All posts by Brendan Rigby

Brendan is an education specialist with eight years of experience working as a teacher, researcher and programme officer. Most recently, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF in Tamale, Ghana. This year, Brendan is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. He is also a communications consultant for Plan Asia and obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

Jaden and Willow Smith’s Guide to Global Development

In recent years, there have been tremors around the edges of celebrity activism and involvement in global development. Most recently, it was Bob Geldof getting BandAid back together. Angelina Jolie is a constant, but we can only fault her for her acting. Hermione Granger Emma Watson brought the house down at the U.N early this year and created gender equality. Madonna. Bono. Clooney. Affleck. Persons who have become synonymous with celebrity activism and advocacy. But, we are missing two.

Now, this is a story all about how / two kids got the ‘net flipped-turned upside down.

And, I’d like to take a minute / just sit right there.

I’ll tell you how these two princelings found new flair (in global development).

Jaden and Willow Smith attempted, perhaps inadvertently, to break the Internet, in what is perhaps the most wonderfully bizarre interview ever given by two children.  Willow, after whipping her hair repeatedly, became a youth ambassador for Project Zambi, which provides assistance to Zambian children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Jaden, the new karate kid, is also an ambassador. With their powers combined, they have created a unique framework for addressing global development. Digging through their interview reveals there are three pillars to this framework: education, economics and health.

The Jaden and Willow Smith Guide to Global Development

Education: The distribution of teaching and learning materials to schoolchildren to increase achievement and learning needs to end. Jaden and Willow (henceforth referred to as J-Low) advocate for a self-directed and independent approach to reading, learning and literacy. “There’re no novels that I like to read, so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing”, says Willow. Rather than distribute costly teaching and learning materials, students should be encouraged to write their own books and then read their own books. It is a sustainable and student-centred solution that will lower costly school resourcing and help create a never-ending cycle of reading and writing.

In addition to reading and writing their own books, J-Low advocate for a school-free approach to learning. Jaden explains, “You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up? I still haven’t been to driver’s ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can’t see how driver’s ed is really helping them out.” His philosophy is backed by evidence, which shows that, while more students are attending school, they’re not achieving learning outcomes or completing full cycles of basic education and are instead dropping out. Indeed, teacher attendance, time on-task and other measures of effectiveness are low, forcing us to ask: is school even necessary?

Willow went to school for one year, and then, like many girls in developing countries, dropped out. “It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, ‘Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.’ But it was the worst experience because I was depressed”, she recalls. J-Low back a lifelong learning approach to education, arguing that learning never ends and that the school they go every morning is life. They join other education advocates in ensuring lifelong learning is captured in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Economics: J-Low argue for a return to the economic shock therapies of the 1980s to reinvigorate not only national economies, but the global economic system. The IMF and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) provided loans that came with conditions on public spending, and were aimed at shocking free-market policies and programs into being. “The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them”, says Jaden, advocating for greater austerity measures, particularly reductions in education budgets as this aligns with their education approach. Willow sees this as more than a pragmatic policy measure. Indeed, there is an art to it, and SAPs can be considered a form of art. “That’s what art is, shocking people. Sometimes shocking yourself”.

Health: As global health challenges continue to mount with Ebola, malaria, polio and non-communicable diseases going uneradicated, it is perhaps time to harness a new approach to global health and well-being. Prana energy. Jaden explains – “When babies are born, their soft spots bump: It has, like, a heartbeat in it. That’s because energy is coming through their body, up and down. It’s prana energy because they still breathe through their stomach. They remember. Babies remember.”

J-Low advocate for the mainstreaming of prana energy into global health policies, programs and interventions. Maternal and newborn health programs need early screening and detection of prana energy, with community sensitisation and public awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public on how to harness prana energy. Although there are no current impact evaluations, it is recommended that randomised control trials seek to understand and measure the efficacy of prana interventions. #PranaForAll

In the end, global development is not about education, economics or health. It’s not even about livelihoods, employment or having enough money to support yourself and your family. For J-Low, it is about the sustainable artistic journey and the footprint you leave. “That’s another thing: What’s your job, what’s your career? Nah, I am. I’m going to imprint myself on everything in this world.”

Featured image is Jaden and Willow Smith. Photo from Pretty Much Amazing.

Why I’m anti anti-poverty

“Penie (Πενιη) is indeed well known, even though she belongs to someone else. She does not visit the marketplace or the courts, since everywhere her status is inferior, everywhere she is scorned, and everywhere she is equally hated, regardless of where she is.” – Theognis, Fragment 1. 267 6th Century (BCE)

Penie was an ancient Greek spirit, the personification of poverty. She was a sister to Amekhania (helplessness) and Ptokheia (beggary). Sometimes, she is considered the mother of the god Eros, whose Roman counterpart is well-known to us. (Cupid.) Poverty, it seems, gave birth to desire.

Anti- (ἀντί) comes from the Ancient Greek and is used as a prefix to mean “against.” It has a range of meanings, however, from “in exchange for” to “instead of.” Anti-clockwise, anti-bacterial, anti-matter. Not to be confused with ante, of Latin origin, which means “before.”

Although the Greeks did not have an anti-poverty god, they did have Ploutos, the god of wealth. As the mythology goes, Zeus blinded him so he couldn’t favour righteous men exclusively but might distribute his gifts blindly and without any regard to merit. (Mt. Olympus was apparently a socialist hotbed.) Clearly, Ploutos was not blind and rarely favoured righteous men.

