Author Topic: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?  (Read 3818 times)

El Gringo

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Hi everyone! Iím trying to determine my next career steps and I figured Iíd crowd source my thoughts to the Mustachian community. My background/career is not one that is common on the forums, so most people will probably not be able to relate, but I figure I can still get some valuable feedback.

Iíll give you my background, what Iím interested in, and steps Iím thinking about taking.
Iím just about to turn 27. I have a bachelorís degree in international relations and international development. Iíve been fortunate enough to make inroads into the field (which is very competitive) and I currently work for an international development organization Ė specifically in providing assistance to elections around the world. My role is in project management at our headquarters in DC and itís my first full-time job out of college. Iíve been there for a little over 3 years full time (I did a paid internship for several months before getting hired full time).

Iím interested in moving on to gain more experience and Iím trying to debate what steps to take. There are two to three areas of work that Iím interested in moving into. Iím very interested in economic development and urban planning/development in the developing world. In regards to economic development, Iíve always been interested in the non-profit, donor-funded projects Ė think things like microfinance, value-chain addition, increasing farmersí access to markets, etc. However, Iím increasingly interested in moving away from the non-profit, donor-funded work and trying to get involved with businesses that are trying to invest in, or trade with African countries: whether it be purchasing natural resources, selling products, or investing in growing businesses. Iím interested in this for several reasons: 1) I see investment and trade as a better, more sustainable solution to endemic poverty (think of China and India as examples, who have moved millions of people out of poverty, not through non-profit work but through opening their economies to business and trade with the rest of the world). 2) The West is beginning to wake up and see Africa as a viable place to invest with largely untapped markets (the Chinese, of course, being way ahead of us in this realization). As many companies are entirely unfamiliar with African culture, politics, and history, Iím hoping that my knowledge and experience in Africa can be of value, 3) Iím also acting out of self-preservation. National aid budgets will continue to be squeezed due to austerity and places like Africa will continue to grow and need less direct aid anyway. The aid and development industry will continue to be harder and harder to find jobs in and I want to protect myself and ensure I continue to have a job 20 years from now (Iím saving and investing, but with a non-profit salary, early retirement isnít very viable).

The other type of work Iíve become really interested in Ė just over the past few years Ė is urban planning in the developing world. Africa, Asia, and Latin America continue to face unprecedented urbanization and dealing with massive problems and will continue to face these problems for years. Iím particularly interested in finding sustainable transportation solutions for cities that are brought to their knees with endemic traffic and gridlock, amongst other problems.

Right now Iím looking for new job opportunities that could help me explore one of these areas and get my feet wet. Iím also thinking about going back to school, but Iím not sure yet what would be the most relevant schooling. In regards to my interest in economic development and business engagement in Africa, should I get an MBA? Study finance? International trade? Iím also interested in the growing data analysis sector and have thought about looking at programs that are focused on statistics and data analysis (which would be relevant in international development, international business, or urban planning).

Iíve also been thinking about studying economics, but all the economist I talk to say that itís not worth studying economics unless I get a Ph.D. Iím not sure Iím up for that, but I think that the open doors of PhD would be nice Ė just have to get past the five years of laboring for it! Also, an upside of that would be that my schooling would be paid for through a PhD program.  Also, having a PhD in economics would be fairly versatile: I could work in international development, the private sector, or in urban planning.

Finally, I could go the route urban planning and get a degree in that. As of now, though, I have no experience in urban planning Ė just an interest Ė and that could be a big leap.

Iím in a place where Iíve established a good financial footing and have saved a decent amount, particularly taking into account my puny non-profit salary. But I am in no way set for early retirement. Right now, Iím just looking to advance my career and gain more skills that would make me more valuable and give me a better salary. Ideally, Iíd like to continue working while I go to school so that I can avoid massive amounts of debt. I know that graduate school is generally frowned upon by the Mustachian crowd, but I definitely feel like I DO need to go back to school in some way, or else Iíll be stuck with low wages and limited skills. I currently make just a little north of $40k and I hope to one day be able to have and support a family. Iíd love to hear anyoneís feedback or insight, particularly if you have a background in international development, economics, international trade, or urban planning.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2014, 05:28:54 PM by El Gringo »

CrochetStache

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2014, 04:54:50 PM »
Which languages do you know? And what personal experiences do you have outside of the US?

I'm not sure how much additional schooling you'll need as much of this kind of work seems to need to be tailored for the specific cultures involved. Feet on the ground experience would serve you best.

A lot of these third world areas do receive a lot funds for what they are providing private corporations/China, etc but the exploitation is very high also. Are you thinking of being a middleman in these kinds of negotiations?

Sorry I have more questions than answers for you at this time.

El Gringo

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2014, 05:12:50 PM »
Which languages do you know? And what personal experiences do you have outside of the US?
I'm conversational in Spanish and I am learning French (I learned Spanish in high school - and love Latin America and would love to get involved again in that area of the world - but ever since college, my focus has been on Africa). For the past two years I've been traveling to South Sudan on and off again, doing short-term assignments for 2-3 months at at a time. I've also done work assignments in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Haiti and Thailand/Vietnam, and studied in Uganda and Rwanda. I have a lot of other traveling experience too, although I wouldn't put those on a resume as work experience.

I'm not sure how much additional schooling you'll need as much of this kind of work seems to need to be tailored for the specific cultures involved. Feet on the ground experience would serve you best.

That's true, although I'd like to learn more technical skills if possible.

A lot of these third world areas do receive a lot funds for what they are providing private corporations/China, etc but the exploitation is very high also. Are you thinking of being a middleman in these kinds of negotiations?

I realize there's a lot of questionable activity/exploitation involved with multinational and Chinese companies and as someone who's passionate about international development, this is of course something that I'm very concerned about and wouldn't want to be involved in at all. At the same time, business and trade isn't inherently evil and ultimately I think it provides a lot of solutions for a lot of sub-Saharan countries (but I also don't see it as a panacea, either). I'm still trying to figure out where/how I could fit in - and I'm trying to connect to and talk with as many people as I can who could help me understand that better. A middle man/broker is one type route I could take. I recently did a volunteer fellowship for a company that is acting as a middle man connecting investors in the West with Ethiopian businesses that are trying to obtain capital to expand. And this is an example of a growing field/philosophy that seeks to use business not only as a means for a financial return but also a social return (in this specific case, it's known as impact investment).

Sorry I have more questions than answers for you at this time.

No problem! A dialogue is better anyway. :)
« Last Edit: February 01, 2014, 05:16:07 PM by El Gringo »

El Gringo

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2014, 07:59:02 AM »
I was hoping to get more of a response...so I'm gonna bump this. :)

TrulyStashin

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2014, 11:51:01 AM »
You might do some internet research on corporate sustainability initiatives which are growing in importance and focus on the kinds of issues you're interested in.  For example, read this report from FEMSA http://www.femsa.com/en/sustainability/social_report.htm and go search for other corporations doing similar work.

Your background could be very helpful to the success of these programs and I think you'd be a very strong candidate.

Others that I can think of, off the top of my head:

Ford Motor Co. is a global leader on stopping human trafficking and furthering sustainable development/ mobility:  http://corporate.ford.com/our-company/sustainability

Levi Strauss has done amazing work  http://www.levistrauss.com/sustainability

For a comprehensive list of corporations engaged in this work, go here:  http://www.unglobalcompact.org/ParticipantsAndStakeholders/Index.html'

I worked in the sustainability area for two years.  PM me if you want to know more.  You don't need to go back to school to build a really interesting career in this area.

minimalist

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2014, 01:14:05 PM »
I would recommend looking into opportunities at State, USAID, OPIC, World Bank, IDB, etc. and international development contractors like Chemonics, DAI, ACDI/VOCA, etc. where you can go abroad and implement projects related to enterprise, financial services, and agribusiness, among other things. You might be able to get tuition reimbursement benefits to obtain your master's degree part-time at the many universities in the DC area. The Peace Corps is also an option.

A PhD in economics is probably not the best path for working in business abroad, but rather research at universities, governments, or NGOs. Do you have the mathematical training for an economics PhD? That typically consists of single variable calculus, multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations.

marblejane

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2014, 02:34:20 PM »
I can only really speak to the business school route- I think an MBA would only be worthwhile if you can get into a top 10 program, get a good financial aid package, and get connections to employers that would interest you that you might not otherwise have access to. The easiest way to assess the third piece is to look into individual programs that interest you. Most top schools have an emerging markets student club- find those and reach out to the student contacts.

minougray

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2014, 06:32:54 PM »
I got a masters degree in urban planning about 10 years ago. Many schools (public, not the private ones) offer graduate assistantships which is not easy to find for a masters program. I graduated with almost no debt, so it's a good mustachian option.  I went to U of Maryland, and a number of professors have international connections - my studio project was in St Petersburg Russia. I'd suggest visiting a few schools in the area - DC has a lot to offer and you might find something you hadn't considered.

El Gringo

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2014, 07:39:03 AM »
Thanks everyone for your responses!

minimalist, minougray, and trulystashing - I sent you all PMs. Thanks for your suggestions.

marblejane - I like the emerging markets student club idea. I'll check that out.  I'm also building some contacts at the trade association Corporate Council For Africa to get advice, both in terms of school and jobs as well.

ljp555

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Re: Looking for next career step advice - economics, business, urban planning?
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2014, 08:10:52 AM »
I have an MBA, and I don't think it would be a very efficient route for you. I'd recommend looking for jobs like what you want to do to figure out the requirements (education, experience, skills), then determine the best path to meet those requirements. Also go through LinkedIn and your school's alumni network to find people in related careers, set up informational interviews, and ask questions on how to get into their field.