How to hire aid workers with disabilities

This is the final piece in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities.  Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2!

By Rebecca Berman

My previous two posts have discussed the lack of people with disabilities working in development and reasons this should change. Now, for the final step: how can we ensure more people with disabilities are included in the aid sector? While I’m not a human resources expert, these suggestions come from my experience in the hiring process.

1. If your organisation isn’t accessible, make it so!

As Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities states, signatories “recognize the importance of international cooperation and its promotion…Such measures could include… (a) Ensuring that international cooperation, including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.” Publications like these are currently being disseminated that discuss how international programs can increase their accessibility:

As with any changes, it doesn’t happen overnight. But the plethora of resources available show it’s possible, and will be made possible, as long as people with disabilities are part of the process of increasing accessibility.

2. Budget for accessibility.

As budgeting concerns are sometimes a barrier to employment, disability accommodations must be considered in all organisations’ budgets. Grant makers should also encourage organisations to budget for accessibility in proposals, thus increasing the chances of programming including people with disabilities.

If accessibility is considered from the beginning, the cost factor won’t be a barrier to inclusion. It costs less to build an accessible building than to renovate an existing building to increase access, and the same is true for building websites. This concept can also be applied to development programming and budgeting.

I was once told by a large international affairs organisation that they couldn’t afford an interpreter, as it wasn’t in the budget, since “no one ever asked for an interpreter before”. I think situations like this tend to be self-perpetuating. If deaf people are discouraged from attending events, no one asks for an interpreter, and people don’t consider hiring interpreters. Like in the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he they will come.”

3. Remove discriminatory “health criteria” for hiring staff.

From a human resources perspective, this one is easier said than done. As stigma towards disabilities run deep, many organisations have well-ingrained policies barring people with disabilities from employment, intentionally or unintentionally. As we move away from a medical model of disability and toward a social model, we shouldn’t be perpetuating “disability shaming” hiring policies.

Reconsider hiring policies that may be well-intended but come across as discriminatory, especially those that only view disability as a medical problem. This may not be obvious to people without knowledge on disability issues, and is a good way to include people with disabilities in changing policy.

I could not be medically cleared for employment with a development agency until I purchased new hearing aids, which had nothing to do with my ability to perform the job. Audism policies like this deal with the old standard of inability. Similar issues occur for people with psycho-social disabilities, people who are blind and people with other disabilities, who face pre-existing stigmas that prevent them from being active participants in the workforce. Or, they go into “hiding,” going to lengths to make sure their disability isn’t “discovered.” This sometimes happens with disabilities that are “hidden,” such as learning disabilities.

4. Practice what you preach.

You’d think this would go without saying, but you would be surprised. It’s easy to write policy statements such as “We do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, disability…” However, does your organisation truly embody the principles of inclusion?

Still not convinced? As Weh Yeoh wrote here on WhyDev, “There are over 1 billion people in the world who must become our priority.” I would like to add, people with disabilities must not just be a priority as recipients of aid, but also as active agents of change. Now is the time to get started. Nothing about us without us.

Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Featured image shows Australian volunteer Ben Clare, himself blind, training teachers and students to read in Braille in Samoa. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Pounding the pavement: DevQuest-ing your way into a development career

By Giles Dickenson-Jones

What I’d probably classify as my international development origin story was a short-term research project with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Essentially, during the year, the ADB advertises research and work they need done, which you (and hundreds of others) apply to do as part of their internship program.

In my case, I applied to help them develop a model to predict which roads would be impacted by climate change, so they could target where to do more detailed analysis or invest in climate proofing. And as comparatively boring as this origin story might sound, it crucially altered the way I viewed working in international development.

For one, I realised the development community is full of high achievers. People at the ADB were clever, good-looking and fluent in multiple languages. International development seemed to be as competitive as I’d been told.

But I also quickly realized that most people there were extremely approachable and happy to help. In fact, people came to speak to me, probably both because of how undeniably interesting road engineering is and because they guessed I had questions about building a career in international development.

And while this is partly a testament to the ADB placing a high value on their interns, I think it was also because many professionals there had, at one point, asked the same questions:

  • “Should I apply to an international organisation through the young professionals program?”
  • “Is it more important to network, or to apply to jobs through formal channels?”
  • “Is a Masters degree enough, or do I need a PhD?”
  • “How important is field experience? Where do I start?”
  • “Why do people love karaoke so much here?”

Some people thought that to be a professional economist, a PhD was a minimum. Others suggested accruing a good chunk of experience outside international organisations was the way to go, as it provided a wider view of the development sector. By and large, field experience was recommended – not for the purposes of “slumming it,” but to ensure you receive an adequate dose of humility through being exposed to the day-to-day challenges faced in communities being “developed.”

