What is international development and is it any good?

International development according to Concern Worldwide is ‘focused on engaging with economically disadvantaged regions to empower people to improve their well-being and address the causes and effects of poverty.’ Sounds like a good thing to want to pursue right? Well, on the surface of it yes, how can anyone truly object to wanting to help those less fortunate than ourselves? In reality, international development is a complex area, with a loaded history.

With roughly 10% of the world’s population or 700 million people living in extreme poverty, and 781 million people lacking basic water-drinking services, international development and its associated organisations help to tackle some of the greatest issues facing the developing world. How do they do this?

Well, a great many international development organisations tackle the aforementioned issues by raising money to help ensure their projects in countries such as Kenya, Vietnam or Burkina Faso are well funded and thus people can be paid on time and services can be guaranteed. They raise these funds by holding charity events, contacting donors, and raising awareness through ad campaigns on social and old fashioned media such as television or Facebook. 

These organisations then work in the country by providing training, equipment and support to locals within the associated countries, and when needed can act as a third party arbiter to help shake up the system within the country. Ultimately the work of an international development worker is to be a negotiator, a friend, a trainer and of course a helper all whilst aiming to stick within the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 

However, all is not kosher within the international development world. As times and attitudes have changed, calls for rethinking how those in the developed world treat and view those in the developing world have grown. 

International development organisations are now beginning to question whether the term international development is the right one to use, or if it reeks of colonial thought, especially in relation to Ross Coggin’s 1976 poem The Development Set. This reevaluation of a name comes alongside a rejection of the neo-liberal development policies and approaches that many within the sector feel have resulted in economic, social and environmental failures that have broken down the world’s food system and allowed corporate driven agricultural policies to dominate whilst leaving small-scale farmers reeling. 

Consequently, this reevaluation has led to a change in approach and direction from international development organisations such as International Development Exchange who have not only changed their name but also put a far greater focus on those who actually live and reside within the communities and countries that are the focus of international development organisations. They have done this by handing over the microphone to those in developing countries, allowing them to lead the efforts to improve and develop their countries, basing their funding and equipment needs on the requests of those on the ground living in the community. This has consequently given such organisations the ability to request that funders change their expectations and their funding models.

International development as a term and an ideology has noble roots and desires, sometimes those who work within the sector may fall short, but there are signs that change is coming. This is a welcome sign of growth within the sector and should be further encouraged.

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