Expectation vs. Reality: Working in International Development

Alleviating poverty, reducing hunger, enhancing sustainable economic growth. This is what I had in mind when you would give me the words ‘international development’. I studied Governance, Economics, and Development at Leiden University College The Hague. The focus of the programme lies with ‘global challenges’, so you can guess how big and broad that image of international development was. In reality, after three months at Oxfam Novib, I have noticed it encompasses much more.

I walked with Oxfam Novib in the Climate March on September 27th. During the march, one of my colleagues asked me:  “What has surprised you most about the organisation?”. This question got me thinking about my education, in which I learned about global poverty, economic growth and development, and development project management. This formed my image of what international development was, and in turn what Oxfam Novib as an organisation would be. Initially, while applying to internships at Oxfam Novib, I imagined Oxfam Novib to only be working on these broad problems. The reality was slightly different.

I work in the Public Engagement (PE) Department and, more specifically, in the Data Intelligence Team. PE is doing everything I did not think of as ‘international development’ before I started this internship: lobbying, marketing, fundraising and donor relations. My image of Oxfam Novib has changed since I started my internship. I now see an inner circle: the development and humanitarian work Oxfam Novib is doing, and an outer circle: all the processes needed to enable and support this work.

My definition of international development work has changed. The knowledge I have gained during my educational has blended with the views and experience one can only obtain by being part of the actual environment, in this case by working in an actual NGO.

To close off, and to finally give the answer I gave to my colleague’s question, what has surprised me most? The answer I gave, is that I did not even think about the fact that Oxfam has an HR department, which is quite illustrative to the practical insights I have already gained in this short time!

This post was written by Tom Van Zantvliet

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomvanzantvliet/

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