Square Peg, Round Hole: A Cursory Autopsy of Victoria’s Wildlife and Nature Tourism Strategy

In March, the Monash Sustainable Tourism Association (MSTA) organized a tour to the You Yangs Regional Park with the Koala Clancy Foundation and Echidna Walkabout Tours for a glimpse into conservation-oriented tourism. The aim was to unify participants under a common goal towards proactive participation and more sustainable tourism practice. The conservation day involved walking, weeding, and watching Clancy, the world’s most famous koala and the Foundation’s poster boy.
What set out be a narrative of the day, composed to demonstrate the links between conservation, tourism, and regional development, turned into an accidental journey down a rabbit hole. The examination precipitated four pivotal questions regarding Victoria’s approach to wildlife and nature tourism.


Why wildlife tourism?

Victoria’s biodiversity includes over 200 regionally and nationally endangered species whose habitats are at risk from habitat degradation, bush fires, and weed invasion. Despite the watertight argument for the instrumental and intrinsic values of wildlife and its protection, the reality is that wildlife is going to have to pay for its own survival.

Correctly managed wildlife tourism is one relatively harmless way of tackling this problem. Wildlife tourism presents a strong case for conservation, as it offers people a chance to consume a product and understand its value. It provides a long-term source of employment and income, and bridges the growing gap between people and planet.

Tourism has the capacity to cover a share of the investment required to sustain local wildlife and their habitats. The Foundation testifies to tourism’s potential to harness the good intentions of tourists and volunteers, who are more willing to invest in consuming such a product. They believe it is easier to stimulate tourist interests with a novel experience, which is augmented by knowledge of the scope of their contribution.

“Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.”


Why does Victoria not capitalise on its assets?

Native Australian wildlife is unlike any other and attracts visitors from around the globe. However, Tourism Victoria primarily promotes wildlife tourism in controlled environments like Werribee Open Range Zoo and Melbourne Zoo. We believe that if the state supported alternative wildlife tourism as well, it would encourage innovation and product diversification which create more jobs for the industry. In the contest between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria for tourism numbers and revenue, the You Yangs appears to fall through the cracks. It is significantly underfunded and underpromoted by the industry and the private sector.

Why does Victoria insist on developing artificial tourism products instead of taking advantage of its existing assets? Is the priority to import animals to rehabilitate endangered wildlife in Africa, when its own wildlife population is being overwhelmed by deforestation and mining? Let’s face it, baiting an international audience with international wildlife is just silly. Nobody travels to Australia to see lions.

What is stopping community action?

Community action, or the lack thereof, was a major point of our discussions with Janine and Kirby, as one of the biggest challenges faced by conservationists outside the conventional tourism sector. Perhaps, the immediate goal should be to engage Australians with their own wildlife to encourage conservation.

Community inaction can be partially attributed to the classic “local” reluctance to pay to consume one’s own neighbourhood as a tourist. The other, said Kirby, is that people are aware and in support of the local koala population, but are content with making a small, one-off donation instead of a long-term commitment to the cause.


Where does wildlife fit in development?

Many developing countries see nature tourism as a path towards to poverty alleviation and social inclusion. Even in developed economies, the natural environment is at odds with human activity. The loss of habitat and the consequent extinction of species would impact the ecotourism industry and the jobs it creates, and tourism is a far more preferable alternative to employment in mining and timber. Tourism integrates various industries and enterprises like farming, textiles, and handicrafts.

Along with Clancy and his friends, the park is close to a sacred aboriginal site, and the Foundation works closely with the region’s indigenous community. It paves the way for social inclusion and cohesion within the communities that live in the region, simultaneously contributing to the protection of not just its natural assets, but its cultural heritage too. It converts the resultant product to one greater than the sum of its parts.

Divya Sahasrabuddhe
Alumni, Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management
Alessandro Frau
Student, Masters of International Sustainable Tourism Management

Masters in International (Un)Development Practice

Joining us on the blog today is fellow MIDP student, Felipe Urrego Gonzalez. Felipe reflects on what it means to ‘develop’ and encourages us to debate whether development is always the answer.

