Last Year Today: Globaldev in 2014

World’s hottest aid worker

Every year, there are lists of gifts to buy for aid workers (or, things not to buy them). But, the “World’s hottest aid worker” ornament seems like the most obvious choice. In fact, we’d suggest pairing this gift with one of our 52 pick-up lines for aid workers to impress that special someone.

(If you’re more interested in work than in love, check out these tips on rebooting your career over the holidays.)

The year at WhyDev

In our fourth year, we’ve seen a number of changes, including the recruitment of two new team members – Rachel and Jennifer. They’ve been instrumental in taking our communications, social media and blog to the next level (level 90). We also created Composed, a team of regular contributors, and re-designed our weekly newsletter, Last Week Today. Since 2010, we’ve received over 1 million pageviews, directly benefiting thousands of global citizens who are committed to getting development right.

We’ve recently been entrusted with the ownership and management of AidSource: The Humanitarian Social Network. We are recruiting a manager to run the community, and have grand plans for the network going into 2015. We’ve also established a number of partnerships with key organisations in the sector. This includes an ongoing content-sharing partnership with ONE, and new partnerships with OIC: The Cambodia Project and Monash University. This year, we’ve held events in Melbourne in collaboration with The Development Circle, RMIT, Catalyst Co-Lab and OIC, with a total of over 300 participants. Last, we’ve started a podcast, MissionCreep.

The year on the blog

The WhyDev team’s favourite posts from 2014

If a piece of equipment breaks in a hospital and there’s no one to fix it, does it make a sound?

The ethics of photographing locals

The voluntourism assault: Stop making this about your righteousness

Why poverty porn is like shoulder pads and leg warmers

Dear supporter: We’re sorry, the project you supported failed…

Shout-out The most-read guest post of the year: The myth of “the field”, by J.

George Clooney wearing traditional "field" wear. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
George Clooney wearing traditional “field” wear. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The year in globaldev

Is aid satire helping?

All the arguments for bad aid

“Asia” is a Western construct.

A major World Bank fail

The spectacle of Band Aid

Do NGOs actually help?

The danger of Hunger Games

And just like that, 2014’s a wrap. Happy Holidays from the WhyDev team, and we’ll see you again on 9 January, 2015!

Always on the go? Have a version sent to your inbox every Friday. Just sign up to the Last Week Today newsletter.

Featured image is a “World’s hottest aid worker” Christmas tree ornament. Photo from Amazon.

The music of Ebola: Beyond Band Aid

Media hype around the Band Aid 30 single has died down, but we keep hearing it playing everywhere…

The video begins with two workers in hazmat suits lifting an Ebola-stricken woman from her home. End scene, fade in to the smiling faces of One Direction, Seal, Bono, Sinead O-Connor, Paloma Faith, Rita Ora and several other celebrities crooning, “Where a kiss of love can kill you / and there’s death in every tear… A song of hope where there’s no hope tonight.”

The Band Aid 30 single, “Do they know it’s Christmas?”, originally written in 1984 to raise money to fight famine in Ethiopia, has already drawn much criticism from the people it tries to help, with headlines like these:

Africans, aid workers and pundits have offered plenty of deserved critique for the new song and video, but a Sierra Leonean friend once told me that anyone who has experienced Africa in a positive way has a responsibility to challenge harmful perceptions of the continent, such as those perpetuated by this new song. As I was living in Sierra Leone around this time last year, I’m following my friend’s advice and offering a short critique of the song’s tendency to reinforce negative, needy stereotypes of Africa. More importantly, I want to share some positive examples of what African artists are already doing about Ebola.

There’s no doubt Ebola is a tragedy, but only a few countries in Africa are affected by it, out of 54 incredibly diverse nations. Projects like this one that portray Africa, the continent, as being diseased and poverty-stricken harm its global image. When I lived in the beautiful, fertile, and resource-rich country of Sierra Leone, my experience was mostly positive—it is not a place that needs patronising pity. The perception that Africa, the whole continent, needs help and is unable to help itself hinders investment and tourism, and inspires more “White Saviour” projects…

…such as this one. The song is yet another example of a neo-colonial campaign that draws lines on who is the saviour and who needs saving, fulfilling Westerners’ desires and meeting their need to feel good about themselves. Raising awareness in such a way does little, aside from fulfilling the ill-informed longings of the involved Westerners.

