Tag Archives: Development


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’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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10 tricks to appear smart during development meetings

This post originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than meetings. Particularly meetings with the donor, who’s the person who’s supposed to sign the checks that make sure you have a job for just a little bit longer. So while you may work for the good of the people of [fill in the name of the pile of smoking rubble you’re standing on that people insist is still a country], you actually work for the donor.

And donors love nothing more than holding meetings. Some common varieties are:

  • Synch meetings
  • Coordination meetings
  • Working group meetings
  • Budget meetings

And the dreaded, avoid-at-all-costs:

  • Pre-meeting

This last one’s the one you have before the really big meeting, so you can all go over what you’re going to talk about at the actual meeting. That meeting will usually involve multiple donors all brought together for some kind of conference or seminar or something else equally mind numbing. Those meetings generate things like “action plans,” which are promptly forgotten or subtly sidetracked because coordination means someone’s going to have to share with others, and that’s not how development work is done.

But rather than just surviving these meetings, here’s a handy guide for coming out of those meetings looking like someone who a) genuinely cares about the work you’re doing, and b) is a recognized thought leader among your peers. (Put that last one on a LinkedIn profile…it’s CV gold.)

Development meeting
Surefire ways to impress everyone in the room

1. Ask for milestones

This is a great way to get a lot of nods and approving noises from those around the table. It’s also a great way to throw a peer under the bus, and if it’s not a peer, good times can be had by all as you watch that person scramble to explain the various milestones in their amazing five-year plan.

2. Use “sustainability” whenever possible

This ties back to the first one, because if something doesn’t have “milestones,” it’s probably not going to be “sustainable.” Asking any presenter if they have a sustainability plan usually yields the same fun as the milestones question.

3. Flip through the handout while the presenter is still talking

Nothing tells a room “I’m already thinking a few steps ahead” better than rustling paper and moving ahead through slides that haven’t been presented yet. Combine this with questions about sustainability, and you’re sure to get that next Chief of Party gig.

4. Make notes on upcoming slides

This reinforces the idea that you’re looking ahead, past the point that your presenter is making, and are about to make some kind of statement that should make the rest of the group start shuffling through the handout as well.

5. Say, “I don’t see a gender component.”

Letting the group know you care very much about gender issues is something that will endear you to peers and supervisors alike. Donors love people who are looking for the gender angle, even if the project is the artificial insemination of goats in the Andes Mountains. It also puts the presenter on the spot and usually means they get to scramble to make that point out of sequence with their other slides.

6. Start a few sentences with variations on “I’m worried that…”

Some examples:

  • I’m worried that we’re not reaching the children enough with this.
  • I’m concerned about the optics of that distribution plan.
  • I’m guess I’m not sure how that can be sustainably implemented.

Nothing shows insight in development work like vague concerns. And you’ll never have to explain that concern because someone else in the room will second your thought immediately. Since you’re already planning on leaving the meeting early to demonstrate how busy you are, you’ve just generated about 15 minutes of discussion, which means you won’t have to hear many of the rest of the slides.

7. Suggest a follow-on working group.

Once the discussion generated by #6 has gone on long enough, speak up and suggest that a follow-on working group be convened to deal with that particular issue. It sounds like you’re creating more work for yourself, but one of two things happen now:

  1. Everyone is secretly hoping this won’t happen since it will mean more meetings. So you can keep re-scheduling that working group until everyone who was at the meeting leaves the country.
  2. Someone wanting to make a name for themselves will volunteer to chair that group. And then they’ll execute the plan in #1.

8. Humorously reference the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy.

During the course of the meeting, which is keeping anyone in the room from doing any actual real work, make an offhand comment like, “Well, you how long THAT’S going to take.” This is a tricky one, since the people who actually slow your work down are probably sitting around the table at the moment, so use carefully.

9. Openly mock the standing government.

The only real barrier to your success as a development organization is whoever’s currently sitting in the presidential palace/mansion/hut/hovel. You and the donor are the most effective team ever assembled for this kind of work, and the plans you’ve collectively put together would be an unmitigated success if not for the policies of the president/king/high lord of all he surveys.

10. Leave early because of a field visit.

No one in a development meeting would dream of keeping anyone from visiting the field. This is effective for a few reasons:

  • A lot of the people in the room have never been to “the field,” so they will be suitably impressed and will see your value to the organization.
  • Your friends in the room (and there won’t be many) will be impressed with your temerity, since they know you don’t have one.
  • If questioned later, you can complain that security canceled the movement because they don’t understand the real work that’s being done here.

Gary Owen is a pseudonym for a Former U.S. Army Infantry and Civil Affairs officer with two tours in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, who has been working in Afghanistan as a civilian development worker since 2009. A self-proclaimed “idealist with a mortgage,” his home on the web is the blog Sunny in Kabul, and you can follow him on Twitter. He’s also a semi-regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and occasional writer for Vice News. Gary and his wife call Texas home, where they live with a couple of retired racing greyhounds and three overly needy cats.


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

Save the Children Australia's poverty porn, captured by WhyDev's Brendan Rigby who posted it to our Twitter account first. Video has since been taken down.

5 reasons why effective marketing and good development work are incompatible

I finally watched Kony 2012. From a pure marketing perspective, the video itself is absolutely flawless. They manage to take a very complex situation, and not only make the audience understand it, but also care. But herein lies the problem. Critics of Invisible Children say that Kony 2012’s simple message of “catch the bad guy” is a distraction from the real issues that exist in Central African Republic. The message doesn’t reflect the complexity of the work needed.

Effective marketing brings attention and donations. Good development work should improve the lives of poor people. Does the latter limit the ability of good marketing folk to tell that simple story which the public seeks? Here are the 5 reasons why effective marketing cannot co-exist with effective development work.

1.     We have short attention spans

Research shows that when we read web pages, we actually don’t. In fact, we typically read 28% of the text that is on a web page. Similarly, only 12% of readers read all the way to the bottom of a page. (I’ll be accessing NSA records to check if you make it all the way down in a few minutes).

Knowing this, people who work in communications for non-profits boil down the complexities of the program so that it hardly represents the actual work done. Then they stick it in the slow cooker for another 12 hours until it is reduced even further.

In the push and pull of what needs to be done versus what people consume, clever communications folk know that they have to cater to the amount of effort that people are willing to give.

web pages


2.     There is no incentive to translate complexity.

Even if an organisation truly values the work they do, and talks endlessly about how good this work is to other people in the sector, or even institutional donors such as government agencies, this matters little to the public.

Think about selling a product like Coca-Cola. In this transaction, the person buying the product is also the same person as the one receiving the benefit. In global development, the people paying and the person receiving the benefit are completely different. In the case of public donations, the payer is the general public and the people receiving services or programs are those in poor countries.

This creates a power imbalance because the person paying becomes the boss, not the person receiving benefits. Communication and marketing that oversimplify the message is another way of pandering to the needs of potential donors.

3.     Even if it offends some, on balance, dumb simple is better

When an organisation produces some marketing material that is offensive, such as Save the Children Australia did recently, they are likely to face some kind of backlash. In this case, the use of starving African children, often referred to as poverty porn, will offend some. Those in the know will be up in arms over what clearly negative tactics, and will write in to complain, post about it on social media and so forth.

Save the Children Australia's poverty porn, captured by WhyDev's Brendan Rigby who posted it to our Twitter account first. Video has since been taken down.
Save the Children Australia’s poverty porn, captured by WhyDev’s Brendan Rigby who posted it to our Twitter account first. Video has since been taken down.

But at the end of the day, poverty porn and other negative marketing tactics work, at least in the short term. They raise funds from the public because they tell a simple message about the “other.”

