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 Director of Venture Support at StartSomeGood.

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

Protests against the upcoming World Cup in São Paulo this month.

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.


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,

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.

Voluntourists - Travelling for Change. Image credit: Facebook

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.


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..



Downton Abbey goes to Africa

Ed Carr and his colleagues recently wrote “a serious history” of celebrities, activism and humanitarianism. It is seriously good. Then, Telegraph reporter Jake Wallis Simons (two-thirds of a great law firm name), wrote a profile piece on Elizabeth McGovern (aka Lady Cora of Downton Abbey). It is perhaps the single greatest piece of journalism about celebrity, humanitarianism and Africa you will ever read. It is already receiving rave reviews from those such as Ed, who calls it,”the most insane, boggling thing I have ever read on celebrity aid in Africa.”

What follows are some highlights (Spoiler alerts). This piece requires and deserves multiple readings.

  • Sierra Leone is “in every conceivable sense a long way from Downton”. And we begin!
  • McGovern was engaged to Sean Penn at the age of 23. She hates Woody Allen.
  • She is in a band, called ‘Sadie and the Hotheads’. Apparently, the band is sponsored by World Vision!?! “World Vision has paid her band £28,000 to fund the recording of their latest album and a UK tour, in return for which they have agreed to promote the charity.” And down the rabbit hole we go!


  • When the flight stopped en route to Sierra Leone, it refuelled in Dakar, Senegal. McGovern thought they were in Darfur, Sudan. Miss it by that much!
  • Simons claims that “World Vision is the biggest charity you’ve never heard of”. So, by that logic, you’ve probably never heard of ANY charities.
  • McGovern didn’t realise World Vision was a Christian organisation. According to Simons, “charity representatives failed to make their Christianity clear to her”. But, she chose not to pull out because “on balance, it is an organisation that does a lot of good for many people”. (And, paid her band  £28,000. See above).
  • McGovern is suitably impressed with Freetown. ‘”Their food must be so healthy,” says McGovern. “You don’t see all those crap chains and stuff. But I guess that will change as the country gets more modern. It’s like a holiday. I feel a bit guilty.”‘
  • Brad Pitt. They stay in the same hotel as Brad Pitt. McGovern starred alongside Pitt in The Favour (1994). (The film received reviews such as this: “I remember seeing this when first released, and I remember not liking it, but I no longer remember the film at all”). She casually remarks that she slept with Pitt once (on-camera) and that he doesn’t have sex appeal. Are you not entertained?


  • World Vision paid for McGovern’s trip. McGovern was under the impression that World Vision doesn’t spend money on promotion. Wilson, World Vision’s PR representative for the trip corrects her. The trip wasn’t cheap. McGovern was told otherwise when pitched too. Wilson suggests that she shouldn’t say that in interviews and should instead focus on the organisation’s long-term aid.
  • Lets talk about gender and sex: “I get the impression that in Africa people have sex far more freely than we do back home”, says McGovern. Wait for it… “I wonder if World Vision would take on the problem of women wearing the burka?” Wait for it… “And that clitoris thing is awful”. Bingo.
  • Lets talk about World Vision and proselytising: Simons asks the World Vision driver of 10 years if the organisation ever tries to convert people. His response is one for the ages:

“Christianity is our goal,” he says. “In some Muslim areas they are suspicious of us. So we put our effort into setting up clinics, permanent schools, and establish a society. Gradually they see we are good people. Then we pay professional pastors to preach to them. That is our final goal.”

  • McGovern meets the girl she has been sponsoring for 1.5 years. Simons calls McGovern’s sponsorship “no great act of philanthropy”, references the fact that both the girl and McGovern are stuck in a “feedback loop of public relations”. A moment of wisdom.
  • The girl’s parents are told by the World Vision representative Wilson that McGovern is a TV star, so people listen to her.
  • McGovern gives the girl a skipping rope, bubble mixture and a bouncy ball. McGovern and her daughter (did I mention her 15-year old daughter came along?) are given fresh coconuts, matching smocks and two live chickens. Fair trade?
  • Then, suddenly, on the final day, McGovern comes out from her room. Simons describes her as looking white as a sheet. (Is there a pun buried in there somewhere?). McGovern dropped her iPhone in the toilet. It never recovered.

