e-mentor International

Your Name (optional): Dana Peebles

Male/female: Female

City: Toronto

State/Province: Ontario

Country: Canada

Industry: International Development

Job: Kartini International

Company (Optional): Director/Owner


A BA – Political Science/Third World Development (University of Guelph) and an MA – International Labor Studies/Women in Development . Masters level required for this type of work and as many languages as you can learn to speak fluently. Degree does not have to be in international relations or politics, but does have to be related to a skill or knowledge area where there is a skilled labor shortage in developing economies. This gives you a wide scope of options and disciplines.

Training/experience required (years, other jobs):

Catch 22 is that you need to have experience working in a developing country already, to get jobs in this industry. Some ways to get that if you are just starting out, are to join exchange programs such as Canada World Youth, Cross Roads International, or to enroll in the University of Toronto’s International Development Co-op Program. I have already hired two graduates of that program precisely because they were able to get at least a year working in developing country conditions before graduating. Another option, is to volunteer on one of the school building programs that operates in Central America. CIDA also offers internships to recent graduates under the Youth Employment Strategy of the Federal government. These are allocated to different organizations and companies and you will have to track them down individually, but possibly CIDA would give you a list of who has applied and been granted these internships. Most people start out working for small, non-profit agencies that specialize in development work. From there, they either get a longer term overseas posting, or go into government work with CIDA. Once they have 10 years experience, some go into consulting. Others prefer to continue to work for the non-profits.

Other training needed: Languages – What part of the world do you want to work in? Learn their language and culture as much as you can before you go there and before you apply for a job. Languages that will give you a wide range of options include: French (Africa), Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Swahili. I speak Spanish, French and Indonesian in addition to English

Explain what you do:

What I do depends upon the contract. My company’s main contract for the past four years, has been to provide a wide range of services to support the development of the Women Leaders’ Network. The WLN is a network of women leaders from the Asia Pacific region, whose mandate is to lobby APEC to ensure that women’s needs and contributions are taken into consideration in the trade liberalization process. We also do work in the area of adult basic education and skills training. We write policy papers, organize conferences, assist organizations with institutional development, provide technical assistance in the areas of gender and development and adult basic education and skills training. We write project proposals for non-profits, help them develop organizational gender strategies, and manage socio-economic development projects in developing countries. We also do field research and write a lot of reports.

Why should kids choose your career path?

The work is fascinating. You are always learning something new. It is challenging and you get to do a lot of traveling. You can also get further ahead faster, by going outside of Canada. You will get experience managing projects and problem solving much sooner and will be exposed to many different ways of doing things. You will make some amazing friends and have a very rich and rewarding experience. Sometimes it will break your heart, sometimes it will be frustrating, sometimes you will get burnt out. But it is a field with endless possibilities.

What would you recommend career wise and how should kids approach/develop their preparation for a working life?

Pick a field you feel passionate about and get qualified in it, then get your overseas experience (you can do that in reverse order if that fits better with your plans). Pick a region you want to work in and learn their language and culture. Take any job you can get with an organization that does related work to your field and get enough work experience that other organizations will be prepared to take you seriously and hire you to the things you want to do. Be prepared to do anything and work in some uncomfortable conditions. You don’t start out at the top or even the middle in this field. Once you are established you will be given a great deal of responsibility, but you will need to go in with an attitude that you are not going to a developing country to save the world and that you know better. It took me ten years before I felt I really knew enough to be of real service to my developing country colleagues. At first, you will be going there to learn and you will have to figure out a way to be sure to give something back for this training. Your developing country colleagues will also generally have a good idea of what will work in their context. Sometimes an outside view is useful, but what works here is not necessarily appropriate elsewhere. You will also face many ethical challenges and will need to be clear as to what your values and ethics are and how you will want to apply them in your work. Common sense and commonsense are as important as a post-secondary degree.

Lessons learned:If you started all over again what would you do differently?

I think the only thing I would do differently, would be to have studied more development related economics. I was able to get work in the field I studied at university and was able to get experience overseas in a variety of ways, with the support of the Canadian Government and I haven’t looked back since. Know your own limitations and don’t put yourself into a situation you don’t think you can handle. Once you are working overseas, it is very expensive for you to quit – both for yourself and for your organization. Sometimes it is harder to readjust to working in Canada, than it is to working outside of Canada. Regular employers here also don’t always know how to evaluate your international work experience and may be a bit suspicious that you won’t stay with a job in Canada, if you have done a lot of work overseas.

A favorite anecdote, phrase, or expression relating to business that inspires you:

In this business, there is always something unexpected around the corner. How you deal with surprises, will determine whether your experience working in this field will be successful.

  • Always respect the people where you are working and they will respect you.
  • Everyone has something to offer – no matter how little education they have. Learn to listen to what it is.
  • There is a solution to everything. You just may not like it.

Other suggestions or relevant information you would communicate to kids regarding careers in general:

Go into any job expecting to work hard and to learn something. I still do from every single contract I work on. You can always improve on your work, so it is alsoĀ important to learn to take criticism and suggestions positively and not personally.

If you go into international development, it is also important to remember that for some people this is a vocation and for others it is an industry. Some people go into it because they feel it is important to try and make a difference. Some go because it is interesting work and try and provide quality professional services. Some because they cannot make it in their home country for a variety of reasons. For others, it is simply a source of profit. Also, the larger the project in terms of budget, the more likely you are to encounter corruption of some kind. This is not limited to developing countries. One of my former bosses summed it up this way with what he called the three “Ms” – misfits, missionaries and mercenaries. Whatever you do, it will be a challenge and brings many rewards. Not all of them are financial – especially at the beginning.