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Decolonising language in international development in Scotland (and bringing the public with us)

Title: Draft Paper Decolonising language in international development in Scotland (and bringing the public with us)

Author: Scotland’s International Development Alliance

Date: January 2021

Like many organisations working in our sector, at the Alliance, we have become increasingly aware that we must embrace our collective responsibility to help shape discourse on what our sector does and why.

We are more aware than ever that we must not allow the language we use to reinforce colonial attitudes to development or the idea of passive beneficiaries and victimhood. We must ensure that our words actively empower those we work with.

We also know that language can be key to building bridges and increasing support for international development amongst the wider public. As this comprehensive style guide from the campaigning organisation Sum of Us puts it: “acknowledging the ability of language to shape and reflect reality, progressive campaigns can become more powerful vehicles for social change, inclusion, and justice.”

We therefore think it’s vital to have open and frank conversations about the language we use in the international development sector – to help all of us reflect on what we do and why, critically assess our biases and ensure we actively promote our values.

Doing so could not only help us let go of outdated modes of thinking (acknowledging that the debate on language and thinking is an age old chicken-and-egg question), but through building consensus within our sector, we could also do more to communicate what we do and why in a way that brings the wider public with us.

This draft discussion paper aims to put forward some ideas on these issues, in hope that we can collaboratively build a shared a set of guidelines with our members that helps ensure our language is always fit for purpose. We offer some context for these discussions, some draft principles to guide our language choices, some examples of language we think is problematic, and some alternatives that we (the Alliance) aim to use instead.

The paper does not aim to give all the answers, nor ask all the right questions. Rather, we hope it is seen as a starting point for wider discussions to build something useful for the sector in Scotland.

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