„I am a development worker“

The German Development Service (DED) - now GIZ's Development Service - was set up over 50 years ago in the presence of US President John F. Kennedy – celebrations were held in Bonn on 28 June 2013 to mark the event.

War bei der Gründung des DED dabei: US-Präsident John F. Kennedy. Foto: U.S. Library of Congress

‘I am a development worker’ – no, President John F. Kennedy did not say these words when he attended the inaugural ceremony of the German Development Service (DED) on 24 June 1963, two days before his legendary Berlin speech. But he could well have done, since development service was close to this US President’s heart. Two years previously he had set up the ‘Peace Corps’, the organisation on which the DED was modelled. And so Kennedy was keen to take his place next to Germany’s Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Federal President Heinrich Lübke on the official inauguration day in Bonn. In remembrance of this day, a celebratory event was held in Bonn’s former Plenary Chamber (‘Altes Wasserwerk’ or ‘Old Pumping Station’) on 28 June 2013. Hosting the event were Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the working group ‘Learning and Helping Overseas (AKLHÜ)’, together with the six private development organisations and GIZ. The motto: ‘A success story with a future – 50 years of development service.’

The first 110 development workers set off for Afghanistan, India, Libya and Tanzania back in 1964. Since then, around 28,000 of them have been deployed in more than 100 countries. Addressing his international and national guests, Federal Minister Dirk Niebel paid tribute to the development workers’ hard work, saying they were a vital part of Germany’s development cooperation. ‘Development workers stand for commitment and partnership-based cooperation on equal terms. They are greatly respected in our partner countries and are instrumental in terms of the way Germany is perceived abroad. And following their return, they act as ambassadors for development cooperation; their engagement is an example to many.’

One such person is Ingrid Bobrich. A hygiene professional and nurse, she worked for the former DED in Benin from 1999 to 2002. She told the panel discussion in the Old Pumping Station in Bonn that after her children left home, she decided she wanted to do something useful in Africa. The culture shock initially left her reeling: ‘The first thing I thought was I’m on the next plane out of here.’ But Ingrid Bobrich stayed. The people’s willingness to help and their hospitality blended out the surroundings. ‘Working with people for people – that’s what it was all about for me’, she says. And to this day, she still travels to Benin regularly to bring relief supplies to orphans in the country.

A model for the future?

In keeping with the official motto for the ceremony, ‘A success story with a future’, the focus of attention at the ‘Old Pumping Station’ was not just on the past but also on the future. People’s living conditions in our partner countries have changed radically in past decades. A lot of things have improved and in many places local professionals have taken over the jobs that development workers used to do. This begs the question - will these countries still have any need for development workers in future?

‘The assignment of development workers has proven its worth’, says GIZ Management Board Member Cornelia Richter. ‘They are especially effective at the local level and in cooperation with civil society.’ As a result, she added, they are an excellent counterbalance to government consultancy by long-term experts. ‘It is only by engaging in dialogue with the state, business and civil society that we can move processes forward,’ emphasised Richter. Nevertheless, she believes it is important to adapt development service to new circumstances by making the deployment of development workers more flexible. For example, it ought to be possible to recruit development workers who, for whatever personal reasons and plans they might have, can only commit for a year. Ms Richter ended her comments with the words, ‘I’m convinced that development service has a future.’