12 Reasons Why You Should Work in Humanitarian Aid

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Humanitarian workers deploy into areas hit by disasters and conflicts to assist people affected. They also work in areas of poverty and destitution to provide assistance to people in need. Many people build a career as a humanitarian worker – moving between different duty stations managing aid projects. However, the aid sector can be hard to break into. So, why join the humanitarian sector? Why should you work in humanitarian aid?

You Work Helping People

The first reason you should work in humanitarian aid is that you can build a career where you directly help people.

Every year, millions of people are affected by crises, conflicts and disasters and humanitarian agencies deliver vital life saving assistance to those affected. By becoming a humanitarian, you will work on projects that help some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

When deciding on a career, its important to think about what kind of work you want to do, and why. Many people put helping others, and having a positive impact, as high priorities for their work. Joining the international aid sector is a great way to focus your career on helping others.

If you see people being impacted by natural disasters, poverty, or forced to flee their homes because of violence and persecution and wish to do something to help, then you should consider working in humanitarian aid. Focusing your career on providing assistance to people in need is a major reason to become a humanitarian.

It Lets You Travel the World

A second reason to become a humanitarian aid worker is that it’s a career that lets you travel the world.

Crises and disasters happen all over the globe. Humanitarian workers deploy abroad to set-up projects assisting the people affected and helping them rebuild their lives.  Humanitarian workers travel frequently. Having a career that lets you explore the world is a major reason to work in international aid.

Working on the frontline of humanitarian crises means moving frequently, often to remote and sometimes dangerous parts of the world. This isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for a career and see travel as an adventure, you should consider working in humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian workers can either be based in field sites working for extended periods abroad or be based in HQ’s and travel out to urgently support crisis responses. Being able to travel for work is a really great reason to join the humanitarian sector.

Be on The Frontline of World Events

When humanitarian crises hit, aid workers deploy to provide assistance. Another reason to become a humanitarian is that you can work on the frontline of major world events.

If you are interested in current affairs and want to see first-hand how evolving crises affect both international politics and affected communities, consider a career in humanitarian aid. A key part of being an aid worker is bearing witness to crises and although for some this would be a deterrence, for others it is a major reason to join the aid sector.

A big reason to work in humanitarian aid is that you can use your knowledge and skills to assist people affected by crises and conflicts as they develop – as opposed to passively observing events from a far through the media. If you have a desire to help people and want to work on the frontline of major disasters, consider becoming a humanitarian.

Although responding to disasters and crises can be challenging, and at times emotionally difficult, it is also highly rewarding to be present and helping people as major historical events unfold.

Humanitarian Aid Online Courses

If you are looking to work in humanitarian aid, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the humanitarian sector and gives valuable insights for those searching for jobs in humanitarian aid. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

The International Humanitarian Law Theory and Practice online course offered by Leiden University in the Netherlands provides a fantastic theoretical overview of humanitarianism. We think it’s one of the top online courses for those who want to understand the basics of international humanitarian law. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.

We also think the Humanitarian Action Response and Relief online course offered by Coventry University is a must for anyone looking to become a humanitarian aid worker. It only takes around three weeks to complete and would be a major addition to the CV of anyone looking to work in the aid sector. The link is to the course’s page.

Work with Amazing People

Another reason why you should work in humanitarian aid is that you will meet amazing people from all over the world.

International aid workers come from many different countries and cultures. Working closely in a team of people with different views and experiences can be really rewarding. Teams on humanitarian missions are often a mixture of expat staff from many different countries, and locals. This mixture brings a dynamism to working as part of a humanitarian response.

The humanitarian sector attracts adventurous, interesting, and ambitious people. Many people make real and lasting connections with colleagues they meet in the aid sector.

As well as the people you will work with, being a humanitarian allows you to live in communities all over the world. You will meet amazing people from many different societies, many who show extraordinary resilience in the face of hardship.

Building a career as an international aid worker will introduce you to people who will genuinely have a huge impact on your life. That’s a big reason to work in humanitarian aid.  

Do A Job That Reflects Your Values

Do you believe in universal human rights, global justice, and alleviating poverty? Do you want to fight for the rights of refugees, women, and ethnic minorities? Is improving access to education and healthcare for marginalized communities important to you? Working in humanitarian aid gives you the chance to put your values into practice and build a career where your work directly aligns with your principles.

There are not many careers where your day-to-day work can be so closely linked to how you want the world to improve and the impact you want to have. Working in humanitarian aid is challenging, and you are likely to see that your values often need to adapt when faced with crises and disasters. However, being able to build a career that aligns with your principles is another reason to become a humanitarian aid worker.

Working in the international aid sector will allow you to see how your values align with real world events. You are likely to have your principles challenged, but you will also learn more about yourself and question how you see the world.

Build A Wide Range of Skills

Working on the frontline of humanitarian crises allows you to build a huge range of skills. This is great reason to join the aid sector.

Humanitarian workers oversee complex projects. They need strong knowledge of programme management, finance, HR, logistics, grant management and project monitoring and evaluation. Aid workers can also specialize in technical areas such as healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter, and camp management.  Working in humanitarian aid gives you the chance to develop skills across many areas that can be used both within and outside the aid sector.

International aid workers often either specialise within a technical area or focus on project management and coordination.

