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Why am I (not) in Development? (Phil – former VSO)

March 11, 2010

Earning a healthy living by working with the world’s poorest countries and people is unlikely to sit easily with the vast majority of people who set out for a career in development. However, there is a good living to be made and an enviable lifestyle to match so there should be little surprise that so many people from around the world want to be a part of it.

The people who attempt to forge careers in this industry should be applauded for their committment to an obviously worthy cause. The industry is a difficult one to break into and the sacrifices that need to be made to succeed are akin to those in the toughest areas of the private sector.

There should be no resentment or feelings of guilt towards or from those who are fortunate enough to achieve a career in international development. Nor could there be if development was being seen to be achieved.

Although, arguably, there has been some development, it is not proportionate to the energy, effort and finances being invested. Despite this, the appeal of the industry and the level of investment continues to grow. The lack of development has occured despite the ideals of those who set out to achieve it.

So why is such an ineffective, if not detrimental industry so appealing? Maybe this is the appeal? Maybe the next graduate is the one to make the difference? Maybe by the time they realise they aren’t, they already have a mortgage and school fees to pay and so become part of the stagnated problem?

From a distant standpoint and to take a simplistic view, the world of international development is far too convoluted to succeed but it does provide the benefits of any other industry to those employed in it and plenty more besides.

Until development is seen to be achieved, those employed by the industry will have to continue to try to justify their presence in it.

Phil, a friend of Do No Harm, is a chartered accountant by trade who currently works in London. Previously Phil worked with community based organisations through VSO in South West Uganda, where he became known as an anti-corruption tsar.

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