In Sierra Leone, it’s an understatement to say music is an important part of the culture. Rather, it’s integral to the lifestyle, blaring from a radio, speaker or cell phone near you at all hours of the day. One of my neighbours in Freetown was a fairly successful reggae artist. I met him while I was walking home from work—he was standing along the roadside singing, with his friend playing the guitar. He asked me to record him with my phone and put it on YouTube. He felt as though making music was the best way to make a mark on the world, especially with the new tool of the Internet. We’re living in an age where Africans can finally show us their views directly and broadcast them across the web.

Over the past several months, African artists, including my Sierra Leonean friend, have represented their culture and made their mark by creating and re-mixing several songs about Ebola, many of which have been hits. Ebola music is on the radio non-stop in affected countries. The songs range from hip-hop to reggae to gospel; the lyrics can be informative or uplifting. Many artists have also posted their songs on the web.

The efforts of these artists should not be undercut, but “Do they know it’s Christmas” has done just that.

For perhaps the first time, the pet projects of white saviours can also be immediately posted on the Internet, projecting the image of Westerners as the solution to African problems into the worlds of Africans. Whereas before, we could get away with keeping patronising projects inside our privileged sphere, they no longer remain within our walls—Africans are listening, too. Their work can be insulted on their own turf.

The West African artists who’ve been singing and rapping about Ebola for months deserve recognition, not the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and the promotion of outsiders as liberators. You might have heard Africa Stop Ebola by legendary African artists Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou and Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and others (which raises money for Doctors without Borders), but that’s just the beginning of African artists’ efforts.

Check out some of the catchiest songs about Ebola by local artists—some were produced independently, while others were made with development groups.

For more, check out this crowd-sourced database of song lyrics of 23 songs that “shout out Ebola,” all by African rappers and in five different languages. Let’s let African artists speak for their own countries.

Featured image is Liberian musician Black Diamond. Photo from Photos Liberia.

MissionCreep #5: Founders, NGOs and climate change

We know you’ve missed our fresh and frank voices in global development, but Brendan Rigby, Weh Yeoh and Laurie Phillips are back with episode 5!

Today on MissionCreep, we’re talking about the trouble with founders and the messy politics of NGOs. Plus, what’s happening to people affected by climate change?

Join the conversation! Weigh in on what organisations can do to avoid “founderitis” and how NGOs can be more accountable to the people they serve. And if you have legal expertise, let us know how things look for people affected by climate change.

Leave a comment here or on Facebook, e-mail us at info[AT], and use the hashtag #MissionCreepDev on Twitter. We’ll respond online or on the next episode of the podcast.

You can also listen to the podcast here or download it on iTunes.

Brendan Rigby
Brendan Rigby
Weh Yeoh
Weh Yeoh
Laurie Phillips
Laurie Phillips





Articles referenced throughout the podcast:

Five ways I hope to avoid Founder’s Syndrome on my project

NGOs – Do they help?

No “climate refugees” in New Zealand

Featured image is an aerial view of Funafuti, Tuvalu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Nigeria: What to do when wealth doesn’t mean development?

By Clare Cummings

Having just returned from a research trip to Nigeria, I’ve been struck (not for the first time) by just how difficult it is to make economic growth a force for development. It’s tempting to think that just having a slightly bigger public sector budget would really help, but Nigeria is a clear reminder that wealth alone does not guarantee better services, less poverty or more security.

Nigeria is known internationally as an economic powerhouse, a leading African economy attracting foreign investment and exporting natural resources. It’s also known to have a volatile political situation, extreme poverty and stark inequality. Despite its wealth, Nigeria rates poorly on human development indicators: it ranked 152 in the 2013 Human Development Report, just above Yemen. Compared to other, much poorer, African countries, Nigeria’s investment in public services is low and inequality in accessing services is very high. Why is this?

Why is economic growth failing to address poverty, and what can development organisations do about it?

First, it’s important not to think of Nigeria as one economy and one government. Nigeria is enormous, with a national population similar to that of Bangladesh or Brazil, and a federal system composed of 36 states and a federal capital. When taken as a whole, Nigeria has every challenge and opportunity going: natural resources, divided ethnic groups, nomadic populations, burgeoning cities, etc. Only by delving into the complexity of each state can you begin to understand what’s stopping Nigeria from transforming into a more stable country.

