As a white male at the Urban Institute’s Center for International Development and Governance, I find myself in the unusual position of being in the minority. Of IDG’s researchers, only one is white, only two are male, and none of them grew up in the United States. This makes sense: international development, is well, international, and it is natural that people growing up in developing countries around the world would be both more interested in and more qualified to conduct research into how to improve standards of living in developing countries. Indeed, much of the reason I became involved in this field was my sense that people like me: privileged, empowered, white, Western, care too little about what goes on in the rest of the world.
However, in my time at Urban I’ve also become acutely aware of another potential reason why people who look like me and have backgrounds similar to me are not particularly well-represented in this field: the possibility that the gulf between my experiences and those of people in the developing world cannot be bridged. The possibility that I can never understand, and therefore never improve, the lives of those in other parts of the world. The possibility that people like me should empower and support natives of the developing world, but also mostly stay out of the way.
It’s a difficult question to answer, and one I expect to continue to wrestle with if I continue in this field.