by Rafay Kazmi, MPP ’18
The Bloustein School’s student-led International Development Interest Group (IDIG), in collaboration with Bloustein’s Office of Student and Academic Services, Career Development department recently held an alumni panel, Careers in International Development. The panel featured three Bloustein alumni—Lori Issa MPAP ’04, who works as an Executive Manager at UNICEF; Rrezarta Veseli MPP ‘11, a fundraising strategist at New Jersey Community Capital and a former employee of UNICEF’s Innovation Lab Program in Kosovo; and Greg Contente MCRP ‘13, a senior development manager at real estate development firm Gale International. The panel was moderated by one of Bloustein’s international faculty members, Dr. Mi Shih, whose work centers around urban development in China.
Each of the panel members shared their experiences in regard to forging international careers, highlighting the skill requirements, challenges, and the many opportunities available in this arena. A common theme underscored by all panelists was the importance of opportunities like internships in getting a foot in the door and building a platform to launch your career.
Lori Issa shared her experience of starting out as a regional UNICEF office in Jordan two decades ago and eventually making her way up to a managerial position at the headquarters in New York after roles in various other countries. Greg Contente also shared his experience of starting as an intern, an opportunity he secured by leveraging contacts through a Bloustein faculty member. His experiences at Gale International have exposed him to clients across the globe, including South Korea, Belize, Saudi Arabia, and China. Rrezarta Veseli stressed the importance of using the AFE (Applied Field Experiences, a requirement for MPP students) and internships to strategic advantage by working at organizations of interest and eventually building from there. She shared her AFE experience of working with UNICEF, which tied into her previous work with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the UN and Save the Children. Each panellist reiterated that gaining entry in the international sector is the most important element, after which you can switch across to other organizations once you have the requisite skillset and understanding of cross-cultural dynamics.
All three panelists noted that key skills for success in the international development industry include effective communication, understanding of various cultural norms and practices, flexibility to work in various time zones, and the ability to navigate bureaucracies associated with large-scale international organizations. One of the key challenges cited by all included the challenge of making your way up in large-scale organizations because of the sheer number of employees and divisions, which requires not only standing out with your work but also dealing with a vast array of people and personalities. In such environments, failures are imminent, but so is learning, which only helps you grow in future experiences.
Each panelist highlighted the importance of strategic assets available to Bloustein students seeking to build careers in international development, which include faculty members, the assortment of courses available, an international student body, and the presence of student organizations such as IDIG to facilitate international experiences. The panelists also noted that contrary to popular belief, opportunities in international careers are equally available in the private sector beyond commonly known multilateral bodies such as the UN, USAID, World Bank, or IMF. The session ended with a Q&A session after which students were able to individually connect with the alumni.
The alumni panel was part of the broader international-themed month organized by IDIG which featured others events, including a workshop on careers in diplomacy, and a trip to the UN headquarters in New York City.