Centre for Global Development

Landmark moment as world leaders act on plan to get millions of children into school

After campaigners demanded education for every child, the G20 summit has committed to action on a financing plan that will unlock $10 billion a year through an International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd). Follow the link below to the full article:


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Opportunity for a paid placement with CGD and LSSI


The Centre for Global Development (CGD), in collaboration with the Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI), is offering a placement opportunity for a post graduate research student to undertake a review of global development research activity across the University of Leeds (UoL), and the social sciences in particular. The student will be based in either the Faculty of Arts, Environment, ESSL, LUBS and have a strong understanding of the field of global development. The review will inform the CGD, LSSI and the wider University community about research conducted in the area of global development by academics at the University of Leeds. It will also contribute towards institutional planning for the Global Challenges Research Fund, Newton and other funding opportunities.

The placement is funded by CGD. The successful applicant will receive a bursary of £1000, and will be employed by the University of Leeds for the placement.

Project Title:  Global Development Research at Leeds

Length of Placement:  Up to 60 hours (working hours per week to be decided)

Proposed start date:  June 2017

End date: 31 July 2017

Location of Placement: CGD/LSSI, University of Leeds


The CGD is an interdisciplinary research centre. Established in 1984, the Centre draws on the expertise of over sixty members from different schools and faculties at the University of Leeds in the field of international development. The Centre’s aims are to promote academic excellence through generating interdisciplinary knowledge on development issues in low income countries, and pursuing collaborative research with institutions in the developing world.

The work of social scientists is supported and enhanced by the Leeds Social Sciences Institute.  The LSSI is a large, vibrant Institute which fosters interdisciplinary and international research collaborations, promoting relations with external partners in the public, private and third sectors and building capacity through the provision of training and skills development for the next generation of research leaders.

The Task

The successful applicant will work on a review of global development research activity across the University of Leeds (UoL), using data provided by LUCID. LUCID is a university of Leeds-based literature searching service and they have provided us with a list of academics at the University of Leeds who have been publishing in the area of global development. The list includes the names of the academics (about 250), the schools they are associated with, and a link to their publication list on Scopus.

The project will mainly involve desk based data research (both quantitative and qualitative), data collection, quality assurance, and report writing.

The researcher will be asked to:

  • Review the data provided by LUCID. This should include checking if all academics on the list are really involved in global development research (some names found may have only very tentative links to the research area and should either be deleted or italicised if it may not be completely relevant but might still be useful); if they are still employed at Leeds; how may publications they have relevant to the field.
  • Cross check the list provided by LUCID with the members’ list of the CGD and add any missing names to the list and gather their relevant data from Scopus (with help from LUCID)
  • Gather brief comprehensive information on the core research interests of all the academics of the list and, if easy to find, list the countries and/or regional areas they work in
  • Gather information about any research funding awards (with help from RIS) and add these to the list
  • Undertake a mapping exercise using the data and the extra information gathered to understand where current internal strengths in the area of global development at the University of Leeds, in particular related to the social sciences.
  • Undertake a mapping exercise to understand where current internal (and external) international collaborations are occurring.
  • Present your findings in user-friendly outputs, and produce a visual representation of the Global Development Strengths at Leeds to promote our research expertise to internal and external audiences

The majority of this work will be undertaken directly by the post graduate researcher. In consultation with CGD, the Leeds Social Sciences Institute will develop the programme of work for the placement, and provide suitable office accommodation and equipment.

Skills required

  • Knowledge of the field of International Development
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • An ability to work independently
  • Experience of carrying out quantitative and qualitative research
  • An interest in global development research and an ability to work with data from a range of disciplines
  • Experience of use of visualisation tools would be desirable

Closing date: 16 June 2017

Applicants should submit a short CV plus a one page statement explaining why they would like to take up this opportunity, and what experiences and skills make them suited to the position to Professor Caroline Dyer at C.Dyer@leeds.ac.uk.

Applications will be considered by the panel and successful applicants will be notified within two weeks of the closing date. For PhD students Written confirmation of support from the applicant’s supervisor will be required with the application.

For enquiries please contact Professor Caroline Dyer <c.dyer@leeds.ac.uk> or Josine Opmeer <j.a.opmeer@leeds.ac.uk>.

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Launch of new research network to promote more socially inclusive systems in the Global South

The International Network for Transport and Accessibility in Low Income Communities (INTALInC) in the Institute of Transport Studies has now launched.

The network, funded by the ESRC’s Global Research Challenge Fund, has been set up to build lasting research partnerships to develop research to promote urban transport systems that can meet the travel needs of low income populations in cities in the Global South.

The social consequences of inadequate transport systems in developing cities have been largely ignored by policy makers. However, researchers are increasingly raising concerns about the severe mobility and accessibility disadvantages of the urban poor in developing cities. Using case studies from cities in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa and Uganda, INTALInC’s interdisciplinary focus will be transformative for the development of more socially inclusive transport systems planning in these locations.

Coordinated by the Institute of Transport Studies, the core network is made up of nine partner organisations from across the UK, Africa and East Asia. Established in January 2017, in the first instance INTALInC will run until June 2018.

Professor Karen Lucas, the Network Director says, ‘We want the network to draw together a wide range of expertise and experiences from within and outside of the transport sector, especially in related fields such as housing, health, education and social welfare. How and where transport systems are designed and operated makes all the difference to whether they include or exclude the poorest people living in developing cities. Our key aim is to discuss and expose the important links between people’s ability to move and their opportunity to participate in life-chance opportunities such as employment, education and healthcare and welfare services.  We also want to ensure that people can travel affordably and without fear for their lives whether on foot, by bicycle or by public transport.’

Over the next 18 months, INTALInC will build collaborative, cross disciplinary relationships, and develop and run four ‘research in practice’, country-based workshops, as well as a series of interim webinars and other networking events to share information and cement links with the broader network. Outputs from these events will communicate the transport and accessibility needs of vulnerable populations to local and national decision makers, making a real impact on the transport systems of tomorrow in developing cities.

The next INTALInC workshop will be held in Cape Coast, Ghana on 22-23 May 2017. Partners will meet to investigate the specific mobility concerns and accessibility needs of children and young people in Ghana.

To keep up to date with INTALInC activities, sign up for the network newsletter at www.intalinc.wordpress.com or follow @INTALInC on Twitter. For more information, contact Emma Tsoneva, Network Coordinator: e.l.tsoneva@leeds.ac.uk

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Opportunity to Present at the AHRC International Development Summit

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) are hosting an International Development Summit- ‘Mobilising Global Voices’, at the British Library, London on Wednesday 7th June 2017.

The Summit aims to showcase and discuss the unique and important contribution that AHRC-funded research (and of the arts and humanities more widely) makes to policy and practice in International Development and to cross-disciplinary and collaborative research which addresses a range of global challenges.

