Interview with David Malone – President of the IDRC

10 10 2009

David MaloneI am very excited to announce that this week I was lucky enough to meet Mr. David Malone, current President of the IDRC, at the Mc Gill Conference on Global Food Security which was being held in Montreal, where he was one of the speakers. He is obviously a very busy man, but he graciously accepted to do a brief email interview for me for the McGill International Development Studies Students Association (IDSSA).

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is:
“...a Crown corporation created by the Parliament of Canada in 1970 to help developing countries use science and technology to find practical, long-term solutions to the social, economic, and environmental problems they face. Our support is directed toward creating a local research community whose work will build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.”
(taken from the IDRC website- About Us)

1. Mr. Malone, what did you study in your university degree(s)?

“Business Administration (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Montreal, BA); Arabic Studies, American University of Cairo (diploma); Publkic Administration, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government (MPA); International Relations (Oxford University, D.Phil.), . “

2. What was the most influential and/or helpful class that you have ever taken and why?

“A History class focused on the Middle East taught by the great Arab historian Hana Batatu, which focused on 12 famous and much admired books on the region, including one of his own on the revolutionary movements of Iraq.  As the course ran on throughout term, it became apparent (although many of us failed to detect the evidence on our own) that the thesis advanced in each of these books was vitiated by a fatal methodological flaw in research methods.  This gave us all a lot to think about.”

3. What influenced your decision to enter the field of international development?

I had lived in the Middle East (Iran) and Africa (Nigeria) as a boy and teenager.  Then and ever since, I have been drawn to the developing world.  During my first assignment abroad for External Affairs (as the Canadian foreign and trade ministry then was known), in the late 1970s, I was asked by CIDA to oversee locally much of their programming in Sudan.  There, virtually every Canadian project failed, for a wide variety of reasons.  This also gave me a lot to think about.  The basic problem was that we had clear ideas on what we could offer while the Sudanese, too polite to contradict us, had little actual use for our programming. I learned that listening carefully and probing interlocutors systematically in order to attempt to ascertain their true views is both time-consuming and immensely important. I have been engaged in the study of development or aspects of development assistance allocations for much of my life since then.”

4. What would you say is your greatest achievement?

Discovering that I could still learn when I tackled my D.Phil studies at age 41. “

5. How did you first get started in the field of international development? (i.e. How did you get your foot in the door?)
“(see above)”

6. If you could give students interested in the field of international development one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Good intentions in and of themselves rarely achieve much, although they are required in order ultimately to do good.  Acquiring practical and analytical skills (including organizational, writing and public speaking skills) is more difficult and more important than simply wanting to do good. Much as I love broad swathes of the developing world, I always try to avoid romanticizing it and to avoid imposing my own template of values and priorities on it.  Other countries move at their own pace, for their own reasons.  We need to respect this, even as we work with partners there to improve economic and social prospects.  Otherwise, we risk antagonizing our hosts and frustrating ourselves.”

Once more, I wish to publicly thank Mr. David Malone for agreeing to this interview upon such short notice and for giving such thoughtful and inspiring answers to simple questions.

– Sarah Topps





Difficult times for university students and recent grads

16 07 2009

The economy is down, job searching this summer is tearing students apart in North America – most of my friends are having some form of difficulty finding work. And not just work that pays a decent wage, or even minimum wage, work that is any more challenging than flipping burgers or doesn’t involve someone screaming at you every fifteen minutes or so – now even these hated positions are scrapped over like the final pieces of carrion by vultures.

As a top student at one of the best and easily the most well-known university in Canada for my field of studies – I followed the same path that has previously offered the best chances for interesting and sometimes paid work opportunities this summer:

I asked my current manager if he would be able to keep me on for a summer position… no such luck.
I tapped my professional contacts… no luck.
I applied for, and was accepted to an internship program… but in the end couldn’t afford the plane ticket and visa costs to reach the country where the internship was to take place due to funding cuts by CIDA this year.
I searched on the internet for hours, finding internships, jobs and volunteer work which appealed to me and applied to dozens of spots, all well before deadline… no luck.
I asked past employers if they needed employees for the summer months… no luck, many are still downsizing.
I spoke with friends, family, friends of the family, family of friends… no one was hiring, anywhere.
I applied for jobs in the paper – in English, in French, in Spanish – in Alberta, in BC, in Montreal, even in Europe… no luck. I had some job interviews, and even a few offers, but moving and housing would cost more than the salary offered.
I took job interviews with companies I would never wish to work for, such as telemarketing and door to door sales, heavy manual labour that paid less than minimum wage or waitressing positions in sketchy restaurants that ran drug deals out the back… then I decided risking my safety and/or sanity wasn’t quite worth the minimum wage positions.
I even worked manual labour for 4 weeks while I tried to come across something more stimulating (or better paid).
And put myself in a somewhat risky situation with a bipolar boss who paid under the table cutthroat wages and screamed at us when he couldn’t find his cigarettes which were on the table behind him.

Finally… I’ve had enough. Sometimes you can put in all the work, and your luck or timing will be off by just enough that you just miss the spot you were trying so hard for. Better luck next time…

On the other hand, I have the luxury of having paid all of my bills already and not having any dependents at the moment (besides my kitty, who I have fed and taken to the vet when I didn’t have money to buy food for myself or pay all my bills on time) and realistically, I’m far more likely to wear myself down, wear myself out or put myself in the way of some serious harm – whether physical strain, mental breakdowns or simply feeling terrible about my life – than to actually make enough money to make those things worth it.
I’ve paid all my bills for the summer, and I’m not going to starve to death, I can keep my cat healthy, keep me healthy and far happier than I would be, working some shitty job where in the end, half my pay is lost due to my bosses losing track of my hours or short-changing me on my shift hours etc.

I’m lucky, and I recognize that. Not having to work for 6 weeks during a recession where finding a job as a student is a nightmare and keeping one is hellish at best, is truly something to be taken advantage of, and I intend to spend the time working on my thesis, prepping for my classes next year and taking care of myself mentally so that I might not break down when it all goes to hell next April when my thesis will be taking over my life.

For a few lucky ones, life still worked out in their favour – even more so than it did for me, and several of my most talented friends have been offered interesting and stimulating work or educational placements this summer – including my friends Alexandra in Nepal, Eric in Syria, [see their collective blog here], Lynn in Tunesia [click here to follow her adventures and those of the other AIESECers from McGill], and fellow AIESECer Amina Samy in India, and good friend Kelly Garton in Panama.

Next year I will be one of these lucky people, as the internship offer which I qualified for with AIESEC McGill still stands until February of next year, by which time I will have chosen one to undertake post-graduation in May 2010. (I’m very excited to see what I will end up choosing… there are so many options!)

As for right now, I remain happily unemployed, working hard on my thesis, my final paper for a summer class and my blog, organizing the international trips for my VP position in the McGill International Student Network for 2009/2010, coming up with ideas for my other VP position on the IDSSA (International Development Studies Students Association) academic board, keeping my body healthy, helping my cat with his physical therapy and enjoying spending time with friends I might not see again for several years after this summer.

All in all – not a bad way to spend the last 6 weeks of a summer when unemployment is rampant and most of my friends are wallowing in misery-filled jobs, huge amounts of debt, or both. I think I’ll just appreciate that for now I have the most luxurious of resources – time.

– Sarah Topps








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