Improving International Development: An Update for the 21st Century

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International development is a messy affair.  Nobody quite knows what works. Various schools of thought, each trying to help in their own way, compete for the ‘right model’ of development. Economists say that poverty is caused by poor capital accumulation or restricted markets. Social scientists argue that it’s caused by a system of oppression. Other schools, each with their own bogeymen, focus on everything from overpopulation to cultures of laziness and corruption. But which is right? 

Some examples:


“Economic growth is a good thing. It may not buy happiness, but it usually purchases a better quality of life.” - Partha Dasgupta Economics: A Very Short Introduction (pg 117)



"The promised outcome of povery reduction from freer trade, open markets and "neo-liberal" strategies of globalization has not materialized." David Harvey, Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development (pg 71)


“Each additional person will need housing, food, education, employment, a clean environment and a decent quality of life. Presently, over three billion people around the world do not have access to these basics, such as clean water and sanitation. If we can’t adequately provide for these people now, what will we do in the future with more people?” - Overpopulation Connection (1)


“Too often [developers] have treated governments as if they were some beneficial agent we could advise on how to benefit the public weal. The knowledge that governments are often corrupt gives pause to such an attitude.” William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth (pg. 252)


The truth is, all of these issues (and many more) are important considerations in international development. The trick is to not get stuck inside a particular school or specialty.


This essay outlines some of the major schools of international development (ID) and shows how they fit into a larger picture of systems, culture, and self. First it argues that most schools are partial in their development approaches. Second it suggests the scope of international development be expanded to include the development of practitioners themselves.


Part 1 - What Does Reality Look Like?

That’s a funny question. Reality looks like the screen in front of you and everything around us. It includes everything we can see, smell, and touch. It also includes the things we can't see, like love, mutual understanding, or a flash of insight. But reality looks different depending on where you come from and your place in history. My Canadian reality in the year 2010 looks very different from that of a Polynesian seafarer 500 years ago. This point is obvious. What's less obvious, perhaps, isbig3 that although the surfaces of our reality are very different - an ancient Polynesian is unlikely to have ever flown in a plane, for example - reality's core componets have remained unchanged since the begining of human civilization.

There are three core and irriducible parts of reality: systems, culture, and self (2). Wilber calls them the Big Three (3). 

These three distinct parts help explain a lot when examining the world of international development. For one, we can use them to dissect a problem and examine it from different angles. And here's the interesting part. The Big Three are actually perspectives we can take on the world around us (4). We can look at a problem from a systems perspective, a cultural perspective, and/or an individual perspective. Depending which perspective we take, the problem (and it's solutions!) will look very different. Most schools of ID are unwittingly examining only one or two parts of the Big Three. As such, they never actually see the full picture of reality. Reality presents itself in the fullness of each moment - systems, culture, and self arising together as one, every second of every day in every corner of the globe. Most ID projects focus on just part of this picture, ignoring the rest or forgetting it altogether. Half a century of failed initiatives is proof of this oversight.

ID that sees (and works with) a whole picture is more effective, more sustainable, and more transformative. The examples below will show how different schools preference one or two parts of the picture, but miss the whole. We must recognize that lasting development occurs when projects address (at least) these three perspectives: systems, culture, and self.


Part 2 - Systems: the Economics of Development

"He who distains the fall in infant mortality and the gradual disappearance of famines and plagues may cast the first stone upon the materialism of the economist" - Ludwig Von Mises, Economist (5)



International development as we know it today started at the end of World War II. Its initial focus was the reconstruction of Europe, through the US led Marshall Plan (6). The plan was successful and Europe experienced rapid growth in industry and agriculture. Naturally, many thought that a similar plan could be applied to low-income countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Initial methomarshall plands were crude and development practitioners focused on narrow, easy to measure indicators, such as GDP. GDP measures how much goods and services a country produces in a single year. As the argument goes, the higher a country’s GDP the more developed it must  be and therefore the greater quality of life its people should enjoy. A country’s GDP is equal to its income, because whatever it produces (GDP) will ultimately be sold (as income to the seller). So, as GDP grows so does income within a country. Hig her incomes purchase important items like mosquito bed nets, metal roofs for housing, nutritious meals, and school supplies. The benefit of focusing on GDP and incomes is the data is relatively easy to collect and it’s normative – which means it’s a good standard, easy to compare across borders and cultures.