Map of Nigeria's states. From Wikimedia Commons.
Map of Nigeria’s states. From Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at government and politics at the state level, it becomes clearer why Nigeria’s economic growth does not guarantee better living standards. Nigerian state governments each have their own priorities, and these are often not poverty reduction but rather income generation. For example, while the governors of Northern states tend to prioritise agricultural productivity, transport is a political issue in Lagos, as the city’s congestion is a brake on the state economy. Nigerian politicians’ priorities are also swayed by those who financed their election victory. Public funds are often diverted to creating jobs for chosen individuals and awarding government contracts to particular companies. It’s only when a leader’s supporters have been sufficiently rewarded that broader development goals can be considered.

So, taking this as a starting point, how can development organisations, calling for more accountable governments and better services for the poor, persuade Nigerian state governments to change the way they work? Quite simply, development organisations need to learn to work politically. They need to understand the interests of leaders and the constraints of the political system, and find ways to encourage reform without directly threatening a leader’s source of control. Negotiation, brokering, persuasion, peer pressure and incentives are all tools in engaging in the politics of development. This is about taking a politically smart approach to development.

But what could this look like? How about the work the DFID-funded State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI) is doing? SAVI works in a number of Nigerian states to support State Houses of Assembly, mass media and civil society organisations to take action on public problems. Rather than encouraging a battle between government and non-government groups, SAVI looks for ways they can cooperate, finding convergent interests in resolving shared problems, such as corruption in contractors’ building of public infrastructure.

Another inspiring approach to problem solving in Nigeria is Reboot’s work on public financial management. Financial management reforms are often found to be technically heavy, transplanted by international consultants and inappropriate to a country’s own context. Reboot, however, is taking a different approach, which they call “fiscal ethnography.” In this, a team of Nigerian and international staff are embedded in a state government for 18 months to observe how the government systems work, learn about the culture of the organisation and people working in it, and earn their partners’ trust. The knowledge they gain and the relationships they build then enable the Reboot team to tailor their tools and training to the specific needs and priorities of the state government.

Nigeria is certainly not unique in the challenges facing its public sector, and examples like these show that development organisations are beginning to learn that development is not about authority and money, but rather about brokering and negotiating change. Improving the practices of the development community may be just as difficult as improving the practices of state governments, but a movement for change has begun. Academics, practitioners, donors, and researchers are coming together to push for a new, politically savvy way of doing development: development that works.

Look here and here to learn more and join the debate!

Clare Cummings is a Research Officer for Politics and Governance at the Overseas Development Institute, where she works on public service delivery, justice, security and democratisation. She has previously conducted field research on the governance of slum resettlement in South India and worked as a researcher for a consortium of NGOs in Burundi. Claire holds a Masters of International Development from the University of Amsterdam. You can follow her on Twitter.

Featured image is an aerial view of Lagos. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Last Week Today: Dubious sexuality

Dubious sexuality

Not wearing pants is frowned upon in most places, but cartoon characters are usually excused. Not so in Poland. A Polish council has just banned Winnie the Pooh from being the mascot of a local playground. Why? Pooh’s a hermaphrodite, and his (its?) “dubious sexuality” and “inappropriate dress” are unsuitable for children. Obviously.

If you’ve got Winnie the Pooh in your #SWEDOW, made sure you send it elsewhere…

The week in global news

Following an attack on a foreign NGO’s compound in Kabul, a South African pastor, his two teenaged children and an Afghan employee were killed.

For the second time in two weeks, a white policeman who killed an unarmed black man in the U.S. will not be charged.

In better news, online donations made on #GivingTuesday totaled over $26,000,000.

The week on the blog

52 break-up lines for aid workers

That pesky aid worker still bothering you? Hoping to leave your romance in the field? Need help explaining why you want out? Use one of our 52 break-up lines for aid workers.

Volunteering abroad with children: Some recommendations

In the sequel to her post from last week, Ruth Taylor outlines some best practices for organisations that have foreign volunteers and gives advice for potential volunteers looking for a placement.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The week in globaldev

Recreating the wheel in development

Don’t forget the peopleware.

Public school teaching should be more like Peace Corps.

Is your aid job getting you down?

Coming full-circle on voluntourism

Audio The latest Tiny Spark podcast features Dayo Olopade, talking about the potential she sees for Africa.

You can also check out our events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

Always on the go? Have a version sent to your inbox every Friday. Just sign up to the Last Week Today newsletter.