Get a cup of tea. Take some time to reorientate. Sit down. Take a deep breathe. In through your nose…Out through your mouth. Ok. Better? Now for your thoughts.


Guardian Global Development made a list, but didn’t check it twice

We consider ourselves something of technical experts when it comes to making lists. We were able to come up with 52 reasons to date an aid worker. (Without the help of alcohol). We then somehow managed to squeeze out another 52 things you’ll never hear an aid worker say. (We could have hit 104). And, we found 44 gifts you should never give an aid worker. (Yes, eight short of 52, but it was a rush job before the holiday break).

When the Guardian published their list of global development Twitter All Stars to watch in 2014, the reverberation of #facepalms across the global north and south exposed the glaring holes of its list.

So, I got a crack team on the job to fill in the holes of the Guardian’s 2014 watch list of global development Tweeters. No one was consulted during our process of compilation. It was very undemocratic; oligarchic even. No log-frames were harmed in the making of it.

Tom Murphy’s (@viewfromthecave) All Stars

Chika Odua – @chikaoduah

A stellar Nigerian journalist covering West Africa, Chika’s feed is an invaluable resource for the region. Her tweets are straightforward and unrelenting. It also helps that she is a hell of a reporter, often writing for Al Jazeera English, and a super awesome person all around.

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Lauren Wolfe – @Wolfe321

Violence against women does not get nearly enough attention and Lauren is rightly pissed off about it. She doesn’t just tweet about it, she directs the Women Under Siege project. Lauren calls out the bullshit when she sees it, holding media and leaders to account when glossing over sexualized violence in conflict.

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Laura Seay – @texasinafrica 

This Delta hating, Texas loving academic will switch between the incompetence of Mack Brown, (former) coach of the University of Texas, and John Prendergast, head of the Enough Project, with such ease that I sometimes question if she has a ghost Tweeter helping out. Her feed is all about the Lakes Region of Africa and then some. With a sharp wit and smart mind, Laura’s balance of entertainment and information makes her one of the best Tweeters no matter the subject.

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Weh Yeoh’s (@wmyeohAll Stars

Jennifer Lentfer – @intldogooder

She’s smart, loves grassroots organisations, and built a reputation around this at How Matters. Then, she was head hunted by Oxfam America to be a Senior Writer on Aid Effectiveness. It’s like that bit in the Mighty Ducks where the perennial fighter for the underdog gets some recognition from the big guys and gets placed in D.C where she can wield influence for the greater good. Listen to this lady, she speaks pure gold.

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Lara Q – @thingsiknow 

She’s Canadian, but has good insights into what works and what doesn’t in development. Most surprisingly, being Canadian, she doesn’t apologise for them. We still don’t understand why she doesn’t blog.

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Rishita Nandagiri – @rishie_

We can’t help but think that with 750 followers, approximately 0.0015% the number of followers that Justin Bieber has, a few people are missing out. She’s sassy, unapologetically feminist, and seems to have good taste in music. If you are interested in hearing what an intelligent, young, engaged woman is thinking, this is a good start.

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Rowan Emslie – @RowanEmslie

Another dark horse given the surprising lack of followers, Rowan is the founder and editor of (@devintern), a site that focusses on the thoughts of interns in global development. And no, they aren’t only concerned with how many teaspoons of sugar makes the ideal cup of coffee. Seriously though, this is a young man with an outlook that belies his age. If he could grow a beard (we are laying down the challenge), he could be a young William Easterly.