October 12-18 is Anti-Poverty Week in Australia. But, I’m confused (not unusual). What does “anti-poverty” mean? (cf. girl child). I get it as a prefix elsewhere. Antibiotics are substances, such as penicillin or streptomycin, that can destroy or inhibit the growth of other microorganisms. Anti-discrimination is against the unfair treatment of a person, racial group, minority, etc., and any action based on prejudice. 

If something or someone is “anti-poverty,” what exactly are they against?

Are they against people living below the World Bank’s threshold of $2 a day (PPP) at 2005 international prices? Are they against the OECD standard of 50% of median income, which works out to roughly $51 a day? Almost 13% of the Australian population live below the latter, while 84.5% of Nigerians the former. Or, are they against multidimensional poverty?

world-poverty-for-dummies

The anti-poverty advocate

An article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, highlighting the story of a young U.S student becoming a “global anti-poverty activist” rather than a doctor (as her parents wished). She should have studied medicine and become a doctor. In Australia, as of 2011, the medical profession is still dominated by men.  Only one third of specialists are women. Similar statistics exist in the U.S. And, this is only access. The statistics and stories behind drop-out rate, median incomes and discrimination for women in medicine highlight pervasive inequity.

We don’t need more anti-poverty advocates, because it’s unclear what you are anti- and what you can achieve by being anti-. The message is muddled. Are you against injustice, discrimination, exclusion and destitution? That’s a tall order. Do you want to “Make Poverty History” or just end extreme poverty by 2030? Those are two very different goals that are defined in very narrow terms.

The poverty of anti-poverty

When we speak and think about poverty, our concept is dominated by economic destitution. Ploutos. Cash money. However, wealth isn’t enough. Poverty is multidimensional. India’s economic growth has been strong in recent years; however, the prevalence of child malnutrition is almost 50%. Research shows that those living in poverty describe their lived experiences in broad terms: poor health, malnutrition, inadequate water and sanitation access, social exclusion, low education access, violence, discrimination, shame, disempowerment and the list goes on. Their desire to live free of Penie’s strong grip goes beyond the line of sight of Ploutos.

The UNDP has a Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which was published for the first time in 2010. “Almost 1.5 billion people in the 91 countries covered by the MPI—more than a third of their population — live in multidimensional poverty…This exceeds the estimated 1.2 billion people in those countries who live on $1.25 a day or less.”

However, public advocacy campaigns and campaigners, driven by organisations such as Global Citizen, are narrowing, reducing and defining people’s experience of poverty. The focus is now on extreme poverty. That is, living on less that US$1.25 per day (PPP). It is apparently the campaign of our generation. To end extreme poverty by 2030. We are now asking people to be anti-extreme poverty.

We celebrate the halving of poverty over the past two decades, despite the fact that most of the action was in China after economic liberalisation. This statistic is often used to justify the global development and foreign aid architecture. Yet, over 27% of China’s population still lives below the US$2 per day line (almost 12% below the extreme poverty line of $1.25), the wealth gap between rural and urban citizens is widening, and one in seven of the world’s extreme poor are Chinese.

Anti anti-poverty

It is almost unnecessary to use the term “anti-poverty.” Is poverty something that needs an anti- prefix? I don’t think so. Antibiotics effectively fight other microorganisms that could otherwise kill people. Anti-discrimination laws enshrine and secure the right for people to be treated equally in economic, social and political transactions and participation. What does anti-poverty do and mean?

Martin Ravallion evaluates the evaluation of anti-poverty programs, with programs ranging from conditional cash transfers to food-for-education schemes. Besides critical findings such as the need for evaluations to draw on a range of tools and the importance of social and cultural context (duh!), what sticks out is the broad range of programs considered to be anti-poverty. Anything could be anti-poverty.

Ravallion concludes, “We have learnt that the context in which a program is placed and the characteristics of the participants can exercise a power influence on outcomes.” Oh yes, we forgot about them. The beneficiaries. The target population. The people actually experiencing poverty. Being anti-poverty takes the power away from those in poverty and gives it to the program, to the advocate. Anti-poverty frames the lived experience of people around notions of deficiency, destitution and disempowerment.

In an oft-quoted speech in 2005 for the Make Poverty History campaign, Nelson Mandela said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.” He called out the generation in front of him to be those human beings. Yet, we often aim to be anti-poverty through charity, rather than justice. Anti-poverty is pro-charity, pro-foreign aid, which is not what is necessarily needed or desired.

Photo by: Brendan Rigby.

Go pro 

You are anti-poverty, anti-racism, anti-discrimination. But, what are you pro? People’s lives are defined by more than what they don’t have or what line they live below or above. Poverty is not someone’s only lived experience. There is love. There is happiness. There are dreams. There is dignity. This is not to romanticise poverty or fall into the “nobility of the poor” discourse. It’s to remind us that poverty is complex and can’t be reduced to a line you can live below or necessarily understand. Most importantly, it is not about you and your desires. Here is where I would tell you what it is about. However, that’s not for me to decide. I know nothing of poverty.

