Being a Generalist in International Development: My Summer Experience

Sharon Rajadurai

undefinedFor as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the idea of being more than one thing at a time. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my teachers would ask when I was young. My go-to answer was always “A basketball player who can swim and does music and art on the side”. Those dreams were short-lived though, because once I reached High School, I found myself interested in pursuing a career in medicine and healthcare. After some time, I realized that path might not be for me either, and decided to combine my love for serving people with my passion for politics and became a Government major with a concentration in International Relations in College. After interning at a myriad of nonprofits, I stumbled into the world of International Development. At last - something that felt like it fit me and my interests! However by the beginning of this year, I realized that the Development and Aid space is also extremely complex in and of itself. There are various niches and a plethora of issues one can work on within it- an intimidating realization for someone who struggles with indecisiveness. So what do you do when every passion feels worth pursuing? How do you decide when making any career decision feels like a betrayal of every option you turned down?

Through two internships this year, one at New England International Donors and the other here at BNID, I attempted to chip away at these internal struggles. NEID provides networking, education, and collaboration opportunities for international donors and philanthropists who fund change makers all around the world. Not unlike BNID, members at NEID are passionate about and work on a variety of topics. It’s not uncommon to meet someone at NEID who has dedicated their career to creating change in one specific issue area, whether it be protecting the environment, poverty alleviation, education access, etc. What I have noticed though, is that even though some people may choose to specialize, their work often intersects with that of people from other specializations. For instance, someone who deeply cares about global health may soon realize that a healthy environment is vital for healthy communities and disease prevention. In that way, the farther I zoomed out in the way that I was thinking about issues, the more I noticed intersections between them. Before this year, I feared that the only work that was available in the space would have to be issue area specific. However, NEID and BNID are two great examples of organizations that are helping create change in a lot of issue areas at the same time. Intersectionality is a strength. Having an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach to my work helps make me a more well rounded individual.

With that being said, I have also learned that there is wisdom in finding what specific professional skill sets I possess. Establishing a cache of transferable skills and talents is helpful because it will allow me to adjust that skill set to whatever issue area I need to as I move through my career. Although BNID and NEID provide different services to the Boston International Development community, I found a lot of overlap in the work I was doing at both. For example, event planning and social media marketing/outreach were skills I used at the two organizations simultaneously. Learning where my professional strengths lie allows me to bring a unique set of skills to the table, no matter what issue I might be working on at a given time.

Embracing my generalism this year also allowed me to realize my tendency to multi-task. As someone who likes to pack every moment of my day with productivity, it has become clear to me that although multi tasking keeps me from procrastination (something I tend to do when I have a less demanding schedule), it can get overwhelming if there aren’t boundaries in place. I found that for myself, multitasking is a by product of my generalism. When I work on multiple things at once, like two internships, it allows me to help create change in a variety of ways rather than just one. This has its drawbacks as well. For one, it prevents me from ever feeling like an expert at one thing. Taking on more than you can do well can be harmful to your ability to showcase your strengths. I find that when I do multiple things, I only bring parts of myself to each space rather than my full self everywhere. To mitigate this, I had to become incredibly organized, manage my time efficiently, and set boundaries for myself so that work from one organization didn’t bleed into the other.

Being a generalist might not be for everyone, but this Summer taught me that embracing it for myself gives me a unique approach to my work. Feeling like a misfit in any speciality can be uncomfortable, but asking out of the box questions and thinking with an intersectional lens has helped me push for out of the box solutions and intersectional changes.


About the Author: Sharon Rajadurai is in her final undergraduate semester at Suffolk University studying Government with a concentration in International Relations and a minor in Psychology. Before spending her Summer at BNID, she interned at a a host of nonprofits in Boston and Washington DC including WorldBoston, Asian American LEAD, Crossover Basketball & Scholars Academy, as well as New England International Donors. After her Summer internship she has continued at BNID as an Operations Associate and is also the Interim Executive Director of the Lady Doak College Foundation. She is passionate about a plethora of issues that include immigration & refugees, child & youth development, donor education and impact, and women's education access and seeks to continue working in the international development space post graduation. 

All views expressed in the foregoing post are the author’s own and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Boston Network for International Development (BNID) or its members or sponsors.