Why I Became an International Aid Worker After University | Top Universities

Why I Became an International Aid Worker After University

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 28, 2021 Updated March 28, 2021

Humanitarian aid workers help people in countries affected by war, natural disasters and other complex problems. They typically work in front-line conditions and help manage projects that help improve the lives of people who are suffering.

Rosa Duran is a Master’s in Management graduate from Nyenrode Business University. She is a board member of Young and Bold foundation, a non-profit organisation that helps people from different organisations come together to solve social impact issues they care about.

Rosa is currently working as a humanitarian field worker on the Greek island of Lesbos, providing much needed aid to people in refugee camps.

What is the situation in Lesbos?

Lesbos refugee camp

Since 2015, more than one million people have passed through Lesbos, fleeing from war, prosecution and poverty. After the EU Turkey deal in 2016, people got stuck on the Greek islands, residing in refugee camps and waiting to hear about their asylum procedure.

These refugee camps in Lesbos are overcrowded and inhospitable. Yet people have had no choice but to remain in these conditions for many months, even sometimes years.

Rosa said: “European governments have done little to relieve the suffering, to protect vulnerable people and to prevent the violation of international human rights, let alone to solve the situation.

“This is why I would not call it a humanitarian crisis anymore - like we would when there’s an earthquake, for example - but rather a political crisis.”

Aid organisations and volunteers are helping to relieve the immediate suffering of these people, but the situation is too large for any one organisation to handle.

“In order to effect real and significant change, advocacy on a European level is desperately needed,” said Rosa. “Many aid organisations acknowledge this as part of their responsibility and take up this role while providing other forms of assistance, such as medical, legal, and educational assistance.”

Why work for an aid organisation?

Refugee boat

During her master’s degree, Rosa went on a study-trip to Geneva for her International Business Diplomacy module. This trip had a great influence on Rosa, giving her insight into UN agencies and international organisations that are working towards improving the world.

As her degree progressed, Rosa began to realise that she wanted to use her privileged position to help others.

"I started to feel somewhat isolated towards the end of my master’s; as if important issues in the world did not matter to me, since they didn’t directly affect me, being exclusively exposed to campus life talking mostly about business and money.

“I consequently started to understand more and more what privilege meant, and how uncomfortable it made me feel. For example, the privilege of growing up in a democracy, of being white, and of coming from a wealthy family.

“By acknowledging my privilege, I wanted to take the moral responsibility that comes with it. Volunteering for a humanitarian aid organisation was the first step in doing so.”

How a master’s degree helped

During her master’s degree at Nyenrode Business University, Rosa learnt a variety of personal and professional skills which she has since been able to transfer into her work.

She explained that throughout her degree she was constantly challenged to step outside her comfort zone: something which has really helped her in her work.

Rosa said: "At Nyenrode we are shaped into leaders with integrity, a hands-on mentality, a critical approach, and are taught excellent people’s management skills. This helped me to be sharp, quick, and resourceful, and to build bridges.”

It was through her network at Nyenrode that Rosa joined the board of Young and Bold foundation.

The Young and Bold foundation was founded by a professor at Nyenrode Business University, Professor Désirée van Gorp, with an aim of creating a digital platform allowing professionals, students, academia, entrepreneurs, and NGOs, to work together to achieve social impact. Rosa said: “I truly believe in building bridges, and I am thrilled for Young & Bold to show how that’s done.”

What it’s like to work for an aid organisation


Working for an aid organisation can be a challenging but rewarding career path. The sector can be incredibly competitive, so getting in is the first challenge you’ll face. One way to make yourself more employable in the field is by building up transferrable skills.

Rosa said: “You always need to be on alert, as various emergency situations may present themselves, and very hands-on, because you do what needs to be done.

“Field workers need to be adaptable, resourceful, and resilient, as you are driven by needs rather than set-out plans."

Progression within an aid organisation may not always be straightforward and will depend both on the size of the organisation and your role within it. For example, if you’re working in a field position like Rosa, your personal progression in a particular project largely depends on the amount available funding for that project.

Rosa explained that throughout her career, there have been a variety of ethical dilemmas that have arisen. For her, this has been one of the most challenging parts of the job. She gave an insight into the types of questions you’ll need to consider:

“Are you working on something that actually helps the people, or are you perpetuating a system that ultimately leads to more harm than good?

“Are you filling a gap, or are you taking away the responsibilities of governments?

“Are you going to fight ‘against’ to make a change, or are you going to collaborate with ‘the enemy’ and make change from within?

“Will you portray their misery to raise awareness and/or funds, or will you portray them in a dignified setting to fight the dehumanised stigma?”

She added: “When you work so closely with the community, it is hard to see the entire picture and take a rational approach. It might sometimes even feel as if there is no right or wrong answer.”

How students can get involved

For those looking to immediately get involved with helping refugees, Rosa revealed four things you can do:

  • Be an ally and an advocate. Talk with your network and create awareness, participate in campaigns and sign petitions.
  • Look around in your area of residence. Maybe there are local organisations asking for volunteers – even if it’s just a couple of hours per week. This way you will meet people with a refugee background and learn from them.
  • Donate to accountable and transparent organisations that provide, for example, legal, medical, and educational assistance.
  • Be open, willing to listen, and show empathy and solidarity.

There are also some things you can do that are generally long-term, but are incredibly effective if you’re looking to help:

Become more aware of what’s happening

For students looking to help with a humanitarian crisis, one of the best ways to do this is by reviewing your own moral responsibilities; taking an interest in how businesses are affecting global communities and becoming more aware.

Create change by working in a social enterprise

One way to create long term change is by getting involved with for-profit companies and organisations which have a good cause at their core, such as social enterprises. This may be through work experience or graduate jobs. 

Working to remove the damage caused by the public and commercial sector will eventually reduce the need for aid organisations, Rosa explained.

“What we really need across all sectors are ethical leaders,” she said. "When people and the planet come before profit, I think we would see less exploitation, less abuse, less poverty, and less harm, which ultimately leads to a more just and inclusive world.”

Volunteer abroad

Of course, another way to help with a humanitarian crisis is to volunteer. This can help you learn first-hand about the crises and help people directly.

“Volunteering is an incredible opportunity to connect with more marginalised people in our society and can be a foundation for a deeper understanding of a collective responsibility,” said Rosa.


Talking about her experiences working in Lesbos, Rosa said: “I’ve learned so much, and it made me excited and eager to learn more. I’ve gotten to know myself, as this situation has forced me to take a deep look in the mirror.

“I’ve also got to know many inspiring people, from all over the world. People I would have never met had I stayed in my comfortable bubble.”

This article was originally published in February 2021 . It was last updated in March 2021

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