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Top 22 Career Paths in Humanitarian Action

Millions of people in the world depend on immediate help from humanitarian aid workers and their organizations. These humanitarian operations and projects, run in cooperation between international and domestic organizations, are multi-sector and complex, employing great numbers of professionals to undertake an impressive variety of tasks. Those passionate about working in the field of humanitarian assistance and helping to save lives might think that there is only a singular career path in this field – that of a humanitarian aid worker – and that anyone who has studied something else is not qualified. However, this is far from the truth. Behind a humanitarian aid worker are whole teams of professionals with all kinds of degrees and qualifications, dealing with logistics, finances, research, protection and many other issues.

To bring you closer to what doing humanitarian work means, we present you exciting career paths that you could take up and excel in. This way, professionals from all sorts of disciplines can find a way to make rewarding humanitarian work their life-long career.

International Humanitarian and Development Careers

Learn about the career paths open to you after studying international development

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As far as salary ranges are concerned, please note that with each of these positions, the salary will depend on the mission you are deployed to, the organization that hired you and most importantly, the type of contract you have (national or expat, for instance).

Field Officer

Description: Field officers are at the frontline of humanitarian crises around the globe. These professionals are the first point of contact for people fleeing their homes due to conflicts and natural disasters. As a field officer, you will have an impressive knowledge of the specific humanitarian situation, available services, and the current state of affairs when it comes to organizations and institutions present in the field. Field officers monitor the general humanitarian situation on a day-to-day basis and assess the needs of their beneficiaries. In addition to giving information, providing referrals to available services and, frequently, distribution food or non-food items to beneficiaries, field officers are also responsible for collecting and analyzing data from the field. Often, field officers will be keeping track of their organization’s beneficiaries and the information about their demographics, but will also be asked to do more in-depth interviews for research and advocacy purposes. Moreover, these professionals take care that the specificities of the projects their organization is leading are met timely and effectively.

Qualifications: Professionals coming from a variety of disciplines can build their careers as field officers and coordinators. Organizations typically look for candidates who hold at least an undergraduate degree in a social science discipline or management. An advanced degree in a field more specifically relating to human rights or development is desirable but usually not a requirement. Furthermore, field officers should have at least a year or two of professional experience working with vulnerable populations or in the non-governmental sector.


Description: Logisticians are the designers of humanitarian operations. These skilled professionals are the brain behind actions through which humanitarian assistance is provided promptly and to all, and they also organize the building of shelters and camps and delivering supplies by sea, air, or any other way possible. Logisticians with specific knowledge of humanitarian logistics are extremely valuable in humanitarian contexts as this is not a discipline frequently studied in engineering and technical schools. Therefore, possessing the necessary knowledge and skills to be employed as a humanitarian logistician can lead you to the most exciting and meaningful missions, including working in the heart of a conflict zone. Large missions ran by major international organizations are complex, often maintaining dozens of vehicles and warehouses that needed to be operated successfully by the logistics team. Working for an international organization as a logistician could also include being responsible for procurement, different customs formalities, and budgeting. Ideally, humanitarian logisticians are also able to operate different vehicles.

Qualifications: Those interested in becoming humanitarian logisticians should hold an undergraduate degree in logistics and be well familiar with supply chain, warehouse management, and import and export. Alternatively, organizations are sometimes willing to hire candidates who do not have a formal degree in logistics but possess substantial (five or more years) of field experience in humanitarian logistics and management.

MEAL Officer

Description: To make sure they are running their projects successfully and maximizing the input they can have on their beneficiaries, international organizations need employees who specialize in evaluation and learning. A growingly popular career path in that regard is MEAL officer, the acronym standing for monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning. MEAL Officers work with other project teams and/or partners within the organization and assist them in tracking the success of their projects. They are always aware of the regulations and requirements prescribed by the organization and its donors and have the task of making sure all parts of the organization fulfill them while having a meaningful impact on the beneficiaries. Such a task requires frequent on-site visits and check-ups so this career path consists of both office and field work. Whenever gaps and malpractices are identified, MEAL officers are responsible for guiding the staff to learn from the situation and continuously grow better. Unlike with many other humanitarian workers, it is essential that MEAL officers are good with numbers, statistics, and reporting.

Qualifications: To become a MEAL officer, interested candidates should hold at least an undergraduate degree in statistics, economics, or relevant discipline. In the past several years, it has also become possible to specialize in monitoring and evaluation at a master’s degree level. MEAL officers typically have previous work experience in database management, reporting, and spreadsheets.