On the other hand, advice on how to acquire this experience varied, with some people working it into their PhD research, some undertaking internships in the field and others having studied overseas.

"One does not simply...get field experience." Meme by WhyDev.
“One does not simply…get field experience.” Meme by WhyDev.

Not only that, but the advice was (as one would expect) extremely different depending on people’s specific sector, as well as both where and when they started their career. International development seemed to be a field involving an intricate web of vertical and horizontal links between organisations, specialisations and regions.

After attending enough lunch events to give me a pronounced “networking belly,” a key theme, it seemed, was that there is no set path to getting your foot in the door. While persistence, international experience and a specialisation in a useful field will help, don’t expect the combination to necessarily result in an interview. In fact, whether you’re even considered might depend on where you fit with nationality quotas, whether other high-performers have come from your university and whether you’ve worked in-country before.

And this is what can make development seem like the career equivalent of getting a backstage pass – if you don’t fit the club’s demographic, you’d better know the bouncer.

While I’ll never be the kind of person who looks like he belongs backstage, I do realize how valuable my experience was in providing some clarity about where I might fit in the sector. But two years later, as I came to the end of my post-graduate studies in development, I also realised I’d been lucky. I had the right skills at the right time, and the right person in ADB’s human resources department had seen my application.

But not everyone gets a backstage pass. In fact, few do. Perhaps as a result of this, many people I was studying with seemed to be afflicted by professional paralysis. These feelings made a world of waning development funding all the more intimidating and uncertain, particularly when many had no idea where their skills might fit into the development sector.

And perhaps this was the most difficult thing for people I spoke with. How does a person make an informed choice about the value of doing an internship, earning a degree or even pursuing a career in development, without having a mentor to learn from or a sounding board to bounce ideas off?

Should I seek a role in the field or target an organisation that has offices in regions I’m interested in working in? Should I self-fund an internship in a United Nations field office or with an NGO, or am I better to target private consultancies?

And whilst analogous problems are faced in any field, the non-linear nature of development careers makes it that much harder, especially with there being relatively limited pieces of good advice from seasoned professionals.

Not only that, there isn’t a standard recipe for pursuing a career in development, meaning the “one size fits all” advice provided by many Human Resources departments and Career Services offices isn’t always helpful. Following their advice, newcomers risk forcing themselves into a cookie-cutter mould of selection criteria, pursuing a role they might not be passionate about or simply trying to accrue qualifications or experiences that in fact place them no closer to securing their first position.

And this is the first reason we started DevQuest: as a simple avenue for newcomers to learn from their peers, hopefully making those initial steps a little less daunting. But there is another reason we thought the idea was long-overdue: despite a trend towards unpaid internships and young professionals programs, there is nowhere a person can read reviews of development entry points. Unless you know somebody who has gone before you, it’s hard to know what to expect when taking those first steps in your development career.

After all, how can someone tell the difference between an entry-level position where they’ll be forced to restock printers and one where they’ll get the opportunity to use their experience and even learn some new skills?

And whilst some Human Resource departments suggest interns and young professionals should be honoured to have even been selected, we think that every hour someone with a PhD spends getting coffee is an hour lost for an organisation that needs their skills.

We also believe personal stories can provide a powerful way to help newcomers cross that first bridge into development, by providing clarity about what’s out there – and assurance that they’re not the first person to have put in twenty applications without receiving a single reply.

Giles Dickenson-Jones is a Coordinator at DevQuest. Currently, he is an economist working in Myanmar, where he is responsible for developing and advising on economic policy. Before this, he worked in a range of roles for NGOs, government and the private sector. Giles holds a Masters degree in Development from the University of Sydney and an Honours degree in Economics from the University of New England. You can follow him on Twitter.

Featured image shows a silhouette of a businessman running up steps. Photo from Pixabay.

WhyDev reader survey: Tell us what you really think!

We love our work here at WhyDev, but we want to know what you think. What can we do better? Are we covering the right topics? Was there a post you hated?

Please help make WhyDev better (in less than 10 minutes!) by telling us more about who you are, your experience here and what you’d like to see from us. Survey closes at midnight Australian EST on 6 Feb.

All respondents will be entered in a drawing to win a $25 gift card to Amazon, Book Depository, iTunes or Etsy (your choice!).

Featured image shows Bono performing with U2 in 2011. Photo by Peter Neill.

4 benefits of hiring aid workers with disabilities

This is the second piece in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities. See part one, and check back next week for the final installment!

