Degree: MA, 1988
Location: New Zealand
Steven Gray is a self-described “Minnesota boy” who wanted to parley his volunteer experience in other countries into a career in international development. His suspicion that a master’s degree would make him more attractive to organizations working in developing countries was spot on. Since completing his degree in 1988, Gray has worked all over the world, most recently in Moldova. He lives in New Zealand.
What was unique about your Humphrey experience?
I was very fortunate to be in one of Dean Harlan Cleveland’s seminars, and we co-wrote a paper on successful international cooperation. It was an amazing experience, not only for the people that Harlan knew and tapped to be a part of the seminar, but also because we were using the first iteration of the Internet to link up with colleagues of his in Hawaii and California. Back in the late 1980’s, personal computers were still a relatively new thing.
How your Humphrey education got you to where you are today?
The great thing about the Humphrey School was that I was able to tailor my degree to be relevant to what I wanted to learn and make the connections with faculty members, students, and visitors that allowed me to realize my career goal.
What has been your career path?
I had a pretty good consulting practice coming into the Humphrey School as the project coordinator for Rainbow Research, Inc. I wanted to earn a master’s degree as the foundation for an international consulting career. Once I graduated, I got a job as the director of evaluation and training for the American Refugee Committee. From there, I served as a training director for the Peace Corps in West Africa before landing my first international gig as a consultant for the Election Commission of Ghana (thanks to a fellow former Humphrey student). In 1997, I was fortunate to get a job advising the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on one of their aid programs to Asia. I moved to New Zealand for that position, which lasted two years. Since then, I have lived in New Zealand and consulted on development projects in 23 different countries.
What do you like best about your work?
I get to travel to interesting places and am constantly challenged. Each consulting engagement is different, but the constant thread through every job is the chance to empower individuals and build the capacity of governmental and non-governmental organizations. I am getting paid to fulfill my personal mission. It can’t be much better than that.
What is the biggest lesson your have learned since graduating from the Institute?
I thought that starting a career in international development would be easy. It was anything but [easy]. I had a very difficult time getting a job in a developing country right away. Even after I worked for the American Refugee Committee, I had trouble landing positions in developing countries. I had to take temporary gigs and be away from my family and work hard at building a resume that was attractive to prospective employers.
I guess the lesson I’ve learned is that it isn’t ever easy; you have to start small and not be afraid to take a risk. The risk of leaving America and moving my family down to New Zealand for lower wages has not only turned out to be an amazing adventure, but also an incredible opportunity. It has taught me that less can be more. While wages are lower here, I feel that the quality of life is much better than it was for us in the United States.