Lola's development blog

Lola Karpf

My dream year: 2045

I’ve decided for my final blog post to write about something positive, to imagine a world I’d like to live in – a world that is better and fairer than this one. I believe we can do more and therefore it’s important to end on a good note, to inject a boost of energy into the reader. Hope gives people momentum to try and change things, achieve objectives. This is no fantasy, we’ve seen it time again with social movements and historic events: the abolition of the slave trade, women’s right to vote, the fight against apartheid and more recently, the legalisation of gay marriage. In 2045, I’ll be about 50, and this is the world I’d like to bring up my family in…

In the past 30 years, I have seen the world accept the reality of climate change…and accept the challenge to fight it. I’ve been very much involved in this struggle both by making changes individually, but also by joining larger movements of people from every background battling climate injustice. The results have been overwhelming. We have curbed the threat of catastrophic global warming and managed to keep the Earth’s temperature below 1.5 degrees, bringing about a sustainable future. This has been, in part, due to system change. As Gilbert Rist once said, ‘The survival of the planet will depend upon abandoning the deep-rooted belief that economic growth can deliver social justice’ (Rist, 2007: 485). We still have a long way to go, but the notions that consumption is key to living, and capitalism an inevitable piece of the puzzle, are slowly fading away. I once read an article on ‘degrowth’ in the New Internationalist (Kallis, 2015), which attacks economic growth, and questions the compatibility of capitalism with the earth’s balance. This word, coined in French by Andre Gorz in 1972 (‘décroissance’), was once laughed at and considered ludicrous. Now it is taken seriously and governments talk of a society based not on money or material things, but a greater connection with nature, the land and each other. Indeed, ‘well-being is open to the whole range of human experience, social, psychological and spiritual as well as material’ (Chambers, 1997: 1748).

As we make such monumental shifts in the way we live our lives, peace is ever more reachable. We’ve seen a decrease in wars and terrorism, health all over the world is improving and poverty, though still present, is less extreme. The world, to me, seems much more inclusive and tolerant now. Whatever your gender, age or class, whoever you are – you are accepted. You are human. We know that ‘the policies that are key to bringing about change are those that emphasize the empowerment of women as decision-makers in the interest of social justice; sustain and enhance the livelihoods of the poor; respect the rights of indigenous peoples to the benefits of own knowledge; respect diversities of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and faith’ (Antrobus, 2007). Indigenous peoples have finally been acknowledged as the best guardians of their land and the animals, ‘development’ no longer forced upon them. We’ve seen the survival of some of the world’s most previously threatened tribes such as the Brazilian Awá and many others who are uncontacted. Survival International, the leading organisation for tribal peoples have pushed states to recognise the legitimacy of these indigenous communities, and others, like the Bushmen in Botswana, have won rights back to stay on their land. They continue to set an example to the rest of us on how to live peacefully and respectfully – as a visitor to this planet.

This is not simply ‘wishful thinking’ (Rist, 2007: 488) as Rist claims. This is possible, but we are the only ones who can realize these dreams.

When the great ships come back,

and come they will,

when they stand in the sky

all over the world,

candescent suns by day,

radiant cathedrals in the night,

how shall we answer the question:

what have you done

with what was given you,

what have you done with

the blue, beautiful world?

(Dorgan, 2015)

Bibliography

Antrobus, P. (2007) ‘Reflections on 50 years of Development’, Development [Online]. Available at: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/development/journal/v50/n1s/full/1100394a.html (Accessed: 26 October 2015).

Chambers, R. (1997) ‘Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25. UK: Pergamon.

Dorgan, T. (2015) ‘A climate change poem for today: The Question’, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/01/a-climate-change-poem-for-today-the-question-by-theo-dorgan (Accessed: 15 December 2015).

Kallis, G. (2015) ‘The Left should embrace degrowth’, New Internationalist [Online]. Available at: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2015/11/05/left-degrowth/ (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, Vol. 17. London: Routledge.

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Should charities use pictures of poverty to encourage donations?

