Tag Archives: Aid

Naomi Campbell's Instagram selfie for the #WakeUpCall campaign.

Last Week Today: WhatsApp vs. humanitarian aid

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

What do NGOs have in common with this woman?

The obsession with the perfectly composed selfie.

This week, celebs are taking selfies for UNICEF’s #WakeUpCall campaign. But are NGOs trying too hard to create the next viral campaign?

The week in news

Protests in Hong Kong are raging on, intensified by police beating of activists. ISIS is nearing a strategic town in Iraq’s Anbar Province. And fighting has erupted over the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Kim Jong Un has evidently reappeared. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of rumours – but now, most of them are about his new cane.

And in this week’s edition of “naked photo scandals,” 100,000 SnapChat pictures have been hacked, including nude pics of teenagers.

The week on the blog

Cognitive dissonance in aid: A job like any other

In our final post on cognitive dissonance, J. reminds us that aid is like any other industry – imperfect.

Why I’m anti anti-poverty

It’s Anti-Poverty Week in Australia, but WhyDev Director Brendan Rigby asks what it actually means to be “anti-poverty” – and whether it’s useful.

Inequality and the struggle for land rights

For Blog Action Day, Alison Rabe reports on one Cambodian community’s struggle with a common problem: protecting local land from multi-national corporations.

The week in globaldev

The feminists you’re really looking for

When Africa is on TV, people go to the bathroom.

You don’t join ISIS to feed your family.

Australia at the top

Ebola: So African, so dark, so black

Why do we even know Malala’s name?

WhatsApp vs. humanitarian aid

Audio In the latest episode of EMERGENCY AIDio, Nuran Higgens talks to Andy Puddicombe about using meditation for a healthy mind and better life. (1:11:19)

Upcoming events

OIC: The Cambodia Project: Launch extravaganza | Melbourne, 12 November

You can also check out our other events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

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Featured image is Naomi Campbell’s selfie for the #WakeUpCall campaign. Photo from Instagram.

Aleppians waiting in a bread line during the Syrian Civil War. Photo from Voice of America.

Cognitive dissonance in aid: A job like any other

This is the final post in a series of responses to Jonathan Favini’s piece on cognitive dissonance in the aid industry. Check out the other responses here and here, and share your own in the comments.

A few bullet-points, first, then narrative.

  • The opening scene of the barbershop in Jonathan’s article resonates: I had approximately the same experience in a small town in southern Michigan in about 1991.
  • Jonathan describes well the cognitive dissonance of being an aid/development worker, but struggles to convey the gaps between what we actually do, what everyone thinks we do and who we are. Hell, I struggle to convey them after more than a decade of writing specifically dedicated to that end. It’s mostly the point of my recent book, Letters Left Unsent (see especially the chapter entitled “Noble Savages”).
  • In this way, I think aid workers and the aid industry are actually analogous to porn actors and the adult film industry. Powerful, common perceptions about who we are and what we do seldom reflect reality… But since everyone thinks they know, no one bothers actually asking. Which leads to massive misperceptions by those entering or attempting to enter the sector. Which leads to people like Jonathan having cognitive dissonance straight out of the gate, before he’s got much more than entry-level experience under his belt.

How have you integrated recognition of the industry’s flaws into your professional identity?

In pretty much the same way a physician integrates recognition of the healthcare industry’s flaws. Which is to say that I acknowledge them openly, and then assertively use my own (current) influence to correct them or start to correct them where I can.

I recognize the faults and challenges, and take on as a part of my personal responsibility and ethics to do what I can to make it better. In this area, though, I don’t really see that aid and development is any different from most any other industry–the automotive industry, perhaps, or the food industry. I think there’s always a disconnect between, for lack of a better term, the business-end or “industrial” side of any industry and the thing the industry is meant to provide.

For example, the automotive industry is beset with drama and intrigue around what gets decided, how, where and by whom. Then consumers–people like you and me–certainly have opinions about what cars we like, would like to have (whether real and current or imaginary), all to come around to the realities of what we can actually afford.

And so, I suppose, in my professional life, like an engineer or a factory worker at Toyota, I have no problem acknowledging the limitations of what my chosen industry has to offer.