The proposed theme of the summit – ‘Mobilising Global Voices’ – indicates an aspiration to add to previous events and consultations by bringing the voices and perspectives of researchers, partners, cultural and development organisations and diverse communities in Low and Middle countries more strongly into debates about how arts and humanities research might contribute to international development, and we would welcome innovative ideas for how the summit might stimulate longer term engagement with diverse global voices.

Call for Expressions of Interest

Expressions of interest are invited from researchers and practitioners from all disciplines within the arts and humanities, and across the NGO and International Development and other key sectors, to participate and deliver a five minute presentation / ‘lightning talk’ at the International Development Summit. The presentation content is required to discuss the role of Arts and Humanities research in contributing to international development challenges and mobilising diverse global voices. Proposals which address the overarching theme of ‘no-one left behind’ (from the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development) are encouraged. As well as proposals which cover issues around engaging different ‘voices’ in research and/or reflect on the challenges and opportunities of conducting collaborative / co-produced research and supporting equitable partnerships in and with LMICs.

This is a great opportunity for researchers to discuss the outcomes and implications of their research with a large varied audience from both research and policy –practice communities in the UK and internationally and for practitioners in international development to share their expertise, experience and /or research needs. In particular we wish to encourage forward looking proposals for presentations which extend an individual project and might help to inform debates about the shape of wider future research agendas in the arts and humanities relating to international development. Attending the Summit also provides an opportunity to network and share experience, insights, and learning and to discuss opportunities for research collaboration to be further enhanced internationally, across disciplines, and with policy and practice.

We particularly welcome applications from non-academic partners, Arts and Humanities researchers from low or middle income countries as defined by the DAC List and Arts and Humanities Early Career Researchers, this includes but not limited to early career researchers involved in AHRC funded projects and AHRC funded studentships.

Presentation Requirements

The ‘lightning talks’ / presentations should include a clear, concise and interesting narrative about the role of Arts and Humanities Research in contributing to international development challenges and mobilising diverse global voices. Proposals which seek to develop future agendas and/or stimulate debate about future priorities and ways of working will also be welcomed. Presentations will be strictly limited to (and cut off at) five minutes and should be timed to ensure that they fit the time available. For further information please read the call document. (PDF, 113KB)

Application Process and Format

Applications are to be submitted via smart survey by 4.00pm on Monday 24th April 2017. The smart survey will ask applicants to submit a 500-word account of the proposed topic of their presentation. Please bear in mind that your proposal will be read by non-academics therefore ensure your proposal is clear, accessible and avoids unnecessary jargon. You will also be required to include a 300-word account which covers your area of expertise

Closing Dates

Closing Date: 24/04/2017

For further information about how to apply see:


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Online Conference – Decolonising development: Whose Voice, Whose Agenda?

Invitation to Join an Online Global Conference:  May 22 – 24 2017

Organised by Leeds University Centre for Global Development (CGD) and INTRAC (www.intrac.org)

(see Blog below for details)

What can – or should – development achieve? Who decides what success looks like or how it should be measured? With the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the list of urgent, interdependent and seemingly intractable global challenges seems only to grow. Addressing issues such as climate change, poverty, gender inequality or prolonged conflict is believed increasingly to depend on the capacity of stakeholders to form inter-organisational and interdisciplinary partnerships across academic researchers, donors, private sector, government and civil society practitioners.  Multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaborative processes – underpinned by knowledge sharing, pooled resources and expertise – are being promoted as essential modalities for achieving the SDGs in efficient, effective ways. Greater participation of, ownership by, and devolution to, Southern-based partners to set agendas, build local capacity and identify solutions is being lauded as the way forward to address the growing chorus of concern around how to ‘do development differently’.

Yet to what extent are the assumed democratic, creative principles of partnerships borne out in practice and whose values, knowledge and evidence count in decision-making and evaluation processes?  Research undertaken amongst Leeds CGD members and INTRAC and the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment in diverse development contexts exposes the complex power dynamics and contradictions often inherent in multi-stakeholder initiatives. The research demonstrates that donor funding environments and imperatives, and different priorities and approaches to development, affect how ‘impact’ is conceptualised and measured, how results are interpreted, how change pathways are established, and whose ideas and voices are included or excluded. Recent working papers, seminar series, edited collections and books (produced largely by Northern institutions) contribute to this debate.

It is time to widen the debate and encourage an open, frank discussion to engage critically with the questions of why we ‘do’ development; who decides what development is; what types of development we are arguably feeling forced into promoting; and what type of development we want to see.

Join us for a major online conference on May 22nd to 24rd 2017. The conference provides a unique opportunity, bringing together diverse actors from around the world, working in development practice, policy and research. The conference will focus on three interrelated themes:

Power, voice and inclusion

  • Whose voices really count within multi-stakeholder processes and to what extent are certain actors brought in to legitimise approaches and projects without being really heard?
  • Who gets to set priorities for research and in whose name/for whose benefit are multi-stakeholder partnerships being promoted? With what short- or long-term purpose?
  • To what extent are more progressive concepts like ‘voice’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘downward accountability’ and ‘agency’ being appropriated and even co-opted by donors and other powerful policy actors and stripped of their political intent in the process?
  • How is the dominance of the English language in global development practice skewing our understanding of specific experiences of poverty in different contexts, and marginalising non-English speakers?

Accountability, evidence and ‘impact’

  • Who decides on what counts as quality and rigour in research? Is ‘academic’ evidence the most rigorous? And how is the relative value of ‘evidence’ framed in relation to ‘on the ground’ experience in multi-level decision-making processes?
  • What counts as ‘impact’ from research partnerships that stretch across different disciplines, development issues and cultural contexts? Is it the same for all partners? Does impact have to be ‘measurable’?
  • How can anyone decide on what constitutes ‘best practice’? Is it even possible to identify interventions that provide the most benefit? How might we do this given the complexity of people’s lived experiences?
  • How can we ensure that research evidence is considered as part of decision-making processes and outcomes in the ‘post-truth’ or ‘fake news’ era?

Partnership and capacity building

  • How can diverse development stakeholders work better together given the different institutional contexts in which they exist? How do we encourage longer-term engagement and collaboration? What are the potential drivers of such a process and what support needs to be in place to facilitate ‘better’ partnership?
  • What would a funding model/system look like that created space for dialogue and support for capacity-building amongst a greater diversity of voices in sustainable ways, and how can space for mutual learning be created?
  • How are people already working more creatively within the current frameworks and with donors? To what extent is passive or active subversion or even outright challenge possible? To what extent is change possible? What type of change might that be?

The conference will provide a safe, mutually supportive space to:

  • Engage in a dynamic, critical discussion around the three themes
  • Share key concerns and experiences relating to the challenges of development and the achievement of the SDGs
  • Identify innovative strategies for doing development differently
  • Share lessons and good practices for enabling more inclusive, effective development approaches
  • Contribute to a new high-profile publication

How will it work?