There are many dilemmas and potential benefits that arise when utilizing images of poverty or suffering, but first it’s important to question why they’re needed. Photographs of poverty have long been used by charities and NGOs to encourage sympathy and guilt, donations/state aid, or to raise awareness about a certain issue. Hugo Slim, a leading scholar in humanitarian studies at the University of Oxford, argues that ‘part of the reason for this kind of post-colonial choreography by NGOs is because they are still required to be the visual mediators of the poor world to the rich world. In western society, our INGOs are intercultural gatekeepers’ (Slim, 2007). So, what do these images look like, and how can they be effective? Poverty may be more visible to us today – on television, in newspapers and social media, even on our mobiles – but what we see is shaped by certain values: ‘All pieces of news are eventually subject to a process of selection and symbolic particularization that defines whose suffering matters to Western spectators’ (Chouliaraki, 2006: 187). Ever more, poverty is becoming picturesque. A good or powerful image must contain certain features, else it will never draw the viewer’s attention. Binyavanga Wainaina tells us with great wit How to Write about Africa (Wainaina, 2006): ‘Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African…an AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these’. Children must ‘have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies’, while they wait ‘for the benevolence of the West.’ Wainaina underlines brilliantly with this satire, the implicit traits that charities often look for.

In the largest, and perhaps most obvious sense, many see the employment of these images by charities as ethical, because they evoke feelings of pity and compassion from the viewer. They’re then more likely to donate money or support the campaign in other ways, which helps the people in the pictures – it’s all for the ‘greater good’.

At the same time, NGOs can use photographs to expose atrocities and events that take place around the world. Without a record of what’s going on elsewhere, the public would be ignorant about international news, or perhaps unwilling to believe it. Susan Sontag describes the infamous photograph of a South Vietnamese child running towards the camera, after having been sprayed by American napalm during the Vietnam War. It ‘probably did more to increase the public revulsion against the war than a hundred hours of televised barbarities.’ (Sontag, 1977: 18)

Kim Phuc, the girl in the picture, originally hated the photo and was embarrassed by it, ‘but in time she realized that if her pain hadn’t been captured in that way the bombing might have been lost to history’ (Elliot, 2015). Surely this strengthens the notion that charities have a duty to report the truth, even if it’s difficult to look at or seemingly pessimistic. Media outlets also take this approach with The Guardian stating, “If we are going to do journalism that investigates poverty and people who are affected, then surely we have to show them?” (Elliot, 2015). By publishing this suffering, organisations can try to capture the situation at hand and translate this to others in order to affect change.

However, these contrasting motives for using pictures of poverty create problems, and consequences beyond the production of the image that make them unethical. The main effect is that of objectifying the subject’s poverty. By showing them in an impoverished state, the NGO risks degrading them and making an exhibition out of their status and lack of wealth. The people in these photographs fall into the category of the passive victim and are denied a voice.

Another major risk with these kinds of images is perpetuating ‘poverty porn’, otherwise known as ‘development porn’. Poverty porn promotes a popular stereotype, which has existed in the global North for a long time and depends on the superiority of white Westerners, while maintaining that the poor are completely incapable of helping themselves. Though many people are in need, this ‘removes all respect for their agency and cultivates a culture of paternalism which is damaging to the development process’ (Collin, 2009). Charities promote this stereotype, when they could be the very ones to combat it.

Once this method is applied, of using poverty to gain donations, organisations can become trapped in a fierce and competitive cycle, which recognises that in order to supply more aid, more pictures like this need to be published. This also affects the charity itself, which depends on donations to keep running. The viewer can then become desensitized to these repeated images of poverty: ‘The hunt for more dramatic images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value.’ (Sontag, 2003: 20)

There is no definitive solution to the moral dilemmas that arise when charities use pictures of poverty as a form of communication with the Western public. Lilie Chouliaraki suggests that a shift in representation of ‘distant suffering’ is needed ‘because it is now evident that the language of pity – essentially the currently available language of politics and community – is insufficient to properly translate distant suffering for the Western spectator’ (Chouliaraki, 2006: 217). Clearly, these ‘intercultural gatekeepers’ (Slim, 2007) still need some form of visual stimulus to encourage donations and support. So, how can the dignity of the poor be preserved in photographs? I think images should aim for an empathetic response, rather than a pitying one. Campaigns could replace images that emphasize destitution and dependence with ones that highlight the aspiration and agency of the people they depict, such as the photograph below of a Botswanan woman (a member of the Bushmen indigenous people who have been fighting for years for the rights to their land).

There are also ways to change the enterprise and raise awareness about these issues amongst NGOs themselves. Andrea Perera, Associate Director of Communications at Oxfam says, ‘for us the trick is to be true to what we see without undermining the inherent dignity of each person we meet’ (Perera, 2009). Photographs that help us try to understand the feelings, thoughts and goals of people living in poverty could encourage more people to act. I believe charities and NGOs should be using positive imagery to make a change and encourage donations.

Bibliography

Carter, K. (1993) ‘From the archive, 20 July 1994: Photojournalist Kevin Carter dies’, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jul/30/kevin-carter-photojournalist-obituary-archive-1994 (Accessed: 10 December 2015).

Chouliaraki, L. (2006) The Spectatorship of Suffering. London: SAGE Publications.

Collin, M. (2009) ‘What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development?’, Aid Thoughts [Online]. Available at: http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69 (Accessed: 10 November 2015).

Elliot, C. (2015) ‘Can you picture poverty without humiliating the poor?’, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/29/can-you-picture-poverty-without-humiliating-the-poor (Accessed: 3 December 2015).

McCullin, D. (1969) ‘Starving Twenty Four Year Old Mother with Child, Biafra’, National Galleries Scotland [Online]. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists/don-mccullin/25137 (Accessed: 10 December 2015).

Perera, A. (2009) ‘Poverty Porn?’, Oxfam America [Online]. Available at: http://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2009/01/poverty-porn/ (Accessed: 10 December 2015).

Slim, H. (2007) ‘Viewing the poor through Western eyes’, Folksonomy [Online]. Available at: http://folksonomy.co/?concept=448&go=62 (Accessed: 10 December 2015).

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. USA and Canada: Penguin Books.

Sontag, S. (2003) Regarding the Pain of Others. USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Tyler, D. (1990) ‘Bushman woman, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana’, Survival International [Online]. Available at: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/bushmen (Accessed: 3 December, 2015).

Ut, N. (1972) ‘Napalm Girl’, AP Images [Online]. Available at: http://www.apimages.com/metadata/Index/Watchf-AP-I-VNM-APHS021000-Vietnam-Napalm-1972/e674e44489a54fbca89b41a7d821b89e/1/1 (Accessed: 9 December 2015).

Wainaina, B. (2006) ‘How to Write about Africa’, Granta [Online]. Available at: http://granta.com/how-to-write-about-africa/ (Accessed: 1 December 2015).

Can NGOs work with corporate business responsibly?

The partnering of NGOs and corporate businesses remains a controversial alliance, but it’s becoming increasingly common, so I’d like to explore some of the arguments for and against this. NGOs can be any non-governmental organisation that receives funds from businesses, foundations, governments or private persons. The corporate businesses I refer to are large, privately owned companies of shareholders, usually with an aim of making profit.

What do I mean by ‘responsible’? To me, this is being both socially and environmentally conscientious and respecting others of a different sex, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality etc. Above all, being responsible as an NGO means continuing to operate according to its founding principles, without the negative influence of other bodies.

