Uncomfortable conversations? Confronting development’s White gaze: Make Change Happen podcast episode 18

In this episode of Make Change Happen, we discuss racism and decolonisation in the development sector. We explore how development organisations have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement, with a particular focus on language and narratives.

Article, 20 July 2022

IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides an opportunity to hear our researchers and guests discuss key global development challenges and explain what we are doing to support positive change.

The Black Lives Matter movement triggered development organisations, particularly in the global North, to address issues of racism within the sector. This episode discusses racism and decolonisation in development and the intentions set out by organisations to move towards becoming anti-racist, with a particular focus on language and storytelling.

Hosted by Liz Carlile, IIED’s outgoing director of communications, this episode features Natalie Lartey, IIED’s advocacy and engagement manager; Maryam Mohsin, head of media and communications at Bond; and Mpho Tapela, executive director of Youth Unlimited Network in Botswana.

Tackling racism in international development

People in countries across the global South have a long history of struggles against racism and colonisation – with ongoing work to promote anti-racist and decolonising agendas. The development sector, meanwhile, has played its part in perpetuating racial stereotypes and bias.

As momentum surged behind the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, development organisations and practitioners were prompted to revisit how development organisations can progress towards becoming anti-racist, including through language and communications.

Maryam Mohsin shares Bond’s recent work to develop a language guide that unpacks words used regularly in the sector including ‘marginalised groups’, ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘capacity building’.

Mpho Tapela discusses how such terms and phrases are often chosen on behalf of different groups without consultation – and are often discriminatory and offensive.

Natalie Lartey, who is leading IIED’s work towards framing anti-racist narratives, discusses six dimensions of racism and coloniality that are dominant in aid and development storytelling – colour blindness, White gaze, saviourism, eurocentrism, neutrality and exclusion – and shares findings from IIED’s recent report. The report is based on an internal review exploring the narratives used by IIED that perpetuate dimensions of racism and concludes with a roadmap for change.


Head and shoulders photo of Maryam Mohsin

Maryam Mohsin is a communications expert within the international development sector. Prior to joining Bond, she worked as the media and communications lead for a number of NGOs and think tanks. Maryam has a masters in international development and communications from City University and studied law at The University of Sheffield.

Head and shoulders photo of Mpho Tapela 

Mpho Tapela is founder of Youth Unlimited Network, Botswana. She is a social and behaviour change specialist with expertise in public relations and communication. She works in particular with groups requiring special needs support, and is an active advocate for people with disabilities.

Head and shoulders photo of Natalie Lartey

Natalie Lartey is IIED's advocacy and engagement manager within the Communications Group. She is leading IIED's work to address racism in internal discourses, and external narratives about sustainable development. This work is built from her experience designing and delivering strategies that engage Black people, and people of colour, in environmental and development lobbing and campaigning.

Head and shoulders photo of Liz Carlile

Liz Carlile (host) is the former director of the Communications Group at IIED. She is an expert in strategic marketing and communications, with a particular focus on research communications and policy influence, and has published on social learning and climate change communications.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

You can subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app as follows:

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow some of the people you have heard in this episode on Twitter at @lizcarlile and @mrs_nlartey. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.