pass up, especially since the U.S. military presence in Iraq is supposed to end later this year.  While I’ve enjoyed my time at Duke studying international development, I’m looking forward to spending some time with a group of people whose lives revolve around thinking about things like stabilization, counterinsurgency, and state-building. 


Plus, for some weird reason, I really do love being in Iraq.



The GOP Landslide and Aid to Africa

Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz over at the the Center for Global Development predict that starting soon, as a result of the recent election, aid to Africa will likely drop by $900 million per year beginning in 2012.  They analyzed U.S. aid flows to Africa between 1961-2008 and found that aid decreases significantly when the Presidency and Congress are controlled by different parties.  

This result is driven by different parties in the White House and on the Hill–not because Republicans are structurally anti-aid.  Yes, the GOP has plenty of vocal foreign aid critics, but the record is pretty clear.  In fact, ODA flows to Africa are highest under all Republican control, followed by all Democratic control.  The combination for the next two years–Democratic White House and Republican/split Congress–is actually the lowest configuration.

I would be interested in learning why it is that aid decreases.  My guess is that when a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans pretty much oppose any increase in spending, regardless of what it's for.  Not sure what the cause would be when the situations are reversed. 

As for the why aid is greater when the Republican's control Congress and the Presidency, I'm guessing that (in the past) it has to do with increased aid to non-aligned countries during the Cold War as we competed against the Soviets for influence in Africa.  More recently, however, there was a dramatic increase under Bush the Younger who quadrupled aid to Africa, mainly to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.



Do Aid Shocks Cause Conflict?

The obvious (and right) answer is no.  Bad actors cause conflicts and an inability to agree on political control of the state may too.  The withdrawal of aid, whether for financial or political reasons, may make things more difficult and may correlate to a higher incidence of conflict in an aid-dependent country, but as we know, correlation does not equal causation.  There are probably a couple of dozen other "lurking" variables.


So it's a little disappointing that the authors of a study discussing the relationship between aid and the outbreak of violence title their post "Aid Shocks Likely Cause Armed Conflict"  and make the statement: "[t]he results give us greater confidence that aid shocks actually cause armed conflict" [emphasis mine]. Like most social science research, they qualify their conclusions — a typical CYA maneuver. 


You can find the full study here


My problem isn't so much with their data.  It does make sense that the withdrawal of aid and the recipient government’s resulting lack of funds can negatively impact the balance of power between the government and rebel forces.  The issue here is one of assigning responsibility and discerning the significance level of the correlation.  And by implying that ignorant or devious foreign powers are responsible for the conflict, rather than the perpetrators of the violence themselves (both rebels and the government), the authors fail to hold the right individuals/groups accountable.


And that's one of the main problems with so much development work: failing to hold the relevant parties responsible for their actions, whether they are intended beneficiaries, or the government receiving aid, or donors themselves.  For some reason, it's always the fault of someone or something else.



Development and Dependence

One more nugget from Obama's UN Speech the other week:


"Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn't always improved those societies over the long-term.  Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That's not development, that's dependence, and it's a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty."


I appreciate the clarification of terms.  Perhaps we can stop using "nation-building" too.



Obama's Speech to the U.N. on U.S. Global Development Policy (Or, "It's the economy, stupid")

Here's President Obama's speech on America's new "Global Development Policy," given at last week's summit on the UN Millenium Development Goals:



Some quotes [emphasis mine]:


"I suspect that some in wealthier countries may ask-with our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development? The answer is simple. In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."


"My national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative."


"For too long, we've measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop-moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal-from our diplomacy to our trade and investment policies."


"To unleash transformational change, we're putting a new emphasis on the most powerful force the world has ever known for eradicating poverty and creating opportunity. It's the force that turned South Korea from a recipient of aid to a donor of aid. It's the force that has raised living standards from Brazil to India. And it's the force that has allowed emerging African countries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique to defy the odds and make real progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, even as some of their neighbors-like Cote d'Ivoire-have lagged behind.  The force I'm speaking of is broad-based economic growth. Now, every nation will pursue its own path to prosperity. But decades of experience tell us that there are certain ingredients upon which sustainable growth and lasting development depends."


Full text here.  If you don't understand the title of the post, see here.



Obama's Development Policy

President Obama spoke last week at the opening of the United Nation's Summit on the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), and in his speech laid out his Administration's new Global Development Policy.


The best analysis I've seen so far is that of Connie Veillette who is with the Center for Global Development in New York.  She writes about the good, the bad, and "the uncertain."


The good, she says, is that now we have a plan in place, "one that sets objectives, clarifies approaches, and is results-oriented."  The bad, of course, is we "will seemingly continue to rely on a gaggle . . .  of government agencies to do development work," which as Rebecca Williams at the Budget Insight blog notes, involves "12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices."


And the uncertain?  Well that has to do with how the Obama Administration's new policy will be operationalized in addition to unresolved issues related to the role (or lack thereof) of USAID.


You can find the whole post here, along with some useful additional commentary by Nancy Birdsall, the founding president of the Center for Global Development, and a major player with a lot of influence in development circles.



Jobs 4 Development

For those of you interested in development jobs, here's a link to a site where you can post available positions and resumes.


It's completely free and you can set up alerts to notify you when selected positions become available.


Some Career Advice for the Development Industry

This week I participated in two small group meetings with leaders in the development industry, one of whom I was able to sit down with for an individual 30-minute session.  Both provided advice on gaining positions in development and humanitarian aid in addition to rising to the top of the industry.


The first was the head of recruitment for IRG, one of America’s biggest development contractors.  The second was with the CEO of Save the Children, one of the world’s oldest and largest NGOs (it has been in existence since 1919), and which operates in 120 countries, has over 15,000 employees and a budget that exceeds one billion. 


Both highlighted above all other points the importance of networking and relationships when it came to securing positions and advancement.  Most jobs, it was noted, aren’t even advertised.  The development community is relatively small and positions are filled via networks or the large resume databases organizations have on file and are able to query when they need to fill a position.  And if you burn someone, don’t get along well, or end up doing a poor job, then there is a good chance it will come back to bite you somewhere down the road.


Being able to work well with diverse teams and knowing how to listen was deemed a key skill, as was knowing how to get results and drill down into the specific details of a problem or program (this latter aspect is important if you want to one day become a senior manager).


Also discussed was maintaining an appropriate work/life balance.  Ultimately, we were told, you need to figure out how much work each week suits you, and that your choice of a wife/husband needs to be in line whichever path you choose.  A distinction was made between “performers” and “sufficers,” the latter of which work 9-5, with the former putting in 60-80 hour work weeks.  It was mentioned that if you want to have kids, then it’s very difficult if the couple is comprised of two “performers.”  Two “sufficers” marrying each other works well if you want to start a family, and a “sufficer” marrying a “performer” works too.  Two “performers” can certainly marry each other, but kids probably shouldn’t be in the picture unless you have a lot of money or some outside parenting help.  Both of you trying to be at the top in your careers means the kids get left out. 


The CEO of Save the Children made two additional points that I thought were important.  The first was that in the development community, there is a lot of jumping between career fields.  That means going from NGO work to being in the government to teaching in academia to researching at a think tank to advising an international organization (like the UN or World Bank) to working in the private sector and even spending time in the media.  Development and aid work cuts across all these sectors, and those at the top of the game have experience in several of these areas. 


The other point he made that I thought was particularly important was about stamina.  While there are a lot of variables affecting how high one reaches in their chosen career (such as how productive you are and how well you manage your relationships), the simple fact of the matter is that the number of hours you work correlates to your professional success.  Taking care of your body, mind, and those other factors affecting your performance and energy levels is crucial to being able to put in the amount of work needed to get to the very top. 


Not mentioned was public speaking, which I think has more to do with those who want to be in leadership positions.  Having the confidence to speak extemporaneously, either to small & large groups of employees, in the boardroom, and front of senior executives is also vital.


And while it should go without saying, making sure you stay current in what’s going on your industry is a must.  One would be surprised though by the number of those who pay too little attention (being made redundant or out work because your industry changed or relocated positions overseas is a perfect example of how many fail to do this).  Knowing where the industry has been, but more importantly, where it is headed, is key if you’re going to make it to the very top, whether as a leader or an advisor to those making the most important decisions.


I’ll end with a few books that will help those interested in being successful in the non-technical aspects of development work.  The first was mentioned during the talks in relation to networking & leadership, the second was mentioned afterwards by a friend, while the third is a book I’ve read and found to be very useful.


They are:


And if you’re interested in improving your public speaking skills, consider Toastmasters International.