The online conference will bring together participants from diverse countries and different areas of development, including research, policy, advocacy and practice. Dynamic real-time discussions on critical themes and questions will be animated by key contributors throughout the three days (to be announced).

How can you participate?

Are you asking similar questions within your own work and activities? Or are there other questions this changing development landscape is raising for you that can be usefully answered or addressed through dialogue and partnership?


Online Conference – Decolonising Development: Whose Voice, Whose Agenda?

22 May 2017

Session 1: Who Holds the Power?

Session 2: From Response to Change

Our first day has been overwhelming in a very positive way, and judging by the liveliness of the discussion boards even as I write this, we look forward to reflecting on what colleagues from other time zones think of the discussions so far and to learn from their insights and experiences when we wake up in GMT+1 tomorrow morning!

We have held two half-day sessions on separate but inter-related themes. In the morning we considered ‘Who holds the power?’ and in the afternoon we wanted to galvanise our shared thinking in order to consider ‘From response to change’, reflecting on how we might think about power and change differently.

It is also worth emphasizing that all the threads from today will continue to be open for the three days so if you have registered for the conference but have not yet had a chance to contribute please do read through all of the contributions and let us know your thoughts on the discussion so far.

How do you synthesise all the voices of this one-day (out of three) in a way that is not reductive and doesn’t miss all the nuances? It has been a rich discussion so far, but as promised, we will try to do justice to some of the key themes emerging out of today’s conference proceedings and share some thoughtful quotes from participants over the day.

‘Development’ is a very powerful idea: whose knowledge counts?

The power of a certain idea of ‘development’ itself and the hierarchies that operate at all levels in both North and South seemed even to transcend the stakeholders that occupy the so-called development ‘space’. As on partcipant suggested:

The fact is that the way we understand and practice development, majority of us endorse fundamental underpinnings of one model of economy.

With others sharing concerns about how development is done, concuring with another post about the ‘structural’ concerns raised in development practice:

[I] would like to add that much of the development interventions are too ‘cosmetic’ and short-lived and to a large extent divorced from lived- realities on the ground. It is very disturbing that some donor communities would rather provide partial funding for instance; are quick to commission studies with no meaningful outcomes for affected communities.

Some of you suggested that you ‘struggle’ with the idea of sustainability, which seemed in many instances more about building capacity for an individual or organisation to be financially independent rather than any serious consideration of what this term means or why it might be important for people and planet.

There was also agreement that this notion of ‘development’ is then produced, proliferated, then reproduced, re-interpreted, circulating from the local to the global and back again through a narrow range of ‘acceptable’ mechanisms, ‘frozen’ and ‘decontexutalised’ as one participant suggested, in textbooks used in formal education, written up and then launched in academic reports and books as ‘expertise’ or applied as part of funding cycles, programmes and projects and policies.

And what about people’s existing knowledge? The shared emphasis on longer-term goals of social justice, voice and inclusion captured by elements of the SDG agenda, for instance, are not just contradicted but actively undermined by short-term funding and project cycles, as another participant highlighted. And all the stakeholders are caught in the middle between their own longer-term goals and their own survival that responds to the (sometime perverse) incentives in the system, as one contributor noted. For some of you it was very clear whose knowledge did(n’t) count:

But who takes small farmers, peasants and their economies seriously. They are considered vestigial and policies around them facilitate their disappearance to be superseded by industrial agriculture all over the world. And their values, ethos and practices are considered retrograde.

Is the idea of development really fixed? As yet another participant suggested, perhaps there is a danger of essentialising those people at the margins as if they are also part of fixed-space cultural constructs or that capitalism/development has nothing to do with them – can we have a development that takes account of culture, any so-called local knowledge, that does not either essentialise what ‘local culture’ means or indeed what ‘development’ might mean? As the discussion evolved over the morning, it became clear that there were shared concerns around narrowing how we talk about development that has material consequences, and so this discussion around what we mean about, for example, ‘gender equality’ or what role this has in development needs to be examined carefully.

Another important theme was how then do we ‘do’ development? A number of issues were raised here, including around existing feedback and accontability:

Unfortunately in my experience, the very definition of (the industry of) “development” is a series of disconnected “projects” that don’t even refer to one another, much less build on them. For this reason, any “feedback” is filed with the project evaluation, and there’s no incentive to make changes nor to value feedback. But I think the problem is far deeper than that. The intense rejection of feedback that I’ve experienced (over and over again) comes from INGOs, donors and the United Nations being unwilling to consider alternative views and especially not criticism! Many people feel that their “doing a good deed” should exempt them from accountability and even from scrutiny. The power dynamics of exclusion work at all levels.

Raising questions around the role of NGOs and aid systems:

The aid system is riddled with incentives that prevent well-meaning individuals from practising what they preach; just as the academic system is riddled with obstacles for researchers to shift the power dynamics in research. In all my dealings with practitioners from all over the world in huge institutions and tiny voluntary groups, I don’t find anyone who would disagree with much of what is being said here. But changing many of the embedded practices of the system is a much harder task. For every good pilot initiative or research project there are many, many more examples of poor practice.

And states:

My deep belief – and I know that I am not enough imaginative – is that ultimately states have to be accountable towards their citizens but especially in the so called failed states, where there is a generic lack of accountability, virtually no one is accountable towards the citizen and those working on development have the moral obligation to build such a culture – at least those who still really care about the people we are supposed to serve.

Taken together, it set a firm basis to continue into the questions of how we respond to these challenges and promote change that were then considered in the afternoon.

Moving forward?

In the second session we went beyond just the North-South, East-West discussion and into the power and knowledge hierarchies that exist within communities, between genders, between citizen and state, and between the private and public sectors. Perhaps, it was mooted, IT investments offer one possible approach:

I wish to suggest that innovative methods of communicating with poor communities should be found. The developments in IT enable communicators to use social media to reach a wider audience. Where modern IT devices may not be widely available, the traditional literature, radio, TV and road shows/theatres could be used.

We considered how to identify the windows of opportunity for being creative. There are times and places when saying no and pushing back are possible and we need to be brave enough to highlight the real failures and terrible practices in development. Sometimes though institutional barriers are difficult to challenge:

Donor agency staffs, especially local ones in foreign donor agencies, mostly do not want interviews on their perceptions on foreign aid recorded. Sometimes beneficiaries will say somethings off record that are very much contrary to their written submissions. Local employees in foreign donor agencies may be considered not to know the field very well and puppets not able to make decisions to benefit locals. Their foreign managers are also considered to have condescending attitudes towards recipients. Sometimes, during workshops and conferences, racial divides are visible among employees of some foreign agencies. There, is therefore, need by some development agencies to fight what is perceived as a snobbish attitude of some of their staff. Development agencies need to respect their beneficiaries and opinions.

