International development is a field of study and practice focused on the “development” of countries, primarily (though not limited to) economic development. The best international development programs are designed to fight extreme poverty, empower human rights, promote capacity-building and resilience, and strengthen democracy. Unlike humanitarian aid, international development is more focused on long-term solutions. Consultants in this field specialize in many areas (such as economics, healthcare, gender, etc) and often work with consultancy organizations. How much do international development consultants earn?
While income for international development consultants varies significantly based on factors like years of experience and assignment, websites like ZipRecruiter show a yearly average of US$72,676 a year. Independent consultants with 5-10 years of experience may charge US$350-$650 per day.
What are the factors impacting a consultant’s earning potential?
As with any job, there are a handful of factors affecting how much an international development consultant can make. Here are four considerations:
Generally, the more experience you have, the higher your salary will be. Someone who’s worked in international development for decades will make more than someone starting their career. A higher salary can come from a promotion within an organization or from negotiating your rate when you’re applying for jobs or contracts.
An organization’s fee structure
A 2017 blog on “Evaluate This” points out that many firms and development organizations (like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) use a fee structure based on factors like professional background, sector, years of work experience, education, and position. Typically, there’s a range within each tier. The World Bank Group’s HQ and CO Compensation Scales page gives a bit more info, explaining that their policy relies on two principles: providing competitive market-based salaries and rewarding individual performance. The salary structure is reviewed annually. An organization’s fee structure for regular employees may guide the pay range for consultants.
What your assignment is
A consultant’s fee can vary significantly based on what you’re doing and what organization you’re consulting at. You could work on two similar projects at two different organizations and get a different fee. Two consultants – one working in finance and one working on a gender-related project – will also likely be paid differently even if they’re at the same organization. As with many consulting careers, your income can look quite different year to year.
Where the job is based (the exchange rate)
The location of a contract often impacts how much your fee is and whether taking the job is a financially wise choice. The exchange rate could be a big reason why. In the “Evaluate This” blog, the author gives an example with the US dollar. In 2008, the US dollar peaked at $1.59 to the euro, which meant for every euro an American earned, they were making $1.59. In 2016, however, the dollar was down to $1.05. In July 2022, it’s even lower. For Americans, this near parity makes working for European firms less appealing. If the tables turn and the US dollar becomes significantly less than the euro (like it did in the early 2000s), many Americans would definitely not want to work for European firms, while Europeans would benefit from working at American organizations. When you’re looking for contracts as a consultant, don’t forget the exchange rate and what currency you’ll be paid in.
What do international development consultants earn?
Now that we know what factors impact a consultant’s salary, it’s time to dig into what they can earn. Here’s what we found:
ZipRecruiter shows international development consultants making between US$22,000-$137,500 a year. The average is US$72,767 a year or $35/hour. In the United States, the highest-paying city is San Mateo, California, followed by Boston, MA and Daly City, CA. Certain high-level jobs within international development are also earning more than the average, including principal technical consultants, principal consultants, and senior consultants.
According to Glassdoor, consultants earn a base pay of US$69,295 a year with a total pay of $86,079. Additional pay is US$18,783 a year.
Last updated in 2016, the Payscale page for international development consultants has them earning an average base salary of US$48,080. Total pay ranges between US$27,000-$75,000.
Impact Consulting Hub
A blog posted on Impact Consulting Hub has a few recommendations on how much independent consultants should charge. When an organization is based in a higher-income country, the blog says US$300 is the standard starting daily rate for consultants. For international consultants with 5-10 years of experience working for international NGOs and UN agencies, US$350-$650 is the usual range. The blog also points out that experienced experts with 10+ years of experience charge as much as 800 EUR for EU development cooperation consultancy projects.
What do international development consultants do?
What are international development consultants doing to earn their fairly-high fees? The field is multi-disciplinary, though all international development professionals have similar goals. We get a clearer idea of what consultants are working toward by looking at the Sustainable Development Goals. Established in 2015, these 17 goals include ending poverty, ending hunger, achieving gender equality, providing safe water and sanitation for all, and providing affordable and sustainable energy for all. The deadline is 2030, but unless significant progress is made, that’s very unlikely. International development consultants can play an important role in turning the tide.
How? Consultants work on a handful of development issues, such as:
- Economics and finance
- Environmental policy
- Energy policy
- Human rights
- Humanitarian aid
- Disaster preparedness
Within those areas, consultants can provide services in technology, innovation, finance, international trade, project management, cost-benefit analysis, monitoring and evaluation, workforce development, and much more. Like all consultants, international development consultants work with organizations to assess and improve their processes, resolve issues, and support them in achieving their goals.
Where do international development consultants work?
You want to be an international development consultant, but where will you work? Many organizations are working in the international development field:
Better World Info has a huge list of private international development consulting firms such as Dexis Consulting Group (based in the US), Oxford Policy Management (based in the UK), and Project Services International (based in Canada). These types of firms put in bids to work on projects with entities like governments. Firms can be for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid.
Government/international development agencies
Government agencies and international development agencies (like the World Bank) also work with consultants. As an example, the World Health Organization has a page dedicated to “Other contractual arrangements.” These are contracts offered to individuals, so they’re great opportunities for independent consultants. You’ll perform work within your “personal capacity” and may be offered contracts for up to 24 months. You may be required to go to a duty station.
Many NGOs work on development issues like poverty, climate, healthcare, economic empowerment, and more. Like any organization, they often need consultants to help them with specific concerns. That may mean hiring a consulting firm to help or putting out contracts for independent consultants.
How do you become an international development consultant?
Becoming an international development consultant involves three main steps: education, experience, and skill-building.
To work as a consultant, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Many universities are offering international development programs, but you can also get a degree in business, economics, international relations, or a related field. If you want more opportunities for higher-paying contracts, a master’s degree is a must. In fact, many organizations will only consider consultants with at least a master’s degree. Many master’s programs are designed for professionals already working in the field, so you may want a few years of experience before applying.
Speaking of experience, you’ll want to get as much as you can as early as you can. That can include volunteer work, internships, fellowships, and any other roles you’re qualified for at international development organizations. Once you have a degree, you can apply for entry-level jobs at development organizations and consultancy agencies. As you build on your experience, you’ll be qualified for more and more jobs with better pay.
Here’s a list of the top 10 paid human rights, humanitarian aid, and development internships.
Good international development consultants have a handful of valuable skills that set them apart. The first is their knowledge of their chosen field. Consultants are experts, which is why education is so important. Consultants don’t stop learning after they’ve graduated, however, so keep seeking out new and updated information, books, courses, workshops, conferences, and more. Talk to other experts and commit to having a curious, analytical mindset. Analytical skills are essential to the assessment, monitoring, and problem-solving projects consultants often work on.
Consultants are also very strong communicators. As professionals who are always working with teams from different cultures and backgrounds, they need strong writing and speaking skills. Don’t forget the “international” part of international development. Consultants need excellent cultural awareness and sensitivity. They need to fully understand the contexts they’re working in if they hope to be effective. That includes a working proficiency (if not fluency) in the language(s) of the region their work is based in. The more languages you speak, the more opportunities you’ll have. There’s a clear benefit to learning languages like Spanish and Arabic, but learning a more obscure language in addition to the most in-demand ones could help you stand out.