People who do (Marie Stopes)

I’m in Tanzania accompanying my partner to the gathering of all the Marie Stopes Country Directors and honchos from headquarters.

These people are seriously impressive. People like me write policy papers, attend conferences, and have opinions about how things work, or should work. These people, by contrast, set up and run clinics – navigating their way through the challenges of logistics, bureaucracy, people management and marketing. They have all lived in some of the most challenging places on the planet, and all set about their work with an enthusiasm and optimism which is as infectious as it is inspiring. Real heroes.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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  1. When long ago, in the 1980s, I was involved as one of a large number of diplomats in the enormous international famine relief effort in Ethiopia, I remember having exactly the same feelings about the literally heroic role of the relief workers out in the field, running feeding and medical camps for the sick and starving, having to keep the camps going with often inadequate supplies, avoiding duplication with other relief bodies, negotiating their way through a minefield of problems with the then communist military government, watching those whom they were trying to help die at their feet in their hundreds every day, and often having to turn away desperate victims of starvation and disease through lack of resources to devote to them or because they were by then beyond all hope of survival, effectively pronouncing a death sentence on them. Many of these fantastic people were in their 20s or early 30s, with a high proportion of young women. They were amazing people and I don’t think many of them ever got the recognition they deserved. The contrast with the relatively easy life of diplomats and administrators could hardly have been greater.

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