Careers: Advice and Resources
Advice on getting a job: How Do I Pursue a Career as an International Mediator or Peacebuilder?
One of the most common questions that I am asked by university students who have gone through my conflict resolution and peacebuilding courses is what a career path is like in this field, and how to get started. In order to provide some ideas for those interested in pursuing this field professionally, below I share some advice.
My first piece of general advice would be to think about international mediation for what it is, which is facilitating a negotiation between states. Usually, at that level, for states to risk the publicity and raised expectations (and likelihood that they will have to make concessions) that comes with inviting a mediator to intervene, they only do so if the mediator has either political leverage over one or both, international visibility and credibility, or something to offer (like increased foreign aid) that can change the cost/benefit calculus of a peace settlement. This means that mediators intervening in interstate conflicts usually do so as representatives of states, or of really major international organizations like the UN or OAS. There are some exceptions, but that is the general trend. In that sense, it is great to have the goal of being an international mediator, but it is a little bit like an aspiring actor saying that they are really more interested in being the lead in a major-studio blockbuster feature film. You have to work up to it and build experience and credibility over time. You can see a visual representation and discussion of the many branches represented within the field of peace and conflict athttp://kroc.nd.edu/alumni/career-resources/strategic-peacebuilding-pathways.
There are several paths to building this experience--one is to go into diplomacy and work your way up the government or UN bureaucratic ladder (especially as a foreign service officer). This will get you involved in negotiating political/international issues around the world, although at first, you will likely be handling consular/visa affairs in Djibouti, and it does require quite a bit of travel. You would be in a position to intervene in major-conflict peace talks once you were senior enough, and especially if you became a senior political officer or ambassador. It is important to note that entry-level jobs in these fields are very competitive, and in the case of U.S. Foreign Service, there is an exam and interview process. A UN career usually calls for language skills, and often involves a good bit of investment in volunteer or unpaid internship work before finding a paid position.
Another route is to gain experience as a mediator first by volunteering with a community mediation center in the U.S., getting training as a mediator with the courts, etc., and perhaps working as a court mediator or on the staff of a domestic mediation program. You can build your skill set and experience in order to gain credibility, perhaps focusing especially on cross-cultural aspects of mediation, or even immigrant mediation if you have language skills. Community Mediation Maryland is an excellent resource for this in the DC/Maryland area. See http://www.marylandmediation.org for more about the organization, or search for mediation training through the Association for Conflict Resolution or through the Mediate.com web site. The idea is that after building this experience as a mediator, you have a lot of value to add, and could become active in peacebuilding, mediator training, and other related activities in other countries. The American Bar Association has initiatives in a number of countries to promote ADR and mediation within their court systems (one of my former study abroad students was one of the key officials for this initiative in Ecuador), and USAID sometimes funds this type of work as part of its democracy and governance programs abroad.
One other approach is to start at the ground level in humanitarian/human rights/peacebuilding work abroad through NGOs like Search for Common Ground, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Samaritan's Purse, etc. You would frequently be working at the community level with nonviolence/conflict resolution skills training programs, helping local organizations build action plans to achieve peace, using economic development strategies to reduce conflict vulnerability, and other similar grassroots strategies. Again, this helps you build experience and credibility in the content area while also making important contacts in international networks, which gives you the possibility of moving up to progressively more responsible and bigger-impact programs. If you can afford it, unpaid internship experience can give you very valuable field experience abroad that will make you more marketable for a full-time position. Experience working (in whatever capacity) on NGO projects that are funded by large international donors like USAID or the UN are especially valuable, as paid positions are often looking for people who already are familiar with the procedures and guidelines set out by these organizations.
I would recommend that you consider starting in one of these paths and gain some experience, and then possibly go back for an advanced degree in conflict management/resolution with an international focus (programs like the Masters in Conflict Resolution at UMass Boston, ICAR at George Mason, Masters in Conflict Resolution at Georgetown, Masters in Conflict Management at Kennesaw in Georgia, Conflict Management concentration to the IR master's at Johns Hopkins/SAIS, and the Masters in International Peace Studies at Notre Dame are all examples with different emphases).
There are a few resources that you should check out in the meantime:
"Skills, Networks, and Knowledge: Developing a Career in International Peace and Conflict Resolution"
"Graduate Education and Professional Practice in International Peace and Conflict", US Institute for Peace
Peace and Collaborative Development Network Meta List of Job Sites
"Starting a Career Building Peace"
There are a number of sites that regularly list internships and jobs in this field and related areas of international affairs, as well as additional resources:
Top sites to subscribe/monitor for specific jobs and opportunities
Peace and Collaborative Development Network: https://pcdnetwork.org/
AfP Opportunities board: https://allianceforpeacebuilding.org/resources-for-peacebuilders/peacebuilding-jobs/
Peace & Justice Studies Association Career & Educational Opportunities: https://www.peacejusticestudies.org/resources/career-educational-opportunities
Boston Network for International Development: https://www.bnid.org/
Global Jobs (sortable by level, region, & sector): https://globaljobs.org/
USA Jobs (federal government jobs): https://www.usajobs.gov/
Work for Good: https://www.workforgood.org/ (nonprofit jobs, searchable by location/function)
Indeed.com (refine search by geographic region and job function keyword)
City of Cambridge jobs: http://www2.cambridgema.gov/jobopenings.cfm
City of Boston jobs: https://www.boston.gov/departments/human-resources/career-center
Networks/platforms to join in order to exchange information and increase connections
Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP): http://allianceforpeacebuilding.org/
Peace and Collaborative Development Network (PCDN): https://pcdnetwork.org/
Boston Network for International Development: https://www.bnid.org/
Listservs: New York Dispute Resolution Network e-mail listserv (NYC-DR), Maryland MACRO e-mail listserv,
Facebook and LinkedIn groups: Conflict Transformation Peacebuilding and Security (LI), Boston Facilitator’s Roundtable (LI), Boston Young Professionals Association (LI), Careers in Foreign Affairs (FB)
Professional Associations: Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR), ACR-Northeast, Peace & Justice Studies Association, Alliance for Peacebuilding, International Studies Association (ISA)
UMass Boston Alumni Career Panel, September 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Boliy8S1mgE&list=PLUFVjdQqDvCcSW6APksj46tjH_ej6FMyF&index=2
Webinar: Looking at Career Paths for Young People in the Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution Fields by David Smith: https://vimeo.com/170070978
Resources for Social Entrepreneurship/Startups
Foundation Center: http://foundationcenter.org/
Echoing Green Fellowship: http://www.echoinggreen.org/fellowship
PeaceFirst (youth under 25): http://www.peacefirst.org/programs/
Structured hiring programs: Presidential Management Fellows (U.S. Govt), Scoville Peace Fellowship (6-9 months in DC organizations), AmeriCorps, Teach for America, World Bank Jr. Fellows, UN Volunteers, USAID Democracy Fellowship, State Department Pathways program