My University of the World
Neill McKee takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited and worked in, and over 200 images (ebook and hardcover in color), all of which bring readers into his "University of the World." The story starts when he becomes a "one-man film crew," documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa as teachers, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, agriculturalists, foresters, technicians, and a biologist. He learns the craft of filmmaking and meets and marries Elizabeth "on the hoof."
The story is enlivened throughout by their challenges and adventures together, and Elizabeth's growing artistic talent and creations. Beginning in 1975, the young couple settles in Ottawa and starts a family, while Neill roams the world for Canada's International Development Research Centre. His award-winning films depict the agency's philosophy and search for solutions to problems in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, rural development, education, health, water and sanitation, and more. Then in 1990, McKee joins UNICEF in Bangladesh, and later in Africa, where he initiates long-lasting multimedia programs for child health, with a focus on empowering girls. In 2001, he moves to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, and then to Moscow, Russia, where he oversees similar initiatives. That experience leads him to a memorable last post in Washington, D.C. as director of a large and complex global communication project.
Throughout the short chapters and in a brief epilogue, McKee reflects on the long-term impact of the projects he documented and of his media creations. This is a book for anyone interested in world affairs and development, film and multimedia production, the use of media for behavior and social change, exotic travel, and interesting career choices.
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My University of the Word is an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. This memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places the author visited and worked in, and over 200 images, all of which bring readers into his "University of the World."
488 pages / 210 photos & illustrations / 6.0 x 9.0
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-7329457-8-4. $23.95
Hardcover ISBN: 979-8-2182431-7-3. $49.95
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-7329457-9-1. $10.95
Prices in USD and vary by retail outlet.
Subjects: memoir / travel and adventure / sustainable development / filmmaking and production/ documentary films / animated films / the environment / sustainable agriculture / forestry and silviculture/ fisheries / aquaculture & fish-farming / society and social sciences / educational systems and structures / self-help & personal development
My University of the World
"In this remarkable book, Neill McKee takes us on an extraordinary journey with him around the world to some of the poorest and most underserved communities. We travel to remote parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa to meet courageous people who struggle with endemic poverty and adversity, while finding new ways of overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges. The book is a personal memoir of McKee’s long and distinguished career in international development. Human progress in health and education has lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty and despair in a very short period of history. National and international development efforts since the end of World War II continue to be complex and require multidimensional factors to succeed. But one thing is clear: communication and social and behavioral outreach have helped underpin successes because they attempt to empower people to bring about change. It is in these areas that McKee excels. He is creative, innovative, and persistent. He grasped that rapidly evolving technology in film and animation could be utilized to help change entrenched attitudes and behaviors. Initiatives such as Meena in South Asia and Sara in Africa, which he and his teams developed, brought about important social change through skillful storytelling and entertainment. This book humanizes the lives and work of development workers and the environments they work in. With humor and sensitivity, McKee also allows us into his own life and family for some of the most endearing parts of his story."
—Mehr Khan Williams, former Assistant Secretary General and Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations
"My University of the World is a wonderful memoir full of adventure, insight, humor, and feeling. Readers are treated to a balanced mix of technical challenges, “on the road” adventures, a love story, behavioral sciences, and proof that development-related communication makes a difference—all presented with remarkable details on the history, culture, and context of countries around the world, bringing the stories to life in ways that add richness, deeper understanding, and appreciation. While very much a personal story, anyone and everyone who has ever worked in the field of development will be able to relate to McKee’s stories and experiences."
—Gary Saffitz, former Deputy Director/Faculty, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs; and marketing executive
"I don’t even know where to start while talking about my feelings after reading My University of the World. I first need to explain that as a mother with six young children and as the owner of a small Wisconsin dairy farm, I don’t get an opportunity to travel much. I’ve never even left the country. I don’t share that information in hopes of your pity, I just want to explain how well Neill McKee’s writing draws the reader in. I physically feel as though I’ve now been to South Africa, Uganda, India, Sri Lanka, and more! McKee’s powerful writing pulled me into the environment and relationships he forged throughout his career as an international film and media producer. I am grateful that he was willing to share his experiences through photos and stories. This is a book I would recommend to those who have traveled extensively or those, like myself, who wish to travel—if only through the pages of the books we read!"
