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

Sustainable Development: An Extension of my Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Fashion Revolution Week Roundup

In lieu of Fashion Revolution Week 2017, the MIDPA organised a series of events on the topic. We would like to thank everyone that attended and we hope this summary will inspire you to take action.

Presentation on ethical consumption

To start us off, we had a presentation on ethical consumption in an event between Monash SEED and VGen. The event dealt with social enterprise, fair trade, and ethical consumption, all related to the fashion industry.

Here are some key points we took from the event:

-There are two essential questions in the move towards achieving a level of ethical consumption and a sustainable industry: Where do I purchase clothing? How do I get rid of clothing?

-The free-market development approach has led to economic growth in many countries around the world, but we are also starting to understand some of the consequences of globalisation and increasing market pressure.

-From an environmental perspective: increase in water usage, air pollution and water pollution, toxification of cotton farmers, release of microfibres from washing our clothes, waste of valuable resources as clothing is ending up in landfills.

-From an economic perspective: developing countries are becoming economically dependent on the clothing production e.g. almost 80% of exports in Bangladesh come from textiles.

-From a social perspective: human rights violations, unhealthy working conditions, underpaid workers, harassments and abuses towards garment workers, child labour and modern slavery.

-Fairtrade is one way of addressing some of the social issues that are found in the fashion industry.

Nonetheless, we invite you to reflect whether fairtrade and ethical consumption is the solution to all of these issues. Should we all just change to “good” brands in order to fix the fashion industry? The continuous need for novelty and the never-ending hunger for re-identifying ourselves through objects are the principles upon which high consumption and the fashion industry are built.

Therefore, if we do not change our attitude towards consumption, buying fairtrade and ethically sourced products are falling under the category of “Slacktivism”. Slacktivism means that people buy products from companies that claim to have a good cause, but do not change their values or consumer habits accordingly. To truly be an ethical consumer, it is important to consider why you buy a product, and  think of the bigger picture and philosophy you are buying into.

Participatory workshop on power dynamics in the fashion supply chain

Our second event was a participatory workshop on power dynamics in the fashion supply chain organised by the MIDPA. In the discussion, several good points concerning the challenges of creating better wages for garment workers were raised. We discussed how power behind different interests of stakeholders is part of shaping existing practices. We also reflected on why these issues exist, and what actions each stakeholder (politicians, garment workers, CEOs) should take to improve the current situation.

To conclude, we debated on what responsibility we have as consumers to prevent the exploitation of workers in the fashion industry. Participants shared examples of good practices in Melbourne and abroad, and how to be more conscious and aware when it came to clothes consumption. One interesting point was price-counting one’s clothes to figure out the price per wear. To conclude, we leave you with an insightful comment from one of the participants: “We live in a very materialistic world, but we actually don’t care about our materials”.

Initiative with Monash University branded apparel

A group of MIDPA members has begun enquiring how sustainable and ethical the sourcing of Monash University’s branded apparel is. In the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week, we encourage students to call for better transparency by taking a photo of your Monash jumper or t-shirt, put it on Facebook or Instagram and hashtag #fashionrevolution #whomademyclothes #monashuniversity

Look at your life, look at your choices

If the topics above have inspired to do something about your role as an ethical consumer, here are some guides/videos/websites to start you off in the right direction:

The Baptist World Aid Australia fashion report – a guide to help you make informed choices when deciding where to buy

Ethical Guide – another fantastic guide that walks you through the ethics of consumption in the fashion industry

Fashion Revolution – get inspired by Fashion Revolution and get involved with one of their many activities

How to Engage with Ethical Fashion – a must watch Ted-Talk on ethical fashion

Changing the World Through Fashion– another recommended Ted-Talk that will inspire you to take action

Conscious Consumerism – great article to increase your awareness when it comes to consumption

If you would like a copy of the 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide or would simply love to discuss this further, do not hesitate to contact our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie (Maggie).

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

Rethinking the Economy

In 2015 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published The Financial System We Need – Aligning the Financial System with Sustainable Development as an attempt to encourage an alternative economy which is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Precisely, rethinking the global economic system seems like an essential change in a world striving towards sustainable development.  The UNEP is talking about a “quiet revolution” in order to transition into a green economy, where social and environmental aspects will be integrated into the existing financial system.

On the other hand, circular economy has been another interesting alternative concept. In 2002 William McDonough and Michael Braungart published Cradle to Cradle, a book that challenges the discourse of production and consumption of ‘cradle to grave’ manufacturing. They suggest that the industrial system should instead mimic the global ecosystem, where every product or material is a valuable resource and nothing is discarded as waste. They argue that applying this framework to the current economy will require a complete rethinking of business models, product design, and product removal. In the design phase of a product, it is crucial to consider what will happen to the product after its use and how the materials can be re-used. The main problem is that many products are a hybrid between the biosphere and the technosphere, which challenges the recycling process. Another crucial point made by McDonough and Braungart is rethinking the idea of ‘products of consumption’ which implies ownership. Circular economy fundamentally defies this concept and focuses on renting, leasing and services. Reshaping the economy into circular models can be an effective way of addressing environmental issues, as it encourages lowering the production of natural resources and decreasing greenhouse gas emission, as well as reducing soil and groundwater pollution from toxic landfills.