By Rebecca Berman

In the previous post, I discussed some of the reasons there are so few people with disabilities working in international development. Now, I want to talk about why this needs to change.

I would like to make a public call to development professionals – individuals, NGOs, government agencies – to not just include people with disabilities in programming, but to make hiring them a greater priority. It’s time to move past the “We need to include people with disabilities” rhetoric often heard at international conferences, and start asking, “How can people with disabilities be active participants as employers, diplomats and field workers in international programs?”

This way, people with disabilities aren’t just recipients of aid, but are active participants in the process of creating change.

These are some of the benefits of hiring aid workers with disabilities:

1. Visibility is everything.

In a development context, there are often discussions on hiring both international and local staff. This is due in part to the idea of cross-cultural exchange that both parties can contribute to. The same can be said for what happens when people with disabilities are involved in projects at a leadership level. As many people may not know about disability issues, the visibility of leadership can create learning opportunities and change existing stigmas towards disabilities.

In Tanzania, I am currently taking Kiswahili classes. Someone asked my teacher, “How can she learn?” in relation to my deafness. My colleague here (also with a disability) has been working on creating accessible infrastructure – a task in which the accuracy of accessibility may not have occurred without the expertise of a local person with a disability. Thus, visibility reduces the lack of knowledge that is often a barrier to disability employment and related programming.

2. Accessibility for one person means accessibility for all (or getting closer to “all”).

When an environment is made accessible (if it isn’t already), it enhances the environment for everyone, not just the person with a disability. A recent article detailed how image descriptions on websites benefit not just people who are blind or with low vision. They’re also useful to people with slow Internet connections, and they’re beneficial by calling attention to important aspects of the picture. The same can be said about “Easy to Read” versions of booklets, which also benefit people who aren’t fluent in the language or who want a condensed version of a longer text. Thus, accessibility has hidden benefits that people aren’t aware of until they’re exposed to the accessible materials (or the need for such).

3. Overcoming the socioeconomic effects of disability unemployment

The mindset of exclusion of people with disabilities from the workforce has damaging results that lead to economic losses. A 2014 project by the British Council reported that Pakistan is losing up to 6% of its annual GDP by excluding people with disabilities in multiple sectors. Since many areas interweave with employment (such as education, training and health), increased focus on inclusion in all sectors is not just good for “moral purposes,” but also serves a practical purpose in boosting the economic well being of an entire country.

A country’s labour market also faces losses due to exclusion. This has been seen in the labour markets of Bangladesh and Morocco, with $891 million and $1.1 billion lost per year, respectively.

4. Disability will soon be “the new gender” (if it’s not already).

With the Sustainable Development Goals and 159 countries ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability will also become more prominent in future development programming. The past decade has seen an increase in gender mainstreaming; I think the next decade will see more disability mainstreaming, along with a focus on other minority communities.

Like gender, disability is a cross-cutting issue. Disability is related to poverty, democracy, climate change, WASH, refugees, gender, and so on. For instance, women with disabilities are three times more likely than those without disabilities to experience sexual violence. Thus, there is a need to integrate women with disabilities in gender programming. The same can be said with poverty initiatives. Since people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty due to unemployment (and other factors), they should also be targeted in poverty-reduction programs. As they say, if you don’t have a disability in your lifetime, you will know someone who does.

Even if it isn’t your primary focus, issues concerning people with disabilities will inevitably appear in your field. Besides, aren’t we supposed to ensure that the greatest number of beneficiaries are reached by our programs?

Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Featured image shows volunteer Kate Nelson, herself deaf, working with colleagues in Fiji. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

MissionCreep #6: Women, grit and celebrities

It’s the year’s first episode of the MissionCreep podcast! Brendan Rigby, Carly Stephan and Weh Yeoh are back with fresh and frank voices in global development.

In this episode, we’re talking about gender equality in development and  a new required quality for aid workers (grit4dev?). And, maybe we need an open letter to celebrities working in aid.

What do you think? Weigh in on your experiences as a woman in development, what you think about grit, or how celebrities could be better humanitarians.

Leave a comment here or on Facebook, e-mail us at info[AT], and use the hashtag #MissionCreepDev on Twitter. We’ll respond online or on the next episode of the podcast.

You can also listen to the podcast here or download it on iTunes.

Brendan Rigby
Brendan Rigby
Carly Stephan
Carly Stephan
Weh Yeoh
Weh Yeoh





Articles referenced throughout the podcast:

 Speaking while female

Women in development: 18 tips for career success

A men-only UN conference on gender equality? If only it was a joke

Is grit now more important for aid workers than resilience?

The key to success? Grit

The glamorous double standards of celebrity humanitarianism

Featured image shows a panel discussion at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. Photo from UN Women.

The glamorous double standards of celebrity humanitarianism

By Tom Jarman

No experience needed – Apply within.

Development is a strange field in that virtually any John, Dick or Mary can do it. This isn’t to suggest that such work is a walk in the park, far from it. Yet, a culture has emerged in which nearly anybody can be actively involved, regardless of experience, knowledge of poverty or even maturity level. This has enabled a booming voluntourism trade, a global movement of slacktivists and, (my personal favourite) a trend of celebrity humanitarianism. In fact, the only real “skill” you need to do humanitarian work is wealth (it also helps if you’re white), making celebrities some of the most skilled professionals in the business.

Our obsession with celebrity culture means those involved in aid work often provide the public with a window into the world of development. Yet, this window offers an extremely distorted view, in which poverty can be easily addressed by the mere presence of a celebrity. In this way, celebrities individually shoulder the burdens of development whilst the efforts of others, such as local doctors and human rights lawyers, are masked.

Worse still, the commitments of many celebrity humanitarians are part-time at best, and the gospel they preach is rife with double-standards.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Many celebrities view charity as something that can be taken lightly alongside other leisure activities, outlandish materialism, lucrative business deals and reality television. Take Kim Kardashian, who feels that visits to children at rehabilitation centres in Botswana are compatible with $750,000 Lamborghini birthday presents. Of course, Kim is an easy target, but even the more “sophisticated” humanitarians are fraught with contradictions. Whilst Angelina Jolie is renowned for her work as a humanitarian, some of her personal choices seem at odds with her pro-peoples stance. It’s strange that an anti-poverty campaigner is happy to spend $23,000 on facials, and is also opposed to a tax on the wealthy that’s intended to support the National Health Service.

But when it comes to flagrant hypocrisy, Scarlett Johansson really takes the biscuit. Followed by entire packet. Earlier this year, Johansson became embroiled in a scandal after joining forces with Israeli soft drink maker SodaStream, which controversially operated a factory in occupied Palestinian territory (though this is now due to close). This alliance was in direct conflict with her 7-year position a global ambassador for Oxfam, which opposes all trade with the occupied territories. Amazingly, Johansson refused to admit any wrongdoing, and instead ended her relationship with the organisation in favour of delicious bubbles; not to mention the delicious money to be made from the Super Bowl half-time show, which featured her SodaStream promo.

In her response to the public backlash that followed, Johansson insisted that she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance.” This illustrated her failure to grasp the fact that poverty is not a natural occurrence, but a fundamentally political phenomenon. Moreover, it highlighted an unwillingness to seriously commit to social change and a decision to instead adopt a cynical soft approach. The lack of conviction of many such celebrity endeavours is beautifully illustrated by Johansson, who made clear that, when push came to shove, profit came before people.

People don’t save people, rappers do.

Aside from the dubious commitments to development, celebrity humanitarianism is particularly problematic because of the messages it conveys about the players in developmental processes. In conflict zones such as Darfur (and any humanitarian situation), a myriad of local actors, such as doctors, human rights lawyers, grassroots activists and journalists, are doing the real work. Yet, these key figures are often displaced by crusading celebrities, who dominate the scene whilst everybody else takes a backseat. In doing so, development becomes very much an individualistic affair. In fact, many celebrities go one step further by personalising the whole experience. In many cases, the focus hones in on how a tearful celebrity is dealing with a crisis, whilst those affected by it disappear into background noise. In this clip, a young child who has escaped trafficking actually has to comfort a sobbing Lindsay Lohan. Priceless.

Bob Geldof infamously exemplified similar self-absorption when he hijacked the Make Poverty History Campaign in 2005. Originally, the campaign was meant to be a coalition of hundreds of NGOs from around the globe raising awareness on important issues of poverty. But instead it turned into a one-man band as the campaign became synonymous with Band Aid and the struggle of Saint Bob. What could have been an effective campaign was instead reduced to another song of “Powerful Giver” and “Grateful Receiver.” Band Aid: a broken record since 1984.

Goodwill hunting

Despite their shortcomings, celebrity ambassadors are an extremely popular tool for international NGOs, now as concerned with branding as the private sector. This is understandable, as such high-profile figures are excellent for garnering publicity and attracting funding. In light of Johansson’s SodaStream shambles, one wonders how organisations can choose an ambassador potentially bereft of integrity, but perhaps it boils down to style being more important than substance.