—Crystal J. Casavant Otto, Avid Reader and Book Blogger, and more!
"It is important to note that Neill McKee has written much more than a memoir about filmmaking and media production. He has shared an avalanche of diverse, inspiring, informative stories of actions aimed at helping the world become a better place. McKee's significant accomplishments are presented in a relaxed, highly personal manner, enlivened both by the author’s sensitive instincts about human behaviour, as well as his mischievous sense of humour. The book is partly a distinctive travelogue featuring solitary filming treks through jungle, mountains, deserts, and oceans, as well as in slums and dangerous traffic. It also offers intriguing historical anecdotes that set a useful context for the larger stories, including the author’s meetings with an array of global activist citizens.
McKee’s early chapters can serve as insightful introductions to the history of the international volunteer movement and to some of the most illuminating examples of the realities faced by young Canadians working in Asia and Africa under the auspices of CUSO in the 1960s and 1970s. His chapters covering his time with Canada’s International Development Research Centre also provide a powerful reminder of why and how this agency, in the 1970s and 1980s, became a global leader in pioneering new approaches to the field of international development.
Surprisingly, the book is also a beautiful love story. I so enjoyed the tales of meeting his partner, Elizabeth, their ability to sustain a love affair at a distance, and their incredibly special and unusual marriage in Zambia. Throughout the book, the challenging stories of poverty and conflict are balanced by examples of Elizabeth’s poetry and her artwork. But for me, the most exciting output and outcomes from McKee’s design skills are represented by the animated life stories of Meena and Sara and their impact on young people across Asia and Africa. I highly recommend this book to a wide range of readers who care about supporting leaders who balance a focus on high performance with an altruistic focus on humanity and the sustainability of our planet. "
—Don Simpson, Ph.D., Chief Explorer of the Renaissance Expedition and former IDRC Associate Director
"Neill McKee’s memoir revisits a four-decade career of crisscrossing the globe during different chapters of a highly successful and personally rewarding career in international media production and later in development communication. The lucky reader travels shotgun with McKee during his adventures in numerous countries: harrowing flights, back-breaking overland trips, frigid lodging, humorous cultural misunderstandings, and local foods consumed to be respectful. Interwoven in the narrative are engaging details of his multi-continent courtship with Elizabeth, who would become his life partner in this odyssey. Having won multiple awards for his films, McKee segues to UNICEF in Bangladesh. Here he creates an animated character “Meena,” a South Asian girl who for years afterward would bring messages about girls’ education and empowerment to countries across Asia, followed by a similarly successful “Sara” in Sub-Saharan Africa. He would finish his career working for behavior change communication programs at Johns Hopkins University, before directing a similar USAID-funded project that reached about 25 countries. Throughout this account of 40+ years in communication, McKee’s memoir reflects the formula for his own success: commitment, integrity, compassion, and a sense of humor."
—Jane Bertrand, Professor, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
"This is a memoir that will appeal to the first generation who lived the opportunities offered by the creation of the international volunteer movement—Peace Corps, CUSO, VSO, UNV. McKee’s curriculum vita, which is the essence of autobiography, is also a history in miniature of an era in international development, a firsthand report of the past waning, a future waxing. McKee reaches back to the challenges of the 1960s and 70s efforts to work for a better world (the utopias we thought possible), and brings the story up to the 2000s. He has lived international development and encountered people, places, and prospects to document and film the wished-for changes. Readers familiar with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) will appreciate how well McKee narrates the story of its promoting local knowledge-making to foster and empower problem-solving where inadequacies of health, nutrition, and education had previously delayed development. My University of the World is a necessary read for anyone considering work in international development."
—Christopher Smart, former CUSO volunteer and erstwhile Director, Special Initiatives, IDRC