“Ah wretched Penie, why do you lie upon my shoulders and deform my body and mind? Forcibly and against my will you teach me much that is shameful, although I know what is noble and honourable among men.” – Theognis, Fragment 1. 649

Featured image: Statue of Eirene, the Greek personification of peace, with Ploutos, the god of wealth, as an infant. Photo by Francesca Tronchin.

What Tim Minchin can teach you about working in global development

I’ve been sitting on a number of career panels recently. Melbourne is the Australian capital for NGO HQs, social enterprise, development students and cafes. These events are popular. Students are thirsty for the holy grail of career advice. I’m far from the best person to offer advice for a number of reasons. I like to take a different tack.

Ask not how do you get a job in development, but how can you best contribute to justice, human rights and people’s well being.

I’ve considered a number of times asking attendees to “Sell me this pen,” or screaming, “Don’t start an NGO!!” Thankfully, I’m more reserved and promote a reflexive approach to my pitch.

Although Tim Minchin isn’t my favourite comedian (Aamer Rahman), his address to students at the University of Western Australia was poignant, unapologetic and irreverent. Just what I needed to inspire a click-bait friendly post about what he can teach you about working in global development.

1. You don’t have to have a dream

Recently, there has been a trend of blog posts and research advocating for a focus on short-term, discrete goals, particularly when it comes your own life. A range of PhD advice centres on chunks. Don’t get caught up on the whole. It is overwhelming. Break it down into discrete, manageable and achievable tasks.

A dream can be overwhelming, particularly when others speak of having or obtaining one. Ending extreme poverty comes to mind.

Minchin says to be “micro-ambitious” and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you’re editing a boring mid-term report for a disinterested donor or yet another grant application with a 0.01% chance of success. “You never know where you might end up.”

Working in global development is by no means linear, stable or secure. Yes, there are those who’ve wanted to work for “the UN” since they were the under-secretary of the Model UN at Parkville High School. But, shit happens.

2. Don’t seek happiness

“Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much it goes away.”

If you want to be happy, make someone else happy. This taps into the notion of mindfulness and awareness about being less selfish, less egotistical. It is difficult. Working in global development sometimes feels like a circle jerk. It can feel really good, and everyone in the circle is feeling good, but it is also wrong. The ethical, philosophical and very practical dilemmas of the industry are hard to reconcile and find happiness within. Can you work in a flawed industry and still do good? Let me put that another way. Can you work in a flawed industry and find happiness?

3. It is all luck

This is about privilege. You can always acknowledge it, and it is important to do so, but you can never outrun it. If you work in global development, you are lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to be educated. Lucky to be healthy. You are privileged. Yes, you worked hard for it (some of you didn’t), but as Minchin says, “I didn’t make the bit  of me that works hard”.

Don’t take full credit for your successes and don’t blame others fully for their failings. It will make you humble, compassionate and empathetic. Although it sounds like something the Dalai Lama would say with an enlightened smile, they are wise words from a man who wears a lot of black eye-liner.

4, Exercise

Take care of your body. Run, jog, practice yoga, do aerobics, try heyrobics, eat well, sleep enough, don’t smoke, drink moderately. Working in global development will pit your emotional, mental and physical energies against the world, against violence, cruelty and hardship.

If you are lucky enough to work overseas, you will most likely experience stress, depression, isolation, compassion fatigue and perhaps even show symptoms of PTSD. You’ve got a long life ahead of you. Get active.

5. Be hard on your opinions

This is my favourite one. Global development is rife with entrenched positions, program inertia and anecdotal evidence. Change does start within. We’re always bashing other people’s theories of change, opinions about development minutiae and where to get the best coffee (Melbourne).

But, what about our own hard-won beliefs, biases and prejudices? “Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat”. (A cricket bat.) You know nothing, aid worker. Many of our failings in global development are found in a failure to communicate because we are too wrapped up in our own beliefs.

6. Be a teacher*

Okay, so this is my new favourite one. “Even if you are not a teacher, be a teacher.” But, this comes with a caveat. This does not mean go and volunteer to teach English in Ghana during summer break. No. And I’m speaking to you, the 22-year old white female from [Australia, Europe, North America], studying business but wanting an adventure in Africa over the holidays.

If you want to teach, even just to give it a go – and will commit to it for a period of time – go and get a degree. Read John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Maria Montessori and Michelle Rhee, and get pumped about being a professional educator. You want to change the world and make a difference? Be a teacher.

7. Define yourself by what you love

It is not about what you are in opposition to; express your love for things, places, people and ideas you are passionate about. “Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.”

Yes, yes, yes, we know voluntourism is the embarrassing, slightly perverted uncle of volunteering, but what are the alternatives? What should people who are willing to give their time, and pay for it, be doing?

You are anti-voluntourism, anti-TOMS, anti-IMF SAPs, anti-religion, anti-capitalism. But what are you pro?

8. Respect people with less power than you

How do you treat your interns? How do you treat the community members your organisation works with? Do you show friendliness or friendship?

Friendliness is benign. It is that demeanour you adopt when visiting communities. You arrive in a community and go through the customs of greeting its senior members, with a kind smile on your face, aware of your status and the blessings you bring. You soak up the exoticness of it, aware of your, and the community’s, otherness. You are a Big Man/Big Woman. The magical symbols and capital letters that represent your tribe give you power. At the back of your mind, you hear the faint whisper of Kanye. “I am a god / So hurry up with my damn massage.”

And there is friendship that is powerful, humble and respectful. It takes a step back, relinquishes power and empowers. You are small in the company of others, aware of your privilege but not consumed by it. R E S P E C T. Find out what it means to you.

9. Don’t rush

Relax. You don’t need to know what your career in global development or elsewhere will be. No one knows. It ain’t that simple. Take time to figure shit out. What are you good at? What do you love? Who do you love? What will people pay you to do?

Think carefully before entering global development. We need critical, reflexive, humble people; not just do-gooders. Hell, global development may not even need you. In the wise words of Tina Turner, we don’t need another hero.

Watch Minchin’s full address below.

Featured image by Lyndsey Brown.

Results for the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes are in. You won’t believe what they are!

The results are in! 475 votes were cast, despite no incentive being offered and a lack of Ryan Seacrest. What follows is an annotated bibliography of the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes, starting with #5.

#5  Chop My Money (P-Square)

No surprises this dance floor classic made the Top 5, particularly for those aid workers who have been on assignment in West Africa. Nigerian twin brothers, Peter and Paul Okoye, signed a record deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik record label in 2011, and Akon himself features on this track. Amassing over 21 million views on YouTube, “chop my money” essentially means “spend my money,” which the Brothers P proclaim again and again that they don’t care. I’m not sure on the origins, but “chopmoney” in Ghana at least refers to money usually given by a husband to his wife for food.

#4  99 Problems (Jay Z)

Like Katy Perry, a dark horse where this list is concerned. Personally, I’m very happy to see it made the Top 5. It is another problem less that Jay Z has to worry about. “If you having list problems I feel bad for you soon. I got 99 problems but WhyDev ain’t one.” Produced by legend Rick Rubin, the title and chorus actually come from an early version by Law & Order’s Ice-T. According to Jay-Z, he is referring to a police dog, and not to a woman.

#3  Circle of Life (The Lion King)

Further embedding stereotypes of the African continent and providing parody material for years to come, “Circle of Life” is a classic late night, drunken aid worker house party anthem. Usually played around midnight or soon after, the song unites the inebriated in a joyous celebration of childhood, white man’s burden and arms raised to the sky. (Do you realise The Lion King  is 20 years old? There are students studying development as undergraduates right now, who did not grow up with the film and its glorious soundtrack).

#2  Imagine (John Lennon)

Imagine if this song didn’t make it into the Top 5? Not so much a party anthem, but rather a war cry for peace, unity and the dissolution of government, religion and statehood, “Imagine” is an aid worker’s wet dream. Lennon stated that the song is “virtually a Communist Manifesto even though I am not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.” It’s also in Rolling Stone’s top 5 of the greatest 500 songs of all time.

#1  Africa (Toto)

The odds of “Africa” coming in at #1 were about 2 to 1. Although the YouTube video has fewer views than “Chop My Money,” this is the anthem of ex-pat aid workers all around the world. The rest of the world was introduced to it by the animated series Family Guy, in which a flashback shows Peter’s neighbour Joe (cop, eventually wheelchair-bound) meeting his wife Bonnie for the first time. In a strip club. To the music of Toto. As she gives him a lap dance.  The actual music video is far stranger. It features a library, a globe and a spear. Oh, and there is a book he takes from the shelf entitled “Africa.” However, the real kicker is the idea behind the song, which is aptly explained by the drummer, Jeff Porcaro: “… a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” Lead singer, David Paich continues and tell us what we all knew deep down:

“At the beginning of the ’80s, I watched a late night documentary on TV about all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa. It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about if I was there and what I’d do.”

In addition, I’ve chosen one song from the list of “Other” songs nominated by voters for the inaugural Kenny Loggins Honourable Mention WhyDev Award for Merit. It of course goes to “Danger Zone,” by the award’s namesake. Thanks to the music video and its counterpart Top Gun, Navy recruitment spiked in 1986 when the film was released. Somehow I don’t think Brad Pitt’s World War Z  had the same effect for NGOs and the UN.

The rest of the nominations:

Give a Little Bit (Goo Goo Dolls)
Emma (Emmanual Jal)
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads)
Inner Ninja (Classified)
Moonshine (Bruno Mars)
Redemption Song (Bob Marly)
Living Darfur (Mattafix)
Roar (Katy Perry)
Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins)
Disparate Youth (Santigold)
Fix You (Coldplay)
Sleep Now in the Fire (Rage Against the Machine)
Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver)
Roam (B52s)
Wavin’ Flag (K’naan feat. David Bisbal)
Taking Care of Business (BTO)
My Heart Will Go On (Celine Deon)
Hall of Fame (The Script)
We Found Love (Rihanna)
Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
Leaders of the Free World (Elbow)
I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Whitney Houston)
If I Was President (Wyclef Jean)
On the Floor (Jennifer Lopez)
Last Night on Earth (U2)
Wonderwall (Oasis)

Will the real humanitarians please stand up?

May I have your attention please?

155. The number of aid workers killed in 2013.

134. The number of aid workers kidnapped in 2013.

79. The number of aid workers who have already died in 2014.

@morealtitude has analysed the trends in security, and finds that between 2000 and 2013, 82% of aid worker fatalities were among national staff. International staff are at a higher risk of being kidnapped in a hostile environment, as the number of international aid workers kidnapped since 2000 has risen 1,218%. The security threat is largely confined to five countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria.

May I have your attention please?

