Build a Career in Sustainable Human Development


Sustainable Human Development is a central aspect of UN’s and UNDP’s work. Using the Sustainable Development Goals as points of action, UNDP’s work focuses on eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities and exclusion.

A career in sustainable human development involves working with marginalised populations to build capacity and resilience at the local, community, national and regional levels in order to empower people and address the root causes of poverty including inequality and social exclusion.

Everyone has a different reason for choosing the work they do. For many young professionals, a career in Sustainable Human Development offers:

  • An opportunity to do meaningful and impactful work that aligns closely with one's values and vision for a better world.
  • An opportunity to travel and experience different cultures around the world.

Ask yourself: "What is it that draws me to a career in Sustainable Human Development and what kind of work would be ideal for me?"

Do you want to work in the field and engage with development issues on the ground? Are you a specialist or a jack of all trades? Do you have an interest in local capacity building or or would you prefer to work on policy development in a headquarters/office setting?  

For tips on identifying your values and motivations, see the Career Management Cycle.


Trends in International Development - What's New?


Diversifying funding: An unstable global economy has prompted significant government cutbacks to humanitarian aid and assistance in recent years. International development organizations are now starting to diversify their resources base by moving away from traditional donors such as governments from the North and forming partnerships with emerging donors, the private sector and philanthropies.This is reshaping the funding landscape of international development worldwide. For more information on UNDP's work with the private sector, click here.

Changing organizational practices: Rapid advances in technological innovation coupled with cutbacks to the budgets of organizations has led to a rethinking of development practices. Many international organizations are now undergoing internal restructuring to gain greater efficiencies. For example, an increasing trend is the relocation of organizational headquarters and operations from Northern countries to the Global South.

UNDP’s work towards the SDGs: Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals will become a central focus of UNDP’s and many other development organizations' work in the post-2015 development era. Achieving transformative change through the SDGs will require new ways of thinking about development and innovative ways of problem-solving. To achieve this, UNDP as well as other UN agencies will focus on hiring a new generation of practitioners who offer innovative, sustainable and strategic solutions with a long-term impact.

Emergence of a new type of development practitioner: A recent survey conducted by USAID and Devex revealed that in 10 years’ time, there will be a new generation of development practitioners who will require a new set of skills and tools to conduct their work. It is envisioned that future practitioners will be more flexible, less specialized and have a more holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of development work. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents revealed that the future development practitioner will need to have the right “people skills” and emotional intelligence in order to collaborate with multiple sectors and stakeholders.

Emphasis on evidence-based programming and open data: There has been an increasing demand from development stakeholders and the general public to increase the transparency and availability of data. Additionally, there will continue to be a growing emphasis on integrating gender-specific data and analysis into project evaluations.

Thinking Beyond Borders: As the world becomes ever more interlinked, development challenges will need to be approached through a more transnational mind-set that shifts responsibility beyond state borders. Multilateral cooperation and responsibility sharing between all state actors will be critical to address globally-pertinent topics such as climate change, migration and pandemic disease. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement for example, was the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. Setting aside the distinction between developed and developing countries, the Agreement instils a greater sense of responsibility between all nations to reduce their carbon footprint and limit global warming by 2020.


Types of Organizations

Academic or research institutions: Otherwise known as think tanks, such organizations carry out research and advocacy on global issues such as environmental, financial or social policy. Think tanks usually hire a small number of people and often require a PhD or Masters, previous research experience and a publications history.  Examples: Brookings Institution, Institute of Development Studies, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), International Research and Development Centre.  

International development Consultancies: Consultancies advise and support governments, international agencies, non-profits, or corporations on specific projects. Increasingly, large global agencies, including the UN are increasingly drawing on the expertise of consultancies. 

Governmental or Bilateral Organizations: Bilateral organizations are government agencies based in one single country. The government agency typically administers development projects and humanitarian aid, including medical aid or disaster relief overseas. Examples: Japan - Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Kuwait - Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAD), Sweden - Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), United Kingdom - Department for International Development (DFID) United States - United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Multilateral Organizations: Multilateralism is when multiple countries work together on a given issue. Most multilateral organizations  are quite large and have a significant global presence. Examples: African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Union, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Labour Organization,  Islamic Development Bank, United Nations, World Bank.

Non-Governmental Organizations: An NGO is a non-profit organization which is independent from states and international government organizations. NGOs may work at a local, national or international level. They are usually funded by donations andoften partner and receive funding from governments or multilateral organizations to deliver projects. Examples: ActionAid, CARE, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), OXFAM, Plan International, Save the Children.

Page last updated 26/07/2016