Category Archives: Development & Humanitarianism

In 2045, Social Change Is The New Buzzword

The year is 2045. I’m working in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, as the manager of a community centre. I graduated from university twenty-six years ago and, after carrying out a master in social anthropology, I decided to travel to different countries to implement and manage projects to help the most disadvantaged.

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(Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: http://www.citiesalliance.org/nairobi)

Many things have changed in the last three decades. Over time, development became more privatised: governments became less involved in providing public services, due to the increased presence of businesses. The push for neoliberalism by Western states forced developing countries to integrate into the international market economy, as capitalism was seen as a system totally connected with democracy (Berthoud, 2010).

As the economies of developing countries improved, dependency on bilateral and multilateral aid decreased. Official agencies like the World Bank became less important. Various countries decided to cut or diminish the amount of money donated or lent to other nations. At present, the economical differences between Northern countries and Southern countries keep decreasing. Terms like “developing” and “developed” are barely used anymore: “development” is no longer a buzzword.

However, the excessive focus on economic growth overshadowed human development. Income inequality is a huge problem. The upper class members of society keep getting richer while working class individuals experience more hardship every day. Capitalist methods like microfinance failed to help the poorest and just helped those who were already above the poverty line: with more income, more risks in form of investments are taken, which tend to lead to more income flow, but with less income, micro-loans are merely used to protect basic needs for survival (Karnani, 2007).

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(Cartoon showing income inequality in USA. Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/13/nation/la-na-tt-income-inequality-20130312)

Another big issue that was left unaddressed was climate change. Many nations failed to cut down their CO2 emissions after global consensus was not reached. This could be attributed to the failure to alter the economic system and to businesses that saw meaningful action against climate change as a threat, instead of an investment (Newell, 2011). Moreover, the lack of food security is a concern for many, particularly in poor rural regions in the Global South, where unstable rainfall patters affect agriculture negatively, as it was already expected years ago (The Companion to Development Studies, 2014).

Due to the laisse faire attitude adopted by governments and the privatisation of basic services such as healthcare and education, non-state actors like NGOs and charities now play the key role of meeting the needs of the poorest in society. At the same time, social movements comprising protests and boycotts have become the norm in many countries, in response to austerity, insecure employment and the lack public services. This has often led to unrest and political instability, including violent conflicts and terrorism in some places.

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(Example of a social movement. Source: http://www.esdaw.eu/social-movement.html)

To sum up: development is not a finished project, even if many pretend it is. This quote is relevant nowadays: “a society in which everybody had a right to basic security would address inequality directly. But in the globalisation era, so far, there has been a drift to a charity perspective, not a rights-based one” (Standing, 2010).  The inability of elites to create a sustainable and green economic system that prioritises human rights over economics is making life harder every day for millions and is ruining the environment. Yet, there is hope. If social movements keep strengthening and terrorism is avoided as a political tool, real transformations could happen in the next few years. Calls for development have just been replaced by calls for justice and equality. In 2045, social change is the new buzzword.

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Bibliography

  1. Berthoud, G. (2010). The Development Dictionary: Market. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
  2. Karnani, A. (20087). Microfinance Misses Its Mark (SSIR). Available at: http://ssir.org/articles/entry/microfinance_misses_its_mark (Accessed: 07/12/2015)
  3. Newell, P. (2011) ‘Climate change’ in R. Devetak, A. Burke and J. George (eds) An Introduction to International Relations. Cambridge: CUP.
  4. Standing, G. (2007). ‘Social Protection’ in Cornwall, Eade (ed.) Buzzwords and fuzzwords: deconstructing development discourse. Dunsmore: Practical Action Publishing Ltd, pp. 65.
  5. Vandana, D. Potter, R. The Companion to Development Studies. 3rd Oxon: Routledge.
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Celebrities: The Problematic Heroes in Development

In the last decades, the commitment to tackle global issues has grown in popularity. With this increase there has also been a surge in the number of non-political figures, in particular superstars and personalities, who get involved in development and social change.