The conversation that occurs within organisations is then around the costs versus benefits of running a campaign that uses poverty porn. And on balance, despite criticisms which I personally think are valid, those tactics remain. The prevailing attitude is still that the end justify the means. The proof in the pudding is that weeks after this backlash, Save the Children Australia were at it again. Same poverty porn angle, different ad.

4. Money drives the work, not the need.

I touched on this earlier, but the vast majority of aid and development still revolves around what the donor wants to do, not what the people need. The debate around overheads, which reflects the administrative costs of an organisation’s work, is an old one within the development sector, but knowledge of how irrelevant this metric is for the general public is still low.

Why? Because organisations don’t want to talk about it. In fact, if you go to pretty much any large non­profit’s website, somewhere, they’ll be boasting about how low their overheads are.

A large and internationally recognised non-profit bragging about low overheads. Based on this, who in the public would think this was irrelevant?


As long as we have donor-driven marketing, we cannot have needs-driven development.

5. Effective marketing draws on herd mentality

Interlinked with the need of non­profits to focus on fundraising is the realisation that good marketing is very much infectious. Everybody in non­profit communications wants to create that viral piece of campaigning.

charity: water are great exponents of this. More than 20,000 people have held birthday campaigns to raise funds for them, simply by sharing their desire to help out through social media and email. It’s been incredibly effective. charity: water have raised over $27 million in 2012. Not a bad effort for an organisation with less than 50 staff.

Forgetting for one moment criticisms about the actual impact that they make, charity: water are able to leverage off herd mentality and the bandwagon effect. These social pressures exist often because we want to be seen as being on the “winner’s side”. If the goal is getting a campaign to go viral, it’s not the effectiveness of what the organisation does that matters, it’s how much other people are sharing the same material.


We all know the power of communications to drive awareness and as importantly, donations. But the reality is, unless we change the way we consume communications as human beings, overly simplistic marketing tactics will always butt heads with good development work. Don’t agree? Please restore my faith in humanity and prove me wrong in the comments.

We’ll be posting a rebuttal to this post by Rachel Kurzyp, freelance writer and communications professional, in a few days.


Five ways to build resilience: a practical guide



1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

When you have been working hard to make the world a better place, and you are often faced with the brutal realities of this world, there comes a point when you start holding back, running on empty, feeling depleted, and you get so frustrated you devise a set beliefs and strategies to cope, and to survive. Often the organisations we work for will provide training to support you in your endeavours.

In my experience, that training can miss the mark.

Much of the training that I received in my career as a development worker focused on the delivery of services, stewardship and accountability. Very little training focused on developing resiliency and the little I did receive was guided by the above definition of resilience. On the job advice and guidance was to develop a thicker skin, not let things effect me, or to get over it, the implication being that my struggles didn’t even come close to the struggles of those we work on behalf of. Deny, dismiss, diminish, and distance. Build walls, armour up, and shut down. Endure. Return to original form as soon as possible.


I have watched too many passionate development and humanitarian workers, diplomats and social change agents burn out, shut down emotionally, or simply walk away because they didn’t know what else to do. They were exhausted, exasperated. In their minds they were failing to live up to the expectation of ‘resiliency’ and were not equipped to move forward or in any other direction.

I can relate. I have been there. My own experiences led me to training, coaching, reading, studying, and lots of personal reflection. Through this, I have come to redefine resilience. Resilience is not about bouncing back. It is not about returning to original shape. Resilience is a set of competencies that help you to constructively move through your experiences in ways that allow you to maintain your authenticity and grow from your experiences. Resiliency enables you to do your great work in the world for the long run.

As a development and humanitarian worker you have the privilege to shape and influence lives. With that privilege comes the responsibility and daring to let the world shape and influence yours. Resiliency helps you expand, integrate, and take a new form.

Developing resilience requires caring for and knowing yourself first and foremost to be of service in the world. It also requires tools and practice. This is one process that has helped me develop my resiliency as I strive to make the world a better place.