As this quotation reiterates, there are other times and places where challenging the status quo is a risky strategy, for us as individuals who have our own livelihoods to consider and as organisations and institutions that have incentive structures that can mitigate against upsetting the status quo. Working with the grain is one option, using the dominant discourses, to educate (and re-educate) those in positions of political, economic or social power to think differently about how to approach development. We can bring those with power into learning spaces, build trust and openness and push them to rethink. There are many alternative models and spaces that are gaining traction.

There was not much dissent within the group – so far. There does seem to be a shared sense that our collective interest lies in finding ways to support long-term change that works for all those involved, particularly in relation to inclusion of marginalized groups:

Many of us probably agree that in many cases the voices of the poor and underprivileged who apparently should be the subject of development interventions do not count. Because they lack power and voice, their concerns at best can only be heard by the powerful but such concerns do not form the development agenda in their countries. Having participated in a baseline study in which we sought to establish the degree to which citizens’ participation and needs were considered in service delivery in one of the country’s in East Africa, I was surprised at the findings. Those who have power simply ignore the poor and set their development and service delivery agenda based on information from politicians and government technocrats. What must I do as a development practitioner to ensure that power is used to serve the greater good rather than the agenda of a few?

As one contributor put it, not everyone wants to be an engineer or a mechanic. However, I think the consensus that we saw today is that people who have traditionally been marginalised and without power should have a choice about whether a car is the best option, the type of car that is being bought, and the direction that the car is travelling. There are some great ideas and examples about how to do this; we need to build that into a critical mass.

Written and compiled by Lata Narayanaswamy, Rachel Hayman and Alyson Brody


Online Conference – Decolonising Development: Whose Voice, Whose Agenda?

23 May 2017

Session 1: Targeting evidence more effectively?

Session 2: Setting priorities for research

Day two of the conference focused on accountability, evidence and impact. The morning session concentrated on the issue of ‘Targeting evidence more effectively’ and the afternoon session was concerned with ‘Setting priorities for research.’ Some initial questions for the discussion included:

  • How can we improve links between evidence, action and outcomes?
  • What types of indicators make sense and in which situations?
  • Does impact have to be ‘measurable’?
  • What counts as ‘impact’ from research partnerships that stretch across different disciplines, development issues and cultural contexts?
  • Who decides on what counts as quality and rigour in research?
  • How can we ensure development accountability frameworks and language are meaningful and not purely meeting bureaucratic needs?

As with yesterday’s discussion it is difficult to do justice to the rich debate, which raised a number of shared concerns as well as highlighting positive examples of ways forward that could be adapted, replicated or simply provide inspiration. However, here is an initial synthesis of some of the key themes, questions and examples.

The politics of evidence: who is deciding what to measure?

Decisions about what should be measured and how are too often being made by donors and others with power (read money and influence), who often have little direct experience or knowledge of the places, people and issues they are funding. The lack of consultation with local NGOs and other stakeholders is not only a characteristic of donor funding; INGOs acting as intermediaries or designing projects are also perpetuating these ‘top-down’ a-symmetrical relationships.

‘One key challenge is around who develops the metrics and indicators that we put so much time and resource into measuring and reporting on. Often these are guided by donor priorities or by the INGO receiving the funding – while the actual project is implemented by a local NGO or CSO partner which often has very little say in setting the indicators and deciding what impact means in their context.’

Setting ourselves up to fail (or bend the truth): whose ideas of success matter?

Are we too wedded to trying to achieve the type of change that donors want to see? Is that types of change even possible or does it belong to a (Western-centric) notion of linear change and of development interventions as neat ‘stories’ or fairy tales with happy endings and predictable circumstances? Change is a far messier, circuitous process that rarely leads where we expect it to (and so belies the idea of a theory) but hierarchies of power and funding modalities seem to make it impossible to state this explicitly in project design.

‘Enter evidence… If impact must be shown, it must lend itself to a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end… Evidence is the story with a face, a story that allows linear readings and a story that seldom tolerates ambiguity.’

The requirement to develop logframes that centre around often arbitrary numerical indicators and a prediction of results before the research ‘story’ even starts further closes of the space for questioning the terms on which research and funding are often based.

‘The planning and assessing of most programs are still based on linear log frames that are overall insufficient for complex change processes that will need to ultimately contribute to shifting power and addressing injustice.’

‘It is really, fundamentally important to think about the link between knowledge and power in development. At the moment my sense is that power is linked to knowledge that is produced to conform to a certain set of principles about ‘measuring’ change and ensuring ‘evidence’ for the change that donors want to see. Theories of change often reflect assumptions that underpin existing hierarchies of power. Where the power is increasingly absent is in knowledge that is created/generated through relationships with people – and for me, especially through movements of people who are demanding that we challenge the existing hierarchies of power.’

Is questioning these unrealistic terms even possible – if researchers and practitioners dare to communicate to donors the reality that they have not achieved what they intended or hoped for, what might be the risks in terms of losing funding for expenses already borne, or jeopardising future funding?

‘The representative of [one] donor agency told us – “dont come back after two years and tell us that this failed. What we want to know is what worked.” (read, come hell or high water, you better make it work).’

‘Success’ is contextual and subjective

Imposing a narrow set of indicators may satisfy donor requirements but if they do not facilitate or contribute to transformation can projects be seen as successful? One participant raised this issue in relation to gender responsive programming:

[A] key issue has to do with the capacity of a selected set of indicators to represent advancement (or not) regarding social change, frequently in non-Western contexts. In extreme though not infrequent situations, we have encountered programs that have “successfully” complied with their “standard” gender indicators and targets…. but have contributed little in terms of transforming gender power relations and women’s status quo.’

Who is evidence being generated for and how is it being applied?

High-level numerical indicators may be useful for making global comparisons but to what extent can they be translated into action on the ground that addresses very specific challenges such as gaps in childhood education? It seems very obvious that it is the practitioners and communities grappling with global challenges on a daily basis are best placed to assess the situation using indicators that are locally relevant, and understand exactly what is needed and what will work best. So why does the bulk of funding still go towards generating ‘metrics intended to measure and track countries’ progress towards the 17 agreed on Sustainable Development Goals and their respective targets’?

Participants highlighted the need for evidence systems and processes that are transparent, ‘user-friendly: ‘How do we make work accessible to stakeholders for accountability and build capacity among ‘ordinary’ people?’

One contributor from India drew our attention to the development of locally relevant citizen-focused assessment tools for informing decisions and planning on education and foundational learning, engaging a wide variety of stakeholders.

‘The Citizen-Led Assessment (CLA) model is designed to generate evidence on scale around the key issue of foundational learning, while at the same time informing and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders. Because the latter objective is as important as the former, assessment tools are designed to be ‘user-friendly’ rather than ‘expert-friendly’ – simple to understand and use by almost anyone. Beginning in 2005 as the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in India, the model has spread organically over time to include fourteen countries on three continents, now collectively known as the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) network. At the core of the CLA model is a set of principles rather than a fixed set of indicators.’

More often than not ‘beneficiaries’ are not being consulted at all

‘The prima-facie position is that all of us are focusing on understanding the best way to deliver meaningful outcomes for the farmers. But in the process of setting up the research program other agendas intrude – the northern universities need the southern university otherwise they cannot access the funding they need. The southern
university is looking for opportunities to send their masters students to universities in the north. In this shuffling of unspoken bids the farmers are a silent note on the table.  purse-strings’

Poorly targeted, inappropriate programming too often results from this failure to put initial time and resources into simply talking to people, asking them what they need and want, and understanding the local socio-cultural and economic context.

‘Our researcher [in Zimbabwe] found that the rigid requirements and standards
of value chains on households where the context is entirely different from
the one in which the project was designed, had created a substantial burden on the lives of the farmers’

But making space to hear ‘local perspectives’ alone is not enough if they are not being recognised as valid or credible evidence

One participant shared examples (of a child marriage programme in South India and an impact programme in South Florida) where the rich insights gained through lengthy participatory planning processes were dismissed because of the dissonance in ideas about what constitutes valid, credible evidence.

‘Consultants, staff and participants alike were enthusiastic both about how local field staff and mobilizers were learning to value, facilitate and lead the critical reflection process, and how connections were being formed and strengthened amongst participants.  It was clear that the conclusions, questions and ideas emerging from the processes were highly insightful, emerging from a process where people’s voices, particularly the most marginalized were given space and weight. Interestingly, in both of these cases the process was hijacked, or at the least knocked off track by the calls for “evidence” and “rigor”.

In the case of the Child Marriage work, I recall a conference call I participated in …where we were enthusiastically explaining the outcomes of two weeks of training, piloting and experimenting in the field with creative approaches and techniques, when a staff person from the global office said, “but where is the data?’

More efficient, coherent reporting systems are badly needed

One key shared concern was the need to create less onerous, more streamlined accountability mechanisms for CSOs so they can spend more time delivering and less time (and money) reporting in multiple formats and against multiple targets.

One participant noted:

‘the development of numerous national, regional, global and sector-specific CSO accountability codes is highly relevant. Current literature lists more than 300 partly competing and overlapping codes asking for a number of similar requirements in different formats and referencing language.’

She went on to describe a new initiative design to create more coherent requirements:

‘In fact, nine CSO networks are currently working together for aligning their accountability codes and practices and devising a collective Global Standard on CSO Accountability. These networks from all continents, whose constituencies represent nearly 1500 CSOs across the world, are constructing a global reference standard to enable CSOs worldwide to improve and harmonize their accountability frameworks and practice. They are in the second year of a three-year project with two important objectives, besides the one referred to improve their own accountability practices and codes.’

How can evidence be more demand-driven?

There was a very constructive discussion on how to move beyond the self-perpetuating, top-down agendas that often drive the identification of development research questions and indicators and the types of evidence being gathered. The need for policy-makers in developing countries to play a more active role in shaping research agendas was raised.

‘Start with the users’. In order to see research feed meaningfully
into policy in developing countries, we need to understand how policymakers
these countries view evidence and what their needs are.’

But there are caveats here: ‘how can we ensure that policymaker-researcher discussions are inclusive and diverse? *Even when meaningful collaborations emerge between researchers and policymakers, there are other kinds of marginalisation at
work in those spaces.’

How can we move beyond entrenched (and often unspoken) political and power dynamics in the production of research?

Participants raised the issue that deeply politicised hierarchies of knowledge operate on a global scale, often marginalising research from Southern research institutions that often have a far clearer understanding of complex challenges facing the countries in which they work.

‘Most international development research continues to be funded from the North
and published in the North’

‘Power relations in research are a real and present issue, which can have a
significant impact on the outcomes, but is rarely acknowledged. We need to
think hard about power in development research (and power cannot be
endowed, it can only be achieved).’

How do we promote learning as a key reason for generating evidence?

Many participants raised the point that the implicit value of gathering evidence as a iterative, learning process is being lost in the focus on proving and generating ‘hard facts.’ ‘Why is there so little funding available for knowledge sharing and for learning?’ How can we create space for the type of reflection and reflexivity that is critical to improving research and practice, and to bringing about the social justice and positive change we want to see?

‘There is too much emphasis on only doing what we can ‘prove’, that which is much harder to measure like advocacy may be sidelined, even though it has the potential to bring about large scale change.’

‘What can be done at the level of organizations/NGOs, local development actors? Evaluations/assessments should be converted in learning experiences that do not have negative consequences for program/project managers in implementing agencies. There is much to do at the level of organizational cultures to make them learning organizations that listen to the voices of the marginalized populations they serve. The regional & national voluntary professional evaluation organizations (VOPES) are moving towards promoting learning & accountability systems that may help address this important issue in development.’

‘I think there is also a clash between accountability and learning and a difficult balance to strike here – often the focus is on collecting data for accountability which means less time or resources to a) figure out what change in people’s lives in that context might look like (perhaps starting by asking the communities we work with rather than developing a new spreadsheet or complex tool…) and b) figure out if our work is making a difference and how we can improve, change and learn.’

Written and compiled by Alyson Brody


Online Conference – Decolonising Development: Whose Voice, Whose Agenda?

24 May 2017

Session 1: Adaptive, Partner-led Responses

Session 2: Looking to the future

Day three of the conference focused on different aspects of partnership. The morning session concentrated on the issue of ‘Adaptive, partner-led responses’ and the afternoon session was concerned with ‘Looking to the future’, considering how we move forward given all of the sharing, listening and learning that has taken place over the three days. Some initial questions for the discussion in the morning included:

  • What are the benefits and challenges of doing locally-led adaptive development with partners?
  • How do we avoid replicating post-colonial relationships of power in work with partners?
  • Why and how should we work with partnerships in fragile states and other challenging environments?
  • How can development organisations and researchers work more effectively with informal structures such as movements (including women’s movements) and ‘unusual partners’ such as Trade Unions?
  • How are people already working more creatively within the current frameworks and with donors?

As with all of the discussions so far, it has proven a real challenge to do justice to the richness and depth of debate, which has consistently raised multiple shared concerns alongside continued attempts to highlight positive examples of ways forward that could be adapted, replicated or simply provide inspiration. However, here is an initial synthesis of some of the key themes, questions and examples covering discussions in both the morning and afternoon that will help to ensure that everyone can remain a part of this on-going and vital dialogue.

Partnerships and power

The morning’s discussions added more thoughtful reflection about power dynamics in partnerships and the limits of the partnership discourse. ‘Partnerships’ are becoming more complex as we recognise the value of much more interaction across sectors and actors as one key contributor noted:

  • Efforts to bring about more systemic change in the approach to development will be assisted by building those partnerships across sectors, across types of entity (e.g. government, business) so that there is continuity even if there isn’t specific funding at a particular time
  • Rather than going from single project to single project, it can be valuable to build partnerships across many activities at the same time so that you are operating more like a distributed, highly flexible social movement united by the desire to bring about that wider change
  • Real partnership is facilitated by co-production, where the partners work on project ideas from the very outset rather than outsiders merely trying to transfer a ‘good idea’.