Today a much br oade r range of economic indicators are used to measure growth. These indicators include things like debt levels, industrial output, and net exports. Practitioners look at the indicators to see what parts of the economy are doing well and what needs improvement. They then prescribe policies they think will help to stimulate growth. Methods past and present include agricultural modernization, export oriented growth models, structural adjustment policies, and debt forgiveness. Ultimately, they hope economic improvements will ‘trickle-down’ and reduce poverty at all levels.

The World Banworld-bank-blue-logok  is an example of an institution that focuses on economic indicators. Its motto is “Working for a World Free of Pover ty.” On its  website it defines poverty as not having “enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from  violence, or a voice in … [one’s] community” (7). It uses over 300 development indicators to assess an economy and measure g rowth. And it funds hundreds of diverse development projects in transport, climate adaptation, health, sustainable energy, and community cohesion (for a complete list of projects click here). The Bank has vast resources and although it has received criticism in the past it has also worked to improve its methods and become more accountable. It remains one of the most powerful and influential organizations engaged in ID.

While the Bank’s use of a broad range of development indicators is commendable, the indicators are strictly quantitative. Quantitative data is crucial in measuring development progress, but its only part of the picture. It details important information like how many children data_volume_2008have been vaccinated, how long it takes to open a new business, and the rate of forest depletion in a region. But it doesn’t say if mothers understand why the vaccinations are important, if et hnic violence is scaring people from the markets, or if the forest holds spiritual significance for its indigenous residents. These qualitative descriptions are a big influence on the success of a project, yet too often they go unrecorded.

Using our three-part model of systems, culture, and self, economic indicators are great tools for describing systems. They measure objective reality. But we get into trouble when trying to use them for more descriptive and subjective measures of development. Try using a bar graph to describe community empowerment and you’ll see what I mean - it doesn’t work. Yet community empowerment is still a big deal and just because we can’t easily measure it doesn’t mean its not already impacting the data. There’s no doubt that good practitioners (World Bank economists included) see the need for more descriptive and subjective measures of development. The trouble is they’re just so hard to measure. On top of this difficulty, donors want hard results, backed by raw data. This puts pressure on organizations to focus on measurable outcomes. Luckily other schools have emerged to address these more subtle currents.


Part 3 - Systems & Culture: the Rise of the Humanities


The great embarrassment… is the recognition that what we have been taking as reality is actually only a construction of reality.” - Robert Kegan, professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, Harvard University (8)


By the late 1950’s it was already becoming clear that focusing on economic growth alone wasn’t working. Economic growth is necessary for improving lives everywhere - but it’s not enough. For example, economic growth can’t guarantee the right to vote, it doesn’t give social equality for women or minorities, nor does it prevent religious persecution.

Alternative approaches to ID, driven by the work of scholars in the humanities, soon began to emerge. These approaches looked more at the social side of development. The fields of anthropology, gender studies, education, sociology, critical and Marxist studies (to name a few) penned volumes of work with new ways of thinking about develo1967_hippies_3pm   ent. They attacked dominant ‘structures of knowledge,’ and a system that was lopsided in term of wealth, health, and power. As the social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s emerged in North America and Europe, people also became more aware of discriminations between class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. A whole new world of thought and discourse was exploding in universities and think tanks everywhere. ID practitioners took these new insights and applied them to their work. It birthed a critical approach to development that basically looks at two things: social institutions and culture.

A social institution can be a lot of things. It can be a bank, hospital, or government body. It can also be a social c onvention, like the institution of marriage or public relations between social classes. The humanities showed that institutions favoured some groups while oppressing others. For example, if a government cuts health spending it means that certain public health services will no longer be available. Citizens instead go to private clinics for treatment. Wealthy people can afford to pay for the private services. Poor people cannot (or it takes a larger portion of their income to do so). In this simplified model, the system benefits some (those owning private clinics and people who can afford to pay health-clinicfor top-notch health care) and disadvantages others (people with low incomes). Critical ID practitioners try to rearrange social ins titutions and create equality (as they see it), usually through activism, lobbying, or protest.