1. Know your pain.  Don’t deny your suffering whatever form it comes in. Cultivate your ability to be present to your own pain while trying to alleviate the burdens of others. That starts with naming it. Are you frustrated? Hurt? Angry? Disappointed? Aching? Shattered? Overwhelmed? Devastated?  Don’t deny, dismiss, diminish or distance yourself from it. It wants to be known. Commit to two minutes of head-on acknowledgement. Set a timer. Two minutes to be whatever is rolling through your world. Be angry. Be disappointed. Be shattered. Whatever it is, be all in. It’s only two minutes.

2.  Get curious.  Once you have named your pain point, befriend it. Commit to two more minutes of attention and focus. Close your eyes and get curious. Suspend disbelief. Explore. Ask yourself what wants your attention? What is this pain pointing to? What does it want to show you? What’s your truth in it all? Listen.

3. Self-compassion. If you have allowed yourself to know and befriend your pain, 99% of the time your brain will kick in with deep resistance and start to demand that you put walls back up. Your mind will remind you the only way to survive is to deny, dismiss, diminish and distance. Your mind might tell you things like “it’s your fault,” “stop complaining. You have it so much better than most,” or “man up” and “cut this out. Everyone will think you can’t handle the job.” This is when self-compassion is crucial. And it also requires a cease and desist strategy. The magic formula looks like this.

‘You are so weak.’

Response to yourself. ‘I am. And I am strong.’

‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’

Response to yourself. ‘I am. And I am courageous.’

Disengage your brain by saying ‘I am.’ It’s ready to rumble. Don’t go there. Cease. Disarm. Then add your ‘I am’. It’s easiest to do this when you have an ‘I am’ list at hand. So set your timer for two more minutes and write as many compassionate statements about yourself. Say or write ‘I am’ and let the sentences finish themselves.

If you are stuck, ask a friend or colleague or family member to tell you the #1 thing they love or admire about you. Write it down. Refer to this list frequently and give yourself daily doses of self-compassion. It strengthens the self-compassion muscle and makes it easier to flex during trying times.

4. Gratitude. This is a tricky practice. It is an incredibly powerful tool but it can also be a tool used to diminish, dismiss or deny your painful experiences and challenges. Finding the silver lining without naming and knowing your pain doesn’t build resiliency. It leads to suppression. Be mindful to practice the first three steps before moving into gratitude. Resist fast forwarding. Transition with intention.  Use gratitude to frame your experience, to bring the scales back to balance and to cultivate a wider perspective.

To practice gratitude pause and reflect. Look around. Look for the obvious. Look for the hidden. Sometimes it will all be apparent. Sometimes you will have to dig deep. You may only be able to muster gratitude for the breath you take. Be grateful. Write it down. Speak it out loud. Keep it as a silent prayer. However you get to gratitude is your way.

Like self-compassion, if you practice gratitude daily, it becomes a powerful reflex during times that demand resilience.

5. Soothing. This step is often skipped over and not even recognised as critical. But it is. We all need comfort, balm for our wounds, reassurance for ourselves. Just when you think you are finished with your pain, turn towards it. Take comfort.  Leaving yourself vulnerable, your wounds gaping, your pain bare, or worse suppressing your needs, leaves the process incomplete. If you do that, the need will express itself and seek comfort, likely in all the wrong places – addictions, pushing people away, isolating yourself, and mood swings to name a few. So practice giving yourself what you need.

Comfort can come in many forms. Ask your pain what it needs. What wound needs salve? What part of you requires some tenderness? What form would it like it to come in? Maybe it’s a hug, or enjoying your favourite tv show, or reading words that inspire. Maybe it’s listening to music, or laughing with a friend, or sex with your partner. It could be a long bubble bath, a good night’s rest or simply allowing yourself a few quiet minutes to breathe deeply. Give yourself what you need.

Over to you.

How have you built your resilience? 

