What I learned from curating thousands of #globaldev articles

My first ever link review in November 2011 featured 3 international development links on study advice for MA programs, sanitation & hygiene and facilitating social change.

When my 200th link review will go online in September 2016, I have had the chance to collect, select, review and share thousands of news items, blog posts and other digital resources.
I first shared some more general reflections on the curation process on the occasion of link review no. 100 in November 2013 (100 weekly link reviews later: Why I still like curating #globaldev content); the post highlighted how curation has helped me with my research, teaching and digital literacy.

As I went through most of my previous link reviews I reflected on some of the key features that emerged from the diversity of material I have come across in an ever-changing digital publishing environment.

We never had so many great news sources-while traditional media brands often remain stuck in reporting stereotypes

When I look at the Guardian’s Global Development professionals network, NPR’s Goats & Soda, IRIN, Humanosphere or the Center for Global Development I am literally just scratching at the surface of humanitarian and development news.
If you include some of the international politics resources, e.g. the integration of the Monkey Cage blog into the Washington Post, I may sound older and wiser than I am when I write ‘we never had it so good’. On the one hand we can fairly safely say that there are no ‘hidden crises’ anymore and if something happens in country A, B or C we can consult this global digital network to get some nuanced insights into hashtag activism in Zimbabwe.

But I am also becoming increasingly aware that while it may not be an echo chamber or filter bubble per se the overall ‘trickle down’ (or up) effect to traditional, global mainstream media brands is small. ‘We’ know about the nuances and complexities of development, many of the popular (re)presentations of development I have been critiquing over time are stuck in pretty old ways, with the ascent of the ‘post-factual’ media posing the latest challenge for development communication.

Aid Work(er) professionalism is on the agenda-but the political realities seem to care less

One of the themes that emerged over the years and reviews is the topic of aid work professionalism and aid worker well-being.
From WhyDev’s continued (early) career advice, to J.’s more snarky observations and projects on well-being (e.g. the great Mindfulnext), the aid industry is gradually paying more attention to the professional environment and care they need to provide. From proper salaries to criticizing unpaid internships and arguing for sufficient training, many parts of the aid industry engage with their staff and at least think about how to do aid work ‘better’.
At the same time, changing humanitarian realities, including the normalization of attacks on medical facilities and staff, currently and profoundly challenge these debates. So discussions on the ‘future of humanitarianism’ will continue why the nature of war, conflict and terrorism is changing even more rapidly in many parts of the world.

The rise and rise of philanthrocapitalism

Historically speaking, every decade or period of development history had ‘their’ actors: From Northern expert-driven modernization, to the enthusiasm over UN’s intellectual leadership to the rise of ‘the market’ and hopes for a global ‘civil society’. In our day and age tech entrepreneurs, philanthrocapitalists and a believe in a ‘Silicon Valley attitude’ to save the world dominate news and discussions. ‘Innovation’, ‘disruption’ and different shades of entrepreneurism will finally lead to a great transformation where states, markets, corporate and non-governmental entities will come together and celebrate ‘the end of poverty’. As persistent as the critique is and as nuanced well-argued pieces about the limits of capitalism and traditional growth models are, my digital engagement has almost every week encountered new iterations of the search for the ‘holy grail’ of poverty ‘eradication’.

We still fail-but do we fail better?

I do not have precise data, but articles on (not) sending ‘stuff’ to Africa, (not) volunteering in an ‘orphanage’ and (not) succeeding because of local contextual details showed up every month. Oh, and of course articles on ‘how one Ivy League college student will be fixing this big development problem’. Global development writing and communication discourses have firmly embraced a very North American ethos of how ‘succeeding’ almost always comes with ‘failing’-or at least personal sacrifices. With better narratives and enhanced technological tools almost every touristic adventure can be transformed into something seemingly meaningful-at least an autobiographical book and a blog post on ‘Africa’ in the consumerist blogosphere of the experience industry. The world has become a more globalized place-and there are no blind spots for a generation of GoPro-equipped Instagrammar.
But larger organizations are still quite tight-lipped about ‘real’ failure. Certainly not unique, the development industry mirrors many other parts of live where enhanced digital discussion did not deliver fundamental transparency and transformation.

