My career journey into International Development

My name is Oyin Ola and I’m a consultant at DAI Europe. DAI is a management consultancy focused on international development (iDev) programme delivery. We work for donor agencies and organisations, supporting and providing technical expertise to deliver development (aid) projects. Other DAI business units work with the private sector, delivering CSR or social justice focused programmes with private/innovative finance. Much of my work involves project management for UK, DFID and also as a researcher, contributing to programme development/recommendations for UK Aid and other development donors. A major misconception about starting a career in the iDev sector is that you can only work in government as a civil servant or in multilateral organisations like the U.N. While those opportunities are fantastic, there are many more opportunities within private sector consultancies, NGOs and charities, especially at entry level.  I have shared my career journey and hope you might be able to use the tips to navigate your own journey.

I started out wanting to be a Lawyer so I studied Law (LLB) at the University of Birmingham. However, by my second year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a lawyer anymore as my interests were leaning more towards human rights, racial and social justice and most of the career events and open days targeted at law students were for commercial/corporate law. I remember being at an Open Day at Linklaters and falling asleep because I wasn’t interested in any of the talks.

By the end of my second year I applied for a work experience bursary and raised some money to go on a human rights volunteering programme with Projects Abroad in Ghana. That was the first time I heard the word “International Development”. After this incredibly eye opening experience, I decided this was the career path I wanted to follow. All my third-year modules were human rights and international public law focused although, still a little conflicted with my decision I chose Tax law (big mistake!), but you live and learn.   I graduated with a 2:1 and a friend who heard me talking about wanting to do a Masters related to human rights law and development told me about the University of Warwick LLM.  One of my key tips is to talk to anyone (who’s willing to listen) about your interests and listen to any suggestions they make, whether about jobs or in my case, what to study. I did my masters at Warwick straight after graduating from my LLB. The LLM was incredibly challenging and really useful in shaping my world view and much of my personal political leanings today.  While at Warwick I visited the careers centre and was given a list of consultancies in the iDev sector.  I noticed not many offered Grad Schemes and I wasn’t sure what the entry level positions looked like. This is something that the iDev sector needs improve on to attract fresh talent and knowledge (from non-traditional backgrounds) into the sector.

I also worked during my studies.  Another tip, get as much work experience as you can. I worked as a care-coordinator part time from my 2nd year of Uni until I finished my Masters. My boss allowed me to do my job from home with just my computer and my phone! I volunteered in the pro-bono services offered by the University of Birmingham and the Centre for Human Rights at Warwick which placed me at the Central England Law Centre to work (pro-bono) on asylum and immigration cases. I got a short work experience stint at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London in the health division which was an amazing insight into working for an international diplomacy/development agency. Remember my first tip? Having talked to my mother about what I wanted to do it came up in conversation at a party with someone who happened to work at the Secretariat and they offered me an opportunity! I also worked as a temp at a big law firm and with a bank doing PPI claims – absolutely dreadful but it gave me good examples of competencies to talk about at interviews!

Another tip is to use LinkedIn wisely. I followed/connected with people in my field and those who graduated from Warwick the year before me on the same degree. Find people who are working where you want to work, reach out to them with precise queries (don’t waste people’s time!), most people are happy to advise/support. All of this led to my current position as a consultant at DAI. Someone I had reached out to who studied the same degree at Warwick and worked at DFID, shared a job ad at DAI with me for a business development position. While I wasn’t successful with that interview, I was approached by DAI again for a project management position which I was successful at (started in 2018). My contact went on to establish the Women in International Affairs Network, which shares opportunities and careers information for women in the sector at entry level.

In addition to my day job, I work with a social enterprise called Capvine Network.  The Capvine team visited the University of Warwick recently and delivered a presentation on careers in iDev. Follow us on linkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Details are on our website: https://www.capvine.co.uk/. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you have further questions: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oyin-ola-63554aa4/ – do include a message stating how you came across my page so I know to accept.

Good Luck and enjoy the process!


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