Standing Up For What You Believe in: A True Story

For today’s article we have recent MIDPA alumni Javier discussing the process of finding one’s place upon graduating from university. Tossing up between staying in Australia and returning home, as well as being faced with an enormously difficult ethical dilemma, this is an enormously engrossing piece to read. We hope you enjoy it.

As I promised to former MIDPA president Clemency Sherwood-Roberts and current president Aakansha Kedia, I am going to write about ethics and staying true to yourself.

To me, the number one factor in this regard is bravery. This buzz-word is what is required to keep your ethics intact, not just for the sake of avoiding punishment, but for the sake of not doing what is wrong. I read somewhere that we are not who we are for what we do, but for what we resist doing. Working in development is not easy, the way of the world today is so complex that it is hard to know what direction to take. I finished my Master’s degree in International Development Practice at Monash University in November 2017 (Yay! Go me!) and when I finished I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. I had to choose between staying in Australia and going back to Mexico. I had two perspectives, in Australia I was going to be able to earn a good income at a low effort, and the impact in the community that I could provide was going to be faster but less significant. If I went back to my home country, the impact of my studies would be enough to benefit a wider population, but also in the longer-term, I think I am needed more in Mexico. Unfortunately, the structure for social development is lacking.

With my Bachelor’s degree I am recognised by the community in my country as a Marketing guy. Often, even after I inform someone of what I just studied, their first question for me is about my specialization in marketing. It drives me nuts! Anyhow, I come back home to Mexico, and soon after receive a job offer as Marketing Chief in a world-famous motorcycle brand. The moment the offer came to me I was so happy and excited at beginning at a new company (even if my life-long dream of being a hippie sociologist who assists communities was temporarily on hold, the income was going to be good enough to buy my dreams back). But something inside me told me be careful, but that voice was silenced once I saw the3-digit salary (something really hard to get here). However, here begins the real adventure. I was brought in by the marketing team to review the successful campaigns and generate strategies on how to replicate these promotions. When I was reviewing the promotions, I came across this image:

A woman dressed in a very small bikini, handwashing the motorcycle with a lot of foam and soap. I remember my internal voice saying what irony! From Gender and Development to this. I leapt to the front of the room and explained to the whole team about why this image was objectifying the female body,and how I was not able to work in an environment with values like that. I said I was sorry, but nothing could change my mind, it was the kind of rant that you end with a mic drop. Obama out!

I didn’t say we have to be professional in every area of our lives, however, I did lecture on how this kind of promotion was against my principles. I asked my boss to speak with me in private so we could discuss how I could terminate my contract as quickly as possible without affecting the company. I finished my contract with the motorcycle company and immediately jumped back into the company that I had. Four years ago I created a tea distribution company and I am now using its structure to increase female empowerment in my area.

The lesson that I want you to take with you from this piece, that took me up to two weeks to write, and that I am still struggling with is: keep tight to your virtues and morals, they are who you are and what defines you. Don’t choose a job that pays well just because it pays well, do what makes you happy. Find a way to do it. Use your past to your own benefit. Right now, I am seen as the Marketing guy in my community. I cannot change this, what I now understand is that I can change the way we do business in my community, applying concepts that I learned in the Gender and Development unit and throughout MIDP. Finally, decide what is most important to you. For me it was my family and having a positive impact in the community. What are your priorities? What can you do and what do you want to have an impact on? By following these simple rules, you can always follow your morals!

Javier
Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

I Came, I Saw, I Learned: My Journey into the South Pacific


For this article we are privileged to hear from MIDP’s Rowena (Weng) Veloso, who provides a wonderfully informative and reflective piece about the experience of her recent Monash internship in Fiji.

‘Bula, na yacaqu o Weng’ (Hello, my name is Weng). This was my usual introduction in the communities I visited during my month-long internship in Fiji. Perhaps it was my funny accent in the Fijian tongue, but I found it amusing that most of the women in the different villages called me ‘Wendy’.
Before ending up at Monash to study a Master in International Development Practice by some twist of faith, I was an accountant and a Master of Business Administration graduate in the Philippines. I also worked at a multinational company for 7 years doing finance and sales. I suppose due to my background, I have always found the subject of financial education interesting and how the knowledge, or the lack thereof, could spell boon or bane for people.

I was one of the 5 students who volunteered for this year’s Fiji Impact Trip. The program is a collaboration between the Monash SEED, a student-run organisation, and the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the largest microfinance institution in Fiji, with branches spread throughout the country. Centre Managers, who are part of SPBD’s staff, are the institution’s front liners and managed the accounts of the members who organised themselves into groups and centres. One of my main tasks was to work with these different managers to visit four to five villages a day, where women held Centre Meetings to make weekly loan repayments and savings. During these gatherings, where the women also socialise and discuss any issues, I conducted member satisfaction surveys using a semi open-ended interview format aimed at gathering data and feedback on the participants’ experiences with SPBD.

My short stint in Fiji provided me with a greater insight into microfinance and financial literacy. Microfinance has become a bridge to financial inclusion for these women, most of whom are housewives, and some of whom are illiterate. It has enabled them to become financially included despite their lack of formal documents, collateral, and their villages’ lack of proximity to traditional financial institutions. I heard multitudes of amazing stories on how these women were able to start their own businesses, turn their skills into income-generating endeavours, improve their household, contribute to their children’s education, and build up their savings. Sadly, these narratives are not reflective of everyone as there were those who have not been able to pay their obligations, leading to a worse financial standing. Some of the women have been alienated from their communities as other members had to shoulder the debts because of the group and centre guarantee clause. Even though microfinance is often hailed as the panacea for poverty alleviation, it can also be a double-edged sword. Does it truly empower women or does it make others more vulnerable? There are no easy answers. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to understand more of how microfinance plays out in gender and development.

Conducting the field work helped me gain a much greater appreciation for the theories I learned at university since I have no prior background in development, notwithstanding the fact that I am from a developing country myself. The field work reinforced the importance of cultural sensitivity, which was not only limited to the physical observance of wearing the sulu (traditional Fijian skirt), leaving my footwear at the door, or sitting on the mats with the women in the villages. Being culturally sensitive is essentially about respect. In this context it was also a celebration of the uniqueness of the Fijians I engaged with and of my own multicultural team. The acknowledgment of differences is also fundamental in practicing reflexivity, which is the awareness of how my own background could inform my biases. I also discovered that in dealing with people, no theory can ever substitute sincerity, empathy, and deep listening. It was indeed humbling to recognise that I came to Fiji not because I could teach something to the women, but because I needed to learn from them. Being open-minded enabled me to immerse myself in the stories of resilience from the ladies who warmly welcomed me into their homes and into their lives, even if it was for just a brief period.

This same kind of openness was what perhaps drove me to feel at home. Midway through the field work, in the villages and in the SPBD branches, I decided to embrace my Pacific Islander name ‘Wendy’, which I could never help telling people without a chuckle. Maybe this sense of having a newfound identity is quite telling of what’s in store for me in the future. A shift in career may not be far behind, who knows. For now, vinaka vakalevu (thank you) Fiji!

Rowena Veloso

Why MIDP? – The Journey

Joining us on the blog today is the newest member of the MIDPA committee, Presley Kajirwa. Presley shares with us the fascinating story of why he decided to study MIDP at Monash, and what he has gained from the experience so far.

Introduction:

Habari nyote! (Greetings to all!)
I am Presley Kajirwa, a young soul embracing his 20-something years miles away from my home country. I was born in Western Kenya. To reach my home you would have to embark on a nine-hour drive from the capital Nairobi.

When it comes to Africa, many people are only familiar with South Africa, but there are fifty-three other beautiful countries on the continent. I hate to be biased, but when it comes to my country, I cannot help but be overly patriotic and proud of the home that I did not choose. I come from a resource-rich country governed by ‘poor’ leaders (at least that Is what they pretend to be). My home is Kenya, aka Kenia, and we are the power house of East Africa, although of late we have been struggling to maintain that reputation.

Background:

It was mid-2015 when I graduated from Daystar University, located in Athi River, Kenya. Through my undergraduate course I learned about numerous topics, such as conflict resolution and transformation, peace studies, international relations, & security and refugee studies (just to name a few). I figured therefore that my future would lie in the military or development worlds. After two or three unsuccessful attempts at joining the men in uniform, I decided to focus more on my passion for development. This is how I ended up seeking more knowledge and skills at Monash. Prior to this period, I had temporary employment with international rescue committees, as well as an NGO tasked with protecting refugees and providing essential services once they were safe and settled.

What did I do there?

Apart from receiving and loading trucks with aid materials, we had chats with truck drivers who shared their fascinating stories. The most common narrative concerned how insecurity and poor infrastructure was a constant challenge to their ability to carry out their job of aid delivery.

Why Monash? Why MIDP?

While pondering the next move in my life, my family members recommended that I look into furthering my studies. Following my online research, I decided to settle for an Australian university. Monash University (and I am not saying this just because I am a student here), really stood out for me. I was intrigued by the fact that, from the campus website, I was able to visualise my life as a student both inside and outside of the lecture halls. The clarity, openness, and detailed information made me extremely eager to experience learning the Monash way.

Armed with my passion and experience, I enrolled in the Master of International Development Practice. To be honest, this course is so interesting that if I had the power to wind back time, I would study International Development Practice for my Bachelor’s degree. Aside from how fascinating and enlightening it is, I find this development course to be incredibly diversified, integrative, and realistic.

The goal!

Having completed my first semester, I look forward to building on what I have learnt throughout the remainder of the degree. I am also looking forward to the events put on by the MIDPA, particularly the tremendously-informative Brown Bag seminars. I think that every aspect of the experience of undertaking MIDP here in Melbourne is benefiting me and helping me to achieve my goals. I believe that development agents have a key role in social justice, streamlining public governance, and promoting progressive development. I cannot wait to contribute to these fields. After several windy winters and hot summers full of new experiences and memorable times, I know that the time will come that I will pack my bags for the trip back home. While I will certainly miss a lot, like the many insightful debates with interesting friends, at the same time I am eager for this period, for I know that I will return to my home as a wiser, more knowledgeable individual than the one that left. One that is far better-equipped to meaningfully contribute to making my country, and my planet, a better place to live for all.

Presley Kajirwa

Sustainable Development: An Extension of my Values

Joining us on the blog today is Nuvodita Singh, alumni of the Masters of Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University in New Delhi. As a member of the Global Master of Development Practice (MDP) Network, Nuvodita shares with us what drove her to pursue a master degree in Development and how it led her to work as a Research Officer at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal.

As a kid who grew up surrounded by mountains and hills, I have always harboured a deep seated love and reverence for the natural environment. My love for animals meant that I dreamt of becoming a vet, or a wildlife photographer, or running a shelter for abandoned animals. I liked arts and crafts, so I would often reuse (or up-cycle as it is now known) many things lying around my house.

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However, when the time came to choose a subject for my undergraduate studies, I got coaxed into picking Economics. Fresh out of high school, I barely had a clue of what to expect after graduation. Unsurprisingly, I followed the conventional route and joined a financial services firm. One year into the job and I knew that where I really wanted to be was somewhere else; somewhere that allowed me to follow my values and passions.

I must mention that Economics was not a complete waste. It enabled me to understand the functioning of the current development model, how it has evolved, and how valuable statistics can be calculated to analyze its trajectory and potential future. Most importantly, it enabled me to question. My choice of projects and assignment topics through the course focused on why the environmental impact of ‘development’ needed to be regarded as more than just collateral damage. I wondered why the modern world could not be more cognizant of the very resources on which it depended, and why it could not be more ‘grateful’. I did realize, however, that merely advocating for such values and virtues was not going to change anything. Without actively realizing that they have a stake in the health of the environment, people can easily overlook the damage they may be causing.

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The reason I decided to study Sustainable Development as a full-fledged postgraduate course was, precisely, to understand what those values and virtues meant for mainstream development, how the two could be integrated, and, more importantly, to build a case for why such integration should happen in the first place.

I appreciate the way the Sustainable Development Practice program unraveled the different pathways of sustainable development. The interdisciplinary nature of the program ensured that students approached the topic from different perspectives. Before the course, my understanding of the concept merely scratched the surface. But in its pursuit, I came to understand just how intrinsically our built environment and lifestyles are dependent on the natural environment across geographies, societies, culture, and political economies.

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I have experienced many different emotions in the journey through the course, and after. At times, the field can be extremely depressing, with no solutions or end in sight. It is easy to feel demotivated and question why you are doing what you are doing. If you are an academic, or a researcher, or perhaps a consultant, it’s also easy to dissociate yourself from the real world, treat it like an assignment, and forget that issues around sustainability and development are very personal to many impoverished people. In addition, not everyone in the ‘environment and development’ sector will share your passion in equivalent terms.

Nevertheless, it is at these low points that I also find inspiration by turning to my younger self; when my passion and ideals were still unalloyed, when my hope for the world was uninfluenced by the innumerous challenges that stood in the way. Therefore, my decision to study Sustainable Development is one amongst many I take to contribute to a better future: one that does not compromise future generation’s ability to meet their needs.

 

Nuvodita Singh
M.A. Sustainable Development Practice, TERI University

Doing the right thing before doing things right: a guide for aspiring PhD students

What is a PhD? Is it the right thing for me? What can I do with a PhD? How can I get into a PhD training?

If at some point you have thought about these questions, then this is the article for you. Through the reflection and first-hand experience of a former MIDP student, the article will prompt you to think whether your interest and reasons for taking a PhD are feasible and well-informed. The first part of our guide for aspiring PhD students will hopefully engage you to think critically about your interest before giving valuable advice to consider in order to submit a successful application.

From MIDP to PhD

I graduated from Monash University’s MIDP in December 2015. Soon after I left Australia, I joined the PhD training in human geography at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Reflecting on my MIDP experience after more than a year, I very much value what I have gained during the program. MIDP has prepared me very well for my PhD  by allowing me to think more broadly about  participatory methods, research uptake, and policy implications in my current research. The highlight of MIDP for me is that it equips students with vigorous research skill sets and experiences through minor thesis and project options.

Picture 1. My thesis fieldwork in the upland Vietnam during MIDP was an eye opener, where I investigated how local ethnic minority people reconfigured their agency in responding to the state development policies. My PhD research proposal was very much influenced by findings of this research. Source: author.

However, pursuing a PhD is no easy task. As a result, I have designed a couple of guides for you to consider before entering the world of academic research. To start us off, here is a concise list of things you should be aware of before applying for a PhD

PhD 101: The Basics

Very briefly, a PhD is a big research that earns you a doctorate title at the end of the journey. It is when you can do something you are always passionate about, or you will be as the research progresses. A PhD degree will open new doors for you to do exciting new things: become an academic, conduct research, write papers and books, work with policy makers, nurture and inspire students among others.

Picture 2. A few months into my PhD training, I decided to co-organise a community talk with some people from the field site where I did my MIDP thesis. We co-presented the research findings to the public and answered questions from the audience. The PhD training prompted me to think more critically about how academics can engage with larger social changes and more diverse audiences beyond academic settings. Source: author’s friend.

Of course, having a PhD is not a compulsory pre-requirement to pursue many of these activities, or to learn and further expand your career. However, having gone through a PhD will familiarise you to solve complex tasks using very specific skills, and you can use it as a solid stepping stone to venture into new avenues.

The struggle is real

Taking a PhD also involves opportunity costs, requires a high level of self-motivation and discipline, and changes your life at a personal level. While you immerse in your 3-4 year research, life goes on. You may gain tremendously at the end of your journey, but you may lose some personal and career opportunities along the way too. There are moments of crisis – things can go wrong with your research, your supervisors, your participants, or your personal life – and you have to balance everything and motivate yourself to carry on. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you have learned, and how your life perspective has changed so profoundly.

Picture 3. Apart from the joy of realising we are progressing, PhD students can intermittently face periods when they feel unmotivated, doubtful, frustrated or lost. This does not necessarily mean that PhD training is always stressful, but rather suggests that we need to strike for balance and self-motivate ourselves during the PhD course. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/550354016942036603/
Picture 3. Apart from the joy of realising we are progressing, PhD students can intermittently face periods when they feel unmotivated, doubtful, frustrated or lost. This does not necessarily mean that PhD training is always stressful, but rather suggests that we need to strike for balance and self-motivate ourselves during the PhD course. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/550354016942036603/

However, it is important to highlight that pushing your boundaries can also be a very frustrating exercise. Unfortunately, there are limits as to what we can do, and being constantly critical of yourself and others can challenge you in more ways than one.  

Plan, Do, Review

If you are certain you would like to pursue a PhD, then plan for it as early as you can. Firstly, think about what topics intrigue you, or what questions puzzle you. Secondly, find where you can apply for your PhD topic, and which supervisors you would like to be on your team. Thirdly, find out what entry requirements you must meet to be eligible; some programs place more emphasis on having a good GPA, some will stress on the importance of having a proven publication record, while others will want a good research proposal.

Last but not least, find out how you can secure funding for the PhD if you are not able to self-finance it. It is becoming extremely competitive to get a place in PhD training programs in the context of budget cut in many parts of the word. Therefore, cast the net a little bit wider by choosing a few options and trying it out. Check all possible websites and social media of your interested supervisors, universities, funding agencies and/or PhD groups. Talk to your current MIDP lecturers and get their advice. Attend different conferences and meetings to network and get more information. The options are endless.

Look at your life, look at your choices

Make sure you take the right discipline that fits with your strengths and values. It is quite normal in my current program that PhD students take their PhDs across different disciplines. However, I wrongly assumed that all sub-disciplines had similar academic traditions and approaches to solving problems, which has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Even within the same discipline, I am often surprised to see how different our epistemological stances are. For instance, in geography we are well aware that a human geographer may share more similarities in their theoretical frameworks and research methods with a sociologist or anthropologist rather than an economic or physical geographer.

Picture 4: Working with other research fellows from different disciplines and backgrounds can be a joyful and enriching experience as we learn to solve problems from a multidisciplinary perspective. However knowing your discipline’s traditions and where your strengths lie in are ultimately crucial to the success of your research project. Source: author’s friend.
Picture 4: Working with other research fellows from different disciplines and backgrounds can be a joyful and enriching experience as we learn to solve problems from a multidisciplinary perspective. However knowing your discipline’s traditions and where your strengths lie in are ultimately crucial to the success of your research project. Source: author’s friend.

Hence, you need to be aware and informed of these differences while making your decision. Read extensively on how research in each field is conducted and presented, and talk to people from different disciplines to have a more realistic and holistic understanding of all disciplines.

Your choice of location matters

Different countries and institutions have different PhD models. At least from what I know, in Australia and the UK, PhD students will embark on their research proposal and research project immediately after they join the program, and therefore can complete it in 3-4 years. However, in the US PhD students will have to complete a number of required modules before they defend their proposal and proceed to the real research, which eventually can take more than 4 years in total.

In Singapore (where I am studying now) they use a hybrid model that combines compulsory coursework modules (US model) and shorter PhD research (UK model). All funded PhD students in my institutions also have to fulfil research assistance and teaching tasks, which essentially prepares us for our future in academia.

