Yes, after a brief hiatus this summer, we are back! We have a new group of core members (see our tab on People and Structure) and we are very excited for all the events and discussions we will have this year. If you are interested in joining us, please email Bingjie at bingjie at uw dot edu to find out when our next meeting is. We are excited to meet you!


“Development” As Happiness

“Development” as Happiness

[Our] measures of progress and GNH index clearly show that producing and consuming more stuff does not make people happier. On the contrary when they overwork and go into debt to buy ever more goods and pay the bills, they get more stressed. Working, producing and consuming less is not only good for nature but gives us more time to enjoy each others.

- Prime Minister Thinley of Bhutan

Bhutan has “critical development” – at least in theory – down pat. And it’s something we really ought to look to and learn from.

I can’t imagine a better end to “progress” and “development” than happiness. That’s the implicit feeling we’re supposed to get when we think of economic “development.” The mental image is healthy people smiling and laughing with each other next to their shiny cars and shiny buildings.

If the people were frowning, obese, and being yelled at by their boss, would we be so excited about the shiny cars and shiny buildings in the background?

Yet that is sadly our reality of “development” in America, where we lead the pack of “developed” countries with depression, crime, ill health, and, oh yes, GDP.

So why not make happiness the explicit goal?

Yes it’s hard to measure – and I’m not sure I agree with the way it’s been done with the “gross national happiness” indicator. But if we have to put “development” in a quantitative box for the time being, it’s a good place to start.

–Dean Chahim

CDF Seminar Evaluation Report Online: “Rethinking Our Role in ‘Development’”

Post by Dean Chahim (dchahim AT uw DOT edu):

The CDF Seminar (GEOG499B, “Beyond Good Intentions: Evaluating Global Development Work Critically”), which we piloted last quarter, was an amazing experience for all involved – and definitely a learning experience for me. Since this was my first attempt at putting the ideas of the CDF on paper and into pedagogy, I collected a lot of quantitative and qualitative data from the students before, during, and after the class, in addition to the standard class evaluation-type questions.

From this data, I compiled a report on how students changed and how they viewed the course. This is a way to critically reflect on our own methods within the CDF, and we want to share this with people like you who might be interested in creating critical dialogue about “development.”

I found the results to be quite astonishing! Read the full report here, or see the abstract and excerpt below:

Rethinking Our Role in “Development”

Self-Evaluation Report of the Critical Development Forum Seminar in Winter 2012

ABSTRACT: Why are Millennial students so interested in doing global development work abroad, yet so disinterested in the politics at home that create the very problems they seek to alleviate through “development”? What is the role of creative education strategies in responding to this paradox? In the Winter of 2012, I created and implemented a student-led seminar with the Critical Development Forum and Department of Geography at the University of Washington designed to encourage students to reassess their positionality in the interwoven systems of oppression and “development.” In only ten weeks, through the practice of critical pedagogy, I found that students became more critically conscious of their privilege and unintentional complicity in oppression, more conscious of the pervasive problems of the “developed” world, more confident that we have much to learn from the global South, and therefore more doubtful about the idea of “development” itself. Members of the class also became more interested in political advocacy and more critical of the “aid industry.” From a pedagogical standpoint, despite steps towards eliminating classroom power hierarchies and creating a safe space for reflection, future implementations must pay better attention to encouraging dissenting voices and ideas to strengthen debate. Nevertheless, students almost unanimously agreed that the course was one of the best courses they had taken at the UW, and that it changed the way they see their role in “development.” The course’s syllabus and pedagogical methods may therefore offer an option for not only introducing the rich ideas of critical development theory, but also increasing students’ understanding of their own positionality and reducing the pervasive emotional detachment common when students learn about global injustice through conventional academic courses.

Or as one of the students summed up:

[After this class,] I now realize that my actions and decisions here at home have a huge impact on countries and people in the global South. I’m not sure my role is to travel and build things, like I thought coming into this class. It may be through educating myself and others and trying to do what I can here at home. And I think that is something that I can integrate into my life quite easily and continue to do my whole life.

-Engineering student in seminar

Register Now! “CDF 101″: Building a Critical Development Movement

Save the date! CDF is excited to present an intensive, all-day and fun training institute for new AND returning members on Saturday, 4/14:

“CDF 101″: Building a Critical Development Movement

Whether you’re totally new or a long-time CDF member, we know you’ll have a blast spending a day with us and learning from one another’s experiences. In addition, you’ll learn some of the reasons why we’re called the Critical Development Forum and a few of the tools we need to help build a stronger movement on campus and beyond.

“Graduates” of the institute will not only be better prepared to take leadership positions in the CDF and make a bigger impact in global development, but also be eligible to be facilitators at our “Table Talks” event at the Western Regional International Health Conference!

