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Development Studies celebrates 30 years

Development Studies programme director Professor Regina Scheyvns (centre, front) with current and former staff, current students and graduates at Wharerata, Manawatū campus to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the programme.

Development studies researchers at Massey have helped to transform lives around the globe by tackling the toughest problems – from economic inequality and labour exploitation, to lack of access to education and environmental sustainability – for three decades.

A celebration to mark the programme’s 30th anniversary brought together current staff and students with high-profile alumni, including the Cook Islands Ambassador to New Zealand, Elizabeth Koteka-Wright, and former staff, including the man who started it all. 

Founder Dr Crosbie ‘Croz’ Walsh, aged 86, shared his recollections of the challenges of setting up the first such programme in New Zealand – a game-changing, multi- and inter-disciplinary field of study that seeks to understand social, economic, political, technological and cultural aspects of societal change, particularly in developing countries. The programme is part of the School of People, Environment and Planning and is ranked in the top 100 development studies programmes worldwide. 

Dr Crosbie says it was structured to promote teaching, research and consultancy via strong collaboration between the University and relevant government agencies, such as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the development sector. 

Development Studies staff with the programme's founder Dr Crosbie Walsh (front row, second from right).

Researchers in a privileged position

Head of development studies Professor Regina Scheyvens, the first person in New Zealand to gain a PhD in this field, told the audience that going to another country to do research involving local people is a privilege, not a right. The researcher usually has more to learn than to give, she says. 

In the past two decades as a lecturer and supervisor of numerous master’s and doctoral theses, she says she has witnessed students “go out into the world, and into Aotearoa, and do some pretty amazing things”.

She cited one example of a graduate who emailed her to say she had scored her dream job working as a midwife for Médecins Sans Frontières International (Doctors Without Borders) in Sierra Leone helping to re-build maternity health services post-Ebola.

Development Studies programme founder Dr Crosbie Walsh with current director and the first person in Aotearoa to gain a PhD in the field, Professor Regina Scheyvens.

Graduates making a difference around the globe

Guest speakers included development studies master’s graduate Denise Arnold, a lawyer from Tauranga and Women of Influence 2019 finalist who started the Cambodia Charitable Trust to empower children in Cambodia through education. 

Speaker and master’s graduate Jo Peek, co-founded (with another development studies graduate, Christey West) Just Peoples – a grassroots fundraising organisation in which 100 per cent of money donated goes directly to projects designed to help people living in poverty. The project has so far funded 64 projects – relating to clean water, free education, sustainable farming, mental health, microfinance and life skills – in 13 countries and made a difference to the lives of more than 200,000 people.

Professor Scheyvens, whose specialist research area is in sustainable tourism, says the programme is well established, with over 300 master’s and doctoral research projects completed, reflecting the work of committed, passionate change-makers who want to make a difference, and continues to build global connections through the work and influence of its graduates.

Next year it will launch the Master in Sustainable Development Goals, based on the United Nations’ 17 goals and the only such degree in Australasia.

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