The unique position of a consultant in international development

Photo: CAD Productions

Even after 10 years of working as a consultant, some of my friends and family members do not really understand what I do. But I am already quite happy that after all these years my mother has stopped telling people that her daughter works for a charity organisation to help poor people in developing countries. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this idea, only that it hardly describes the reality of my job. Each time I am asked about my work I am happy to explain as best as I can to give a better idea of what we do at GlobalCAD. I have noticed that especially younger people seem to have an increasing interest in the profession and tend to have a better understanding. There seems to be a shift in understanding, and I feel that jobs as international development consultants is increasing in popularity.

This article is now my chance not only to give an insight into my work as a consultant, but also to highlight why I value this profession so much.

What is the most fascinating aspect of being an international development consultant?

I think that consultants working in international development and cooperation are in a unique position to gain a multifaceted insight of the problematic they address during a project, which then puts them in an ideal position to give strategic advice to tackle the challenges uncovered.  

The consultants are an intermediate point between the different types of stakeholders from different sectors. Through intensive research, background analysis and data collection on the ground at the initial phase of a project the consultants obtain an up-to-date overview of the challenge from different perspectives. This includes not only the international state of the art on the thematic but also the individual local situation and an understanding not obtained from the literature.

Stakeholders have different interests, points of view and access to information

To find feasible and sustainable solutions to tackle a challenge it is indispensable to assess and to take into account the different points of view and interests of key stakeholders. For example, civil society may focus primarily on the wellbeing of the community, and individual´s main concern is the safety of their livelihoods, meanwhile a government´s objective would be to implement its mandate and to comply with commitments to achieve international development goals.

The private sector may want to engage in activities to comply with regulations and/or to improve their image. The academic sector, on the other hand, may look at the same issue through a methodological approach, seeking to create new knowledge.

The consultant team now brings all these different interests and perspectives to the table and promotes knowledge exchange and understanding among the different stakeholders. Not seldom this unique opportunity leads to improved dynamics of interaction and innovative ideas.  

The composition of the consultant team as a key to success

The composition of the experts is the great strength of the team. It is set up to bring together the skills and experience needed to best respond to the problematic: international experience combined with local knowledge and specific expertise in the different area of a project tasks.

A project that best illustrates thisis one GlobalCAD implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources of Guyana, entitled “Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement on REDD+ & Readiness Activities in Guyana”.

The GlobalCAD team included international and local consultants from different areas of expertise, including stakeholder engagement, environmental and communication experts. The local team was able to identify key stakeholders and organise logistics for events and field trips, which in the case of Guyana is a mayor challenge, due to the lack of accessibility to the remote forest communities. Depending on the season of the year road conditions are disastrous and certain places are only reachable by a row boat.

The international team from GlobalCAD brought in knowledge and best practices of REDD+[1] introduction processes and created a communication and outreach strategy and action plan based on the level of awareness and information needs of the various key stakeholders in Guyana.

GlobalCAD designed and produced an impactful video which was translated to four indigenous languages, radio broadcasts, posters and brochures, as well as the REDD+ website for Guyana.

Together with national consultants these outreach materials were made available to key stakeholders in a variety of ways, including in-person workshops and through national media, assuring an information transfer adapted to the different target groups. As a result, the increased awareness and engagement of society made an important contribution to achieving a true participatory REDD+ preparation process. I agree, it is still not as easy to explain my job as it is to say: “I am a teacher” or “I am an accountant”, but hopefully my mother has now a clearer understanding what being an international development consultant means.


[1] REDD+ stands for countries’ efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Nadine Kirchhartz
Nadine Kirchhartz
Nadine is a consultant at the GlobalCAD since 2012, specialized in projects related to environment and climate change. She is an expert in research and analysis, with experience in project evaluation.