Black and Abroad: International NGOs

Resources and guide for African-Americans who are interested in working abroad with international NGOs doing development work

One way that many who have the privilege of living and working abroad enter the international work scene is through an "International Non-Governmental Organization" (NGO).

This is a great option for those either with or without previous international experience as there are opportunities to enter at any level.  NGOs also offer the opportunity to work on a broad range of subject matters.  For example, there are NGOs dedicated to education, health, children, the environment, racial equality, governance, sexual reproductive rights... you name it!  And as African Americans, roles within these organizations can be a great fit as we often have the capacity and the experience to bring a unique and non-patronizing perspective - one often missing in international development.  International NGOs can be found all over the world, in developing nations obviously, but also in more developed nations which can serve as regional offices and headquarters for many operations.  So, whatever type of international work experience you may be seeking, working for an international NGO could very well suit your purposes!  Some popular international NGOs that you may already be familiar with are Save the Children, Africare, Mercy Corps, and many of the United Nations (UN) agencies.  Foundations are also popular and wide-reaching and can be great options that fit this category.  These include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Finding the Perfect Role

Now that you have determined that working for an international NGO may be a good fit, you may be wondering where to begin your search.  The first place to go for a 'first look' at international development job opportunities is  Devex is the leader in posting job opportunities for those interested in working abroad in the development sector.  International NGOs, foundations, private companies, and the US government all post job opportunities through their portal.  Additionally, they have a ton of articles, blogs, and webcasts about different aspects of this field.  Devex charges a fee to access the job board, either monthly or annually, but it could be worth it.  You could subscribe for a month or two, during the time you're serious about applying, then unsubscribe once the search is done!  While you can view the site without subscribing, many of the job option details stay hidden until you pay for full access.  In my opinion, if you are serious about landing a role overseas, this is worth the initial investment, if for no other reason than to learn about all the organizations out there in the field that could be options.

You also have the option to go to each organization’s website individually and see what job opportunities exist.  You can even set up alerts for different roles and/or locations that are of interest to you.  Some examples of “career” landing pages are  Save the Children, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, and the United Nations.

Pro Tips

When choosing to work for an international NGO, one must consider “how” you want to work for the organization.  This is often termed the “hiring mechanism” or “employment type” when job seeking.  Some international NGOs can hire you directly, meaning you are a member of their staff, while others can hire you as a “consultant” or under some other type of short-term contract for a specified period.  Either one of these can work if it suits what you are trying to achieve.  Make sure to verify and confirm all of the benefits that may accompany each employment type.  This is very important!   As someone who wants to work abroad, these are some of the things to consider:

  • Expenses traveling to and from the country – Confirm if the organization will provide you the plane ticket to get to and return from the work location.  This is a costly expense and one you want to place on the employer.  Depending on the organization, some even offer plane tickets home for vacation.
  • Housing – Will the company provide housing? A stipend for you to get housing? Or are you on your own financially?  If they are not providing housing, will they assist you in locating housing once you get there?  This is a MAJOR concern and can make or break your stay.
  • Salary – will you be paid in US dollars or in the local currency?  Ideally, you want US dollars as it can insulate you from any price fluctuations the local currency may have.  While you may be living overseas, your bills and commitments continue in the United States.

A great adventure lies ahead if you pursue a role in international development with an NGO!  Know that the application and on-boarding process may be long and complicated, but it will likely be very much worth it! It is a wonderful way to explore the world while simultaneously giving back to the communities in which we work.

Have fun, Black people!

About Mildred Olive

Olive Young is a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with USAID. Most recently, she has worked in Dakar, Senegal on human rights issues. Previously, Olive served as a Consular Officer in Lagos, Nigeria and as a Cultural Affairs Officer in Yaoundé, Cameroon with Department of State. Additionally, her international experience includes serving as a Business Development Executive for a private equity firm in Nigeria, an Africa Program Manager for Vital Voice Global Partnership and a legal aid intern in Nairobi, Kenya. Olive holds a Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law and received both her bachelor's degree in Business Administration and MBA from Florida A&M University. She is married with two children and enjoys reading, writing and all things Black folk.

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