skip to content

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Heller Faculty Notes

Among the world's poor, a feeling of hope

Joseph Assan studies poverty through multiple lenses

Professor Joseph Assan teaches several courses in the Master's Program in Sustainable International Development (SID), including Perspectives in International Development, a required course for all incoming SID students, as well as courses in management and environmental issues. Prior to coming to Heller, Assan served as the Director of the International Development Programme at the University of Liverpool and as a lecturer in Development Studies at the University of East London, UK.

Assan has extensive field research experience in international development policy and practice and has worked as a project officer with organizations such as the Global Hunger Project New York. He has published in numerous international peer-reviewed journals including Foreign Affairs, Journal of Sustainable Development, Journal of International Development, and International Development Planning Review. He has conducted research on the interaction between sustainable livelihoods, environmental variability/climate change and household well-being within the context of poverty reduction. Over the years, Assan has developed teaching skills and research expertise in the field of political economy of international development with an interest in the interaction between development theory, policy and practice in Africa and Asia.  

What was your first impression of the Heller School?

The first time I came to Heller was for my initial interview. Honestly, all I could think about was the enthusiasm that everyone had for their jobs. I could see that there was a sincerity in what they did and I knew that’s the type of environment I wanted to be a part of.

Was there a moment in your life when you knew you wanted to be a professor?

I was on holiday break during high school. During our time off, as young people in Ghana, we visited each other’s homes.  While I was on a visit, a friend asked for help reviewing Organic Chemistry. After the study session, she said I should be a teacher, because her understanding of the subject had improved greatly. As I completed my undergraduate studies, my advisor pushed me towards graduate studies and I couldn’t get way after that.

In your experience, what’s most challenging about entering a career in development?

The most challenging aspect of development for students to understand is how complicated the field can be.  It’s important to understand the bigger picture, and how to fit your goals into that picture. Often, this step is more difficult than we would expect.

What’s one thing you’ve learned recently that has really stuck with you?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the overall perception of development amongst the world’s poor. In many cases politicians and media outlets try to paint the picture that the poor don’t care, that they’re content to be stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty. This just simply isn’t the case. I’ve been around the world and the over-arching consensus is one of hope. There was one instance in China, when I was speaking with two store clerks outside the city. They were overwhelmingly humble about their views on poverty. They’ve observed great development in their lives. Economic success may not have touched them, but they are hopeful that their children will take advantage of new opportunities. This optimistic commonality across the globe is truly heartwarming.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice