International Aid Worker

Community and Health

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International aid workers manage and develop everyday and emergency programs in areas that have been subjected to war, natural disasters or other environmental or developmental problems. International aid workers may work in administrative aspects of international aid, or can be deployed overseas for fieldwork. Future Growth Strong

Humanitarian aid work often involves responding to emergency situations, helping those affected by natural and man-made disasters, such as earthquakes and war. Those who work on the administration side handle needs assessments, budgets and fundraising. They create proposals and reports and make evaluations on emergency situations and what response is needed. They manage and train staff and volunteers, as well as reaching out to stakeholders and the public to help when needed.

The other aid workers are those working in the field or affected areas. They monitor and evaluate the situation first hand and provide necessary services varying from medicine, security to construction of housing, engineering and logistics. They have to address the safety and security of their team and the locals with an understanding of national and international procedures, their policies and codes. Part of their job is to train staff or volunteers to be efficient and safe in their work.

Being an international aid worker means you will likely be exposed to situations which are stressful and challenging. High pressure with time always being short is the norm so you must be able to multi-task and problem solve quickly. You need to be resilient but empathetic as you deal with people in terrible situations. Knowing more than one language would be useful, and being culturally sensitive to those you are helping is a must.

As an international aid/development worker, you'll work with developing countries to set up long-term, sustainable solutions to problems. Working on development projects in fields such as education, sanitation, health and agriculture. You may also be involved with the development of urban and rural areas and small businesses.

Did You Know?
Type of Work Work in following areas
  • advocacy and human rights

  • business planning and development

  • conflict

  • disaster preparedness

  • disaster recovery

  • economic planning

  • education – teaching and training in the community, vocational and trade areas

  • engineering, civil planning and infrastructure

  • environmental sustainability and agriculture

  • forced migration

  • fundraising

  • gender equality

  • governance and risk management

  • human rights

  • infrastructure

  • livelihoods

  • medicine and healthcare and research

  • security

  • administration
  • research
  • fundraising
  • training
  • consultancy
  • advocacy
  • relief work
  • economist roles
  • medicine
  • engineering
  • planning

(Source: Red Cross)


Alternative names: International Humanitarian Worker, International Humanitarian Aid Worker, International Development Worker,

Knowledge, skills and attributes

  • high energy levels
  • adaptability, resilience, problem-solving skills
  • able to manage multiple tasks and to operate effectively under pressure
  • the ability to relate to and communicate with a wide range of people
  • management of both people and projects and the ability to motivate others
  • drive and determination to achieve results and initiate action
  • the ability to manage the workload, prioritise tasks and delegate when necessary
  • self-awareness and organisational awareness
  • patience and a willingness to adopt a long-term view
  • operational decision-making skills
  • the ability to learn and to acquire new skills rapidly and the flexibility to transfer learning from one situation to another
  • empathy and cross-cultural sensitivity
  • a willingness to ask for resources, help and advice
  • willingness to travel and live in basic conditions
  • language skills would be an advantage - French, Spanish and Portuguese are often requested and knowledge of Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Swahili or other African and Asian languages may be advantageous, depending on the region
  • highly specific skills and experience - may be required for humanitarian and disaster relief assignments

International Aid Worker
(Source: CareerHQ)

Duties and Tasks

International aid work covers a broad range of roles and responsibilities.

In an administrative role, an international aid worker might:

  • conduct needs assessments
  • organise fundraising efforts
  • research and write project proposals and reports
  • draft funding proposals to ensure the future of specific overseas programmes
  • evaluate the response required in emergency situations
  • manage budgets and allocate resources
  • recruit, manage and train staff and volunteers - administer the day-to-day work of an office or team
  • manage, monitor and evaluate projects
  • conduct needs assessments
  • carry out strategic planning for long-term development and/or disaster management to reduce the need for crisis intervention
  • develop relationships with partner organisations in the field and encourage capacity building
  • communicate effectively with relevant internal and external stakeholders including volunteers, clients, partners and donors
  • negotiate and liaise with public bodies and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • implement security procedures to ensure the safety of staff working in unstable areas - maintaining an overview of the security situation and making appropriate decisions
  • represent the needs of poor communities by advocating, and lobbying sponsors, governments and the public.

