Tag Archives: Development


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.

Jennifer Lawrence

Last Week Today: 5 September 2014

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Pregnant women get special treatment, and it turns out some animals are no different. Pregnant pandas evidently have it really good – so good it’s worth pretending? This clever panda thought so.

Ai Hin in her enclosure at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre. Photo from STR/AFP/Getty Images.
Ai Hin in her enclosure at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre in China. Photo from STR/AFP/Getty Images.

For the two months Ai Hin’s caretakers thought she was pregnant, the panda has been living in a special aid-conditioned suite and getting extra bamboo. Seems worth it.

The week in news

Tragically, ISIS followed through with their threat to murder a second American journalist in retaliation for continued U.S. intervention in Iraq. The terrorist group released a video of one of their members beheading Steven Sotloff, who was later found to hold dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. In the video, ISIS issued another threat, to execute a British hostage if U.S. forces don’t pull out of Iraq.

Nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and several other celebrities got leaked from their iPhones. Commentary on the photos quickly turned to outrage about the gender dimension of the scandal and sparked a new hashtag and then critiques of that hashtag, all within a few days. (Bottom line: if you look at the pictures, you’re part of the problem.)

Meanwhile, France’s former First Lady has published a tell-all book about her ex, President Francois Hollande. Her claims that he despises the poor probably won’t do much for his ratings.

And we don’t think there was a coup in Lesotho last week. But it’s not really clear.

The week on the blog

Poverty continues what the Khmer Rouge started

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge ripped Cambodian families apart. Today, Allison Smith says poverty is having similar effects, by forcing families to make difficult choices.

Cognitive dissonance: An unspoken qualification for aid work?

Aid workers know that lots of development projects fail, yet they stay in this line of work. Jonathan Favini asks how aid professionals decide to continue in an industry they doubt, and whether they deserve the inevitable praise that comes from friends, family members and even barbers.

The week in globaldev

What do voluntourism and global development have in common? | Devex

One Mauritanian man is fighting slavery in his country. | New Yorker

Corruption costs developing countries $1 trillion every year. | ONE Campaign

We might need a new term for “development.” | Poverty Matters

Is charity narcissism a good thing? | BBC

A change in global values? Maybe not.  | Monkey Cage

The story of one environmental activist in rural China | Policy Innovations

Why Bill Gates wouldn’t be able to get a job with a British NGO | Guardian

Upcoming events

Complexity? Nah, just a Tuesday. (Session 2): A conversation series for development workers | Melbourne, 9 September

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Haitians wait in line for water and humanitarian rations. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR.

Cognitive dissonance: An unspoken qualification for aid work?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Development Intern.

Wearing the rather unkempt hairdo I’d grown while studying abroad in Senegal, I used a brief stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (I know – not exactly the exotic locale you might be expecting from this blog) to get a dearly overdue haircut.

After a few wisecracks about my receding hairline, the barber and I drifted into the familiar realm of aimless small talk that accompanies a haircut almost anywhere. Before long, I was describing my work as an intern at Roots of Development. Deeply interested, the barber prodded me for more information. As he tamed my wild hair, I gave him what details I could – since I had taken the position only a few weeks prior, it was really not all that much. Seeking to describe the organisation fairly, and hoping to avoid industry jargon, I oversimplified and murmured something along the lines of, “We help poor people in a small town in Haiti escape poverty.”

I cringed as I repeated silently the organisation’s chosen discourse. “We work WITH communities who choose, build, manage and maintain their own projects. We support development without dependency.” Nonetheless, the clumsy summary I had supplied was ample justification for a firm handshake from the barber when I rose from his worn-in leather chair.

As he squeezed my hand, he hardened his gaze and said, “Thank you for the work you are doing. You are making the world a better place.” I smiled, returned his firm grip and walked out.

The next time I peered into the mirror, I found myself admiring the haircut, yet wondering if I’d earned his praise.

Working in development. By Ahmed El-Mezeny.
By Ahmed El-Mezeny

Certainly the intent of development is noble. At face value, the notion of alleviating human suffering, of improving living conditions or elongating lives, is unarguably good. That said, the disturbing truth is that academic and professional evaluations of the development industry have been largely negative.

Pondering these critiques, I stopped short of patting myself on the back.

In that moment of self-reflection (cue dramatic soap opera music and flashback effect), I recalled a particular conversation I’d had the previous spring in Senegal, with a group of five Peace Corps Volunteers serving there. They had diverse areas of work, two focusing on sustainable agriculture in rural areas and the other three partnering with small businesses in some of the country’s cities. A curious undergrad with similar interests, I used the opportunity to inquire about the Peace Corps experience, eyeing it as a potential post-grad plan.

“Do you feel as though you are getting a good cultural experience? Are you learning the language and finding a place in Senegalese society?” I asked.

They replied with a resounding yes. “The most powerful cultural experience of my life,” answered one. “It’s an opportunity like no other to spend some time in a country I might otherwise never visit,” said another.

I coughed awkwardly, knowing my next question was a tad stereotypical and would be less enthusiastically received. “Do you think you are making a difference here?”

A long silence followed, broken at last by a muffled, “Well…” Each articulated to me a well-processed answer, indicating it was a question they had received prior or, even more likely, frequently asked themselves. No answer was absolute. Soft, uneasy yes’s and very tentative no’s. Obviously, like me, they had gazed uneasily into the mirror a few times. Like most development practitioners, the Peace Corps Volunteers had chosen this line of work with a healthy dose of self-doubt and cognitive dissonance, or at least developed it during their time in the field.

A great wealth of criticism has come from professional, academic and institutional circles in the development community, forming a chorus of impassioned, and persuasive, condemnation. The age of unbridled optimism (or perhaps hubris) among development workers concerning our capacity to affect change is long, and rightfully, gone.

Most practitioners know aid can be problematic and that development rhetoric tends to oversimplify the causes of global poverty. They know the minimal funds that emerge from the “developed” world have a tinge of political interest or a bitter ideological after taste. Most are well-versed in development theory and criticism, having read books like The White Man’s Burden, Dead Aid and The Anti-Politics Machine.

Yet, despite their knowledge and concerns, most practitioners will, from time to time, be lauded for their compassion and praised for their generosity. Many – like me, following that overdue haircut, and my Peace Corps buddies in Senegal – will take a hard look in the mirror and wonder if they deserve such accolades.

Though I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, I’ve yet to reach a satisfying conclusion. I’m still not sure how to continue on as a practitioner without a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance. So instead of leaving you with some profound realization, I’ll end with a question to older, wiser (just take the compliment) development practitioners.

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?

I hope dearly it’s more than the dual tides of time and apathy that have allowed the leaders of the field to remain there for a decade, or a few.

[Check back next week for a follow-up post featuring responses to these questions from several experienced development practitioners (and some of your favourite aid bloggers).]


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: