Careers in Development Economics: making life better for future generations

Economic Development is a process of sustained, concerted actions to improve the standard of living and economic health of a region. This may involve development of human capital, provision of infrastructure, enhancing market competitiveness, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting social inclusion and other aspects that improve the quality of life.


Development economics is a branch of economics that involves the creation of theories and methods that help formulate policies and practices for the process of economic development.

In a rapidly shrinking world with rising income inequalities, development practitioners seek to formulate initiatives that build social enterprise and help communities in adapting sustainable means of livelihood. Thus, they provide the tools and means to improve their economic situation and enable equitable distribution of resources to progress towards economic betterment.

A career in Economic Development is extremely rewarding and satisfying in terms of its impact. It offers opportunities to pursue a variety of interests in the development space and across geographies. A profession in this area can be customized to an individual’s interests and passion. For example, for those wanting to work at the grass roots level, international NGOs and civil society organizations provide opportunities to work closely with local communities to create sustainable means of livelihood, facilitate access to micro-credit, build climate resilient communities and address any other issue preventing economic development. For those looking at an academic or research oriented career, a possible area to work is in policy formulation with government agencies and academic institutes. Project management is another role in which trained economists conduct feasibility studies to identify factors restricting development, formulate interventions to target them, implement these interventions and subsequently monitor and evaluate impact and progress.

Development economists are driven by a desire to work in a variety of assignments, often starting off at grassroots level organizations in various roles. A Masters degree is the minimum criteria required and eventually a PhD is needed for those who want to specialize in a particular domain of development. It is not mandatory to have studied development economics to pursue a career in it; however, it is useful to have a specialization at the outset in order to target a particular career choice.

The following are some of the top global universities which offer degrees in Economics and Development Economics

  1. Harvard University
  2. Princeton University
  3. Columbia University
  4. Paris School of International Affairs
  5. Delhi University
  6. Jawaharlal Nehru University
  7. Institute of Social Studies, the Hague
  8. University of Oxford
  9. University of Cambridge
  10. London School of Economics

A career in economic development presents opportunities to work on a diverse range of issues. However, the starting salaries and remuneration may not be as high as in the private sector and many organizations initially only offer a small stipend. The right attitude for working in this sector is to be prepared to work across regions and geographies, particularly in poor and vulnerable areas.

Secondly, it is essential to have compassion and understanding while working with grassroots communities and people living in challenging situations. And third, it is also important to constantly improve one’s understanding of the development process by updating their knowledge base and building skill sets by participating in workshops for practitioners, reading about international initiatives or studying towards a higher specialized qualification.

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Disha Bhattacharjee

Disha Bhattacharjee is a Development Economist with an undergraduate degree in Economics from Delhi University and a Masters in economic development from the UK. She has worked for nearly 4 years in the areas of climate change, artisan and crafts development, public policy in infrastructure and rural livelihoods development. She has lived and traveled widely in Africa, India and UK. This international exposure has driven her curiosity in different cultures, economies and ways of life which is her motivation to work in the development sector.

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