Celebrity activism and philanthropy dates back to the 1960s, during the civil rights movement in United States (Richey and Ponte, 2006). Some notorious figures who got involved were the singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who performed during a civil rights rally, and Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster, actors who supported the activist Martin Luther King (Richey and Ponte, 2006).

At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, the first benefit concerts took place (Richey and Ponte, 2006). An example would be The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, organised by the artist George Harrison to raise money for Bangladeshi people displaced by the civil war (Richey and Ponte, 2006). However, a key benefit concert happened a decade after: Live Aid, a fundraising event organised by the artist Bob Geldof in 1985 (Richey and Ponte, 2006). One hundred and fifty million dollars were raised to help people affected by a famine in Ethiopia (Richey and Ponte, 2006).

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(The Live Aid concert in 1985. Source: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/live-aid-1985-thirty-years-9633721)

Currently, being involved in activism or/and charity work is a vital part of the celebrity persona. For instance, the actress Emma Watson has been the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women since 2014. Moreover, some superstars have started their own initiatives. That’s the case for artists like Beyoncé Knowles, who has her own charity to engage in humanitarian action, #BeyGood. Nevertheless, while celebrity activism and philanthropy can be seen as positive at first glance, there is a dilemma surrounding this topic.

On the one hand, there are benefits, such as attention drawn to problems affecting the globe and more awareness. An initiative that helps with this is the Global Citizen Festival, which happens annually in New York. The event includes music performances and speeches by public figures, from Hollywood superstars to international activists. The aim is to promote active citizenship amongst the public.

Furthermore, celebrities are good marketing strategies for NGOs and charities to get more support and funding. One of the latest personalities to get involved in this type of philanthropy is Alicia Keys, with her movement We Are Here, through which she is supporting social and climate justice causes by endorsing organisations like The Trayvon Martin Foundation, Oxfam and 350.

In addition, celebrities have a huge platform which can be let to those who are voiceless to facilitate social change. Recording artist Miley Cyrus did this earlier this year: she teamed up with LGBT+ individuals and the social network Instagram to run #InstaPride, a series of portraits and stories about LGBT+ individuals and their hardships. The project was shared in Cyrus’s own Instagram account, followed by millions across the world.

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(The first post of the #InstaPride project.  Source: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/instapride-miley-cyrus-launches-transgender-youth-social-media-campaign-2297526.html)

On the other hand, the involvement of superstars in philanthropy and activism has drawbacks. One is over-simplification of solutions due to lack of knowledge and expertise. A clear instance would be the singer Bono and his anti-poverty approach for Africa (Dieter and Kumar, 2008). He relies on trade, aid, debt relief and education to develop the continent, when the problem is much more complex, including issues like poor governance (Dieter and Kumar, 2008).

Another weakness is how governments and inhabitants in developing countries lose power when foreign celebrities get too involved in their matters and members of the public follow their path. This quote by Goodman and Barnes (2011) explains it better: “The celebritisation of development has worked to turn ‘development’ as a wider project into one that is individualised, volunteerised, privatised and, ultimately, ‘responsibilised’ onto audiences, consumers and citizens (mainly of the North) as more celebrities take to their roles as endorsers of campaigns and causes.”

The last downside to talk about is superficiality (West, 2008). Many people tend to believe celebrities use charity campaigns to just improve their image (West, 2008). Meanwhile, their audience may not even focus on the problem being raised, concentrating more in the superstar and leading to “less substance in political processes” (West, 2008). A good illustration of this would be the controversy surrounding Angelina Jolie’s speech for the UN in April 2015. As a special envoy, she talked about the situation of Syrian refugees. However, media outlets and the public focused on the actress’s outfit, discussing whether if it was appropriate or not.

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(Angelina Jolie the day of her speech for the UN. The controversy was about her breasts being noticeable through her shirt.  Source: http://www.justjared.com/2015/04/24/angelina-jolie-briefs-un-security-council-on-syria-crisis-video/)

Taking into account both the benefits and the drawbacks, it is clear the role of superstars and personalities in development is important and influential. Yet, there is an urgent need to reform celebrity interventions from saviour PR missions to facilitating meaningful actions. NGOs and charities should be more conscious when choosing personalities to represent them, and superstars should have more understanding of the issues they are trying to tackle.