Featured image from DeviantArt.

Volunteering abroad with children: Some recommendations

This post originally appeared on KickStart Ghana and is re-printed here with permission. It is the second in a two-part series on volunteering with children – see part one here.

By Ruth Taylor

When considering the sometimes disastrous consequences of overseas volunteering with regards the emotional and physical well-being of children, it is all too easy to conclude that all projects involving children should be stopped altogether, preventing the problems from ever even being a possibility. Although a firm critic of many projects abroad involving children, I adamantly believe that, if done correctly, in conjunction with local stakeholders and with the benefit of the child firmly situated at the heart of any decision, projects that bring together Western volunteers and local children can be hugely effective for both parties.

Over the five years I’ve been involved with KickStart Ghana, our attitude and practices regarding volunteering with children have developed dramatically. I find it really encouraging looking back and seeing how, as an organisation, we have become more impactful through our work, due to the decisions we’ve made, especially when considering our child-facing programmes. Child protection and safety, as well as beneficiary impact, are things we regard as being of the highest importance.

The three summer programmes currently running in Ho consist heavily of working with young people. The summer school, reading club and football coaching sessions, delivered alongside our local partners and supported by our dedicated team of UK volunteers, all focus on increasing the educational and sporting abilities and achievements of young people.

So, how do we ensure we are not making the same mistakes as so many other international volunteering organisations with regards to our work with children?

Firstly, we work closely with community stakeholders, determining where we can have the most positive impact, building on and supporting initiatives already taking place in the town. In the same way we would not appreciate foreigners coming into our communities and telling us what our children do or do not need in order to develop, organisations must thoroughly understand the necessity and rightfulness of local stakeholder engagement and involvement. By working alongside local teachers, child care professionals and parents, organisations go some way to ensure their actions are embedded into the context of the local community, leading to more impactful and more sustainable programmes which are supported by local people.

Secondly, all our volunteers pass through a structured recruitment and training programme, ensuring they are well equipped for their designated roles whilst in-country. Our Summer School volunteers provide extra-curricular activities for Year 6 pupils, but as they are not qualified teachers, the national curriculum content is left to Ghanaian teachers to deliver. When questioned on this, our response is simple: would we ever allow a volunteer teacher from Ghana to come to the U.K. and teach a Year 6 maths class, despite the fact they were not actually qualified? Obviously not!

It is important that all international development organisations that work with volunteers know the boundaries they are setting for their programmes by doing so – volunteers, by their very nature, cannot do everything a paid, fully-trained member of staff can. It is the responsibility of each individual organisation to ensure measures are put in place to enable volunteers to work to the best of their ability.

Thirdly, we follow a strict policy when it comes to child protection, ensuring all volunteers are made fully aware of the policy before and during their placement. No cameras are allowed on project, as we wish to encourage our volunteers to focus their attentions on ensuring the programmes are the best they can be, not with their eye continuously objectifying a child through a lens.

Our volunteers are also reminded about their position as mentors, not friends. Although they 100% should develop friendly, trusting relationships with the children, they are not in Ghana to hand out hugs, nor are the children attending the projects to be fussed over, but rather to benefit from the activities provided. By doing this, we hopefully curb any negative side effects for the children when it comes to attachment.

Much research has been done regarding the detrimental effects that short-term volunteering placements can have on children and when properly thought through, the conclusions seem obvious.

Having a constant stream of volunteers arrive in your community, show you love and affection and then, without a backwards glance, get back on a plane can prove very difficult for children, especially if coming from vulnerable backgrounds.

If we think about this from a UK perspective, it’s like volunteers from other parts of the world, coming over and working in our young people’s refuges for 2 weeks at a time, completely unqualified to do so, getting to know the residents, gaining their affection and trust, before travelling around the country for a bit and then hoping back on a plane, never to be seen or heard from again. And then the next group arrive and so on. Although maybe not fulfilling the Western volunteer desire for the much needed profile pic with a cute Ghanaian child, or supplying a never-ending opportunity for cuddles, KickStart Ghana believe these decisions make our programmes more impactful and consequentially, the experience a better one for volunteers and beneficiaries a like.

