108: Localizing development with Esther Zeledon

In this episode, Michael speaks with Dr. Esther Zeledon. Esther is a senior development advisor, former diplomat, President and founder of Alignment LLC and @be.act.change. Under these capacities, Esther serves as a senior consultant to international agencies, serves on NGO boards and coaches individuals and businesses.

During the interview, Esther talks about her experiences working in the international development space, particularly for USAID, where she worked for ten years. Esther describes the importance of genuine listening in this work, and of having a sense of one’s mission, purpose and vision. She argues that too often, practitioners view development projects as checkboxes due to time and resource constraints, experience burnout due to a lack of intrinsic engagement that fulfills their values, and overly exert their own expertise to establish an authoritative identity in their work. These dynamics can lead to projects that don’t meet or fit with local needs and goals, as has been often documented in the literature on international development. Esther also talks about how to make a transition to more locally-driven development in the context of an overall top-down framework that requires that development professionals be accountable to funders. This represents an ongoing tension for practitioners who ascribe to the localization movement.