WASH Officer

Description: Oftentimes, humanitarian aid workers are professionals with a very specific set of skills. One of such jobs that require special training is that of a water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) officer. WASH officers are needed in humanitarian crisis situations in order to ensure that water supply systems are effective. This task is of particular importance in refugee camps but it is also very much needed in developing areas in general. The officer inspects and monitors the water supply on a regular basis and has the responsibility to avoid any interruptions as such situations could be rather harmful to the beneficiaries. Furthermore, WASH officers are also responsible for hygiene and sanitation in the facilities and their surroundings in order to maintain a healthy environment. This type of work consists of both promotion of high hygiene standards and distribution of hygiene kits and it concerns both beneficiaries and other field workers.

Qualifications: Although narrowly-defined university degrees aimed at WASH are emerging, candidates are not obliged to specialize in water engineering in order to become WASH officers. Most international organizations also accept public health or environmental health professionals or those with some technical degree who have previously obtained relevant work experience.

Protection Officer

Description: Situations where a great number of people are vulnerable and exposed to an array of risks call for an organized system of protection which is aimed at every single individual rather than the entire population as a whole. Several major international organizations, most notably the Danish Refugee Council, are known for employing numerous professionals to work as protection officers. These officers, who are present both in the field and in camps for refugees and displaced persons, are responsible for detecting protection issues and providing direct support to beneficiaries with specific needs. Such situations can include domestic or inter-communal violence, issues with the legal framework, and lack of shelter or any other service. Moreover, protection officers do meaningful referrals to organizations and agencies which can provide necessary services and they continuously conduct protection needs and vulnerability assessments to ensure that an effective protection mechanism is in place. Additionally, organizations often advertise protection officer vacancies that relate to working specifically with children or gender-based violence survivors. To successfully apply for these positions, you should have some training and/or professional experience that involved working with these specific groups.

Qualifications: As there are no specific degrees in protection, candidates who hold at least an undergraduate degree in a relevant field such as social work, psychology or international development are encouraged to apply for these positions. Protection officers should have some prior experience in humanitarian work or working with vulnerable persons as well as an advanced understanding of protection concepts.

Legal Aid Officer

Description: Lawyers and legal professionals can get involved with humanitarian work in at least two ways – by helping a local or international organization take care of its legal affairs or by working more closely with the beneficiaries of the organization. Lawyers who deal with an organization’s legal business may be asked to follow up on the legal aspects relating to the implementation of a project or to ensure that the field team and other staff members work in coordination with domestic and international human rights (and other) regulations. If you chose the latter career path, most work available is done with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Legal aid officers hold an important position in this structure because they provide the beneficiaries with invaluable information about their rights and what options they have to rebuild their lives in the best possible way.

Qualifications: Bachelor degree in Law is expected as the minimum for any candidate applying to become a legal aid officer. Typically, international organizations look for legal officers with at least a couple of years of experience and successful track record in a specific area of law. Depending on the context, additional qualifications in international human rights law or refugee law may also be one of the requirements.


Description: Some of the most needed professionals in any humanitarian context are medical doctors. Whatever the nature of the humanitarian crisis, whether it is a refugee crisis, a conflict zone, or a natural disaster-affected area, there are always great numbers of people who need medical care. Consequently, a number of international humanitarian organizations focusing specifically on providing medical assistance to vulnerable populations has increased. To name a few, Medicins sans Frontieres, Medicins du Monde, International Committee for the Red Cross and Relief International are among those who are in constant need of physicians, both general practitioners and those specifically trained as pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, or other. In addition to providing adequate care to patients, physicians are usually required to supervise and manage nurses who work in the field, collect data, produce reports, and work closely with the field team.

Qualifications: All candidates must hold a relevant professional degree in medicine with evidence of having completed all required medical training. Depending on the mission, doctors may also be asked to complete additional training on specific medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS or to hold specific certificates. Furthermore, it is often required to have at least a couple of years of work experience as a medical doctor before starting a mission. While being fluent in the language(s) beneficiaries speak is desirable, medical doctors frequently work closely with cultural mediators and interpreters.

Psychologist/Mental Health Specialist

Description: Humanitarian crises such as conflict, migration and natural disasters exposed people to great risks of suffering from a mental health condition, psychological distress or trauma. For this reason, psychologists and mental health professionals’ expertise are above essential in any humanitarian context. Their complex work consists of offering psychological first aid in the first stages of the crisis, as well as helping beneficiaries recover, start rebuilding their lives and altogether strengthening their community and its capacities. At the same time, as a psychologist or mental health professional working in a crisis-affected area, you may also be tasked with helping other humanitarian aid workers – mainly field and protection officers – take care of their own mental health in order to be able to live healthy lives and keep providing the beneficiaries with most effective services.

