After hearing Deborah Elzie eloquently respond to my question about the White Savior Industrial Complex in class, I wanted to write my thought leader profile on her because it was my first time hearing or seeing any white person in the international development field mention white privilege and furthermore, even acknowledge her role as a white person working in development. I was even more excited when I realized that she had assigned that specific reading because it was the first time anything related to white supremacy had been brought up by any of my professors at Tulane. I e-mailed Ms. Elzie one night, and within four hours, I had a response from her with a time that day for a Skype call! During the interview, Ms. Elzie discussed how she got involved with Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), her current work, and her feelings about the international development field.
While she has been working in Uganda with Tulane as she described in class, she has also been working on community projects founded by local people. Ms. Elzie began making connections with people in Uganda virtually when she was still in the United States. Through twitter and volunteering with a team virtually, she formed relationships with people in Uganda and eventually was able to work on Story Spaces in Uganda, with the founder and other Ugandan members of the team. She claims to be most engaged with mobile phones since she is working on four mobile phone projects; one for physicians and community health workers to help with difficult pregnancies, another in a competition, and two fun apps related to language and sports. Even so, she explains that twitter has been crucial in communicating with others and in the sharing of ideas.
Ms. Elzie brings up how hard it has been as a woman working in technology. Because she does more “front-end design, user interface, and graphic design and…[her] whole background in educational psychology and the cognitive piece…[she] thinks a lot about those interactions” when thinking about how hard it is in the United States for a woman (Elzie). She feels as though Uganda has given her more opportunities than she would ever get in the United States because she has started later in life and isn’t a young MIT graduate. She says, “I have found it easier to build relationships with African techies and mobile programmers than I have with US folks” (Elzie).
As an international development worker in the field, Ms. Elzie recommends people to have “practical experience somewhere on the ground in another culture even if it’s not a foreign culture abroad” in order to be prepared for the “inner personal communication skills” needed for working in another cultural world. Additionally, she believes people need to come with the mindset that they will be working with others and learning from one another, not just the development worker coming in as the expert. People should have “some knowledge of what you’re walking into instead of just walking off the plane and saying, ‘here, look at my great tool’” (Elzie). On the academic side, she hopes for students to learn through more scenario-based exercises in the classroom and work as a team member with organizations abroad started by local people, rather than outsiders. She thinks it’s definitely possible for development to become more locally driven, and has real hope for this generation.
I think Deborah Elzie is a really great example of a woman working in international development who is cognizant of her white privilege and the important role that the community should take in leading development projects. I find her really inspiring and I encourage others to look into her work or contact her. She’s really great!
Also, here is what our professor has written about her!