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Why am I in Development? (Malte)

March 7, 2010

Even Bono and Madonna would be proud of this one

If I am asked how and why I went into development I can’t come up with a statement like “because since I was a child, I have always wanted to help people in Africa”. Rather, I would have to answer: “I came to development pretty randomly”. My undergraduate studies included a compulsory semester abroad. More or less by chance I ended up studying economics at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where I had some of the most positive but also negative experiences of my life. The poverty shocked me but I was fascinated by the people, their dignity and the ways in which they braved the harsh conditions (I sound like a World Bank report but its true!). And everything I encountered was in a way related to “development”.

That is how I stumbled into development, but why did I decide to study and work in it? Most importantly, development spans a very broad range of disciplines and fields, both academically and practically. I find it fascinating to combine (or rather try to reconcile) insights from economics, political science, history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy etc. Development covers topics as diverse as trade policy, migration, land reform, health and colonialism to name just a few (and btw guys, that is also why “Development Studies” is sooo much cooler than “Development Management”! :p ). It is this multitude of aspects and their relationships which captures me and makes the development sector so interesting.

Another reason, surprise, surprise, is the motivation to make the world a better place (wow, these words make me feel important!). Without idealism many problems will not be solved and yes, I am sure we can make a difference. On the other hand, idealism sometimes makes us blind as to what works and what does not. Furthermore, we should critically ask ourselves whether subliminally we not only want to “help” others in order to help ourselves (and drive nice white SUVS, of course!). Could that lead us to impose our “help” on people who have not asked for it? And most importantly: do we actually help people in developing countries? Personally, I have received/learned at least as much in Burkina Faso and Tanzania as I was able to give/”teach”. Development is mutual, rather than a bunch of European and North-American “experts” telling people in “developing countries” what to do. Pretty much common sense, right?


Malte (MSc Development Studies)

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