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