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"Doing Development Differently" ... For Decades

On the Vanguard of Development Education

By SIT sustainable development faculty Jeff Unsicker, PhD

Jeff Unsicker teaching classRecently, academics from Harvard and development experts from the Overseas Development Institute in London launched a new initiative—the “Doing Development Differently” movement—to identify and discuss the strategies essential for effective and sustainable development. Their manifesto suggests that successful initiatives do the following:  

  • They focus on solving local problems that are debated, defined and refined by local people in an ongoing process.
  • They are legitimised at all levels (political, managerial and social), building ownership and momentum throughout the process to be ‘locally owned’ in reality (not just on paper).
  • They work through local conveners who mobilise all those with a stake in progress (in both formal and informal coalitions and teams) to tackle common problems and introduce relevant change.

We welcome the initiative because, for more than five decades, SIT has in fact been preparing graduates to “do development differently.” I would say that a focus on the local—local institutions, local control, and local ownership—is in our institution’s DNA.

Founded as the School for International Training in the early 1960s, SIT originated as a training center for the first Peace Corps volunteers. SIT’s first degree program was a response to the interests of returned volunteers who wanted to continue supporting local community initiatives. 

Over the past 50 years our curriculum has continuously evolved. Today, there is increased attention to technical knowledge, such as monitoring and evaluation skills; to innovative and creative strategies, such as social entrepreneurship; to methods of addressing privilege and power, such as policy advocacy; and to critical research and analysis. 

Our faculty and students have refined our focus on the social justice dimensions of complex global issues. In recent years, these issues have included climate justice, food sovereignty, and responses to growing inequality and plutocratic challenges to democracy.

But I believe we continue to be most distinguished by our focus on local, people-centered, bottom-up development and our deep commitment to and expertise in experiential education and interpersonal relationship building. 

Thus, I embrace the important conversations among members of the DDD manifesto community. I encourage SIT alumni and students, prospective students, and others to learn more and consider adding their voices to this vital conversation.

Read the Doing Development Differently Manifesto.