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Making a living while making a difference

Canada has often held itself in high regard when looking at its impact on the world. Rightly or otherwise, the country is often seen taking the lead on humanitarian projects and human rights in the developing world. But the world’s approach to international development efforts has shifted in more recent years from a purely charitable exercise to collaborative partnerships – and that has meant a change in the job opportunities for those looking to get involved.

It’s International Development Week in Canada, and to acknowledge the changing perspectives in the field, the theme for this year is Partners for a Better World.

“I think that’s where we would distinguish ourselves,” said Gráinne Ryder, a lecturer in international development at St Paul’s University College at UW, about the program. “We’re not about charitable work as development work, but rather how can we work in solidarity with people in developing countries for them to then lead change in their societies.”

To that end, the program runs the gamut from human rights and social movements to economic development, entrepreneurship and even environmental law. People in international development can find themselves working to support agriculture markets overseas, or networking with unions and communities and schools.

“Which means for careers the sky’s the limit for an Int. Dev. grad. We find that they might go into working for a bank, they might be working for private companies, they might be working with charitable organizations,” said Ryder.

Adam Faber is a program specialist with International Teams Canada, which is based in Elmira. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]
The partnership model is at the core of International Teams Canada, which has its Canadian office right here in Elmira. The organization works with communities in other countries to develop programs that help combat poverty.

“International Teams Canada is a Christian charity that is working to end poverty in all of its forms around the world,” said Adam Faber, a program specialist with the organization. “We have 15 programs located in different countries, and each program works with local leaders in their countries to bring transformational development to their own communities.”

Faber did his undergraduate in international development at the University of Guelph, and his masters in the subject at Dalhousie, before joining iTeams Canada.

“Education and vulnerable children are two of our biggest program areas, but they’re all locally lead. We don’t dictate here in Canada what needs to be done in different countries. We work with the expertise of Kenyans in Kenya to do things for Kenya. Ecuadorians in Ecuador to do things for Ecuador,” he said, adding that the organization’s role is to add “velocity” to local initiatives.

Andrew MacDonald, who works with the Waterloo-based Opportunity International Canada, a micro-finance organization, notes that there is a greater emphasis nowadays on finding local solutions to local problems, rather than simply sending money and aid.

“I find that the actual careers available for people in international development is diminishing,” he said of his own experience.

“It’s more and more going on to local people being hired to help locally. … So you know, you’re not able to get up and get a backpack … graduate university with an international development degree and just automatically send yourself over to some country and start working and telling them what to do.”

For his part, MacDonald fundraises for Opportunity International, an organization that provides small loans for people to grow their own businesses. It’s a bit like the adage about teaching people to fish, but a step past that.

“We take that analogy a step further and say, ‘our clients know how to fish.’ Our clients are fishermen. We’re not teaching them how to fish – they know how to fish, what they need is a boat so that they can go out and catch more fish. Or a bigger net, or a better fishing rod. And so we’re providing them with the capital they need to be able to expand their business and take that to the next level,” said MacDonald.

The interest raised from those loans allows Opportunity International to earn a profit, which it puts back into providing even more loans. The fundraising efforts by MacDonald and others help expand that pool of capital further so that more loans can be provided, but the crucial thing is that the organization isn’t dependant on donations coming in from Canada to keep operational.

“It creates a dependency, and I’ve seen this as well,” said Ryder. “At some point the tap turns off, the money stops coming, and then you’ve just built a project on the ground – you’re running some sort of enterprise that’s dependant on that external funding and then it disappears.”

Though the development model has changed, Ryder says she still ultimately sees plenty of job opportunities within international development that take more of a back seat to local efforts. At International Teams, for instance, the organization is currently accepting applications for its Forge internship overseas.

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