Using the three-part model, this type of development is still focused largely on systems. But underlying the critique is a new perspective - one that’s actually addressing culture. Institutions are man (and woman) made. We set them up. So if they only favour a few, we should try to understand what allows them to continue. In answering this question, practitioners inevitably come up against culture – how we make meaning.

To see how culture affects ID we can look at the example of a cultural construction of nature

Cultural construction describes the way cultures interpret and make meaning of the world. It’s something groups of people do. It describes how we tend to view some things as natural or given, even though they may not be. Nature (wilderness) is a good example. Imagine nature in its purest form, the forest. Pristine forests look a certain way. They’re lush and green. There’s no logging. Thick trees huddle close and stretch over hills for miles in every direction. The water is clean and the air is fresh. There are no roads. It’s a throwback to nature before humans. Hiking in a forest is invigorating. The forest is something of value and it feels good to forestbe there.

How we ‘see’ the forest in our mind, and how we communicate it to others is part of construction. It’s something we do together. We agree on what a forest is and that becomes part of our shared meaning, our culture. And we carry our idea with us wherever we go. It seeps into our institutions – our governments, universities, and think tanks - and they continue the idea for years to come. ID pr actitioners go abroad and take these ideas with them.

Now holding the previous image of a forest in mind, imagine an ID practitioner visiting a rural village in India. Residents there have moved into the forest after a season of drought and crop failure. The practitioner sees the situation and is concerned. The forest now has people living in it and trees are being cut down. It goes against the practitioner’s idea of what a forest is. She says, “Hey, this isn’t right, you’re destroying the forest. Forests are supposed to be pristine so they shplanet-earth-the-complete-series-hd-dvd-20070607000525598-000ould be protected.” Her idea of nature (an idea constructed of culture), impacts her view of the situation. Being a foreigner and a ‘specialist’, her opinions also carry weight. People listen. Soon the local people are removed from the forest. The forest is saved. 

Of course, she’s only saved her picture of the forest. A picture painted while going to certain schools, in a certain place, at a certain time. Her culture had an image of what a pristine forest was and it didn’t include people. This is a key insight of the critique. Local culture probably had a very different view of the forest (the forest as an asset, a provider in times of economic difficulty, good for hunting, collecting traditional medicines, etc.). But because institutions – don’t forget about the institutions - are set up to give more power to the practitioner, her cultural perspective won out over forest residents’.

In the words of political ecologist Paul Robbins:

ef fist“Systems of domination are persistent and commonly reproduced even by ‘liberal’ environmentalists. [The systems] are made to vanish by a... habit rooted in the privilege of the colonizer, which ultimately determines what kind of land use can occur in the forest (preservation and timbering) and delimits who gets to say so (Anglo environmentalists and foresters).  – Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction (p. 125)

Examining how culture affects the system is an important part of ID. The forest example shows just how powerful this unseen force can be. It’s interesting to consider that our ideas about the world, ideas that that can’t be measured, seen, or touched, actually have a very real impact on development projects everywhere. Returning to the Big Three –systems, culture, and self - it's now easier to see why we can’t leave out culture. If a development project only looks at things it can measure (systems) then it will miss the powerful internal and unseen world of cultures and beliefs. Understanding these forces offers vital insight into the successes and failures of projects. It opens up a whole other realm of investigation and offers a new set of tools for change.

And cultural constructions are just the froth in a vast sea of internal activity. Many other internal realities also affect development.


