Tell us about your job!

I work for UNHCR’S global livelihood unit headquartered in Geneva, but am based in UNHCR’S regional office in Tunisia. I serve as a technical advisor to country offices in the region on projects to help refugees and asylum seekers become economically self-sufficient. I primarily work in North Africa but cover countries outside the region as needed.

At UNHCR, we’re moving towards a more systematic and evidence-based approach to supporting livelihoods that builds on opportunities in the market, involves key actors in the economic landscape, leverages the skills profile of population we’re supporting, and ultimately supports this population’s access to sustainable livelihoods. My role is to help translate this vision into action at the field level.  

What are you doing day-to-day?

It varies a lot, I usually have one idea of what I’ll do when I get into work, but it will have completely changed by the end of the day!

Often, I’m designing and/or reviewing strategies, assessments, and evaluations, within the context of our focus on adopting more market- and evidence-based approaches to supporting livelihoods. Assessments cover the skills profiling of the refugee populations as well as opportunities in the market. I will revise these and figure out what could be acted upon. I do the same with local strategies – reviewing them and seeing how approaches could be improved upon.

I also spend a lot of time developing and managing various partnership, as we take a whole-of-society approach to fostering livelihoods at UNHCR. This means I’m often reaching out to the private sector, government partners, business-related service providers like micro-finance institutions, development agencies, NGOs or other UN agencies that work with refugees.

I’ll also travel on mission to help evaluate needs and design programs, deliver livelihoods-related trainings for staff and partners, or help conduct assessments and evaluations.

Did you know you wanted to work in this field or for this organisation?

I knew I wanted to continue working with refugees after SAIS so UNHCR was a natural fit. I had worked on refugee issues at an operational level in the field prior to coming to SAIS. While in DC, I worked on refugee issues at the policy level with a development think tank.  I wanted a role that would allow me to work at the intersection of policy and practice, which I am able to do in my present position. The economic inclusion and livelihoods focus of my work now was a natural fit after finishing SAIS because it linked my interest in refugees with the economics training I received at SAIS.  

How did you make it happen?

I wish it was a more exciting story! I had a few job alerts with “refugee” as a key word on social impact job boards such as Relief Web and Idealist. I’d review these every couple of days during the term so see what popped up, and I found this opportunity to work with UNHCR. It’s worth noting that many positions with UN agencies are only open to internal applicants so I got quite lucky – my specific position is a secondment from Trickle Up, an NGO UNHCR partners with in the livelihoods sector, so it was advertised externally. I went through the recruitment process with Trickle Up, and once successful, was transferred to work directly for UNHCR.

What’s the most useful thing you did at SAIS to land this job? 

Not perhaps specific to ‘landing’ the job, but I took several courses at SAIS which I’m able to draw upon in my current work. For my current role, probably the most valuable classes were the courses on labor market policy and migration and security offered at SAIS Europe, and the course on humanitarianism offered in DC.

The core economics curriculum is also quite useful too in allowing me to understand and discuss economic issues at a high-level. These courses allow you to develop economic literacy but not to the point where you are too academic or too wonky about it, which is an asset if you are working on economic issues but in an organization that doesn’t specialize in economic affairs.  You can discuss the issues with peers in other areas in an accessible way.

Interestingly, it seems the SAIS degree is uniquely suited to my current work in the global livelihoods unit – including myself, there are three SAISers on our rather small team!

Give us your top tips for those looking for a job in development this year.

  1. Look very often to have a sense of what’s out there. You get an idea of the spectrum of what you can do and how to plan your career - how you can link from one job to another, what role you should take now in order to be at a certain point down the line. I find reading a lot of job descriptions is also really helpful in terms of providing a framework for marketing your own skills.

  2. It’s useful to have an internship or something professional you’ve done recently that you can discuss in interviews. While in DC, I worked at a think-tank researching refugee policy and working with a number of high-level policymakers in this space, which helped provide me with valuable connections and gave me recent experience to draw upon in interviews and applications.

  3. Don’t be discouraged! It sounds trite to say, but it’s a volume game. The more you get your application out there the more you’ll get responses back. Also don’t be distracted by what other people are doing. Some people find jobs sooner, others took longer to find jobs but it was a better fit. Everyone has their own path to follow, and there isn’t one right way or schedule for finding a job after graduation.

  4. Be willing to go anywhere! This might not be workable advice for everyone, but in my case, I was pretty flexible in terms of location which helped in the end. For my current position, I actually went through the interview process to be based in a completely different country but was ultimately given an offer to work in Tunisia, which I was happy to accept.

As narrated to Grace Cramer, Senior Editor, SAIS Perspectives. 

TTo learn about other recent SAIS graduates' work, visit this page

PHOTO CREDIT: Magharebia from Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0