• Sanjukta Moorthy

Development Language Guide

Traditionally, international development can be very paternalistic, especially in how organisations look at their role as 'saving' another community. There are several problematic attitudes in the way it's done.


That's a huge part of why I work with participatory, mixed methods, and decolonised approaches to development and humanitarian work!


These old-fashioned, harmful attitudes are most prevalent in the language used. After a lifetime of experience as an immigrant and intersectional feminist, I found myself at loggerheads with colleagues and partners. While India may be a poor country, it is not in the 'Third World'.


This goes beyond 'political correctness' to me. The language we use in all facets of our lives shapes how we see the world, interact with others, and view their roles in our lives and relationships with them. In subtle ways, referring to the world as divided into First, Seconds, and Thirds, for example, further divides and separates us. Seeing ourselves as the providers of care perpetuates the role of a white saviour in development and communities in poorer areas as the passive benefactors of rich peoples' generosity.


Since that is not how we feel and are driven to this work largely because of our beliefs, values, and perspectives of the world and how it should look, our language should evolve with these values.


So here is a guide to the language I use - here on the website, in all of my work, and of course, in the ways, I speak. After seeing Bond's language guide, I was inspired to write this down. Bond is finally rethinking the way its colonial approaches to development need to change and adapt to the world we now live in. If an organisation like Bond is slowly starting to rethink how it works and talks about it, it's time we all release our guides.


I would love your thoughts - how has your approach to these concepts shifted as you work with different organisations and groups? What subtle biases are you noticing in your work due to these linguistic choices? Let me know in the comments below!


Get my Development Language Guide