Jodi McMurray is a development professional, expert strategist, analyst, planner, team leader and negotiator. Jodi’s career as a development worker and civil servant took her on a very personal journey and to many places including China, Afghanistan, Montenegro, South Africa, and Palestine. Today, Jodi is a coach, mentor and strategist at The Humanity Collective, supporting seasoned, as well as the next generation, of development and humanitarian workers.  

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/indiaatlse/2012/12/05/cutting-carbon-emissions-developing-countries-like-india-are-central-to-action/

Climate change is the biggest risk to progress in global development. Here’s what you need to know

The most comprehensive assessment to date of the social, economic and ecological consequences of human-induced climate change was released by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Japan today.

The IPCC, a collective of hundreds of scientists and other experts from around the world, provides a stark illustration of the likely consequences of climate change if we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions and destroy forests and other carbon sinks at current rates.

The report warns that without the adequate mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and the implementation of suitable adaptation strategies, the changes to Earth’s climate system under ‘business as usual’ scenarios pose very real risks to undermining growth, progress and human welfare. In short, undoing decades of progress made in international development.

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/indiaatlse/2012/12/05/cutting-carbon-emissions-developing-countries-like-india-are-central-to-action/
Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/indiaatlse/2012/12/05/cutting-carbon-emissions-developing-countries-like-india-are-central-to-action/

This is turn, the report cautions, presents a greater risk of violent conflicts, such as civil wars, by augmenting evidenced ‘drivers’ such as poverty, natural resource scarcity, and economic instability. The report also states that climate change will increase the risk of the unplanned displacement of people and lead to changes in migration patterns.

It may be some decades until we start seeing the worst impacts of climate change manifest. And, whilst there is definitely still time to curb our emissions and reduce the intensity and frequency of the impacts we will see, the negative effects of climate change are already being felt across the world.

The Government of Kirabati, for example, claims that its freshwater supplies have already been affected by the intrusion of salt water due to sea level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change. Indigenous Alaskans know they must relocate due to erosion of their village by rising sea levels, but they do not have the $130 million required to migrate. It’s not clear who exactly is responsible for financing such adaptation solutions.

Over in Panama, scientists from the Smithsonian Research Institute estimate that the indigenous Kuna people, who have been living on the islands of the San Blas archipelago for thousands of years, will be inevitably displaced within the next 20-30 years. Even in the United Kingdom and Australia, aspects of recent flooding and bushfire events can be attributed to climate change.

Importantly, the groups and populations likely to be most harmed by climate change are developing countries and the poorer citizens of nations that are the least responsible for emissions, and who have the least resources to cope with its consequences. Climate change, therefore, represents a “double injustice”, making it one of the most pressing concerns for global development.

Required reading

Read the IPCC’s ‘Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policy-Makers’ and the full report, including chapters on the implications of climate change for ‘Livelihoods and Poverty’, ‘Human Health’ and ‘Human Security’.

To get up to speed with climate science, climate change and its impacts, and to help you to understand how it might affect your sector and assist you in considering  how you might mainstream adaptation and mitigation activities through your own work program, you might want to try one of the following  *free* e-learning courses:


The Development Olympics

by Anna Vogt

Not for the faint of heart, the Development Olympics are a challenging competition that draws on only the best development practitioners and their body of knowledge to compete for global change, social justice and sustainable development, both as a team and individually, one community or region at a time.

Judges follow the Program, Management and Evaluation (PME) system, comparing results to the objectives and indicators established in each workplan, or the “semi-defined-soon-to-be-obsolete-due-to-community changes” list of activities in the following events:

The Visionary Leadership event is a high-profile competition involving the highest thinkers and academics in the development world, such as John Paul Lederach or Ghandi. Although the event seems calm, the seated participants are busy pondering the greatest questions of life, community development and theory. The most metaphors scribbled on notebooks and napkins in the determined amount of time wins. A book deal often follows these events.

Grant Writing is an individual event that calls on all of the athlete’s abilities to juggle words, objectives, vision, mission and numbers. Careful coaching is required beforehand and often a support team is alongside to brew coffee, sharpen pencils and provide Excel technical support.

Team Meeting is a team event, because no one can win this one alone. The objective: a clear focussed agenda, team harmony and the consumption of a really good snack, all well before noon. Other elements include learning about local context, hearing from everyone in the room and subverting any possible reading of large documents using the video projector. While a guitar circle or opening songs may seem like a good idea at the time, they do not generally add to the efficiency of the play and instead serve to distract or infuriate other team members.

Participants lose points for starting meetings half an hour late.

Just like hockey, Community Empowerment is the heavy weight championship of the Development Olympics. Here, opposing teams try to accompany different communities as they develop and grow. A significant amount of brain power is spent at the very beginning of this challenge working with and building trust with community leaders while trying to establish what development even means. Medal winners demonstrate a focus on sustainability and cultural empowerment, with a special emphasis on women and children and the creation of a communications piece highlighting their achievements.

Workshop Leading is a complex interplay of academic ability and on the ground technique. Talented competitors are able to get the attendance sheet signed, a group photo taken and some icebreaker games played in the first round. The second round is much more sweat-inducing as some sort of knowledge must be transferred to the participants in a limited amount of time, using only a whiteboard and some photocopies. More points are, of course, awarded to those who use a Freiren approach and convince the attendees that they are already experts on the topic.

The Field Worker Story challenge is known for its tight competition, especially among those who have spent significant time training in rural areas. Competitors are timed against each other to tell their best story. Technical elements include: an experience with different food, a humorous cross-cultural misunderstanding, an accident or harrowing health incident and/or a travel-gone-horribly-wrong narrative. Artistic elements include overall delivery, narrative development and an avoidance of repetition. It is arguably the most difficult challenge of the event.

Each country’s workers bring their own unique strengths and cultural capacities to the Games. As a Canadian athlete, I am well-practiced in the art of apologizing, using my talent of politeness to draw people in to my way of thinking. Passive aggressiveness is a training strategy that is highly used for its effectiveness, as was international diplomacy in the past. Handicaps do include an intensive fervour to be better than Team USA, leading to a failure to recognise internal fissures and other competitors.

While often controversial, sponsors include large international government bodies, corporations and non-government organizations, each with their own message and special interest in participating. Uniforms vary region to region but a standard outfit includes Chaco Sandals, a vest or t-shirt with the organizational logo, a clipboard, and pants with enough pocket space to hold the requisite hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Let the Games begin!

Anna Vogt is from the Yukon, Canada and has a degree in International Politics and Gender.  She currently works with Mennonite Central Committee in Bogota, Colombia with a local partner, Justapaz, in development and peacebuilding where she spends most of her time drinking Colombian coffee. You can follow her personal blog, where she discusses work, life in Colombia, and llamas at www.thellamadiaries.wordpress.com.


Acting locally, thinking globally

By Ondrej Suchanek

Discussion around global development cooperation will reach an important milestone in 2015, when the new United Nations development framework, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will be shaped. With so much work still to do and many more challenges (how we renamed “troubles”) ahead of us, the overall concept of assisting developing countries is somehow losing its purpose and the ability to satisfactorily answer painful questions of our age.

On the peak of information revolution, where the capacity and speed of the best laptop has doubled in three years, where we treat global connectivity as matter of fact, unbelievable three decades ago, we are at the same time finding it more and more difficult to tackle common and widespread issues as poverty, deadly diseases, systematic violations of basic rights, and corruption.

We join online communities around the world to spread the word about poor children in Africa, but we hardly notice beggars on the street. On Facebook, we share and like the pictures of victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, but we pass by the sad faces in our neighborhood.

Exponential technological progress gave us unimaginable possibilities, but it has its costs, such as depersonalization and loudly chanted specialization creating a society unable to speak together.

This has its influence on development discourse as well. Development, as a science, has its origins in the post-World War II environment, with the establishment of the United Nations and the ambitious Marshall Plan for the recovery of war-afflicted Europe.

The war suffering beyond imagination in Europe, Africa and Asia led to the term “never again.” Never again can we allow such horrifying terror. It is a strong and heroic declaration with a rational justification which (un)fortunately leaked into the language of development.

Something that should be defined and stayed as a moral value with its highly intimate personal implications was hijacked by policymakers and transformed into real hard development politics. Thus, the new vocabulary of development clichés evolved in time giving us little to understand in depth and somehow forcing us to choose between playing on the same terms or remaining stationary on the verge of the mainstream.

With the technological boom we are seeing increasingly popular worldwide campaigns in the show style as Make Poverty History or Kony 2012. There is always the same pattern: oversimplification and strong emphasis on the Western concept of development based on economic growth, creating the illusion that we can really half poverty or even make it history, simply because we conquered the land, oceans, air and outer space.

Such ambitions began at the turn of 18th and 19th centuries with the beginning of industrial revolution and enlightenment philosophy. After more than two centuries of rapid evolution in almost every sector of human life, it made us think there is nothing we can’t solve or categorize into logical boxes with clear and SMART solutions.

In the rush for the results, we forgot past experience, burning the bridges which were too outdated, and replacing them with better shiny ones. It leads us now into crucial temptation to leave all the still surviving values, or some would say taboos.

Thus we are fighting widespread child prostitution in many poverty-stricken countries, rightfully calling on governments to address it, and on the other side legalizing sex work in some countries, as a way of improving the conditions for sex workers. We support the rights of women and children against domestic violence and on the other side break the traditional family settings in developed societies with hopes of getting even more individual freedoms, but only when our comfort zone is assured. As the last step of this thinking, we are trying to supplement and replace the most intimate and inner values, which are deeply rooted and evolving since the beginning of human history, that is spiritual values (frequently misunderstood as religious).

The tragedy of current development effort is based on the presumption that we can eliminate the bad side of ourselves  simply by following guidelines and strategies. The deadlock of development discussion and ultimately its real effort on the ground is thus trying again and again to deal with  highly philosophical topics, which we left behind as anachronisms of the old world for instant solutions.

Thinking globally and acting locally, as the title of the article says, might be one of the way from the deadlock. Even though ideas and news are shared around the globe in incredible quick speed, they don’t necessarily reflect the global, or holistic, point of view. Huge amounts of information reach us every day, but we are hardly capable of choosing the right information without knowing the context and complexity of the issue.

Nowadays, there are millions of quick experts in various fields; development is not an exception. If we want to handle it seriously, we have to reopen to our past experience and go back to the philosophical and spiritual values of our societies.

Acting locally requires our full engagement in everyday life and not heroic acts. It might start with just a simple act of humanity, recovering the old meaning of the service to the others around us and still so rare in these days world. If we will be able to connect these two dimensions, we are truly on the right track out of the crisis. Otherwise, it will become more and more like what Neil Postman mentioned in the introduction of his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, by comparing the old dictatorship with the new information tyranny:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy. In Orwell’s 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Huxley’s Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

Huxley’s vision of development could be perfectly defined problems, solutions and technologies or approaches of dealing with all the pains of the world but actually miss real relationships among people.

Wee need to break our conventional understanding of development with its specializations where we get easily lost, and we have to move aside smart definitions, tables, charts and pictures trying to capture the tragedy of human history in fancy fashion. We need to rediscover true meaning of humanity by simply practicing it outside office space, on the streets and among people who would be otherwise completely strangers to us.

Ondrej Sudanek works in Cambodia for Caritas Czech Republic on an inclusive education program. He has previously worked for as UNV for UNDP as a Governance Officer in Cambodia, and has experience in the NGO sector in Uganda as well. 


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..



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.