Episode 28: Reflecting on personal journeys and lessons learned at The Development Hub. Nompilo Ndlovu and Kate Bird in conversation.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Nompilo Ndlovu and Kate Bird, co-conveners of The Development Hub’s Skill Share Programme, reflect on their journeys so far within The Development Hub.

We discuss the lessons learned from the 5-day immersion programme, and highlight the depth of discussions and diversity of shared experiences throughout the sessions. We also reflect on the reasons behind the majority of participants being women from the minority world, and how to address this disparity for future programmes.

We talk about the launch of the Skill Share Programme, which begins next Monday February 19th, and will provide participants with 6 weeks of structured content on personal transformation, working together across international teams, partnerships and organisational change, and finally, ecosystem transformation. Stay tuned for the following run of the programme!

Episode 28: Full Transcript

​​The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 28

Reflecting on personal journeys and lessons learned at The Development Hub. Nompilo Ndlovu and Kate Bird in conversation.


Kate: [00:00:00] Welcome everybody. I’m Professor Kate Bird and I’m here to introduce the Power Shift Decolonising Development. I’d like to hand over now to my co host Dr. Nompilo Ndlovu to introduce herself. Nompilo.

Nompilo: Greetings, everyone. I’m a development practitioner, and I’m an Associate of the Development Hub, and we look forward to reflecting on some of our journeys so far in the development space.

Kate: So thank you, Nompilo. We’ve decided to talk today about the process that we’ve gone through to pull out some of the key lessons from the podcast and share them with the world. So obviously we have the podcast series and some of you will be regular listeners and for some of you this will be our first episode that you’ve listened to.

I would encourage you to go back through our previous podcast episodes. We’ve got some great speakers there, but today we’re particularly wanting to think about how we’re moving forwards [00:01:00] with the podcast series and also how we’re linking the podcast series to sharing ideas with the broader development and humanitarian community.

Now, this started earlier this year with us launching a five day immersion program. Nompilo, would you like to tell our listeners a little bit about that program and the way that we have approached it?

Nompilo: Okay, I hope I get everything in, and if not, please do chime in. The five day immersion was an interesting little project which, Kate, you did a remarkable job of.

It set out certain topics, a collection of variety of topics, which had come up from the podcast key debates that we had been discussing. And for everybody who came, they received some working materials ahead of the class that we would have the training session, and then would go into discussions in the five day immersion.

So it’s a quick study program with very comprehensive workbooks. We had three of them in total, right, Kate? So the first day, mostly just with an [00:02:00] introduction and just sharing some key ideas of what we would go into. My personal favorite was the second day, which was talking about personal transformation and working together. For me, a very personal topic, and then the third day was starting to speak about the way forward, yes? 

Kate: Yeah, we talked about the way forward and we talked a little bit about ecosystem transformation.

Nompilo: That was it actually. It was the larger structural transformation that needs to happen over and above the personal journey. And I think it was well received. I liked the most the workbooks.

They were very practical. They covered enough academic theory, but at the same time, a wealth of experience from speakers from the Global North and the Global South. Like I said, based on the podcast, but also just put together the work experience of different groups of people in the development space.

 And then afterwards, there was a PowerPoint presentation, and then people will go into breakaway groups. And I think that’s where some really wealthy [00:03:00] conversations came through. We started hearing people sharing different realities in their world and just thinking through some of the ideas, incorporating their own experience and also just encouraging for us to also enhance some of our topics where perhaps we could have gone into more detail.

I think that’s me at a bird’s eye view. Do you want me to go into more detail, Kate?

Kate: No, that’s great, Nompilo. One of the things that you and I have been reflecting on is the combination of factors that meant that we had rather more participants, from the minority world or the Global North than we did from the majority world.

And we both have some thoughts about why that might be the case. But I was wondering if you might want to pitch in first and share your thoughts about why that might be.

Nompilo: Yeah, that’s a great idea. What really boggled me, especially about the very small participation from the Global South case, because the 5 day [00:04:00] immersion was actually free.

So, I would have assumed that not having a price tag to it would have at least encourage people to join. So, I was particularly surprised to see that despite all of that, that participation was low. I also think whilst we’re not going to get all quarters of the world, it was a lunchtime seminar.

So largely for most people in the Global South, generally not too far off the time zone. So that really surprised me because I expected more people would have come, but I actually started to perceive more practical issues, the ability, even, to sit and deliberate over a five day period might be a luxury in a development field that’s quite fast paced and things are going on every day and people are hands on the ground. And therefore, just the ability to sit and dedicate time, maybe from a practical level to more conversations about work that they are already doing might have been it.