When I think about development I automatically think about vulnerable communities.  I think about how to reduce the gap between them and us.  I think about how we can help them to improve their standard of living, their level of democracy, their wealth, their happiness, and many other aspects that most of us enjoy where we are right now.

Last semester I took Research Methods, and one big consideration was to be ethical about your research. You always have to consider how your research may impact yourself and the communities. Have we considered how development may affect ourselves or communities? Do we have any method or guide to measure how our development projects may impact communities? I know in Project Planning and Management for Development we talked about monitoring and evaluation and its importance; but are there any methods to tell us when not to develop, when not to bring our outside ideas to a community that already has an endogenous model of change that is working for them?

All these questions came after a discussion with a friend. If we develop those that we consider are in need, it already sets a power imbalance between us and them. What about helping powerful companies become ‘less’ developed? Should we, perhaps, focus our efforts on ensuring that the so-called developed world becomes more sustainable or more equal to the rest of the world? That does not mean becoming more violent, or less democratic, or poor. What I am trying to say is that instead of helping communities to understand financial schemes, we should run programs to help international companies to understand indigenous processes. We should contribute to ‘un-developing’ those that are ‘too’ developed.

Think about the investment broker working eight hours a day, making money to have enough to enjoy a nice retirement in a sustainable village in the middle of a forest without any worries related to modern life. Now think about the villager that lives in a sustainable way in the middle of a forest without the worries of modern life. Many agencies try to teach this villager how to use his micro-loan to get more money so he can live in a better place and send his children to study to become brokers and make more money and … (Can you see the irony here?)

I am very glad that during my experience at Monash University undertaking this Master I have become more critical of the role we will play as development practitioners, and the necessity of thinking about the impact our decisions will have in the future.

Let us help to reduce the gap among the world citizens. My idea is to build bottom-up approaches and use them in top-down organisations and processes.

What is your idea?

Felipe Urrego Gonzalez
MIDP Student


On the Record: On Ethical Fashion

For our fifth segment of On the Record, our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie Sandvik, talks about ethical consumption and the fashion industry. She also invites us to reflect on our roles as consumers and what we can do as individuals to achieve a more ethical fashion industry.


Q. Why did you pick this picture in particular?
A. I picked this picture because I did two events this week for Fashion Revolution Week and these are some of the materials we used, and a bit of a summary of what has happened this week.

Q. Could you tell me a bit more about those events?
A. I had one presentation for two organisations in Monash, and they asked me to talk about ethical consumption, and then today I had a participatory workshop because I am the student ambassador for Fashion Revolution. So to support their movement and in the spirit of Fashion Revolution week we had this workshop for people to discuss the power dynamics in the fashion supply chain.

Q. What got you interested in fashion and, particularly, in the ethics of the fashion industry?
A. It is actually quite a long story but I studied anthropology and I have always been interested in understanding behavioural economy and read a lot of books about the psychology behind choices when we buy or consume products. I then decided to come to Australia to study International Development and specialise in Sustainable Resource Management, and then I saw the connection between the fashion industry and behavioural economy. I have also worked for a fast-fashion company, where I got an understanding of these new trends constantly coming in encouraging us to consume.

Q. Do you see any improvements in the fashion industry?
A. I am doing my thesis on sustainable fashion at the moment, and I have definitely found both in the academic field and also looking at media outlets and at industry reports that there is a movement now towards more responsibility and higher sustainability in production. Companies are now considering where they buy their clothes from and what materials they are using. I definitely see that there is an ongoing movement that is gaining more momentum.

Q. Do you have any advice for us as consumers as to how we can help?
A. My advice is to really consider how you vote with your money. Every time that you buy a product it is actually a vote for the world you want or the products that you want. Really consider the bigger picture of your consumption; both in terms of the materials you buy into but also how much you buy, and what brands you support.



