Category Archives: stuff expat aid workers like


I’m super excited to let you know about a new project I’m part of…

AidSource: The Humanitarian Social Network.

AidSource is something that I’ve been working on with Tales From the Hood and Alanna Shaikh. The idea stemmed somewhat from the fantastic community that appeared via Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. There are a lot of really smart, thoughtful, witty and dedicated people working in aid and development, and not a lot of unofficial and focused space to talk about the industry and to each other about our work, and how our work impacts on a variety of spheres (from personal to global), and what we’d like to see changing and moving ahead.

We have been beta-testing AidSource for about the past two months, but as of today it is open to the public. To join, just go to AidSource and follow the prompts. It’ll only take you about five minutes to set up a profile and join.

Once inside you’ll be able to join working groups and discussions related to international relief and development, see what events are coming up in the aid world, blog, or just hang out with folks in the aid and development industry from around the world (and of course much, much more!). There is a special section for students and educators, too, so be sure to check that out. We’re hoping that local aid workers will find the space useful too.

You’ll find a fair amount of cross-platform functionality present in AidSource. Members who want to can set up their accounts so that once they’re members, they can log in using Google, Yahoo!, Facebook or Twitter credentials. You can also tweet and update your Facebook status from inside AidSource, ‘friend’ other members, upload photographs or documents, and ‘like’ things.

You can also ‘like’ AidSource on Facebook, follow @AidSource1, and read the AidSource blog, AidSpeak.

We think this is not just a very cool idea and site, but also something that (with time) has the potential to drive significant positive change in the aid industry. We hope you’ll take the time to check out AidSource: The Humanitarian Social Network.


Call for guest posts on aid worker identity

This is a call for guest posts on the topic of aid worker identity. I’d like to pull in some links to existing posts or invite you (readers) to submit guest posts around your experiences as an aid or development worker in terms of identity while living and working ‘in the field’, particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class or anything else that strikes you as important.

So, as an aid or development worker….

  • How do you conceive of, negotiate and construct your identity when living and working in a community that is not your own?
  • How do you make sense of your identity when facing the disparity in resources between you and the communities you’re living in?
  • How are aspects of your identity as an aid worker viewed by the local community as compared to your home community, for example how are aspects of gender, sexuality, class and ethnicity identities viewed ‘here’ as opposed to ‘there?”

Selected blog or opinion pieces submitted will be posted here on Shotgun Shack as a series of guest posts. You are free to post using a pseudonym/ anonymously or using your real name. If you’d like to share your experiences but not post them publicly that is also fine – you can send me a private email with your experiences and indicate that you do not wish to go public on the blog.

These submissions would be used as part of research for a PhD that Kaisa Wilson is working on at Edinburgh University. Kaisa contacted me via Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like and said some of the SEAWL posts are quite helpful in pulling in more nuanced and qualitative aspects of aid worker identity. She asked if I could invite some posts on the above topic for my blog via the network of folks that read SEAWL.

In terms of Kaisa’s research, any submissions would be used for the PhD research and /or any articles or conferences that might come out of that. Kaisa would not include any details that could potentially identify those who are submitting and anonymity will be preserved. Submissions (either by blog post or if you decide to send something by email and don’t wish for it to be published) would be added to interviews that Kaisa is conducting to form part of the body of research.

If you would like to participate, please cut and paste the following paragraph on to the bottom of your blog post to indicate that you consent to Kaisa using it for her PhD:

By pasting this paragraph below my posting I am indicating that (1) I agree to my posting being used for the purposes of this PhD; (2) questions about my participation in this study have been answered satisfactorily; (3) I am willing to take part in this study.

If you have any questions or want to send in a submission for this little project, please email me at shotgunshackblog[at] Alternately, you can contact Kaisa directly at kaisawilson[at] If you would like a copy of the final research results, Kaisa will make them available to you.

Thanks and hope to see a few submissions or links to existing post on aid worker identity! I think this is a super interesting topic and one that can generate some good discussion and thinking.