Questions were also raised against ‘partnership’ as a notion. Is it the ‘new tyranny’ as one participant asked? Something imposed by new funding arrangements and development discourses? Or we can own it – after all, we are here in this setting right now because we want to get out of our silos and interact beyond our usual networks and comfort zones. One participant suggests that the history is not so easily undone:

It is important to note that the issues of institutional racism, short-termism, and the many other ills associated with donor-driven development is an institutionalized attitude that has been nurtured over decades and would take many more decades to re-write. However, it is important not not that, if the agenda to decolonize development would achieve any tangible results, it must first start with the donor having a self-consciousness that, the support being provided is not a ‘free lunch’. It is the idea of self-entitlement and the self imposed development bearer that creates the ‘tyranny of partnership’.

Partnership: working with states, movements

At the same time, some contributors highlighted the difficulties of working with the state, including protecting local actors from state institutions. DO we need more checks and balances, e.g. regular power analysis and political economy analysis?

All that has been discussed resonates a lot with us on ‘whose knowledge’, ‘whose action’ and ‘whose funding”. Frankly the issue of development – its decolonisation is anchored in the issue of ‘government ownership and action’ as much as in ‘citizens’ ownership and action’ of critical issues. With the right to eduction and right to information discourse and entitlements space becoming so populated the first action lies in our
backyard; the governments must be willing to engage for the long haul. The question is do we invest in this aspect sufficiently as civil society/independent movements? Do we do this with a strategy that is fully worked out with the partner both with the intellectual and social capital it deserves viz., with the government? Do we under-invest or over-invest? There are many questions and challenges for us to make this paradigm a
reality for us where the predominant sustained funding must come from domestic financing – if this has to be a scaled up effort. Crafting the challenge and crafting the solutions backed by financing from sustainable sources has to first and foremost on home ground and co-crafted. is that happening sufficiently? This is what is making me toss and turn along with our teams …
We’ve heard additional reflections and examples of creative, locally-led adaptive development, with fascinating experiences of collaborative and participatory initiatives in Haiti, Lebanon, UK, Somalia, Central & West Africa, East Africa and beyond. A notable element of this discussion was to do with how NGOs might take control of partnership by supporting ‘real movements’:

… many of us who work with NGOs and similar organizations feel this disconnect in our work, where power = money and even a good NGO’s ethos can’t avoid the accountability to report on the use of funds, according to a contract, even when better opportunities for development are available. But, we have found that we can use the resources and informal power of funded organizations, when they have a progressive set of values, to support real movements. That can involve simple, informal efforts such as providing a place for people to meet and discuss issues (no-cost, no-strings), or more structured steps such as including grass-roots movements in convening formal meetings with government and decision-makers, ensuring time during meetings for their independent voices, etc. …

This contributor goes on to share an example of their work with a locally-led movement:

There is no budget, often no formal organization, and the implicit requirement is that you contribute (ie, not receive) resources. The members include grassroots activists, small organizations, along with some national universities and international NGOs. Often, things stay quiet for too long, but when the energy comes together, we find real change. It works on the sheer force and diversity of its members. This is just an example of how we sometimes leverage the resources and power we have in NGOs (and other groups) to democratize development, beyond funding contracts and log-frames. There are certainly internal contradictions, but that is also a reflection of reality in development. Our main point is keeping our eyes open, to see how to engage with people beyond our formal roles …

These examples reinforce points raised in previous sessions on the need to beware destroying dynamics that are working in our eagerness to help. It is possible to provide support in ways that don’t require huge amounts of funding or bureaucracy.

Building capacity in the North and the role of scholarship

We also had discussion around what might be termed ‘reverse capacity-building’ and ‘two-way capacity building’ which gives space for innovative learning and re-education of northern/global actors. Working in this way requires challenging narrow, top-down interpretations of the operation of North-South dynamics:

A tremendous amount of the effort will have to be focused on educating, changing and indeed developing global Northern institutions: working in partnership requires capacity building among ALL concerned – there is a huge amount that institutions in the global North lack capacity to do. We need to think about development as global development, not something that the North has and will do for the South. It would be considered nothing short of insane if say a group of [French-speaking East Africans] who spoke no English said they were going to go from [East Africa], base themselves in Paris and try to tell some part of the UK how to do something better. And yet that is pretty normal for much of development, with people who speak no [East African language]and don’t go to [East Africa] basing themselves in Nairobi and deciding what will happen in [another East African country] to ‘develop’ it.
Finally the session threw up some challenges for research and researchers: when and how to engage and at what cost? What about academic objectivity versus ‘scholarly activism’? One participant suggested that research is important as both ‘objectivity’ and ‘activism’:

… the philosophy of research matters a great deal. That is how we view what is truth or fact. From my anthropological background I see all knowledge as socially constructed and subjective. What is defined as quality evidence or as valid is shaped by powerful actors and institutions, and is not a technical judgement only. Very often within research partnerships (and across academic disciplines) we do not explore our starting assumptions – and these vary hugely from discipline to discipline, as well as within disciplines. There are plenty of spaces within academia and many academics who also conceive of themselves as activists … Research is only one part of activism, and the activities of teaching and learning are at least as important components of this … In academia there does remain a space for critical thinking and challenging dominant narratives.
Overall, the session seems to be asking us to be more humble and self-reflective, be flexible enough to grasp opportunities when they arise and be willing to push-back and say no. We need to not just decolonize development but also decolonize ourselves.

Looking to the future …

The final session of the conference brought out a number of views based on questions firstly around the role of ‘philanthropy’, particularly given the number of large, private donors who now operate in development practice. Contributors suggested that the private nature of some of this giving can at times lead to more dynamism and responsiveness to partnership demands and local needs, but has caused a backlash in the context in which participant operates:

For one thing, the sector itself – in fact, the civil society sector overall – is facing many challenges in legitimizing itself and being allowed the space to function untethered by increasingly restrictive policies. We are seeing this across the region and the fallout has some potentially devastating consequences. Everything from the ability to conduct “philanthropic business” in a local context, whether it’s due to banking restrictions or suspicions cast over the sector as a whole, to allowing for reliable and consistent movement of funding across borders, the sector is stifled and is under constant scrutiny to prove its merit and worth. The amount of self-censorship philanthropic organizations have to exercise is stunning. So the mere term “philanthropy” can have quite negative connotations, which is discouraging to say the least.

There was agreement that we need more data and understanding of how private/philanthropic organisations operate in this space and the extent to which the issues discussed over the three days resonate with the experiences of working with private philanthropic donors and foundations.