Qualifications: Psychologists and mental health specialists doing humanitarian work have to be highly trained in their field of study. In other works, international organizations require candidates to have completed at least an undergraduate degree in psychology, mental health or, alternatively, social work. Some previous experience in international contexts is desirable. It is not always necessary to speak the language of the beneficiaries as all medical workers usually work closely with cultural mediators and interpreters.

Cultural Mediator/Interpreter

Description: Cultural mediators play the key role in every humanitarian crisis where international actors are involved. They represent the essential link between a humanitarian aid worker and a beneficiary, ensuring successful communication between them. People working as cultural mediators essentially do translating and interpreting as well as connecting aid workers with the beneficiary’s culture, customs, and way of life. Translation work includes both simultaneous oral translation and translation of documents, including assisting asylum seekers in their asylum processes, for instance. Without cultural mediators, humanitarian services could remain inaccessible for many people in need.

Qualifications: Formal qualifications are often not required for cultural mediators. What is important is that the candidate speaks the needed language fluently and that they have good written knowledge of it as well. Furthermore, it is usually desirable to know more than one language commonly spoken by beneficiaries in addition to English and to have some previous work experience doing the same job.

Camp or Base Manager

Description: In a humanitarian crisis situation where many people are forced to flee their homes, international organizations often have to establish camps for refugees and/or internally displaced persons. Consequently, these organizations are regularly in need of capable and qualified professionals who will serve as managers of the camp or base. Camp managers supervise camp teams and ensure safety and security for both staff members and beneficiaries. Furthermore, they are tasked with monitoring and evaluation of the project, reporting, and planning new actions that can make the camp more livable. Typically, camp managers coordinate and work closely with field coordinators to stay updated on the needs of their beneficiaries.

Qualifications: While there are no specific advanced degrees in camp or area management, employers usually require candidates to hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in some management discipline, such as development or business management. Alternatively, candidates with degrees in international affairs or engineering could also qualify.

Program Officer

Description: Every non-profit organization, whether it is a small, local one, or a large international organization, has at least one program officer. Program officers are more experienced professionals within an organization and they are different from project officers as they are not tied to a specific project but they rather oversee the development of the entire organization or a specific branch of it. They can hold a number of duties such as seeking grants, monitoring projects, coordinating other employees, and budgeting. In other words, large organizations usually require program officers to create and coordinate capacity building actions as well as to be a part of the development of annual plans for the work of the organization, monitoring systems, and trainings. Program officers can be assigned to a particular country or mission and therefore be required to supervise the implementation of the strategy envisaged for that country.

Qualifications: When it comes to program officers, the type of degree you hold is not as important as having substantial and relevant work experience in an organization, particularly when it comes to monitoring and evaluation and project management. Candidates are expected to hold an undergraduate degree in a discipline such as international relations, law, or economics, and to have at least five years of related professional experience. Certain organizations will require candidates to have a successful track record working on projects funded by specific donors such as USAID or ECHO.

Peace and Conflict Academic/Scholar

Description: Peace and conflict studies scholars recognise the fact that wherever humans exist, conflict is inevitable. Peace scholars delve beyond the surface of conflict or conflict situations, by attempting to understand its remote, immediate and underlining causes. They realise that understanding conflict is a necessary pre-requisite for engaging in conflict resolution. Conflict scholars also look into a combination of factors such as circumstances, perceptions, behaviours, differences, interests, and goals, as possible triggers of conflicts among individuals and groups, as well as between nations. Peace scholars also help to explain how to deal with conflicts effectively as an essential life skill to promote peace, harmony, and understanding, and to prevent impulsive, destructive and frequently violent responses to disagreements.

Qualifications: The number of schools awarding undergraduate and graduate degrees in peace and conflict studies is on the increase globally. Most peace academics have at least a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies, human rights, and justice, international relations, and diplomacy, social work, as well as theology. Some peace academics have backgrounds in media and journalism (peace journalism experts) and other fields in the social sciences and humanities. For further academic pursuit in the field, a Ph.D. is typically required and many institutions now offer peace and conflict studies at Ph.D. level.

Salary: The salary for academics in peace and conflict studies depends on factors such as location, institution, and qualification. Typically, Ph.D. holders start off on a higher salary scale than master’s degree holders. Individuals with sufficient hands-on experience on the field also get paid relatively high.

Conflict Resolution Expert

Description: Conflict resolution experts work in a multi-disciplinary, analytical, and problem-solving context. They approach conflicts and conflicting situations in ways that seek to enable the participants in a conflict work collaboratively towards its resolution. Various disciplines such as arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators collaborate to ensure that factors facilitating conflict resolution such as knowledge and skills, value changes and healing receive the relevant attention needed.

