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Finding a Way in International Development

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About the Author

Sarah Parkinson is a consultant on the monitoring and evaluation of development projects..


""Something Bigger than Ourselves" is at once an introduction to the organizations of the humanitarian aid business, an anthropology of the personalities, and a diagnostic of it's ills and complaints. It's also a manual for how to navigate and survive them, and a prescription for how to address them. It's more than that though - because if you read carefully, and between the lines, you'll find hints of a very personal story, if not exactly an autobiography, then at least a frank and honest guide through the subject matter.In a field of literature dominated either by grand geopolitical theories or disgruntled and critical rants about the aid business, this is a rare book. It focusses on the human story, but in a disciplined and thoughtful way - practical without being callous, compassionate but never sentimental. I come away from it feeling more that I have had a chat with an old friend in a bar in Nairobi than read a treatise on development. It is rigorously sourced and thoughtfully arranged (and I mean that in a good way). It's conclusions are modest, at the scale of the human being, and most of its recommendations pragmatic rather than sweeping. Not for her radical restructuring of the UN, rather a call to us all to be more thoughtful and ethical practitioners. If I have a criticism it is that it tends to dwell on the downsides of the work, and does not show some of the more exciting movements at the edge of mainstream humanitarianism. Her slight tendency towards pessimism lends a feeling of melancholy to some of the book, although I am not certain she isn't right in some of her analysis...As a teacher and a development practitioner I often get questions through my website and class about what aid work is like, and how to 'get into it'. This book starts with a thorough overview of the sector, the work, and the life that answers many of those, but goes far beyond that, grappling with issues of how to thrive as a human being within the system.I intend to recommend '
"Something Bigger Than Ourselves" presents a balanced, yet frank, account of the realities of following a career in international development. Parkinson in her accessible and enlightening analysis unravels the challenges and the coping strategies employed by development workers from across the globe. In doing so she highlights the importance of reflective practice, challenging you to rethink what you hope to achieve and how you plan to do it. A must read for new and seasoned development practitioners alike.
Issues of ethics in development spring to life in this book. Sarah Parkinson describes these issues as they are seen by people working in development. More than this, she also portrays a cast of characters with different responses: cynical or satisficing drifters, do-gooders and realists, visionary 'aid heroes' and negotiators. This book will challenge people who work in development - and those who are working towards it - to reflect on their choices. It will be required background reading for my graduate course on development ethics, and it will be important reading for everyone who cares about making development efforts go better than they have.
"Sarah Parkinson s book is a must read for those considering work in development, or for those taking an introspective look at their careers. The book expertly explores the gap between international development theory and practice, thereby exposing some of the complexities and ideological stereotypes that exist in aid and development. The book is based on the author s own experience as well as interviews with people in the field who are, more often than not, confronting their own uncertainties and understanding of the profession. Something Bigger than Ourselves: Finding a Way in International Development should be essential reading in any international development course to encourage reflective decision-making. I am sorry this book was not available when I started out; it would have been the most dog-eared of my collection."

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