Gordon Peake: Insider stories from the world of foreign aid

Gordon Peake [Photo by Steve Morris]

Gordon Peake’s first book — Beloved Land — was a memoir of life in Timor-Leste, one of the world’s newest and least visited nations.

He followed it up with another ‘residency’ book, this time on Bougainville, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea that hopes to become an independent country. Unsung Land, Aspiring Nation will be published in early December 2022, and that’s where we open our conversation.

These are two of the world’s forgotten corners, places once besieged by anthropologists and now overrun with Western aid workers.

Foreign aid is a core theme of both books. Gordon’s work as an international development consultant with a focus on governance, mediation and dispute resolution is what led him to these and other far-flung places. 

The inside stories he shares about the big money world of development projects will surprise you.

Some are hilarious clashes of culture. Others are tales of ineffective conferences at high-priced hotels with expense accounts to match.

These efforts are often funded with taxpayers’ money through the foreign aid budgets of Western nations. And yet, as Gordon writes in his book, “of all the reports available on the World Bank website, close to a third of them have never been opened, not even once.”

We talk about this bizarre world, some of which sounds like it was torn from a Graham Greene novel. And we talk about the small scale projects that did work, and why they were different.

But most of all we talk about a fascinating marginal place at the farthest corner of the map. I  hope you find it as interesting as I did.

You can read more about Gordon on his website.

And you can follow him on Twitter.

These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:

We also spoke about:

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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