One Step at a Time

fresh on the int'l dev scene, traversing the developmental landscape in search of a place to lay my head, find my feet and sink my teeth

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Behind the Brands

Behind-the-Brands-company-scorecardThe latest campaign from Oxfam ( view the full infographic here, and the extended version of the report  here)

As many have pointed out, this is a measure of company policy, rather than behaviour.  The difficulty in assessing actual conditions on the ground (especially due to amount of indirect sourcing) highlights the challenge of making companies truly transparent and accountable- policies are all very well and good, but we all know the difference between theory and practice. Behind the Brand is an excellent initiative to encourage companies to develop and monitor policies, but the next stage will be ensuring that information relating to the adherence to these policies is made publicly available.


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Reading List 28/02/2013


The Public Shaming of Voluntourism

The debate around ‘voluntourism’ has been inescapable these past few weeks, with many fierce discussions arising as a result of the recent articles from the Condé Naste TravellerGuardian and The Independent (the latter being a particularly vitriolic account).

I’ve greeted most of the subsequent commentary on the subject with a sense of unease. Whilst all the points raised in the debate are no doubt valid, and I agree that having this discussion is entirely necessary, there seems to be a certain tone of superiority underlying much of what is being said. Despite it being a problem that persists in much of the voluntary/NGO sector, there are some who appear to place the blame solely on the volunteers. In several of the comments there is a strong air of ‘one-upmanship’- of who can seem the most reflexive and self-aware in their experience- which all seems rather pointless when you realise you are an experienced development worker choosing to belittle an idealistic, perhaps overly naïve teen.

I won’t pretend to know a great deal about the regulation of the industry as a whole, or what the best solution might be, but it seems clear that while educating and informing young people on the issue is vital, belittling and publicly shaming those who have been on such a trip serves no purpose whatsoever.

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The ‘Middle’ of the Water-Food-Energy Nexus

Today, the Guardian teamed up with SAB Miller to host an afternoon of live online debates on how to achieve ‘interconnected action on water food and energy’. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to tune in to any of the live streams, but I have tried my best to catch up on all the online discussions following.

Being part of the wider ‘Guardian Sustainable Business’ professional network, the debates largely focused on corporate responsibility and technological innovation, and it was great to see a wide range of speakers from both public and private sectors . However, I still felt like there was a lot that went unsaid. There was much talk of  ‘valuing our natural capital’,  whilst cleverly avoiding controversial topics such as food speculation and land/water grabbing. And, despite many mentions of ‘international collaborations’, there still appeared to be a firm distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’; both in terms of the  ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world, and the ‘corporate’ and ‘public’ responsibility.

I would have liked to have seen a greater discussion on the role of the ‘rising middle’ in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and by that I mean the growing number of middle-income countries, and the rising trend of the middle class in the developing world. The Middle is becoming increasingly important in the development agenda, because this is a cohort that has rapidly moved from the ‘extreme poor’ to the ’emerging middle class’, yet remains particularly vulnerable to external stresses in the environmental and socio-economic climate. Considering that this expanding middle is also coupled with a trend of rapid (sub)urbanisation in developing countries,  it is clear that we need to move beyond the ‘urban=mitigation’ and ‘rural=adaptation’ generalisations in climate change research and policy.

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Reading List 31/01/2013

  • 3 challenges for science and democracy after Rio +20  Melissa Leach outlines the argument for a science-led agenda in development. (I particularly like the idea of ‘expert citizens’)
  • #devcliches Proof, if anyone needed it, that the development community are the most self-deprecating of all
  • Enough food for everyone, IF…  Following the launch of the IF campaign last week, Make Wealth History outlines some of the most glaring omissions
  • Is Green Growth Good for the Poor?  World Bank report discussing the trade-offs within the rising trend for ‘green growth’ strategies
  • Arguing about a Revolution  Rosalind Eyben describes the bumpy road to social change in Bolivia, and what happens when the middle-man is no longer needed
  • Voluntourism & Children  Hanna Voelkl provides an interesting summary of her dissertation, which looks at the effects of voluntourism on local children, using the case study of an orphanage in Ghana.


I participate. You participate. They decide.

Mike Keller over at How Matters has gathered some interesting highlights of a new report from CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (a bit of a mouthful) entitled ‘Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid’. The report brings together findings from discussions with over 6000 aid beneficiaries and local aid workers as to their perceptions of the aid industry. Out of all the excerpts, it was this quote that particularly stood out for me: 

“This is how the verb ‘to participate’ is conjugated: I participate. You participate. They decide.”  -An indigenous businessman and grassroots development worker, Ecuador

This quote is supported by many similar comments, all from differing locations, and highlights the scale of the misuse of participatory research methods within certain realms of the aid industry.  What should be a closely defined research process is often merely a tokentistic effort to appear inclusive and accountable.

See the rest of the report’s highlights in How Matters’ summary here.

To me, this publication serves as the counter to the more quantitative ‘UK aid attitudes‘ report produced by IPPR and ODI last year. That is not to say that the opinions of the public in the donor country are vastly different from those on the receiving end; in fact, there appear to be some underlying parallels in both reports. Both are unsupportive of increasing, or even maintaining the current levels of spending on aid, citing concerns about the inefficiencies in delivery. You have to wonder who are the true stakeholders in the aid industry, if both the donors and beneficiaries are calling for ‘smart aid’ and yet these calls continue to fall on deaf ears.

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If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough

This is the advice my father gave me as an 8 year old, learning how to ski. For some reason I’m reminded of it now, as I make the difficult first introduction.

I would say I’m trying to ‘make it’ in International Development, but in fact I’m not even aiming that high- I’m still in the stages of working out what ‘it’ is, and which is the correct path to lead me to ‘it’. I finished my masters in September, and have since followed the very predictable route of unpaid internships and graduate schemes loosely related to development. I’m currently back working in the Geography Department in which I undertook both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and I find myself desperately trying to justify to everyone why I’m ‘here’ as opposed to ‘there’, even though I don’t really know where ‘there’ is, and no-one has actually asked me to justify anything.

I suppose I shouldn’t see it as falling as such- more like stalling. Despite being one of the strongest on the course, I feel like I’m being left behind. Partly because of financial reasons, partly because I wasn’t in the right place at the right time…and perhaps just ever so slightly because others had the edge over me (though my pride will not let me consider this as an option). It’s incredibly frustrating knowing my full capabilities, yet not being able to act on them. But I suppose all this dithering about has allowed me to hone in on my career aspirations, even if it’s just a case of finding out what I don’t want to do. And I know that eventually, my journey will get smoother. I’ll stop falling so often, and when I do I’ll find it easier to get back up. Until then, I’m taking it just one step at a time.