Whether in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, as a project manager, IT expert, or organisational consultant – development service professionals work in places where joint action is needed to overcome poverty or to protect and preserve natural resources.
They help to bring about political reform, and they promote peace – often within partner organisations where they learn and take action together with local people. They successfully combine professional competence and intercultural skills with a commitment to solidarity. Development service has continually been adapted to meet the challenges of today’s world, so it is an effective instrument of development cooperation.
Professional development workers each play their own part in achieving the United Nations' sustainable development goals. They receive a maintenance allowance and provision is made for health care and social security not only during their service but when they return to Germany/Europe as well – all in accordance with the provisions of the German Development Workers Act, which is almost unique in world terms. Professionals also gain personally from development service because they are able to develop their personal and professional competencies during their service.
You can undertake development service at any stage in your career – when you’re 30 or at the age of 60. Ideally you should have a university degree and at least two years professional experience in a relevant field of work. You do not normally need to have any expertise in development cooperation.
In Germany, seven state-recognised agencies are responsible for development service. Project goals and the job descriptions of professionals are developed and negotiated in cooperation with partner organisations and other stakeholders. The agencies are:
Every year, the sending agencies are looking for several hundred professionals to work in a variety of fields. It takes committed and open-hearted people who are willing to venture beyond their limited horizons for a while and to get to know and experience other cultures and living conditions. Could this be for you?
The great diversity of development service placements means that they can be totally different. Each placement therefore has its own particular requirements. However, there are a few requirements that you should meet, if you want to be a professional development worker.
A university degree (or equivalent) is required for almost all development service placements. In exceptional cases, it is sufficient to have completed training as a skilled worker. Professional work experience is essential, however, although the field of work may vary considerably. “Professional development worker” is not a recognised profession. And while knowledge of development policy is an advantage, it is not essential for many placements. A wide variety of profiles is needed, as revealed by the job adverts. In addition to expertise in a particular field, it is often especially important to have methodological, social, and intercultural skills.
To undertake development service, you must be a citizen of an EU member country. Proficiency in English is also a requirement for taking up a development service placement. Depending on the location, French or Spanish is required too – you will find the relevant information in the specific job adverts. Knowledge of German is not required, however.
If you want to undertake development service, you should be willing to adapt to very different living and working conditions. So besides being open to other cultures and being willing to learn, you also need to be relaxed about restrictions (which can limit your means of communication, habits of consumption, and leisure opportunities, for example). You will also need to be able to tolerate considerable levels of frustration and to possess good social skills, great flexibility, and resilience when under stress.
As a professional development worker, you should identify with the goals and values of development cooperation, i.e., solidarity, global justice, peace, and sustainability. Some development service placements are provided by church organisations. So, depending on the project location, it may be important for you to belong to a Christian denomination and to identify with church-run development cooperation and the goals of a church service agency.
Development service is undertaken abroad, usually outside Europe, and often under rather different climatic conditions. Most postings therefore require the ability to cope with life in a tropical climate.
Development service can be divided into three phases – before, during, and after. Before you take up an actual assignment in a partner country, there is an application and selection process, and a period of preparation. The service itself lasts for at least one year and usually for two to three years. “After” denotes the phase of returning and resettling in Europe.
In Germany, seven sending organisations (agencies) are responsible for the deployment of professional development workers. Placements are advertised individually. Some agencies accept unsolicited applications for particular placements. Others organise introductory gatherings and provide an opportunity for you to inform yourself thoroughly before applying for a specific post. The agencies conduct their personnel selection in various ways. There are often several stages in the selection process, which frequently includes an assessment centre.
The sending agencies plan a period of preparation as part of the development service. Preparation takes place in a variety of formats – seminars, workshops, group discussions, self-study, and specialist consultations. The aim is always to authentically impart the relevant knowledge that you will need to apply in your placement. This includes: information about organising your travel to the placement, health care, and the host country; (basic) knowledge of the national language and culture; and technical and methodological issues related to your field of work. The preparation, which can take several months, includes activities for the whole family.
The actual service begins when you travel to the host country. Your new place of residence is usually wherever your new place of work is – often in the office of a partner organisation. Professionals build up their own social networks, e.g., through contact with neighbours and schools and through leisure activities. From now on, you are living and working in a different culture. Placements can be found in a wide variety of locations. You could be anywhere, from a small town in a largely rural area to a large metropolis.
There is also an initial period of induction at the start of the placement – a phase of getting to know each other. Depending on the project, professionals sometimes work within a larger programme with country offices or coordination centres throughout the region. But a lot of professionals work together with only one partner organisation. While in the field, they are also supported by their sending organisation, which often provides coaching and opportunities for further training.
During your service, you will work on projects and challenges together with your local partners for at least one year, usually for two to three years. But development service is more than just a job: It is a meaningful activity in which you learn and act in solidarity with others.
Development service contracts are always temporary. Because the absence for two or three years and the return to Germany/Europe are unusual circumstances and the return is often a source of mixed feelings and some degree of uncertainty, the sending agencies have always included the “return phase” in their thinking about development service from the very beginning. They provide information and run seminars in which returnees can exchange experiences and reflect on them. The Reintegration Programme run by the Association of German Development Services offers an extensive range of services exclusively for professionals returning from development service. The programme is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and is part of the package of benefits for professional development workers.
Returning from development service is not only a challenge, though. As a professional development worker, you bring a lot back with you to your home country. The experience, which can be life-changing, makes you an important participant in the public debate about the future of Germany and Europe in a globalised world.
The German Development Workers Act (Entwicklungshelfer-Gesetz, EhfG) stipulates that development service professionals must undertake service without expecting to earn a salary. Instead, they receive an allowance to cover living costs. This means that you do not receive a salary, as such, but you do receive a maintenance allowance.
And how much is that? We cannot say exactly. The financial benefits include various components: the maintenance allowance, a supplementary allowance for people living abroad, and the (pro rata) reimbursement of special expenses (e.g., removal costs before and after your service). Every professional development worker is well cared for, wherever they are.
Health care can vary considerably from place to place, depending on where you are. All professionals and their accompanying dependants are covered by a fully comprehensive insurance policy. The health insurance includes provision for travel to a neighbouring country or to Europe for important medical reasons, and insurance cover for returning home in the case of a medical emergency. You don’t have to arrange this insurance yourself. Your sending agency takes care of it.
The development service agencies pay your pension contributions during your period of service (including the preparation phase). As regards social security benefits in the event of unemployment after your service, the term of development service counts as normal employment. After the end of your development service, you are entitled to unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld 1) in Germany. You can claim such benefits in other EU countries as well - the relevant national legislation applies.
Professionals also receive a pro rata maintenance allowance for each family member (spouse or child) who accompanies them. If your spouse works in the host country and earns more than a certain amount, the maintenance allowance will be reduced accordingly. In addition, the agencies provide benefits in kind, such as the financing of flights or insurance.
There are usually national and international schools wherever you are living. The choice of school for your children is left up to you as a professional development worker. Most - if not all - school fees will be paid by the sending agency.
During your development service you will be able to develop your professional competencies and areas of expertise. And diverse experiences will foster your personal development. How can you make use of this in your future career? And what awaits you in Germany or Europe after several years of absence? The AGdD’s Reintegration Programme helps you to find answers to these and similar questions. A comprehensive programme of free seminars and webinars tackles, for example, topics and fields of work that offer ideal starting points for returnees, such as climate protection or international social work. In individual counselling, which is also free of charge, returning professionals are supported in reflecting on their professional career and future prospects. The counselling also addresses the processes of looking for and applying for a new job. We also support you in networking with other former professionals.
You can find a selection of development service placements here. Additional placements are always advertised on the websites of the individual sending agencies. And overviews of currently advertised placements are provided by the Netzwerk und Fachstelle für internationale personelle Zusammenarbeit (International Development Service Centre and Network) working group, at epojobs, and by the Civil Peace Service consortium. In order to identify the jobs which come under the Development Workers Act among all the positions in development cooperation, it is best to check whether the Act is mentioned in the job description. In some placements, “aid worker” is still used as the job title.
The German Development Workers Act provides the legal framework for assignments since 1969.