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Geography Careers in Nonprofit & Nongovernmental Organizations

Geographers can be found within a broad range of nonprofit organizations and NGOs whose work coheres around issues as diverse as environmental stewardship, human rights, children’s advocacy and welfare, domestic and international development, education and health, culture and the arts, historic preservation and heritage conservation, religion, and beyond. With their ability to understand complex relationships between people, place, community, environment, and society, geographers are well positioned to apply their disciplinary perspectives to the nonprofit sector.

During their training, geographers develop a broad and flexible range of skills that represent an invaluable resource for nonprofit organizations. The cross section below includes preparation and experiences in the following:

  • Quantitative and qualitative analysis
  • Proposal and report writing
  • Individual initiative and small-group collaboration
  • Persuasive communication in written, graphic, and oral form
  • Public speaking and presentations
  • Cooperative, creative, and flexible learning
  • Work with diverse individuals and teams
  • Negotiation within diverse environments and among individuals
  • Coordination of simultaneous projects and prioritizing

Although these skills are not exclusive to the geography discipline, on a practical level, a geography curriculum can offer students varied training in all of these transferrable skills, in addition to promoting worldviews and sensibilities that carry classroom learning into professional organizational cultures. Sometimes less tangibly summarized by a particular course, nonprofit employers can be apprised of geographers’ abilities to communicate in graphic, written, and oral forms, their training in quantitative and qualitative problem solving, and their nuanced appreciation for the relationships between people, place, culture, and environment.

With an estimated 1.5 million nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the U.S. alone, it is impossible to comprehensively summarize the opportunities available to geographers seeking work within this sector. Below is just a broad categorization and small sampling of the kinds of nonprofits and NGOs for which geographers are well suited:

►International development. NGOs focused on international development are critical change agents in promoting economic growth, human rights, and social progress. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with NGOs such as CARE International and Habitat for Humanity to implement programs promoting inclusive economic growth, strengthening health and education at the community level, supporting civil society in democratic reforms, and assisting countries throughout the world in disaster recovery. IGOs (inter-governmental organizations) such as the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme also work to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities through sustainable solutions that connect the world’s poorest nations with knowledge, experience, and resources to help their citizens build better lives.

►Human rights. NGOs have played a primary role in focusing the international community on human rights issues. The size, scope, and missions of these organizations vary widely, from the NAACP, which focuses on eliminating racial discrimination and hatred in the U.S., to the Children’s Defense Fund, which strives to end child poverty and abuse and ensure access to education, to international human rights giants such as Amnesty International, which counts over 7 million members and supporters in over 150 countries throughout the world.

►Healthcare. The growing influence of GIS and geospatial data in health research means that geographers are well positioned to play leading roles in NGOs, IGOs and nonprofit organizations focused on advancing global health priorities. Geographers and GIS experts have made important contributions to the World Bank, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross, and many other leading international and U.S.-based organizations with missions dedicated to providing access to healthcare.

►Public policy and advocacy. Nonprofit organizations play a vital role in the development and implementation of public policy to promote informed, healthy, and strong democratic societies. Nonprofit research organizations and think tanks such as Brookings Institution, RAND Corporation, and Urban Institute provide a wide range of nonpartisan research that influence decision makers in all levels of government and the private sector. Others engage in advocacy and lobbying to promote various causes and influence legislation. Human geographers, with their holistic and interdisciplinary approach, are especially well suited for careers in these organizations.

►Environmental protection and conservation. There are scores of nonprofit organizations and NGOs based in the U.S. and abroad with missions dedicated to promoting sustainability and living in harmony with the environment. Geographers have found employment at the World Wildlife Fund, which works to conserve forests, fresh water, oceans, wildlife, food, and climate for both humans and animals in over 100 countries; the World Resources Institute, which conducts research and collects data that help countries use clean energy sources, conserve forests and water, reduce waste, and mitigate humans’ impact on climate change; Conservation International, which helps protect elephants in Africa, sharks throughout the world’s oceans, and promotes sustainable coffee production to prevent the destruction of rainforests; and many other environmentally focused nonprofits and NGOs. Geographers, with their unique understanding of how humans interact with their environment and broad, interdisciplinary training, are often perfect candidates for these kinds of organizations.

