Why Your First Job Should Be in a Developing Country

April 25th, 2015 11:56 AM, an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 strikes Nepal, impacting tens of thousands and costing $5 billion in damages. Less than 24 hours before this, I was taking a break from studying for a final exam to sign my offer with SunFarmer, a social enterprise with an office in Nepal and a mission to provide energy to millions that need it the most.

Rewind to summer of 2014, and I was a 21-year-old kid finishing my yearlong internship in Deloitte’s Toronto office. At the time, I thought I would become the next consulting or finance hot-shot, changing the world one excel model or fancy PowerPoint presentation at a time. A little over a year later, after finishing my engineering degree, I have gone from wearing suits in Toronto’s financial district to taking 20 cent tuk-tuk rides to work in rural Nepal. It may not sound like progress but looking beyond the traditional career path and working in a developing country will provide you with unparalleled perspective and professional development. Consider it for these three reasons.  

Before we begin, it’s important to note that there is no universally agreed upon definition of a “developing country” but we’ll use the UN’s definition of a developing country as a reference.

1. It is humbling

Working at a corporate office can feel abstract for many of us; we are too far removed from the people we are impacting. Discussing financial models, engineering plans, or IT architecture is an important aspect of any major business in the modern world; however, many interns and new graduates struggle to comprehend the impact of what we are creating. In the midst of the complexity and corporate culture, we get caught up in the details and forget the larger picture.

In my second week on the job in Nepal, we delivered several dozen donated solar lamps to a children’s school, which has been severely impacted by the recent earthquake. Although this was a simple task compared to our other projects, I could not help but feel humbled by the difference something this small made to the children and the staff running the school. Experiences such as these will make you reconsider what you want to spend your energy working towards.

2. You will meet the other 5.6 billion people

The current world population has reached over 7 billion people and about 80% of them (5.6 billion) live in developing countries. In the increasingly globalized world, you may end up running a company or working for one which obtains raw materials from Africa, manufactures in Asia, and implements their solution in South America.

These 5.6 billion people need food, water, power, healthcare, and education. Some already have these basics but many more do not. The UN estimates that another 2.3 billion will join this group by 2050. It becomes clear very quickly that there is a huge opportunity to make an impact through business or philanthropy. Both routes expose you to the larger scope of people and challenges in the world. Whether these people become your clients, partners or employers, understanding different cultures and how to do business will definitely make a difference in your career, these are billions of people you do not want to overlook.

3. Resourcefulness takes on a complete new meaning

It is one thing to be resourceful in an office in downtown Toronto and another in a remote farm in Nepal. Resourcefulness is a critical skill that can dictate the success of your career. This means being able to get from point A to point B, efficiently, with what you have. But most importantly, this means being able to tackle distractions and inconveniences to get your work done.

While working in developing countries, you will face issues which are not common in developed economies, including hyperinflation, poor infrastructure, material scarcity, power outages and corruption. On top of that, we in Nepal are in the midst of the monsoon season, which causes temporary flooding.

Last week, my SunFarmer colleague and I were responsible for commissioning several solar water pumps in a rural area bordering India. Besides being remotely located, the environment in this region varies between scorching summer heat and monsoon showers, which makes it difficult to test the system and collect user feedback. Interestingly enough, these challenges and problems become inconsequential when you feel that you’re doing something meaningful. Unavoidably, resourcefulness extends to your day to day life. It becomes intuitive and a differentiating asset that will serve you as you advance in your career or move back home, if you decide to do so.

Next steps for students and young professionals

Due to globalization, our world is becoming more compact and connected. Most importantly, pressing global challenges such as climate change know of no borders. For those of us who are just starting out our careers, this is an exciting time to be a part of this change and developing countries are only going to become a more important aspect of the global economy. For these three and many other reasons, I suggest that you take the leap and leave the comfort of your air-conditioned office. If this story resonates with you in any way I encourage you to share your thoughts and explore further opportunities. Here are some ideas on how to do it:

  1. Talk to your network. Reach out to your professors, peers, or organizations working on the issues that you are passionate about and have skills for.
  2. Go online. There are many great websites that compile opportunities offered across the world.
  3. Start your own venture. If you can’t find the opportunity you want, make one for yourself. Chances are you already have skills which could be valuable. Get creative.
Ivan Damnjanovic