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Akhila K. – @akhilak

With a focus on human rights, gender and access to justice, this is one smart lady with some good thoughts on bottom up development. She also happens to be (at least from this side of the computer screen) lovely. We think that if ever there was someone you would like to hug after a long day working in development where nothing has gone right, and the bar has run out of your favourite beer, and your wife has left you for your best friend, it might just be Akhila.

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Jennifer Lentfer’s (@intldogooderAll Stars

Jimmy Kainja – @jkainja

Kainja may be a scholar of media and communications academic, but don’t assume that makes Jimmy a dull boy. Asking tough questions of leaders and citizens, his commentary on political and social changes in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially his home in Malawi, is not to be missed.

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Marc Maxson – @marcmaxson

Marc Maxson is not your usual aid worker. Yes, he is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and works for a Washington D.C.-based non-governmental organization. The difference is that Marc Maxson also has a PhD in neuroscience. Watch with amazement at GlobalGiving and on his blog, Chewy Chunks, as Marc applies and develops brand new concepts and approaches to solving “impossible” problems, of which there are many in international development.

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Semkae Kilonzo – @semkae

Semkae Kilonzo is the Coordinator of the Policy Forum in Tanzania, a network of over 100 civil society organizations working to make policies work for ordinary Tanzanians.

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Ingrid Srinath – @ingridsrinath

Want to get your heart and mind revved up on social justice and participatory democracy? Srinath has got the chops for that. She’s the former chief executive for CIVICUS, and is currently the Executive Director of Childline India. She calls it like she sees it, and we all benefit.

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Solome Lemma – @InnovateAfrica

What happens when you’ve worked in aid and philanthropy for years, but there’s just this pestering call in your brain for an alternative, for a group of people to stand up and take their rightful place at the development table? Why you found your own organization; that is, if you’re Lemma. She’s the co-founder and Executive Director of Africans in the Diaspora, and she’s building African philanthropy among the diaspora community one person at a time.

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Branding hope: The anatomy of disaster relief in the Philippines

It is a scene immortalised in cinematic and pop culture history: the Huey helicopters flying low over the ocean in tight formation, descending on a Viet Cong base beside the beach. The surfboards on the side of the helicopter. Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries blaring from the sirens. (“It scares the hell of the slopes”, says Lt. Col. Kilgore. “My boys love it.”) The devastation that rains down. Indiscriminate gunfire. The smell of napalm in the morning. “Charlie don’t surf”, explains Kilgore, eager to hang ten before the fighting subsides.

This is the scene I recall as I read Humanicontrarian’s assertion that the humanitarian response to Haiyan is a “Branding exercise of a new world order in humanitarian action”. The author of the post, Marc DuBois, director of MSF’s UK office, has only just scratched the surface of something far more disturbing that leaves more than a bad taste in my mouth. (I can feel the bile rising in my throat). I first noticed it on Twitter, as @USAID spewed out images and characters of relief courtesy of the American people. “When disaster strikes, Americans generously offer assistance to those in need. Learn how we are responding 2 #Haiyan”, extorts one tweet on November 12.


On one side, we are bombarded with infographics, facts, figures as we search for Reason within the devastation. We are trying to understand and find meaning in the devastation. Numbers give meaning to such incomprehensible events. (5,200 deaths, 26,000 injuries, 14.2 million affected by Haiyan.) Numbers can be changed. (“Over 10,000 families were reached in the first week food distribution in the Philippines following Typhoon”. British Red Cross.) Numbers show progress. (“Safe drinking water for 200,000 people”. DFID)

On the other, we are strafed with devastation, destruction and destitution. We marry the numbers with the images; Reason with Emotion. Nameless faces in the foreground of flattened structures that never stood a chance. Young children, mothers, sometimes men but not often. (Which is an interesting contrast to battlefield imagery which is populated by men. Disaster imagery is populated by women and children.) Not even our identifiable victim bias can stand in the way of objective suffering.

And, in the middle of this battlefield: logos.



