Do They Know What Patronising Means?

All I want for Christmas this year is…another version of Band Aid, another version of the same old stigmatizing ode of guilt and patronizing pity of Sub-Saharan Africa.

You probably saw it somewhere in your facebook/twitter-feed or maybe the radio has already started to annoy you with this christmas’s most pathetic carol: Bob Geldorf and his fresh team to save the world (Can “One Direction” members even find Sierra Leone on a map?) have recorded “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all” for a fourth time.

And as if the first few versions didn’t do harm enough by setting the whole African continent equal to an Ethiopian famine or the Darfur crisis, this year’s crew decided to apparently use this logo for the release of the 30 year anniversary remake.

Yes, Band Aid is really all about Ebola this time – similarly to Africa being all about Ebola, or Ebola all about in Africa. They even adopted the lyrics from dramatizing hunger to dramatizing ‘E30la’ including some weird lines about Geldorf, Bono and co going out to touch Africans this Christmas (even though they warn you later that to be touch is to be scared)…

The haunting image of Bono coming over to fondle me would make me forget about Christmas too.

For a great deconstruction of the new lyrics I recommend this piece by the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries who seems to be equally as confused as myself.

At least Band Aid improved a bit on their geography over the years and sing only about West Africa this time – even though the guy writing the lyrics must have forgotten to tell the bloke making the logo. On top of that, Nigerians, Malians or Burkinese must be pretty surprised that Bob Geldorf and his gang just expressed their condolences for their lack of joy and fun during this festive season.

Other West Africans who prefer the mosque over church might actually really not care about Christmas this year, but I’d say that’s more a general thing and Ebola cannot be blamed for that.

Today I also had to find out that Bobby G is expanding his patronizing humanitarian crusade to other countries and turns it into a franchise. He has flown into Germany and recruited some (formerly) great musicians for a German version of this 2014 ode to joy. I had realized that Max Herre turned into a douche, but wouldn’t have expected it from Campino.

I guess it’s time to delete my “Toten Hosen” and “Freundeskreis” albums from my iPod. Campino stated: “It’s less about art, but about the gesture.” I say it’s mostly about you not thinking about the impact of your action.

A final fun fact for the German readership: Even the rapper Haftbefehl is jeopardizing his street cred to be part of this fabulous project (for the non-Germans, the last time I checked he did this kinda stuff)

Somehow I thought the world had moved ahead – but I guess it’s time to promote the “Africa For Norway” campaign again. Watching their great video will make you grasp why Bandaid is just ridiculous. However, 2 million+ views on youtube apparently have not been enough.

Ignorance prevails.

I have always found these charity songs fairly annoying but being in Tanzania for this Band Aid season, I actually got furious. I blame people like Geldorf, Bono and their friends for the fact that friends around here have lost their jobs and many Tanzanians will actually have some more problems than usual around this year’s Christmas time. However, they are not sick of Ebola or die of hunger under the burning African sun, but they lost their income as tour guides, porters or hotel staff because of stupid Westerners cancelling up to 80% of their trips to East Africa.

Apparently, they are afraid to catch Ebola thousands of miles away from its source. Yet, now that I think about it – maybe they also fear Bob Geldof’s smeary hands touching them during their Christmas safari.


The 20th Commemoration Of The Rwandan Genocide: Link roundup

While April is a celebration of spring in many parts of the world – or, here in Boston, at least of the hope that winter is finally over – the 7th of this month marks the beginning of Rwanda’s period of mourning, in commemoration of the 1994 genocide. On this day each year, Rwandans begin an official week-long period of mourning, in the form of ceremonies, speeches, films, marches, prayers, and shows of solidarity that take place in schools, churches, stadiums, fields, and streets across the country.

Scholars, activists, journalists, and other observers watch from abroad, recognizing the lives that were lost in 1994, measuring the progress that has been made since then, and examining the extent to which justice has been served. I, like my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Rwanda, also look back on the Aprils we spent there. I find myself holding my breath, hoping this year doesn’t see the mass violence of the Aprils I remember, and that my friends in Rwanda are safe and able to commemorate their own losses and experiences in peace.

In recognition of Genocide Memorial Day, I’d like to offer a round-up of the myriad articles about Rwanda that have come out in the past few days, in preparation for the 20th commemoration.

  • The Guardian posted an overview of Rwanda’s improvement on development indicators over the past twenty years.
  • This article from The Atlantic and this one was the Montreal Gazette focus on the dire state of mental health in the country and the dearth of psychosocial support.
  • A Rwandan lawyer and genocide survivor now working as a professor in the U.S. published a compelling New York Times op-ed in which he examines how the country’s culture of unquestioning obedience contributed to the genocide and how it is affects reconciliation efforts today.
  • Over at Slate, this piece questions the extent to which Rwandans have truly reconciled and expresses concern about the methods the government has used to promote reconciliation.
  • In comparing the two dominant narratives of Rwanda today (a development miracle versus an oppressive dictatorship), Rachel Strohm asks, “What’s the right analogy for Rwanda?”
  • Just yesterday, France announced it would be pulling out of genocide commemorations, in response to President Kagame’s discussion of the country’s role in the genocide.
  • Finally, the newest episode of the Humanosphere podcast features an interview with Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda and, if you haven’t read it yet, this incredible BBC piece on one of the UN peacekeepers who helped protect hundreds of people inside Rusesabagina’s hotel.
Advice, Support

6 New Year’s Resolutions For Development Grad Students

With the New Year under way and a new semester just around the corner, development students are setting resolutions that will help them learn about the field and prepare them to embark on careers in international aid. The Guardian’s recent series on New Year’s Resolutions for Development Professionals prompted me to share some resolutions specifically for graduate students in development.

1. Read blogs

The aid and development blogosphere is rich with knowledge, opinions, and anecdotes about all aspects of the field, and provides a great complement to classroom learning. Reading blogs allows students to engage with the field informally, dig deeper into topics that interest them, keep up-to-date with new research, and see debates unfold in real time.

Though updates on many blogs have become less frequent lately, there are still dozens of excellent ones, with a tremendous amount to be learned from them. Some great bloggers to check out include Chris Blattman, Ken Opalo, Duncan Green, and the teams at WhyDev and Humanosphere. [Ed: we have an extensive reading list for the internet addicted bottom-rungers here]

On a related note, the aid Twitterati is very active and offers links to relevant posts and abridged versions of the discussion found on blogs. Both The Guardian and WhyDev recently posted lists of top development Tweeps to follow.

2. Read non-academic books related to the field

Students (myself included) often find it difficult to commit to doing much outside reading, but I’m not suggesting everyone study extra statistics textbooks in their spare time! Rather, I think reading non-technical books is a low-stress, enjoyable way to deepen our understanding of development and aid.

Books that informally address material learned in class can help the concepts sink in and give students a chance to see how these concepts get applied in the real world. Similarly, memoirs by aid workers offer insight into the life for which students are preparing themselves. For example, Zen Under Fire, written by a human rights lawyer about her experiences working in Afghanistan, thoughtfully discusses struggles many aid workers face in both their personal and professional lives.

Novels and non-fiction works set in developing countries can also provide a new perspective and some cultural understanding. For suggestions of books from (literally) any country of interest, take a look at A Year of Reading The World.

3. Connect with students in other schools and programs

No more reading resolutions, I promise! It has become very clear to me that there are many, many different ways to approach development work – public policy, anthropology, economics, public health, gender studies, business, even engineering. All these fields and many others offer their own approach to development, their own lens through which to view development issues, their take on the most important problems and the most effective solutions. Even among the APSIA schools, which offer somewhat similar degree programs, each school has its own bent on the study of development. Connecting with students from other programs and schools can offer great insight into the many approaches to development and enhance students’ understanding of the field at large. In short, resolve to attend a happy hour.

4. Learn a relevant computer skill

Admittedly more technical (and probably less fun) than the above resolutions, becoming proficient in a relevant computer skill can only be beneficial. In my job-search and networking experience, many organizations are looking for employees and interns who are skilled at Stata, ATLAS, GIS, CSPro, HTML, or other software or languages. Do some research to identify which one is most relevant to your goals, and see if it is taught in any courses or workshops at your school or through online tutorials.

5. Listen to foreign language podcasts

On a somewhat similar note, resolve to keep up a foreign language. Most students in international development speak at least one foreign language, though maintaining proficiency probably isn’t a priority for most students while they’re in school. Since you will likely be called on to use another language during internships and future jobs (including in interviews), it’s advantageous to stay familiar with it. I’ve discovered a simple way of doing this is to listen to foreign language podcasts while commuting, which at least keeps comprehension and vocabulary from getting too rusty.

6. Watch Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

At one point or another, regardless of the exact type of aid work you ultimately do, you will have the responsibility of portraying people from other countries. It could be in official reports for your organization, on a personal blog, during conversations with other aid workers, or in letters to your grandmother. For the sake of both dignity and accuracy, it is critical that portrayals – in whatever form they take – go beyond stereotypes, simplifications, or a “single story.”

Please share your own resolutions and recommendations for blogs, books, and other resources in the comments.

Commentary, Experiences

Working For The Poverty Barons

Written by Julia Lipowiecka

When I was first given the opportunity to work in international development consulting I had very little idea of what the industry entailed. In development lectures we had discussed the role of donors and NGOs but this third actor in the development arena often remained unnamed. Making a profit out of poverty alleviation projects seemed a confusing, if not exploitative, notion.

Development consulting firms are increasingly a key actor developing and delivering aid – according to The Guardian private sector contractors could account for 11% of DFID’s aid expenditure in 2013-2014. Working on behalf of donor governments and international organizations these firms serve a number of roles including procurement of equipment, design and management of aid programmes, and provision of specific technical assistance. Their assignments can range from managing a multi-million gender empowerment programme or grant fund, evaluating other aid programmes, or providing a single consultant to advise a national government on how to participate in trade negotiations.

Development consultancies make their profit through a margin placed on consultants fees – a consulting firm employs the consultants directly and then charges them out to the donor at a higher rate. If the project or fund is being directly managed by a firm it may also charge a set management fee as part of the overall project budget.

Most donors don’t have the organizational capacity or in-house technical expertise to directly manage numerous multi-million projects across the globe, nor do they want to bear the direct risks involved in managing such projects, often in highly volatile environments.

Large development consultancies have both the financial resources, the technical expertise, and the project backstopping facilities to be able to closely manage and ensure the effectiveness of development projects. Smaller ones have the technical expertise that allows to provide very specific services to projects, be it advising on the design of the national electoral system, running training for civil society organizations or facilitating value chain development.

The idea of development consultancies is easy to criticize – just read the Telegraph’s scathing criticism of the ‘poverty barons’ i.e. consultants and private firms which ‘make a fortune from tax-payer funded aid budgets’. However the profits made by development consultancies really depend on the firm. There are the development consulting giants whose profits may have reached unhealthy levels, but there are also small technically-focused projects who make a small profit once they cover their overheads (office costs, project management costs, staff wages). In many ways the profits made by development consulting firms create incentives that ensure project results – if you cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of your projects it’s unlikely the donor will want to award you any further work. Nowadays all projects are rigorously evaluated and with so many firms operating in the aid business development consultancies have to demonstrate both the impact of their projects and competitiveness of their fees or risk being left behind.

The image of consultants as middle-aged white men running development projects and living comfortable expat lives is also simply outdated – most projects that I observed are run by local in-country teams with perhaps the nominal foreign consultant (with technical expertise in the specific area and years of experience working in the country) at the helm as Team Leader or Technical Director. Foreign consultants as drawn on when there is a need for their particular expertise and they collaborate closely with the local teams to ensure that projects are culturally-sensitive and locally owned. Development consultancies know that its neither profitable nor good practice to have large teams of expats running projects.

As with anything in international development I think it’s best to take a skeptical view, but overall I think development consultancies are an important and effective actor in the development arena. The recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) evaluation of DFID’s use of contractors concluded that private contractors are an effective option for delivering aid, as they deliver positive results at competitive rates (although of course the review was itself conducted by development consultants).

Thoughts For Interns

For anyone interested in working in international development, consulting offers a very attractive entry point. Working for development consultancies has enabled me to really understand the development industry, including the politics and the complexities involved in managing development projects on the ground. The development consulting business is a fast-paced, results-driven environment to work in, and the skills you develop, including commercial-awareness, will be useful no matter what career you choose to pursue.

Another advantage is that most internships in development consulting are paid.

The fact that you are being paid also means that you will be treated as an integral part of the team, with responsibility and tasks, and you won’t simply be making coffee or shifting paperwork. My average work week is very varied – I might be working in the London office contacting potential candidates for projects and bids, drafting sections of the technical proposal for a project, arranging travel for consultants, keeping track of project financials or I might be travelling in-country, meeting with partner organizations and project stakeholders and participating in theory of change workshop with the local team.

Along the way I have met some truly inspirational and dedicated consultants and have had very insightful conversations sitting in a dingy hotel bar, drinking a cold beer after a long day of meetings and planning sessions. Behind the mystery and dubious reputation, the development consulting industry is an interesting place to start your career and learn what development work actually looks like.


Here is a link to the hub itself. We’d love to get a discussion going down in the comments section.

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