Global Citizen, to mark World Humanitarian Day last week, released a link-bait list highlighting “30 humanitarians making zero poverty by 2030 possible.” It is an unusual list to say the least. The author, Michael Wilson, claims it’s in no particular order. However, Xi Jinping and Li Ruogu come in at #2 and #4 respectively. Xi Jinping is the successor to Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (not ‘President’). Xi’s leadership will focus on slower growth rates, social stresses and domestic political issues.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China

Li Ruogu heads the Export-Import Bank of China. Over the next 10 years, China will provide US$1 trillion of financing to the African continent, 70-80% of which will be provided by the Exim Bank. The region also received over 50% of China’s foreign aid allocation between 2010 and 2012. Both men’s efforts may contribute to making zero poverty by 2030 possible, but their intentions, motivations and goals are just as important.

The Communist Party of China’s “number one core interest is to maintain its fundamental system and state security.” That is, to remain in power. (Read Richard McGregor’s The Party for the clearest insight into how the government and Communist party function.)

Will the real humanitarian please stand up?

The term ‘humanitarian’ is quaint. It is an adjective that can qualify a noun or noun phrase – “The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is dire.” It is also a noun denoting a person – “The job of a humanitarian is exhausting.” Urban Dictionary describes a humanitarian as, “Someone very generous, and dedicated to the healing of the world. Or, if you want, someone who gives a shit about the planet.” Or, as one commenter cheekily replied, “someone who only eats vegans.”

The first humanitarian was the person who brought fire to life, and spent the rest of his/her life building the capacity of others to make fire.  In everyday dictionary-speak, it refers to a concern with seeking or promoting human welfare.  The Global Citizens’ 30 can all squeeze under this leaky roof.  Indeed, insurance salespeople can too.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s often quoted question asks, “What are you doing for others?”

The 30 are doing lots, but we have to ask how and why are they doing for the welfare of others. How and why do they give a shit about other people and the planet?

I repeat, will the real humanitarian please stand up?

This list is also in no particular order. It was made on the basis of identifying a small sample of those who embody the how and why of being humanitarian. That is, they exemplify how to promote human welfare and demonstrate a clear “why” for doing so, usually justice, humility and compassion.  Most importantly, they give a shit. Please add your contributions in the comments.

1. Jina Moore is a compassionate journalist covering women’s issues in African countries right now for mainstream media. Her narrative is at the same time intellectual and emotionally engaging. She has a deep respect for the people she writes about and does not steal their stories or take away their rights and dignity. These kinds of narratives are important, especially in humanitarian crises. The world needs more bridge builders like Jina.

2. Saaed Wame founded Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) of Malawi in 1996 with zero dollars, a heart for children facing the difficulties he had faced as a child and a vision for his community. Today, NACC has a US$100,000 annual budget, operating in 400+ villages in four districts in southern Malawi with 5,000 active volunteers. NACC has grown from strength to strength, adding programs and deepening its presence at the community level over the past 15 years. Saaed exhibits spirit, confidence and connectedness that are evident throughout NACC’s programs.

3. Mulugeta Gebru, founder of Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO), is a man of undying vision and perseverance. Grassroots-based organisations are part of the social fabric of the community in which children live and grow. When violence breaks out, a flood hits, or a case of abuse is discovered, committed people at the community level are the ones who snap into action to make sure kids are safe and cared for. This is why Mulugeta closed down JeCCDO’s orphanages that were operating across Ethiopia in favour of community-based care in 1996.

4. Roum Phearom’s organisation, Capacity Building for Disability Cooperation (CABDICO), is facing a funding crisis and is only able to pay her $200 a month. Recently, she was offered another job that would see her salary double. She turned it down. “I refused the job that paid more because I have had the opportunity to learn about speech therapy. That convinced me to stay.” Phearom works with children with disabilities in Cambodia, tirelessly visiting their homes each day to help them walk, talk and go to school. She has given up opportunities elsewhere to do the thing she loves the most, support children with disabilities to have a bright future.

5. The polio vaccination teams in Pakistan are known as the Lady Health Workers (LHW). It is a team of over 100,000 community workers, who have been delivering health services across Pakistan since 1994. More than 30 have been killed in the past two years alone, targeted by anti-government groups. They risk their lives each day for less than $5 a day. Despite the challenges of their work, research has shown that households served by LHW are 15 percentage points more likely to have children under the age of 3 immunised.

6. Kon Karapanagiotidis is the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). I am also his fanboy. With more than 95% of its funding coming from the community and philanthropy, the centre is able to operate as a true advocate and firm voice for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. It also provides numerous services to over 1,200 asylum seekers, through the work of 30-odd staff and 800+ volunteers. Kon is the antithesis of “why bother?” and hopeslessness. I believe he embodies what it is to be a humanitarian: service, compassion, humility, passion and unwavering addiction to justice.

We’re gonna have a problem here if we keep fetishising and praising the efforts of the rich and powerful, and overlook the everyday service and commitment of real humanitarians.

Thank you to Weh Yeoh, Linda Raftree and Jennifer Lentfer for their recommendations.

What are the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes?

The WhyDev team (minus a couple of internationals) went out for karaoke last Friday night in Melbourne. This is not an unusual event for us; three team members have lived in China and performed karaoke during the middle of the day, stone-cold sober with work colleagues. Karaoke is to us what water is to fish. However, what was unusual was our song selection. Missing were many aid work classics. (And some not-so-classics.)