I may even be candid and open about my employer’s comparative and competitive advantages and disadvantages vis-a-vis other providers. I think we can safely assume that in 20 years’ time, the cars we drive will look and work and be quite different from those we have now.

And in the same way, with the aid industry, whether we’re talking about the technical specifications of the actual products we deliver or the industry’s nature and structure, the acquisitions, the shifts in power at the “top” of the industry itself (far from the factory floor, if you will), I think we can freely acknowledge flaws without ever abandoning belief in the value of the product itself or in our own individual and collective roles in making that product happen.

How have you learned to recognize development’s problems, while continuing to do work in the field or advocating for its expansion?

I think there’s a tendency to make this issue seem more black and white than it is, in fact. It’s partially to do with basic human nature–we gravitate toward explanations that feel simple. It’s partially to do, I think, with the way the discussion about aid has evolved, particularly on social media, in the past few years. And I think it also has to do with the fact that the major (which is to say, widely-read) critiques almost all come from industry outsiders who have a vested interest in articulating extreme critique. And here I’m talking specifically about William Easterly, Dambisa Moyo and Linda Polman (among others). “Dead aid” grabs attention, whereas “Aid with a serious, but ultimately curable illness” lacks punch.

Too much of the conversation, in my opinion, is polarized between “aid is dead,” and “OMG, we’re making poverty history!” The truth is that the vast majority is somewhere in the middle.

I think there’s perhaps a generational thing at play, too. Myself at 25, a year or two into my own aid career, I had all the answers. I could give the entire litany of everything wrong with the sector, every decision my boss and my bosses’ boss made was wrong, and so on. Now, 20+ years later, I’m not so sure.

Jonathan asks some tough questions, but lately I’m not so sure they’re the most relevant ones. The question, “Did I ‘make a lasting difference’ during my time as a PCV in Senegal?” is a very, very different question from, “Does aid work or not? And if not, how do we fix it?” And those of us who stick around come to understand that the things that make aid work or not, the problems in real need of redress, have nothing at all to do with whether the white guys and women in rural West Africa are “learning the language and finding a place in Senegalese society.” I think many of us had our equivalent of a barbershop crisis early on. Stay on for a while, though, and see how things actually work, and you begin to understand that the issues are different.

I stay on because I see the potential for good. I’ve seen the good actually happen myself. I stay on because I see the real possibility of changing the industry for the better and at the level at which it truly needs to change. I stay on because I still believe.

How do you motivate yourself on tough days when you doubt the impact of your efforts?

Let me start somewhere else, because I don’t really think this is the best question to ask here. I think it is absolutely critical to understand that this aid or development thing is a job, like any other (even if Peace Corps marketing says otherwise). Maybe you work some long hours. Maybe, in the course of this “ordinary job,” you go to some cool places and have some wild moments. But at the end of the day, it is a job. You go to work, you collect your salary or stipend, you pay your bills, and eventually you retire.

It is critical to understand that liking your job, that feeling as if what you do for work contributes to some greater good–“job satisfaction”–is a luxury and a privilege that many (perhaps most?) people simply do not have. I think too many people enter the aid sector because they anticipate a constant rush of, “I JUST SAVED A LIFE!!”

I see these people day in and day out in my real job: they’re the ones who very easily get bored or disillusioned and leave, or perhaps run off to start their own NGO, before they’ve really understood the reality. I think the sooner we understand that, like with any other job in any other industry, some days are going to be awesome and some days are going to suck, the sooner we’ll get past the stage of existential barbershop crises.

I don’t mean we should become apathetic. Rather, I mean we must understand that this job, this career, carries with it both positive and negative. And further, that just because we have a tough day at the office or in the village, doesn’t mean aid is broken.

And there, I’ve gone on preaching.

Featured image from Voice of America.

Last Week Today: 10 October 2014

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds are expecting! And it’s pretty likely this will be the world’s most beautiful baby. You can already see predictions of what he or she will look like.

Although, here at WhyDev, we’re disappointed they haven’t adopted a Cambodian child. Blakan could give Brangelina a run for their humanitarian money.

