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Careers in the humanitarian field can give you a rich global experience in an environment where your leadership delivers relief to people on a worldwide scale. Each day, you can go to work and make a difference that contributes to society.

From making an impact on security, safety and prosperity through human rights to public health, food security or public health, humanitarian careers leave a positive mark on the global society.

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Preparing for a Humanitarian Career

You can find your ideal career path in humanitarian work through networking, volunteering and working for an organization.

Networking can open doors by connecting you to career opportunities not widely known. By attending various functions, you can meet industry leaders with a breadth of knowledge about the field.

While in school, you will meet students from diverse backgrounds. Some professors that have industry expertise can introduce you to relevant connections. Additionally, networking can lead to mentors, internships and job opportunities.

Through volunteering, you can learn more about humanitarian work and decide if it is the right career choice. The opportunities to volunteer are broad and can involve teaching literacy classes or working in a soup kitchen.

Dedicating a few hours each week or month at a nonprofit to volunteer can make a difference. Not only can you get acquainted with service work, but you can also expand your connections.

Limited work experience is not a deal-breaker. Internships or studying abroad can help to boost your resume. Also, any work experience you gain is not limited to large organizations. Look for opportunities at smaller, local charities and nonprofits to provide relief to people in need.

7 Critical Soft Skills for a Humanitarian Career

Building a background in humanitarian services is one aspect of improving your effectiveness. There are also soft skills to help you reach your full potential.

Critical Thinking

Solving a problem involves asking the right questions and analyzing relevant information. In the humanitarian field, questioning the status quo offers insightful ways to design successful alternatives.

Some challenges within the humanitarian field are very complex. Using this soft skill aligns with the course work you learn about Theories of Change, results frameworks and logic. Honing your critical thinking skills can equip you to find definitive solutions to those problems.

Generally, you want to develop sustainable and scalable solutions. Critical thinking skills become the foundation for creating innovative ways to ensure success within the society that you want to help.

Ability to Collaborate

Humanitarian work will expose you to diverse groups of people on teams and in communities that you serve. Knowing how to collaborate with these individuals ensures successful sustainable results.

Essentially, you need the ability to lead by influencing others instead of managing from a top-down perspective. This keeps everyone invested in common goals. Fundamentally, being transparent and accountable underpins the delivery of humanitarian work in any setting.

Agile and Adaptable

Having the ability to adapt and change course to move a project forward is necessary in a complex world full of uncertainty. This may seem like a stark departure from the education you received.

Generally, you are taught to follow a routine and proceed with fixed procedures. Unlearning such behaviors is important to your work in the humanitarian field. There are different paths to effectuating change that has meaning for stakeholders and the lives you touch.

Show Initiative

Creating solutions for highly complex challenges on the local, national or global landscape is not simple. While a formal education lays a strong foundation, education alone does not prepare you to have a sense of initiative that fosters entrepreneurial skills.

The humanitarian industry requires initiative when exploring alternative processes to time-tested approaches that were less successful. Your job is to step away from the status quo and use initiative to develop scalable solutions that make a positive impact.

Effective Communication

Proper language and grammar skills are not the only important ways to communicate. If you are going to use innovation to bring about sustainable change, you need to know how to articulate your point of view.

If you can persuasively present your ideas to the team, you can inspire others to share your vision. A shared vision strengthens everyone involved to work towards making changes that uplift the community you seek to serve.

Analytical Assessment

Access to information has improved dramatically in recent decades. However, access to more information has also opened doors for misinformation to filter through the facts. You need the proper skills for evaluating and analyzing content to avoid misleading outcomes.

Humanitarianism is an evidence-based industry that requires reliable data for collaboration and program design. Furthermore, even good information evolves. This requires a willingness to keep an updated knowledge base and a critical lens as you assess varied sources of information.

Innovative Curiosity

A curious mind is a powerful skill. Not only does this free you to think innovatively, but also your hunger for knowledge expands your imagination. Using this skill leaves you unbound to find solutions to challenges.

With a powerful imagination, you can empower all stakeholders to think outside the box. Being inquisitive encourages everyone to ask the right questions and seek sustainable answers.

Education Requirements for Humanitarian Work

A degree for humanitarian work can fall under a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate studies. Some undergraduate degrees include economics, sociology and political science. Examples of graduate degrees are humanitarian affairs and international relations.

Generally, the coursework provides the communication and analytical skills that lead to positive change. Depending on the degree you choose, you may learn about global concepts, gain cross-cultural knowledge and get a stronger understanding of contemporary social issues.