Duong
MIDP Alumni

Get inspired… World Wildlife Day

 

wwd_logo_englishOur global environment and wildlife are highly impacted by human consumption. A clear example is how plastic in the ocean has severely affected aquatic wildlife. In order to pay tribute to World Wildlife day, the MIDPA has chosen to focus on this current global issue.

More than 250 million tons of plastic products are manufactured each year. While this number might initially seem outrageous or unrealistic, when we think about it, most of our daily routines involve use of products that either contain plastic or are wrapped in plastic. Food, cosmetics, soap, kitchen equipment, computers, and toys are just some examples. The use of plastic is so widespread that even washing our clothes made of polyester means that microplastics are being washed out into the oceans!

We can no longer ignore the impact that plastic and microplastic has had on wildlife- not just aquatic but also birds and even humans that might ingest these microplastics through seafood. If you find the previous statement quite hard to digest (pun intended) then the following video by National Geographic might give you a better understanding of this particular issue:

If you are still not convinced or would like to know a little bit more on this topic, the MIDPA has selected some relevant videos and organisations of interest to further expand your mind.

To give you more context, World Wildlife day is one of United Nations International days. You can read more about the campaign on wildlifeday.org or follow WWD2017 on Twitter.
The United Nations also lists ‘Life Below Water’ as Sustainable Development Goals number 14 which is why they are currently championing a campaign to beat the microbeads in our products.

World Wildlife Foundation is probably one of the best known organisations working to save endangered species. 

However, this issue is not reserved for the third sector alone. As a matter of fact, corporations have also seen business opportunities and a potential market in putting value on discarded plastic products. Saltwater Brewery is an example of how innovation and rethinking can address sustainability problems while still being profitable and business oriented.

The Ocean Cleanup is another project that tries to address the problem.

Last but not least, ABC’s documentary Oceans of Plastic is a fantastic and thought-provoking way to ponder and debate on what we should all be doing on World Wildlife Day: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2017/02/27/4624878.htm

We certainly hope this will inspire you to #DoOneThingToday to save and improve our wildlife!

#DoOneThingToday, #youth4wildlife, #YoungVoices,  #WorldWildlifeDay, #EndWildlifeTrafficking #BeatTheMicrobeats #TheOceanCleanup #WWF #WorldWildlifeFoundation #SDG14

Get Inspired by Amnesty International

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Amnesty International Monash – Caulfield

In lieu of the United Nations International Day for Zero Discrimination, our editorial team attended a talk about Marriage Equality arranged by Amnesty International Monash Caulfield (AIMC).

For all those of you who might have missed it, Amnesty International is currently campaigning for equal rights to marriage in Australia. As stated on their website “All of us have a right to be free from discrimination. That includes discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation”. This is a fundamental part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is important to highlight that, on a global scale, 23 countries have already made same-sex marriage possible. [Fun fact: The Netherlands were the first country to introduce the necessary legislative measures in 2001 with Finland being the latest nation to join the ranks.]

It is curious to note that according to Amnesty International’s report, two-thirds of Australians think that everyone should have equal access to marriage. However, this is still a contentious issue wich continues to be pushed back by Australian politicians. With this campaign Amnesty International is trying to reform the Marriage Act, so it allows everyone to get married and have the same rights.As part of the campaign Amnesty International have created this video:

By the end of the talk we had the opportunity to interview the president of AIMC, Marco La Rocca, about the campaign:

“Marriage equality is a campaign conducted by Amnesty international Victoria that tries to pressure Parliament to push for the right for everyone to get married. Act Now with us, Amnesty International Monash Caulfield, by signing the petition at our stall, or directly trough Amnesty International’s website. Marriage is about love and commitment and, in a country based on equal citizenship, it should be possible for everyone to marry the person they love.

If this sounds like something you could get on board with, do not hesitate to visit Amnesty International’s website to learn more about how you can make Marriage Equality in Australia a reality.

 

#loveislove