If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com

Development and Academia: experiences of an international convention

The International Studies Association 58th Annual Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from February 22nd – 25th, 2017. It was organised by the International Studies Association, a premier organization promoting research activities since 1959  through connecting scholars and practitioners in the field of international studies. The theme of the convention was “Understanding Change in World Politics”. The theme resonated with the current political climate in America which impacted the participation of some of the potential attendees in the convention.  The travel restrictions led to  thoughtful exchanges and a number of protest events in solidarity with ISA members who were denied entry and could not attend. In fact, several members of the panel boycotted the conference altogether in solidarity with their fellow ISA colleagues.  

Despite these setbacks, the conference brought about 6500 people together from all corners of the world, both north and south. The participants were academics, researchers, young scholars, educators, and activists coming together to debate and discuss future world events, with a particular focus on research and activism. As a Young Career Scholar, the Presidential address by Ashley Leeds  (president of the International Students Association) was a particularly riveting start to the conference. It was an amazing experience to see academics and scholars (whom one has read and heard so much about!) under one roof. To witness such a big turnout at the event was both intimidating and overwhelming. I could see scholars dressed up in suits with their name tags hanging around their necks debating and discussing everywhere around us, whether it was outside the Hilton, (which was one of the main venues for the event) or at the cafeteria and bars around famous areas of the city. The sunny weather in Baltimore was an unexpected bonus and certainly added to the charm of the city.

Early career scholars like me were discussing experiences of their paper presentations, as well as their ideas. It was an opportunity for us to expand our networks and showcase our research, in addition to learning some essential tricks of the trade. In short, it was an opportunity for us to grow both personally and professionally. The Early Career Scholar Lounge was a space dedicated especially for young scholars like me to prepare our presentations, recharge and create early networks.

The area around the conference venue was bubbling with activities. During the day difficult choices were made regarding which panel discussions to attend. The conference was structured around Panel discussions which catered to different themes such as Global Development, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Ethnicity, Diplomacy, and International Security Studies amongst many others. Presentations and panel discussion allowed all participants to enter into meaningful, practical debates around the above mentioned themes. It was an excellent opportunity for a future development practitioner and researcher to educate herself from the diversity of experience that participants brought to the table. In the evening, networking events were organised such as various receptions which provided a chance to meet people working in similar fields. Some of the discussion would carry outside the conference venues.

Personally, this conference was an eye opener in many ways. Firstly, I travelled to America, a trip I know I would not have the courage to take in near future if it was not for this conference. Secondly, I engaged with some of the smartest minds pursuing their PhDs . There was always so much to do like attending discussions, establishing networks, getting nervous about my own ideas and of course to explore the charming Baltimore.

Recalling my presentation, I had never been as nervous as I was when I saw a room full of people who came to hear the panel discussion. The theme of our panel was Peacemaking, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Transformation: Gender, Agency and Political Change, to which I contributed with  my paper on Afghan Women; Peacemakers and Resilient Survivors. The paper talks about how experiences and perceptions of men have historically shaped the politics and discourse of conflict resolution. This simultaneously implies the silencing of a large part of the population and making their experiences invisible. It is important to explore the brilliant work carried out by the women in these silent and private spaces where they are subsequently confined to during the conflict.

As you can probably imagine, the experience of the presentation itself and all the feedback I got afterwards has been incredibly informative and rewarding. I am glad I took this chance to go present something that bloomed from a little idea that I had. This was my first international conference abroad, so I am positive this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. I am now more determined and motivated to pursue my academic career so I am hoping this will have been the first of many presentations to come. Watch this space.


MIDP student


+61 410 937 347

Globalisation: a work in progress

As I gather my thoughts on the controversial concept that is globalisation, I am able to witness first-hand how globalisation is so deeply rooted in our everyday lives. I am constantly surrounded by people from different parts of the world, each one of them with a unique and different story. Hearing their experiences made me think: are we really managing to embrace the true spirit of globalisation?