Another great reason to work in humanitarian aid is that it allows you to take skills and knowledge learned outside the sector and apply them to crises and disaster responses. This includes to a huge range of professions and jobs – such as doctors, engineers, architects, and nutritionists, as well as accountants, HR professionals and logisticians.

You Can Work for Prestige Organisations

Many humanitarian organisations are famous for their work around the world. If you want to work for a well-known or prestigious organisation, consider joining some of the largest international aid agencies.

The biggest humanitarian agencies, such as Médecins San Frontiers, Save the Children, Oxfam, the Red Cross, and the International Rescue Committee, are household names. One reason to work in international aid is that you can build a career working for some of most established and best-regarded charities in the world.

As well as working for world famous NGOs, another reason to work in the humanitarian aid sector is to build a career within the United Nations. UN agencies such as UNHCR, WFP, UNDP, UNICEF, and UNRWA are some of the largest and most important aid organizations in the world. If you want to work for the UN, consider a career in humanitarian aid.

Although being able to work for highly prestige aid agencies is big reason to join the humanitarian sector, becoming an aid worker can also allow you to join small, frontline grassroot organisations that do vital work in crises affected communities around the world.

It Can Be Well Paid

Most people do not work in humanitarian aid because they are seeking a big salary. However, aid workers can be well paid and senior management roles in the sector can earn a lot. Although probably not the biggest reason to become a humanitarian, its good to remember you can actually get a decent salary.

Humanitarian aid workers generally receive a salary for their work. Most are not volunteers. When working internationally in the aid sector, NGOs also often provide accommodation, return flights and insurance. When working in hardship locations, extra pay is also usually added. Many humanitarians work in remote locations where it is hard to spend their salaries, meaning you really can save a lot of your money when working abroad as a humanitarian.

As we said, no one really joins the international aid sector for the money. But we all have bills to pay, and a good reason to join the sector is that it can be well paid, and you can often save money.

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Want to become a humanitarian worker? Get tailored career guidance and gain an in-depth understanding of the aid sector through a 1-2-1 coaching programme.

You Can Build A Career

Another reason why you should join the humanitarian sector is because you can build a career in international aid, it’s not just a job.

The humanitarian sector is enormous. It covers aid NGOs, UN agencies, private consultancy companies and government departments. There are humanitarian positions all over the world, including frontline field roles, HQ positions in capital cities, regional office positions and roving positions that move between different field offices providing support. Working in international aid can be a life-long career and this is a big reason to join the sector.

Humanitarian aid workers can not only move between postings, but also often move between positions. Technical staff will take on coordination and managerial roles, and junior staff can gain skills and qualifications whilst working in the sector to move into technical areas. Being able to move between roles, countries, and locations is a major benefit of working in humanitarian aid.

A big reason to work in international aid is that you can build a career out of being a humanitarian.

You Have Truly Unique Experiences

Humanitarian workers travel the world, often to places few other people go. They work on the frontline of crises and disasters, and in areas of poverty and deprivation. Although you’ll definitely face challenges as an aid worker, you’ll also have experiences few other people get to have.

Many people are drawn to the humanitarian sector because it lets them live and work in places few other people get to visit. Not only will you meet amazing people, but you’ll have the chance to see, hear and experience things that most other jobs won’t give you. The chance to have genuine adventures is a big reason to work in humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian work can be difficult – you often live for long periods of time in remote and challenging places, sometimes without basic services. However, the experiences you’ll have, the connections you’ll make and the stories you’ll hear as a humanitarian are often a major reason people join, and stay, in the aid sector.

You’ll Take on Challenges

Working on humanitarian responses is challenging. International aid workers often work in difficult and dangerous environments. There are restrictions of movement, sometimes tough living conditions, infrequent communication, and sometimes… pretty bad food. However, overcoming these challenges and facing personal adversity can be incredibly rewarding.

If you are looking for a comfortable life, deploying into disaster and conflict zones as a humanitarian worker is probably not for you.  On the other hand, if the idea of living among the community you’re helping and experiencing different ways of life appeals to you – think about a career in aid.

Implementing aid projects can be difficult. Many factors can delay, disrupt and or even destroy the efforts of humanitarian workers. Being both flexible and adaptable are key to succeeding in aid work. With that said, if you find gratification in being able to overcome challenges and can retain a focus on helping people in need, then the difficulties of working in humanitarian aid may be a real reason to join the sector.  

You Can Have A Personal Impact

If you want a job where you can have a direct impact on people and make small but tangible improvements to their lives, consider working in international aid.

Building a career where you travel the world deploying into conflict and disaster zones, or communities faced with destitution and poverty, can be exciting and rewarding. It can also be exhausting, challenging, de-motivating and sometimes traumatic and depressing. However, having a career where your work helps others, and you can have a small but definite impact on other people is ultimately one of the biggest reasons to work in humanitarian aid.

It’s important not to join the aid sector with naïve view that you will save the world. On the other hand, you also need to remember why working in the aid sector is important to you. If you are able to balance the realities of frontline aid work, with a sense of adventure and a wish to meet new people and have new experiences, then working in humanitarian aid is probably for you.

If you want to learn more about how to become a humanitarian worker, explore our list of the top humanitarian aid online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.