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Inside development: finding out how DFID gets results

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Graduate Scheme

Welcome to my blog! In September I got my first break into the world of development and stepped inside the walls of the Department for International Development (DFID) in London as part of their first intake of Graduate Placements.

I've made DFID's walls the theme of this blog. Whatever the organisation, their organisational website is usually a promotional tool to share the organisation's three A's - ambitions, activities and achievements - with a worldwide audience. They are rarely a gateway to the people, skills, and decisions that exist within the organisation's walls and power these vital As.

I became acutely aware of this as I prepared for my DFID interview and assessment centre. Like every keen applicant, I trawled through every page of the DFID website, amassing as much information as possible about DFID's varied workload - trying to uncover how I could fit into and add value to an organisation doing and achieving so much.

Despite reading everything the website offered, I remember walking into the interview feeling very blind. I had not been able to unpack how DFID achieves such impressive results as supporting 11 million children to have an education, 10 million women to access family planning, and 13 countries to hold freer and fairer elections. How does UK aid get translated into education, health, growth, good governance and, most importantly, poverty reduction? I was thinking: if I don't know this how can I add value and support these objectives?

How does UK aid get translated into real help for people overseas? (Photo: Susan Elden/DFID)

Fortunately, the graduate scheme has given me the opportunity to pass through DFID's walls and explore the answers to these questions myself. New to development, graduates have been tasked with not only working hard but keeping an open mind, providing a fresh perspective and asking challenging questions. Will DFID measure up to our expectations of the vital, value-adding role we believe it plays in reducing poverty?

As the UK moves to meet its commitment of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas development, I hope to use this blog to share my experience of what is happening within the walls of DFID: who are the people, what are they doing, how are these results achieved and what are the challenges that have to be addressed along the way.

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  1. Comment by Moira Jones posted on

    It seems that the Dept has got millions of pounds still to spend on aid for this year. Why cannot they give it to the "Real" experts ie the people on the front line of aid such as Save the Children, Christian Aid, Tear Fund and a host of other UK charities who are doing such great work on the ground. They are working on health, education, clean water, housing and no-one is syphoning any of their funds off to provide them with expensive toys for the Heads of State nor are they stashing away huge sums of aid money into Swiss Bank Accounts!
    suggest the Minister should consider bringing our charities in to advise how best to spend the money available.

  2. Comment by Rachel posted on

    Thanks for this post! I am currently preparing to complete my application for the graduate scheme, and am doing just what you said, trailing through their site, hoping to show what I can offer. Thanks for the insight and the indirect encouragement to hopefully join this organisation! I look forward to any future posts.

  3. Comment by Jesper posted on

    Dear Jessica,

    I came across your blog as I too am thinking of applying for this grad scheme. I found it very helpful as you mention some of the same problems I face in explaining the figures you mentioned and how they are reached by DFID or other organisations. However I must comment on something you mentioned about UK's aid funding rising to 0,7%. I was not aware of this increase, but would mainly like to stress that the UK is not the first country to reach this target, as Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, as well as the Netherlands have been contributing this percentage of GNI to their ODA for years!
    Even though the Netherlands are currently moving away from this target, I could not but mention this inaccuracy being Dutch myself. I hope you enjoy your placement and thanks again for your post.

  4. Comment by Ruaridh posted on

    Great blog post! I'm looking forward to reading more! Did you have much experience in development prior to applying for the graduation scheme?

  5. Comment by neil robertson posted on

    Dear Jessica, Good luck with this ... but the UK DfID blog is also a shameless exercise in corporate promotion! Try posting any criticism and shutters will come crashing down. To test this proposition: you mention an organisation's 3 A's - 'ambitions, activities and achievements' - but not 'accountability or auditing'? But in the new world of ring-fenced UK DfID funding this becomes even more imperative. Sadly however UK DfID credibility continues to suffer because of some of the organisations with which you have partnered not least the widely-criticised British Council. DfID's Fraud Hotline incidentally is a joke.