Qualifications: Most conflict resolution experts have undergraduate and graduate degrees in peace and conflict studies. Many come from multidisciplinary backgrounds such as law, public policy, social work, etc. and typically earn postgraduate degrees in peace and conflict studies. It is expected that those interested in this field should have

Salary: Salary for conflict resolution experts also differ according to location, qualification, and experience. The US Bureau of Labour and Statistics (BLS) estimates that conflict resolution experts earned $58,020 in 2015. The salary for conflict resolution experts such as arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators are obviously different in other countries.

Peacebuilding Professional

Description: Peacebuilding professionals work in two very important areas in the societal peace and development process. First, they are actively involved in actions aimed at reducing structural violence, so as to reduce the likelihood of armed conflict. Second, they are active players in the recovery processes following an armed conflict with the aim of building a sustainable peace so that armed conflict does not occur again. Peacebuilders are often from the very multidisciplinary background. Given that the peacebuilding process requires substantial human and financial resources, peace builders often come from bodies such as the UN, the World Bank, regional development organisations, etc.

Qualifications: Typically, peacebuilding experts have graduate and postgraduate degrees in peace and conflict studies, with many having backgrounds in international relations, diplomacy, international law, political science, public administration, social work, development studies, and communication.

Salary: Peacebuilding specialists or experts earn $58,000 to $65,000 annually depending on their qualifications, years of experience and geographical location.

Gender and Development Specialist

Description: Gender and Development Specialists recognise that direct violent conflicts are 95% of the time committed by men. Often, women, children and the elderly are considered ‘soft targets’. Gender specialists analyse gender discourse critically through assessment surveys and other gender-related research with the aim of mitigating or completely stemming gender-based violence such as physical beating, emotional or psychological abuse, as well as structural violence such as economic deprivation.

Qualifications: Gender specialists typically have graduate and postgraduate degrees in peace and conflict studies, gender studies, advocacy, human rights law, social work and development studies. They must be knowledgeable in current gender discourses, as well as contextual issues in the debates about gender equality/equity.

Salary: Gender Specialists earn a base salary of $76,278 annually in the United State of America. This salary base will differ significantly in other countries, and will also depend on the individual’s qualifications, years of experience and geographical location.

Development and Communication Specialist

Description: Development and Communication Specialists work directly with civil society leaders to provide relief to vulnerable members of the society. Perhaps one of the most vital aspects of their work is that they monitor conflicts and present a more balanced and conflict-sensitive view to the members of the public and policymakers, thereby enhancing public understanding of the immediate and remote causes of conflicts, which in turn helps to consider nonviolent responses to conflicts. Development and Communication Specialists also carry out grant writing, news analysis, and the development of effective communication strategies for the attainment of set developmental goals.

Qualifications: Development and Communication Specialists often come from multidisciplinary backgrounds with degrees in public affairs, peace and conflict studies, mass communication, journalism, international relations, political and/or social sciences, etc. Additionally, Development and Communication Specialists are required to possess excellent written and verbal communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, as well as impeccable organisational abilities.

Salary: Development and Communication Specialists earn between $51,100 and $102,600 yearly, depending on qualifications and years of experience.

Human Resources Specialist

Description: Human resources specialists are very important to the smooth running of organisations. They are often required to manage the process of talent acquisition, including sourcing, testing, interviewing, hiring and onboarding. Human resources specialists also play a very vital role in developing training and performance management programmes that are in tandem with set organisational goals, as well as compliant with relevant state and national laws. Peace and conflict studies graduate fit seamlessly into human resources specialists’ roles as their academic and practical training helps them handle investigations and the resolution of employee issues, concerns and conflicts in ways that foster peace in the workplace, thereby improving organisational productivity.

Qualifications: Many graduates of peace and conflict studies have found job placements as human resources specialists. Many have undergraduate degrees in the humanities and management sciences, with many having postgraduate degrees in peace studies, conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation, etc.

Salary: The average base salary for human resources specialists is $71,687 per year. This amount differs according to location, qualifications and years of experience. Those with doctorate degrees earn more.


Description: Peace and conflict studies graduates are often employed as diplomats because of their vast knowledge of conflict-sensitivity, conflict resolution, mediation as well as development communication. Diplomats often work in partnership with their host countries to tackle issues such as human trafficking, climate change, as well as promote democratic development and build infrastructures for peace in their host countries.

