Abbie Huff-Camara

MA International Development: Poverty, Conflict and Reconstruction

Abbie is currently based in Dakar, Senegal, and works as Deputy Regional Programme Coordinator on a US government-funded community policing programme in the Sahel-Maghreb

Abbie Huff-Camara

I chose to study at the Global Development Institute (then known as IDPM) at the University of Manchester as it was one of the best, if not THE best, places to study international development in the country. Having had my eyes opened to the development sector whilst volunteering in Vietnam one summer during my undergraduate degree, and then interning with StreetInvest (an international street children’s charity based in Twickenham), it became apparently clear to me that I needed a Master’s if I wanted a career in the sector.

Having undertaken my Bachelor’s degree at Royal Holloway (in English and French) I was also eager for a change, and the lower cost of living in Manchester was definitely a pull as even working full-time alongside my course, I couldn’t have afforded to live in London whilst studying.

Why did you choose your particular course?

I chose my specific course as it looked both challenging and enriching, and unlike other Masters’ courses I had seen offered at other institutions, it had a wide range of optional modules. Although I was not sure what specialism or route my career would take, I was particularly interested in poverty, conflict, sustainable development and good governance. I had the impression that the Poverty, Conflict and Reconstruction pathway would allow me to learn about and understand a diversity of core topics, which would likely maximise my chances of landing a role in the sector following graduation. For financial reasons, I also wished to study part-time, and this was a possibility for most courses at GDI.

My Master’s thesis was entitled ‘Addressing the vulnerability of street children in Ghana; is social protection the answer?’, which explored the role that social protection could play in reducing the vulnerability of street-connected children in Ghana. Due to their multiple deprivations and inability to fulfil their basic needs, such groups can be identified as the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised members of societies. Yet, too often, street-connected children fall through the ‘safety nets’ put in place by governments to support the poorest. Using an asset-based approach to vulnerability, and the transformative approach to social protection, the paper sought to promote awareness of the challenges faced by children living and/or working on the street in Ghana, as well as highlight the need for action by governments as well as policy-makers.

I was extremely lucky to have Professor Armando Barrientos as my thesis supervisor, who is of course a global expert on social protection. His advice, feedback and support throughout the dissertation planning and writing process was indispensable. I picked Ghana as a case study following a trip to Ghana in 2013 to carry out some pro-bono research on the behalf of StreetInvest. Although I was unable to undertake research for my thesis, it was a unique opportunity to build on my existing knowledge and awareness of the challenges that children face on the streets of Ghana.

Has your GDI qualification helped you in your career? 

First of all, my Master’s degree strengthened and greatly deepened my knowledge of core development subject areas and topics which I could then apply in practice in the workplace. In essence, it provided the theory behind the practice. It also allowed me to further develop my research and writing skills – key competencies for most international development roles, whether it be related to research itself, project design, technical reporting or strategy development.

Perhaps most importantly, studying at GDI not only confirmed to me that this was the sector in which I wanted to work in, but it built my confidence as a junior development professional. Beyond that, I quite honestly do not think I would have landed a place on the graduate scheme without my Master’s degree. Although it was not a firm requirement like language fluency (I speak fluent French), I think my Masters’ set me apart from other candidates. Even today, for most development sector roles (even the ones I recruit for), a Master’s degree is either a job requirement or something that is very much desirable.

Where then any specific modules or lecturers who particularly inspired you?

Since most of the lecturers at the institute are very well known in their field for the work they do, there were so many inspiring lecturers. That said, I was particularly inspired by Dr Uma Kothari, who is just brilliant, and my supervisor Professor Barrientos. I also really appreciated and learnt a lot from Dr Admos Chimhowu, who taught me ‘Planning and Managing Development’. Being very practical and providing you with the tools applicable to real-life development projects, I would recommend all GDI students to select this course as one of their optional modules.

In terms of other modules, I also really enjoyed Reconstruction and Development, where I became fascinated about the concept of “no war, no peace” in fragile and/or conflicted states. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite module, but it was probably one of the most important – Development Research – where I learnt more about the pitfalls of the development sector, in getting the chance to critique and evaluate a “failed” development project.

What is your best memory from your time at Manchester? 

One of the things I enjoyed most about studying at Manchester was the people – be it my classmates or the lecturers themselves. Given the intensity of the Master’s course, developing relationships and even friendships with your course mates is so important – this was particularly helpful for me when it came to revising and self-study. I met such a diversity of amazing people whilst I was at the University of Manchester, many of which I am still in touch with today. I also loved living in Manchester – it’s such a great city for culture and arts, food and entertainment.

Do you have any tips or advice for current or prospective students?

For both graduate students, and prospective students, I would highly recommend you to get some practical experience in the sector as early as you can. This could be prior to, alongside or following your degree, and could involve volunteering overseas or interning with charities here in the UK. It can be a summer internship or an afternoon a week.

Small charities in particular are always looking for additional support on areas including research, communications and fundraising. If you are very lucky, this might be a foot in the door that will lead to a paid role in the future, but it can also help you get an idea of the different types of roles that exist (from business development to project management to advocacy). I firmly believe that having had hands-on experience with two charities (both prior to and during my Master’s) made it easier for me to get a job after my Master’s. Having interned with both StreetInvest and Oxfam GB, I had a better idea of what recruiters were looking for, and what would be expected. Some fellow classmates who did not have any prior experience in the sector had to build that experience after studying so combining both really put me in a good position when it came to applying for jobs.