I quit my development job and ate some humble pie: this is what I learned

by .
Originally published in The Guardian

After years in the development sector, Deborah Doane decided to quit her job and find out what life was really like to live in the global south.

It was in late 2012, in the midst of a long, complicated campaign, that my first sense of restlessness started to set in. I was running an organisation based in the north, focused on global development. We were targeting the northern-led policies that enabled the finance sector to ride roughshod over the developing world, making links with activists from Venezuela to Indonesia, to ensure our aims were relevant.

But still, I felt uneasy. I was increasingly guiltily aware that I had never actually lived for an extended period of time in a developing country. I have deeply-held values about equality and justice with compassion and sympathy for those with fewer opportunities than myself. But at the same time, sympathy for a cause can only take you so far.

I wanted to get off the treadmill to become, for once, just a passive observer, without judgement, to understand more about the lives of people experiencing life in the global south. So I quit my job, packed up my house, and with my family headed for Bangalore, India, where I spent the past two years and seized the opportunity to live an ordinary life in an ordinary city in an extraordinary country.

I worked as a part-time volunteer supporting local campaigners building a domestic fair trade market. I became friends with people across the economic divide. I reached out beyond my middle-class enclave, meeting people in villages, spending time with farmers working to end many of the social and environmental challenges that frame India’s complex landscape. I even used my home baking skills to teach middle-class women in a remote Karnataka village, after being asked by my friends to share my knowledge. As I came to realise: the more you know, the more questions there are, which should serve as a cautionary signal for anyone working in the development space.

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