When we look at globalisation from an economic point of view, we can easily witness our improved interconnectedness. It is possible to purchase goods from anywhere in the world, as it is also possible to pursue a career abroad. This process of globalisation has been significantly aided by technology. Technological developments have allowed capital to move across the world almost instantaneously. Changes in monetary policies, as well as in what is being traded and the importance of capital, have created a global market distinctively different from previous eras.

Before, products and capital were rooted to a particular place. Today, many of the products and services that are traded in the global market (such as knowledge and computer technology to name a few) are extremely mobile and rootless. Technology has also allowed us to move through space far faster than before. Additionally, it has made communication easier and more effective.

However, we could argue that this progress is only confined to the economic sphere, and therefore, traditionally benefits what is commonly referred as ‘the global North’. In other words, the global South is left with significantly less benefits as a result of globalisation. Furthermore, these countries have the additional responsibility of trying to protect themselves and establish their own security. In my modest opinion, I believe that we are still too attached to the idea of Nation-states. We keep our distance by making clear distinctions between “us” and “them”. Instead of embracing different ideologies, globalisation is being used
as an excuse to wage a war between different nations.

Nowadays there is a clear tendency to instigate hate instead of building acceptance; an obvious example being how terrorism is constantly associated with Islam and Muslims. Globalisation outcomes are used as catalyst to separate people in the name of national supremacy and race. National concepts are returning to dominate the political agora of Western countries. In the North as well, people of colour often find themselves being left further and further behind. Instead of learning how to coexist with other cultures and eliminate our prejudices, globalisation is being used to feed into this destructive rhetoric.

Being both a student representative for Amnesty International and a student of international development practice, I believe the role of government in this scenario cannot be disparaged. Discussions and shared ideas within the organisational work and in my own classroom suggest that governments should adopt a proactive role. Instead of avoiding the issue of mounting hatred that we are currently witnessing, governments should engage in rational and thoughtful discussions. In this way, we all benefit from globalisation instead of increasing the risk of marginalising certain groups of people because of their ethnicity, religion, or place of origin. After all, violence only generates more violence and hatred only generates more hatred. We need to remember we all share the same planet, so encouraging a hostile environment is detrimental for the development of all peoples.

MIDP Student

On the Record: Indigenous Rights

For our fourth segment of On the Record, our Managing Editor, Kathy Hofilena, talks about Indigenous knowledge and their relationship to the environment. She also invites us to reflect on Indigenous Rights based on her experience in the Philippines, as well as considering the danger of appropriation and exploiting local knowledge.


Q. Can you describe what is happening in this picture?
A. 2 years ago, a couple of friends and I were invited to visit one of the indigenous communities in the north of the Phillippines, in Buscalan. At that time, batok- a traditional tattooing technique- was becoming popular, so tourism to the region was increasing as a result. In this picture, you can see me getting a traditional Kalinga tattoo by Apo Whang-Od. She is the last mambabatok; the last traditional tattoo artist.

Q. Why did you choose this picture?
A. I chose this photo because thinking about Indigenous rights brings me back to that experience, to that tattoo. When I was there I also struggled with a lot of issues when it comes to Indigenous rights. Because I was acquiring something from their traditions, was I commodifying indigenous knowledge? Or was I helping them empower themselves by encouraging cultural economy? I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to the elders and other community members, and they were actually very welcoming to tourists. They saw the influx of tourists as something that would benefit their community, as it would increase their income. In that way, they could become more independent and develop themselves in the way that they really wanted to. It definitely eased some of my concerns, but not all of them.

Q. What issues were you still concerned about?
A. Commodification, mostly. The tattoos were traditionally for headhunters, as a sign of bravery. For women, it was used as a sign of beauty. Some people, therefore, believe that these tattoos should only be had by headhunters and the elders, but others believe that it is something that should be shared with the wider community. This technique is something that they want to spread, and make known. It is important to note that this opinion was not imposed, but rather the community came up with this decision by themselves.

