‘John, I am empowering you to fill in this form!’ I genuinely heard this sentence today, said with complete sincerity. I don’t believe this was meant to be patronising, but when you work in development you are surrounded by buzzwords, which become part of your day to day vernacular. Empower, facilitate, engagement, all words I forget that I rarely used before until someone says something that sounds a bit… silly.
I remember one evening we thought we saw a storm rolling in, which prompted a volunteer to proclaim that we needed to ‘mobilise all the torches before the power went out’ without a hint of irony. Perhaps more amusingly, no one seemed to question the statement. We are forever mobilising.
This certainly isn’t a grumble about the sort of language used in development, even if people do have a tendency to go OTT (getting a group together and teaching them about recycling can quickly become ‘mobilising a community in order to facilitate a change in the community’s capacity to contribute to environmental sustainability’). Truth is, I sort of love the language. Not only does it have its place as a universal language used by all NGOs, making it easier to communicate with other NGOs you meet in the field, it also makes it easier to communicate clearly when working in countries where English isn’t the first language. More importantly I feel using such a professional language helps contextualise the importance of doing something like teaching people about recycling in the much larger picture of international development.
So really I guess this is a heads up to my friends and family at home. Be ready to be mobilised when going to the cinema, engaging with the community when going to the pub and facilitating a change in attitude when we discuss the merits of Tottenham Hotspur’s starting line-up. And if anyone wants to help me fill in my tax return when I get home, I am more than happy to empower you to do so.
Written by ICS UK Team Leader John Rochford