How do you find a job in international humanitarian aid?

Working in humanitarian aid is known for being especially demanding – but people across the world have dedicated their lives to it, in the hope of making positive change for others.

If you feel the same way, you might be interesting in learning how to build a career in humanitarian aid. Much like the actual work itself, it can be a challenge, but with the right planning and dedication, you could successfully move into a role you truly care about.

What is humanitarian aid?

Humanitarian aid refers to the efforts taken to meet the immediate needs of victims of man-made and natural crises, such as wars, famines, and droughts.

This can involve providing resources such as water, shelter, and medical supplies to areas impacted by a crisis. It also includes preparations put in place to address such events before they occur.

The aim of humanitarian aid is to save lives, minimise suffering, and maintain the dignity of those affected by dangerous and unethical situations.

Who are humanitarian aid workers?

Humanitarian aid workers are the people who strive to minimise the impact caused by man-made and natural crises.

While the term is used to broadly refer to those working or volunteering in this field, humanitarian aid workers consist of a wide array of individuals. Many of them have different skills and positions with regard to providing aid.

There are multiple areas that aid workers contribute to – from medical assistance to policy making, to the distribution of essential supplies needed by those impacted by a crisis.

What skills are needed to get started?

Due to the variety of roles that encompass humanitarian aid efforts, the skills required from you will depend on the type of role you hope to take on.

As touched upon earlier, expertise in subjects such as nutrition, health, finance, international politics and law can put you in a favourable position to find a job within a humanitarian aid organisation.

In addition to this, there are certain capabilities that most humanitarian aid workers will need to possess regardless of their role. ‘Soft skills’ such as empathy, pragmatism, and collaboration hold a tremendous amount of value in this field of work.

It can also be extremely beneficial to speak a second or third language to your native language. This can open you up to opportunities in other parts of the world and will help you establish yourself in overseas positions more efficiently.

Which organisations provide aid?

Humanitarian aid organisations can be governmental, non-governmental, or inter-governmental. Unsurprisingly, they are as varied as humanitarian aid worker roles – organisations may specialise in refugee protection, public health, law and governance, or any range of other areas. Some examples of international organisations include:

United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF)

  • Primary focus: providing aid for at risk children

United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

  • Primary focus: distributing food to areas in need

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

  • Primary focus: bringing medical care to areas affected by widespread diseases

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

  • Primary focus: helping people rebuild their lives following conflicts and disasters

International Medical Corps

  • Primary focus: providing emergency medical aid to areas impacted by a crisis

How can a Master’s help?

A Master’s can be vital in helping you secure a role within a humanitarian aid organisation – particularly if you don’t hold any additional experience.

The subject expertise that a master’s provides means that employers will know you’re well-equipped to hit the ground running once offered a position.

You can even base your dissertation or final project on the country or sector that you would like to work in. A project like this can an excellent way to showcase your knowledge and capabilities to a potential employer.

Alongside earning your qualification, the best way to improve your odds of finding work is by building your volunteering experience as well. Reach out to local and national organisations to help gain real-world knowledge of what it’s like to work in humanitarian aid.

Building a strong network during your studies, as well as through your volunteer work, can also unlock more opportunities in the future.

Do you feel like humanitarian aid work might be the field for you? Our range of online, part-time courses can help you realise your ambitions:

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Topics: MA international relations, international public policy MSc

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