SWB Week: Mark Griffin on Preparing to Work in a Developing Country

Greetings I am Mark Griffin. At the time of writing this article I am fortunate enough to be in the middle of a world trip. Key events of my trip: last week I was in Fiji chairing the Pacific Conference for Statistics and Information Systems, my third trip to Fiji, with a rapidly developing workshop program that I have initiated. This week I am in Adelaide, Australia presenting lessons learnt in Fiji at the Australian Statistical Conference. Last night I held the first event for our societies’ section I founded earlier this year, Section for International Engagement. Tomorrow, I fly to North Korea to present Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and Statistics Without Borders co-organised event.

Working with friends and colleagues in developing nations is a true passion of mine. I have also set up an Australian NGO to deliver further training and consulting.

So what advice would I give to like-minded colleagues who have a similar passion?


  • Find a mentor (or several). Working in developing countries is incredibly rewarding, but can also be incredibly demanding. Line up people who can support you through the emotional challenges involved, bounce ideas back and forwards, and celebrate with as you enjoy the fruits of your labour.
  • Make strong partnerships. The concept of partnership is a matter of humility, patience, and acceptance. As an outsider you might have superior academic knowledge, and yet your colleagues will best know what’s happening within their country, the needs and constraints, and will generally be the people who have made the largest personal commitment. Strong partnership requires constant communication back and forth about expectations, underlying motivation, and mutual appreciation.
  • Long-term sustainability is difficult. Many a kind-hearted person has gone in for a short duration and set up some potentially beneficial services (such as housing or healthcare facilities), and then quickly left again only for those services to fall into disuse. Any overseas colleague needs to think about the long-term benefits that collaboration will produce (and whether the benefits that you have in mind match the vision of the local people).
  • Communication, communication, communication. As a person who has recently gotten married I am constantly re-discovering the importance of improving all channels of communication. Constant communication is perhaps even more vital with colleagues living and working in completely different contexts. There are too many promising projects that have succeeded or failed, primarily due to the quality of the communication between the stakeholders.
  • Personal motivation is crucial. Make sure that a project is one that you personally are motivated about. At the end of the day, projects have joys and challenges, and to remain committed requires that you have personal motivation for the project to succeed.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Statistics Without Borders Week. The contributions all week come from SWB members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

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