Part 4 - Culture: the Power of Meaning


“I don’t think many relief agencies will be able to [use] motivational group therapy. Because they think you can’t eat motivation. But of course you eat motivation, this is in fact what keeps you nourished!” - Martin Burt, founder of Fundación Paraguaya. (9)



Since the 1990s more and more organizations have focused on a ‘bottom-up,’ or community centered, approach. They work with local stakeholders, instead just prescribing solutions from abroad. This way of thinking contrasts the traditionally top-heavy style of international development that targets governments and big economic systems. It looks at ‘soft’ issues like social capital and community empowerment. And it’s often directed at the poorest communities; ones that have been historically marginalized by the institutional arrangement. Approaches from this type of development include capacity building, community dialogue, activism and protest, women’s empowerment, post-war reconciliation, and nonviolent communication initiatives (to name a few). ID practitioners, wary of their cultural perspectives, have also tried to honor and preserve the knowledge of local communities.

In Gujarat, India, for example, the Narmada River Dam project has come under major pressure from groups fighting for local community rights. The project consists of 30 small, medium and large size dams, aimed at brinnarmada protestging much needed hydroelectricity and irrigation water to the region. Soon after 1979, however, when work on the project began, concerns were raised that planning didn't  properly compensate displaced communities. It also didn’t include proper environmental considerations. Social movements mobilized to protest the project as local activists joined forces w ith international groups. Together they engaged in marches, vocal protests, and legal action. The pressure caused the World Bank (which was funding $450 million of the project) to conduct an inquiry. It withdrew its support in 1994, after expressing concern for the environmental and social impacts of the project. As of today, in August 2010, work on the project has been halted, though it is still considered ongoing (10).

The Narmada Dam movement is an example of ID in the cultural sphere. It highlights ‘soft’ issues of empowerment and human rights - again not something we usually associate with bar graphs. Empowerment and rights are descriptive measures of a community’s health. What’s interesting about the Narmada dam case is that economic gains and material development we’re undermined because the project didn’t address cultural perspectives. It didn’t take intnarmada_damo account how communities viewed the project or how it might be reacted to. Instead of empowering local people with a  stake in the project, it empowered them to rise up against it. It also overlooked the powerful culture of activism prevalent within the ID community itself. There are many vocal opponents to large top-down development projects, and these activists were a key part of this project’s failure. In the words of journalist and cultural activist, Arhundati Roy:

“Big Dams are to a Nation's 'Development' what Nuclear Bombs are to its Military Arsenal. They're both weapons of mass destruction. They're both weapons Governments use to control their own people. Both Twentieth Century emblems that mark a point in time when human intelligence has outstripped its own instinct for survival. They're both malignant indicators of civilization turning upon itself. They represnt the severing of the link, not just the link - the understanding - between human beings and the planet they live on."   - The Greater Common Good (11)

The more we think about the impacts of culture the more its clear that we can’t separate culture from the world around us. We’re soaking in it. That’s why the Big Three are so handy. They reminds us that reality, in every moment (even this moment), is more than just what our eyes can see.

With this in mind there’s still a crucial piece of the picture remaining: the Self.


Part 5 - Self: Inside of Individuals


My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.”- Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate, founder of Grameen Bank. 



 Another important offshoot of the humanities has been a growing awareness of who we are as individuals. Individuals are never separate from group cultures, but how we approach them is somewhat different. For example, culture is expressed through groups thinking and acting with shared meaning. We learn culture by interacting with others (think handshakes, taboos, and religious rituals) - but we learn about ourselves through introspection, through looking within. This is a subtle point. Culture describes how whole communities or groups relate to, make meaning of, and value development initiatives. An individual, on the other hand, has personal capacities, tendencies, and aspirations that may be different from the rest of the group. Individuals are embedded in culture, yet they also have a degree of autonomy.

Who we are on the inside – our motives, capacities, perspectives, etc. - affects projects just as much as systemic indicators or cultural constructions. In terms of ID, development of the individual comes in two forms: self-development of recipients and self-development of practitioners themselves. It’s a side of development, unfortunately, that still needs more attention.

latrinesWorking with the interior space of an individual is important. Practitioners have found that projects are not successful if recipients don’t understand the purpose of the project or feel that it’s valuable. So a development project can be well researched, well funded, and okayed by a community, but if individuals don't see value in it, it will fail. For example, new latrines were built for Tamil villagers in Auroville, India. But it’s only the tourists who ever use them. The villagers prefer to use the beach for their constitutional visits. The value of using latrines (for increased sanitation, disease control, ground water security, etc.) was never successfully communicated to individuals, so nothing changed.

