Well, it’s how I thought I’d feel when I graduated from an undergraduate degree at a (objectively) prestigious university. Instead I told a friend “I thought I’d feel much more prepared by now than I do”.
Graduating with a BA in political science can feel like graduating with a degree in writing critiques. Useful? Yes. Clearly applicable to life after academia? Not always. I was often left wondering how I was supposed to turn the ability to write a term paper into a career. I felt like I graduated with no concrete skills.
Thankfully I graduated with an opportunity. Through the Coady International Institue I have been given the opportunity to work on community development right here in Canada. The Coady promotes asset-based community driven development (ABCD development to be cheesy) and is with this mentality I’ll be framing the “development” aspects of my program.
I’ve always been reluctant to be part of international development programs and work for two main and very interconnected reasons:
- Most development programs I’ve be aware of have focused on international development. And yet, in Canada and the rest of the Western world we still struggle with many development, social justice and equity issues so why is it we feel we are equipped to then travel to other place to do development work? In Canada for example it’s popular to do voluntourism trips to build wells in other countries or to support NGOs looking to build access to clean water and yet we have First Nation communities living under boil water advisories for decades. Why do we feel qualified to tell other countries how to develop when we can’t develop ourselves?
- Why do we feel it’s appropriate to put so much money and time into building the capacities of students and staff from the global North to work on development internationally rather than put those resources to developing leaders within their own communities to lead development? I realize there are people determined to put their privilege to good use to fight for equity and that there are certain skills that don’t currently exist in areas that need them but many programs seem to take it for granted we in the Western world are the right people for the job on development in countries most of us know little about.
The program I’m a part of is in my opinion the development program that most alleviates these concerns for me. By requiring applicants have a reference from the community they would work with they help prevent participants from parachuting themselves into contexts they don’t understand and by allowing development within our own backyard to be looked at with the same priority they help avoid the assumption that the Western world knows best.
However I do still have concerns and qualms about working in and being associated with development work. I suppose we’ll just have to see how this goes.