Shaalini Ganesalingam l Palladium - May 10 2023
Building a Workforce for Complex Problems – Palladium’s International Development Career Accelerator

Shaalini Ganesalingam is an Associate in the Climate, Environment, and Natural Resources team and co-leads the International Development Career Accelerator with Afiya Bey, Senior Manager for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

The field of international development is riddled with complex challenges. There are no silver bullet solutions to alleviating poverty, adapting to climate change, or improving the health of communities across the globe. If we are to meet these problems with solutions that mirror their intricacy, building diverse and inclusive teams will be critical.

“If we want to deliver the best outcomes for the communities we work with and provide solutions that offer value, we have to do things differently, we have to think about diversity more broadly and bring a more diverse set of players to the table,” explains Dr Rosanna Duncan, Palladium Chief Diversity Officer.

And as part of that shift, Palladium launched the International Development Career Accelerator during the summer of 2022.

However, like many other industries, international development often falls short of having a diverse and representative workforce. According to the 2021 Report, “Benchmarking Race, Inclusion, & Diversity in Global Engagement” the distribution of headquarters staff in the U.S., across racial categories closely reflects the U.S. population with two important exceptions: Latinx/Hispanic employees are underrepresented (9% vs 19%) and Asian employees are overrepresented (10% vs 6%). Gaps in representation only widen at the leadership level.

“Palladium has made solid progress on its journey towards equity, diversity, and inclusion in recent years; however, we recognise that racial and ethnic equity has been an area of historic imbalance within the industry and the development sector is not representative of the communities we serve,” says Afiya Bey, Palladium Senior Manager of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Bey adds “As a founding member and early signatory of the Coalition for Racial & Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED), Palladium aims to change that by being proactive and intentional in our approach in addressing systemic barriers and access to equitable opportunity.”

Early-career individuals from underrepresented backgrounds often lack access to professional networks within the field, do not have access to paid international development opportunities, and pursue different degrees than those that the sector traditionally recruits. Dr Duncan explains that the sector often favours candidates with postgraduate qualifications, even when a high level of technical expertise is not necessary for a role.

The Accelerator is designed with a systems perspective, addressing the root challenges faced by underrepresented groups through tailored programming while also focusing on enhancing Palladium as an enabling environment. Our goal for interns and for our Palladium staff is to foster a workforce that brings their curiosity, technical expertise, and their lived experiences to solve global problems.

The Accelerator takes a three-pronged approach: intentional programming for interns; enhanced recruitment processes to increase diversity; and inclusive mentorship training to equip our staff.

Accelerator interns not only receive paid experiential learning on one of Palladium’s teams, but they participate in a customised orientation program and summer discussion series that teaches interns (jargon-free!) about the various career opportunities available within the sector. They develop soft and hard skills, from presenting research and networking to self-advocating with supervisors and using tools like Theories of Change.

“Introducing targeted, paid, and inclusive internship programs that provide candidates with an income they can live on independently will help to reduce barriers and attract candidates from less economically advantaged backgrounds,” notes Dr Duncan.

Interns are also matched to mentors to help guide them through their first professional experiences. This year, the Accelerator will be in-person and will offer office transportation stipends for interns intending to make this program more accessible and allow them to engage more meaningfully.

The success of our interns depends upon Palladium to provide an enabling environment for early-professional learning. We’ve meticulously reviewed our processes to ensure we are effectively recruiting, on-boarding, and guiding our interns. The sustainability and scale of The Accelerator’s impact is contingent upon our people most of all, which is why we offer Palladium staff across the globe inclusive mentorship training complemented with tangible tools to strengthen communication and relationships between supervisors, mentors, and early-career staff.

“The success of our launch in 2022 has allowed us to expand this pioneering program and grow our cohort for this summer,” explains Bey. “The Accelerator provides students with an experiential learning and mentorship experience that they will leverage throughout the rest of their careers.”

She adds that the unique approach designed to cultivate a more equitable and inclusive culture strengthens the capacity of Palladium employees, but also extends beyond the typical corporate internship. “Through meaningful mentoring relationships, robust coaching, inclusive mentorship tools and support, The Accelerator aims to provide an enriching experience for all our people.”

As with the many challenges in international development, achieving workforce diversity and equity in the sector takes a community of interventions pulling at multiple, entangled issues. While there are no silver bullets, I believe The Accelerator and initiatives like this can be the catalyst for the systemic change that is needed across the sector.

Applications are closed for Summer 2023. For rising undergraduate juniors and seniors, applications for Summer 2024 will open this fall on our Careers page.