Inside the Everyday Lives of Development Workers

Back in February, Kumarian Press sent me a review copy of “Inside the Every Day Lives of Aid Workers.” I was pretty eager to get it, since J. (Tales from the Hood) and I had recently launched “Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like  (SEAWL)” and this seemed like a good complement to what we were doing.

I imagined reading about real-live aid workers and the challenges they face in their work. Maybe some studies about their lives complete with trends on income disparities or alcoholism or going native or something. Possibly some interesting narratives or stories or ethical questions they face that could spark reflection and discussion…

Well, seven months later, I had only struggled through the first 4 chapters of the book.

Then J. posted his review so, not to be outdone or shown up as the half-assed member of the SEAWL partnership, I decided I must plow through to the end, even if it meant skimming instead of really reading.

And… I’m actually glad I did because the most applicable and digestible information was found in the second half of the book.

Chapter 5 (Orienting Guesthood in the Mennonite Central Committee, Indonesia) was a good read (though in some places it felt like the author held the MCC in contempt for their beliefs). Perhaps I liked the chapter because I have known several people working with the MCC or basing their work on similar worldviews, yet I had no underlying idea of the concepts their philosophy is based on. I’m now wondering if Greg Mortenson stole the concept for 3 Cups of Tea from the Mennonites.

Chapter 6 (Everywhere and Everthrough, Rethniking Aidland by Keith Brown) traces the “birth, implementation and afterlife” of a USAID funded civil society project. It explores “AID politics” quite nicely, though the writing was a bit convoluted. I liked the concept of  “adding actuality to a virtual program,” eg., that moment when a project designed in DC without local input and aimed at fulfilling political motives of the US Government gets funded and needs to be implemented locally in a complex situation that doesn’t resemble the imaginations of those who designed the project. Unfortunately, I got to the end of the chapter feeling like “OK, we know this, and…?”

Chapter 7 (Anybody at Home? The inhabitants of Aidland by Anne-Meike Fechter) was by far my favorite and Chapter 8 a close second. In 7, the author explains the concept of “Aidland” as a metaphor for the particular traits and characteristics of the development sector… “a complex, almost self-contained web of institutions, people , and activities, with sets of attitudes, discourses, and practices of its own”. She then pulls in a cross-section of ‘types’ of aid workers, discusses what makes them “inhabitants of Aidland” and emphasizes the complexity and variety of people who identify as “aid workers”. The point is made then that in order to identify trends in aid and development, it is useful to talk to and study actual aid workers, and that activity at the margins of “Aidland” can give rise to interesting speculations on where the field is headed. 

Chapter 8 (Dealing with Danger by Silke Roth) is an analysis of the security risks that different aid workers face and their individual justifications for taking on difficult and dangerous aid work. I see many of my friends and acquaintances reflected in the profiles of this chapter, so it resonated.

Chapter 9 (by Heather Hindman) goes into the trend of subcontracting and the “Hollowing out of Aidland;'” starting off with current corporate sector buzzwords like outsourcing, off shoring, subcontracting, neoliberalism, streamlining, best practices, and efficiency and their impact on how aid is done and ‘delivered,’ and how these changes alienate the aid worker and produce a rift between those who do the work of development and the product of their labors. The chapter comes from a human resources angle, and looks at aid workers as primarily ‘workers’. It also provides a fascinating look at how subcontracting is changing not only development, but also families, relationships and the ‘expatriate way of life’.

So it was worth getting through to the end.

Check J’s review for some excellent points and insights on the book. Though I’m guessing maybe he’d had enough by Chapter 4 and called it quits. 🙂

Aid: love it or leave it?

Aid - love it or leave it? (Photo taken from - use of photo is not an endorsement of the band/message/song)

Last week, Tom Paulson guest posted for Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like (SEAWL). He didn’t realize he was guest posting, because he wrote the post for Humanosphere, but his post could easily be re-written as SEAWL “#75: Self-Loathing”.

In his post, Paulson identifies ‘A serious problem of self-loathing within the aid and development community’ along with ‘pathological self-deprecation’ and a tendency towards ‘nose-cutting and face-spiting’ (not necessarily in that order).