Q. What tattoo did you end up getting?
A. I got the traditional symbol for the scorpion, which represents strength and protection. A lot of their symbols derive from nature, like insects, eagles, centipedes, mountains… This relates to how, traditionally, their sense of spirituality and identity was drawn from nature. This is something that I really identify with and that I admire about them. It was actually when I was in this community that I truly witnessed how there are different kinds of ‘development’. Before that, I would only think of development as high-rise buildings and better public infrastructure. But indigenous people have their own self-determination and their own ideas of development, and it is only by respecting their ideas that you can have diversity in thinking about development instead of being stuck in one mind frame; that was what truly inspired me to pursue a career in international development



If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com

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.

MIDP Alumni

Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia

Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia interning at the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (also known as KEHATI). Initially, I felt very pessimistic about working for an NGO. I also did not  speak the language and therefore had minimal expectations about my time there. Even though I was extremely passionate about what I was studying in my Environmental Management & Sustainability degree, the nature of current Australian and US politics , as well as regulations, conflicting stakeholder interests, and general ignorance amongst the public left me feeling dubious about environmental conservation.

Moving to Jakarta would also come with a new set of challenges.. I was well aware of the amount of waste and pollution that plague the city. Jakarta, located on the island of Java in central Indonesia, has a population of 10 million people, with almost 4 million people traveling in and out of the city on a daily basis. It is notorious for heavy traffic jams, pollution, not to mention unsafe  tap water. As a country in the throes of economic development, I was extremely interested in how this would affect biodiversity conservation.

It only took a week in Jakarta for my skepticism to rapidly vanish. Yes, pollution and traffic were just as bad as I had expected, the air was humid and sticky, and I was confronted with a different reality.  However the food was cheap and delicious, the people at  my organisation were dedicated, strong willed, and passionate, and the challenge that lay ahead excited me.


A little bit about my organisation…

Following the Rio Earth Summit and the Convention of Biological Diversity, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the  the US and Indonesian governments in order to increase efforts of biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. As a result, the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (most commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, KEHATI) was established in January 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit, self-sustaining institution dedicated to funding biodiversity conservation activities. Through an endowment fund invested in stocks and bonds, the return on investment was able to be distributed across Indonesia to implement conservation activities.


A little bit about my role…

The internship itself was very self-directed, which could be quite frustrating at times. However I was also able to research what I wanted. One of the programs administered by KEHATI was an organisation called Tropical Forest Conservation Action in Sumatra. Established in 2009, this program was set up under a debt-for-nature swap agreement between the governments of Indonesia, the US, and Conservation International. A debt-for-nature swap involves restructuring the outstanding debt of a developing country with a creditor organisation or government, in exchange for conservation activities within the debtor country. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act 1998 (USA) was passed specifically for agreements with the United States in nations with tropical forests. Nowadays, Indonesia  has two such agreements in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

My curiosity regarding debt-for-nature swaps peaked. This sounded almost too good to be true! If a developing nation could have its debt restructured, the economic burden of the debt would not only allow for increased funding towards conservation, but also for economic development within local communities. Deforestation and forest degradation has historically been of national concern for Indonesia, as well as around the world. In the last 30 years, Sumatra has lost a considerable size of it’s primary forest cover through land conversion into rubber and oil palm plantations, infrastructure developments, agriculture, as well as the timber industry. Poverty has exacerbated existing rifts between local communities and forests: natural resource exploitation, illegal hunting and illegal logging are not uncommon.

My main objective was to investigate the correlation between foreign aid, conservation activities and economic development under the context of a debt-for-nature swap in Sumatra. In hindsight, this task was probably too ambitious for the time-frame that I had allocated myself. However, between reading project proposals and researching debt-for-nature swaps, I was able to glean information on the conservation activities being implemented. Some of these activities included empowering local communities through microfinance by managing the surrounding forests sustainably, building and protecting forest corridors for the inhabiting wildlife, and setting up jungle cameras to monitor the tiger population.


