I wanted to share some of the full resources of the CDF Seminar so others can borrow and share ideas from it. This is long overdue, but here it goes:

1) The full syllabus, with discussion notes, activity details and some minor annotations

2) The NGO Scramble, an innovative role-playing activity developed for the class to demonstrate the power relationships in the development industry.

3) Reflections on the course -how effective was it? I investigate this in a self-evaluation of the course, based on student pre- and post- survey responses. This report is detailed here.

Enjoy, and let me know if you have questions or ideas!


I think that it is hard to be open about the balance of the give and take of aid because people want to it to seem like their efforts are genuine, and not for self-benefit.  Realistically, I think there are some situations where sharing this balance is appropriate, and other situations where it might be better to keep this to yourself.  Sometimes it is appropriate to admit that you are benefiting from the aid you are providing, but in other circumstances, this information can be potentially offensive to people such as aid organization employees or recipients as well.  This phrasing changes my perception of myself because I see myself as not only a “giver”, but also a “receiver”.  In this sense I believe that recipients of aid are not only “recipients”, but also “givers” as well.  I believe that serving underprivileged populations gives us as providers of aid, not only the chance to give aid, but also the chance learn through an array of experiences and interactions too.

The second iteration of the Critical Development Forum seminar is about to get underway! Keep an eye on this page for contributions by students in the seminar over the next 11 weeks.

— Orion

Post by Daniel U.

Singing my songs! I was pleased with the project as a whole and I’m definitely going to be working on this more. Check out the posted recording below


Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

(Posted by Dean)

There is one part in the Kingsnorth reading that gave me a little bit of direction, though, when he talks about people all over the world who are just taking back space, reconnecting wires, creating their own alternatives without asking anyone’s permission. Maybe activism doesn’t have to be “activism”. Maybe it doesn’t have to be something special, something only well-qualified, selfless people can do. Maybe it can just be a part of life, an organic expression of what we really need.

-participant response to week 10

It’s rare that I can get the responses really in dialogue with one another - but this really is a wonderful response to the participant response posted below.


This participant response to week 10 raises some really good points:

Part way through the quarter, I started to feel cornered. Every way that I turned I was participating in an unethical practice that could have astounding effects on distant communities without being cognizant about such effects. In a way, this class left me feeling hopeless and guilty for the life that I have lived and look to live in the future…

…While I understand economics remains a significant barrier to the success of our world, I began to feel as if we were losing sight of these individuals, ourselves. One of the things that I was surprised we didn’t talk much about was the power of education. Instead, we talked, even if it wasn’t explicit, about activism. While I think it is important to advocate for things that you are passionate about, it can be ill conceived through actions. Take Occupy Seattle for a moment: one of the largest protests for the movement was an attempt to shut down ports on the west coast. Not only did this affect the individual ports but those that depend on the ports for their livelihoods. While I may not be highly educated on the subject, there was significant backlash from the longshoremen who did not ask to be represented by Occupy despite Occupy’s claim that they were fighting for them. Nor did Hawaii, which is dependent on imports from ports such as Seattle. Advocating for or against something is an extremely powerful effort but at the same time, it should not be idealized but instead thoughtfully constructed.

My response:

(Assuming they meant the power of educating people in the North), I have to ask what the end goal is.  Is it a bunch of people “aware” of an issue? What does that awareness, in and of itself, do? Is it enough to be aware that the world is careening of a cliff, or do we have to mobilize to change its course? And if we have to mobilize based on our education…well isn’t that “activism”? Education is absolutely key - if it wasn’t, this class wouldn’t exist. But it’s not an end in itself.

It’s important to remember that “activism” is - like any other term - a buzzword. It has a strange negative connotation. Indeed, the first thing you thought of is Occupy. But is protesting the only way one becomes an “activist”? One of the most empowering (if I may use a buzzword) things I’ve been learning about recently is community organizing. It’s activism in the sense that it serves to change social and political structures, rather than engage in charity per se. But it involves comparatively few rallies and protests. Instead, the work is much more strategic and calculated. I’d encourage you to look into the work of organizations locally like the Sound Alliance. The challenge is, of course, making that strategy work for global issues - and that’s what I’m struggling to learn.

Also, the port shutdown is an entirely different debate which I’m happy to discuss elsewhere - I too was a bit skeptical of it. But there’s more to the story than what the media said. The point you have is key however- “activist” actions need critical reflection just as much as an NGO project. They fail too. But my personal opinion is that when they are well thought out and succeed, the change is on another magnitude altogether.

On a final note - I think too much guilt is a bad thing. What we need is anger, constructively channeled. But perhaps a little guilt is a necessary first step. We all have to realize we came from (to varying degrees) affluence and privilege, and that privilege did not emerge in a vacuum. Recognizing that there are local and global forces and structures that gave us "unearned privilege" - advantages based on our place of birth, our parent’s skin, our gender etc. is the first step. It’s hard. It makes you feel like crap. But we have to think about it, wrestle with it, and finally come out pissed off at the structures that gave us the very privilege we take with us every single day. And when we do, we’ll know we’re ready to really change the world from the ground up.