Many would argue that NGOs and private businesses can form successful partnerships and there does seem to be benefits for both sides, often referred to as ‘shared value’ or a ‘shared goal’. The most obvious of these gains is the funding/sponsorship that private businesses provide to charities. Large corporations that are used to thinking more strategically can also help NGOs to do the same and even accelerate their social mission, or increase the impact of their work. In The Guardian’s article, ’10 things you need to know about corporate-NGO partnerships’, Emma Howard states at number two that ‘when non-profits and for-profit companies work together they can create something bigger than they would alone’ (Howard, 2014). She gives the example of last year’s collaboration between Plan and Aviva in Indonesia, which ‘has helped to change the law on birth registration, enabling thousands of street kids to be registered for the first time’ (Howard, 2014).

And in return? Charities can help private companies to improve their reputation in their industry, and make them look more socially responsible. It would also be wise for NGOs to remember that the general public whom they target (for donations or for raising awareness about a certain issue) are also consumers and the customers of businesses – in fact, the two actors share the same audience. Creating a partnership between them would be like using a celebrity to promote a cause; it raises the profile of the campaign and appeals to multiple concerns or interests that people have, rather than just one.

For me, one of the most convincing arguments for an NGO-corporate partnership, is that instead of isolating large companies who are seen as ‘enemies’ and standing against them (such as the enduring feud between McDonald’s and Greenpeace), NGOs can act as a critical friend and open up a space for communication. Smitu Kothari insists ‘the biggest change needs to come from those in power, those with privilege and wealth’ (Kothari, 2007). Perhaps the best way to drive this change is by doing it from the inside. NGOs can help corporations to rethink what they are doing. According to the 2014 C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer, ‘87% of corporate respondents stated that corporate-NGO partnerships have improved business understanding of social and environmental issues’, while ‘59% stated that their business practices have been changed for the better as a result’ (Howard, 2014).

However, there are great disadvantages to this relationship. The strategic and market-orientated way in which NGOs would have to adjust themselves in order for the partnership to succeed, may not work with the types of human issues they are dealing with. Everjoice Win argues that ‘when development is reduced to simplifying difficult contextual realities into, for example, logical framework formats, more problems may be created than solved’ (Win, 2013, 9:123). These are real people’s problems that charities deal with and discussing them in a boardroom far away is perhaps not a solution.

Another significant difference between NGOs and their business counterparts, are the fundamental core values at the centre of each. Corporate businesses are motivated by profit, rather than social justice, and this also means the people working in either group will have a different mindset and way of approaching their work. Unlike NGOs, private businesses may not be interested in the effect or consequences of their actions. The Colombian author and professor, Arturo Escobar, noted that in order to solve development, we must decolonize the ‘individual and collective imaginations from the dominant modern standards that emphasize individual, market, expert knowledge, so-called rational action, consumption, separation between nature and culture’ (Escobar, 2007). These traits are exactly the kind that corporations value, so how can the two work together?

Lastly, the lack of autonomy that NGOs would have over their own decisions and actions when partnering with private businesses is, for me, intolerable. Instead of having absolute control, they’d have to adhere to the wishes of others and ultimately make sacrifices in order to secure funding from their corporate parent. How can an NGO continue to function in line with its founding principles, which could be for example, respect for women’s rights and health, when their Nestlé partner is asking them to pressure women into using expensive powdered milk to feed their babies, rather than breastfeeding more nutritiously for free? This leaves charities in a dangerous trap of sacrifice and dependence, which could take them further and further away from their original aims.

These are just some arguments for and against the partnerships between NGOs and corporate businesses, though there are many more. In my opinion, a business’ ability to extend the work of an NGO is an important point, and even more, the fact that NGOs can shape change by working with a company, rather than against them. However, I would say this collaboration involves too much risk for the NGO and while businesses do provide support (and reap its results), the huge difference in central values and the loss of independence for an NGO overshadows the possible benefits they could enjoy together.

Bibliography

Escobar, A. (2007) ‘Reflections on 50 years of Development’, Development [Online]. Available at: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/development/journal/v50/n1s/full/1100394a.html (Accessed: Monday 26 October 2015).

Howard, E. (2014) ’10 things you need to know about corporate-NGO partnerships’, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/nov/24/10-things-corporate-ngo-partnerships (Accessed: Thursday 29 October 2015).

