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International Development: What Does 24 Years Teach You?

25/11/2016 13:05 | Updated 2 days ago

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After 24 years in international development, my time has come to move on. While I'll remain working in the charity sector, my next job isn't in international development.

This next step has got me thinking about what nearly a quarter of a century in this sector has taught me. I've certainly had some amazing experiences; I've had breakfast with Nelson Mandela, hosted Desmond Tutu, worked with the Princess Royal and travelled to more than 20 countries. Then there's been the not so great memories, being mugged in Harare, medevac'd from Ghana, and the time it took 4 days to fly from London to Lilongwe.

But what has all this taught me? I think I've learned that there are big things to be achieved, policies to shape, global agendas to influence and attitudes to change and it can all be done. However, the heart of that change is people and you won't change anything for the better without amazing, driven and passionate people by your side.

I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by them every step of the way regardless of the organisation I was working for.

Mohammed Saaka Dumba was a transport officer in the Upper West region of Ghana when I met him way back in 1993. So keen to learn, he challenged me constantly to improve what we were doing with Transaid and inspired a whole generation of health transport officers.

Now a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, he is the leading expert on transport management for service delivery, advising governments and NGOs and travelling the world, but he has resisted all offers to take an international job and continues to work for the people of Ghana.

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Zelma Mokobane was a counsellor for high school students with a focus on young women dropping out of education because of pregnancy. She had worked hard to put her son through school and then decided it was her time, wanting to educate herself and achieve more.

When I was at Canon Collins Trust, implementing the Graca Machel scholarships to develop women leaders, I thought of her. Zelma made the most of every opportunity and is now a lecturer at the University of the Free State in South Africa contributing to global conferences and completing her PhD in inclusive education. Her dedication and drive inspired me and taught me never to write someone off because their education has been interrupted or unconventional.

Rajni Kant Singh is probably the most innovative and creative field worker I have ever met. Working for Lepra, Rajni is never satisfied with what he achieves and is always looking to understand why things happen and improve them. All I have ever had to do with Rajni is ask him 'if you had some money, what would you do with it?' By finding small amounts of funding, I have been able to watch him and the Lepra team implement life-changing, innovative activities that are now replicated by governments and NGOs tackling neglected diseases like leprosy.

When you work with people like these, then life is made easier - and there have been so many of them since I arrived in Ghana on 6th January 1993.

I have seen my role as chief executive of Transaid, Canon Collins Trust, and Lepra as that of creating an environment for people to thrive and reach their potential. Through this I've seen some unexpected characters emerge and do some truly amazing things. They have been a credit to their organisations and causes, and I am proud to have known them.

When I look back in years to come and reflect on the developments made in healthcare access and education across Asia and Africa, I won't forget the unsung heroes behind that change and I am privileged to have met just a few of them.

So what have I learned in the last 24 years? That when it comes to international development, there is no change without great people and as long as there are those with a real passion to drive things forward, the future is in safe hands.

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For more information on Lepra, visit: www.lepra.org.uk

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