The death of a loved one this week has affirmed my belief in never leaving it too late to express gratitude. Three and a half months ago, I launched this blog. I have been really astonished by the response to my work, not just the volumes of page visits and the geographical reach but also the range of people engaging with my critiques – from high school students to directors of intergovernmental organisations.
Through your engagement, this blog is challenging me with every post to reclaim and propose an alternative approach to learning, innovation and change in development. Before continuing with my exploration of empathy in international development, I wanted to take a moment to express gratitude to you all for engaging with my blogs. Thank you. I want to share with you what I have learnt in writing, sharing and discussing my work with you:
An interdisciplinary approach is the key to development
The variety of different specialists engaging with my work, from education policy advisers to bioinformatics scientists, demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the issues we attempt to address in development.
The reason why I choose the word interdisciplinary as opposed to multidisciplinary is the change in prefix. Inter taken literally means ‘between’, ‘among’, ‘mutually’ (i.e. international) while multi as a prefix means ‘composed of many/more than one’ (i.e. multinational). I appreciate both approaches are needed in development but assert the importance of an interdisciplinary approach because it a) necessarily requires multiple perspectives and b) demands that these perspectives engage mutually.
An interdisciplinary approach allows development to be what it truly is: a complex, uncertain, and often chaotic process, not this linear abstraction we expect it to be. To borrow Teju Cole’s observation of a painter’s ontology, a development practitioner’s work is ‘a combination of what’s observed, what’s imagined, what’s overheard and what’s been done before.’
‘Knowledge’ has limits
The greatest influence of the 21st century is ideology and it really is worth your time, your effort and your mind to actively reflect on the ideologies driving your understanding and engagement with the world. This reflection also involves questioning the sources which you perceive to have authority over ‘knowledge’. When researching for my blogs, I have struggled sometimes to find contributions from voices in geographical regions other than the West. To illustrate, I will show you two maps taken from ‘Geographies of the World’s Knowledge’ by Convoco Foundation and University of Oxford Internet Institute.
The geographical distribution of published academic content globally
The geographical distribution of user-generated content on Google
I am not insinuating that only the West are thinking, writing and producing the ideas I write about. It could be that the global monopoly over access and control of knowledge production is skewed. It could mean other geographies choose to produce and share knowledge in other ways (out of necessity or choice). This has taught me to expand my sources of knowledge. I have learnt more building change with communities and photographing protests than I have learnt in some traditional knowledge spaces.
Existence is resistance
My friend, pan-African activist and blogger, Aya Chebbi, believes that blogging is an act of resistance because it gives you the tool to challenge the narratives which dehumanize or misrepresent the truth. I am in agreement with her.
Writing this blog is allowing to me refine my why. I want to be in this field for the long run with a constant pulse on what it is I am here to do and why I am doing it. Blogging is enabling me to do this because the practice of blogging is totally, completely outside my comfort zone. I not only have learnt the basics of coding and creating a website but also learnt the practice of centering my voice. My ‘business-as-usual’ is ‘learning from below’ as Gayatri Spivak says; centering the voices of those whom I seek to help through my work. In writing and sharing this blog, I am learning that centering my voice is an act of (creative and political) resistance. It empowers me to build the creativity and awareness I need in order to do my work authentically well.
If you have an idea that terrifies you because it will pull you out of your comfort zone – do it. Do it so you can find your ‘why’. Find your ‘why’ and listen to it all the time. Find your ‘why’, listen to it all the time, and never drown it for someone else’s ‘why’ or someone else’s ‘yes.’
Are you a blogger? How long have you been blogging? What are you grateful to your readers for teaching you? Share with me via my contact page or in the comments section below or on Twitter 🙂
Back to ‘empathy’ next week!!