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

From Army Green to Blue Jeans

Joining us on the blog today is the MIDPA’s very own Wonder Woman, Francel Taborlupa. Francel has over twenty years of experience in the Philippines’ Armed Forces and is a passionate advocate of peacebuilding and gender equality. Today she shares her inspiring story and what made her switch from active service to academia.

Back in my training days at the Philippine Military Academy, I used to chant: “Momma, momma can’t you see, what the corps has done to me. I used to wear my blue jeans, now I’m wearing Army green…” 21 years in the service and having reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel later, I would chant those same words, but vice-versa. In my regimented life, where everything is measured (including swinging of arms when you walk), discipline was inculcated through rigid training, fixed schedules, and a hierarchical way of doing things.

My perspective on life has since radically changed in multifarious means. Let me count the ways:

– I used to critically measure my actions, be rigid on schedules and strive to prove myself at par with my male counterparts, being one of the few pioneer females in “the land of kings”. Now, I have embraced the idea of feminism in all contexts.
– I used to actively compete in shooting competitions to better prepare for war. Now, I am a strong advocate for human rights and I am keen on mitigating the long-lasting effects of conflict to those afflicted.
– I used to be a VIP protector to Presidents, Heads of States and other dignitaries having worked in the Presidential Security Group perceiving them to be figureheads of their sovereignty. Now, I see them as “objects of change”.
– I used to be an “ethical hacker” being a signal/communications officer by specialization, which is ironic since there really is nothing “ethical” about hacking. Now, my eyes are open to the daunting concept of ethics in research.

But how did this happen? I had my Eureka moment when I joined my kids in an activity for a cause. We strutted the runway in a fashion show for the benefit of cancer-stricken children. It was then that I realised I had another calling… to be a model! Just kidding! To make a significant difference for the silenced and the forgotten. It was then that I realised that I wished to become a development practitioner.

I tried my luck by applying for the Australian Defence Cooperation Scholarship Program. It was both a shift in perspective and a breath of fresh air from the grief my kids and I are facing: the tragic loss of my husband, a Coastguard Rescue Pilot who recently passed away as a hero in a chopper crash. He saved the lives of his passengers but gave up his own in doing so. Life goes on, and so the saga continues…

Fast Forward to Wominjeka Australia! I was both in shock and awe at Uni life. I have found an awesome squad I belong to and was welcomed to the world of apt Referencing! (don’t even get me started!) I used to believe that “development” is all about good and positive for those seeking to “develop”. Now, I have seen otherwise. That development is not all rainbows and butterflies, so to speak. I used to perform field mission security duties. Now, field missions are done “development practitioner style”. I used to don my Army greens now I’m wearing Uni jeans.

I am about to open doors of wider responsibility and leadership and my Australian education sends me off equipped with newfound knowledge and good rules of thumb, ready to face the herculean task of making development right. To be able to make a significant difference in the world -not for personal gain, but for the benefit of the community- by applying what I have learned towards winning peace, rather than winning the war.

You asked me: “Why development?” Well mate, I dare say, why not!?

Francel Taborlupa
Partnerships Officer 2017

72nd UNGA General Debates Summary

On this occasion, the MIDPA is proud to announce the coverage of the recent developments that transpired throughout the 72nd United Nations General Assembly General Debates. In the following segment, you will find key summaries of the debates (and controversies) that occurred each day. This year’s theme was ‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’.

Day One

– US President, Donald Trump, provided a controversial inaugural speech at the UN which justified his administration’s stand on refugees by stating that “for the cost of resettling someone in America, we can resettle ten people in their home region”.

– France’s Macron minced no words in addressing the Rohingya crisis, calling on Myanmar to cease all military operations and to reconstitute rule of law, stating: “As we know, we are dealing with ethnic cleansing here.” He also discussed the importance of fighting for gender equality, declaring that, “where the role of women is undermined, development is undermined.” He then spoke about climate change and the Paris Agreement, announcing that it can always be improved and updated, but “we will not backtrack”. He maintained that the door is always open to the United States, but threw a sly shot at them, adding that “at a time when some want to stop, we must keep going”.

– Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, praised the UN for their contribution to the countries’ peace efforts, stating: “What a time for the UN, successfully fulfilling its main goal in our country.” He also declared that 7 million people had been taken out of poverty in five years, a figure that represents 10% of their population.

– Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, called for a stop to the violence against the Rohingya, for their repatriation and for an end to discrimination against them. He urged all countries to provide humanitarian assistance and demanded that Myanmar ensure “that they have their full legitimate rights as full-fledged citizens.”

– Turkey’s Erdogan announced that his country had used 30 billion euros to assist Syria and its refugees, while the EU had significantly underperformed and left many promises unfulfilled. He proclaimed that Turkey is one of only six countries to meet the UN target for aid with 0.8% of its GDP. He, therefore, called on the rest of the world to step up. He then demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq stop the upcoming independence referendum, threatening them with sanctions. He concluded by criticising the global response to the Rohingya crisis.

– Last but not least, Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís, called for an end of defining development by economic indexes such as GDP and stated that we need to use more multi-disciplinary indicators. He then spoke about gender equality, declaring how unacceptable it is that “women’s unpaid work makes up 30% of global GDP, and that “women make 25% less for the same job as men.”

Day Two

– In response to Trump’s ‘Axis of Evil’esque speech, Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, spoke of his country’s enormous economic potential, including how last year it was the country with the highest global growth rate, and how sanctions against them only solidified their resolve. Rouhani stated that Iran has always been a supporter of human rights and freedom, and remarked on the hypocrisy of “those who claim to stand for freedom, but support dictators elsewhere,” a clear dig at the US.

– Italy’s representative, Paolo Gentiloni, argued that the stabilisation of Libya is a priority objective and key to the fight against terrorism. He also acknowledged the link between climate change and forced displacements, highlighting that there were “more than 200 million displaced persons between 2008 and 2015 who were forced to leave their homes because of the devastating effects of climate change phenomena.”

– Namibia’s Hage Geingob proclaimed that “development that is not led by the people and does not benefit all people is meaningless development.” He then spoke of how, as a result of a resolution from his government to increase representation of women to 50% at all levels, women now constitute 48% of parliament, which is the second-highest ratio in Africa, and in the top five in the world.

– British Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke of how economic inequality and weaknesses in the global trading system continue to undermine the support for liberalism and free trade, which she considers to “have done so much to propel global growth.” She also praised the UN for its achievements in the past, but also added that “throughout its history, the UN has suffered from a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the nobility of its purposes, and the effectiveness of its delivery.” May then announced that Great Britain will continue to provide large amounts of funding to the UN, as its second-biggest donor but declared that this ‘generosity’ will be results-oriented, with 30% being allocated only to those parts of the UN that achieve ‘sufficient results’.

Day Three

– Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasana, spoke powerfully on behalf of the Rohingya. She also denounced Myanmar for placing landmines on their stretch of the border and preventing the Rohingya from returning to their rightful homes. Hasana also called for UN safe zones to be created if necessary to ensure the safety of the Rohingya.

– The Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, reiterated that “we must not associate terrorism with any particular ethnic group or religion”, a statement that brings to mind Trump’s oft-repeated phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”.

– President Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa hailed the Agenda 2030 as the framework to put the world on the right path to achieve a sustainable future and encouraged other small island developing states to pursue the Samoa Pathway. He also emphasised the need to increase international awareness of the SDGs.

– Germany’s Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, also had some strong words against militarisation saying how 1.7 billion US dollars are spent worldwide on arms per years, and that just 10% of that would achieve the extreme poverty SDG, and even less would be required for the education goal. He said the World Food Program receives less than 50% of the funds needed to achieve the hunger goals.

– Jordan’s Crown Prince, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, noted that regional insecurity has affected tourism and investment, through no fault of their own, and characterised Jordan as “a resource-poor country in a conflict-rich region.” He announced that the direct cost of Syrian crisis now consumes a quarter of their budget, and remarked that Jordan is one of the world’s largest accommodators of refugees, declaring, to significant applause, that “our soldiers dodged bullets to let refugees into our country, not to keep them out.”

– The Seychelles, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia called for reform in the UN, a common theme of today’s speeches and Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs went further by stating that the “UN development system needs to be built on the basic premise that neither governments nor institutions have the capacity or resources to achieve Agenda 2030, they need to cooperate with civil society, the private sector, innovators, NGOs, and academics.” She also called on all countries to reach the 0.7% target for aid and said that Denmark, one of the world’s largest aid donors, will allocate more funds than ever before in their 2018 aid budget. She also commented on how we must effectively manage the blend of immediate relief and long-term development assistance.

Day Four

– Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at length of the significance of female empowerment, an issue close to her heart as a representative of “the world’s first feminist government.” Female empowerment was a theme shared by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who highlighted its importance to economic development and national prosperity, and announced that, for the second consecutive time, his country’s government is made up of 50% women.

– Kenyan representative Amina Chawahir Mohamed spoke of the impact of climate change on her country, explaining that it costs approximately 3% of Kenya’s GDP annually. Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, likewise told of the calamitous current effects of climate change and announced that they are the world’s only carbon-neutral country, and in fact, they are carbon negative. The PM called on all countries to fulfill their commitments and explained that as climate change adaptation costs money, the role of global financing institutions is crucial, especially for those who may have the will but not the resources.

– Thailand’s Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that we need “less about debate and more about action”, and told of how their late King said that those living in a community know best about their needs, highlighting the importance of participatory methods. This was an idea that Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, also emphasised, along with the view that things will improve if we increase partnership and cooperation.

– Belize’s representative urged the UN to establish a participatory framework for the private sector, an idea that was shared by Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, who called for a new, participatory, equitable economic order. He highlighted the wealth gap that exists between rich individuals and poor countries, emphasising that “the wealth of 8 men is worth the same as the 3.6 billion poorest people and, of the 100 richest entities, 69 are transnational corporations, not states”. The minister further contended that neoliberal capitalism is unsustainable and irrational and will inevitably lead to the destruction of our planet. He concluded by stating that military expenditure has risen to 1.7 trillion US dollars, contradicting the claim that there are not enough resources to eradicate extreme poverty.

Day Five

– Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Aziz Ghandour, spoke of how his country had turned over a new leaf and begun a new era of peace and stability. The Minister said that they were hoping to “receive peace and development funds, especially the UN peacekeeping fund and the World Bank and its mechanisms, so we can implement the approach of the government which promotes peace and the outcomes of national dialogue”. He stated that this will also help his government to convince the remaining rebel groups to lay down their arms and join the peace process. Ghandour also remarked on how much the situation in Darfur has improved, announcing that it had recovered stability and peace. He also said that the UN has been impressed with their cooperation and transparency and that, as a result, existing sanctions against them should be reviewed.

– Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Mohammed Saleh, stated that the developing world will benefit most from coming together to make a better world. Mohammed Saleh heavily criticised inequality and the fractured nature of the international community, but announced that “Eritrea is confident it will meet the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of time”. He referred to his country as “a haven of stability in a turbulent neighbourhood”.

– Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that climate change is an existential issue and their reality, and explained how difficult it is for Caribbean countries, as reconstructions costs dwarf their economies. She argued that there is a need to improve global preparedness and response to climate change, otherwise countries will get caught in a cycle of recovering from disasters until the next one takes place. Jamaica’s representative called on the UN to a establish a mechanism to provide the requisite support to vulnerable countries affected by natural disasters and assist in issues such as providing viable compensation. Johnson Smith reported that her country was collaborating with Chile on an initiative called ‘Resilient 20’, to promote resilience in countries vulnerable to natural disasters, especially ones that belong to the lower-income index.

– India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, remarked that India had implemented the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme and that many youths had been able to get out of poverty as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Day Seven

– Norway’s Chair Tore Hattrem highlighted the four building blocks needed for a sustainable future: acting together towards common goals, peace and security, upholding international law and the principles of global governance, and an abandonment of perfectionist and isolationist practices.

– There were several calls to strengthen multilateralism and international governance including East Timor’s Maria Helena Pires who stressed the importance of the UN for ending conflict and restoring stability, and Peru’s Gustavo Meza-Cuadra who stated that the UN will be an essential institution in the future. These calls for calm and dialogue come as no surprise considering the escalating tensions between the USA and North Korea following a weekend of threats and alleged war declarations.

– New Zealand’s representative, Craig Hawke, argued that ongoing support to the state of Afghanistan is critical, but emphasised that its future lies in the hands of its government and people. Hawke also highlighted the importance of the Paris Agreement and praised global commitment to take action on climate change.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Mumbai to Melbourne: A Story in Three Acts

Joining us today on the blog is MIDPA’s very own Vice-President, Aakansha Kedia. Aakansha takes a very unique and creative approach to explain her journey and the steps that led her to pursue a Master in International Development Practice at Monash University. Join her while she delights us with a voice over of her story in three acts.

ACT 1
FADE IN
EXT. MUMBAI, INDIA

*AAKANSHA (Voice Over)*

Emilie Wapnick once used a term that immediately resonated with me: multipotentialite. While there exists a group of people who are born to specialize, I believe that I belong to a tribe where members do not have just the one interest. It was art and theatre at school, communication and design soon after. Among all of this ran a common thread: the belief in creating a positive impact in society by adding value to every form of dialogue.

After I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Media, I was ecstatic at being able to work for one of India’s largest media houses. I was involved in several departments and got the chance to work with some of the biggest brands. However, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to be involved in something that was bigger than the organization and bigger than myself.

aakansha4

This was when I was assigned to work on Operation Black Dot. Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 35, making our youth a formidable force to enable good governance. Sadly, two-thirds of educated Young Indians living in urban cities do not engage with politics due to its general perception as being ‘boring’, ‘complicated’ and ‘dirty’. The objective of the campaign was to bring about a positive mindset shift and encourage the target audience to vote in the General Elections. What began as just another advertising gimmick evolved into a movement that enabled students to cast their votes for the first time.

FADE OUT

ACT 2

CUT TO
EXT. MUMBAI, INDIA
FADE IN

Jumping onto the other side of the cliff, I was entrusted to spearhead the company’s first flagship initiative, The Green Batti Project. ‘The company’ being a for-profit social enterprise called Social Quotient, where I acted as Executive Director. Symbolic with the green colour of a traffic light, the programme’s name signifies to ‘move forward’. It was a mentoring program that paired young professionals with children from under-resourced communities. Through an exchange of life skills and soft skills, we wanted to empower the children to break through prevalent socio-economic barriers. From recruiting quality young professionals as mentors to establishing a strong foundation of partnership with Teach For India, to branding and event management, I had embarked on an exhilarating ride.

aakansha3

Although I had reached the stage where I was designing the mentoring curriculum and delivering training sessions for new mentors, it was accompanied with a turmoil of emotions. I was proud to have achieved so much in so little time and happy to notice the general success of the project. But who was I to run this project? Was I worthy of this position? Did I have the necessary skills? Was I being true to the needs of the mentees? Is there scope for trial-and-error? This was the moment when I took a breather, stepped back, and decided to pursue a Master’s course. For the first time in 24 years, I understood what people meant when they said: ‘I think this is my calling’. If this was mine, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to start afresh, away from India, out of my comfort zone.

FADE OUT

ACT 3

CUT TO
EXT. MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
FADE IN

For me, the MIDP course at Monash is a perfect blend for the specialists and the multipotentialites. As a student with no prior academic background in development studies, this has been one of my best experiences. Soon into this new world of mine, a hashtag emerged, #MagicalMelbourne. I am filled with gratitude each time I am in a conversation with students pursuing this course, the sheer diversity – of ethnicities, gender, age, experiences, ideas & beliefs- of the cohort is a wonder on its own. In this past one and a half year, I have had so many reel-to-real moments. From the teaching pedagogy, to student life on campus and beyond, it felt like I was finally experiencing things I would watch in movies and TV shows or conversations with cousins and friends around the world.

aakansha2

What this course has absolutely managed to achieve for me is instill a love for learning and a drive to collect new experiences. I started to admire the depth of knowledge that was expected from the students. Writing this blogpost in my third Semester, I have now started to observe a pattern in my assignments. Most of them have an underpinning of psychological wellbeing & mental health. How did this happen? Does this mean anything? I still don’t know. I went from struggling to write a 250 word reading diary, to being enrolled in a year long Research Thesis unit. Have I made the right decision? Does this mean I want to be a researcher and not a development practitioner? I don’t know. Will I go back to India and work for a social enterprise or an NGO? Will my career be in public health and development? Will I be able to ‘make a difference’? The truth is, I don’t know.

*AAKANSHA (thinking to herself)*

So why study a Master of International Development Practice? Simple. Because this rollercoaster of emotions will push me to be the best version of myself.

FADE OUT

THE END.

Aakansha
Vice President (2017)

Development and Climate Change: The Case of Papua New Guinea

Joining us on the blog today is fellow MIDP student, Omega Nelson. Omega reflects on the complex relationship between development and climate change, and what inspired him to pursue a Master’s in International Development Practice at Monash.

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A bit about myself…

My name is Omega Nelson, I am an international student from Papua New Guinea. I am from East Sepik province in the northern part of PNG, but I live and work in the capital Port Moresby. Before undertaking the Master of International Development Practice at Monash University, I worked for the Climate Change & Development Authority (CCDA) of the PNG government.

The CCDA is the government agency responsible for all issues pertaining to climate change mitigation and adaptation and is also concerned with strategies, policies, and implementation in relation to the PNG governments’ development aspirations. In my employment with the government of PNG, I served in several different roles, ranging from program officer to policy analyst, and eventually to management.

In my different capacities I have been involved in advocacy and awareness on climate change, policy consultation and formulation, data collection and vulnerability assessment, as well as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) international negotiation process. I have been humbled by the different experiences I have encountered so far.

Png2

Why International Development Practice?

My decision to take up a master’s degree in international development practice was strongly influenced by my line of work. Having worked in climate change mitigation and adaptation for almost a decade now, I have been involved in numerous programs and projects, many of which were extremely complex and multi-sectoral issues.

What became a deciding factor for me in choosing MIDP was that while working for the government, I was heavily involved in the formulation of climate change policies, strategies, and legislation. This was all well and good, but I really wanted to see how these instruments we previously developed would be translated into tangible positive outcomes for the people of Papua New Guinea. I felt that this was a real challenge for me as an individual moving forward.

The climate change legislation, policies, measures, and strategies are now in place. How does PNG take the step forward towards reaching its development priority of transforming from a situation of ‘business as usual’ to a more green and sustainable economy?

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What I hope to gain out of my time at Monash

After completing my Master’s in International Development Practice, I hope to return back to Papua New Guinea with a clearer understanding of the relationship between development and the complex cross-cutting issues of climate change. I feel that with this understanding and the development tools acquired, I will be able to contribute meaningfully in my own way towards the advancement of PNG’s development in light of the current adverse impacts of climate change that the country is facing.

Omega Nelson
Student

A Reflection on the State of Education in Rural Cambodia Today

Joining us on the blog today is our guest contributor, Emily Maiorino. Emily has been volunteering at Oaktree for 12 months as a partnership manager. She has been working on the Girls’ Education Initiative (GEI) which is an education program targeting vulnerable and marginalised youth in rural Cambodia. Her role has been providing program support to their implementing partner organisation in Cambodia. She is also currently studying a Master’s of International Development at RMIT, due to finish in June 2018. Today, she draws from her own personal experience to share some insightful reflections on the state of education in rural Cambodia.