The week in news

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has temporarily stepped down (the ICC hearing on his crimes against humanity and all).

ISIS is set to take the key town of Kobane, on the Turkish-Syrian border. Meanwhile, Turkey is garnering support for a buffer zone to protect displaced people.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems to be missing. Unsubstantiated rumours suggest he has gout, is under house arrest, fractured both ankles because of his weight or was tapped on the shoulder by Ban Ki-moon to negotiate a ceasefire between ISIS and the world.

The week on the blog

The difference one tree can make

What can be done to combat deforestation in developing countries? Kathleen Buckingham draws lessons from some major tree-planting initiatives.

What Tim Minchin can teach you about working in global development

Musician-comedian Tim Minchin doled out some unconventional but inspiring life advice in a graduation speech – and WhyDev Director Brendan Rigby turned it into lessons for aspiring aid workers.

The week in globaldev

Where my senior consultants at? Hola!

UNDP Number 1!

So much panic, so little action on Ebola

Down with all-male panels!

Generalists and specialists are so last year. This season is all about the “integrator.”

Ebola is the Jeffrey Sachs of cold sores.

A “Homeless Bill of Rights,” so people can legally sit and stand in public

No money left for food aid – USAID spent it all on shipping costs.

Comic In the real world, do we actually love the underdog?

"The Underdog Myth," a comic by Mike Dawson.
“The Underdog Myth,” a comic by Mike Dawson.

You can also check out our events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

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Featured image by Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA.

Books

MissionCreep #4: Arseholes, perceptions and books

Your hosts, Brendan Rigby, Carly Stephan and Weh Yeoh, are back with episode 4 of the MissionCreep podcast, bringing you fresh and frank voices in global development.

This time, Weh wants to know why there are so many egotistical arseholes working in development (it’s not law, after all!). Plus, Carly responds to a bureaucrat who doubts the effectiveness of aid, and Brendan asks about aid workers’ reading lists.

Join the conversation! Let us know how you deal with the arseholes you encounter, and send us your book recommendations. Leave a comment here or on Facebook, e-mail us at info[AT]whydev.org, and use the hashtag #MissionCreepDev on Twitter. We’ll respond online or on the next episode of the podcast.

Runs 37:39.


You can also listen to the podcast here or download it on iTunes (and a transcript is coming soon).

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

 

 

 

 

Articles referenced throughout the podcast:

Why competing over funding is killing development (and how we might improve)

The troll slayer: A Cambridge classicist takes on her sexist detractors

This is the No. 1 thing that holds most people back from success.

Essential reading on foreign aid

How humanitarian aid weakened post-earthquake Haiti

Putting our money where our mouths are? Donations to NGOs and support for ODA in Australia

Jihadists buy Islam for Dummies on Amazon

Book recommendations from the podcast: Thinking Fast and Slow, Made to Stick, Rohinton Mistry, The Power of Now, A New Earth, Daring Greatly, The Big Leap, Emergency Sex, Zen under Fire, You Are Not So Smart, Development as Freedom, The Bottom Billion and War, Guns & Votes.

People wait at a UN distribution centre in Haiti.

On cognitive dissonance: Local ownership & constant learning

Jonathan Favini’s recent WhyDev post on cognitive dissonance in development raised issues that are near and dear to many in the sector, from recognising aid failures to working in a flawed industry to receiving praise from outsiders. A recent college grad, Jonathan ended his piece with some thoughtful questions to more experienced aid workers.

How have you integrated recognition of the industry’s flaws into your professional identity? How have you learned to recognize development’s problems, while continuing to work in the field or advocating for its expansion? How do you motivate yourselves on tough days when you doubt the impact of your efforts?

We’ve compiled several interesting and insightful responses from people with varied experience in development (and blogging!). This post is the first in a short series of reflections on these topics.

Chris Planicka – Program Associate, EcoAgriculture Partners & Aid Blogger

“These types of doubts and questions help me to remain humble in my work. I try to present myself as a facilitator or enabler, one who helps people to achieve their own goals but whose own role is minimal. Most people I work with, especially at local levels in developing countries, appreciate this stance, as they can see the problems in development work all too clearly.

