Brooks Kolb

Brooks Kolb is a Seattle writer, artist, and a landscape architect.

Book Review: World Change-Maker by Ann McLaughlin

Check your privilege at the door.  If you don’t, you will not succeed at helping people.  If you’ve traveled to a village in Africa or Latin America but you’re not willing to get up at dawn and hike to the water source two hours away or hunt for firewood, what good can come of your college degree or PhD?  That is the overarching message of Ann McLaughlin’s eye-opening book, World Change-Maker:  Build Skills in International Development and Social Work

By “the door,” Ann means not only entry to any one nation but the entrance to any room, tent, or hut.   By “privilege,” she does not just mean white privilege; she means the automatic privilege conferred on all of us who have grown up in the First World, or as Ann would put it, ‘The Global North.’  It is the privilege to assume there will be an electric outlet waiting for you in a village in the Global South, just so you can charge your smart phone or I-Pad.  It is also the privilege to assume you can choose whom you want to help – maybe you have a thing for refugees, survivors of sexual violence, or cancer patients.  But what do all of these people have in common, Ann wants you to ask?  That one common denominator is far more significant than their individual circumstances or ailments.  In a word, it is poverty.  Poverty, Ann suggests, should be the main motivator for your desire to do international social work.  Poverty keeps the cancer patient from affording a motorcycle taxi ride to the hospital.  Poverty makes the rape survivor care more about how she will scrounge her next meal than where she can find a talk therapist.

With over twenty-five years of experience helping people in the Global South and training others to do so effectively through her organization, NGO Abroad, Ann anchors her thought-provoking narrative in three distinct parts: “Perspective,” “Skills,” and “Attitude.”  Perspective means asking yourself the question, how do the poor majority of the world live?  Skills are the tools you need to empower the people in that African or Latin American village to help themselves; they are specifically not the tools you need to solve their problems for them.  Most important of all, attitude is actually attitude-adjustment:  learning to turn your mindset from a position of privilege to one of humility.  In example after example, Ann shows that if you can learn how to work with people, you will help them achieve great strides and, in the process, you will change yourself for the better.  I give this book five stars not only for people eager to land a job as an international social worker, but for anyone who wants to learn how people anywhere in the world can help themselves climb out of poverty.