Basic education is a fundamental human right but, although the Cambodian Constitution guarantees education to every Cambodian child, a considerable gap remains between rhetoric and reality. Significant barriers to accessing quality education still exist across the country, particularly for rural youth, girls and ethnic minority groups. As part of my research working on a girls education project over the past year, I have gained insight into the current problems existing within the Cambodian education system.

1. Cambodian classroom

The issues facing rural youth

Despite the fact that 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural environments, schools in rural districts face inadequate facilities, lack of resources, poor governance and higher dropout rates than their urban counterparts. Indigenous ethnic groups and diverse Austroasiatic dialects also pose challenges and barriers to rural education.

The proportion of the country estimated to be under 30 varies from more conservative estimates of 59% to as high as 65.3%. The rising number of young Cambodians entering the workforce is creating a pattern of national and international employment migration. Studies have named Kampong Cham as the second major sending area for youths searching for employment. 60% are female.

Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces are the most densely populated region of the country, even surpassing the capital, Phnom Penh. The Mekong River divides the Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces, creating a rich floodplain for agricultural practices. The region continues to be well known for rubber, cassava and tobacco plantations, which engage a significant amount of child and youth labour. Factories owned by foreign investors are penetrating the region and employing thousands of young women and men. Through my own qualitative data collection, I identified that a direct correlation exists between the emergence of new factories within close proximity to rural communities, and increased secondary school dropout rates.

The imminent need for stable financial security drives youth -particularly women and girls- out of education and into employment. Gender roles are firmly structured and historically, women have seldom been associated with success in education or business. Hierarchical and patronage roles are also embedded deeply within Cambodian culture which limits the female role models available for inspiration. Young women and girls often leave formal education to work in the domestic sphere or seek employment to generate income for their family. The critical period for girls is lower secondary school (grades 7-9) when the majority of dropouts occur. In many cases, the increased employment opportunities and paychecks that stem from further education do not appear to be a payoff that is justified by the associated costs of school.

2. Cambodia Krochmar and Chumnik Student Interaction

Rebuilding education

Cambodia is in the process of rebuilding its education system after its collapse under the Khmer Rouge. Over the 15 years, education campaigns and policy reforms have promoted the value and importance of education as a national priority (see the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) website regarding education for policies, strategies, legislations, and statistics). Through the commitment of MoEYS and interventions from international agencies, an attitudinal shift is occurring at a national scale.

Presently, around 97% of children are enrolled in primary school, with gender parity achieved for boys and girls. This initial step focussed largely on the expansion of access to education and increasing enrollment rates. Lack of quality education, however, remains the crucial issue and has resulted in significant numbers of children repeating grades or failing to complete even primary education. Low literacy and numeracy levels in secondary school are some of the consequences of low-quality education. The current agenda remains strongly focussed on quality education, teacher training, capacity building, gender and overall equality.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and accompanying international pressures drove a sense of urgency in regards to education reform. Cambodia joined UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) program in 2003, which kickstarted the next decade of strategic planning. Partnerships between MOEYS and international agencies that formed during this time have worked to combat systemic issues and cultural norms. A long list of programs, policies, research initiatives, action plans, monitoring reports, and goals have been the product of the last 15 years of work in education.

3. Cambodian students writing

Where do we go from here?

The disparities that still exist in the Cambodian education system are affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of its society. The barriers and challenges are particularly ubiquitous for rural youth and girls. Nonetheless, Cambodia’s education system is in a racing upwards trajectory. Through international NGOs, foreign aid, partnerships between states and institutions and rising local support, quality education is high on the national agenda.

“To build a quality higher education system that develops human resource with excellent knowledge, skills and moral values in order to work and live within the era of globalization and knowledge-based society” – MOEYS’ 2030 vision for higher education

MOEYS’ vision reflects the national desire for Cambodia to match ASEAN’s economic growth and prosperity. There’s still a long way to go to in terms of achieving equitable access to quality education for all, but I do think strides are being taken in the right direction. The education system will be in the spotlight over the coming decades and my hope is that it remains a national priority. While a future independence from international aid would be ideal, at present, multilateral efforts are displaying encouraging results for young Cambodians aiming to fulfill their right to education.

 

 

References

ASEAN. (2013). State of Education Report.

UNESCO. (2015). Education for All National Review.

UNICEF. (2015). Annual Report Cambodia.

 

 

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

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For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Life in the Field: A Snapshot

Have you ever wondered what life as a researcher in the field would be like? Are you considering doing some field work but are not sure if it is the right fit for you? MIDPA’s Managing Editor, Feli Bran, shares insights from her first experience in the field and reflects on the reasons why having some field experience is an invaluable asset for your future career.

As a part of my degree, I went on a three-week intensive course in Malaysia called Field Methods in Anthropology and International Development. It was the first opportunity I had to finally put into practice what we had been learning throughout the course. What I liked the most about this unit is that it gave you the freedom to design, implement, and present the findings of your own research project. Granted, there were some limitations, as we were not in charge of the recruitment process and there were also some time constraints. Overall, however, it was a useful snapshot of what life in the field would be like.

Most importantly, it really tested the cross-cultural communication skills of our team. It is vital to remember that solo projects in development are virtually non-existent. Thus, learning how to work as a team despite different backgrounds, opinions, and areas of expertise is critical. I am happy to report that this was the best group work experience I have ever had. It was clear everyone was excited and dedicated to the cause, and we made it through despite some unforeseeable hiccups along the way.

team

It all started with an intensive, week-long block of field methods, for which I was particularly thankful, as it served as a quick reminder of everything I had learned in Research Methods the previous year. We also engaged in some team-building activities to keep the ideas flowing and were introduced to the hearts of our project: our interpreters. Monash has a partnership with the South East Asia Community Observatory (SEACO), which is why the actual field work was carried out in Segamat and surrounding areas.

“Why Segamat?” is a question we all asked at some point or another. It is not as well-known a place as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, or Melaka. However, a particularity of Segamat is that it has an even distribution of ethnicities that mirrors Malaysia itself: about 50% Malay, 23% Chinese, and 7% Indian. Thus, the location was ideal to carry out research, as all ethnic groups would be represented in the findings.

Mind map and free listing

For our particular project, we were based in rural Segamat, as we were working with farmers to try and understand how they perceived their relationship with the environment. I am sure most of you are familiar with the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. We based our project on its asset pentagon and narrowed it down to natural capital. We wanted to understand how the environment impacted on the livelihoods of these farmers, but also how their livelihoods impacted the environment.

Recently, there have been some controversies surrounding the sustainability of oil palm plantations. As a matter of fact, there have been some disputes between the European Union and Malaysia and Indonesia regarding these issues. That was something that really surprised us. We were not expecting the environment to be a political issue, but the more we investigated, the more we realised it was.

in the field

In Malaysia, rural poverty was addressed by forming FELDA villages. FELDA stands for Federal Land Development Authority, which is a centralised government agency that granted plots of lands to poor Malays in order to incentivise the production of rubber and, later on, palm oil. Because it is essentially state-run, we sometimes encountered certain resistance from FELDA managers, as they were suspicious of our aims and were concerned we intended to criticise their operations. This is why excellent team work was so vitally important. Without the language abilities, relationships, and cultural awareness of the SEACO team, we probably would not have been able to navigate these murky waters as effectively. We always discussed in class how context is crucial to understanding where and how a project should be carried out but it is extremely different once you are in the field. You have to question absolutely everything you know.

I used to think I was a worldly, open-minded individual, but this experience made me realise how many assumptions I made on a daily basis. As a somewhat hot-headed person, it was important for me to keep my emotions in check, not be judgmental or openly condemn people for opinions or actions I considered wrong. Sometimes I did not agree with what was being said or done but, as an impartial researcher, I learnt the importance of simply witnessing and reporting on these things professionally, even if I did not condone them personally. I think that is an important distinction we have to make as researchers and development practitioners, especially when working with marginalised communities that live by societal norms that are different to our own.