Course Reviews: Communication for Development at Malmö University

There are a lot of development related degrees out there. So many, in fact, it can be overwhelming. To help people out, we’ll be running several reviews of courses. If you would like to contribute a review of a course you’ve taken or if you want to attract more students to your programme please email


Communication for Development (ComDev) is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies in culture, communication and development integrated with practical fieldwork. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the context of globalisation.

While Communication Studies commonly is associated with concepts like information, media and messages, Communication for Development not only encompasses these terms, but also embraces a much broader approach. ComDev focuses on approaches that work to facilitate dialogue and define priorities for messages and information, but most importantly, on social processes to involve people in their development – making people active participants, and not only passive receivers of messages and information.

From its start in 2000, ComDev set out to be an academic programme available to everyone, everywhere, even those students unable to relocate for their university studies. One of the key aspects of this approach is our livestreams where our students can follow the lectures in real time, no matter where they are in the world. These livestreamed sessions also allow students to interact with their peers and the teachers and to engage in group discussions and assignments.

Our student body is diverse: culturally, geographically and in their academic and professional backgrounds. This allows our students to deepen their knowledge within their existing area of expertise while also gaining a broad overview based on the academic backgrounds and practical experiences of their peers, allowing them to be able to work both interdisciplinarily and transculturally in their future professions. Many of our students and alumni work in professional media companies, international organisations (governmental and non-governmental) or are undertaking doctoral studies.

The programme runs part-time over two years and is conducted online with the opportunity of attending two or three weekend seminars in person. During their first year, our students receive a comprehensive overview of globalisation and an introduction to the field of Communication for Development. During their second year, the students are introduced to the use of new media and ICT in a development context and receive a thorough introduction to research methodologies in order to prepare them for their final thesis.

The benefits of studying in an international setting with the opportunity to interact with students from all around the world is a great asset to the programme and in combination with students who are working in ComDev-related fields, the opportunity to share experiences provides added value. ComDev embraces the international mind-set when planning for seminars and to date we have held seminars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, South Africa and Tanzania to name a few and we encourage our students to attend the seminars in person if they have the opportunity.

When writing their theses, we recommend students to conduct field studies and our students have had the opportunity of doing fieldwork in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. We always encourage our students to think outside the box and employ innovativeness and creativity to their fieldwork experiences. ComDev theses have included documentaries, short films, photo essays and a wide array of dissertations presented in exciting and original formats.

As an addition to our master’s programme, we offer a part-time course called Advances in Communication for Development, which aims to enhance skills and deepen knowledge in the strategic use of media and communication in development cooperation. Students are given the opportunity to independently plan, implement and evaluate a ComDev intervention. From 2014 this course is also offered as Commission Education for organisations and companies.


Twitter: @mahcomdev



Aid Is Power. Of Course The BRICS Got In On The Act

At their summit on Wednesday of last week, the BRICS nations (or the “emerging economies” of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced the founding of a new international development bank. This new financial institution will, like the World Bank, provide funding for infrastructure projects throughout the developing world and, like the IMF, use reserves of various currencies to stave off financial crises.

The founding of this new bank is largely the result of the BRICS nations’ discontent with the often disproportionate power allotted to the US and European nations within the internal mechanism of the World Bank and IMF. At the moment, for instance, Brazil and Spain have similar voting shares within the IMF (which are officially determined based on the size of a given nation’s economy using figures like GDP), despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of the Brazilian. Dr. Roslyn Fuller suggests, and  rightfully so, that this new bank is the inevitable manifestation of the West’s inability to adapt to the new multipolar world, or in her words, the result of its failure to turn at this crucial turning point in global relations.

Obviously, there is a deeply geopolitical element to the founding of this new BRIC development bank. In large part, like much in the arena of diplomacy, it is a matter of ego – an opportunity for the BRICS countries to declare independence from and comparable influence to the old bastions of power in Washington, D.C. [Ed: My old foreign policy professor would call it “symbolic politics”].

The India Times refers to the new bank as a “counter-weight” to the World Bank. Reuters’ story on the topic declares in its title that “BRICS set up bank to counter Western hold on global finances.” The LA Times writes that the new bank was founded with “aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”

This adversarial depiction of these two banks common to many media outlets the world over has likely left some of us development interns scratching our heads. After all, isn’t the fundamental goal of the World Bank to combat global poverty, not to preserve any uneven global power structures nor propagate US dominance? Shouldn’t this new bank be welcomed as a dearly needed partner and ally of the DC based financial institutions?

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim would most certainly agree. In a South China Morning Post article he is quoted as saying,

“For us, our competition is poverty. Our enemy is lack of economic growth…. We have no choice but to welcome any new entrants because every new entrant will help us battle poverty.”

Kim said he was eager to collaborate with this new bank in joint efforts to better aid the world’s poor.

Again we are faced with the problem of perceiving and interpreting the place of politics in development work. As William Easterly noted in his most recent book (echoing themes already present in works by James Ferguson and others prior), development organizations tend to mystify the deeply ideological roots of their policy prescriptions and the subsequent political effects of such policies in technocratic rhetoric and claims of impartiality. In such a way the World Bank, an organization with a policy history that mirrors the ideological trends of its American host (such that neoliberal structural adjustment reforms became popular during the Reagan era), can be depicted as an impartial organization advocating empirically proven  policies. Many development interns and practitioners seem to get lost in the technocratic rhetorical haze and forget, or completely ignore, the political elements of this line of work.

However, when the BRICS nations founded their new international bank the global media was able to perceive this move as one with deeply political roots and implications.

The ability to distribute aid is a mark of power; even more so, the ability to determine the ideological character and political directions of this aid. The media is not hailing the bank as a new contributor in the fight against the common scourge of poverty, but a diplomatically complex assertion of growing power and international influence among BRICS nations.

One must turn to President Kim to hear the politically sterile, familiar discourse of “the global confrontation of poverty.” While development organizations have often succeeded in their efforts to appear apolitical, here his remarks stand in contrast to a mass of geographically diverse journalists, making his apolitical representation of the World Bank seem – quite candidly – illusory.

Political jostling and diplomatic hissy fits aside, I am eager to see what will come of this new development bank.

As former World Bank economist (and Nobel prize winner) Joseph Stiglitz indicates in his appearance on Democracy Now, this new bank will only expand investment within the “developing world” and encourage further efforts to stimulate economic growth therein. With reserves of over 3 trillion its seems China’s greater participation (and that of the other BRICS) in the development industry is long over due, and a serious opportunity to better meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Further, this new bank, which will likely pull from demographic and geographic circles underrepresented in Washington, will expand the development policy debate to include previously unheard voices (essentially the goal of development blogs like this one and Why Dev). The familiar danger of “group think” among policymakers can perhaps be staved off through the inclusion of these new diverse contributors (especially since a voice on the international stage tends to be loudest when its orator has full pockets).

Of course there are also new dangers. We must be wary, as with the World Bank, of hidden political rationales embedded in what I am sure will be the technocratically defended policy proposals of this new development bank. Their foreignness to Western observers makes them no less likely to fall into the typically western pitfall of propagating their own cultural hegemony and privileging their own ways of being, thinking, and prospering in their policies.

In short, this new bank is a bit of a mystery. Its institutional history is only about to begin. Here’s to hoping its better than that of the World Bank.

Hell, if nothing else, maybe they’ll even give me job. No one else seems to be interested. 

Commentary, Platform

Managing Risk or Creating It? The Real Message Behind the 2014 World Development Report

This past Sunday, the World Bank released it’s 2014 World Development Report titled Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risks for Development. This report delves into the process of risk management, looking at how it should be conducted, what obstacles prevent people and societies from conducting it effectively, and how these specific obstacles should be overcome.

The theme of this years report will not come as a surprise to most, as ‘resilience’ is one of development’s sexiest new buzzwords. In the age of aid effectiveness, these concepts have massive appeal to donors because proactive and systematic risk management can help to build resilience and protect hard-won development gains (read: investments).

While on the surface the report focuses on preparing for, preventing, and mitigating risk, the real message that the World Bank hammers home is about creating an environment where people are less averse to taking risks. Many people may be baffled by this concept – why would we want to invest in risk management only to encourage more risk? Let’s follow the argument.

Under the leadership of Dr. Jim Yong Kim (the President), the World Bank has set out to transform risk management from being viewed as merely a control function to one that is more dynamic and responsive to change. When risk management is only focused on regulation and preventing potential losses, it results in missed opportunities day after day. In his forward to the report, Kim illustrates the link between risks and opportunities:

“Pursuing opportunities requires taking risks, but many people, especially the poor, are often reluctant to do so, because they fear the potential negative consequences. Failure to act can trap people in poverty, leaving them vulnerable to negative shocks and even less able to pursue opportunities that would otherwise improve their well-being”.

The report cites the example of farmers in Ghana and India whose access to rainfall insurance has encouraged them to take on risks in search of higher yields, such as increasing their investments in fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, and other inputs. Taking these risks has led to increased prosperity and other positive development outcomes. Conversely, Ethiopian farmers who lack access to risk management tools often choose not to use fertilizer because they fear drought and other potential shocks. They prefer to stash their money in a mattress for when the next dry spell comes, as opposed to investing in intermediate inputs

In many cases, the risk of inaction is often the worst option of all.

Illustrating the extent to which risk management can unlock constructive development opportunities is the first step towards changing the way people perceive risk, and how they strategize and execute risk management.

This past summer, Dr. Jim Yong Kim came to my work place (the North-South Institute) for a round-table discussion with key leaders of Canada’s private, academic, and third sectors. This was the first time that I really started thinking about risks and rewards in development. While the Bank’s 2014 report looks mostly at risk on the micro level, during the round-table discussion Dr. Kim mentioned that the Bank itself must become more bold and not be afraid to take risks to support projects that have the potential to transform a country or a region. While one of the key constraints in development may be an individual or nation’s aversion to risk, international development institutions and donors are equally guilty of this.

I think that part of the World Bank’s underlying strategy is that by changing the way institutions think about risk and risk management on-the-ground, it might lead them to adapt the way they approach risk internally. While a farmer may shy away from taking risks because they fear negative repercussions, a donor agency may not pursue a new project or strategy that has the potential to transform a country due to fear of resource waste, pressure to avoid fiduciary risks, or concern that the outcome will have negative effects on their reputation ( for more take a look at this ODI report).

Now, I’m not saying that international development agencies and donors should start taking crazy risks in search of massive rewards (à la Wall Street traders). That is simply not possible, especially due to the role that public opinion plays in development and foreign aid. However, I do think that we need to eliminate incentives to take part in excessive risk aversion if we want to see truly substantial and transformative change.

In my opinion, individuals, societies, and institutions could be doing a much better job at managing the trade-offs between risk, opportunity, and reward, and implementing effective risk management strategies will be the first step towards remedying this.

So what do you think? Do you agree that excessive risk aversion is hurting development? Do you think that implementing risk management strategies will actually encourage people to take “smart risks”? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!


Written by Sarah Simpson

This past January, I made my first trip to India, together with 20 other students from around the world. For three weeks, we worked with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai researching urban public health issues in the slum communities of Mumbai.

My project group sped around town in rickshaws and trudged through sludge and dust to study urban health in Shivaji Nagar, located in the M-Ward which is home to some of the largest slums in India. These 600,000 residents live near the Deonar dumping ground – a man-made mountain of debris and trash.

During our first day, we toured Shivaji Nagar, attracting lots of attention from the community, especially the kids who followed us everywhere. While walking through the slums areas, we were introduced to the “Mahila Mandals,” or traditional local women’s groups, that act to address public health issues caused by the breakdown of government services. They are community-based women’s organizations that seek to improve sanitation and health in the slums. Through broken English, translators and gestures, we learned firsthand how the health of these communities is complicated by many issues ranging from waterborne illnesses to infectious and communicable diseases, and is compounded by inadequate nutrition and overcrowded and poorly constructed living conditions. Historically, Mahila Mandals came together during times of celebration, sorrow or crisis; however their roles in their communities have evolved with the times. Our group decided to focus our research on finding out more about this evolution.