The interior development of individuals involves more than just education (although that’s part of it). We all have a rich personal experience with many facets. Fears, desires, opinions, self-image, personal history, spiritual experience, and internal motivations are just a few inner dimensions of our human experience. By working with these different facets, individuals can experience personal growth that strengthens communities and improves the viability of projects. grameenThe Grameen Bank, for example, works with poor rural women who have little education and a traditionally subservient role in Bangladeshi society. These women often come to the Bank with a fear of money and an opinion that they’re ‘not smart enough’ to manage a micro-loan. But Bank officers help to change how these women see themselves and their abilities. First they help develop local support networks for the village women. The women take a personal oath to uphold the four principals of discipline, unity, courage, and hard work. Then they use a graduated system of increasing responsibility and accountability to help the women develop money handling skills, leadership and management abilities, and long-term family plans. In a period of a few short years, many women become more self-confident, assertive, and independent, with a greater role in the family (12). The success of the Grameen model and others like it shows that working with individual interiors is an integral part of any successful development project.

Focusing on the self, the Individual, is slightly different than focusing on Culture. Individuals develop along with culture, but as with the Grameen example above, they also develop in ways that are different from the culture at large.


Part 6 - Self: Developing Practitioners


“Only the shallow know themselves.” - Oscar Wilde



An emphasis on individuals shouldn’t begin and end with recipients. While the humanities critiqued culture and systems, they also critiqued the practitioners themselves. Practitioners may carry cultural biases (as we've seen), but cultures don’t change on their own. The individual has a responsibility to undertake a personal examination of his or her own biases and partiality. Some examples of work in this area include post-colonial studies, Orientalism, and Paulo Freire’s work on education.

“Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.”  - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (p. 60)

A particularly troublesome issue for practitioners is the habit/tendency of viewing recipients as ‘other.’ Throughout history people everywhere have viewed foreigners as different. That’s normal. But there’s a difference between recognizing differences and objectification. Objectification occurs very subtly when we view others in a static, flat, and unrealistic way. For development practitioners this can often arise as a mental projection of superiority oveOrientalismr recipients. Practitioners are mostly from wealthy, developed, and formerly colonizing nations. And when practitioners look to developing communities, it’s often with an eye to 'fix' them. There’s a notion that Western civilization is more civilized, democratic, and developed than the rest of the world. And while this may be true in some cases, practitioners may respond by adopting th e role of ‘superior manager’ or ‘foreign savior.’ colonial man(False roles that may also be supported by local recipients). In its worst forms this sense of personal and cultural superiority deems local people as dumb, untrustworthy, lazy, or wretched. Local ways of knowing can be disregarded as primitive and less valuable (such as  traditional medicinal or dietary practices). Certainly some practitioners are aware of these biases, but many of these assumptions run so very deep that it’s nearly impossible to remove oneself from them entirely.

Many practitioners try to overcome their biases and ‘give voice’ to the poor. Some have called for solidarity with local people. Solidarity means living in and  understanding local contexts and worldviews. It means working for the poor and for what they want. These ID practitioners question their own perceptions of development and ask local people what kind of changes they would most like to see. While it may seem like a straightforward idea, this type of work requires a degree of self-awreness and reflexivity in order to suspend personal beliefs and assumptions. Practitioners try to be aware of their personal coorientalism-womenofalgiersntext (including their cultural background) and also share power with recipients.

What this emphasis on the individual is missing, however, is a more consistent and structured  self-introspection. Many of the critical theorists, while describing beautifully the biases of practitioners, are unable to prescribe any formula for lasting change. In Orientalism, for example, Edward Said describes in great detail European and North American perceptions of the Middle East. His meticulous research examines the many ways that academia, art, and modern media perpetuate a false view of the Orient. Yet somehow, for all his hard work, he never quite prescribes a method for change. Others, such as Sartre, offer methods, but prefer revolutionary violence or conventional activism – methods that don’t address the individual directly (13).