The Ethiopian famine of 1984 was a watershed moment in humanitarian action. It created Live Aid and celebrity conscience. Disaster was televised, with images that would go on to define aid and development in the public consciousness. I was born in 1983, yet those images are familiar to me. The rib cage of a man inexorably dying of hunger. Flies perched on swollen heads.

Yet, what is striking about those same images is the lack of branding. There are rarely any logos with the exception of the occasional red cross. These images show the horror, the raw humanity of disaster. Likewise, the images of aid distribution are of people, sometimes in jeeps, sometimes not, providing assistance, be it medical, food or shelter. The subject of the image is the people. It is the service. The hardware and packaging of aid is not the focus.

Contrast with a similar Google search or aimless wandering through Twitter hashtags of Haiyan, and the difference is stark. The images we see, the information presented, is packaged as a fundamentally different type of suffering.

First,  it is more gentle. The landscape of suffering has changed since 1984. Second, it is a suffering that can be solved with branding. We are either shown the devastation and helplessness. (Look at the signs and graffiti in the images below. It reminds me of urban buskers and the homeless asking for spare change. They are familiar.) The signage, in English, appears to give people agency and gives us permission to take their agency.

Or we are shown the solution. The response is appropriately framed with recipients, preferably children, united with the goods. Before and after. Darkness and light. Interestingly, many of the images available are just static shots of the branded goods. In a truck. On a plane. On pallets. There movement is implied. We know where it’s going. The logistic neutrality of the pictures is a far cry from the naked, starving babies of Ethiopia.



What follows are a selection of branded images of disaster relief and response from the Philippines. These are the most common types of images appearing in relation to humanitarian action in the Philippines. What do they tell you? What is the organisation trying to communicate? How is the organisation expecting us to interpret its message? Think on these questions as you look over the images.

Aid Arrives Cebu





What I see in these images, or rather what I believe the organisations want me to see, is hope. Hope for a better future for those affected by Haiyan. Hope as a public good. Hope is a valuable commodity and easily branded in a humanitarian context. I believe this is the message: Hope cannot be found in disasters except when given.

The images pacify, rather than mobilise. The images tell us where the solution comes from, broken down into brands you can support and icons you can recognise as yours. But, where do they go from here? Funding has slowed. J., of Aidspeaksays the initial “life-saving” relief effort has ended and that cluster meeting rhetoric has shifted to “early recovery”.

Build back better.

A relatively new slogan appearing on the humanitarian horizon in the wake of disasters is ‘build back better‘. It is a concept imbued with the rhetorical powers of participation, accountability, bottom-up approaches and development. Charles Kenny, in a post last year about Haiti, suggests that this is a great slogan but a poor idea given that reconstruction and recovery is about “‘getting back to where we were’ as quickly as possible”. He goes on to say, “Of course we have higher hopes than that in the post-disaster period. We are going to build back better. And, surely, we all want Haiti to be better than it was before the quake. But what a terrible time to try development”.

The helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now was filmed, like most of the movie, in the Philippines. The helicopters were borrowed from the Philippines’ military, who were simultaneously engaged in a real conflict with Communist guerrillas. U.S army markings on the helicopters often had to be hastily painted over, as they would immediately be called off-set to fight the guerrillas. Doug Claybourne, who worked on the scene, recalls  that the helicopters sometimes left to fight the guerrillas with the US army markings still painted on the side.

The Heuy helicopters have been replaced by Lufhansa cargo planes; the guerrillas by disaster-affected people; the soldiers by aid workers; the US army livery by USAID logos; the heart of darkness by the light of hope.

Lt. Col. Kilgore wasn’t interested in winning hearts and minds. Aid agencies want not only to win the hearts and minds of those affected, but yours as well. This is an ongoing strategy of branding hope. Of filling you with hope of a better future. Of a future where the military play not only an important peacekeeping role, but also a humanitarian one. Of a future where only certain agencies can provide hope; a world where hope trickles down. Charlie don’t hope.