Kothari, S. (2007) ‘Reflections on 50 years of Development’, Development [Online]. Available at: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/development/journal/v50/n1s/full/1100394a.html (Accessed: Monday 26 October 2015).

Win, E. (2004) ‘”If It Doesn’t Fit on the Blue Square It’s Out!” An Open Letter to My Donor Friend’, Inclusive Aid: Changing Power and Relationships in International Development. London: Routledge.

What does development mean to me?

Development is such an enormous, wide-ranging term and means so many different things to different people, that it’s hard to pin down one exact definition. Increasingly though, I find my thoughts about development centring on climate change and global warming. This is not to say that nothing else matters, or that all else is overshadowed by the environment; merely that all else is affected by the environment. Gender, human rights, sanitation, poverty, health, education – I see all these issues through the lens of climate change and I believe it is the ‘fixer’ of many struggles we face today.

Others before me have regarded development in their own, unique way, and though I may not agree with them, the inclusion of their definitions are vital in the debate about discourse and development. Amartya Sen (Sen, 1999:4) maintained that development was about ‘expanding real freedoms’, while the ever positive Robert Chambers (whose work I greatly admired) thought that it was simply ‘good change’ (Chambers, 1997:1743). In contrast, development was defined by Gilbert Rist more harshly as ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Rist, 2007:487). For a long period, economic growth was thought of as development’s sole definition. I was excited to read so many different perspectives and these ideas made me challenge my own.

For me, one of the main points of development is that it’s not only confined to the South as most people usually think and as is stereotypical (especially when discussing global warming). And so, in this instalment of my blog, I’d like to focus more on the West’s involvement. The North is actually the biggest contributor to climate change, whilst developing countries bare the brunt of its effects. Rist agrees with this notion stating in his essay, we need ‘changes in our daily life, particularly in the Northern hemisphere’ (Rist, 2007:490).

I recently watched the controversial documentary Cowspiracy (Andersen and Kuhn, 2014) which set social media abuzz when it first came out last year, and even made me reconsider my own meat and dairy consumption and what I could do myself to affect change. The film feeds us provoking facts; ‘we are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people’ (Holt-Giménez, 2012), yet ‘82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by Western countries’ (Oppenlander, 2012).

If we were to change our habits in the West, it would lessen the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest countries. Perhaps some of them would even follow suit in the future and adopt a more sustainable model to follow when looking to the West for ideas, rather than mirroring our current capitalist system of economic growth.

There is no doubt that developing countries need assistance as well to tackle climate change, especially as many don’t have the infrastructure or money to implement the ambitious alternatives that countries in the West can adopt. But there needs to be a relationship between the North and South to help each other, rather than a one-way exchange. We need to work together to address global warming, and in turn, address global development.

The Guardian’s Keep It In The Ground campaign is an example of a new, more hopeful approach to environmental development. Big actors from private corporations to global institutions to governments, and even universities and religious organisations, are urged to divest from fossil fuels. A campaign like this which gathers all our voices together and creates a global consensus of ‘people pressure’ can be a good thing and is ‘responsible well-being by all and for all’ (Chambers, 1997:1749).

Bibliography

Andersen, K and Kuhn, K. (2014) Cowspiracy. USA: A.U.M. Films and First Spark Media.

Chambers, R. (1997) ‘Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development Vol. 25. UK: Pergamon.

Deviant Art. (2012) ‘Global Warming’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Global-Warming-305256681 (Accessed: 4 October 2015).

Holt-Giménez, E. (2012) ‘We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger’, Common Dreams [Online]. Available at: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2012/05/08/we-already-grow-enough-food-10-billion-people-and-still-cant-end-hunger (Accessed: 4 October 2015).

Oppenlander, R. (2012) The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary [Online]. Available at: http://comfortablyunaware.com/blog/the-world-hunger-food-choice-connection-a-summary/ (Accessed: 4 October 2015).

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, Volume 17. UK: Routledge.

Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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