What ID needs is a new set of tools for developing the practitioner. Personal introspection techniques such as journaling, self-reflection, meditation, contemplation, coaching and therapy can help practitioners see themselves more objectively. Self-objectivity is important. It leads to greater clarity and reveals personal assumptions and biases that might otherwise have gone undetected. There are dozens of self-development practices for individuals (a quick peek in the self-help section at any book store will confirm this), but I’d like to put forward that certain practices are more beneficial to ID practitioners than others.

Practices that facilitmeditation2ate more frequent and profound objectification of self-identity, for example, could help practitioners to dislodge previously unseen biases  and assumptions. In other words, we need practices that turn our subjects into objects. (Yikes, what does that mean. This kind of talk can be difficult to follow, but it’s actually very simple and you’ve probably already experienced what I’m ref erring to. For a nice introduction to these idea click here). For instance, certain forms of meditation practice reveal thoughts and opinions to be less concrete than previously assumed. One becomes less attached to a particular perspective and more open to other possibilities. One’s identity is decoupled from thoughts and habitual responses that arise in awareness, and a resultingmeditator-in-subway-150x150 spaciousness and receptivity occurs. This can help practitioners be more present to the needs of a project and less attached to preconceived outcomes. If meditation is not possible, simple journaling can also be done to facilitate individual self-inquiry and the healthy assimilation of experiences abroad. It can be therapeutic or challenging, depending on the goals of the practitioner.

What’s important to remember is that individuals have to perform these practices one their own. Help and guidance is recommended, but ultimately the onus falls to the individual. Nobody can do the work for us. Governments can initiate economic reforms, and activists can protest for a community - but introspection occurs in the privacy of your own head. One easy and fruitful place to try practitioner development for the first time is the examination of motives. It’s important for practitioners to know why they’re involved in development work, because their motives will impact their behavior in the field. Motives are myriad and might include empathy, status, God’s will, or just a love of travel (14). Reflecting on our motives familiarizes us with our inner experience and will perhaps lead to a healthy confrontation with our core beliefs and assumptions. This examination can be done, for example, through journal writing (15).


Finale - Systems, Culture, & Self: A Healthy Whole



“While each participating organization offers important insights for working with interior and exterior dimensions of international development, what is essential is the integration of these parts into a coherent whole...” – Gail Hochachka, Case Studies in Integral Approaches to International Development


full big3

Our life is a dance of systems, culture and self. We're individuals with private thoughts, desires and motivations, embedded in cultures of language, meaning, and beliefs. All around us swirl the material systems impacting our lives: the biosphere, our national institutions, the stock market, and the electronic marvel allowing you to read this essay. Systems, culture and self can be examined separately, but they are never separate. They are who we are right now and in every moment.

ID practitioners already work with these three parts. But they do it in a fractured way. Most focus on just one part or a combination thereof. Yet seeing reality as it is, not just systems, not just culture, not just individuals, but a fluid dance of all three - we shun narrow solutions and wake to the transformative posibilities emerging through the big picture. Economists don’t need to become social scientists, but they can utilize the power of complimenting approaches. Economic growth and community empowerment are each powerful tools, and it's in their marriage that lasting transformation can occur.

It’s essential that practitioners begin to include themselves in the picture of development. Those who prescribe change for others have an obligation to change themselves. And change isn’t easy. But the beauty of self-development is that it doesn’t just make us more able practitioners, it humbly reminds us of the difficulties we are prescribing to others.





[1] A group working for “population stabilization.” The quote is from the FAQ.

[2] Various writers and philosophers have suggested that reality is composed of at least these three irreducible parts, see Ken Wilber, Sean Esbjorn-Hargins & Michael Zimmerman, and Steve McIntosh.

[3] For a more detailed explanation of this philosophy, see Wilber, Ken, A Brief History of Everything, Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 1996. Ch. 8.

[4] Ibid, Ch. 8.

[5] Quote taken from, here.

[6] This style of material development is an expression of modernity. See Trevor’s piece, What is Modernity, for a better understanding of why this was the case.

[7] July 2010

[8] Kegan's interview with EnlightenNext Magazine (formerly What is Enlightenment? Magazine) and the quote can be found here.

