Pursuing a career in international development – alumni story from inside the World Bank

Published: 2021-02-23

Countless coffee dates and a stubborn mind-set brought Alvina Erman from Lund to Washington DC. Working at the World Bank, Alvina is assessing interventions targeting natural disasters, currently focusing on projects in the Caribbean and East Africa. Alvina shares glimpses from her work across the Atlantic, and pro-tips on how to pursue a career in international development.

On a small island in northern Mocambique, hurricane-proof houses are being built six months after Hurricane Kenneth caused major damage to the island. This was a small local project Alvina worked with.
Construction of hurricane-proof houses in Mocambique

 I had to network to get people to hire me. My strategy was to send out at least 10 emails every morning introducing myself and inviting people out for coffee.

What do you do as an Economist at the World Bank?
“I am a part of the Analytics team in the unit GFDRR (Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery), a trust fund focusing on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation. We produce research focusing on assessing the costs of natural disasters, and the benefits of investments in resilience.”

Currently, Alvina is evaluating a World Bank financed project in Mozambique. A project which focuses on strengthening resilience to climate change in selected cities where Alvina and her team are assessing whether objectives were achieved, 7 years after implementation started.

From the small city of Lund to global projects in developing countries, how did you end up at the World Bank?
“Long story short: I emailed a bunch of managers until one responded with an offer. It was back in 2013, and I was looking for opportunities to do a summer internship after my first year at the Master’s programme in Economics at LUSEM. Since the World Bank offers paid internships, it was my top choice. And the internship turned out to be so much fun! There were many young people in the unit, so I made a lot of friends that summer.”

After graduation, Alvina headed back to DC with the goal to get a job as a consultant at the World Bank. At the time, the World Bank was in the midst of a reorganization and landing a job was not an easy task.

“I had to network to get people to hire me. My strategy was to send out at least 10 emails every morning introducing myself and inviting people out for coffee. It resulted in A LOT of coffee dates and I was overall positively surprised by how approachable people were.”

Although Alvina had a stubborn strategy, four months later she was still on the job hunt. She booked a flight back to Sweden when suddenly all the emails and coffees gave results: she applied for a job and was hired as consultant for the World Bank.

 This is why I encourage people to be more contact seeking and proactive in their job search, finally it paid off.

After gaining some experience as a consultant, Alvina was selected to the Junior Professional Officer program (JPO), financed by SIDA. The position was in the unit GFDRR, where she is now working as an economist since 2018. 

“Being a JPO is an amazing opportunity and definitely a way into the UN system. For me, having worked years abroad, it was also a great opportunity to connect with SIDA, via the training received and network created through the JPO program.”

How did LUSEM prepare you for a career at the World Bank?
“It provided me with the technical skills I needed, especially in terms of economic theory and statistics. But perhaps more importantly, the programs provided me with opportunities to build my resume. I did a Minor Field Study (a scholarship for field studies in developing countries) when writing my Bachelor’s thesis, did an exchange year in Peru, and an internship at UNHABITAT (UN programme for human settlements and sustainable urban development) in Brazil. And finally, I have benefitted from excellent mentoring and guidance from professors and advisors.”

Any last words for students embarking on their journey towards graduation?
“Do not sell yourself short.”

Alvina’s top three tips on how to build a career in international development as a recent graduate

Lund vs. Washington DC?

It is difficult to compare! Pro with Washington is that it is a truly global city, but still manageable in size and with great quality of life. Con is that people work too much here and it is easy to normalize that lifestyle. Con with Lund is the lack of body water. Pro with Lund is the short distances to everything in the city, as well as close to Malmo and Copenhagen.

Quick facts

Alvina Erman

Current position: Economist at the World Bank, Washington DC.

Highest degree from LUSEM: MSc in Economics, 2014.

On a small island in northern Mocambique, hurricane-proof houses are being built six months after Hurricane Kenneth caused major damage to the island. This was a small local project Alvina worked with.