A little bit about my future…

Although I was not able to obtain the feedback I specifically wanted for my project, the six weeks in Jakarta gave me an invaluable perspective on my future. For the first time, I am considering pursuing further education in the form of a PhD. I also hold  ambitions to end up working for an organisation like KEHATI. Most importantly,  I feel infinitely more optimistic about the world state of affairs, particularly seeing first hand the dedication for biodiversity conservation in a developing country; while Indonesia still has a long way to go, the drive and energy dedicated towards sustainability is positive and unyielding.


Master's of Environmental Management and Sustainability Student

From Melbourne to Brasil: pursuing my gender justice goals through an internship of a lifetime


My story began very unremarkably: I applied for a last minute internship opportunity with Oxfam’s gender justice unit that had been created as a result of the Oxfam-Monash partnership. I emailed back with my CV within a few minutes (thank you email notifications!), and was eventually shortlisted for an interview with Kim Henderson, Oxfam’s gender justice lead.

I was pretty nervous, but the interview ended up being a casual chat over a coffee in a café across from the Oxfam office. I say casual chat but, in retrospect, there was still a huge amount of information to absorb! It was exciting though; I felt that even if I was not successful in securing the internship, I was still doing something hugely proactive for my future. I was even more excited when I found out I had secured the position!

Things moved fairly quickly after that. I enrolled in the internship subject, completed online Oxfam inductions, and arranged my first day with Kim for a general orientation. It was only then that I discovered a major perk of this internship: Brazil.

Let me backtrack. My internship title was International Feminist Forum Delegation Coordinator, and my role involved assisting with the preparation and coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum in Brazil.

AWID is an international feminist organisation committed to achieving gender justice by supporting and resourcing the collective action and impact of global women’s rights advocates, organisations and movements. AWID hosts a global forum every three to four years that is attended by about 2,000 feminist activists from around the world. These forums provide a platform for activists to collectively strategize and mobilise, share feminist knowledge and information that can support women’s rights movements, and develop a more just development agenda.

AWID hosted its 13th international forum between the 8th and the 11th of September 2016, in Costa do Sauípe, Brazil. After applying for this internship, I was asked whether I could potentially go to Brazil in September (my answer of course was a quick and absolute ‘yes’). This had not been raised in my interview so I was thrilled about the opportunity. Forwarding back to my first day on the job, I found out that not only would I be able to attend the AWID forum, my attendance would be funded by the Oxfam-Monash partnership!


Once I was set up and ready to start working, my first task was helping with the logistical coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the forum. Oxfam took care to send only a small delegation of employees, so as to not crowd out the space at the forum. Instead, they invested in the attendance of activists from partner organisations. These forums offer opportunities for smaller organisations and for activists from all walks of life to have a voice, and it is very important for international non-governmental organisations like Oxfam to enhance these opportunities instead of dominating them.

My role also involved helping with the preparation of the event strategy, policy positions and key messages that were used to ensure that Oxfam had a coordinated presence at the forum. I performed a lot of this work independently from home and worked about once a week from the Oxfam office. I was extremely fortunate to work directly with two inspiring, engaging, and very down to earth women, as I felt very comfortable to just jump in and get my hands dirty.

Participation at the forum itself was educational and motivational. Each day started with a plenary session (attended by all participants) that covered a broad scope of feminist issues. The remainder of the day was filled with a variety of experiences: from other participant-led sessions, to well-being activities and cultural events.

I divided my time between helping to staff the Oxfam display booth and performing general coordination, and participating in as many sessions as I possibly could. To name a few, I attended sessions on feminist resource mobilisation, intersex issues, and religious fundamentalism. Through this experience, I developed a deeper understanding of current feminist discourses and issues faced by women and the LGBTQI community across the world. I also learnt about current strategies, tools, and methodologies that activists are using to combat gender injustice globally.


Upon returning to Australia, I spent several weeks preparing some follow-up work for Oxfam, including advice to improve the logistical coordination for the next AWID forum, an evaluation of the extent to which Oxfam achieved its goals at the forum, and an analysis of how Oxfam could improve its partnerships with women’s rights organisations and become a better ally in the fight for gender justice.