I am not here to claim that KickStart Ghana are by any means perfect as an organisation when it comes to these issues, but I am pleased to work for a charity that takes this stuff seriously, doesn’t cut corners and instils a respect in our volunteers about these important issues. I’d like to finish this blog with a quick word of advice for anyone currently considering volunteering abroad with children. The below 5 points, I believe, should be understood, appreciated and taken to heart by anyone looking for a placement. Do not consider your actions inconsequential, and make sure you are spending your time and money wisely, so as to be bringing about good instead of harm.

  • Think about what your own strengths are. Good intentions are a fantastic starting point, but unfortunately are not enough to make a difference. If they were, we’d have no problems left in the world. You must consider what skills or strengths you as an individual have to bring to a project. The last thing any developing country needs is more big-hearted but utterly clueless Westerners flying over thinking they can help by simply being there.
  • Look closely at the organisation you are considering volunteering with. What is their track record when it comes to volunteering with children? Do they prioritise the safety and well-being of the child over everything else? Are they more focused on the volunteers’ happiness than the child’s? This should be easily determinable through the way they present themselves online and through their recruitment process. If you can secure your place in 90 seconds, like I mentioned above, move on to someone else.
  • Focus on the impact on the child, not the impact on you. If you truly want to volunteer, your energy should be put into ensuring the programme/s you are involved in are as impactful as they can be. Don’t choose a project solely for its location, duration, proximity to the pub, etc. Although you will inevitably get a lot out of your volunteering experience (arguably more than you will actually give), you should not in any way see your trip as a holiday. If you do, reconsider what you’re doing, and go to Spain for a week instead.
  • Always consider what best practice is in the UK. Would we allow a particular action to occur, or a particular attitude to prevail in our working with children at home? If not, then you need to consider why the situation is any different in the country you are in. If we really believe children are equal and are all deserving of the same high level of care, then are actions and attitudes should mirror this, no matter where in the world we are.
  • Hold people and organisations accountable. If you come across a placement, or are involved in a project, that you think may have put children at risk, speak out about it. Go to the people in charge and raise your concerns. The only way to move forward with these issues is to first highlight that they exist and then speak out against them. Only then will we be in a position to move towards a reality where volunteering your time with children across the world is something to truly boast about, not as some shallow badge of honour, but as a constructive way to aid global child development.

Ruth is currently International Development Manager for Student Hubs, leading the Impact International programme, which aims to promote global citizenship amongst students in the U.K., by acting as a platform for them to learn more about international development, human rights and international volunteering. Alongside her day job, she is a trustee for KickStart Ghana, a charity working to enhance sporting and educational opportunities for communities in Eastern Ghana, and she sits on the Steering Committee for YTFN, a youth organisation promoting effective philanthropy. She is interested in youth development engagement, campaigning and the complexities of international volunteering.

Featured image is students taking a computer class in Ho, Ghana. Photo from EIFL.

52 break-up lines for aid workers

It’s that time of the year. A time for giving. A time for family. And, maybe a time to break-up with that special someone you met while in the field. You probably used one of our 52 pick-up lines to win their heart. Now, you can use one of these break-up lines and just be friends.

  1. I have to go. The children need me.
  2. Sorry, baby. This is just emergency sex.
  3. It’s not you. It’s Ebola.
  4. The results of your impact evaluation were just not robust enough.
  5. I decided to go native.
  6. I’m sorry, I just found out you sponsor a child.
  7. You weren’t participatory enough.
  8. Too much input, not enough output.
  9. This relationship is just dead… like aid.
  10. I don’t date people who wear TOMS.
  11. You failed my process evaluation.
  12. You were part of the experimental group in my RCT.
  13. You care more about African children than you do about me.

    One of the best Humanitarians of Tinder.
    One of the best Humanitarians of Tinder.
  14. You just don’t have enough capacity.
  15. I want someone who idolises me the way you idolise J.
  16. I might as well just ride a moto on a bumpy road.
  17. You don’t look anything like the guy with the African kids in your Tinder pic.
  18. I was drunk on indigenous alcohol – I meant to swipe left.
  19. No time for relationships, I’m busy saving lives.
  20. I found #BandAid30 on your music playlist.
  21. You failed to meet the target of 100% access to my heart.
  22. I always feel like you’re facipulating me.
  23. You’re not value for money.
  24. You’ve only ever taken up missionary positions.
  25. You refer to yourself as a global nomad on Twitter.
  26. It’s complex.
  27. Our logframe of love had too many assumptions.
  28. I’m rethinking the framework for our joint family planning and sexual reproductive health program.
  29. It’s time for a structural adjustment, as you’ve failed to adequately liberalise and drop your protective tariffs.
  30. When I said I wanted to scale up our relationship, I didn’t think you’d invite four of your mates to join us on our romantic getaway.
  31. My standing in the aid community has risen since I snapped this photo and put it up on Tinder.

