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Careers and volunteering in international development

Humanitarian relief

Advice on the Nepal Earthquake can be found here.

Update on Nepal

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has confirmed that donations from the UK public following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal have totalled £85 million. DEC member agencies have helped hundreds of thousands of people in the wake of the disaster by providing emergency shelter, food, blankets and clean water, and have since begun working with individuals and communities on a more long term basis to assist them during the rebuilding process. The money raised will continue to be spent over a three year period ending in April 2017. For more information on DEC's work in Nepal please click here.

The £675,000 in donations raised by the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) has already helped them to make a real difference to the people whose lives have been shattered by the disaster. For example, the VSO has established 100 temporary learning centres enabling children to keep on learning while schools are rebuilt, deployed four teams of volunteer emergency health professionals to help relieve the strain on health systems, and launched a successful youth volunteer mobilisation scheme that contributes to relief efforts in four of the worst affected districts. The VSO continues to seek donations and assistance to support emergency health teams in Nepal. Please click here for further details. 

General advice on offering help after a disaster can be found here. It also includes  information from aid agencies and where to study disaster planning.

Disaster Booklet 2015 Image

In 2009, the RTPI, RICS, RICS, RIBA and ICE published a built environment publication titled The Built Environment Professionals in Disaster Risk Reduction and Response.  Please see here.


Why volunteer?

Ros Ward, an RTPI member, sums up the value of volunteering:

My experience of spatial/policy planning in the UK had included around 40 years in different local authorities working on preparing development plans under various changes of legislation and practise. I wanted to challenge myself to a different planning environment and at the same time share skills as this has been my most satisfying experience. I therefore applied to volunteer with VSO on their governance programme in Zambia.

The strap-line for VSO is 'Changing lives, sharing skills' and although spatial planning may not appear to have a direct bearing on poverty reduction for people living in 'Heavily Indebted Poor Countries' I found that I could, indeed help to change the lives of some of the people I worked with in Choma, a town in the Southern Province.  

One of the most pressing projects was to upgrade the unplanned settlements which housed to the majority of the town's population but were lacking physical infrastructure. Central government provided some funding but the local communities were involved in decision making and contributed time and effort in building roads, drains, schools and latrines. I was able to contribute my project management and funding skills to the community leaders and document the efforts for future reference.   

During the process of guiding the preparation of the Integrated Development Plan for Choma I worked alongside a recently qualified town planner and other officers in the Council. I shared skills in spatial planning such as forecasting school places as well as good practise in all the Council's departments, including budgeting, meetings and ICT.  

I found the experience the best way to meet my CPD targets and was challenged throughout my two years volunteering in Zambia.

Ward Zambia 

Young people at an Integrated Development Plan workshop in Zambia

Careers in International Development

There is useful advice on careers in international development on the Careers Advisory Service website of the University of Durham. ELDIS, an information service operated by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex announces job vacancies and internship and volunteer placement opportunities on its website. The One World website also has pages devoted to jobs in international development.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)

Voluntary Service Overseas includes the European Partnership Scheme and British Executive Service Overseas (BESO). Apart from the traditional two-year placements, it now offers volunteer placements for experienced professional people to be short-term advisors in Third World countries. The best way to find out about being a VSO volunteer in plannning is to register via the 'Town & Country/Urban Planners' page of the VSO website.

Other volunteer opportunities

Inclusion in this list is not a recommendation by RTPI. The list is a collection of information based on Members' experience and correspondence with service providers.

Volunteer placement agency specialising in work experience with development NGOs. A flat-rate fee is paid (£850 in 2013).

Alpes-de-Lumière Work camps
Opportunity for up to two hundred young people from all over the globe to participate in voluntary projects in summer work camps for the restoration and renovation of the rural heritage of Provence. (The link takes you to the English area of the website.)

BUNAC Working Adventures Worldwide
No longer restricted, as it used to be, to summer camps in the USA: opportunities for work are now available all over the world.

Careers Europe
Employment database accessible via local careers centres.

Community Service Volunteers
The UKs largest directory of opportunities

Council on International Educational Exchange
Opportunities to work and travel in the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and China applicants need to raise sponsorship money.

Ethical Volunteering
Advice & information for people who are interested in international volunteering and want to be sure that what they do is of value to themselves and the people they work with.

European Commission and European Union countries
Work placements or traineeships in EU offices are known by the French term for a temporary placement, stage, and the person on the placement is a stagiaire. Frequently Asked Questions on the EU website give advice on finding and taking up employment in the European Union, including information on social security and pensions.

Fulbright Scholarships
Scholarships for postgraduate study, and scholarships and fellowships for lecturing and/or research in the USA. Further details from the US Educational Advisory Service.

Green Volunteers
World-wide information voluntary work in Nature Conservation (need to pay for access to the on-line directory).

International Voluntary Service / Service Civil International
Organises international work camps including environmental projects. IVS Great Britain is the British branch of IVS/SCI.

Jobs Abroad Bulletin
Free monthly e-mail newsletter.

Programmes restoring castles, churches and old villages in France. Work is unpaid, but the programme gives time for sightseeing in the region as well as walking, climbing and swimming.

Skillshare International
A spin-off from IVS (see above). Skillshare was set up to deal with longer-term development projects while IVS concentrates on shorter placements.

Solace International
Consultancy agency specialising in finding placements for senior local government personnel.

Volunteering in Africa
Founded in 1998, facilitator and operator of volunteer projects in Ghana contributing to sustainable goals.  


General advice on volunteering

The following web-sites have featured in newspaper articles on volunteering: