Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Should people working in development have developing country experience?" Not even a question, to me

Ken Banks asked the question, and I had to add my two cents' worth (in comments).

"YES to developing-country experience for development workers - ideally in the same countries/regions they will work in - and with the demographics they will be working for (note I didn't say "with"). I firmly believe you need to feel the mud between your toes and get to know at least a few members of your demographic on a personal level. That empathy and depth of understanding can change what you do - and how you do it." Maybe it just seems more obvious to me because I come from a developing country myself - and have seen too many projects that fail to account for even the most basic local appropriateness - e.g. in Sri Lanka, lovely, airy buildings with tiled floors and wood panels - which become roosts for hundreds of crows, in the intense heat and humidity end up with warped grouting and paneling, and come the two monsoons, cannot be navigated without gumboots and umbrellas. The saddest thing about that example is that just because you donate a building, should not mean you cannot hire a local architect at least as a consultant, if not your main architect.

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