Finally – a publication!

2 06 2010

Back from my hiatus – thanks for being so patient with me!

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I am very excited to be graduating from McGill this week, and equally excited to announce the publication of my first article in a peer-reviewed academic journal!

You can read the article for yourself here.

Special thanks to Matthew Lange for his helpful suggestions and support during the writing of this article and to John Robertson for his swiftness and generosity in giving permission duplicate his graph.

After finding out that my paper had been accepted for publication, I had less than 48 hours to contact Mr. Robertson and obtain his permission to reprint the graphs I included from his work – remarkably, I was able to track him down and he was very kind about giving me permission to use his work. Thanks again!

– Sarah Topps





How to Make Money and Change the World

1 12 2009

Recently a good friend of mine and his family heard that I had never experienced an American Thanksgiving and were thoughtful enough to invite me down to visit with them for the weekend. Needless to say, the meal was decadent, and both the conversation and the wine were sparkling. [An extended thank you to the Vitek family!]

While I was down in the USA, my friend took me to meet some friends of his for a night out in small-town America. We visited a local bar, ate bagels slathered in cheese and spicy meats and chatted about our various university degrees and jobs. One of his friends, Tsewang, was a young woman from Nepal who I chatted with for an hour or so about international development and social entrepreneurship (two of my favourite topics!) as well as some less cumbersome subjects. At one point near the end of our conversation, I mentioned to her that I was hoping to start a pilot project for solar water disinfection (SODIS) in Angola next year, and she told me that, being from Canada, I ought to look up an organization called Dream Now“.

After returning from the weekend, I had all but forgotten about her wonderful suggestion when I stumbled onto their website this afternoon. Reading descriptions about how they literally built blanket forts in various rooms across the country in order to facilitate comfortable discussion, I was absolutely intrigued. Ravenous for more of this truly out-of-the-box approach, I dug a little deeper on their website and discovered this jewel of a bookHow to Make Money and Change the World

Not only was it one of the most helpful and innovative books I have read on the subject of finding a job in our generation – it was free! Beautifully designed and available online for download, and redistribution, I thought – well! that’s my Christmas shopping done for every friend I have who’s about to graduate from international development! (On a fair note, being a student, I otherwise probably was just going to wish them Merry Christmas on their facebook walls or twitter, so this is quite the improvement as far as free gifts go...)

Occupation: Change the World

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in working for positive change – either in international development, or other fields of social change.

– Sarah Topps





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





Uniting the pro-development Canadians

5 04 2009

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to a conference which was c0-hosted by the new Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University and the Public Policy Forum.

The conference was entitled “The Challenges of Development Today: Practitioners’ Perspectives on Where to Move Forward” and was addressed by several impressive speakers, including David Morley (President and CEO of Save the Children Canada), Canadian International Development Agency President Margaret Briggs, and International Development Research Centre President David Malone, along with the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada.

Rt. Hon. Joe Clark had something very interesting to say, which I had always thought was the case, but apparently it is not yet, and that is that ALL of the groups who are interested in promoting international development in some way, across Canada, ought to have some kind of forum, a means of communicating with one another, sharing ideas, technical advice, knowledge and expertise, contacts, and meeting shared common goals together.

He suggested that it would invite and involve the entire development community, from the NGOs to the not-for-profits to the youth groups to the government to the individuals to the religious groups to the university students and everyone in between. He said that ideally, it would not focus on specifics, except to learn from one another, but instead it would ask: how will we, as Canadians, build a road to a brighter global future, together? How can we collaborate and work side by side to obtain this new world?

Personally, I would love to see a forum such as the one suggested by Rt. Hon. Joe Clark being set up… but it does beg the question: who is in a position to set up such an arrangement? How would it be done?

I would like to propose some kind of online working group, internet forum or other idea-sharing tool, to facilitate this kind of broad cross-national participatory approach, which would be complemented by an annual (or bi-annual) conference to enable and empower those who strive to do global development work across Canada.

What are your thoughts?

– Sarah Topps








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