Instead of using a needs-based or problems-focused approach we decided to highlight the community’s assets by writing a case study. We did this by using a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) to help investigate how to best utilize these important community assets. Over the course of two weeks, we traveled to different slum areas and interviewed six Mahila Mandal groups, including both registered and unregistered groups of varying size and membership. We found that not only do Mahila Mandals work to solve issues with sanitation, but that they also promote immunization of children, maternal and child health education, small business funding schemes and resolve domestic violence issues.

To help solve their community sanitation problems, the women frequently collect money for the cleaning of sewers and public toilets. Keeping these facilities clean decreases the exposure to the disease causing vectors and organisms that cause malaria, diarrhea and other maladies. Other community roles include the set-up of Anganwadis or child development centers, which provide childcare services. Children are fed and educated here, ensuring proper childhood nutrition, while alleviating some of the burden of care from their parents. Many of the women involved in these groups are also community health workers with ties them to the local urban health center. As part of their duties, they ensure the vaccination of children, which is especially instrumental in keeping infections, such as polio from re-emerging. Tuberculosis also continues to be a huge public health issue in India, and these women ensure through directly observed treatment programs the prevention of non-adherence to treatment and development of resistant tuberculosis strains. In addition, they also provide training to women on the importance of pre- and post-natal nutrition, family planning options and support for domestic violence incidents.

Their impact is limited mostly due to funding and support from the local community and government. Unregistered groups in particular, are only able to generate funds through community fundraising, which only enables them to solve immediate problems. During our case study interviews we were constantly asked for donations, and we regretfully had to explain over and over, we were students just there to study these groups. And many times, they would say,

“Then what is point of all this? What can you do for us?”

This presented some important ethical questions to consider, as TISS invited us to research these problems and recommend solutions, however, how will these recommendations be implemented after we leave? As this internship program continues, bringing more and more foreign students to trudge through these communities, will they finally have had enough of this “intrusion” and no longer welcome them? However, they still welcomed us into their homes, fed us despite our protests what little food they had to share, and truly made our experience in India unforgettable. Despite not having funds to give, as a thank you for taking the time to speak with us, I created a photo-journal, which we presented to each group we interviewed as a token of our time with them. Since leaving India, I felt compelled to share my experiences, however due to our research not being “approved” by a research board and consent limitations, it’s been frustrating to find ways to properly do this.

At the end of our study, we contended that if more government funding could be mobilized for community-based participatory research programs, communities would more able to identify, support, and mobilize existing resources to create shared visions of change and encourage greater creativity in solving community issues. Along with funding, there is a need for an infrastructure for delivery of care. Apart from services provided by the Mahila Mandals, NGOs, and private clinics and pharmacies, health services are practically nonexistent. Services such as provision of specialized information, physical exams, diagnostic services, hospitalization, medications, follow-up care, prevention, and surveillance need a proper infrastructure that includes specialized and trained personnel. None of these social services can be provided or created by the slum residents themselves. Other services such as access to water and electricity are also desperately needed in these communities.

Support from the local community is also important for the conducting of Mahila Mandal activities. We found that many of these groups consisted of mostly “grandmothers”. This seemed to be due to established gender roles, with younger women discouraged from participation, staying in their roles as “house-wives”. We learned that this is just the tip of the economic, religious as well as cultural hindrances that prevent women from actively participating in these groups.

Most importantly, these groups present a great opportunity to organize women around common issues, challenging and overcoming caste and class hierarchies. They not only provide opportunities for dialogue and discussion, but they also contribute to the capacity of members to understand and find solutions to their community issues and challenges. These groups are prime vehicles for enhancing the position of women in Indian society, as their participation in these groups provides an opportunity for women to take an active part in public affairs.

Overall, community organizations, like the Mahila Mandals, are important for sustainable improvement not only to public health, but for social change as well. While poverty reduction, self-empowerment, and elimination of disparity are important and worthy goals for improving health care in these communities, the speed of development and size of urban slums render achievement of these goals enormously challenging.

Our internship presentation can be found at:

Experiences, Learning, Platform, Projects

Mahila Mandals: A community health study