In the field, an international aid worker might:

  • rapidly assess emergency situations
  • deliver specialised services, such as logistics, engineering, construction of housing or shelter, agricultural development, medicine, nursing, or security
  • implement, overseeing and ensure strict adherence to security and safety procedures
  • understand and comply with appropriate national and international procedures, policies and regulatory codes
  • work closely with other staff and volunteers to manage resources and deliver aid effectively
  • manage and train other staff and/or volunteers.

(Source: Humanitarian Careers)

Working conditions

Most international aid workers who work in administrative roles work full time. Those who work in the field often work on fixed-term contracts, ranging from a few months to a number of years. In the field, working hours may be long and unpredictable, particularly in emergency relief situations.

You may experience periods of unemployment between contracts.

In an administrative role, you would usually work in a head or regional office, in a typical office environment. As a field worker, you would work in remote, and often dangerous, locations, and be away from home for long periods of time.

In emergencies, you may live in temporary accommodation, such as a tent, or share a small room with co-workers. in insecure environments you may live in the same house or compound as colleagues. You may not have reliable access to amenities such as electricity, hot and cold running water, or reliable heat and cooling. You may not be able to leave a compound or living quarters without security.

Part-time work is unlikely for overseas posts. Fixed-term contracts, ranging from a few months to three years, are typical for overseas postings - making career breaks, as well as periods of unemployment between assignments, a possibility.

Education and training/entrance requirements

To become an international aid worker, you usually have to complete a bachelors' degree. There is a broad range of degrees which can lead to work in international aid and development, including social science, international relations, business or economics. Additionally, you could qualify in a specialist area such as engineering, medicine, nursing or teaching. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your senior secondary school certificate or equivalent. English and mathematics would be appropriate subjects to study prior to university.

A number of potential NGO employers such as the Red Cross offer introductory industry-based workshops or training courses to help you get a better understanding of the range of careers in international aid, and what to expect.

The key to getting your role in the sector is a relevant previous experience. Getting relevant voluntary or paid work experience is essential during or following study. Many graduate roles are offered on a voluntary basis, with travel, accommodation and living expenses being covered. Paid roles in overseas aid or development may only come after three or four years' experience.

The following subjects may increase your chances: Australian Aid logo

  • economics

  • human rights

  • international development or development studies

  • languages

  • logistics

  • medicine, nursing and other health-related subjects

  • social policy

  • water or sanitation engineering.

Additional Information

Preparation and self-development
There is a lot you can do to prepare yourself for work in this area:

  • volunteer: familiarise yourself with the mission, values and organisational structure of community and aid work settings (this will help you develop practical skills)

  • travel independently: independent travel helps you develop self-management, adaptability, and insight into other cultures and customs

  • learn another language: this will assist with integration into a local community

  • research: identify careers and organisations you may want to work for

  • attend industry events: this will help you gain insights into organisations and networking opportunities

  • learn to address selection criteria in job applications: this will help you show how your skills, qualifications, values and attributes meet the requirements of the position and organisation

  • self-audit: identify your experiences, qualifications, skills, personal motivations and values

  • explore further study: studying helps you build your skills and knowledge.

Employment Opportunities

The challenges we face globally from weather events and conflicts means there are more people needed both on the ground to help but also manage the logistics and funding behind the scenes.

With new and developing nations needing assistance and more access to countries previously shielded from the rest of the world, that need help with sustainable food sources and water as well as access to education and healthcare in a gorwing world population there will be more need than ever for international aid workers.


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Material sourced from
CareerHQ [International Aid Worker; Blog; ]
Monash University [Working in international aid and development; ]
Prospects UK [International Aid Development Worker; ]

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