That got us thinking – what are the classic aid worker songs that define how we see the world and our role in it?

We have our own ideas, but we’d love to compile a playlist of the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes through crowdsourcing. We’ve chosen a shortlist. Yes, it’s imperfect. Yes, Toto’s “Africa” features. Yes, you can enter your own choice. You get five picks. Like Indiana Jones in Last Crusade, choose wisely.

Please take this as seriously as you like. The poll will be open for one week. We will then tally the results and post the definitive, annotated guide to the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes next week. Continue reading What are the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes?

The World Cup of Human Development 2014

The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minuteseverything else is pure theory” (Sepp Herberger, West Germany coach)

One of my favourite new television shows is HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. An unassuming Brit, who came to fame filling in for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, John Oliver delivers incredulity with barely concealed outrage. Last Week Tonight airs on a Sunday night, recapping the week that was through in-depth segments that critically analyse news stories with humour, insight and simplicity.

A segment on climate change denial was brilliant in its use of the stage and visual demonstration. Similarly, Oliver this week took a close look at the World Cup 2014 and FIFA, the world’s football governing body. On the episode, Oliver analogises football and FIFA as “organised religion” in its power to not only shock adherents and lay people with its scandals and abuses, but inspire and excite through its passion of the cross and volley. I share Oliver’s horror at FIFA and love of the game. Indeed, it can replace the “car crash” idiom for describing something that is terrible, but from which you cannot but stare. That is, a FIFA organised World Cup.

brazil-protests-june2013

As the opening ceremony and match between hosts Brazil and Croatia is less than 12 hours away, lets have a look at how the 32 teams rank against the UNDP’s Human Development Index (2013).

*****

Very high human development

2. Australia

3. United States

4. Netherlands

5. Germany

9. Switzerland

10. Japan

12. South Korea

17. Belgium

20. France

23. Spain

25. Italy

26. UK (England)

29. Greece

40. Chile

43. Portugal

45. Argentina

47. Croatia

High human development

51. Uruguay

55. Russia

61. Mexico

62. Costa Rica

76. Iran

81. Bosnia and Herzegovia

85. Brazil

89. Ecuador

91. Colombia

93. Algeria

Medium Human Development

120. Honduras

135. Ghana

Low Human development

150. Cameroon

153. Nigeria

168. Cote d’Ivoire

*****

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting ‘World Cup of Everything Else‘, where Ghana clearly wins, topping all nations in education expenditure as a percentage of GDP (8.1%). Not to be outdone, Costa Rica has the most women in government with 39% of seats in national parliaments held by women. Tom Murphy, of A View From The Cave, is also launching an interactive global development world cup that will compare countries across a range of development indicators (TBC).

There are a few key takeaways from this simple ranking above:

1) There is a high correlation between participation in the world cup and high human development;

2) The four African representative nations also rank the lowest in human development;

3) Brazil, the host, ranks #85 and the problems surrounding its hosting are well-documented. However, 6 of the past 8 World Cup champions have won one of their titles while playing at home, the exceptions being Brazil and Spain;

4) The most lop-sided match up will be Japan (#10) vs. Cote d’Ivoire (#168). Their respective FIFA rankings are #46 and #23.

According to the World Development Movement, if social justice is your passion, then you should be cheering for Costa Rica. The organisation has launched a website, Who Should I Cheer For?, which ranks all 32 teams based on their efforts to eradicate poverty and social injustice. The indicators used range from CO2 emissions per person and women in government to military spending and financial transparency.

I’ll be cheering for Australia and Ghana respectively, with Belgium as my sleeper. If you have no interest in football, I suggest you develop one, particularly for working in global development. It is the world game. FIFA has more member nations than the United Nations. You will find yourself walking past a group of children in [insert country] while working for [insert organisation], who are kicking [insert object] around and trying to slot it between an old shoe and a rock. You will want to join in. You may even be invited. You better be ready.

If you are looking for a venue at which to watch your country play, and happen to live in Milwaukee, I can’t stress enough that you visit this bar and report back to us.

 

If you want to participate in my ESPN bracket and predict the winners of all finals and the overall winner, please head to ESPN. The password to join the group is ‘cueball’. 

A history and future of WhyDev

There is nothing particularly remarkable about Mae Sot. The Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge can be reached by following the AH1 for just a few kilometres west. A short bicycle ride, as trucks and lorries kick up dirt and dust, brings you to what is typical of any border town; markets full of electronics, home-wares and food. The bridge links two countries that couldn’t be more different, yet are seemingly forever linked by the presence in Thailand of over 500,000 refugees from Myanmar.

Durable solutions for refugees who have been living in camps for more than two decades is as seemingly out of reach, even as a political transition across the border opens the door to expanded operations from international aid, trade and diplomatic sectors. A question posed by Brookings last year asks, “whether the outpouring of foreign aid to Myanmar expected in the medium term (three to five years) will be more of a blessing than a curse”. It is a question that any student or professional in the humanitarian sector should seriously be considering. 

What makes Mae Sot remarkable for me personally is WhyDev. I spent a few weeks in the first quarter of 2010 in the town, having returned from India on an internship with the Centre for Refugee Research. My partner was researching education and language policy in the refugee camps with the same organisation, and I was visiting. We were both in the middle of completing our Masters in development studies at the University of NSW. I spent much of my time in Mae Sot either eating Burmese tea leaf salad or drinking tea at a cafe with free WiFi.

