What is International Development?

For today’s post we hear from 2019 MIDPA President, Emily Meggs, and her dilemma in answering the popular question most International Development students get asked at barbecues- what exactly is International Development?

Photo Source: Australian Artist Solidarity 2019
http://www.australianmaristsolidarity.net.au/first-meeting-marist-international-development-agencies/

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

I remember the first day of my master’s course, I was so nervous; I felt like I was 17 again and starting university for the first time, who did not know where anything was. The first class that we take looks at the history of and issues related to international development. I spent two hours listening to my lecturer define what is and is not international development, and afterwards, I was still no clearer on how to succinctly define and explain what international development is, let alone describe it to someone who hasn’t heard of it.

All I could conclude was that international development is “fluid” and full of overlapping themes and ideas. Colonies = bad, but decolonisation = troublesome. I could say that international development is rooted in poverty alleviation and ‘third world inequality,’ but that ignores vital work that is done in post-conflict societal reconstruction, sanitation, ethical fashion and decent labour conditions, sustainability, health, and the big, bad elephant in the room; climate change. See, it’s not so simple to describe it.

Sometimes I say international development or NGOs and I hear “oh you mean The U.N.” Who wouldn’t want to work for The U.N., but this cannot be exclusively considered as international development, especially considering the increasing use of contract work, corporate social responsibility, and the encroachment of private enterprise in development. 

Then there are the people that conflate international development with international relations, and you have to tell them “sort of, but not really.” Now I believe that there is overlap between the two, especially because it was a big part of my undergraduate degree, but I also see international relations as a chess game that emphasises the power of both the state and free market. This could not be more different to international development that emphasises the needs of people to improve quality of life and often has to rally against the state and the free market. The overlap occurs between the global governing institutions that regulate debt, money, and resources, often to the detriment of developing economies and lining the pockets of wealthy international creditors.

The final common answer I get is, “ah so you want to save the world.” There are some that do have an idea what development is but assume that you have ideas to change the world, that we can “fix” poverty and the refugee issues that keep coming back into fashion every election cycle. This is not so easy. Now we can have a lengthy and protracted discussion about this, but my mid-twenties brain does not necessarily have the knowledge or experience to solve these issues. I might have general knowledge about these issues, but this may not be my area of expertise or interest due to the broad nature of development.

International development and the issues surrounding it are too complex to merely reduce it to a sentence. Usually, if someone can understand a part of what international developments constitutes, I often think “eh close enough,” rather than spend the next 15 minutes of my shift trying to explain exactly it is what I want to do. International development is so much bigger than the sum of its parts, and after two years and 66 credit points, I am still no closer to being able to succinctly describe what international development is.

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

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.

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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)