At the heart of most ventures in international development lay a sense of good intent. I believe that this is generally a good thing. However, responding “but they meant well”, as some projects have gone awry, is far too common for my comfort. Good intentions aren’t enough for me. After spending a year in Ghana, and a few years in university reproducing criticism of development work, I found it difficult to figure out where I stood within this field, where I wanted to go and most importantly if I should.
As I ventured further into the field I found that there were many likeminded well-intentioned white women such as myself, but thought how often in this space do we examine whether we should be the ones doing this work? I have also found that jaded criticism of development work is just as prevalent as well-intentioned idealism, if not even more rampant. Whether one falls on either side of this spectrum, there is still work to be done, and with or without us others are doing it.
The single most important quality to have in this line of work is humility. Us people– we’re proud creatures. I’ve watched others, and myself, claim a small patch of a distant place, a whole country, a piece of work, or a group of people. I’ve wondered why is it so easy to stake a claim on something that is not ours, but much larger than ourselves? To go forth into a community as a guest, we should offer our hands, our head, our heart up in supplication, asking “help me and let me help you, and how shall I do it?”. And in our enthusiasm, to remember to always stop and listen for the response. We must apply lessons learned before and after venturing into something new, and to be ever aware of the implications of our part in this work. Someone shared with me an attractive phrase recently. Heart + Head = Hustle. In the case of international development, perhaps heart + head + humility = responsible hustle is appropriate. Not quite as catchy, but I’m working on it.