Overtones of development, by Danielle Balbi

In our journey to understand the idea of “development interventions,” we have visited numerous NGOs – local, domestic, international, religious, human rights oriented, education-based, youth-based and gender-based. Cambodia has only proven these interventions more nuanced than clear.

On Monday we visited a local organization working on issues of youth employment. The staff graciously opened their doors to us, and spoke at length about providing guidance for male and female youth throughout the job searching process. Their services include career counseling, soft and life skill workshops, resumé writing assistance, as well as a screening process for potential employers.

One of the more compelling questions raised was about how the organization helps their members balance long term career possibilities that require more schooling with short term employment that are ideal for a more immediate solution. The answer was simply that individuals are provided with all the current options from which they can make their own, informed decision.

According to a staff member of the organization, many youth do not have the financial means to continue onto higher education, much less finish high school, and if they do, they need a job to help sustain their schooling. As a result of mass tourism, most of the jobs within Siem Reap are in the service industry. From what we witnessed, it seemed as though the scale was tipping toward the “short term solution” side. Many youth are opting for these jobs that require less schooling as opposed to continuing their studies and working towards a career, where they would have a greater opportunity to progress. In the development world, these temporary solutions are sometimes referred to as “band-aids.” Rather than trying to address the multiple roots of the problem, they focus on more immediate, temporary solutions.

While it is easy to criticize, or disapprove of channeling youth into what may be dead-end job, where there is little chance of them moving into a higher paid position, it would be unfair to conclude on this point. While this organization may not be able to address long-term strategies for changing economic relations in the country, they are addressing the issue of high unemployment (a serious problem for such a youthful population). They are enabling individuals to find a means of sustaining themselves and, in turn, allowing them to meet their basic needs.

This dynamic left me with several questions: How do you determine the purpose of an organization? What are the various factors that enter into this consideration – where does the drive come from? How is the balance determined between the short-term and long-term?

There are many organizations – just like this youth employment NGO – partaking in important work. We can applaud what has been successful thus far, observe what is problematic, and try to understand different approaches and methodologies. But we need to avoid these sweeping statements of “right” or “wrong,” or “good” or “bad.” We can learn from the groups we have encountered, and allow this new knowledge to inform our own approaches moving forward, not only in Cambodia, but in any of our future endeavors in the development world.


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