Style is certainly the order of the day for the UN Goodwill Ambassador programme, which has included the likes of Victoria Beckham for HIV/AIDS and Emma Watson for Women.   Not that I have any huge issue with the latter, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly confused that she was appointed Ambassador for Women around the same time Malala Yousafzi was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize. Emotive though her speech was, human rights is certainly not Watson’s specialty, nor do I recall her taking a bullet for gender equality. Ultimately, it seems glamour trumps merit when it comes to brand ambassadors.

People may defend such celebrities, pointing out that “something is better than nothing”. However, I believe those who profess to be role models in society should be subject to scrutiny, because they often set a precedent that others follow. Those who wish to help tackle poverty must go further than field visits and photo ops – it will take engaging with the issues of poverty, challenging the policies of institutions that perpetuate it and, perhaps most importantly, reflecting on the ways lifestyle choices contribute to such issues. Let’s hope that in the future, the commitment of brand ambassadors goes deeper than the lens of camera.

Tom Jarman works for Zimele U.K., a small charity in Wales, and blogs about international development.

Featured image shows William Hague and Angelina Jolie visiting Nzolo Camp in the DRC. Photo from the G8 U.K. Presidency.


Where are the aid workers with disabilities?

This is the first in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities. Check back next week for the second installment!

By Rebecca Berman

Even though people with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population, with 80% living in developing countries, they are rarely part of the international development agenda (or haven’t been until recently). As disability issues are becoming more prominent – especially with post-2015 discussions – valuable opportunities exist for people with disabilities to take ownership and showcase their expertise. WhyDev has already featured articles about the lack of inclusion of people with disabilities in international development programming. However, there needs to be more discussion about another equally important issue.

Where are the people with disabilities who work in the development and humanitarian aid sectors?

Around the world, people with disabilities face higher unemployment rates than those without. Nearly 90% of people with disabilities in developing countries are unemployed, and 50 to 70% in developed countries. Why do people with disabilities have a higher rate of unemployment? The obvious reason for this is due to pre-existing stigmas. Two others, particularly related to the development context, include:

“It’s too expensive.” / “We already have limited resources.”

Cost is often cited as a barrier for not hiring people with disabilities. In the development field, organisations are often working with limited resources and with an extra sense of urgency in using every last dollar.

But, according to estimates in UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children report, including people with disabilities costs less than 1% of a program’s total budget. In addition, a study in the U.S. found that two thirds of disability accommodations cost less than $500, with nearly a quarter at no cost. Examples of cost-free accommodation include adjusting tasks or schedules for maximum performance efficiency.

“The accommodations or medical care are not available overseas.”

People with disabilities are, unfortunately, used to inaccessibility. Thus, we have the knowledge and resources to create better systems and to increase accessibility. We know what works and what doesn’t. Many times, disabilities are barriers to joining the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps (or similar programs). In the end, if a person with a disability is applying, they will have the resources to overcome the anticipated barriers that the job entails. For instance, a person who uses a wheelchair would be more likely to know the best mechanisms for upkeep and repair in a development setting. The dialogue needs to center on how the person’s needs can be met on the job, rather than perpetuating the status quo by continually excluding those with disabilities and viewing disability as a medical condition (rather than utilising the modern social model of disability, which views it as being an effect of how society is organised, rather than the person’s “impairment” or “difference”).

The vicious cycle of inaccessibility and invisibility

I have seen firsthand the social capital cost of exclusion. For instance, international development conferences are often not interpreted. By not having a sign language interpreter, a segment of the community loses out on learning and networking opportunities. In addition, the “voice” of people with hearing loss is missing from international discussions, which perpetuates their invisible minority status. Similarly, language classes often do not provide interpreters, limiting deaf students’ opportunities for learning foreign languages, which are crucial in the aid sector.

The same can be said for discriminatory medical requirements that prevent people with disabilities and/or other medical conditions from participating in international jobs. These definitions and the link between disability and medicine/illness is a highly contentious one. Regardless of the person’s identity (as a “person with a disability,” a “person with a medical condition,” etc.), based on their “symptoms” or perceived inabilities, they are often lumped together in the eyes of human resources.

This is not to say that these policies should be thrown out entirely. Rather, we need to consider the actual reason for the exclusion, and not just accept this as the “norm.” For instance, is the reason because there are actually no accommodations that can be made, or is it because of pre-existing conceptions that exist in-country? If people with disabilities don’t get hired due to their “condition,” the condition stays invisible, and no real progress can be made in changing the situation for those with similar conditions.

In addition to my own experience as a Deaf person, there are plenty of stories about internal hiring and firing biases against people with disabilities and medical conditions, including from agencies and organisations that claim to support those with disabilities. Change like this is a complex evolving process, and the first step is creating visibility.

A Post-2015 World

Since 2007, 159 countries have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 27 focuses on employment and aims to “Promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies and measures, which may include affirmative action programs, incentives and other measures.” As we move towards more equity-based post-2015 goals, this will be important for all people, regardless of background.

Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Featured image shows multiple sign language interpreters for multiple languages at the EMPOWER Conference. Photo from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs.

The tyranny and racism of distance

In an NBC spot for a Hurricane Katrina relief and fundraising concert in 2006, Mike Meyers is reading solemnly from cue cards. Next to Meyers is Kanye, looking and sounding torn and defeated. After highlighting the disproportionate effects of Katrina on African-Americans, Kanye goes off-script. First, he says, “They’ve given them [U.S soldiers] permission to go down and shoot us”. Meyers turns his head towards Kanye as if to remind him about something, but continues from his cue. Then, Kanye drops it. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Meyers turns once again to Kanye, and the camera quickly cuts away to Chris Tucker.

Borno state is not the city of Paris. Nigeria is not France. 2,000 people is more than 17 people. A ten-year old female suicide bomber is infinitely more tragic and soul-wrenching than three armed gunman. #jesuischarlie is trending, #bringbackourgirls was trending. Both are fleeting moments of sentimentality, broader than they are deep. Scott Gilmore dryly said, “#JeSuisCharlie so please #BringBackOurGirls because #Kony2012 taught us hashtag slacktivism is very useful to resolve things like #GamerGate”. Social media has failed to close the distance between immediacy and death. The tyranny of distance reigns.

But, do we really not care about black people because of a distance that is both geographical and sociocultural? In other words, is distance racist?

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 11.50.36 am

I am Baga, which can mean “foolish”. I am slow to learn and understand. We are Baga. We are human, and our grief can only travel certain distances. It travels along paths that are familiar, guided by a sociocultural GPS. In 100 metres, turn left down Rue Nicolas Appert. Or, take an alternate route, turning right at the next intersection towards Baga, Borno.

Broken pencils and broken lives are what I am left with; a deep sense of ambiguity over where to feel. Attempting to attribute more value to one tragedy than the other seems absurd. We are forced to make such cold calculations, our GPS guiding the way. Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter, but not all lives can be located. The number of media articles and trending hashtags is not a measure of compassion or apathy. But, it is a compass of our moral tacking. We are lost.

In order to adjust our bearings and reduce the distance, I’ve listed a select number of articles regarding recent events in northeastern Nigeria. A small effort to reduce the tyranny of distance.


“The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy.” – Unmournable Bodies. New Yorker

Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre': 2,000 feared dead in Nigeria. Guardian

Terrorists Killed 2,000 People in Nigeria Last Week. So Why Doesn’t the World Care? World.Mic

Why did the world ignore Boko Haram’s Baga attacks? Guardian

I am Charlie, but I am Baga too: On Nigeria’s forgotten massacre. Daily Maverick

Boko Haram Massacre: Baga survivors narrate ordeal. Premium Times

Je Suis Nigeria. African Arguments

Gathering news of a massacre. BBC World Service Radio

Boko Haram’s massacre in Nigeria: what happened and why. Vox

Nigeria’s military says 150 killed in Boko Haram clashes in Baga. Reuters

Dispatches: What Really Happened in Baga, Nigeria? Human Rights Watch


(Map from the BBC).


‘“It’s a little girl,” said the hospital official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of his position. “The body is beyond recognition, but from the face you can see it’s a young person. A young pretty girl.”’ – In Nigeria, New Boko Haram Suicide Bomber Tactic: ‘It’s a Little Girl’. New York Times

Boko Haram Uses Girls As Suicide Bombers, Reports Say. NPR

Nigeria’s Horror in Paris’s Shadow. The Atlantic

Boko Haram and the little girl whose name we will never know. Kindle

Female suicide bombers kill 39 in Potiskum, Maiduguri markets. Vanguard

Boko Haram, Borno state and Nigeria

“Tucked away in the remote north-eastern corner of Nigeria, Borno is one of its most mismanaged states, which is saying something. Its literacy rate is two-thirds lower than in Lagos, the southern business hub. Fewer than 5% of women in parts of Borno can read or write. Income per head is 50% lower than in the south, school attendance 75% lower. In the past the state government has been a byword for corruption. Elections have been noted for their thuggishness and dishonesty.” – “Nigeria’s crisis: A threat to the entire country.” The Economist

Boko Haram: The Other Islamic State. New York Times

Boko Haram crisis: Nigerian archbishop accuses West. BBC

Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram. New York Times

‘Boko Haram’ doesn’t really mean ‘Western education is a sin’. Christian Science Monitor

Boko Haram crisis: Why it is hard to know the truth in Nigeria. BBC

Nigeria ‘needs same support as France’ after Boko Haram attacks -archbishop. Mail & Guardian Africa

Featured image is from a protest in New York City. Photo by Michael Fleshman.

6 ways to make the most of your time outside the development sector

By Jessie Date-Ampofo

What challenges do you face in starting a development career? You have to try to stand out amongst thousands of qualified candidates. Perhaps $15,000 is not pocketed away for your next international volunteer trip.

If you live in an international hub like D.C., Nairobi, or Bangkok, there are at least events and networking opportunities, so hopefully you can make connections and stay up-to-date.

But maybe, like me, you live in a place void of international development opportunities. As isolated as you feel, here are a few ways you can stay connected to the development sector when you can’t compare travel maps with your co-workers just yet.

1. Stay updated

The Internet is filled with resources to help you get started when field experience or a Master’s degree are out of reach. Make a list of bloggers and news sites that cover different aspects of development, and do your best to keep up. I use Last Week Today (Ed: Yes!!] and DAWNS Digest to stay current. Twitter is a gold mine of conversations (debates), links to relevant news and different perspectives. You can use the #globaldev hashtag to follow live updates.

Twitter badge. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Twitter badge. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Another way to get information is to start reading books and journal articles. Knowing what everyone is blogging and tweeting about is fruitful, but your own research is necessary if you need to form an opinion. Find books on the topic areas that interest you, or search for syllabi to see the readings assigned in different development courses. Then, start learning on your own. You’ll gain an understanding of the core issues and prominent viewpoints in development, and have a stronger foundation when you finally start working in the field.

2. Take an online course

Platforms like Coursera and edX offer free online courses on research methods, writing and even designing sanitation systems. Jeffrey Sachs has a Coursera class on sustainable development, and Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee have an edX one on global poverty. There are also tutorials available online for things like learning basic statistics, advancing Excel skills or studying foreign languages.

3. Get local

Of course, you don’t have to live in a ‘developing’ country to contribute to development. Shop consciously, and consider the effects your purchases will have on the environment and other people’s livelihoods.

You can also help people in need where you live through volunteering locally. From advocating for a bill to helping with an after-school program, volunteering can make a big impact in your community. Getting involved locally is especially important if you don’t plan to move somewhere with more development opportunities – improving your own community is a good way to invest your time.

Some development organisations also have remote volunteer options. Websites like UN Volunteers and Idealist post the latest volunteer opportunities, which also include remote positions.

Your community may not have development organisations, but there are probably other service groups available for gaining skills and some friendships. I joined my local Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter, and, though no other members are interested in development, the group provides management training and networking opportunities that will be useful in any work environment.

Similarly, if you’re currently working in another field, develop useful skills by finding tasks at work that relate to your future goals. For me, that means taking hold of social media and learning to manage budgets at my corporate job.

4. Network online

If getting local doesn’t fill your desire to connect with development enthusiasts, try networking online. Reach out to learn more about the sector and how to navigate your way into it. The willingness of professionals in the development sector to respond to e-mails and questions from a confused young professional has surprised me. Discussing your plans and questions with professionals gives you the opportunity to decide what area of the industry interests you. I have changed my direction a few times, and found some areas to improve (okay, I will learn statistics). Even when there are no development workers nearby, the marvelous Internet can quickly connect you to many people in the sector.

5. Make your own opportunities

You can also start something of your own–no, not an NGO. I started The Development Book Club after getting into a Master’s program and realising I couldn’t afford to go. Though disappointing, I realised waiting until grad school to learn was not in my best interest. I still plan to get a glittery diploma someday, but in the meantime, I’ve gained a small community of people with similar interests and covered a lot of material I should ideally know before grad school. Think about what part of development interests you, and see if you can create a community right where you are.

6. Be present

While dreaming of the day you get your big break, don’t forget to soak in where you are. Anxiety over the future won’t make it come any faster. Recognise that, if you can’t handle life where you are, it may not get better just because you leave or start something new. Use your time in limbo to work on becoming the person you want to be, professionally and personally.

Jessie Date-Ampofo studied Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Toronto and now lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Though not currently working in development, she volunteers locally and is reading through as many development books as she can.

Featured image is farmland overlooking Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This Year Today: What Kim & Kanye will mean for development in 2015

Welcome to the United Nations International Year of Soils and of Light. No, the UN hasn’t opened an Astrology department or adopted the Chinese zodiac calendar. (Next year is the Year of the Green Wooden Sheep.) The Year of Soils is, according to Dr. Richard Doyle of the University of Tasmania, about getting youth excited about soils. “Get them off their iPads, out of playing video game Mine Craft, which are about imaginary mining and imaginary soils. Actually get them out there feeling soils, feeling the texture, smelling the soils.” So, get off your phone, turn off your lights, and go get some soils.

This year at WhyDev

It is an exciting year ahead for WhyDev. We’re entering our 5th year of operations, and will soon hit 500 blog posts. Our original mission has not changed all that much – to foster and provide an online community for those committed to getting development right. This year, we’re hitting our stride, and building this community through AidSource, partnerships and service delivery. Not only are we aiming to foster a collaborative and critical community, but also a healthy and supportive one.

This year on the team

To achieve this, we are very happy to have three more committed peers join our gang. And, they couldn’t be more over-qualified and amazing. Alysia Antonucci will be managing AidSource, Jessica Meckler will be leading our partnerships, and Nicole Tooby will be helping us engage youth.

This year in globaldev

In the tradition of New Year posts, it’s customary to predict trends for the coming year. Is Baghdadi 2015 the next Kony 2012? What is Bono planning for Africa? When will Kanye and Kim take a step towards philanthropy and world-saving? I wish I had the answers. In the meantime, a few items to keep track of, which we will evaluate in at the end of this program cycle:

1. Post-2015: The difference between ‘promote’ and ‘ensure’.

As we move closer to the end of the Millennium Developments Goals (and head towards the Quantum Development Goals? The Millennium Falcon Development Goals?), what our focus needs to be on are these two verbs: promote and ensure. Whether nations agree at the UN Summit in September to promote certain goals or to ensure them is too important to overstate, and it’s a political rodeo that will be largely closed off to the 99%.

2. Too many do-gooders, not enough jobs.

Exit your degree like I exit the turn-pike / Dicing development like dyn-o-mite. If you are not a Fugees fan, then I apologise for the lost reference of the preceding sentences. If you are a Fugees fan, then I apologise for the hatchet job of Pras’ lyrics. We’re entering an unprecedented era in do-gooding aspirations, with more Development Studies degrees than the Bible has Psalms. Although we don’t have any data, the number of under- and post-graduate degrees in Development Studies is growing, but the sector they wish to enter is perhaps shrinking.

3. Social enterprise is the new MONGO.

#2 then leads to #3, in which we will see a shift away from My Own NGO towards My Own Social Enterprise. MOSE. This phenomenon has already been documented in Bloomberg, and I believe it will only continue to grow. Conversely, and despite the pushback from WhyDev and others, we will see a growth in voluntourism, with more and more travel companies putting poverty on the list of attractions and itineraries. You can just imagine Contiki offering an all-inclusive Africa Slum + Party Package for 14 days, in which the young traveller gets down and dirty in the slums and clubs of Nairobi.

4. Beyond aid: Remittences, private sector and impact investment.

This is a trend we trot out at the beginning of every year, but this time it is different. Since its inception, foreign aid, as in Official Development Assistance (ODA), has been relatively flat in terms of growth. It has also always been subject to donor’s national interests. So, I don’t believe we will ever see substantial increases across the OECD family that are sustained and committed. Yet, development doesn’t begin and end with ODA. Remittences, private sector, concessional loans, foreign direct investment and impact investing are more significant in terms of volume and poverty alleviation than ODA. We need a wholesale re-imagining of what ODA can achieve, and how it can achieve its purported aims.

5. “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man / So let me handle my business, damn.” – Jay Z

NGOs and international development agencies are increasingly adopting the nomenclature and discourse of business and the private sector. And, it doesn’t look to be slowing down. Whether this means the actual practice of development will be done differently is an entirely other matter. Beneficiaries may become customers, but if they’re treated like Comcast customers, then god help us all.

 6. Last but not least, Kanye and Kim will become the Bill and Melinda Gates of hip-hop and Hollywood.

Yo Geldolf, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish. But, Bill and Melinda had one of the best campaigns of all time.

Kim and Kanye are yet to fully submerge themselves in global development, advocacy and celebrity intervention, but I have a good feeling that this is their year to shine and commit themselves to eradicating something somewhere in Africa.

Love reading Last Week Today? To keep getting the best global development news and insights each week, just subscribe to our mailing list. We won’t be posting the newsletter to the blog anymore. Why? Because we’ll be sharing content throughout the year especially for our loyal supporters. You! So, sign up to get Last Week Today sent staight to your inbox every Friday. It’s that simple.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.

Committed to getting aid and development right