The power of attitude: developing social and personal skills for a career in international cooperation

As a young professional entering the sector, you may think that expertise and technical skills are the most important factors for success. While they are undoubtedly essential, there is another factor that can make all the difference: your attitude.

The power of attitude

In the ever-changing landscape of international cooperation, having specialist knowledge and technical skills alone is no longer enough. Employers are increasingly looking for professionals who can communicate effectively, work collaboratively, and adapt to new situations while taking into account intercultural differences. These social and personal skills, rooted in a positive attitude, are essential for success in the international cooperation field. 

By developing your attitudes and cultivating these skills, you can stand out from the crowd and thrive in your work.

Let’s look at some work situations that perfectly illustrate this.

Developing social and personal skills can help you understand complex situations, build relationships, and stand out in a competitive job market.

Scenario 1 – The power of a collaborative approach

Imagine you are a young professional working on a project in a rural community in a partner country. You are tasked with designing and implementing a programme to provide the community with clean water.

While you have the technical knowledge to design the programme, you quickly realise that the project will not succeed without the support of the community. You will need to build relationships with community leaders, communicate effectively with stakeholders, and adapt your approach as you learn more about the local context.

This is where your attitude and social and personal skills come into play. By approaching the project with a positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and an open mind, you can build trust with the local people and work together to achieve shared goals.

Scenario 2 – The power of cultural humility and empathy

Imagine a team of professionals from different countries and backgrounds working together to tackle a public health crisis in a low-income country. Each member brings their own experience and expertise, sometimes leading to disagreements about the best approach to the situation.

One team member suggests ‘XY’ approach, while another suggests ‘YZ’. The disagreement creates tension within the team, and progress on the project slows.

However, by cultivating cultural humility and empathy, the team members are able to bridge their differences and work together towards a common goal. They take the time to listen to each other’s perspectives to understand how their different backgrounds and experiences influence their approaches to problem-solving. They recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the crisis and that a combination of approaches may be needed.

Through effective communication and collaboration, the team can develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the root causes of the crisis and meets the needs of the local communities.

By using your social and personal skills in a targeted way, you can overcome challenges and achieve successful outcomes.

Attitudes can be trained, to some extent

These two scenarios demonstrate the critical role of attitude in resolving complex situations. By using your social and personal skills in a targeted way, you can overcome challenges and achieve successful outcomes.

Developing your attitude takes time and effort, but is achievable with dedication and practice. To start, you can focus on the following: 

  • Develop a growth mindset: Instead of seeing challenges as obstacles, see them as opportunities to learn and grow. This attitude will help you remain resilient in the face of setbacks and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Cultivate empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. By cultivating empathy, you can build meaningful relationships with colleagues, stakeholders, and local people. Take the time to actively listen and consider other perspectives.
  • Practice effective communication: Communication is key in international cooperation. Develop your communication skills and learn how to tailor your message to different audiences. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and make adjustments where necessary. 
  • Embrace cultural humility: Recognise that your cultural background and experiences shape your perspective. Be open to learning about different cultures and approaches and avoid imposing your own beliefs and values on others.

Next steps to consider

By focusing on the above attitudes, you can improve your ability to work effectively with diverse teams and stakeholders, adapt to changing circumstances and potentially make a meaningful impact in your work. There are several ways to acquire and develop new skills: 

  • Seek opportunities to learn and practice: Look for courses, workshops, and training sessions on communication, cultural awareness, and empathy. Attend conferences and seminars to expand your knowledge and network with other professionals.
  • Seek mentorship: Find a mentor who can guide you in your career. Look for someone with extensive experience in international cooperation and who embodies the attitudes and competencies you want to develop. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Take part in experiential learning opportunities: Consider internships, volunteering, or service-learning projects that allow you to work in different cultural and social contexts. These experiences can help you gain practical skills, develop cultural awareness, and build your network.
  • Stay up-to-date with emerging trends and best practices: Read sector-related publications such as our study on Future Trends and Competencies, conducted in collaboration with ETH NADEL, and follow thought leaders in your field.
  • Learn more about the Inner Development Goals (IDGs), a set of attitudes and responses whose individual application should contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Your attitude is your most powerful asset - use it wisely!


To conclude, as a young professional, developing social and personal skills is essential for success in international cooperation. By approaching your work with a positive attitude, you can differentiate yourself and potentially make a positive impact on the world. Remember, your attitude is your most powerful asset - use it wisely!