IDS alumna reflects on her career in the nonprofit sector
Sandy Valdivieso (left), Academic Counselor for the IDS program, and Ira Sangar of Pratham. (Photo: Catherine Schuknecht/ UCLA.)

IDS alumna reflects on her career in the nonprofit sector

UCLA alumna Ira Sangar spoke to undergraduates about her experiences working in the development sector at an International Development Studies event in late May.

Employers in the development sector look to hire people who have completed graduate-level study and have worked abroad in challenging environments. Linguistic ability is also highly valued.

by Catherine Schuknecht

UCLA International Institute, June 26, 2014 — “While working with organizations in Tunisia, India and Bangladesh, I constantly drew upon my IDS (International Development Studies) background to analyze the country’s development context,” said UCLA alumna Ira Sangar.

Speaking to an audience of undergraduate students, Sangar discussed her experiences working in different areas of the development sector and advised her listeners to take advantage of cross-disciplinary courses at UCLA.

“My courses help me so much when I’m designing a proposal,” said Sangar, who works in program management at Pratham Education Foundation in India. “Understanding the various perspectives surrounding global and regional issues is key to working in the nonprofit sector.”

The event was coordinated by the UCLA International Institute's International Development Studies (IDS) program and sought to bring together UCLA students from multiple departments — IDS, world arts and cultures, global studies and economics — who share an interest in pursuing development sector careers.

Working in the nonprofit sector

Before coming to the United States to get her BA at UCLA, Sangar grew up in India, where her interest in nonprofit work began. “Poverty is not just a defining characteristic of a ‘developing’ country,” said Sangar, “to me, it is real and it is everywhere.”

The UCLA alumna went on to earn an MA in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London before traveling to Bangladesh to work with adolescent girls.

At BRAC — an international nonprofit organization dedicated to large-scale economic and social change — Sangar helped implement and measure the impact of a program that opens one-room schools in Bangladeshi villages where adolescent girls are typically unable to attend school. The organization trains women from the village as teachers and creates a community where students can discuss social and economic issues.

International organizations such as BRAC offer large-scale perspectives on issues that are common in many developing countries, observed Sangar. “I learned that adolescent girls in Bangladesh were facing similar social pressures as girls in Uganda, and got the opportunity to analyze the effects of two parallel programs in vastly different environments.”

Sangar went on to work in Tunisia at the African Development Bank, where she evaluated the political and economic environments of African countries in order to review project proposals. She later returned to the field as part of a program management team at Pratham — one of the largest NGOs in India’s education sector.

At Pratham, Sangar oversees a flagship program that measures learning outcomes in language and mathematics at Indian schools. Her team runs reading camps designed to provide intensive bursts of teaching over a six-month period in order to improve these outcomes.

As she brought her remarks to a close, Sangar advised students to take advantage of the lectures, trainings and associations at UCLA in order to focus in on a specific area of the “third sector” (e.g., health, education, governance or consulting).

“I would advise students to be patient and committed,” said Sangar, “there is no set or easy route into this sector, and working in a developing country can be quite challenging; but it is equally rewarding and fun!”

Employers in the sector look to hire people who have completed graduate-level study and have worked abroad in challenging environments, remarked Sangar, adding that linguistic ability is also highly valued. “With the international focus in the development sector, languages are so useful — they’re like the new currency.”

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