    Our new favourite Humanitarian of Tinder.
    Our new favourite Humanitarian of Tinder.
  32. I’m focusing my efforts on applying for these awesome positions with WhyDev and OIC: The Cambodia Project (shameless, we know)!
  33. I was talking about how disappointing PlayPump was, and you thought I was referring to male genital enhancement equipment.
  34. You took me on holidays for our anniversary and made me sign a per diem claim form.
  35. I thought you would be a hardship posting, but without little blue pills, there was a clear lack of hardship.
  36. There are too many single, available and attractive men in the aid sector for me to focus on just one.
  37. You thought U2 was a special division of the UN.
  38. You volunteered at an orphanage after it became socially unacceptable.
  39. I’m looking for someone whose bedroom activities show a little more sustainability.
  40. You’re about as honest as the lovechild of Greg Mortensen and Somaly Mam.
  41. I’ve met someone on AidSource, the number one place to connect with like minded aid professionals. (Did we mention we’re shameless?)
  42. I’m looking to develop partnerships with other stakeholders.
  43. I just don’t see us in the same way I see Rigby-Yeoh.
  44. You took my request for more bottom-up development the wrong way.
  45. I’m looking for someone a little younger, with less low-hanging fruit.
  46. This quarterly report’s just in – we’re not sustainable!
  47. I need some post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction from an external agency.
  48. I just have so many invisible children who need me.
  49. This relationship has been a disaster, and I need some relief.
  50. Just like Sudan, this relationship is going South.
  51. The budget review found that you didn’t invest enough in capacity building for bedroom activities.
  52. I thought we were the next Brangelina, but it turns out we were just a TomKat.

Featured image is from Wikimedia Commons.

Last Week Today: The Global Legacy Award goes to?

The week in global news

The Global Legacy Award goes to…?

Cue drum roll.

Tony Blair.

Right. Naturally. Of Course. We totally picked him too.

We don’t understand why people are so outraged at Save the Children’s decision to choose an accused war criminal to receive the award. He totally deserved it for his “leadership on international development.” And while this may signify that we can no longer rely on political activism from large and professional charities, we don’t believe any mistake was made, because if a mistake had been made, surely STC would have said, right?

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister

Americans are protesting across the country due to a grand jury’s decision not to prosecute white police officer Darren Wilson for shooting dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson.

Police cleared large protest sites in Hong Kong on Wednesday, but protestors returned and violent clashes continue.

And 40,000 Masai people will be evicted from their homeland in Tanzania, because the Dubai royal family bought the land to hunt big game.

This week on the blog

Volunteering abroad with children: A game of double standards?

Working with children in Western countries requires qualifications and background checks. Not so in developing countries. Ruth Taylor asks what’s with the double standards?

Fair trade: All it’s cracked up to be?

Fair trade-certified companies are ethical and sustainable, and they pay their workers a living wage. Right? Liza Moiseeva investigates how fair trade really affects farmers.

Coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This week in globaldev

Pictures: Workers in the informal economy

The death of international development

Say ‘burn rate‘ one more time

Raising the minimum wage isn’t enough

Doing development differently

Video: Why are some people poor and others are rich? (08:47)

Current opportunities

Community Manager: Use your experience in content and community management to grow the AidSource network. | WhyDev

Fundraising Director: An experienced fundraiser is wanted to raise much needed funds for a Speech Therapy program in Cambodia. | OIC: The Cambodia Project

You can also check out our events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

Featured image is Tony Blair, UK’s former Prime Minister. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Fair trade: All it’s cracked up to be?

Did you know October was Fair Trade Month in the U.S.? You might have easily missed it if you’re not working within a fair trade-related field. In any case, how much social impact fair trade creates has been in question since the movement took root. So, let’s try to figure out if you should feel bad for missing the Fair Trade Month hype.

As I mentioned in my previous post, fair trade is “an organised social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and to promote sustainability.” Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search revealed that some fair trade farmers receive a lower wage than their counterparts working for private farms! We’re not even talking about bridging the poverty gap (I gotta use the development lingo here, don’t I?) or sending one’s kids to school. One farmer whose story I found (appropriately named Prosper) works for the fair trade-certified Kuapa-Kokoo cooperative in Ghana, and every month he earns $10 less than his peers. So, I asked myself, what is the point?

The “point” can be found in the fair trade premiums paid by fair trade-certified companies to be spent on local projects voted on and chosen by a local community. These projects can take the form of re-investment into businesses or socio-economic undertakings, such as building wells or schools. Don’t we all just LOVE local initiatives, especially those “democratically decided” by the community in question? It must be a development fairy tale!

Unfortunately, it is not. First, the fair trade model itself is partly to blame: Fairtrade International charges a fee for its certification, which strains the already tight budgets of the farms, leaving less cash flow to spend on wages (and lowering their competitive advantage). Point goes to private farms. Second, the prices Fair Trade International offers to farmers are only marginally higher than minimum (not even median!) market wages. Essentially, what the FairTrade Labelling Organization (FLO) does is set up price floors (minimums) to protect farmers from negative price fluctuations. Generally, FLO pays 44 cents/kilogram above market minimum prices and 11 cents/kilogram in premiums. These statistics are for coffee prices only. From them, it is fairly easy to extrapolate the magnitude (or lack thereof) of the fair trade price difference. The point is that guaranteed fair trade prices are, more often than not, lower than market prices, and when they are actually higher, it is NOT enough to create impact. (You can find the full updated list of Fairtrade product prices here.)

What about the premiums and community projects? The Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction Project at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has a rather unequivocal answer: they don’t make a difference. The four-year research project funded by the U.K.’s Department for International Development had a primary goal of finding out whether the presence of fair trade employment opportunities had any effect on the wellbeing of people living in poverty in rural areas. The resulting comparative and longitudinal assessment of the benefits and disadvantages created by fair trade and non-fair trade schemes concluded: “This research was unable to find any evidence that Fairtrade has made a positive difference to the wages and working conditions of those employed in the production of the commodities produced for Fairtrade certified export in the areas where the research has been conducted.”

In other words, wage-employees working with fair trade-certified organisations are not paid any more than workers working with non-fairtrade certified companies, and their working conditions are no better (and sometimes worse and sometimes involve child labour!).

Yet another troubling finding stated that, in some cases, the structure of fair trade cooperatives was aggravating rural inequality.

These latest (April 2014) findings seem to confirm something that has long been known but has only been whispered about in academic circles. Perhaps this is why Fairtrade International so publicly displayed its disappointment with the research in its statement. While Fairtrade International has a right to challenge the research findings, the company’s status quo should have been challenged long ago. Fair trade is a great idea, and at least some consumers are buying it (no pun intended!). But, it seems ludicrous to me to continue buying fair trade products now that I know the farmers working with fair trade companies are no better off than those working with regular companies! Essentially, what this means is that fair trade’s social impact is zero. That’s disheartening, and calls not only for more research, but for systemic changes within the Fair Trade Movement.

Featured image is coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Volunteering abroad with children: A game of double standards?

This post originally appeared on KickStart Ghana and is re-printed here with permission. It is the first in a two-part series on volunteering with children, so check back next week for part two!

By Ruth Taylor

Let me ask you. How many times have you logged onto Facebook and been greeted with a newly-updated profile picture of one of your friends, volunteer-smile intact, affectionately cuddling a small, rather grubby-looking child, from an unknown African nation? Once? Twice? Too many times to recall?

If you haven’t experienced it personally, you’ll probably be aware of the growing phenomenon sweeping schools, colleges and universities across the Western world. In search of adventure and a desire to break normalcy, our young people, during their gap years or summer holidays, are jetting off to volunteer (more often than not, with children) in countries across the Global South… It’s become a craze. Like over-reliance on Apple products and an addiction to Starbucks, voluntourism is becoming something by which this generation is being defined. It’s almost come to be seen as a rite of passage (albeit for the relatively well-off) – something you do before, during or after university. Something that will “set you apart” and help you land your £40k-starting-salary graduate job.

Let me ask you another question. How would you react if the craze was reversed? Would you allow your children, your younger brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, to appear as the photo fodder within a Kenyan’s profile picture? An Ethiopian’s? A Cambodian’s? Would you be okay with letting the young people close to you feature in the strange online societal competition of foreigners, where you wear your profile picture with a small child of a different skin colour as a badge of honour, boasting about the fact that you – you noble and benevolent being – have volunteered abroad?