Lack of organizational reflections amidst sometimes surprising resilience
When it comes to noteworthy stories about large organizations, debates around World Bank leadership, MSF’s new learning platform and yet another iteration of the debate how UN bureaucracy is failing everybody, but their hugely overpaid senior managers…
The World Bank is one of the more actively blogging institutions (and yet their governance is largely unaffected by ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’), MSF has always been a self-critical organization (and not very keen on the ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ discourse) and frustrations about UN bureaucracy are as old as complaints that ‘taxpayers’ money’ is wasted overseas. So digital media, social media and new forms of engagement have produced a lot of food for thought, discussion, teaching and learning, but rarely led to significant transformation-a theme always present in my academic research. That said, many organizations are now more closely connected to their ‘in group’. Going back to my first point, humanitarian communication and journalism is now complemented by more professional communicators that sometimes even become news sources themselves. Compared to many other parts of society where significantly more money is spent (health, military), development continues to be relatively open, self-critical and accessible.

Digital companions
I spent quite some time last night to go through 199 link reviews and I selected a few articles from the past five years that capture the variety of blogs, sources and ultimately people that have been digital companions on my journey. Thank you for sharing-sometimes just one poignant commentary, sometimes regularly over time, even years.


F&%k this society's patriarchal honor, this festering disease that exists to maintain women in domestic enslavement, as dehumanized property, as sexless objects of procreation that exist solely for the pleasure and bodily requirements of their male owners.
Facebook, Ammar Rashid, July 2016

Why Do the Poor Make Such Poor Decisions?
Rutger Bregman, June 2016

Read this e-book to end poverty
WhyDev, Amanda Cave, May 2016

How Aid Became Big Business
L.A. Review of Books, Matt Kennard & Claire Provost, May 2016

Sweating the small stuff at the World Humanitarian Summit
IRIN, Andrew Gully, May 2016

Barbie Savior: The parody that makes aid types feel good, but does nothing
Humanosphere, Tom Murphy, April 2016

How ‘Empowerment’ Became Something for Women to Buy
New York Times Magazine, Jia Tolentino, April 2016

Your White Savior Complex is detrimental to my development
TMS Ruge, March 2016

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems
The Development Set, Courtney Martin, January 2016

Humans of New York and the Cavalier Consumption of Others
The New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham, November 2015

Against Charity
Jacobin, Mathew Snow, August 2015

Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours
Matter, Clemantine Wamariya, June 2015

On the Pharmaceuticalization of (Global) Public Health
Daniel Goldberg, May 2015

Voluntourism as Neoliberal Humanitarianism
Zero Anthropology, Tristan Biehn, September 2014

There you go!
Survival International, Oren Ginzburg, 2014

The Illusions of Political Will
Marc DuBois, April 2013

Editorial: The Future of Development
Development, Tariq Banuri, March 2013

To better understand development, stop reading development blogs
WhyDev, Brendan Rigby, March 2013

Kathmandu Girls
Jemima Diki Sherpa, February 2013

So I’ve been dating a girl who travels
Martin Perez, June 2012

The Promise of Social Media for Humanitarian Action?
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, Jason Cone, May 2012

Haiti Aid Worker Reflects On The Limits Of Help
NPR Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan & Quinn Zimmerman, May 2012

The Aid Bitchslap
Shotgun Shack, April 2012

Where are the interesting aid thinkers?
Blood and Milk, Alanna Shaikh & Paul Currion, January 2012

The subtle condescension of ‘ICT for development’
Memeburn, Erik Hersman, November 2011


  1. Great list! I would have included these two as well: https://newrepublic.com/article/120178/problem-international-development-and-plan-fix-it and http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/06/tech-and-other-peoples-problems/488297/


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