I had experimented in unsuccessful travel blogging while moving through India in 2009; unsuccessful in the sense that only mum read my posts. I started to study and read the aid and development blogging scene, or blogosphere, while in Mae Sot. (People were still using the term ‘blogosphere’ back then). We are spoilt for choice in writers, voices and platforms today, but this was not so in 2010.

J’s, of Tales from the Hood, first post was only in April 2009, Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters in June 2010 and Duncan Green in 2008. There was a lack of young voices questioning, discussing and debating what we were being exposed to in development theory seminars or right-based approaches to programming. So, I registered the domain name, thewhyofdevelopment.com.

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WhyDev plans world domination. Credit: Beth Rosen

The rest is far from history. We had our Facebook moment. Mike Clay, friend of the site, suggested that we drop ‘the’ and shorten to ‘WhyDev’. (Thanks Mike!). I reached out to eight other Masters students at UNSW and friends to collaborate. We met at a cafe in the suburb of Glebe, Sydney. Four years, and 400 posts later, WhyDev is on the front lines of questioning everything we hold dear in global development.

One particular person stuck around after that meeting in Glebe. Weh Yeoh has been the other half of WhyDev since its inception, bringing new meaning to the concept of ‘bromance‘. He shares a spirit of critical inquiry, grounded in empathy and compassion. Together, with Allison, Daniel and Laurie, we are planning for the future of WhyDev. A future built on the foundations of an incredible community of engaged humanitarians, where the needs and strengths of those on the margins are prioritised. We are committed to getting development right.

Brendan, Huy and Weh
Brendan, Huy and Weh

This starts with Weh’s current work at CABDICO, a Cambodian NGO dedicated to supporting and empowering people with disabilities. Community development in action. He was recently featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, highlighting the economic and moral argument for speech therapy for 600,000 people in Cambodia. On the back of it, they are also running a crowdfunding campaign that you must support within the next three weeks.

This is the future of global development; in particular, how humanitarian and development professionals work, support and empower individuals and communities. It is about focusing on the equitable distribution of knowledge, resources and capital within global development; moving from saviours to savoir-faire, top-down to bottom-led, duplication to replication, global development to why development?

 

What to help us create and shape this future? Know your comms? Check out our ad for a comms whiz-kid.

Volunteering to teach English is the new volunteering in an orphanage

There’s a totem poll in development. On top is economics. Closely followed by a combination of medicine, public health, law, finance, international relations, HR, communications, social media and so on until we get to the two bottom.

Meet education and social work. This is clearly displayed when it comes to young, energetic do-gooders going abroad and either: a) having an epiphany about making a difference because of the two weeks they spent in [insert poor country]; or b) said epiphany occurred back in Melbourne and they are on their way to volunteer in [insert poor country].

Voluntourists - Travelling for Change. Image credit: Facebook
Voluntourists – Travelling for Change. Two Melbourne guys travelling to change the world. Image credit: Facebook

This young, starry-eyed volunteer directs her (more often than not these two fields are still extremely gendered) efforts to one of two places: either into social work or education. By social work, I mean volunteering at orphanages. And by education, I mean volunteering to be an English teacher at a primary or secondary school.

I’m not going to beat the orphanage drum, which has had its fair share of drum solos. (See here, here, here). Little has been said about volunteer English teaching, which I find surprising. The duty of care of a teacher to the students is arguably on the same level as that of a social worker with vulnerable children. With little or no training, you can be given the care of anywhere between 10s and 100s of children in classrooms throughout the world. If you chose not to start an orphanage as a MONGO (My Own NGO), an education delivery service is usually next in line of the totem poll.

Take for example, this application form to teach at the Westminister Comprehensive School in Kumasi, Ghana. Qualifications are not sought, only “Teaching skills” and languages spoken. This testimonial from Nick Wood is particularly illustrative: “Whilst I had teaching experience from a year spent in France directly before I came to Ghana, don’t let it put you off if you haven’t taught before.” The only requirements listed on the school’s website are:

  • 18 years or above
  • Proficient in English or French
  • Has interest in working with young people
  • Should be independent
  • Strongly motivated to make their stay in Ghana a success

Or take Volunteering Solutions, which offer a range of experiences in over 20 countries at a cost to the volunteer. (Is volunteering still volunteering when the volunteer has to pay a fee? Are you not then just a customer in a user-pays system?). After creating my account, the application page was very similar. I just needed to indicate my “language level”, motivation and medical conditions, followed by my credit card details. (There is an application fee of US$200).

It is no secret that disciplines and professions such as social work and education are looked down upon. They are at the bottom of the totem poll. This extends beyond volunteering opportunities in Ghana, Cambodia and elsewhere to Australia, the U.S. and Canada. Teachers are simultaneously praised and vilified, under-paid and over-worked. In order to attract more students and graduates, the professional life expectancy of a graduate teacher in Australia is just three years, more and more blended learning pathways to teaching are appearing. Teach for China, a cousin of Teach for America, has a very rigorous application process. However, when it comes to training before these young graduates are placed in southwest Yunnan province, the program is weeks. Not months, not years. Weeks.