I also worked on my assignments for Monash, including a short presentation, a reflective journal, and an end of mission report that outlined my goals and achievements throughout the internship. These papers required a fair bit of work and critical reflection on my experience, including some soul-searching regarding my career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and they acted as a nice bookend to the internship process.

My Oxfam and AWID experience has cemented my desire to work in women’s rights and to further my academic study by pursuing a thesis on gender. I have improved my networking skills significantly (though it is still a work in progress!), and I have built friendships with women’s rights activists from around the world.

This internship has also continued to open doors for me. I presented about my experiences at the forum in a Gender and Development class, I have kept in contact with Oxfam’s Gender Justice team and other feminist activists, and I managed to secure a second internship with Oxfam’s Humanitarian Advocacy Team performing policy mapping and research on humanitarian issues.

My advice to you would be that, if you have the opportunity to do an internship as part of your studies, do not hesitate to go for it. Even if, like me, you tend to feel nervous about networking, it could be a game changer. Putting yourself out there for opportunities is never as scary as you think it might be, and it could be a step in the right direction for your career and gaining practical experience in the field.

Is Effectiveness Killing Happiness?

Development practitioners have a very big responsibility. Our job will always affect people.This affirmation is not to increase our self-importance, but rather to make us reflect on how every intervention can affect the course of human lives for many years to come.

As a student, I am increasingly worried about our ‘numerization’ of results. Today, world wide systems work according to the ‘market logic’. As a result, everything can be measured by a given scale, and happiness is no exception.  Happiness reports are highly influenced by Benthams’s work. According to Davies (2015) Betham was a policy maker who decided that political decisions had to be made accountable. In short, he created this concept in order  to convert political decisions into hard, empirical data. He argued that nouns such as ‘goodness’, ‘duty’, ‘mind’ were abstract propositions and that the more abstract these nouns were, the more false perceptions they held. On the other hand, happiness is not about smiling all day and being cheerful; to me, that would be excitement. The Dalai Lama describes it as neutral experience that can bring deep satisfaction.

The happiness report that was released on the 21st of March,  bases its ranking on the economic power and decision making capabilities of each nation. As a result, wealthier countries appear at the top of the table: Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland. These countries measure happiness through a ‘numerical perspective’. Measuring today’s happiness is made in a non-abstract way. Contrastingly, the video below involves only abstract nouns. There is no clear definition of income, acquisitive power, or social level of  influence.

If you feel the same as I did with this video, it left you feeling like you want  to go out and do the best you can do to help yourself and others. In my opinion, that very heartwarming sensation is what happiness is. That said, my background is not in psychology, so my claim might be biased or even incorrect. However,  I am certain that happiness is not a numerical value.

This statement does not mean to dismiss the Happiness Report. On the contrary, I believe that it is an excellent initiative. However, I do think that the report needs to be more comprehensive and consider alternative ways to measure happiness. When we are trying to transform a society,we can not assume that increasing wealth will necessarily translate into an increase in well-being. For example, let us consider  South Korea of the most amazing countries in terms of economic development, but one of the worst countries in terms of happiness. In the Happiness Report of 2016 South Korea was ranked in the 58th place under ‘happiness’,  but came in second place in highest suicide rates. This proves that the measurement is incomplete and still needs to be  improved further. On the other hand, Jamaica is ranked as the  73th happiest place in the report, but according to WHO, it is the 6th coutry with lowest suicide rates.  I used suicide rates as a counter measure of the Happiness Report as suicide represents ‘depression and unwillingness to live’ and happiness means ‘fulfillment and will to live’.

Overall, my message for you today is to think about what happiness and well being mean to the community you are setting out to assist. Question everything, as there is still so much we do not know. After all, a simple happiness measurement does not reflect the complexity of humanity itself, as happiness is as complex as our nature.

Davies, William (2015) The Happiness Industry. Verso, London. UK.

Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

If you are interested in reading more about development and happiness have a look at these articles:

The Happiness Metric; Happy Life, Sustainable Life; Freedom and Consumption