International Development: why does it matter?

Does international development even matter? Is it really necessary for countries that are further developed to dedicate a portion of their national budget to foreign aid? Where does the duty to provide for the worlds poorest citizens belong?

Well, the simple answer to that one is – to ALL of us. After all, how did certain countries accumulate enough wealth to be considered developed? They certainly did not achieve that on their own.

Some of us have a disproportionate amount of material goods and this is directly linked to the reality that others do not and this disparity is by no means a natural phenomenon. In the greatness of human ingenuity, we have manufactured this inequality. This gap continues to grow as we colonize, extract, and continue to prop up systems that enforce dependency.

Are these things in the past? Absolutely not! I’m going to try really hard not to rant about the Canadian mining industry and how it continues to exploit foreign nations for their resources, environment and people but please keep in mind that it is happening right now! Fun fact: Canada is home to 75% of the worlds mining companies partially because only two Canadian laws apply to international mining practices and companies are not held to account for policies relating to either environmental or social responsibility – way to go Canada! (Mining Watch Canada)

So yes – we do owe it to countries working hard on their own development. Forget aid as charity and instead try thinking about it as the fine owed for the exploitation we continue to engage in and benefit from.

If we really want to do away with foreign aid (and I agree that it is not a very good system), maybe we could start thinking about changing how we engage as individuals, corporations, and governments with the international community. If our current practices are going to continue to deepen the divide between less developed and more developed countries, then I guess we should increase the amount of aid dollars we allocate each year. OR – we could actually hold our own governments as well as our private sector to account! They get away with this neocolonial shit because the voices calling them out on their exploitation are too few and ultimately, Canadians benefit from shutting up.

International development is absolutely an issue of social justice and human rights and we are failing miserably right now.

We are responsible for the world we live in. What do you want it to look like?

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On Knowing Nothing

Recently, a kind Malawian diplomat reminded me of something very important. During a chat about the role of international development in Tanzania he said,

                                                      “Remember, you know nothing!”

Now, before anyone gets cranky – he was and is absolutely 100% right! This is something my boss also likes to remind interns of when they are getting ready to go overseas on their internships and personally, I find it very helpful (it also takes off the pressure to ‘make a difference’ or ‘create change’). Quick reminder: that is NOT what overseas placements are meant for in the first place!!

Sure, no one likes to be reminded of their inadequacies (myself included) but I think it is incredibly important, especially when it comes to any sort of development work, to keep in mind that as an outsider you know very little. You do not fully comprehend the situation regardless of how much time you have spent in said country or community and you probably never will!

                                                                         and that is okay!

People and cultures are wonderfully complex and it really is arrogant to assume that you know anyones situation better than they do. You also miss out on the exciting, everyday things when you are busy trying to prove your own worth. Sometimes we get a bit preoccupied with the idea of ‘experts’ but trying to be one is really not very useful to anyone.

So instead – pull up a chair or sit on the floor if need be, have a cup of chai and SHUT UP and LISTEN. There are always opportunities to learn but we have to get out of our own heads to really make the most of them. Remember, you know nothing – which might just be the most important thing that you do know. I do know that it holds true for me.

As a side-note, I think ‘knowing nothing’ is applicable to many other jobs and life experiences apart from development but I will leave that for other wiser souls to address.