Indeed, I am quite aware of the many problems in this industry, and sometimes the doubts Jonathan described, and other challenges, can be overwhelming. To motivate myself in this work, I try to do the following: learn from mistakes and errors (both mine and others’) to avoid repeating them and to improve other work; make special note of success stories when I do find them and remember them for future reference; and never take myself too seriously, especially in interactions with people offering praise for ‘doing good work’ or ‘helping people.’ They may mean well, but they do not fully understand the work I do (and that’s not really their fault, either).”

Chad Bissonnette – Co-founder & Executive Director, Roots of Development

“I couldn’t incorporate the industry’s flaws into my identity, so I decided to start my own organisation. That way, I decided I could work within the field, but as ‘outside the industry’ as possible.

Like most in the field, I am constantly observing and analysing the flaws of the industry, and using my conclusions about them to form the approach we use at Roots of Development. Since most of our budget comes from individual donors, we have even greater flexibility to do it differently. Most individual donors trust us enough and believe in our approach enough to allow us to do it the way we feel we need to do it. They let us mold, form and change our programming based on the direction of the communities with whom we work and the lessons we learn from working with them.

I think the days you find yourself doubting the impact of your efforts are very important. I have learned to take those days and use them to analyse two things: 1) Look at the effort to try and see where we may have gone astray or strayed from our core principles. 2) Make sure I am not solely evaluating the impact through my culturally-biased understanding of it and of standards of success.

I believe that when you doubt the impact of your effort, it’s either because the effort is actually flawed or because you’re judging it from your cultural context. In the first case, it’s important to identify where you went astray and get back on track. In the second, it’s likely you need to remind yourself whom the effort is actually for, and find out how they are feeling about the impact.

It is once again a reminder to me of how important local ownership is in every aspect of international development and how important it is for me (us) to remain in a supportive role instead of a managerial one.”

Check back next week for thoughts from more of your favourite aid workers and bloggers – and share your own responses in the comments.

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Last Week Today: 22 August 2014

Would you pick up a hitchhiking robot?

HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot
HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot

If you thought you saw a robot on the side of the highway during your last road trip, you might not be crazy. HitchBOT, a child-sized solar-powered robot built by Canadian researchers, just hitchhiked 6,000 kilometres, to explore the relationship between people and technology. Past research has examined whether humans can trust robots, but HitchBOT was created to address the question, “Can robots trust humans?” (Apparently the answer is yes: the robot made it all the way across Canada by getting free rides, and arrived unharmed in British Columbia this week.) Not strange enough? HitchBOT also uses social media.

What’s next, robot aid workers? Well, hey, we’re supposed to be working ourselves out of a job, right?

The week in news

Perhaps the most alarming story this week is the ISIS beheading of American journalist James Foley, which the group recorded and posted on YouTube. News outlets have come under fire for publishing pictures taken immediately before the execution, with critics saying the dissemination of the photos only exploits his death. Read Foley’s obituary and some highlights from his career instead.

Meanwhile, Romeo Dallaire argues Iraq is experiencing the same warning sounds of genocide that he witnessed in Rwanda in the early 1990s. Thailand’s junta leader was just appointed the country’s Prime Minister, and Liberian police fired live rounds and tear gas into crowds of protestors trying to break an ebola quarantine.

In other important world news, North Korean officials called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “a wolf with a hideous lantern jaw.” Diplomacy at its finest.

The week on the blog

Dear Supporter: We’re sorry, the project you supported failed…

NGOs make mistakes. Aid projects fail. Money gets wasted. Not surprisingly, most organisations don’t want to talk about it, but Ravinder Casley Gera has an example for how they can communicate failed projects without looking bad.

Mission Creep #2: SWEDOW, being smart and sexual healing

We’re back with the second episode of the WhyDev podcast, Mission Creep – bringing you fresh and frank voices in global development. This week, Brendan Rigby, Weh Yeoh and Carly Stephan are talking SWEDOW, looking smart and sex as a coping strategy. Give it a listen, and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #MissionCreepDev.

The week in globaldev

Where are the examples of “good donorship?” | From Poverty to Power

Self-reflection, volunteering and the development entertainment industrial complex | Aidnography

Debating hashtags and slacktivism | Wait… What?

The launch of EMERGENCY AIDio, the new online radio program for aid workers | The Healthy Nomad

UN internships for Canadians no longer unpaid – now they cost $2,500! | Humanosphere

Are humanitarians heroes or sidekicks? | AidSpeak

Why ebola is killing more women than men | BuzzFeed

Is Australia’s scholarship program an effective aid strategy? (also, Parts One & Two) | DevPolicy

What can we learn from the history of foreign aid? | Politics of Poverty

Upcoming Events

Expanse: The one-day conference to empower young humanitarians | Melbourne, 30 August Register with the promotion code: WD896 for a $5 discount!

Always on the go? Have a version sent to your inbox every Friday. Just sign up to the Last Week Today newsletter.
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Last Week Today: 8 August 2014

Don’t have time to scan the web for global news? Want to know about development events and jobs? Sick of having a million emails in your inbox?

Want to know about development events and jobs? Sick of having a million emails in your inbox? – See more at: http://www.whydev.org/8-august-2014-the-week-in-links/#sthash.xI7M0fJI.dpuf
Don’t have time to scan the web for global news?
Don’t have time to scan the web for global news?Want to know about development events and jobs? Sick of having a million emails in your inbox?

We’re here to help.

Today we’re launching Last Week Today – a weekly post that has the best stories, news, events and jobs in global development.

Now you can breathe a sigh of relief. Last Week Today is all you need.

So grab a coffee, sit back, and enjoy the week’s best in global development.

The week in news

Niger is the French word for Nigeria, right?

CNN

CNN’s on-air mistake has reignited discussions about ignorance of developing countries, and brought attention to the network’s past misplacing of Ukraine, and Hong Kong, and London, and…

Washington, D.C., was abuzz this week with President Obama’s parade of autocrats (aka, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit) which brought over 40 heads of state to the White House.

In the rest of the world: this was a tragic week in parts of China and Nepal, and Afghanistan’s election crisis is worsening. South Sudan is facing a triple threat of violence, famine, and cholera. The ebola outbreak is reportedly spreading, though not as fast as our fears of it.

It’s not making global headlines, but our love affair with coffee may have some seriously damaging environmental consequences.

And in this week’s edition of is-this-for-real, USAID has evidently been sending young Latin Americans to incite rebellion in Cuba, using the cover of HIV-prevention workshops.

The week from the blog

NGOs can learn from YouTube celebrities

Most NGOs these days blog, tweet, use Facebook – but not many of them use video effectively. Our Communications Director Rachel Kurzyp explains how organisations could pick up some tips from (who else?) the celebrities of YouTube.

Starving for awareness

The UN is feeding refugees a starvation diet: 850 calories a day. When Francisco Toro found out about it, he didn’t “like” a post or order a bracelet. Instead, he ate a tiny bowl of sorghum and lentils – and nothing else.

The gendered lens is always a good bet for looking smart to your development friends. Cartoon by Kirsty Newman.
The gendered lens is always a good bet for looking smart to your development friends. Cartoon by Kirsty Newman.

The week in links

Tips for looking smart to development geeks | Kirsty Evidence

New research suggests there are three types of female aid workers. | Women in Aid

Africa’s rising, Africa’s falling…but it’s mostly rising. | The Washington Post

Two theories on why we’re so obsessed with giving away our old stuff | Blood and Milk

Beggars can’t be choosers, but are they really beggars…? | Good Intentions (courtesy of USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information)

Can volunteers really cause harm? | AidSpeak

No doubt about it, 850-calorie-a-day food rations aren’t enough to survive. | 850 Calories

Is Bitcoin the next big thing in financial inclusion? | Development Channel

Are health gains in developing countries really helping the poor? | Brett Keller

New evidence for the impact of education on women’s health | Humanosphere

The week in events

Complex? Nah just a Tuesday | Melbourne

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Thank you, Allison – it’s not goodbye, but see you soon.

