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Private sector role rising in international development

March 21, 2014

Private sector role rising in international development

The private sector is playing a greater role in aid and development in poorer countries – one of the key changes in the 25 years since Massey University launched the first Development Studies programme in New Zealand.

Corporate social responsibility – a relatively new concept and driver for businesses engaging in community projects – has resulted in larger and smaller companies contributing to projects such as building roads, jetties and supporting health and education initiatives, says programme co-coordinator Professor Regina Scheyvens.

“These companies are not all doing this out of self-interest. They value the bonds they have with communities and want to give back,” she says.

The private sector’s role in community development in the Pacific is the focus of a three-year project led by Professor Scheyvens and Associate Professor Glenn Banks. The researchers won $890,000 two years ago from the Marsden Fund to undertake fieldwork at two mining sites in Papua New Guinea and two Fiji tourism sites.

Working in conflict and post-conflict – or “fragile” – states to develop infrastructure and rebuild community bonds and networks is another of the major shifts in international development in the past 25 years, as well as the increasing need to respond to the impact of climate change in developing regions, she says.

The Institute of Development Studies – which has produced 39 PhD theses on diverse global development issues – is celebrating its quarter century anniversary at the Manawatü campus this Friday with current and former students. Many alumni are now in top jobs with organisations such as the World Bank, and international agencies working in challenging regions globally.

Professor Scheyvens, who gained New Zealand’s first PhD in Development Studies at the Institute in 1995, says Massey’s Development Studies students and alumni are now influencing the economic social and political direction of developing countries throughout the world.

She says while some start out with romantic “save the world” notions about alleviating the struggles and suffering of those worse off, the programme teaches the importance of understanding and valuing diverse social, political and cultural contexts. This means gaining insights into a culture as a first step rather than imposing pre-meditated solutions that may not match the needs of the people.

Most students enrolling in Development Studies papers are from a wide range of professional backgrounds in New Zealand and abroad, with the programme attracting engineers, food scientists, midwives, nurses, teachers, social workers, conservationists and more.

Many study by distance while working in the field. The current cohort of students doing the Postgraduate Diploma or Masters in International Development are from Mongolia, Vietnam, Bhutan, China, Philippines, Zambia, Zimbabwe, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji and Indonesia, as well as New Zealand.

Previous students include Aurelio Guterres, rector of the National University of Timor-Leste, who gained both his masters and doctorate degrees at Massey. A current Masters student and lawyer in Tauranga is Denise Arnold, founder of a Cambodian charitable trust, which is improving education in that country.

Master’s graduate Richard MacGeorge is moving to Washington DC to work for the World Bank, having run his own engineering business from Christchurch and worked for CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.

Roydon Chesswas, a food technologist with a Postgraduate Diploma in Development Studies, works with United Mission to Nepal as a food security adviser. He just published a book to help those in developing nations learn to process their food effectively, enhancing their own nutrition and income-earning potential.

Among other successful graduates are two recent masters graduates now working for TEAR Fund in Auckland looking at development programmes in the Pacific and preventing human trafficking, and a Samoan graduate who is working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Apia.

Professor Scheyvens describes the Development Studies programme, which is part of the School of People, Environment and Planning, as interdisciplinary and holistic.

“Twenty five years ago the New Zealand government and NGOs were doing international development work using people who, while skilled in their professional fields such as engineering, health or education, needed a better understanding of how to approach their work with respect to diverse peoples and contexts.

“Our programme has help changed that. We equip development workers with an understanding of the wider economic, social, cultural, political and environmental factors so that the solutions they pose for enduring challenges such as addressing poverty and inequality are more effective and long lasting,” she says.

Highlights of the 25th anniversary conference are a keynote address by Barry Coates, a former Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, and candidate for the Green Party. The institute will launch a second edition of its internationally acclaimed Development Fieldwork: A Practical Guide, published by Sage in London, and edited by Development Studies co-ordinator Professor Scheyvens.

It is one of a number of celebrations this year to mark Massey’s 50 years as a university and 21 years since it opened a campus at Albany.

To illustrate possible career paths, a Massey infographic on Development Studies recently went live on YouTube.

ENDS

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