[9] Quote is from Burt’s interview, The End of Poverty: Making Something From Nothing, (14:15), recorded by Integral Life. The audio can be found here. 

[10] Updates are ongoing from the web and local media in India. The most recent at the time of writing can be found here.

[11] This is an internet article. The quote is several paragraphs from the bottom and can be found here.

[12] Small change, Big changes: Women and Micro Finance. Published by International Labour Office, Geneva.

[13] Freire, for his part, emphasized a dialogue process where oppressor and oppressed seek to redefine their roles. His work is commendable and a must read for any development practitioner. In my experience, however, even the dialogue process is supported by a personal development practice for all parties involved. I believe that the outcomes of dialogue are directly related to the self-awareness of participants.

[14] ID has developed into a massive industry. Highly educated practitioners are paid handsomely to live in foreign capitals with lifestyles they could never enjoy in their home countries (plush accommodations, elite private schools for their children, social respect and privilege). And while this type of motivation is obviously necessary to attract top talent to burdensome field postings, it’s perhaps a metaphor for the way that some practitioners see themselves in relationship to those they are trying to help.

[15] I don’t expect that the content of my journal entry below will be of much interest to the reader (and I hesitated subjecting you to it). But it the spirit of redefining what it means to be an ID practitioner in the 21st century, I thought I would include it as one example of self-inquiry in a practitioner. This is a 1st person perspective on a subjective experience (my own). So while it is meaningful to me, my interpretation of my motivations will be blind to some aspects. Ideally, practitioners should also engage in self-inquiry with a qualified community of others. Not only is it more fulfilling (in my experience), it also helps illuminate the unseen potentials and Truth within us all.


Journal Entry July 11, 2010.

Question: What are my motivations for being in international development?

  • Doing something meaningful

I'd feel very unfulfilled in a job that wasn't making a positive contribution to the world and society. It seems selfish to make a lot of effort only for myself. Effort for the benefit of as many people as possible.

  • Income

To live a comfortable life, the kind I’d like to live. Don’t have to be super rich, just enough to support a family comfortably.

  • The pleasure of engaging in complex problems

I can feel my mind and awareness expand. I love integral theory and I love evolutionary living. It’s a way of being and thinking that constantly challenges to see beyond one's current understanding of life, nature and reality. Plus it’s just so TRUE. A more full and accurate vision of the world and life in the universe I cannot yet imagine.

  • I love to travel.

The excitement and joy of a new culture and country. Newness. Love the foods, sights, architecture, and landscapes of a new country. The history of regions is fascinating and always shakes me out of a stuck view of history and context. I find my sense of self and culture expanding historically thousands of years back. At the same time awareness creeps forward into the subtle intuition of unseen futures. Tastes like humble pie contemplating everything that has come before and all that is yet destined to come.

  • It seems like the most important work there is.

Besides spiritual practice and the evolutionary potential of culture, ID seems the most important. It seems like a field to put to action all I’m learning/co-creating as a student of Andrew Cohen and with friends and mentors at EnlightenNext. What good is learning to see if you can’t walk the world.

  • Development to me means solving problems and creating situations where people can flourish. Humans flourish.

Development means so many things to so many people. I see it as helping people flourish in whatever context they are. To some that’ll mean basic needs of food, shelter, and security. For others it'll be work opportunities and increased incomes. Maybe empowering someone without a voice in their community. In my home culture of ‘wealthy, educated, post-modern, Gen-Y, Canadian’ it means joining with others to explore to contours of consciousness and push the limits of yet unrealized potentials in human relationship and ways of being.

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  • Comment Link Gail Sunday, 26 December 2010 21:01 posted by Gail

    Bergen, what a great article. It's taken me a while to get to reading this, but I am super glad I did. I like it from start to finish, and leave inspired in how creatively you presented these ideas. I look forward to working with you in the future as opportunities arise.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Wednesday, 29 December 2010 02:11 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Glad you liked it, Gail. I realize its a long piece and a bit of a slog to read on a computer screen. But there's just so much to say here I feel I could go on forever. Here's to making words reality!

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