The international development sector contains a huge range of opportunities in a sphere with great job satisfaction. But it’s also highly competitive. How can MBAs position themselves for a career in this sector?
Working in economically disadvantaged areas to address underlying causes of poverty is possibly one of the most interesting, stretching and personally rewarding job sectors around. And jobs in the sector are hugely diverse – human rights, disaster preparedness, economics, humanitarian aid, education, healthcare, fundraising, advocacy…
But such a stimulating sector is inevitably oversubscribed with highly intelligent, driven professionals seeking their first job to make their mark and build a career. How should a new MBA graduate position themselves to break into it?
Suneira Rana (MBA 2012) is an analyst with the World Bank, working in water and sanitation global practice, based in Washington. Suneira has worked in India with Water Health International and, along with her Cambridge MBA, she holds a Masters in Development Economics from MIT. Originally from India, she started her career in a large corporate organisation in Hong Kong, but knew that her heart did not lie with the corporate world:
“I had done my bachelor’s degree in economics, and I focused a lot on development economics, and did some internships on that. So I always had an interest in the development sector. But after I graduated, I got the opportunity to join the future leaders programme of a global organisation and I jumped at it. It was really good exposure from learning, business and cultural perspectives. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t passionate about the work or the industry. So three years in, I was basically at the crossroads. I realised that I really wanted to explore international development, although I wasn’t sure which part.”
At this point, fate stepped in in the shape of a project in Africa which gave Suneira the chance to work with micro businesses:
“I realised the power of businesses at the bottom of the pyramid. And that’s when I knew that I really wanted to get into social entrepreneurship and that my passion is the fulcrum between business and development. So, I went back to India and I specifically started looking for full-profit social enterprises, and that’s how I got the offer to work for Water Health International.”
Suneira credits the areas of focus she pursued during her time at Cambridge with getting her noticed by the World Bank:
“I did my MBA so that I could help find ways to bring the private sector into the development sector, and work at that nexus. A lot of the classes I took focused on social entrepreneurship or innovation in emerging economies. I took part in a lot of case competitions that were focused on social entrepreneurship, and did my Global Consulting Project on low-cost technologies. So once the World Bank saw that on my CV, they saw the transferable skills that I was able to bring.”
Suneira urges the importance of a very targeted CV when trying to get noticed in the sector:
“I had prior work experience in the water sector, and I had the Cambridge MBA, and so I tailored my MBA in such a way that it demonstrated that I was very much focused on social entrepreneurship. You need to know what you want to do and then tailor your CV accordingly. I think one of the reasons that MBAs can struggle in this sector is because they throw their hat in the ring with such a general CV that organisations cannot see how to use them.”
How does she advise MBAs to counter the perception that they are driven only by the bottom line and have no interest in a cause?
“There was definitely a lot of eye-rolling when I moved to the World Bank and said I had an MBA. There were a lot of masters and PhD students who would wonder what you brought to the party. But social entrepreneurship is growing in leaps and bounds, and people are beginning to see the huge value in the role of social enterprises and inclusive businesses such as Unilever and P&G at the bottom of the pyramid. And so there is a value that MBAs can contribute there and the perception of them is beginning to change.”
Conrad Chua, Cambridge MBA Head of Admissions and Careers says:
“We continue to attract students who are interested in international development careers to the Cambridge MBA, both as part of our commitment to building a diverse cohort each year, but also to support our goal of educating people to enable them to contribute to society. The Cambridge programme, with the options to specialise, the focus on live learning through team projects, and the strengths in social enterprise at CJBS, gives MBAs a thorough management education and the ability to make an impact in the international development space.”