In addition to formal education, you may also participate in experiential learning. Classwork is important, but real-world experiences through volunteering and internships give you hands-on opportunities to apply what you learned.

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10 Best Degrees for Humanitarian Work

The best humanitarian degrees are the ones that prepare students for the type of work they want to do. Typically, bachelor’s and master’s degrees deliver classroom instruction so students can serve people who live with political, economical and environmental instability.

1. Bachelor of Humanitarian Studies

A degree in humanitarian studies covers disasters and how these events can impact populations. Additionally, you will learn about diseases, poverty, conflicts and human rights injustices. As a student of humanitarian studies, you receive the tools necessary to respond to these crises.

Some courses in the program include:

• Philosophy of Human Rights

• International communication

• Hazards, Disasters and the Human Experience

• Gender, Crime and Justice

• Third World Politics

Throughout the program, you get exposed to finding innovative solutions to challenging situations. Graduating from humanitarian studies prepares you for a career path with international NGOs and government agencies.

2. Bachelor of Political Science

Law and politics are two areas where your humanitarian work is needed. With a degree in political science, you learn how to work within a globalized political institution and a democratic system.

Obtaining this degree prepares you to be a critical, informed and articulate professional in public affairs. Coursework teaches different theories, concepts and empirical data. You will learn basic research skills such as design and data analysis.

Courses may include:

• Empirical Political Inquiry

• Political Ideologies

• Global Politics

• Humanities, Arts and Design

• Cultural Diversity

• Environmental Politics

• Comparative Politics

Your education in this degree prepares you to connect textbook theory with practical problems. Employment after graduation can fall into private, public and nonprofit sectors.

3. Bachelor of Sociology

Obtaining an undergraduate degree in sociology offers a broad curriculum to prepare you for a humanitarian career. You will study various social issues and learn how to apply the knowledge to social challenges.

The curriculum may include courses such as:

• Social Science Research Methods

• Sociology of the Family

• Sociology Perspectives

• Global Social Processes

• Political Science and Government

Generally, sociology is a foundational degree that prepares you for humanitarian work. You gain a deeper understanding of human behavior, society and social groups. Coursework uses experimental assignments and case studies to help you find answers to real-world problems.

If sociology ignites your passion, you can use this degree to contribute to social services, community health, criminal justice and other areas affecting human society.

4. Bachelor of Economics

A solid foundation with an economics degree does more than simply teach you about money. With a humanitarian focus, you get to explore economic theory to analyze how goods and services are produced, distributed and consumed.

Many businesses and organizations seek ways to reduce costs, perform effectively and become sustainable. Graduating with an economics degree gives you the problem-solving and analytical skills to fulfill these tasks.

You learn how to use an analytical perspective to understand human behavior and describe society through statistics and mathematics.

The curriculum for this program offers courses such as:

• Introductory Microeconomic Analysis and Policy

• Statistical Foundations for Econometrics

• Introduction to Econometrics

• Techniques of Calculus I

• Labor Economics

• Money and Banking

Upon graduation, you will be prepared to enter the employment sector as an economic expert, manager or nonprofit administrator.

5. Bachelor of Social Work

Completing an undergraduate degree in social work is considered one of the best ways to prepare for a humanitarian career. You can expect to receive courses such as:

• Human Behavior in the Social Environment

• Social Issues in Diversity

• Ethical Considerations in Social Work

• Social Welfare Policy

• Research Methods in Social Work

• Field Practicum

Required research projects and onsite practices give you an opportunity to integrate classroom knowledge with real-world experience. This degree prepares you for a career as a social worker in a variety of settings from education to the medical field.

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6. Master of Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy

A graduate degree in human rights and humanitarian policy gives you a specialized education. Specifically, you understand how human rights serve as an integral part of international policy.

Generally, your curriculum will match a concentrated area and may cover:

• Corporations and Human Rights

• Human Rights Research and Reporting

• Politics of History and Reconciliation

• Managing Humanitarian Emergencies

• Rethinking Human Rights and Humanitarianism

• International Human Rights Law

By combining interdisciplinary research with academic training, you are prepared to pursue productive and ethical careers. You leave the program with a skill set in peace-building, economic development, conflict resolution and gender issues.

Your career path can take you on a journey of addressing human rights issues in the private sector, with NGOs and government. You could work in public health, corporate responsibility, humanitarian emergencies or human rights advocacy.

7. Master of International Relations

If you are interested in influencing lives throughout the world, you may want to pursue a graduate degree in international relations. This type of degree helps you explore how relations between countries and communities respond to domestic, global and regional factors.

You can expect to gain expert knowledge and skills in communication and critical thinking. The program covers different specializations such as nonprofit management, global health, sustainable international development and international security.

