02 Jun

Digging deeper – New Beginnings

“It was the worst night of my life, I couldn’t sleep. That was the first day I spent away from you guys.”

“Then why did you do it?” I ask her.

“I mean what we had was good but I wanted a better future for you, a better quality of life.”

My path into international development begins where all knowledge unfolds, through the inquiry of one’s personal experience, and where all life unfolds; my mother. On 31 December 1996, my mother took an eight-hour flight to London, alone and 6891 kilometres away from our home.

When she arrived on 1 January 1997, she was one of the 19 percent of migrants leaving themselves behind for a new job, for somewhere foreign, here in the UK.  ‘A better quality of life’ became her voice-over.

As I packed my bags and joined my mother three years later, my world was no longer a singular narrative of the way the world was. My new life in London, was always juxtaposed with a different picture of what life was somewhere else, two or three hours ahead of me. Through this experience, I realised that people’s definitions of home, of wellbeing, of prosperity, correlated with their current realities of ‘development’. Development took a philosophical turn; one which crossed geographical borders, social borders and fixed categories of knowledge. I found it problematic to define development in economic terms or social terms or anthropological terms.

My story continued where mothers continue their stories; their daughters. During my six-week journey in India, in 2009, as a Prime Minister’s Global Fellow I met a young girl, living with her family of six on the streets of Mumbai.  Her name is Nandini. When I met Nandini, she had been living on the streets her entire life, her home built around two large cardboard boxes.

My experience on this Fellowship, meeting with diplomats, senior government officials, esteemed artists and business influencers to discuss India’s development, increasingly became white noise to her story. There were gaps in between these two worlds that I struggled to grasp; questions of extreme inequality, caste discrimination and gender inequality co-existing amidst India’s meteoric rise as an emerging economy.

On my last night in Mumbai, I went to visit Nandini and explained to her parents that this was potentially our last encounter for a while. Her parents asked me to take their four children back to London with me because in my mother’s words, ‘they deserve a better future, a better quality of life.’

So, I have been silently carrying these words everywhere in my work, in pursuit of this better future, this elusive ‘better quality of life’. In our daily efforts, our work in development often stays at this technocratic level, where we spend a lot of time trying to build this vision of life without making space to break down our understanding of ‘development’ or at the very least, challenge what we do in international development, what we define as ‘development’.

The visible sides of development that are the agendas, the policies, and the programmes are deeply contextualised within on-going perspectives of what ‘progress’ is, what ‘development’ is. Moreover, it is political and framed by people who have the power to define it.

In making space to address the assumptions and ideologies driving our actions, we acknowledge there is no ‘right’ way to do development, and more often than not, how we are doing things is one way and not the only way. In doing this, we also invite ourselves to acknowledge that international development is absolutely personal, thoroughly political and a profoundly philosophical interrogation of what we deem to be worth pursuing.

This blog is a personal space to dig deeper; to explore the personal, philosophical and political lenses framing our work.

6 comment on “Digging deeper – New Beginnings

  • Marion it’s great to see you in this space taking possession with your depth, knowledge and beauty. Great opening post. Looking forward to what’s coming as you and us dig deeper

  • I am really glad to be reading your blog – I often ask myself why is there need for us to accumulate when others dont have the basics? and at what cost?
    I find it depressing everytime i travel outside Uganda to other developing countries and to be able to see the similarities of inequalities and poor service delivery that cuts across. I wonder whether being wealthy in our environments is morally wrong or i am being a whining socialist 🙂 http://www.graceatuhaire.wordpress.com

    • Grace thank you so much – I do like your blog too and your latest post asking your followers to dig deeper 🙂 I don’t think you are being a whiny socialist at all. It’s important to remain aware and reflective of what we claim to do in development. Look forward to reading more of your posts 🙂

  • Hi here, I met you for the first time on the 17th December at the DNGala and something about you stood out to me with resounding clarity and I then found you again online and it all makes sense. You are unique, raw and refreshing with your insights. I felt every words and the emotion behind it, you already inspire me to go in the direction of my dreams, to dig deeper in my work and pursue my passion to merge my career as a lawyer and define my dreams into a visible reality. Your profound insight has brought me to the brim of tears behind my computer. You are most certainly human in the mist of online blogs I read. Take you for this post. I needed it for today.

    • Hello Keke,

      Wow!! I am really touched by this message thank you!!! I needed your comment for today, honestly. This blog has changed me in alot of ways. Before, I was very apprehensive of showing up ‘whole’. There is a prescriptive way to act in all the different social settings I am part of and you end up having to leave different parts of yourself just to fit into these spaces. But life is not about fitting in, it is about belonging. There may come a very daunting moment when you realise that there is no pre-existing space where you belong and it is down to you to create that space. This has been that space for me and I encourage you to go and create that space if you haven’t already. It’s connecting me with other people Digging Deeper like you, and also connecting me with ideas that re-affirm my belief that a different type of politics is possible. I recently read ‘Let Your Life Speak’ by Parker Palmer and highly recommend it! All the best with law! I’m excited to see all you have to give and learn from the world.

      Let’s reconnect online – I’m on Twitter @Marion_AO and hopefully see you at the next DN event!!



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