15 February 2014 ~ 7 Comments

Thoughts from students

I am speaking at a few universities which happen to all fall around the same time, and I thought I would try something new. I posted this blog before heading off to the first talk, and at each talk I will mention to the students I speak to that this space is here for them to add their thoughts, questions, and ideas to further or challenge the topics we discuss. The topics are: Youth in Development (Imperial College London), From Service Learning to Learning Service (SOAS), a Voluntourism Debate (National University of Ireland), and social entrepreneurship TiasNimbas.  I will largely focus on the key question I think many of the audience members, and us panelists, are struggling with: “How can I do good in the world?” We’ll probably talk about “development schizophrenia”, a term my colleague Claire Bennett often uses to refer to the highs and lows, ups and downs, and constant 360 analysis you have when working in and critically analyzing development work. I’m going to relate that question to the “savior” mentality sold in international volunteering, as well as the sometimes inaccurately perceived bifurcation of business and development career paths. Each talk is different, but overall I will hopefully touch on social entrepreneurship, some organizations I find really interesting, lessons from my own work and experiences, and some of my favorite quotes and tips.

Let’s see how it goes! If you were at any of the talks, share some comments below – How did my talk relate to or stray from the current reality of the decisions you are making and things you are thinking about? What was really relevant to you, and what could I have done to make my talk more useful? Is there anything I mentioned that you want to add to? Want to challenge? Want to question?

I look forward to hearing from you!

  • disqus_z3QU8mqxZm

    Hi Daniela,

    I attended the conference on development that you spoke at today and I just had a few questions that I wanted to ask and just in general talk about the subject!

    I thoroughly enjoyed your talk, the issues you mentioned were ones that had been in my head all day and I was so excited when you started talking about them. I had enjoyed the other speakers at the conference but wasn’t wholly convinced on some parts. For example, I hate the attitude obviously sold by some of these companies – like the ones you mentioned – where the volunteers are portrayed as the saviours of the “poor people”. It causes an attitude which I think is far more detrimental than helpful. Often the reason people take part in volunteer work seems to be far more about helping themselves than actually contributing to development, this is especially apparent in the speedy volunteer (1/2 week placements that you mentioned) ventures that have become popular. They can feel very patronising.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling, I was just hoping to convey my passion and interest in the area and things you spoke about!

    In your talk you mentioned some workshops and the learning service ambassador and I was just wondering if you had any more information on these?

    I am currently in my final year and very interested in looking into this. I have looked at a few other organisations but too many are, I feel, either too corporate or too superficial/gap year type organisations.

    Any further information on good organisations to look into or anything within your own organisation would be much appreciated!

    Thank you again!

  • Andrew

    Hi Daniela,

    I am really glad that you attended the International Development Conference in Imperial despite the adverse weather conditions! Your talk was really enjoyable and meaningful.

    International Development projects are usually marketed to anyone who is keen to “save the world”, and they often target the impressionable youth population who is keen to have their contributions recognised. Sometimes, with governmental aid, these projects seem to be more focused on developing the youth participants than holistically developing the community. In these cases, I find it really upsetting that the host community becomes a “classroom” for youth participants because the impacts on the community are very often irreversible.

    In my opinion, international development is not meant for everyone. Training is usually provided but there is hardly proper selection before dispatching youth to developing countries.

  • David Kor

    Thanks for you talk at Soas today. I really enjoyed it and have thought about this topic for some time now. Having done two separate volunteer placements myself, i can really relate to the problems you mentioned.
    I believe that in order to change the attitudes which perpetuate this system of voluntourism a change in the basic attitude of Western societies towards the ‘developing world’ is needed. Voluntourism, development aid and politicians speaking of the ‘moral obligation’ to help the poor people somewhere are all a consequence of the picture that is presented to people in the West from the day they are born. The representation of the ‘developing world’ in Western media directly links to attitudes like for example ‘i want to help poor children in Africa’. But also the wider discourse about development and progress contributes to some extent to the negative outcomes. The things that are presented as desirable and good directly shape our conception of places that lack these.
    Of course, this kind of change needs time and a much more fundamental rethinking and is hence unlikely to actually take place, but nevertheless i feel like this website is a small step into the right direction.
    Well done and my respect!

  • danielapapi

    Thanks for your comments! I am glad you enjoyed the conference. I wish I could have joined more of the day – it looked very interesting.

    In terms of volunteer placements – there is certainly an argument to be made that many short term placements are less useful than longer term ones, but a responsible and well-organized organization would have picked/placed volunteers in positions that can add value for their selected period. In other words, a skilled accountant coming in for a few days during the tax season to assist a novice team through an audit or a trained teacher can arrive and do a specific training, and be very useful in a short time. What certainly happens more effectively in a longer term placement is that WE, as volunteers, learn more. We get to understand the culture more, the project, the issues, the history, etc and we become more effective in our roles. So, indeed, the length of placement is certainly a balance!

    About the ambassador program: http://lessonsilearned.org/lsambassador/ and http://lessonsilearned.org/videocontest/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/LS-Ambassador-Media-Pack.pdf – and as the contest is ending at the end of the month, there will be other ways to support the book/advocacy after that as well that you could get involved in as an ambassador. Drop us a note if you are interested!

    I am hoping to run some workshops in London, so subscribe to the blog here if you want to stay up to date on those. Thanks for reaching out!

  • danielapapi

    I think some of the key things we can all “pack” with us on our travels are:
    – an open mind
    – a humble attitude
    – a willingness to learn and listen
    – a sincere desire to help
    – a willingness to seek out feedback
    – a disregard for our own confirmation bias, and a willingness to critically look into the projects we have selected and work we have done

    With those qualities, youth or retiree, you are more likely to have a positive impact, wherever you go I think! What do you think the list is missing? Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • danielapapi

    Thanks for joining us today! I agree with this… and only think it is “unlikely to take place” if we all give up before we try! There are a lot of interesting things going on in empathy education (http://startempathy.org/) and changing the way people view their global citizenship. I agree with you very much though that this needs to start at a young age, with how we talk about the world and approach our place in it. What are some of the things you think are missing that we need to teach our kids to improve the situation?

  • Wulan Pusponegoro

    Hi Daniela,
    I’m one of the students from TiasNimbas, and I really liked what you presented to us last Friday, especially about not getting married to the idea or the product. I think right now I’m involved in a project where the initiator is a product creator and really married to the product. The NGO I’m working with is trying to make the creator be more solution oriented… avoiding incidents like the unused/broken solar panels you talked about.

    Anyway I was wondering if you can share your ppt presentation, there were a lot of interesting things in it, and I’d like to learn more.

    Thank you again for coming to Netherlands, I hope you had a good time in Amsterdam!