Newsletter: Issue 1
Entry Paths and Exit Strategies: Ann McKechin MP talks International Development with SVA
Since the mid-1980s Glasgow North’s MP Ann McKechin (Labour) has been involved with international development at a local and international level. Beginning her professional life as a solicitor she first became involved with international development after the shocking images of the Ethiopian famine were brought to UK living rooms in 1984. For Ann, the crisis acted as a catalyst on public opinion, as well as her own private thoughts, highlighting the growing importance of the need for international aid and development. She sensed that more needed to be done in the western world to find a political solution to such a crisis. Ann became involved in the World Development Movement (WDM) as the Scottish volunteer member, helping to establish its presence in this country. Her active involvement in international development intensified as she began life as a politician, entering Westminster in 2001. She has chaired the All-Party Group on Debt, Aid and Trade, looking at the macroeconomic issues surrounding international development and was on the International Development Select Committee from 2005 to 2008, work which saw her visit Afghanistan, Malawi and Zambia. Although her work at Westminster has now seen her shift her focus away from international development, Ann has been appointed to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy which promotes education and support for political parties and emerging democracies in the Balkans, Middle East and Africa.
Having been involved in a wide range of development activities from the early 80s Ann McKechin has been well placed to notice the changing meaning and opportunities for international development available to students. She recalled that as a student in the early 80s the standard means of international development meant going into a local Oxfam shop and giving cash for an item that would be used for disaster relief. Now, with SVA and other student-based volunteering movements, opportunities for international development work have grown dramatically, allowing students to work directly on projects across the globe at grassroots level, a development McKechin welcomes.
McKechin has been keen to see the achievement of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by SVA particularly on Gender Equality. Her work in Malawi and Afghanistan brought her face to face with the problems that young women and girls in developing countries struggle with. Her main concerns are with the maternal and sexual health of women and the question of the marriage ages of very young girls. For McKechin empowering women by giving them greater reproductive and sexual awareness as well as breaking down traditional values that allow girls to be married in their early were ‘levers’ that would speed up the development process across the board. McKechin argues that ‘improving women’s health and opportunities unlocks a lot of other benefits quite quickly’.
McKechin has noticed a sharp decline in the number of constituents that have contacted her about international development since the outbreak of the global financial crisis. In 2005 she recalls a high water mark for interest and activity for ID locally. ‘we are in a troth period…a period when we have to justify why we are campaigning in the first place’.
Engaged young people are key in such troth periods, and need to be prepared to campaign when it’s not in the newspapers or on television…to defend and justify why we are giving aid and why it should be a priority.
McKechin has a number of words of advice for our 2013 volunteers. Firstly she is keen to emphasize empathy, and constant consideration of what benefits the local communities will derive from SVA’s help. Exit strategies are also essential, ‘What is your exit strategy? Are you going to pass on a set of skills that can be sustained?...What is the legacy when you get back on the plane again?’ these are questions that McKechin believes are key to any overseas projects, especially those like SVAs in which personal contact with the communities may be lost as members graduate.
She had one last, personal message to Student Volunteers Abroad’s 2013 volunteers ‘It’s great to hear of people spending the time and energy in such a worthwhile area. Try and imagine yourself in the situation of the person you are trying to help, seeing it from their perspective…when you do that it will start to change the way you think about what’s best [for them]’.
Ann McKechin MP talking with Alan-James Mahon
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