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Bibliography

  1. Dieter, H., & Kumar, R. (2008). The downside of celebrity diplomacy: the neglected complexity of development. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 14(3), 259-264.
  2. Goodman, M. K., & Barnes, C. (2011). Star/poverty space: the making of the ‘development celebrity’. Celebrity studies, 2(1), 69-85.
  3. Richey, L. A., & Ponte, S. (2006). Better (RED) than dead: ‘brand aid’, celebrities and the new frontier of development assistance. Danish Institute for International Studies working paper no 2006/26. Copenhagen: DIIS.
  4. West, D. M. (2008). Angelina, Mia, and Bono: Celebrities and international development. Global development, 2, 74-84.

 

Is The World Bank A Devil With The Face of An Angel?

Operating under the slogan “Working for a world free of poverty”, The World Bank is a multilateral institution that provides financial and technical support to developing countries. It was founded in 1944 with the purpose of helping countries after the post-war period (World Bank, 2015). At present, the organisation has two main goals:

  • “End extreme poverty by decreasing the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day to no more than 3%.” (World Bank, 2015)
  • “Promote shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40% for every country.” (World Bank, 2015)

In spite of its apparent good purpose, the Bank has often come under fire by NGOs, social movements, experts and politicians. It may be a key institution, but its way of operating needs restructurings, as disapproval keeps increasing, and it is at risk of a higher number people advocating for its disappearance.

imf-and-world-bank-keeps-africa-poor

(Source: http://www.dikaiopolis.gr/2013/12/the-destructive-role-of-imf-and-world.html)

One of the biggest criticisms it faces is how it pushes prevailing neoliberal agendas, while promoting globalisation as perfect and free from evils, when many experts have contradicted this because it creates more income inequality and a bigger gap between the rich and the poor (The Development Dictionary, 2010). Development scholars Robin Broad argues that even if the Bank is meant to be impartial and rigorous, many research and data they publish and sponsor tends to be biased, manipulated or/and selective, while views that go against the institution values are ignored and disheartened (Broad, 2007).

Another problematic aspect of the Bank’s work is its interest in markets over human rights. The institution offers financial support with conditions to the recipients of the money. Many times, those conditions include cuts to public services, healthcare and education, as well as a demand for low wages (Global Exchange, 2001). Those requirements harm the poor, while benefiting multinational organisations based on countries that curiously have the most control over the Bank’s decisions (Global Exchange, 2001).  An example would be Africa and the AIDS epidemic of 1990s and 2000s, back when many African governments were forced to put fees in their healthcare services to receive financial support (Global Exchange, 2001). In Kenya, the implementation of fees in Nairobi’s Special Treatment Clinic for Sexually Transmitted Diseases resulted in a decrease of people attending the clinic over a nine-month period, 40% less for men and 65% less of women (Global Exchange, 2001).

Another issue to discuss is how sustainable and ethical are the projects the Bank supports. Citizens’ opinions in developing countries tend to be ignored when crafting policies and advice pieces: they are only included when plans are already made and they are merely integrated into them, which can result in negative consequences (The Companion to Development Studies, 2014). Clear cases for this would be the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in India, in which residents were unwillingly displaced and numerous human rights violation occurred, and the Polonoreste project in Brazil, in which a highway was constructed in the Amazonas, causing great forest loss and intrusions in Amerindian reserves (Peet, 2003).