[Soap box alert] Education is an academic discipline and a professional practice. It has a body of theories, epistemological and ontological debates, discussions and developments. It crosses disciplinary boundaries and rarely can educationalists be accused of spending too much time in an ivory tower. Education is all-encompassing. There are professional standards of practice, much like accounting. There are codes of conduct, much like law. The well-being of countless children are in educators’ hands, much like doctors.

It takes 1.5 years full-time at the University of Melbourne to earn your Masters of Teaching (secondary). It takes two years for the primary school stream. A Bachelor of Education (primary) at the University of Sydney takes four years fulltime. Years. Not weeks.

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As Facebook friends are wont to tell us, through the selective quoting of Nelson Mandela [R.I.P], “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. This weapon, however, is being brandished by amateurs. By those who don’t know whether the safety is on or off. The World Bank states that “Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth.”

Since 1950, we’ve witnessed astounding growth in access to education, with the average number of years of education an adult has rising from two years in 1950 to 7.2 years in 2010. Attention is quickly shifting from access to quality. (Despite the misleading path enrolment figures can take you down). And quality, I would argue, begins with teachers. It is estimated that 6.8 million teachers will be needed if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015. There is a shortage of trained teachers in rural, deprived areas of countries like Ghana and Cambodia, and volunteer English teachers from abroad are not a solution, either stop-gap or long-term. Children deserve, and have the right to, better education and better teachers.

So, why can I spend five minutes in an online application, list my English proficiency, ethnicity and age, and be considered fit to teach English to Ghanaian primary and secondary school children?

If you want to teach, teach. If you want to travel, travel. Don’t do both. Don’t mix business with pleasure. Take the challenge. Teach for Australia appears to be a far more intensive, academic and practical program over two years; a mixture of placement, study, leadership training and mentoring, culminating in a Masters of Teaching. According to their website, 71% of alumni are still teaching beyond the program. Education is the most powerful weapon. Conditions apply. Please read instruction manual before using. Not safe for volunteers with no qualifications.

The TL;DR of global development concepts and practice

“Then, things got worse.”

This is the TL;DR of Russia’s history as presented by ‘kronosO’, a Reddit user. TL;DR is, according to Urban Dictionary, “Said whenever a nerd makes a post that is too long to bother reading.” Too Long; Didn’t Read; an acronym that should certainly be used more in global development. A recent Reddit post asks users to give the TL;DR version of their country’s history. Highlights of this post include:

– Sheep slurs give way to hobbit jokes. (New Zealand).

– All is fine. No more questions. Eternal President will lead us to victory. (DPRK).

– Started 2 world wars, lost both. (Germany).

– Freedom.* (United States of America).

*terms and conditions may apply.

Reddit. To outsiders like myself, it is hard to pin down exactly what Reddit is. Some know it as the ‘Front page of the Internet’, others as the primordial ooze for memes. I’ve been a ‘Lurker’ for some time now, (Reddit-speak for those users who read, view posts but do not post content or comments) and have recently dipped my toes in the water. Rowan Esmlie recently argued that NGOs, and the development sector more broadly, should engage in Reddit. In the landscape of social media, it is the black sheep of the communications family. Everyone dotes on the first-born (Facebook), has given the middle-child a complex (Twitter), and lets the youngest get away with going viral (YouTube). Actually, Reddit is the lost sheep of the family.

Bill Gates just this week hosted an AMA – Ask Me Anything. A subreddit where any of the 4.3 million registered users can ask the host, well, anything. (Within reason). He joins the ranks of Jeffrey Sachs and Ted Chaiban, Director of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF. Chaiban’s AMA generated 650 comments. As Rowan asks, “When is the last time, for example, an article about humanitarian aid generated more than 600 comments?”

In Sachs’ AMA, this question from user ‘lanks1‘ would make Bill Easterly proud:

“Professor Sachs, one of your proposed solutions to global poverty is for developed nations to hand over billions of dollars more in aid to poor countries.

How do you expect aid to work and to be sustainable, when governments have political and personal motivations that are contradictory to sustainable development?”

Sachs didn’t get around to answering this one.

Since having dipped my toes in the water, I’ve belly-flopped and created the first subreddit devoted to aid and development – /r/globaldev. It is a fairly experimental space that I would like to grow organically. I’m not sure exactly what it is or what is could be. I don’t want to be prescriptive. It could be a new space for communicating development to a different public audience. It could be a new space for building a community of practice. It could be a new space for creating funny aid work memes. I’ve reached out to a few WhyDev friends, including Rowan of Development Intern and Francisco of Boring Development, to help kick start it with content. Reddit offers a very open, self-regulating and intelligent community. An untapped resource. I don’t know how we can engage and utilise Reddit most effectively, but am keen to experiment and hear your ideas.

The first experiment that I would like to trial is a TL;DR of global development concepts and practices. Pick a particularly complex, infuriating, annoying concept and write your best TL;DR statement on it. You can even pick a journal article, blog post or book. However, I ask you to dip your toes in and post it on /r/globaldev. I’ve created a post in which to do this. For example:

– Assumptions, too many. Risks, oh hell yeah. (LogFrames).

– Aid workers have sex, drink and can be kind of douchy. (Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures).

You will have to first register. (Reddit has one of the easiest and most email-less registration processes around). You can then subscribe to /r/globaldev, post content, ask questions and get involved. Remember: don’t post your TL;DR on WhyDev. Post it on Reddit..