I started writing this blog post on my way home from a conference on urban economics in Atlanta. The conference gave me the time to catch up with people who were in my job market cohort (most of whom ended up in academia). Seeing these people again got me thinking—what has it meant to be a young professional at the World Bank?Many apply for the Young Professionals Program. A few make it to the interview, and fewer still make it all the way. By the time you’re hired you think you're special, because you managed to do what others couldn't. You'd be wrong.
Young professionals are special, but it is not really our abilities that set us apart, it’s the opportunities we’re offered. We're encouraged and motivated to work outside our comfort zone. For instance, those with academic accomplishments are usually shipped off to work in operations. Your research shows that economic clusters lead to productivity gains? Why don’t you work with a team helping a sub-Saharan African country design industrial zones. You come with private-sector consulting experience? Perhaps you should work on setting up a platform to collate and compile knowledge for the institution.
Although the program starts with a 10-day induction on what to expect, in most cases, you are thrown into the deep end and you had better start swimming fast. Being immersed quickly is a sure-fire way to get a speedy education in 'how' development works. In my first 18 months at the institution, I’ve oscillated between exhilaration and exhaustion. Exhaustion – because it seems like a waste to not get involved in a medley of diverse and interesting projects (and before you know it, time with significant others and close friends is relegated to weekends, or in-between missions). And exhilaration - when you manage to figure it out how to help those who need it the most.
It helps that YPs are recruited as a group. It’s a little family within the Bank’s extended family. Everyone’s new and equally clueless. It helps that we come from diverse backgrounds and end up working on various projects. We exchange information – on places, programs, and people. It doesn’t hurt to have the chance to speak to others who have done this before us. And it’s reassuring that in a year’s time another group will join, and they’ll need just as much hand-holding.
In a few weeks, my cohort will graduate from the program. We’ll join the ranks of the many alumni, still within the institution. Wonderful things are expected of us. If you manage to keep your head above water, and keep up with everyone else in the institution, consider yourself a resounding success.
The World Bank cancelled the 2014 young professionals selection process. No doubt this was disappointing for this year’s applicants (although those who were shortlisted were included automatically within the 2015 shortlist), and perhaps led others to re-think their decision to apply. Being part of the program is an opportunity like no other and I continue to encourage applications for the next cohorts- to-be of young-professionals.