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(Protests in India opposing the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2012/mar/14/controversial-dam-projects-in-pictures)

And the last but not least important denunciation about the Bank is how it is run by American imperialism. The institution was founded in USA partly by Americans, its presidents are normally American, many of its experts got their PHDs from North American universities, and discussions are centred on Anglo-American ideas of how economies should work (Wade, 2001). The Bank is governed by a few industrialised countries, USA having the most votes, 17%, followed by Japan with 6% and Germany with 4.7% (Wade, 2001). While most decisions made affect developing countries, these have little say in what they are going to be imposed and demanded to implement. Additionally, the institution has proved how it dislikes thinking that contradicts American desires. At the end of the 20th century, the former chief economist of the institution, Joseph Stiglitz, was made resign by the Bank’s president after pressure of the USA Treasury because of Stiglitz critics towards the Bank and the IMF due to their free market policies in East Asia, between other complains (Wade, 2001).

us-imperialism

(Graphic representation of USA’s dominance. Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-war-iii-class-conflict-and-the-history-of-warfare-the-global-corporate-elites-against-the-worlds-people/5386248)

On conclusion: the World Bank is an institution that can be counterproductive to meet its objectives. It either doesn’t care much about real development or it needs a wake-up call. There is a need for serious reforms and changes, in order to be more democratic and less influenced by Americentrism, as well as better evaluation and assessment of consequences of projects they support. And it is time it stops ignoring the needs of citizens in developing countries and their governments.

Sharing a mixture of information and opinion,

Emilie H. Featherington

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References

  1. Broad, R. (2007) ‘Knowledge management’: a case study of the World Bank’s research department’. Development in Practice, 17:700-708.
  2. Global Exchange (2001). How the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Undermine Democracy and Erode Human Rights. Available at: http://www.globalexchange.org/resources/wbimf/report (Accessed 02/11/2015)
  3. Peet, R. (2003) Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO. London: Zed Books.
  4. Sachs, W. 2010. The Development Dictionary. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
  5. Vandana, D. Potter, R. The Companion to Development Studies. 3rd Oxon: Routledge.
  6. Wade, R. (2001) ‘Showdown at the World Bank’. New Left Review 7:124-137.
  7. World Bank (2015) Chronology. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/about/archives/history/chronology (Accessed: 02/11/2015)

Defining Development: Aid, Sustainable Development Goals, Colonisation, Well-Being & Participation

“International Development”, I say while I observe how my relative’s face shows sudden confusion. This follows whenever I mention the course I am studying in university. Nobody knows what it means. I even struggle to explain or define it. I throw around words like “poverty” or “human rights”, hoping people will understand.  Fortunately, many get the general idea quickly. Still, they assume the word is just linked to the aid organisations. And I’m not surprised. That’s how development is advertised in The West.

save-the-children-ad-series-thing-of-the-past-water

(Example of a charity marketing “poverty” by using the stereotypical image of a black African child in a muddy and dirty environment looking for clean water.)

However, for me, development is not about “saving the poor”. It is about environmental sustainability and improving people’s lives. Nevertheless, nothing is perfect. Development can be a problematic term for many, including myself sometimes, although I can still see the positive side of it.

On the one hand, professors like Gilbert Rist argue that development is a just a vague “buzzword” that needs to redefined from “wishful thinking” to “actual practices”(Rist, 2007). I partly agree with him. I’m sure many of you have heard about the UN Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030, available below.

Global-Goals-for-Sustainable-Development

(The 17 Sustainable Development Goals set for 20303.)

In my opinion, this is a clear example of “wishful thinking”. I’m apprehensive of how honest is the commitment. I find ironic how the same world promising to meet these goals is being harsh with refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. Or how some politicians promising to achieve these targets have been cutting funding for welfare in their own countries.

Moreover, I can’t ignore how many development policies by multilateral organisations remind me of colonialism: Western countries imposing ideas and capitalistic models in poorer Southern countries, ignoring culture and erasing identities. The activist Gustavo Esteva said it better: “Today, for two-thirds of the people of the world, (under)development is a threat that has already been carried out; a life of subordination and of being led astray, of discrimination and subjugation4.” (Esteva, 2010: 6, The Development Dictionary)

On the other hand, professors like Robert Chambers have an optimistic view of development, which I share too. Chambers said, “The objective of development is well-being for all”, and “well-being and ill-being differ from wealth and poverty”5  (Chambers, 1997).

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“The web of responsible well-being according to Chambers5”.