Excited? Want to join us? REGISTER HERE.

More details on CDF 101 below:

WHAT: This all-day, intensive, and fun training institute will both give an introduction to the CDF’s multidisciplinary academic framework (further developed in the CDF seminar, GEOG 499B) and provide a beginning organizing and leadership toolkit for new and aspiring leaders within the CDF.

WHO: The institute is ideal for all members of the CDF, including those who have recently taken leadership positions, those who wish to get more involved, and those who are totally new.

FACILITATORS: The institute will be led by Dean Chahim (recent grad from Civil & Environmental Engineering and Global Development & Social Change, co-founder of CDF, and creator of the CDF seminar) and Samson Lu (Bioengineering and Violin Performance) – both graduates of the Sound Alliance community organizing leadership institute.

We’ll cover a number of questions:

  • What is “critical development” and why does it matter?
  • How can we use an understanding of critical development to make the most of our generation’s good intentions?
  • And lastly, what are some of the community organizing tools we need to build a critical development movement on our campus and beyond?

WHEN: Saturday, 4/14 from 9AM-4PM.
BIOE N230 (see map)

Snacks provided! We’ll order lunch as well, and of course would appreciate donations (we’re all students!)

We hope you’ll be able to join us and contribute your ideas! Please feel free to email Dean (dchahim AT uw DOT edu) with any questions or concerns.

CDF Seminar is Back by Popular Demand – Request a spot now!

CDF’s popular course is back! We had over 30 requests for 20 spots this quarter, so sign up now for SPRING.

This quarter I was overwhelmed by the amazing student response to the two credit Critical Development Seminar course, GEOG 499B. We had a fantastic time learning from one another, and we’re happy to offer it again next quarter, Thursdays 330-520. Email Abby Temple ( to request a spot in the class!

Don’t miss this chance to get a deeper grasp on what CDF is all about – challenging ourselves to go beyond good intentions in global development!

(And have a lot of fun in the process.)

You can check out what we did last quarter at



The Critical Development Forum is excited to announce the return, due to popular demand, of a 2 credit student-led seminar course “Challenging Good Intentions: Evaluating Global Development Critically” during Spring Quarter of 2012! See the course description below. 

To better familiarize yourself with what the course will look like, please take a look at the tumblr created by the students during Winter 2012Abby Temple, the student facilitator for Spring Quarter is a History major and African Studies minor in her senior year at the UW. Her experience taking the seminar last quarter allowed her to engage in meaningful conversations with students from all disciplines about how to rethink global development, and the role we play. She can’t wait to continue the conversation with students during the Spring! 

We hope you can fit it into your schedule and join us! The interdisciplinary discussion-based class will be capped at about 15 students. If it fills up, please email Abby ( in case space opens later, for future quarters, or for other ways to get involved in the discussion.


GEOG 499 B: Challenging Good Intentions: Evaluating Global Development Work Critically

Facilitator: Abby Temple, (History, African Studies & Global Health)

Faculty Adviser: Professor Matt Sparke (Geography, Global Health, International Studies)
Student Directed Seminar, Spring 2012, Thursdays, 3:30-5:20PM

Room and Course SLN to be announced shortly!! Please e-mail Abby at to reserve a spot in the course. Include your name, major, year in school, and a few sentences about why you are interested in taking the course.

When are good intentions not enough? When are they harmful? How can we best use our good intentions to make a difference in issues of poverty, injustice, and inequality?  This is a forum for students with good intentions – those of us who serve and advocate for the poor and marginalized locally and globally – to take a pause from the ongoing momentum of our work for self-reflection. The seminar provides an academic space to complement the student-driven Critical Development Forum.

Throughout the course, we will challenge ourselves to reflect critically and honestly on our motivations and explore the contradictions of our past, current, or future work and advocacy. Readings will unpack the historical, social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental context of our engagement in development and global (in)justice.

We do not intend to provide answers or dissuade taking action. Instead, we hope to inspire students to overcome the fear of questioning good intentions in order to deepen the impact of their work and provoke structural social change. The course offers an 4-credit option, which gives students the task of designing a critical workshop to engage the University and local community in the themes of the course. Where better to spark change than right on our own campus? 

The success of the course is reliant upon students from ALL disciplines.  We especially encourage engineering, health science, natural science, and arts students who might never have taken a social science/humanities course to enroll. Students with extensive experience working in local or global development and justice work as well as students still exploring their options are both encouraged equally to be part of the forum. The variety of students in the course during Winter Quarter of 2012 allowed students to push their own boundaries, and listen to ideas from all perspectives.

Contact Abby via email at