Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic and Misfit: A review

I had the pleasure of knowing about the launch of J.’s second book, M4 (Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic and Misfit), well in advance of it becoming available to the public. So I was eager to get a copy for a long time, which I did the very first night it was available on Kindle. Oh, such a nice feeling to see it in my screen!

Let me start this review by saying that M4 is, more than anything, an excellent piece of literature. It is a great contribution to humanitarian fiction. It flows, it really does. No effort to go back to it every now and then while on deployment. Despite my mind being like a waterfall with a myriad thoughts competing for my attention before I went to sleep every night, the book caught my full attention every time I turned on my Kindle in bed.

The book is light enough to be considered a recreational read, but is actually a great example of edutainment. In that, it strikes a balance that is hard to achieve in my view. It is not easy to make the reader ‘enjoy the ride’ while also help them to think deeper about how they work, the challenges they face as an aid worker, and reflect on the big picture for the aid industry as a whole. M4 does all of that. Plus it makes you giggle from time to time with small colourful scenes here and there.

Getting down to its core, the book provides a great platform to analyse the contradictions of the aid industry. It shows how the ’good intentions‘ of some, the hard work of others, and the typical ’business as usual‘ approach of many more – are all happening at the same time in parallel in the industry. The unavoidable ‘expat versus local’ power dynamic is laid bare in crystal clarity by the book. The pressure for money and organisational success which, sceptre-like, seems to haunt us all and holds us in a grip from which it seems there can be no redemption, is a topic that is also treated deftly by the book.

It struck me how the book presents ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of the aid industry without ever adopting a cynical perspective, and merely acts as an observer of a complex picture.

I think M4 is essential reading, especially for donors looking to learn and better understand the dynamics of the aid industry from the aid worker’s perspective, particularly at this time when ‘aid effectiveness’ is on everyone’s agenda.

The book gives a much more ‘real’ picture of the aid industry compared to J.’s first book, Disastrous Passion, especially in terms of the decisions and trade-offs that professional aid workers have to routinely make to survive in the industry’s harsh environment. It points towards an answer to the question  – Who benefits from the aid industry? –that can help us all to reflect upon the real consequences of our decisions for those we are supposed to serve.

Anyway, you really have to read this one. Whether you are a student, aid worker in ‘the field’ or HQ based, expat or local, donor, freelance consultant or researcher, this book will make you have fun while simultaneously supporting you to reflect deeply on the dynamics of the aid industry affecting you and your work. So get your copy and share your views in the comments section. Enjoy the ride!


Why we are building an international support network for isolated aid workers.

I’m cross posting a blog by Weh Yeoh, Sub-Editor at WhyDev on the importance of mentoring & connecting isolated aid workers. Worth supporting it!

International development work is often difficult, exhausting, and isolating. Many people who seek to serve and live abroad often become burned out by the overwhelming nature of their work. In isolated places, often the only people you can turn to for support are your boss or your partner. For various reasons, neither of these are a good choice.

However, we know that the support of a peer is an easy and effective way to reduce stress, burnout and, just as importantly, have access to someone to bounce ideas off.

This is why we, at whydev.org, have decided to build an online platform where international aid volunteers and workers can connect and discuss their challenges and experiences, allowing them the opportunity to support others across the globe who are also making a difference. Knowing that the world of aid and development is under-resourced as is, we think our idea fits well. This service does not require more resources to be added to the sector (in the form of professional mentors, coaches or counselors), but rather, builds on existing resources that are not connected.

We would like to think that it’s the first of its kind – an international support network for isolated aid workers.

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who think this is a good idea. Since asking for expressions of interest earlier this year, we’ve had over 320 people sign up to our pilot program. This is great news for everyone involved, because the larger the pool, the more likely we’ll be able to achieve a good match.

One international aid worker said, “I feel isolated, uncertain and a little forlorn about finding my way into development-related work, and would like to have someone to share my experience with, who is perhaps also experiencing the same thing.”

It is perspectives like this that make us want to keep working towards creating this platform. But, this is where we need your help. We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign over on StartSomeGood where people can chip in amounts of money, small or large, to help us get this project going. If you are reading this post, chances are you are either working, studying or are at least interested in aid and development. Therefore, you’re probably the right demographic to understand the difficulties that aid workers can face across the globe.

Jennifer Lentfer, of How Matters, writes that having self-awareness of your own qualities and needs is crucial in becoming an effective aid worker. If you want to help us to build a future that supports the needs of aid workers across the globe, then this may be a worthwhile campaign for you.

Like anyone interested in smart aid and development, you’re probably interested in sustainability. So, just how sustainable is your funding? Good question! Once the platform is built, we think that we can keep the service running by adding in a tiered system of participation, so that it is self-sustainable.

Our vision is that peer coaching should always be accessible at no cost, as we promised right from the start. That option will remain, and people will still be able to be linked up to suitable peer coaches around the world at no charge. However, we think that people may also be willing to pay a small amount of money to get a value-added service. As such, we’ll be adding in different levels of participation so that those who are willing to pay a little extra will get a little more out of it. Whatever we make from this can then be fed back into the project to account for running costs. That’s why seed funding is so vital for us – the major outlay is not running the program, but getting it off the ground.

We’d appreciate it if you would consider donating whatever you can to our StartSomeGood campaign here, and spreading the word far and wide about what we’re trying to achieve.

If you have any questions at all about our campaign, please do not hesitate to contact either Brendan or myself. We’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

For the final word on the topic, here is Brendan, speaking from Ghana:

You can donate to our campaign on StartSomeGood here.

Weh Yeoh is a current job-seeker based in Cambodia. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed a MA in Development Studies at the University of New South Wales. With experience in the NGO sector both in Australia and in China, with Handicap International, he hopes to combine his interest in development and passion for visiting far-flung destinations in the future. You can view his LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter here.