We also both spoke about how terms such as decolonisation, the practicalities of doing development are [00:05:00] something that a lot of people have already been doing for a while. So, when we have the luxury of deliberating on them, the theory and the thought, it might not necessarily be that they are new experiences for people in the Global South. Or new conversations, the conversation of decolonisation, I know for myself at UCT has been ongoing for about 10 years, since the Fees Must Fall conversation. So I know that even now there’s a bit of a fatigue around the topic when people start to speak about decolonisation as something that’s growing in the Global North as a conversation, people are just like we are inundated.

We’ve been decolonising everything, we’ve been decolonising the names of buildings, we’ve been decolonising development work, we’ve been decolonising our education, we decanted and decanted and decanted, so perhaps it’s not that the learning or the sharing wasn’t not new, it’s just that idea of constantly hearing from a group of people of the Global North that you often feel have been at the forefront of creating situations, coming back once again, years later saying this is now how we can decant [00:06:00] everything that we’ve done.

Kate: So there’s a range of challenges there. One is that people working in the development sector in the majority world or Global South are actually busy doing the work. They’re busy out there, meeting deadlines, delivering on projects, and they don’t have time to step back from their commitments to have that space for reflection. And the program was quite intense. I mean, the workbooks, if you were to complete the workbooks during the five day period, which was the intention, then it was quite a bit of content. It was quite chunky. So although in terms of contact time, it was only three hours spread over the full five days.

The actual content itself was quite chunky. So I can see 

Nompilo: It was really wealthy.

Kate: Yeah, and I think particularly given that the timeline leading up to the five day immersion was relatively limited, so people didn’t have maybe a month or six weeks grace to block that time out in their calendars, that might have been a challenge.

But the other point that you raised was that [00:07:00] for people in the Global South, particularly people who’ve been confronting these issues, the Rhodes Must Fall challenge. For them, this is not new news. This is something that they’ve been wrestling with for many years. And that perhaps this felt a little bit like people from the minority world or Global North repackaging an issue, which they’re deeply familiar with, and then saying, hey, look at this, look at something that we have. So perhaps even a perpetuation of the power asymmetries baked into the colonial project and therefore not at all appealing. So it’s something that was being framed and articulated by people like myself, based in the Global North.

So, not appealing and also not legitimate. So there are some really big challenges there, irrespective of the program being available for free. So that those weren’t the biggest constraints. There were other constraints.

Nompilo: It is a pity though because I do think when putting together the workbook and the types of [00:08:00] conversations, there was stuff for people from the Global North to learn, but there was also stuff from the Global South to learn.

I know that a lot of power dynamics have always planted a certain school of thought or ideology towards one person from another. But I remember even in day two, right, we spoke about concepts such as White fragility, right? What does this mean for a specific group of people? And yet, at the same time, we spoke about some of the issues for BIPOC communities and so I think we had tried to capture it as wide as possible. And there was a niche in that we were uniquely not trying to redo what the usual suspects have done, but I guess it’s also hard to convince development communities that you’re bringing new knowledge when they’re used to people sharing blueprints with them.

It is a pity because there was some wealth and there was some nuggets there that even when you’ve heard the decolonial conversation, there was learning for me. 

Kate: Yeah, and that’s feedback that I’ve had from other people of colour, was that they actually found some of the content quite challenging in that it was making them think about how [00:09:00] they may want to step into this arena and engage in personal transformation.

So, we’ve run the five day immersion twice now, and we do have plans to run it again in the future, but possibly not for a couple of months. But now we’ve built on that platform and we’re launching the Skill Share Programme. So the Skill Share Programme named after this podcast series, The Power Shift Decolonising Development. And on the back of a six week program, we’re hoping to construct a community of practice in which people can continue their process of personal transformation and growth and get support from their peers in stepping forwards, but then embedding it within their organisations and in the way they work in teams, and also hopefully moving forwards into a process of ecosystem transformation as well.

So, Nompilo, on the background of the five day [00:10:00] immersion, which goes through the process of thinking about personal transformation, and then thinks about how we work together in teams and within organisations, and then moves forwards to think about partnerships and organisational change, and then goes on to think about ecosystem transformation.

We’ve built on that structure and we’re taking that forwards into the six week Skill Share Programme that we’re just about to start together. So it’s a six week program where you and I are convening the program and we’re bringing in guest speakers like Allan Moolman from Oxfam, Disha Sughand from Womankind Worldwide, Lena Bheeroo from Bond, and other guest speakers from across the sector who are going to be sharing their experiences in personal transformation, but also challenging their organisations to grow and change. And on the back of that, we are planning to develop a community of [00:11:00] practice where we can bring together people from across development and the humanitarian space where we can all support each other and hold each other up in this process of transformation.

So I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about what you are hoping to share in the Skill Share Programme because we’re all bringing something to share. It’s not a simple process of chalk and talk. We’re bringing something to share and we’re also hoping to learn from each other.

Nompilo: I like the most that the Skill Share continues to take its ideas from things we have heard, things we have experienced, and continues to shape a variety of types of knowledges towards learning, shared learning. I also like the fact that it’s not a linear type of learning, it’s quite cyclical. So at any point in the six weeks, any piece of information matters somehow in the wider ecosystem.

So I like the way that we’ve set it out, which has got a good chronology and speaks mostly to types of transformation. I look forward, especially to the conversations on personal transformation, which [00:12:00] we started in the 5 day immersion, and which a lot of people started to say, increasingly, I can’t do the work of development if I’m not personally transformed and it starts to become interesting to think, what does that mean from a gender perspective, what does it mean from a class perspective, from an education perspective, nationally versus internationally? What kind of skill sets should we be building into to ensure that our own personal transformation means that we’re more effective at the work that we do?

Having worked a lot in gender and having worked a lot in marginalisation and inclusion and in spaces in the Global South, actually, especially the marginalised or the peri urban, off the beaten track. I look forward to sharing a little bit more of that and just how those experiences alone personally transformed me.

 I like the next conversation, which will be about working together. So to try to say what is the work of international teams and national teams? And I’d like to see the conversations around power dynamics. What happens when the hub is somewhere overseas and [00:13:00] sometimes the instruction and the ideas don’t always bode neatly with what is on the ground and just getting towards better program designs that work for everybody.

So I look forward to that having had worked in a variety of teams, both community, national and international. It’s going to be interesting because a lot of that also has interracial and intergenerational connotations. I like increasingly the idea of organisational change. And different ways that development organisations need to change to carry the idea forward.

We’ve been doing business as usual for years and years and years on end, but the terrain that we are in now is drastically changing. And we also now need to see how development organisations should be changing to incorporate that. So the way HR does contracts, the way HR brings in consultancies, the way we do DEI work, and just all of that.

But lastly, I think, so just that chronology that goes all the way to how to transform the larger ecosystem. I hope the more people do these kind of [00:14:00] trainings, that it’s not just about The Development Hub, but it’s like spreading a wave of knowledge, and then with a critical mass, we’ll start to see a change in the ecosystem over time, just principles, norms, intentions around doing development work, starting to change in a more global space.

So I think the skills training does a bit of everything. It teaches us how to be ourselves as development practitioners, and it teaches us how to go out there in spaces. It teaches how to work together, but it also teaches how to start shaping the way forward. And I think that’s practical, whether persons from the Global North or the Global South, I think it’s going to be exciting.

It’s gonna be exciting. And the strength is the type of guests that we are going to have, the lecturers, they come from diverse spaces, diverse experiences. We also got some hard cutting edge people, they will say things as they are. So I think they bring an authenticity to themselves, and they also bring in long years of working in the field.

So I think that’s something about that brings a bit of uniqueness to the program. 

Kate: Yes, [00:15:00] thank you. Thank you Nompilo. I agree. And for me, one of the things I really like about this program is its focus on the practical. So, we are bringing forward ideas and we’re recognising the importance of ideas, but then we’re trying to say, okay, so what do we do with these ideas?

We’ve got these ideas around intersectionality and we’ve got these ideas around marginalisation. And we’ve got these challenges around thinking about power and power dynamics and participation and how we work together effectively. What do we actually do with this? To meld together with this idea of personal transformation, to step forwards into being the best possible development professionals that we can be, so that we’re working in an anti racist and decolonised way.

And we’re thinking about power, and we’re thinking about our own positionality. And I think, for me, that’s the power of what we’re doing here. And I also very much like this idea of critical mass. And, I was [00:16:00] lucky enough to be at the Shift the Power Global Summit in Bogotá in December. And I was there with 700 people and I was stunned by the power and energy that we had in the room.

But, you know, 700 people is a drop in the ocean of the number of people that are working across development and humanitarian spaces. And what we’re trying to do with this program is to genuinely shift the power and get people to really think about how they’re showing up in their professional lives.

And one of the ways that we’re going to be doing that is to take action planning seriously so that people can develop an action plan in week six of the program that they will then take forwards into their practical work in week seven. And then we’ve got the community of practice to support them in implementing action plan.

Nompilo: That, for me, is particularly remarkable. It means that after six weeks of the training, the conversation is ongoing, right? It’s not just one of those certifications when you’ve done it, that’s that you’ve done [00:17:00] with the course, but there’s a continual networking relationship, which is what you are buttressing, right?

Kate: Absolutely, because one of the things that I’m conscious of is that if we have one person from an organisation, and only one, and they complete the program, and they’re committed to creating change as a solitary person in an organisation is extremely difficult, and it could leave them vulnerable, it could leave them in a position where actually, their work becomes more difficult, and their relationships within the organisation become more difficult.

And what we’re wanting to do is not to make people’s lives more difficult but recognising that this work is contested, providing them with a peer group who will support them in this change process. And one of the things that we’ve done as The Development Hub is to offer various discounts to encourage and to incentivise organisations to send more than one person, because then they will have the critical mass for progressive change within the [00:18:00] organisation.

But one of the challenges I would like to flag, I suppose, is that what we’re seeing with registration for the Skill Share Programme is the feminisation of this debate. Almost all the people who have registered so far are women. Now, Nompilo, as an intersectional feminist, I would like to ask you why do you think this is the case?

Why are the people who are putting their money where their mouth is on decolonisation and anti racism, why is it predominantly women who are stepping into this contested and difficult area?

Nompilo: That’s the million dollar question. And I think that’s a very strong observation. I think a lot of the feminist school of thought is around personal transformation and being ethical.

It’s about doing things right. I think part of the development journey that’s coming with being [00:19:00] intersectional feminists is that this is already an ethos and an idea, constant learning, constant knowledge, constant network that’s already promoted. So I think women are finding themselves in spaces where this is encouraged.

I’m trying to think what are the spaces that other genders find themselves in that encourage that learning, that push those agendas but that also equally say, hey, let’s be ethical about the way we do development. Women gather in the development space, because I think we have also come to a place where our spaces are wider as women, also our knowledge.

I’m also wondering, is it easy for them to hear about a Skill Share Programme? Because if one feminist organisation hears, if they post it on their notice board and the next one and the next one, and by virtue of that, we’re just finding that a larger community of women are engaged? Or are we saying development work over time is just becoming more and more just women who are engaging?

But it is interesting for me to see it. And the feminist in me enjoys it, but I do want to see some kind of agenda[00:20:00] growth, because I think it will make more sense, and then we’ll have more of that critical mass if we see it being done across gender, and it’s more like preaching to the converted, preaching to people who are constantly trying to better, to learn, to be ethical… maybe we need to change where we’re advertising.

We need to be finding different spaces, male spaces, and not just males, but a wider gender fluidity of space. Because I know our course content is across gender, but the platforms where our knowledge is going seems to be very confined.

Kate: Yeah, I’m curious about it.

So, I mean, something that we have been aware of throughout the podcast is when we’re talking to feminist organisations that many of them, because they’ve thought about power and positionality when thinking about patriarchy, that knowledge of structure and that knowledge of how to confront structure has provided them with some real strengths in terms of practical abilities [00:21:00] to think about racism and to think about coloniality and to confront it in their own organisations.

So, we’ve seen that with CREA, we’ve seen that with Womankind Worldwide, we’ve seen that with IWRAW AP, and across other organisations as well. So, it seems as though feminists, and particularly intersectional feminists have an advantage in engaging with this work, but I do think that it’s a challenge that we need to take on board to extend the conversation to include more men.

So I think watch this space and we’ll see what happens. 

Nompilo: I also remember working in a feminist organisation, how, because of extreme patriarchy and dominance, especially in African spaces, a lot of feminist work also deliberately excluded men because they represent patriarchy. They represented being a power dynamic that basically comes over and takes over and assumes leadership.

[00:22:00] So there was also just a time and a space of incubating a certain group of people, women, to grow in a certain way. And I think it was necessary for a season, but I do think that the spaces do need to widen now. And it’s harder to get people that have grown by exclusion to start to grow by inclusion again.

Especially where patriarchy has done a lot of harm. So you almost don’t know what guarantees that you can get, that you get a personally transformed type of male who doesn’t want to come and take over the space. That’s why it’s become guarded against it. Not The Development Hub, but generally, the school of thought around why sometimes people prefer not to work across gender.

But I do like what you’re saying. We can think it through because it can only strengthen our work as The Development Hub. We are quite clear that we work across gender, we work with all of society. That will make us effective.

Kate: That’s right. Thank you. Thank you, Nompilo. So, just for our audience’s sake, I think it’s worth reflecting that we’ve been talking about the work that we’re doing [00:23:00] to extend the information that we’ve gathered from the podcast out through the Five Day Immersion and through the Skill Share Programme.

