Book Reviews

Book by: Donovan Russell
Review by: Jeremy J. Hernandez
Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development
University of Minnesota

Individuals interested in careers involving international development often struggle to identify appropriate opportunities or even break into the field.  They often do not know what questions to ask, how to best apply their skills and talents in international contexts, or even what term international development means.  In Choosing a Career in International Development, Donovan Russell attempts to provide a better understanding of what working in international development actually means and what working in it actually entails based on his years of experience.

The opening three chapters focus on defining what international development work can entail in the broadest sense, the major role organizations play in this type of work, personal motivators of those pursing such work, and importance of host community buy-in during such efforts. The issues of credibility and host buy-in are mentioned throughout the book as a major factor in such efforts being successful. “It is by far best if interventions can be put into place in a way that gives people a chance to take them as their own” (p. 7).

Russell uses the next two chapters as a spring board to the rest of the book as he seeks to help the reader focus their actual interests.  The reader is first asked to consider four items to better define what a career in international development may look like to them (pp. 23-25).  These are defining one’s own professional interests/talents, potential targets of focus (e.g. women’s rights, health issues, refugees, etc.), whether one has a personal preference towards field work or policy, and what organizations may exist that perform the work being sought. Based on these answers, advice on how a person may try to find “avenues of engagement” (p. 29) is given.

Because the term international development is broad, the remaining chapters focus on various aspects of this work by focusing on what Russell identifies as major segments of the field.  In each he provides an in depth case study of that type of work.  For example, one chapter focuses on volunteer organizations in international development and the various roles individuals play in them.  The mission, administrative structure, and the field operations of an American Peace Corps project are explored from multiple angles.  Given this chapter structure, the reader may find some of these chapters far more interesting than others.  Unfortunately this shift is not obvious from the table of contents so, if passing this book to an advisee, it is recommended that the student be notified of this dynamic as they begin reading.  While Russell attempts to expose readers to multiple possibilities within the field, if they adhere to the advice given earlier in the book some of these chapters should be more interesting than others.  That is a good thing.

In conclusion, this reviewer believes resources such as this book are badly needed in this dynamic and growing field.  Students are a target audience of this book, but are not the only targets.  A key premise for those using the book is that the reader can define their own interests.  Students may not be able to do that at the beginning of their college experience.  Although very useful, this book might be a better tool for students with prior international experiences, professional experiences, and/or are closer to the end of their program.  

Choosing a Career in International Development: A Practical Guide to Working in the Professions of International Development (2013). Book by Donovan Russell. Review by Jeremy J. Hernandez, Publishing. 252 pp., $19.95, (Paperback), ISBN  #978-1-62137-363-6

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