It’s Not What You Do…

This past Wednesday was the annual Shape the World Conference. A day when the INDEVOURS who just returned from their overseas placements are able to share with faculty, family and future placement volunteers (me!) what they learned during their journeys.

Some people shared the technical aspects of their job roles, some people told stories of the people they met and of themselves, and some brought a convicting call to action upon their audience. A theme that kept on coming up was that development work is not easy. You will struggle with language barriers (which you should do your best to minimize), you will fail to understand certain cultural practices, your role will at times seems meaningless, and you may possibly step in dog poo.

To that, Simon Sinek will say it is not what you do but why you do it.

It sounds cliché, but he raises a good point. There are three questions (the golden circle): why, how, and what, that every organized pursuit – whether it be a company in the corporate world or a non-governmental organization fighting for peace – looks to answer. Most companies start from the outside, in – at what. Sinek argues that the ones that see the greatest success are not the companies that have something different to “sell” but the ones that sell something differently. They start from the inside, out – at why?

Looking at the human brain from the top it is divided into sections comparable to Sinek’s chart. The outer layer, the neo-cortex is the part responsible for rational and analytical thought – language, asking “what?” Within that is the limbic brain, it is responsible for feelings and controls behaviour – asking “why?”

Sinek’s theory is a beneficial reminder to us future placement volunteers as well. Sure we may be doing just data entry some days, or playing a role that surely a local could fill. I’m not justifying non-productivity, or saying that we can do whatever we want as long as we have good intentions; rather I am trying to spread some hope in the realm of development work.


I believe it will be hard; emotionally, physically and mentally. Some days will probably suck…a lot. But is there any line of work that does not have off days? It is inevitable. Learning and growing from such experiences, however, is also inevitable. For future reference, for myself maybe more than anyone – the work you do is not as significant as the reason for which you do it.

So, why are you (metaphorically and literally) embarking on X journey?



  1. This is a great post! I’m glad to see the presentations gave you something to think about, and that you are already situating yourself in a good frame of mind to tackle your upcoming placement. All the best!


      1. Sure! ..go in knowing yourself and your values and why you are there, but at the same time be prepared to question what you thought you knew about yourself and don’t be afraid to adapt accordingly or be open to change and new perspectives.


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