 


Profiles of Nonprofit & NGO Geographers

Kate Bishop

Evaluation Consultant, Winrock International

 

Education: Ph.D. in Geography and Anthropology (Indiana University), M.A. in Anthropology (Indiana University), B.A. in French (Bates College)

 

Angeline Johnson

FUSE Fellow, FUSE Corps

Education: Current Ph.D. Student in Spatially Integrated Social Sciences (University of Toledo), Master of Planning (University of Southern California), Master of Public Administration (University of Toledo), Graduate Certificate in Municipal Administration (University of Toledo), B.A. in Geography (University of Toledo)

Bruce Mitchell

Senior Research Analyst, National Community Reinvestment Coalition

Education:  Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Science and Policy (University of South Florida), B.A. in Philosophy and Religion (Eckerd College)

 

Jane Daniels

Director of Preservation Programs, Colorado Preservation, Inc.

 

Education: M.S. in International Studies/Environment and Natural Resources (University of Wyoming), B.A. in Geography (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Certificate in Environmental Studies (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Carlos Saavedra

Retired, Volunteer at Puerto Rico Rises, Dallas GiveCamp and Boy Scouts of America

Education: Masters Certificate in IT Project Management (Georgetown University), B.S. in Computer Science (University of Sacred Heart, Puerto Rico)

Julie Urbanik

Defense Mitigation Consultant and Executive Director, The Coordinates Society

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (Clark University), M.A. in Women's Studies (University of Arizona), B.A. in History (Randolph-Macon College)

 


Video Interviews with Nonprofit & NGO Geographers

Alex Orenstein decribes his unconventional path to geography and his work in the field of humanitarian mapping.

 

Who Hires Geographers?

The following list of over 100 nonprofit sector employers is based on a review of 31 geography department alumni webpages:

American Association of Geographers, American Geographical Society, American Meteorological Society, American Planning Association, Appalachian Mountain Club, Austin EcoNetwork, Austin Parks Foundation, Azuero Earth Project, Bareebo, Bat Conservation International, Bay Area Open Space Council, Big City Mountaineers, Buffalo City Mission, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, CAST, Clean Water Action, Colorado River Alliance, Columbia Riverkeepers, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Conservation Corps North Bay, Daily Acts, Doctors Without Borders, Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), Earth Day Austin, EcoLogic Development Fund, El Camino Real de los Tejas Historic Trail Association, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, Environmental Defense Fund, Everytown for Gun Safety, Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research, Farmers Conservation Alliance, Foodways Texas, Ford Foundation, Foundation Communities, Freshwater Society, Friends of Sausal Creek, Future of Fish, Generation Citizen, Geological Society of America, Glimmer of Hope, Global Center for Excellence in International Development, Global Wildlife Conservation, Grand Canyon Trust, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, Green Gate Farms, Green Urban Lunch Box, Greenbelt Alliance, GreenTrust Alliance, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Hill Country Alliance, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Medical Corps, Keep Austin Beautiful, Kenai Watershed Forum, Konbit for Sustainable Development, LBJ Wildflower Center, Little Kids Rock, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Minneapolis Northside Achievement Zone, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, National Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, National Public Radio, NatureServe, Inc, Northern California Regional, Land Trust, OMNI Institute, Oxfam, Pease Park Conservancy, Philabundance, PODER, Professional Petroleum Data Management Association, Public Citizen, Public Health Management Corporation, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Rainforest Partnership, Road Scholar, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sarvey Wildlife Care Center, Save Barton Creek Association, Save Our Springs, Shoal Creek Conservancy, Society of Petrophysicists and Well Log Analysts, Student Conservation Association, Sustainable Food Center, Teach For America, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Wildlife Association, The MITRE Corporation, The Nature Conservancy, The Senase Project, The Sierra Club – Lone Star Chapter, The Trust for Public Land, The United Nations, The Washington Center, The Water Institute of the Gulf, The Wilderness Society, Travis County Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, Ultimate Peace, UNAVCO, Urban Roots, Well Aware, Wildlife Conservation Network, Workers Defense Project (WDP), Worldwide Fund