I have a feeling we might be slightly less agreeable than others across the world and so starts my second blog for the summer – the complexity of volunteering with children and the complicated way we, in the West, appear to have different ideas and ideals about what’s acceptable with regards to working with young people, depending on where in the world they live.

As I mentioned in my previous post for KickStart, the world of international volunteering is a murky one, although all too often, volunteers and potential volunteers view it through rose-tinted glasses. When we consider volunteering abroad specifically with children, the situation becomes murkier still, what with child protection and welfare, the complexity of cross-cultural teaching and learning and a whole host of other ethical issues regarding the suitability of (usually) unqualified volunteers working with (largely) vulnerable young people. It is a topic that is receiving far too little attention.

The image of the happy, white Westerner surrounded by the beaming faces of black children has become the snapshot associated with what it means to volunteer abroad (put it into Google and tell me I’m wrong!). Accompanied by the emotive language of voluntourism websites, it is not a surprise that volunteering your time on child-specific projects is the most popular form of volunteering abroad today.

I’m as fond of children as the next person, and if given the opportunity to play with kids from any nation for a couple of weeks, I’d have a hard time turning it down. But arguably as the most vulnerable individuals within any society, surely these children deserve a little bit more structured thinking? How exactly is the best way to support their development and learning? Who exactly is the right person to do this for the upmost benefit of the child? What potential damage could be being done to these kids if the project was to go wrong or just be plain neglectful?

By sending out our well-intentioned but unqualified and inexperienced 18 year olds, are we actually actively harming the very children we are so carelessly flaunting on our profile pages?

A recent experiment saw me take to the Internet and the websites of five of the biggest voluntourism companies to see how long it would take for me, a 23 year old white female graduate, with a smidgen of teaching experience, to sign up and volunteer with children abroad. The average was under 90 seconds. 90 seconds, with not a single question about who I am and why I’d be a good person to work with kids. I could be anyone, anyone, with any sort of horrific motivation for wanting to spend unsupervised time with children.

Obviously, in the vast majority of cases, volunteers wishing to work with children are simply young people with a desire to improve the situations of other young people living lives very different to their own. However, there are incidences of people with far darker intentions having the opportunity to volunteer with children abroad, where they are unlikely to undergo any criminal records checks, be supervised whilst on project or ultimately be traced if an indecency is suspected. Would this iewer even be a possibility in the U.K.? The answer is a resounding no! To volunteer with children at home, you first have to wade through thousands of proverbial miles of red tape – why do we think children in other countries should have anything but the same level of security?

Through my research, I also found that the majority of voluntourism organisations do not require volunteers to have any level of experience, let alone qualifications to volunteer with children, whether in a school or a residential care institution. Can you ever imagine this being the norm in the U.K.? How many times have you seen a plane full of well-intentioned but unqualified, 18-year-old Nepalese young people flood U.K. schools or residential care homes to “teach” our children? My guess would be not that often!

This begs the question of why we feel people have to be trained and educated to a fairly high standard to work with English children, but the same does not apply when considering children growing up across the Global South. What kinds of assumptions, whether conscious or subconscious, are we making and thus basing our actions upon? Do we really believe, as our actions seem to depict, that as Westerners, even if uneducated, we are somehow more innately qualified to care for children and know what is best for them, than their own teachers, nursery nurses, even parents? Or, worse still, do we think that the children of Africa, Asia and South America are somehow deserving of a lesser standard of care? If, like most people, you balk at both of these ideas, then maybe it is about time our actions changed to mirror what we claim to believe.

In part two, Ruth details best practices for volunteer organisations and gives some tips on choosing a volunteer position.

Ruth is currently International Development Manager for Student Hubs, leading the Impact International programme, which aims to promote global citizenship amongst students in the U.K., by acting as a platform for them to learn more about international development, human rights and international volunteering. Alongside her day job, she is a trustee for KickStart Ghana, a charity working to enhance sporting and educational opportunities for communities in Eastern Ghana, and she sits on the Steering Committee for YTFN, a youth organisation promoting effective philanthropy. She is interested in youth development engagement, campaigning and the complexities of international volunteering.

Featured image is a classroom in Kenya. Photo by Deepa Srikantaiah.

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