He uses 2 posts to illustrate his point.

1) Aid Cannot and Will Not Fix Anything by Tales from the Hood, and

2) It’s a Better Life Without Oxfam: the video, which Duncan Green (Oxfam GB’s head of research) blogged about and View from the Cave re-blogged.

Paulson writes that ‘Given the level of ignorance and even hostility that exists in this country toward spending much on foreign aid and development, I think the main challenge for this [the aid] community is make the case for the value of aid and international development. Saying “aid cannot and will not fix anything” is a dangerous soundbite in this political and cultural environment, I think.’

I kind of see his point, and I like Paulson’s writing in general, but this question reminds me a bit of the old “USA Love It or Leave It” mantra.

Most anyone who works in the aid sector knows that aid has serious problems. Some say it’s irreparably broken and move on to a different career or start their own initiative that they think will get beyond the problems of ‘aid’. The general public knows that there are problems in the aid sector as well. It’s a bit hard to hide. And anyway, part of the problem with aid is that for years, its marketers and promoters have been promising something that aid can’t deliver and creating a skewed vision of the world.

I suspect that those who stick around in the aid sector 1) believe aid does some good and that it can be fixed (see many of Owen Barder’s posts), 2) labor on seeing the small bits of good that they or their team or their project or program can accomplish within a system they know is broken (see Spitting into the Wind), 3) are motivated by their paycheck (see Hardship Living) or other perks (like feeling hardcore) or 4) some combination of the above.

Aid is no different from any other large system or industry. It shouldn’t be held as sacred and beyond critique, including by those who know it well and can identify the fine points and details of what is wrong, and perhaps especially by them.

Would Paulson say that we shouldn’t criticize our political or religious systems because it might put people off? Or that we are self-loathing if we talk about what ails those systems and needs to be fixed?

Stuff expat aid and development workers like….

So the Wait… What blog is asking Where are the local aid and development worker blogs? and having a hard time coming up with an answer. Maybe “blogging” comes under that special category of “stuff expat aid and development workers like“.

Everyone’s heard of the “Stuff White People Like” list by now. But I couldn’t find a specific list of “stuff expat aid (and development) workers like.”

Batgung writes about “Stuff white expats like in Hong Kong” and reminds us that “being a White person is not entirely limited to skin color; it’s a state of mind.” There are plenty of great comments underneath too. The writers of Batgung however, are not specifically “aid workers” so they didn’t completely fit the bill for “stuff ex-pat aid and development workers like”.

Then there is Stuff White People Do blog with a post titled “Falsely Distinguish between (White) Expats and (Non-White) Immigrants”…. Interesting and it goes on the list of “stuff aid and development workers like”. But not quite exactly what I was hoping for.

Franceypants puts it simply:  Expats are the Whitest People around. “Here I am going on and on about being an expat when all along all I am is a white person who lives in a foreign country. And so are you.” She backs this theory with a solid argument.

I’d still love to see a nuanced list of stuff that expat aid and development workers like. If you know of one, please share!

In the meantime, let me start it off (in no particular order):

1) Blogging

2) Drinking alcohol

3) Drinking coffee

4) Having maids or criticizing other expats who have maids if they don’t have maids

5) Making fun of young volunteers

6) Complaining about marketers, fundraisers, journalists, donors, and corporations

7) Dating and/or marrying “local” people

8 ) Talking to drivers (their own personal drivers or taxi drivers or hired drivers… but yes, drivers)

9) Showing off how well they speak a local language

10) Making recommendations about eating or not eating local food/street food

11) Bragging about how sick they’ve been (giardia, malaria, dengue, amoebas, crazy insect bites, etc.)

12) Riding around in SUVs, land cruisers and 4×4’s or complaining about aid workers who do and bragging about how they take public transportation


and…. (update) it seems expat aid workers like

13) bonding on Twitter over being expat aid and development workers… a little taste below from the Twitter hashtag #stuffexpataidworkerslike (check it!)

So @talesfromthhood and I decided to make it a regular occurrence. Check out