Skip to main content

Navigating (the lack of) diversity and inclusion in international development

My ICS placement and introduction into International Development

My first introduction to the international development sector was in 2014 when I went on a volunteer placement with International Citizen Service (ICS). Fresh out of my bachelor’s degree, I was keen to do work that was impactful and made a difference.  

Before volunteering with ICS, I had never visited any South American countries. I’d also never volunteered abroad as I did not think that it was an opportunity that was accessible to someone from my background. I therefore wasn’t surprised when I arrived for my orientation, to find there was only a handful of people who were from a black or ethnic minority background. 

a group of volunteers in their ICS tshirts on the street smiling at the camera
© Grace Labeodan
Grace and her ICS team in Bolivia, 2014.

 Arriving in Bolivia, our large team of 20 or so young people and youth leaders was divided into smaller groups. I was placed in a group with three other young women. We worked with a small charity in Santa Cruz and were involved in school projects and community campaigns. My ICS experience overall was a positive one where we had a common purpose and that was to serve a local community as best we could.  

Why representation matters… 

Volunteering abroad exposed me to a diversity of cultures, peoples and languages and although I was an outsider, I was expected to participate, share and engage. My differences were welcomed, and I was included in the work and the community. Upon my return to UK, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in international development. I am currently working within the sector; however, the journey here has not been without its challenges.  

Girish Menon sat in the actoin aid office talking
© Action Aid
Girish Menon is the CEO of Action Aid.

In a recent conversation with Girish Menon, CEO of Action Aid, I asked what he thought about diversity and inclusion within the sector.  

“The international development sector is not as diverse as one would expect it to be. Given its global outreach and global perspective, it should be setting the standard in diversity and inclusion. Despite this, there is an acknowledgment of the issue and tangible solutions are being discussed. What is now needed is a sense of urgency to truly achieve diversity and inclusion,” he told me. 

There are many young people like myself either working within the sector or hoping to do so, so to have so little representation of women and BAME staff occupying top positions makes me wonder why more isn’t being done to support candidates rising through the international development career ladder.  

grace is stood in front of a sign for the Women of the world event
© Grace Labeodan
Grace attended Women of The World talks with an ICS press pass.

How do we get better at it?  

Thanks to ICS, I had the opportunity to attend the Women Of the World Festival. One of the panel discussions I went to listen to was about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce is something that all the panellists felt strongly about.

Pamela Hutchinson, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for financial data company Bloomberg LP, said: “There is enough evidence that shows that companies that are more diverse are more successful. There would be more diversity if there was enough desire to do things differently. Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s problem.” 

A popular mantra within our sector is ‘leave no one behind’ and the international development sector does a good job waving the flag of equality and inclusion. Continuing to progress will require board members and staff who champion diversity - and this something to be excited about. 

a group of people sat on a large stage as part of a panel discussion
© Grace Labeodan
A panel discussion at the Women of The World festival.

Dfid Logo

Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

Find out more