William McDonough TED talk about Cradle to Cradle design


H&M applying circular economy in their business model

If you found these videos inspirational and would like to find out more about future trends, we have compiled a list of links that will give you a more thorough understanding of the topic. For further information on circular economy and the fashion industry contact the author, Ida.

Get inspired… World Wildlife Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last but not least, ABC’s documentary Oceans of Plastic is a fantastic and thought-provoking way to ponder and debate on what we should all be doing on World Wildlife Day:

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

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

WYLT… Attend this symposium about tourism and social justice?

The symposium highlights the pioneering work of two of the globe’s leading scholars working on critical investigations into the global tourism phenomena. Dr. Stroma Cole will present insights from her long-term investigation into water and social justice in Bali, while Dr. Freya Higgins-Desbiolles’ will examine food tourism as a pathway to decolonisation and alternative futures. Equity, gender empowerment, indigenous rights, sustainable tourism and community resilience will be discussed.


On Tuesday 14 March 2017


Monash University
900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East, Victoria 3145


Dr. Joseph M. Cheer – Phone (03)9903 4097 or email

Affordable and Clean Energy


Imagine it: you have come home after a long day – presenting project proposals, attending endless lectures or working an exhausting 8 hour shift for your part-time job – and all you want to do is have a nice hot meal and watch some TV.

Reality Check: on average 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity.

Imagine it: you attempting to take immediate action during an emergency in your home, without any light to see by. It is easy to admit the simple fact that Western society takes access to energy for granted, I myself am guilty of this

I believe that we can no longer marginalise major issues such as climate change or loss of biodiversity as insignificant global issues. We need to hold accountability for the actions we take and stop mortgaging future generations in order to “patch up” our previous environmental impacts. If humanity does not transition to clean, sustainable energy, social well-being will have no more space left for development.


Reality Check on Global Consumption

An acronym I learnt during my undergraduate studies concerned with sustainable development back in Canada was NIMBY – Not In My Backyard. This acronym is something that has stuck with me ever since one of my professors brought it to my attention. NIMBY stands for any individual that does not accept accountability for environmental or social disasters that occur worldwide. In truth, certain nations are not held accountable because, when it comes down to it, the whole thing revolves around money.

Why can we not change that mindset and think about future generations? What is going to happen to your child or grandchildren if humanity continues to consume at the current rate? If global consumption continues at this level, I honestly believe that war will no longer be waged over oil and other fossil fuels, but nations will be fighting over natural resources like clean water and enriched soil.

I am not saying that the world is coming to an end, but what I believe is that we need to enhance and reinforce international legislations in order to actually make a difference. Because when no one holds accountability, no meaningful actions can be made. When we can measure the negative impacts already created, we can make a difference. We have only just touched upon clean and sustainable energy, so why is humanity slowly transitioning away from a high carbon economy?

Being the individual that I am, I am truly sorry for my pessimistic perspective. But I believe that through all of this frustration I can hopefully channel and spark that motivation to accomplish not just one, two or three of the sustainable development goals, but all of them. To alleviate world poverty, have basic education and provide the basic needs can be the beginning of enhancing and protecting the environment.


The Passion that Drives Me

On a personal note, a reason why I decided to be involved in the Master’s of Environmental Management and Sustainability at Monash was because of a simply inspiring and motivational man named Alfredo Moser. Alfredo Moser amalgamated his creative and intellectual domains, along with current ongoing environmental issues associated with developing countries, by inventing the indoor bottle light.

For those who are not aware, the bottle-light bulb is a mechanism used to provide light without using electricity, with an item that we dispose of on a daily basis. By using nothing but a piece of plastic, water and some bleach, Alfredo figured out how to kill two birds with one stone; how to illuminate a dark room while mitigating the ‘end-of-life’ cycle for several of those bottles. I am not saying that this is a permanent solution but I believe it is a giant beneficial and sustainable step towards clean energy, and it is being adopted globally.

It was discovering Alfredo’s invention that I realised there is so much more to the world than the latest gadgets and expensive clothes. We are the generation that should use our advanced technology and innovative minds, like Alfredo has, to alleviate issues rather than using a universal and standardised approach. I have realised that future generations need our help, especially with retaining natural resources through sustainable development.

In reality, Australia as well as other countries do have a long difficult process ahead to transition to efficient energy: greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly due to energy related practices (p.6). Adapting to such practices will take time and individuals will need to diminish their level of consumption down towards meeting the needs of a modern lifestyle. In turn, future choices requiring energy use must deliberate on environmental, economic and energy sectors, operated by the success of a society as less dependent on high-bond energy sources – namely fossil fuels such as coal.

Furthermore, MEMS has guided my passion into environmental planning with a heavy influence on sustainable development. In relation to my thesis – how political parties influence the public discourse on climate policies within Australia – I hope to terminate that ‘NIMBY’ mentality. There is only one finite planet that can sustain only so much within its ecological threshold.

My question to you: what could you do to reduce your impact?

Deanna Allen
Master's of Environmental Management and Sustainability Student