There was also a final discussion on how we move forward, bringing the focus back on to the main theme of the conference i.e., how do we ‘decolonise’ development? For some, collaboration, particularly in relation to teaching and capacity-building, is key:

Can we design more collaborative programmes which expose students to different environments and ways of thinking about all the things we’ve discussed here during their programme with a much greater emphasis on transnational learning, marrying theoretical grounding with exposure to the real worlds of policy, civil society and privately-funded initiatives? Can we do this in a way that breaks down the hierarchies and the binaries, that turns capacity building on its head? It sounds infinitely sensible, but I’ve designed and taught development at a UK university and I know the barriers are huge to making such programmes work for many of the reasons we’ve explored. However, does that mean we shouldn’t try or try harder? So is there scope to collaborate to identify interesting models for more grounded academic ‘development studies’ programmes and build from there?

Some participants suggested that we start with ourselves:

  1. Yes, let’s take pride in and recognize our contributions absolutely, but never stop turning the mirror on ourselves, our “industry” and the decision-makers and asking the hard questions.
  2. How about building the capacity, opportunities, support for discussion about development/social change in Southern institutions? So that there is a cadre of young people with the analysis and tools to create their own definitions and vision for ‘development’, and engage in the conversation on equal footing? How can this happen?
  3. Love the focus of becoming researchers, consultants, practitioners, and partners ‘with soul’, and think it is connected to this idea of relating individual with societal transformation that was raised the first day in the discussion …

Still others suggested that we need to more actively challenge donors about important systemic disjunctures that persist in practice, a message we need to proactively take to donors who fund development work:

The generalized topic of concern was the “donor driven development” and how this approach affects the advancement towards development goals in a coordinated and concerted way. As an independent consultant I have had the opportunity to evaluate programs and projects of different sectors in Latin America, most of them working in the same communities, with very similar purposes but under different financial sources from the international donors and totally disconnected between them. As several people have expressed in this conference, this is a waste of time and resources, and we all know that there are ways to make more efficient use of those funds without losing the much needed support from individual donors from the public and private sectors. And of course finding ways to ensure accountability but also learning from experiences. So, in terms of what is next after this meeting, I would suggest bringing the results of this global interaction to the donor’s table, maybe in a form of a global forum with them, but organized by local communities? … The bottom-up approach has started to take off, let’s don’t lose this momentum!

Others see this as a challenge we all need to share but that it takes time and maybe we work together to find resources as well:

Wayforward-wise, I come from a culture where after a heavy meal or feast, it is critical to digest and reflect before taking the next step.  From that angle, I am still thinking about a really meaningful future from all these ideas/emotions/good intentions/suggestions. To sustain the momentum, we may need to evolve into an active online group that continues to discuss/share and deepen the issues. Since most these initiatives require a team that steers and consolidates things together, the organizers of this conference may consider leading in either coming up with a collective, funded programme that can use these ideas to slowly influence the current development paradigm.

The conference has generated so much engagement, enthusiasm and goodwill from all over the world to openly share good practice, links to documentation and reflexive critique about the real problems we all face as people committed to facilitating, in whatever way we are able, improved social and economic development for everyone. For us as organisers, this is clearly just the start of a much-needed and long-overdue dialogue about how we decolonise development in practice.

Written and compiled by Lata Narayanaswamy and Rachel Hayman


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The struggles of a PhD student – an outsider looking in

Luke Humphrey blogs about the annual RiDNet conference which was held in Leeds in January

As a final year undergraduate student, the idea of studying a PhD crosses the mind often as plans for what comes next are put together. It can seem like a logical step or nice idea to play about with for someone who, after an undergraduate or master’s degree, is not sure what is next for them. However, after a brief time spent at the 5th annual RiDNet conference on the 27th January, one thing became immediately apparent: A PhD, is by no means, an easy ride.

The annual RiDNet conference, held at the University of Leeds, gives PhD students and early career researchers a great chance to network and learn from one another. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for established academics to give first-hand experience on the struggles and accomplishments that come with doing a PhD. One such talk came from Dr Nilam Ashra-McGrath, a researcher and writer at the University of Leeds. The talk on the rollercoaster ride of victories, defeats and of course, emotions during her PhD research provide a personal and captivating insight into what three years of PhD research entails. The talk is certainly accurate in its title, Nilam’s story is a rollercoaster, each year work-rates, emotions, progress and success fluctuates endlessly, perfectly laid out in her invaluable Prezi presentation which is available here – https://prezi.com/l27f-35hm86m/nilams-phd-rollercoaster/.

One week may bring jubilations as data for research in the form of surveys comes in floods, but the next brings panic and stress as now these replies have come in, someone has to go through them. As Nilam says herself, this process is not a learning curve, it is a rollercoaster. But this doesn’t have to mean it cannot be enjoyed. After all, rollercoasters are a thrill for some and a nightmare for others. This story isn’t meant to scare, but to give an insight into what a PhD can be like. It can be the best decision a person can make – but be prepared for it.

Talks by Gemma Pearson, Andrew Papworth and Sarah Linn also gave priceless tips and tricks for researching whilst in the field. Again, preparation is crucial to the actual process of conducting interviews, surveys and censuses during trips for PhD research. But however much preparation may be put into the research before the trip, the most vital commodity seems to be communication and improvisation whilst undertaking research. The main talking point was how to manage the expectations of participants in research who are from impoverished or disadvantaged areas. Upon hearing that a Western academic was looking for people to take part in research, many people in the area Gemma, Andrew and Sarah were working in applied. However, it was not necessarily because they were interested in helping them achieve their PhD, but because they believed them to be UN or NGO workers with the ability to help them. Having to tell people that they cannot help them in any immediate way was admittedly a challenge for the researchers. Furthermore, this then brings questions of ethics and morality as money incentives come into the frame.

Ultimately, there is much more to consider when undertaking PhD research than just the thesis and survey/interview questions. The best advice seems to be to plan ahead as much as possible, expect the unexpected. When things don’t go to plan, then be flexible, adapt to the situation at hand. Don’t skimp on assistants and translators, as when things do go wrong, they will be essential to help you adjust. People may often expect the world from you, so communication with participants as well as assistants and translators is also a vital skill. The question over paying participants and having to tell them that what you are doing is not necessarily going to benefit them remains murky, but it comes down to what you decide is most suitable to your specific research.

The rollercoaster of undertaking a PhD, and it is indeed one hell of a rollercoaster, must not be taking light-heartedly or on a whim. Those who take it do have to brave the storm more than once over the three years. But as Dr Nilam Ashra-McGrath and the other speakers proved, the reward can largely outweigh the cost. Perhaps the best advice came as a quote from the Harvard Business Review: “Manage your energy not your time.” This is perhaps the best mind-set in which you can approach a PhD – time is finite, but energy is infinite given that you give yourself time to rest and reset.

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Reflections on a two-year teacher development project in Myanmar (Burma)

Reflections on a two-year teacher development project in Myanmar (Burma)

This blog presents an insightful conversation between Sarah Hampton & Ally Shepherd,who met on a two-year project in Myanmar working in teacher training institutions which develop primary and secondary teachers in different regions of the country. Both are former University of Leeds students.

Ally: What attracted you to this position? For me it was a combination of curiosity about a country that had been isolated for so long going through a historical period of change, and the role we could play in the development of Myanmar’s education sector. I also wanted experience working on a nationwide project to understand how things were implemented and organised.

Sarah: I had started teacher training in Kabul and loved it. I wanted to keep doing something similar in a university – but there aren’t that many roles – especially for long-term projects. I have always been interested in Myanmar – I wrote my first essay at Leeds on it. When preparing for my interview I found that there seemed to be a lot of similarities between the Myanmar and Afghanistan educational contexts. I felt like my experience and the parallels might mean I could be useful. Would you say there are any similarities between here and the university you worked in previously in Mexico?

A: In some ways, yes, because both are in contexts where politics affect how the universities are run. Mexico has a long history of student and teacher protest, and the university tried to discourage that; and Myanmar is emerging from a decades-long dictatorship, so I suppose the top-down nature of the institutions is a similarity. And both are quite regimented in the way they have full-time timetables for the students. But people in Mexico were much more open to talking about political issues, unlike here.


S: Yes, I can imagine that Mexico was very different culturally. Afghanistan definitely was. It made it harder for me to adjust in the beginning I think. I had liked how I worked in Afghanistan with the local people and the change of dynamic was disorienting and left me questioning a lot of things, including my teaching.

A: I also found it very difficult to adapt to rural Myanmar during the first year (but as I transferred in the second year, I found living in the city much easier and the people at the uni much more open to giving their opinions).

I think the leap between the methodology that Myanmar teachers are used to (teacher-centred rote learning), and how we teach them and what we came asking them to do with their teaching was huge. Even though the project didn’t expect to see radical changes in such a short amount of time, what we were presenting them with must have been unfamiliar.

S: That is definitely true – the experience in our sessions has been really important I think. A lot of what we are teaching isn’t that new in that a lot of it is covered in materials they already use here – I think that many of the teachers didn’t know what it really meant or looked like. For example, many consider or considered a Q&A slot controlled by the teacher to be a discussion, even though students cannot ask questions or talk to one another. Some teachers still need a lot of support to understand what some of the things we talk about in our training sessions might actually look like if they did them. There’s a lot of classroom skills that some of them need before they can do things well – so continued support is important or they might get turned off some ideas if they feel they’re not working, without understanding why.

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Doing ‘development work’; building relationships with an NGO in Uganda

POLIS Master’s student Rachel Muter reflects on what it means to do development work in Uganda, and some of the practical and emotional challenges it entails.

“If you really want to get involved in development work then be prepared to be made vulnerable, to ask more questions than have answers for and be in it for the long haul. The rewards are enormous.

I have been supporting a Ugandan led Christian NGO that works in Masese for five years now, and have just returned from my ninth trip. I’m always slightly bemused as to what I actually do there when I reflect back on the trip, and I question my usefulness, but I do believe my understanding of what ‘development work’ is deepens every time.


Macedonian Vision Africa (MVA) was established and is headed by Pastor Adundo Alfred, who in 2005 felt God calling him to support and transform the income-poor community living in Masese, Jinja, Uganda. With his minimal savings he paid for approximately 50 children to go to school. Although Universal Primary Education is in place in Uganda, in reality even in state schools, you either have to pay some fees, or contribute by bringing reams of paper, maize, toilet rolls etc, which is prohibitive for many living in absolute poverty. Eleven years on, he has 147 children in the programme in primary, secondary and vocational education. MVA has just moved in to their own property on their own land in Masese, and not only does it support children in education in local schools, but it has an emerging vocational institute, a sexual and social health group run by his daughter Nabwire Christine (see our work on Sanitary Towel making and skills teaching http://macedonianvisionafrica.org/macedonian-africa-youth-initiative-mayi/) and supports microfinance groups. (Without land tenure agreements many in Masese are unable to get microfinance loans elsewhere; MVA offers them loans at an affordable rate).

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How to get an internship in development – my experience with UNHCR Amman

Getting an Internship in development is notoriously difficult, and finding funding to enable you to do it may seem even more impossible. BA International Development graduate Yumna Usmani shares her experience of securing her dream internship with UNHCR Amman and gives some encouraging tips to development students keen to work in the field.

Blog post by Yumna M. Usmani

As a B.A. International Development student, I felt it very keenly that I needed some experience in the field before I entered it formally after my graduation. Having squandered away my first year’s summer vacation, I now felt guilty. However, what was I to do? Paid internships in the development sector are hard to come by and voluntary internships are expensive, especially for an international student who already has to pay a lot more than national students. Therefore, I set myself the task of finding funding. I looked at various opportunities, being an international student meant that I had a much more limited variety of funding available to me. Some of the funding I looked at were: Leeds for Life, Gilbert Murray Trust and some other University grants.



Before I could start applying for funding I had to first find a volunteering opportunity. The sector I most wanted to work in was Refugee and immigration. My dream job would have been with the UNHCR, working for Syrian refugees. So in June 2014, I applied for the UN Voluntary programme through their main website to secure an internship for the next month. Yet by October I had not even received as much as a receipt of my application. I was frustrated and had no idea how to get in touch with the UNHCR office to see know the status of my application. I emailed them a few times and the reply they gave me was cursory and standard.


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Reflections from the Calais refugee camps

One of our Summer School participants recently returned from volunteering in the Calais refugee camps. In this blog Isabella Pearce and her colleague Hannah Robathan reflect candidly on the atmosphere in the camps leading up to and following the historic Brexit vote of June this year.

Inside the Calais refugee camp: concerns over Brexit

Blog post by Isabella Pearce and Hannah Robathan

Inshallah (God willing) we will remain” was a phrase we became well accustomed to whilst volunteering in Calais. Helping out in the refugee camp in the days leading up to the EU referendum gave us a unique insight into the personal opinions of many of the refugees and their subsequent worries about the potential implications a Leave vote would have on their futures.

A newspaper article published on the day of the referendum indicated that “news of the referendum result was greeted with indifference by many [refugees].” (Guardian, Shock in Calais: ‘Perhaps the French and English were not best of friends after all’ June 24, 2016). This is not the impression we got; we found that people in the camps were greatly concerned.

calais_campsAlthough we encountered various levels of political understanding, there was a tangible eagerness for discussion. Specific comprehension of the ins and outs of the campaign wasn’t necessarily the reason behind the refugees’ interest. It was more a sense of worry. In the days leading up to the referendum, we were asked on numerous occasions what we predicted the referendum result would be. One refugee, a quiet Kurdish man named Sayeed, was visibly troubled by it, asking us on a daily basis what we thought would happen.



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