Courses that you may study include:

• Theory of International Relations

• Foreign Policy Process

• International Political Economy

• Inter-American Security Issues

• Global Governance

• Theories on the Causes of War

Upon graduation, you have career opportunities in banks, public service agencies, education and state and local governments.

8. Master of Human Services

Pursuing a graduate degree in human services offers a convenient and comprehensive pathway to amplifying the impact you want to have in the world. This type of degree gives you a chance to hone the advocacy and collaboration skills foundation from undergraduate studies.

You not only learn theories, but you also gain hands-on learning. Your holistic learning experiences cover society, ethics, politics and culture. Coursework may involve:

• Introduction to Human Services Administration

• Social and Cultural Diversity

• Ethics for Human Services

• Sustainable Funding

• Community Engagement

• Statistics and Quantitative Research Methods

The in-depth knowledge you gain prepares you for humanitarian work in service organizations with diverse populations.

9. Master of Public Health

Students who pursue a graduate degree in public health want to bring change into society. With this being the driving force for humanitarians, their passions can turn into action and progress to positively impact society’s public health outcomes.

This program gives you options for service-oriented concentrations like:

• Epidemiology

• Infection Control

• Nutrition and Dietetics

• Health, Safety & Environment

• Global Disaster Management, Humanitarian Relief & Homeland Security

The courses you can take are just as diverse and may cover health policy, ethics and public health services administration. This solid education prepares you for a career in academics, research and health care settings.

10. Master of Humanitarian/Environmental Engineering

With a graduate degree in humanitarian/environmental engineering, you learn how to apply principles that improve life in disadvantaged communities. The program educates you on promoting sustainable community development.

Generally, you engage in research and outreach within the communities you want to serve. The combination of scientific and advanced technical content with community engagement helps to ground your expertise.

Topics you can explore in the humanitarian/environmental engineering degree program include:

• Engineering and Sustainable Community Development

• Risks in Humanitarian Engineering and Science

• Humanitarian Geoscience

• Principles of Environmental Chemistry

• Sustainable Engineering Design

• Introduction to Engineering & Society

• Chemical Fate and Transport in the Environment

Graduating from this program prepares you to become an impactful leader by harnessing engineering and science. You get to partner with community and government stakeholders, and scientists.

Additionally, you can pursue humanitarian work in fostering sustainable community development throughout the world.

Common Careers for Humanitarian Graduates

Completing undergraduate and graduate studies focused on the humanitarian field positions you to select from an abundance of careers. According to a study by Development Initiatives Poverty Research America Inc., international humanitarian aid was $24.5 billion.

This level of funding will reach organizations and government agencies in need of professionals to fill different jobs. Some humanitarian careers from which you can choose include foreign aid worker, medical officer, program director and security officer.

Foreign Aid Worker – You frequently travel to different countries and provide assistance to displaced and underprivileged individuals. This gives you opportunities to meet diverse groups of people in a wide range of communities.

Depending on where you are placed, you may use your expertise and knowledge on disease or violence. A strong educational foundation in international relations and speaking a foreign language increases your chances of being successful.

Your daily work may focus on project management, planning, fundraising, relief work and being a liaison between local authorities and communities. Additionally, you may also provide reports and evaluations to serve the communities.

Program Director – As a program director, you will work with global and/or local communities to establish sustainable solutions to address issues long-term. Generally, you may work in healthcare, sanitation or education.

Your role will be providing structure and leadership as your organization serves rural and urban areas. Initiative and a drive to complete a variety of tasks are important for running a successful program.

The work may involve adult literacy, immigration and AIDS awareness programs. Being skilled in research, grants, budgets, overseeing staff and meeting with foreign diplomats are important for this role.

Security Officer – Ranging from military analysts to protection officers, this humanitarian career choice protects civilians from different harmful situations. You may be assigned the task of investigating security problems and implementing prevention tactics.

In some positions, you will identify security patterns, make assessments about local conditions and ensure the community is prepared to withstand a crisis. In other positions, you may be the liaison for other organizations and security divisions.

Security officers in the military may also mitigate terrorist groups and evaluate issues such as arms control, military relations and peacekeeping operations. You may write detailed reports on department spending and military training.

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Fulfill Your Desire to Bring Change to the World

Many fields of study can prepare you to make positive, sustainable changes in the work through humanitarian work. Finding the one that fits your desires, passions and skills requires setting goals for what you want to achieve.

Begin by thinking outside the box to match your specific talents and interests in the most fulfilling degrees. Doing so can put you on the right track for an impactful humanitarian career to build a more unified world.

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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?