Qualifications: Peace and conflict studies graduates are in training, equipped to fit into diplomatic positions. Many have undergraduate degrees in the humanities and management sciences, with many having postgraduate degrees in peace studies, conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation, etc. Many diplomats have bachelor’s degrees in international relations, law, economics, journalism and human resources management. Some have postgraduate degrees in peace and conflict studies, and this has given them an edge in the selection process. Given that diplomats sometimes work in difficult environments, they are often required to possess strong communication and interpersonal skills, be highly adaptable and very tolerant, as well as possess a keen sense of conflict-sensitivity.

Salary: Diplomats earn salaries that are completely country-dependent. Although the base salary is generally around $65,230, each country often establishes its own system of reward, which may be tied to what civil servants generally earn. Typically, PhD holders earn significantly more than individuals without PhDs.

Policy Officer

Description: Graduates of peace and conflict studies also function effectively as policy officers, where they assist in the formulation of policies on political, commercial and socioeconomic matters. They contribute primarily to the policy influencing areas of the organisations they work. Their rich background in the dynamics of conflicts means that they are often equipped to write progress reports on peace negotiations, conflict resolution, as well as peacebuilding initiatives. Policy officers also play a multiplicity of roles such as in press and public affairs, consular and immigration management, as well as active involvement in the process of mediation and negotiation.

Qualifications: Policy officers need to have a degree in peace and conflict studies. Many have postgraduate degrees in international relations/affairs, development studies or human rights. Most organisations require that policy officers have at least five years progressively responsible work experience in related fields such as climate change, human rights, development studies, social work, and anthropology.

Salary: Policy officers earn a base salary of 43981.481. The salary varies according to the place of employment and on organisational salary scales. Postgraduate degree holders tend to earn higher to the base salary.

Legal Advocate

Description: It is pertinent to state that legal officers are not lawyers, and they do not give legal advice. Legal officers provide advocacy for victims of all forms of violence, especially victims of domestic violence. The legal advocate provides direct services to victims who need help in terms of information, advocacy, and court accompaniment. They also provide assistance with services such as obtaining restraining orders, civil, criminal, and other court matters, and referrals.

Qualifications: Typically, legal advocates must hold a minimum of a four-year college or university degree in the humanities and the social sciences. Graduates of peace and conflict studies have been found to play the role of legal advocates. Legal advocates need skills and experience in working with trauma survivors, knowledge of victim’s legal rights. Candidates must also have sufficient knowledge in civil and criminal legal systems.

Salary: Legal Advocate average salary is $29,120. Like the other careers earlier listed, the salary scale depends on geographical location, qualifications, and years of practical experience.

The Ombudsman/Woman

Description: Peace and conflict studies graduates have been found to make excellent ombudsmen/women. They play very important roles in mediating between parties in conflict by acting as intermediaries. They participate in the process leading to the resolution of complaints and provide confidential consultations. They also recommend appropriate strategies in order to resolve conflicts between parties. Ombudsmen/women also conduct research and write reports concerning the grievance. This helps them identify problem and pattern areas, which in turn helps them in recommending areas of improvement, and ways in which conflicts can be completely transformed.

Qualifications: Ombudsmen/women come from diverse academic backgrounds. Degree holders in peace and conflict studies can function effectively in this position. It is also required that ombudsmen/women possess relevant attitudinal and relational skills such as confidentiality, excellent interpersonal communication skills, good conflict resolution skills, problem-solving skills, as well as excellent emotional intelligence.

Salary: In the United States, the median pay for Ombudsmen/women is in the range of $53,650 per annum. Like most positions, factors such as geographical location, years of experience and educational qualifications play a huge role on earnings.

Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Description: Graduates of peace and conflict studies go on to work as monitoring and evaluation officers. Given that most peace and development projects are people-centered, monitoring and evaluation officers review projects to assess whether or not interventions reached the intended target, and whether or not set objectives were achieved. Using systematic methods of data gathering and analysis, monitoring and evaluation officers measure the sustainability, effectiveness, and viability of projects, and recommends necessary policy changes to aid the attainment of project efficacy. They also ensure through effective monitoring and evaluation of projects, that donors get value for money invested in developmental projects.

Qualifications: Although many institutions now offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in monitoring and evaluation, graduates of peace and conflict studies function effectively in this position. Many graduates have gone on to obtain postgraduate degrees in monitoring and evaluation, while many have attended relevant courses. Monitoring and evaluation officers are often required to have sufficient experience in M&E Systems and tools design and implementation, data collection, entry, analysis and reporting. They must also possess excellent verbal communication, as well as IT skills.

Salary: In the United States, monitoring and evaluation officers earn a base salary of $33,361 per year.  Factors such as geographical location, years of experience and educational qualifications may affect salaries of monitoring and evaluation specialists in other countries.