Mission possible

The University’s Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. The Centre has transformed the lives of thousands of people in more than 130 countries through training, consultancy and project work. Here we take a look at the main achievements of the Centre and what makes it so successful.

Reaching 40 is quite a milestone, whether you are celebrating (or commiserating) a birthday or marking four decades of happy marriage. It is an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve achieved, the moments that stand out as highlights and look ahead to the future.

The Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) is celebrating its 40th birthday this year, and hosted a special event to mark the occasion. Elisha London from the acclaimed Global Poverty Project team visited the University to present 1.4 Billion Reasons, a simple but effective presentation to communicate the realities of extreme poverty and what can be done about it.

The message of the presentation, that by making simple changes everyone can be part of the solution, fits in with the ethos and mission of CIDT.

Support and nurture

Launched in 1972 and now based at the Telford Campus, CIDT is a self-financing, nonprofit making centre within the University. The focus is to support and nurture people-centred sustainable development across the globe, contribute to poverty reduction and improve the livelihoods of vulnerable people.

Right at the heart of CIDT’s mission is the principle of participation. The people who benefit from CIDT’s work are actively involved in the process, providing a sense of empowerment. This also enables the lifechanging projects to continue long after CIDT staff return home.

One of the guests at the Global Poverty Project presentation was CIDT founder, Professor John Lowe. Before his retirement in 2009, John had worked in 66 countries around the world.

Originally called the Agricultural Education Training Unit, the Centre started life at what was then Wolverhampton Technical Teachers College which was asked to provide a oneoff staff development course for a group of teachers in an Ethiopian agricultural college. The Centre grew from there.

John explains that in the first 10 years, the Centre worked in a range of places including Malawi, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Egypt and Botswana.

Initially the focus was to provide teaching training to people working in agricultural colleges, but this remit widened to natural resources and began to include forestry and fisheries.

Alongside this, the Centre started to host short courses, including the three-month Overseas Technical Teachers Award (OTTA) which enabled participants to complete placements in the UK.

John says: “Between 500 and 600 students went through that course over 15 years or so, and as a result we have a lot of people all over the world who will remember us.”

The Centre continued to expand into areas of research and started to bid for large contracts to deliver projects.

An early project in Egypt was focused on teacher training but also helped to set up a small farm.

John says they were involved in teaching people to use tractors and even sent a librarian over to help set up a library.

Proud

Another large project was an educational project in the Soloman Islands, titled The Challenge of Higher Education. But CIDT’s work was not without its dangers, and didn’t always involve trips to exotic climes. Afghanistan and Libya are among the less glamorous places John travelled to during his time as Director.

“The Centre has achieved a huge amount,” Professor Lowe adds. “It has remained committed to working with poverty and with the development of individuals and institutions. We tried to make sure that when we left, people were able to do things a little better than before. Alongside that was a deep appreciation of the environment and the restraints of the people we were working with.

“I am proud of what CIDT achieved but we couldn’t have achieved it without a committed group of people who are dedicated to the work we are doing.”

This is a point picked up by current Head of CIDT, Philip Dearden. “People work for CIDT because of a personal mission or reason. We have 15 core staff members and about 30 CIDT associates, and nearly all our staff have lived and worked in developing countries long term so they have a good understanding of issues around development.”

Philip selects a recent forestry and livelihoods programme in Nepal as one of the most memorable and successful projects. For the last four years CIDT has been providing advisory support for the Livelihoods and Forestry Programme (LFP) which promotes more efficient and sustainable use of forest resources.

Major impact

The programme has been internationally recognised as being very sucessful as it has assisted in helping many very poor people out of poverty.

It is projects such as this which have had a major impact on individuals. “A lot of people have been changed through the training programmes they have been on or the work we have done,” Philip continues.

“We haven’t changed countries but we have changed things on an individual level, and we have made a serious contribution to a number of projects internationally.

“What we have a reputation for internationally is bridging the gap between policy and practice. We help to interpret policy for practitioners on the ground. Likewise we often help in the formulation of policy from good on-the-ground practice. We are well recognised for that set of expertise. We don’t go in and tell people how to do things – we go in and facilitate. Our motto is ‘helping people to find their own path to development’ so we support, coach and mentor rather than tell people what to do.”

It is this approach that is one of the reasons that CIDT is successful, and has survived where others have fallen by the wayside. But as Phil admits, there have been challenging times.

“We are quietly proud of what we have achieved. We are self-financing and it hasn’t always been easy. Many of our competitors haven’t survived, but we have thrived. The type of work we do has changed dramatically and the reason we are successful is that we have changed to meet the demand.”

A view that John and Phil share is that CIDT continues to make a difference to people living in poverty through inclusion and active participation. They also admit that as well as sharing their expertise and knowledge with people in countries all over the world, their teams have also been able to learn from the diverse individuals and communities they work with.