In a recent podcast, Scott Webb MPA ’07 shared tips for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) looking to break into the field of international development.
Webb, a career and academic advisor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, recently joined Jodi Hammer and two other guests on Global Reentry Presents: Jobs with Jodi, a Podcast for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The episode was titled “Careers in International Development: Talking about RPCVs in Development with the Society for International Development.”
He first met Hammer in the Peace Corps, where both were recruiters. Webb went on to earn his MPA in 2007. He then spent nearly eight years as an international development/humanitarian relief professional at several organizations, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
Aligning Classes with Career Goals
Though he enjoyed the work and related travel, a desire to spend more time with family prompted him to take the advisor position at MIIS for the International Policy and Development, Public Administration, and International Trade and Economic Diplomacy programs.
“This is the only place I think I would ever take a job like this,” Webb admitted. “Because I believe in the Institute. We’ve got great faculty and a really good program, especially now. We’re really focused a lot on social justice, the environment, the decolonization of aid. I feel aligned with the mission of the organization.”
“It’s an interesting job because I’m both an academic and career advisor,” he said. “So I move people through their degree program, helping them choose their classes, making sure they’re on track. I get to help them choose their classes based on my personal and professional experience, where I say, ‘These classes would be helpful to you when eventually you’re in a role as a young program officer or a fellow in the field or some kind of associate program officer role.’”
Webb emphasized that RPCVs need to know that international development is “not like Peace Corps with a paycheck.” Webb said the work is not the same, nor should it be. “As an expatriate, especially as an American, you really want to be more of a maven, a connector, someone who’s enabling and capacity building but letting the local people drive everything and be the face of the whole entire operation,” he said. “You’re never going to be as close to the action as you were as a Peace Corps volunteer when you were really focusing on integrating and learning and really digging into your one little corner of the world.”
USAID Implementing Partners
In terms of where aspiring young international development professionals might find jobs, Webb said most Americans end up in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implementing partner arena; that is, working in organizations that get most or all of their funding from USAID.
“If you work for a Chemonics, FHI 360, Blumont, CNFA, Relief International, or Catholic Relief Services, all of these organizations are anywhere between 70 to 99 percent dependent on U.S. government funding,” he said. “Government contracting, government grants, and government cooperation agreements all share a lot of similarities. The budgeting, the proposal writing, the monitoring and evaluation, it’s all relatively consistent. Once you’ve worked for a USAID implementing partner, the skills are transferable across the industry.”
For the best career opportunities, Webb said, RPCVs should be “adaptable generalists.” That means having a core set of skills—such as project design and management or operations—and being open to working on a wide variety of projects. Flexibility in working conditions, whether that’s in the field or at HQ, also helps.
That is not to say all NGOs are the same. “NGOs vary in their core competencies and mission, so people need to make sure they feel aligned with the mission of the organization,” Webb said.
Also, Webb said, project funding can be limited in USAID implementing partners that rely significantly more on government funding than on donations. An organization such as CRS, on the other hand, has a significant private donation base with which it can directly and quickly target pilot projects and humanitarian first response. For that reason, Webb said, “nonprofit NGOs with a strong private donor constituency can be good places to work.”
Where to Start
Webb’s advice to those wanting to get into or move around in the field of international development included encouraging them to tap into the huge network of Peace Corps volunteers—over 200,000 people, many of them now in senior positions.
“On a more micro level,” he said, “Be detail-oriented. Have a really good résumé, and have it looked over by a bunch of people.”
Career Advisor Scott Webb MPA ’07 draws on years of experience in the field to offer advice and insights on how to get hired in international development, even during a pandemic.
Want to work in international development? Scott Webb, career and academic advisor for our MA in International Policy and Development, MPA, and MA in International Trade and Economic Diplomacy, discusses how to launch your career.
Honoring the decades long relationship with the Peace Corps, the Middlebury Institute is guaranteeing a $10,000 scholarship for all Returned Volunteers, including those whose service was interrupted by COVID 19.