Before this class started, I was highly critical of my own criticism of development work, thinking that my thoughts and confusions were counterproductive. Now, I realize that the rigmarole I run through in my head on a daily basis is exactly what I need to be doing – checking myself, checking my actions, and making sure I’m as educated as possible about my own personal decision-making, both in the here and now and ten or twenty years down the road.
participant response to week 10
I used to simply see myself as a giver and that I’m helping others with a self-intention for my own experience of exploring the world. My view of development used to clearly define by two separate sides, black and white, riches and poor, giver and taker, teacher and learner, leader and follower. But now it had changed, ideas I carrying from this class changed how is see development work. I came to a better understanding that there is no define separation of different components in development work; it’s all interrelated to one another. The relationship of giver and taker, teacher and follower are much more complex. It doesn’t measure based on materialistic, money or wealth. Development work and helping other need come with a sense respect for every individual, equality of human right interconnection and communication among all of us.
participant response, week 10

Throughout this class, I’ve begun to understand that my role in the process of development cannot just be the minimum amount of action to clear my guilty American conscience. The process of redeveloping the world into a place where everyone can coexist doesn’t start in the middle of Africa. It starts here with us. We cannot expect to bring massive, sweeping changes that will eliminate poverty and provide everyone with healthcare and clean water without expecting change to happen in our lives as well.

The other thing that struck me was the optimism in Paul Hawken’s address. His words on how interconnected we are and the quote he used from Charles Darwin gave life to the idea that we are all apart of a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven”. This made me think of another quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.” I think if we all realized how interconnected we are, and then thought about how our actions really influence ourselves and everyone else, we might be just be a little bit better off.

-participant response to week 10

(My goodness, these responses are so wonderful! - Dean)

post by Bingjie W.

I recently stumbled upon this article titled “Interweaving Youth Development, Community Development, and Social Change Through Youth Organizing” published in the journal Youth & Society. In light of the recent discussion we had on activism, I find this (very serious) article to be both amusing, inspiring, and frustrating. This article focuses on activism done by youth (as defined as the “second decade of life”)  and summarizes youth activism as effective venues for social change. They say that successful youth activism fits under a model of psychological empowerment, leadership development, and sociopolitical development. I find this article to be amusing as it analyzes activism under a highly scientific and institutionalized setting, something that is not usually associated with “activism.” I find this article inspiring as it concludes that youth (high school students, college students) can do something for change. More than anything however, I find this article frustrating. The author feels the need to validate the ability of youth, as if we were originally thought to be ineffective in voicing our ideas. Furthermore, the separation between “youth” and the rest of the world is problematic. It makes it seem as if the youth do not have anything important to say about the world and that only once we move past the “youth” category will we face “real world issues.”

Activism done by youth in the article is defined as local activism for local change. However, I argue that activism done by high school students and college students are targeted at a much bigger scale and have bigger ramifications. Take the Occupy Movement for example. College students involved in the Occupy Movement are protesting something that is not local but global. This movement has the potential for national policy change. Right here in Seattle, high school students have joined this movement to protest against corporate corruption and corporate greed.

I think that activism, specifically activism done by youth, can have huge impacts not just locally but globally.
On the subject of inspiration, I really really liked the Howard Zinn article. It definitely gave me the perspective I needed, as his discussion from a historian’s point of view made a lot of ideas click for me and made me feel much better about the state of the world. For instance, his examples of how apparently invincible power structures were dismantled almost overnight gives me a lot of hope for our times. It’s so hard to step outside of our society and look at it from an unbiased perspective. But when I do, I realize that no system of oppression can last forever because the only constant in history is change, so as long as I critically and responsibly put my own time and effort into improving the world, then a better world is not only possible but inevitable.
participant response to week 10
[On the topic of the U.S. government’s support for the Contras in Nicaragua, and similar cases of global human rights violations funded and supported by the global North.] How do we stand for this? How are we comfortable with our own governments treating citizens of others countries with so little compassion? Why are there not more riots? Why does this not result in our officials being removed from office, impeached on counts of inexcusable greed directly resulting in the deaths and loss of livelihoods of thousands?

-participant response to week 9

I wonder this constantly. One might say that Occupy was just the start of exactly that on a national level. But the next step: occupy the world.


[For this week’s assignment,] I looked at the Women Thrive Worldwide and noticed immediately that their mission statement on the top of the page connected women in poverty to US policy. Additionally, on the home page was a link to an analysis of Obama’s proposed 2013 budget and the effects on women in poverty. I felt very optimistic about this website because they were giving me information to act how I saw fit.

Previously I looked at Integrated Community Development International, and while their work sounds great, they were only asking for money. They were selling a service, not asking for action.

-a participant’s response for week 9

I think that last line perhaps sums up the distinction between NGOs and solidarity groups nicely: NGOs “sell” a well-intentioned service (often to governments like our own via contracts), solidarity organizations call on you personally to act. (Though granted they both ask you for money!)