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Why am I in Development? (Rajni)

March 2, 2010

I get really annoyed with the overuse of Gandhi quotes.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This quote is appropriated to mean just about anything–from compassionate consumerism, slum touring over holidays, an occasional donation to charity, a message in an inspirational card, a Bono song, printed on a t-shirt.

For a man that relinquished his lawyer suit for khadi and a loin cloth, I wonder what Gandhi would think about the appropriation of his words today. Being the change means embodying the change–in your daily life, in what you do with your time, in how you relate to others. It’s about being the subject of change in the world, not just the agent of change. And I think this is what development is fundamentally about– challenging the structures of inequality and injustice that exist in the world today, but that we also perpetuate in our daily lives.

But so much of development is about coming in, as a ‘developer’ (or a development manager!) Can outsiders build an ideal world? We may not be direct stakeholders, but indirectly, we want to see everyone–including the poorest and most exploited people in society–actively work to change the world in a positive way. Whether its right or not, effective or not, who knows. Yet we choose to work in these environments, as outsiders, simply because we want to. There can be no purely morally justifiable reason. We engage with the world because we want to– and to me, I do it because its challenging, it puts me closer to communities I feel part of, it makes me feel like I have some real purpose.  I’ve had friends in India tell me that it may be smarter to cut down on my own lifestyle (think about the carbon footprint of a development worker!), advocate for a third party government in the US or protest every day outside of the White House for changing our agriculture and trade policies. But maybe understanding life in the developing world will lead me to question and change more about my own life as well, and I’ve definitely found my experiences to be true to that.

Oh and its about those pesky institutions, too.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 11:20 am

    Must say that your friends in India are advising you right.

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