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226 CHAPTER SEVEN The Professionalization of Development As with getting organized to do something complex, so with becoming professional —it seems folly even to question such trends, much less suggest they have negative consequences. Yet in the case of development assistance, they do. In this chapter I focus on the professionalization of development: the ways in which the people who “do” what has become the “work” of development have come to think of themselves as trained professionals; the ways in which the language of development reinforces specialized knowledge , and how these tendencies have created another set of imperatives that is counterdevelopmental. From Calling to Career I may be romanticizing the past, but many people used to go into development as a kind of calling or vocation. Today, development is a professional career. Originally the movement to professionalize had some positive consequences . But of late, these have given way to negative ones. It seems somewhat obvious that once development became a career to which young people would aspire and for which they prepare themselves professionally, that career would begin to have a life of its own, a set of stakes and interests as in any other profession. One of those, of course, is to ensure not only that the career continues to exist but also that it is widely perceived as effective and commands respect. From the 1940s through the late 1950s, development itself was not a profession . People came from other professions to work in the early institutions of what became the development industry. In the more formal institutions such as the World Bank, those professionals were engineers, hydrologists, geographers, geologists, physicians, and the like. Generally speaking, they were experts in technical or scientific fields. For some, no doubt, going abroad to underdeveloped countries to help develop them was not much more than an interesting job. But for a large percentage there was an element of idealism, and for not a few, an old-fashioned sense of calling. In the less formal and smaller institutions that later became part of the industry as NGOs—the early voluntary organizations such as CARE and Oxfam—their voluntary character attested even more clearly to the aspect of calling. Indeed, many who joined early NGOs were not salaried. The term “calling” carries the connotation of a strong inner impulse toward a course of action in the world. You are “called” to work in development by something inside you—a need to help, a sense of duty, an ideal about how the world should be. A related term, “vocation,” comes still closer to this sense of being called. One of its original meanings referred to a “summons from God” to undertake a particular function in life. A calling, then, was sort of a secular version of a vocation. But whichever term one uses, there is (or was) an implied noble quality to such work in the world. In the 1960s many people went into development work because they were idealistic, in some sense felt called. They thought of such work as deeply meaningful. In terms of skills, many young people who worked in NGOs in the late 1960s and 1970s were different from the professionals in the World Bank and USAID or other large bilateral agencies. Whereas the latter were technical or scientific professionals, many if not most of us on the voluntary side of the development field were generalists. Still, both kinds of people, the young idealistic generalist and the older technical professionals, were bringing what they had to offer to development as opposed to coming to development as a profession in its own right. And the sense of calling persisted, especially among the NGOs. One executive director of a midsize NGO in the early 1980s was famous for his marathon job interviews. A candidate for any but the lowest clerical jobs in his organization would spend an entire eight-hour day with the director. He would ask endless details about the person’s parents, sisters, and brothers, about the individual’s childhood and children. He’d ask the person if he or she had ever lied. He would probe into the candidate’s beliefs. Around lunchtime he would tell the candidate what he was doing: he was looking for character, for idealism, for commitment. He cared much less about what the person knew. Two days later, if he had decided to hire the candidate, he’d get the person’s salary history. Then he would make an offer, which was usually...


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