When Allison joined the WhyDev team in January 2012, the blog was a mess. The audience consisted of our mothers, our old university lecturers and that angry bespectacled guy who spends too much time on the Internet. We had some great contributions coming in, and the number of hits were gradually climbing, but we needed someone to take us to the next level. This person was Allison.

Although we (Brendan and Weh) know a lot about bromance and a little about development, we needed someone with a good vision for the blog and site to make it really sparkle, in a way that two straight men with the absence of the word “sparkle” in their own vernacular could ever achieve. Just for comparison, here is a screenshot from our old website. It’s functional, but a far cry from what we have now.

WhyDev screenshot, circa June 2012
WhyDev screenshot, circa June 2012

Two and a half years down the track, we have a new website, over 65 contributors – the bulk of them female – over 400 critical insights into how to do aid and development better and, as importantly, a reputation offline. Both of us have had countless individuals come up to us at conferences, workshops, and karaoke bars (Brendan only), expressing their admiration for the strong voices that have come out of WhyDev. Allison, you’re a big reason for all of this (Weh would particularly like to thank you for the random phone numbers from female followers).

As of today, Allison is vacating the Editor-in-Chief position at WhyDev, but no doubt she will be around and still heavily involved in other ways. So for that reason, it’s not goodbye, but see you soon. Thanks for all your hard work and help over the years.

Brendan, Allison, and Weh
She’s not that short, we’re just taller.

Despite her obviously diminutive stature, filling Allison’s shoes is going to be a big task. Fortunately, we’ve got some exciting announcements to make.

First of all, joining the team as Communications Director is Rachel Kurzyp. Longtime friend of WhyDev and prolific blogger, tweeter and all-round comms guru, we are extremely lucky to have her stepping up to guide the communications aspects of where WhyDev is going. Rachel has a great background in journalism, business and international development, and has the kind of adorable cynicism that we need. She’s fascinated by the intersection of international development, storytelling and digital technologies – all of this speaks to the direction in which WhyDev is going.

As impressive is the addition of our new Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Ambrose, who won us over recently when she wrote “this is just another way in which the aid system is broken.” Jen’s background in research, international development and writing are perfect. Her main interests are in aid effectiveness, ethics in development, and narratives of developing countries, which align well with WhyDev’s values. Furthermore, she adds a lot to the team being based in the U.S. We might even have to start spelling organisation like “organization” from now on. Maybe not…

We’d like to leave the final word to these two, to answer the simple question – “How are you committed to getting aid and development right?”

Rachel Kurzyp, WhyDev's new Communications Director
Rachel Kurzyp, WhyDev’s new Communications Director

“I’m committed to helping the poor have an equal voice in global communications so they can control how they are represented, how their stories are shared, and choose if they want to participate in the digital world.  I’m excited to be joining WhyDev because we are all working towards the same goals and the team welcomes my need to question things, which is rare.” – Rachel

Jennifer Ambrose, WhyDev's new Editor-in-Chief
Jennifer Ambrose, WhyDev’s new Editor-in-Chief

“I’m committed to using evidence to better understand what works in development and advocate for organizations to create more effective programs. At the same time, I’m committed to making aid more empowering and responsive to local needs, by listening to people who are affected by aid projects and supporting grassroots development efforts. I’m excited to join WhyDev because I think it provides a much-needed space for critical reflection on all things development-related.” – Jen

AusAid

Significant aid stories of 2013 | AidWorks

To discuss some of the major issues of 2013, AidWorks host Albion Harrison-Naish, was joined by the heads of three prominent Australian aid NGOs. CARE Australia’s Dr. Julia Newton-Howes, ActionAid Australia’s Archie Law and Act for Peace’s Alistair Gee provided an engaging conversation about a variety of issues.

After a brief discussion of the recently-announced further cuts to Australia’s aid program, the panellists discussed the various cuts, diversions and delays suffered by Australia’s aid program over 2013. The conversation also covered issues like climate change and the developing world, the evolution of emergency humanitarian responses, the rise of the BRICS nations and how this will likely impact on development models, as well as the debates over the post 2015 development agenda.