International development organizations and institutions have worked hard to cultivate a spirit of learning, creating new policies to support that goal. Sets of practices such as Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) and Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) have formalized the learning taking place within organizations, not only encouraging learning but often requiring it.

CP helps other organizations learn by conducting organizational assessments, providing CLA and MEL services, and facilitating trainings and workshops. We use participatory techniques such as Liberating Structures[1] to encourage discussion and we also build in moments of reflection for participants to intentionally pause, step back, and consider in deeper ways how their work is being carried out, what results are being achieved, and examine what can be learned and applied as we go forward. But we don’t want only to help others – we also want to be learning ourselves, as social science researchers, consultants, and people.

At CP one of the ways we learn is through our “CP School,” where every month or so we come together to read and discuss books on a variety of topics. We like to make the time for reflecting and learning to energize and inspire our work. Check out our list of recent reads below.

Why Gender Matters in Economics by Mukesh Eswaran is a textbook written by an economics professor at the University of British Columbia (Canada). It was recommended to us by a client, and we thought it would help us non-economists to learn the language and communicate more effectively with representatives from the subculture. We did find some of his explanations useful, for example the discussion of the bargaining models in the chapter on power in households and on sex discrimination in the labor market; but overall, we found the book disappointing and a difficult read. We were also critical of his use of ethnographic and other anthropological studies, finding that they did not always reflect current thinking in the field. Certainly, it is not only “postmodern feminists” who understand that “gender is a concept that is socially constructed and so depends on society’s perceptions” (page 53)! Discussions of globalization, international trade, and credit would have benefited from some reference to more recent work of economists and agricultural economists working in international development, including recent studies of gender and assets, and current work on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. In short, we are still looking for a good explanation of “Why Gender Matters in Economics”…

The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le Guin’s famous science fiction novel, explores gender roles and the social assumptions we make about them. The story follows a man, an envoy from Terra to a planet of ambisexual people, where struggles to understand a culture without fixed gender.


Discussing this book in the context of CP’s work was especially interesting. In all our work, CP considers gender roles as well as different needs, preferences, and gender-based constraints of men and women. We make seen what is known but often overlooked. The envoy from Terra goes on a similar journey, noticing gender more in a culture where gender roles as he understands them don’t exist. The man finds himself out of his depth, and often making baseless assumptions when his usual web of social norms and gender roles is no longer there to help him navigate complex social situations.

Americanah, the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, swiftly became a best-seller and award-winner after it was published in 2013, focusing on main characters Ifemelu and Obinze as they meet as teenagers in Nigeria and both leave their home country for lives abroad. The novel touches on themes of race and racism, immigration, identity and belonging. Our discussion of Americanah was no less wide-ranging, engaging with the complex characters and the diverse settings. Ifemelu’s move to the United States plunges her into the complexity of American race relations and gave us a platform for a robust discussion of our own country’s social norms. We especially appreciated her careful description of the small details of American life and relationships between men and women, that we who live here, whether native-born or not, often become desensitized to or overlook.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a non-fiction book by Daniel Pink that claims intrinsic motivation is far more powerful, especially for creative tasks, than models of “carrots and sticks.” Drive is part of a growing body of research around motivation, decision-making, and focus, especially in the work place, that dives into psychology, neuroscience, and even philosophy. Pink centers his thesis around three components of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He argues that having the freedom to decide how or when you do your work, the ability to reach mastery of your work, and following a purpose, are all key to staying motivated.

Drive sparked a discussion around “why we get of bed in the morning” touching on both the larger CP purpose to support equality and inclusivity in international development and what motivates each of us in our daily work life.

For our most recent CP School we went with a new approach – anything goes!Everyone read a different book and brought a brief summary and their insights to the discussion. The books ranged from fiction to non-fiction, and topics from affordable housing to social norms. In the fiction category was The Power and Men Without Women, a novel and short story collection respectively that deal with gender issues. In non-fiction, CP readers selected Two Awesome Hours, Norms in the Wild, Evicted, Your Brain at Work, and The Four Tendencies. Not all readers agreed with their chosen book, but every book led to lively discussion. Carving out the time from our busy schedules to learn, reflect, and discuss – bringing in diverse opinions and sources – refreshes our minds and sets us up to be better researchers and more creative consultants.

Do you have any book recommendations for us? Do you want support for improving learning within your own organization? Get in touch with us today.