And we’re doing this as a process of reflection on where we’re at now. The registration for the Skill Share Programme will have already closed by the time this podcast is aired, so this isn’t a kind of extended advert. It’s actually just to talk about where we’re at and to talk, a little bit about the practicalities of what we’re trying to achieve here at The Development Hub.

So, we’re very keen to share the knowledge that we’ve been gathering and harvesting and to build a community of practice, so that we can support people to practically change and transform their professional practice in the development space. Nompilo, before we close today’s session, I wonder if you have any last thoughts that you’d like to share with the audience.

Nompilo: I do, because today has really been a day about reflection. There’s [00:24:00] times when the collective continues to teach you lessons. So sometimes there’s been a topic or an idea that we know of, we’ve read enough about it, we’ve experienced it because we’re both practitioners, and we’ll share it. And the collective just brings a totally different nuance or angle to it.

And this for me has been what has been my greatest joy in being part of The Development Hub, the podcast, the immersion, the skills training. The issue is not the concepts, it’s not how many times you’ve heard the word decolonisation. So how many times you’ve heard the word development, international communities, it’s the fact that in a diverse space, you get to see so many different perspectives and so many different realities and that continues to sharpen.

It continues to sharpen. I’ve enjoyed the co creation that these spaces have been between both ourselves, but also when we incorporate our work and we invite a wider community to it. So my reflection is, or my closing remarks are that this is [00:25:00] not an ad. We’re not trying to add more to the course than we already have, and I know we’ll do more iterations of it, but it’s just to say that the ethics of the co creation that we have stuck true to, Kate, what have encouraged me to stay being in The Development Hub, the dynamics we’ve worked to ethically balance out between ourselves, even with different guests to the podcast with different people who speak to different ideas and even people who attend and who are part of the training.

 We’ve been co creating spaces and we’ve constantly said to ourselves, we are also going to learn. It doesn’t matter how many years we’re present in the field, we’re also going to learn. And I think that’s what has made it particularly special for me.

It’s not just a typical Skill Share Programme. It’s a co creation. It’s open to newness. We are not scared to hear ideas that we’ve never heard of and also begin to develop them and think things through. We don’t have to regurgitate. We don’t have to be cyclical in the way we’re doing. And I think that atmosphere and doing difficult topics safely [00:26:00] is why I think this Skill Share is worth being a part of.

Kate: Thank you. Yeah, I agree. And, one of the things that I’m very aware of is this process of personal transformation doesn’t stop. It’s challenging. And it requires openness. You can’t undertake a process of personal transformation if you’re not willing to be open and to listen.

And that’s, I think, one of the key things for me as a White woman is to learn to decenter myself and to emphasise listening and learning. And I’ve learnt an absolutely huge amount while I’ve been running the podcast series. And I’m anticipating that learning is going to deepen and continue while I’m convening the Skill Share Programme with you.

And it’s delightful. I love learning. It’s also challenging on a personal level. I’ve had to confront the issues of White saviourism and White fragility, which quite frankly about 14 months ago I’d rarely heard before, and now I’m deep in this work. [00:27:00] And I think it’s making me a better professional.

It’s certainly making me a more reflective and thoughtful professional. I think we’ll leave it there for today, thank you for joining me on this rather unusual podcast episode where we’re reflecting, thinking about where we’re at, thinking about where we’re going, and how we’re hoping to build a community of practice on the back of the Skill Share Programme and what that means for us both as individuals and as The Development Hub.

So, that’s goodbye from me, and I’ll hand over to you, Nompilo, for a final farewell.

Nompilo: Thank you, Kate. It’s lovely to touch base, as usual. And yeah, let’s see how the Skill Share goes, and I look forward to our continued journey as The Development Hub.

This weeks guest:

Kate Bird is Director of The Development Hub

Kate Bird is Director of The Development Hub, Professor of Practice at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Surrey, Senior Research Associate with ODI and Associate with the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network. She brings over 25 years experience to her work designing and leading multidisciplinary research, training and advisory work.

Dr. Nompilo Ndlovu is a Senior Associate at The Development Hub.

She is a gender expert and specialist in marginalisation, exclusion and intersecting inequalities. She is an oral historian with over 10 years’ experience applying gender frameworks to her work with communities in South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa. Her Ph.D. (Historical Studies) focused on mass violence, memory and local transitional justice initiatives in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Her wider research interests include socio-economic-political relations (with a focus on exclusion and marginalisation), conflict, peace, trauma, restorative justice and leadership.

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