I’ve written before about how to get a job in diplomacy, development, and defense with a variety of public and private sector organizations. 


They include:


You can find additional resources for some of these jobs here:



Chris Blattman’s African Poverty and Western Aid

For those who don’t know him, Chris Blattman is a Professor at Yale and a blogger who works on development issues (he’s also a consultant at the World Bank and UN Peace Fund).


He’s got advice for you on everything from getting a job in development and the consequences of child soldiering to the great debates surrounding the role of evaluations in international development.


I mention him because I’ve just discovered he’s teaching a course right now on “African Poverty and Western Aid” that is partially open to the general public.  He won’t be grading your papers and you won’t be sitting around with him and the other students discussing the subject matter, but you will learn a thing or two, especially if you’re like me and didn’t discover you wanted to work in post-conflict stabilization and international development until later in life.   


If you’re real hardcore you can probably set up some sort of study group with colleagues or interested friends.  That will offer the chance to further discuss the readings and you can even do the papers and then have each other read and evaluate them.   


There’s also available an already completed course on The Political Economy of Civil Wars and Terrorism that he taught last fall and which should be of greater interest to those studying post-conflict stabilization and COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.


D3 Weekly Link Roundup

The other Super Bowl.


The ultimate development essay question:  “Is Africa to development was Mars is to NASA?” And is there a fifth poverty trap for Africa?  (Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion counts four).


Transparency International releases a practical guide for combating corruption in humanitarian relief and reconstruction.


Executive Outcomes founder Eeben Barlow challenges the prevailing wisdom on COIN and provides some useful info on the development of conflict in an African context. 


Meanwhile, Tom Ricks starts a series on COIN Metrics that he cribs from a paper by David Kilcullen.


BTW, the Russians had some kick-ass COIN All-stars too.


The State Department readies for a larger role in Iraq. 


Great non-profits need a better rating system, according to Full Contact Philanthropy.


Using General McChrystal’s own words, Harvard professor and Foreign Policy magazine blogger Stephen Walt suggests we shouldn't believe anything he says in regards to Afghanistan. 


In Mesopotamia, Musings on Iraq reports that a slim majority of Iraqis are optimistic about the future and that U.S. media coverage is way down and “almost out.”


Glenn Greenwald pens an excellent piece on the true scope of our wrongdoing when it comes to the Iraq War.


Want up to $250K for your individual community service project or favorite non-profit?  Via Pulling for the Underdog, we learn that Pepsi’s “Refresh Everything” initiative is giving out up to $1.3 million a month for US-based individuals and community groups interested in positive change.  It’s been called a “pathbreaking” corporate social responsibility initiative.  (Click here for an insider’s view on how it works).


Online courses on designing and funding sustainable development projects.


Owen Barder discusses aid, income and “Dutch Disease.”


Myth and realities regarding Chinese aid to Africa.


Haiti, anarchy, and the collapse of societies.


Daniel Gerstle over at’s War and Peace blog on how disaster preparedness and peace-building can save money and lives over the long-run.


A review by the Kings of War on John Mackinlay’s book The Insurgent Archipelago.


The mad scientists at DARPA move beyond planet hacking and into making the earth transparent.


The gents over at On Violence discuss what U.S. Army physical fitness training has to do with losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Finally, Joseph Collins on civil-military relations (my comments here).



D3 Weekly Link Roundup

Baba Tim over at Free Range International properly eviscerates 60 Minutes and Lara Logan for a lame ass piece of reporting on Special Forces (who don’t come out looking too hot themselves) in Afghanistan.


DOD releases the Quadrennial Defense Review.  The Atlantic Council has an analysis.


Republicans take on the Military over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen (who was nice enough to once give me a coin) is an American Hero.


Foreign Affairs has a nice compendium on what to read on foreign aid along with a breakdown of the three main competing approaches to foreign assistance.


State & USAID’s FY11 Budget Request is released, increasing the size of both organizations and expanding the foreign assistance budget.  The folks at the Center for Global Development see it as a strong signal for development.   Some in Congress fear that with 10% employment and other urgent issues here at home, it will face a “difficult political environment.”


The Economist reviews the Bill Gates’ 2010 Annual Letter on development.


The State Department’s dueling Twitterati.


Henry Kissinger pens an op-ed in the Washington Post advising the Obama Administration to focus his Iraq policy on more than just troop withdrawals.  


John Robb on a “Byzantine”  grand strategy for American foreign policy. (Hint:  Avoid COIN like the plague). 


Some Haitians want the U.S. to take over.  Also, who’s paying for Haiti?


Mountain Runner who is a must read for all things related to public diplomacy highlights an article by former U.S. Information Agency Associate Director Walter Yates entitled: “The Voice of America: Origin and Recollections.”


And finally, the proposed Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is rejected because his name when translated into Arabic means “biggest dick.” 



How to Get a Job Working in Development or Humanitarian Aid

If you lack the experience and qualifications necessary to get hired on by the federal government for a position in Iraq or Afghanistan (and you don’t want to be a contractor handling logistics or life support), you may want to consider working for an NGO doing development or aid work.  There are generally more of these jobs available, however, the applicant pool is a lot larger because you are not only competing with individuals who don’t want to work for the U.S. government, but also with all of those who can’t get a federal job because they lack U.S. citizenship or the ability to get a security clearance.


The best place to look is on Relief Web, where you can information on hundreds of openings, training opportunities, and reams of documents on best practices in conflict mitigation, humanitarian aid and development.  It’s free and you can query by location and job type.  (Check out the training courses and see if you can take any of them . . . a great way to build your skill set and increase your chances of being hired, not to mention the opportunity to do a little networking).  Another site to get some great information on breaking into the business is Aid, though they don’t list any job openings.


If you’re willing to pay a membership fee, you can also join DEVEX.  I don’t know if it’s worth joining as a paid “premium” member, but at the very least you can sign-up and create a free profile with your work experience, expertise and career objectives, which is searchable by recruiters and potential business contacts from development agencies, non-profits, and private sector companies in the development business.  DEVEX also claims a network of over 100,000 development & aid professionals and over 1,500 job openings, most of which aren’t accessible unless you have the paid membership.   I find DEVEX useful for the career advice it provides and the regular updates on what’s going on in the world of development and humanitarian aid via their free weekly Global Development Briefing newsletter.  


If you have little to no experience in development or aid work and don’t have any special skills that would help get your foot in the door, you may want to consider working as a volunteer or intern.  I’ve know quite a few people who started out working for free and after several months, once they had proven themselves, were hired on into paid positions.  One of my friends from college who had no experience in development or aid work ended up doing this and several years later became the Country Director for a large NGO operating in Iraq.   If you feel you need to be paid (and you’re a U.S. citizen), then join the Peace Corps.  You’ll get the experience you need and some new language skills, as well a paycheck. 


Finally, don’t forget to constantly network, network, and then network some more.  If you’re in the DC or New York area, (or London or Paris or just about any other major city), there’s going to be fundraisers, conferences, and speaking events at NGO headquarters, think tanks, and universities where you can meet like-minded people who will be able to steer you in the right direction and help give you a shot at the job you want.  Just remember that even after you get hired you need to keep networking.   Doing so will make it easier for you to move on if your job isn’t working out, or move up the ladder once you build up the necessary experience and skill sets.


Good luck.


The Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic organization in the world.  It has an endowment of over $35 billion and to maintain its non-profit status has to drop about $1.5 billion a year on programming. 

Gates just released his 2010 Annual Letter in which he discusses some of the more important activities the foundation takes part in and his thoughts on the role the foundation plays in development . . .

Melinda and I see our foundation’s key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded. This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation’s size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches. Warren Buffett put it well in 2006 when he told us, “Don’t just go for safe projects. You can bat a thousand in this game if you want to by doing nothing important. Or you’ll bat something less than that if you take on the really tough problems.” We are backing innovations in education, food, and health as well as some related areas like savings for the poor.

He also has a blog called The Gates Notes.

What got me started on  Gates tonight  was watching this cool interview of him on my favorite television news program, The Daily Show (the only other one worth watching is 60 Minutes).  He mentioned that about 18 months ago he quit his day job at Microsoft in order to dedicate all his time to the foundation's work.


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Gates
Daily Show
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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is not perfect or without its share of criticism. Those problems are outweighed by the sheer scale of its philanthropy and its unique focus on supporting niche projects which don't receive government support or for which there are no pre-existing markets to drive innovation (like energy). 

I suspect by the time he's done, Gates will go down in history as the greatest philanthropist the world has ever seen. 

And at least he's nothing like this guy . . .