Potentially promising career paths in poorer countries

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This question comes up often for those of us offering careers advice at 80,000 Hours. I should note that we feel uncomfortable presenting ourselves as authorities on this for a range of reasons:

  • The circumstances of the people asking are often very different from our own, so we lack a lot of relevant knowledge.
  • The circumstances of the people asking are often much more precarious, making bad advice on our part more dangerous.
  • It feels inappropriate to tell people who are much less privileged than us what to do with their lives.

However, as the question arises frequently, and silence is also unhelpful, I feel we have to should have at least something to say about it. Indeed I believe there are significant opportunities open to people with an effective altruist mindset in the developing world.

Here are some tentative ideas, but please take them with several pinches of salt:

  • As always, develop career capital and explore: study hard, network, learn English, complete high school and probably a degree too, as this will open a range of additional options. Online education resources can be particularly valuable for you.
  • Try to migrate to an OECD country, perhaps by moving for higher education. This one is straightforward and usually on people's lists anyway where possible.
  • Become a good professional in your home country. All of the traditional 'social impact' jobs that seem less valuable to residents of rich countries, such as being a good teacher, engineer, nurse or physician, look a lot more valuable in a country that has far fewer such experts per capita. In some countries teachers only show up to work half of the time, which suggests it may be straightforward to do better if you are sufficiently motivated to do so. It is common to find developing countries with only a fifth as many physicians per capita as some OECD countries, which would suggest each could have five times as much direct impact, using the 'logarithmic returns' rule of thumb.
  • Try to get a job in an aid agency or charity working on your country and help them be better, using your superior knowledge of local circumstances.
  • Aim to start a business that can employ people and raise labour productivity in your country. This is particularly valuable if your business can i) import technologies from overseas to automate tasks and make each employee more productive, ii) employ staff or serve customers in poverty, iii) grow rapidly. This is something we suggest to people in developed countries too; as a person in a developing country you have local knowledge that can give you some advantages in this work.
  • The internet opens up opportunities for remote 'direct work' that can be similarly as valuable regardless of where in the world you are. For example, if you have the necessary quantitative or analytical skills consider training in: statistics or data science, web design and programming. These can be learnt significantly through online education. You can then 'earn to give', or do 'direct work' for a valuable organisation, such as Wave. Valuable skills may also assist with future migration options.
  • Consider becoming an expert at assisting people in your country to migrate to richer countries.
  • Enter politics, the military or the civil service in your country, with the goal of making decisions based on the greater good of the world, cost-effectiveness research, and being otherwise 'incorruptible'. Be aware that in some countries refusing to participate in corruption or sectarian politics may be dangerous to you personally, or prevent you from advancing in your career.
  • Spread important ideas within your country, or online. For example, you can translate important works on moral cosmopolitanism and animal welfare to your local language, or blog about them. Alternatively, learn another language such as English or Spanish and participate in discussions online - for example, anyone can promote vegetarianism through social media regardless of the country they are in. Of course, traditional ideas in effective altruism, like 'give 10%', are likely to be a much tougher sell in a lower income country.
  • One advantage of being in a poorer country is that your living costs are much lower in terms of US dollars. Someone who is earning to give in a rich country could sponsor you to do one of the above at a much lower cost than that to support someone in the US doing the same.

We are interested to hear about other ideas, or why the above options are not actually sound.