For too long the term “development” has been associated exclusively with economic growth. But as Chamber illustrates in the picture above, it is not just about money matters. In addition, I believe “rich” countries shouldn’t be a models for “poor” countries. For instance, United Kingdom has the 6th largest economy in the world, yet 1 in 5 residents live below the poverty line6. Besides, the lifestyle in “rich” countries isn’t sustainable.  Sociologists like Otto Ullrich claim that, “If one were to extend this [USA’s] industrial mode of production and lifestyle to all people of the earth, five or six further planets like the earth would be required for resource plundering and waste disposal4(Ullrich, 2010. 313, The Development Dictionary). And I agree.

Another reason why I support Chamber’s definition of development is the participatory approach to it: the focus on what locals want over the thoughts of Westerns. Not having a good understanding of locals’ lives can lead to misinterpretations, such as the false deforestation narrative encountered by anthropologists James Fairhead and Melissa Leach in West Africa years ago7.

On conclusion: there isn’t a definition for “development”. What is clear is that it is not as positive as it seems: there needs to be a profound redefinition of the ambitions behind it. And we must remember that almost certainly, no country is “fully developed”. Sustainability, equality and justice, livelihood security, and human rights, the main objectives in development, are issues that no country in the world has addressed 100%.

Sharing my thoughts on academic matters,

Emilie

References

  1. Funny Commercials World. 2009. Save The Children ad series: Thing Of The Past. http://www.funnycommercialsworld.com/save-the-children-ad-series-thing-of-the-past-2790.html. Last Accessed: 04/10/2015
  2. Rist, Gilbert (2007) ‘Development’, Development in Practice17(4-5):485-491.
  3. Blue and Green Tomorrow. 2015. The Global Goals for Sustainable Development. http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2015/09/24/the-global-goals-for-sustainable-development/Last Accessed: 04/10/2015.
  4. Sachs, Wolfgang. 2010. The Development Dictionary. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
  5. Chambers, Robert. 1997. ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’,World Development25(11):1743-1754.
  6. 2015. Poverty in the UK. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/poverty-in-the-uk. Last Accessed: 04/10/2015.
  7. Fairhead, J. and M. Leach. 1995. ‘False forest history, complicit social analysis: rethinking some West African environmental narratives’. World Development23 (6): 1023-1036.

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#10 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer

Volunteering is an activity in which not everyone engages but everyone should do. And here is why:

1) It is rewarding and inspiring: you help others selflessly and you feel good about what you do, because you receive positive feedback about your actions in most cases.

2) It makes you involved within society: when you volunteer, you are part of a network of people that collaborate towards the improvement of their community.

3) It helps to maintain a good mental health: volunteering boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem because it gives you a sense of purpose; it makes you realise you are important and you are full of potential.

4) It expands your social circles: while volunteering, you meet a lot of new people, including possible friends for life.

5) It offers you the possibility of living new experiences: thanks to volunteering you can try different activities you have never done before, and you will live different stories every day.

6) It increases your skills in a wide range of areas: leadership, communication, writing, numeracy, project management, evaluation, customer care… Depending on your role, you will develop different skills while adding knowledge to your brain.

7) It enhances your job prospects: while having good grades is deemed as imperative to get  a job nowadays, volunteering involves practical learning, and employers don’t overlook it. In fact, volunteering is golden and it will make you stand out of the crow, because most people fulfill the academic standards for jobs, but not everyone has practical experience and not everyone volunteers.

8) It makes you active: volunteering is  a good way of being active and preventing disengagement from society due to reasons such as unemployment, age, illness… And being active helps to have a healthier lifestyle in order to have a longer life span.

9) It is fun and it keeps you busy but relaxed: sometimes it is imperative to break out from the routine and do something without the pressure of “getting paid” or “getting good grades”. Volunteering is a entertaining way of doing this. You can choose in where to volunteer and how, and if you are passionate about your role, you will have a great time carrying it out without worrying about money and exams.

And lastly,

10) It is about supporting social/environmental causes: in most cases, you will volunteer for a charity that works towards a specific goal, such as raising awareness about mental health, providing aid for people suffering from violent conflicts, working towards the end of modern slavery… You can choose what cause to support, and in that way, you will make a difference.