Alumni Spotlight: Winnie Chu ’18 Shares Insights on Pursuing an International Development Career

Tell us about your career journey.

I knew I wanted to become a helping professional since college. Being part of the solution to address human trafficking was the reason for me to pursue an MSW, because I wanted to gain direct practice, programming, and research skills. I was drawn to Columbia School of Social Work’s AGPP track, law minor, and cross-registration system, which allowed me to pursue classes at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Mailman School of Public Health.

After graduating, I interned at United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Cambodia’s Child Protection Section, where I developed media briefs on different child protection issues and conducted research to evaluate the current social service workforce in the country. This research was part of UNICEF’s strategic advocacy tool to propose for improved access to social services through additional allocation of human and financial resources. This proposal is now being discussed at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Cambodia, which I’m very excited about and hope to see brought to fruition. (Read more about her UNICEF experience here.) 

This experience was life-changing — it solidified my passion for international development work, and eventually led to my current role as a Health Logistics Specialist for a USAID global health supply chain project that delivers life-saving health commodities to developing countries. However, I found myself feeling detached from being on the ground. I also wanted to be an expert on Southeast Asia. This ultimately led me to decide to join the Peace Corps. This coming July, I will be leaving for the Philippines, where I will be serving as a Youth Development Volunteer. (Want to learn more about the Peace Corps? Attend our upcoming information session next Tuesday, April 16!)

What knowledge, skills, and abilities have been critical for success in your roles?

At UNICEF, I used a lot of research and analytical skills, along with knowledge of case management and many social protection issues, to develop the capacity of social workers. In my current role, I use a lot of communication and coordination skills to work with external partners and internal staff. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I anticipate using my programming skills to implement a variety of projects.

What advice do you have for students and fellow alumni seeking to work in the international development and humanitarian sector?

  • Network with professionals in the field and learn about their professional trajectories, as well as the skills in demand in the sector.
  • Take advantage of courses such as financial development, proposal development, and program evaluation.
  • Pursue opportunities that allow you to build research skills. My last semester field placement at the Social Intervention Group at CSSW provided me with important research skills that I have applied to research-oriented positions and that which will continue to be useful in the future.
  • Remain culturally humble and self-aware of your own privilege and power. This practice has allowed me to work effectively in multicultural and multilingual environments.
  • Follow your passion, be persistent, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!

To learn more about Winnie’s background and experiences in the field or simply to connect, feel free to reach out to her via email at chu.w.winnie@gmail.com.

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