All posts by Janet Newbury

Janet lives on Canada's Sunshine Coast, where she is currently completing her PhD in Child and Youth Care. Exploring alternatives to what she sees as the widespread individualization of social problems has enabled Janet to study within a broad range of subject areas such as: loss, substance use, research methodologies, the bureaucratization of human service practices, and social justice. Her work experiences are also varied, but she is particularly interested in community initiatives that focus on strengths and acknowledge the systemic nature of many social problems (rather than locating the onus for change within individuals who experience them). Because of her belief in the power of citizen engagement, she is involved in several exciting community initiatives, including the Powell River Diversity Initiative and the Sunshine Musicfest.

Resetting, not offsetting, for post growth futures

By Janet Newbury, Sharon Ede and Joshua Nelson

As members of the Post Growth Institute, we have been having some animated conversations regarding the topic of carbon offsetting (aka ‘carbon neutrality’).

On the one hand, we aim to be as transparent as possible about our successes and shortcomings when it comes to our own consumption patterns.  Some individuals and organizations are using the calculation and offsetting of carbon usage as a way of doing that.

On the other hand, we see offsetting as deeply nested within the growth model.  As such, not only do some of us believe the popularity of offsetting will not bring us closer to post growth realities – there seems to be plenty of evidence so far that it will in fact move us farther from them.

Before getting into the details, how about a few stories?

Image credit: kumaravel

Once upon a time …

  1. … there was a guy who was becoming increasingly conscious of his impact on the world that sustains him.  He began to think more deeply about the things he does that damage the delicate balances required for that world to thrive.  He started riding his bike to work.  He chose to holiday closer to home.  He enjoyed growing and preparing local food.  One day, his friend invited him to go on a back-country adventure in a 4×4.  He thought about it, and asked some very deliberate questions about how much fuel might be consumed on such a trip.  He decided to look into ways to offset it, so that he could enjoy the 4×4 trip, knowing he was simultaneously contributing to a good cause.
  2. … there was a vending company that  supplied schools all across the country with sugar- and chemical-laden beverages that come in single use containers.  This company decided to become ‘carbon neutral’ as an innovative way to market itself.  Brilliant!  From that point forward, all of the delivery trucks could proudly display signs that this was a ‘socially responsible’ company.  Business flourished, and all the kids in all the schools still got their sugary drinks.
  3. … there was a transport company, one of the largest in the land, which wanted to be a good role model for other ‘corporate citizens’.  Along came BP’s Global Choice fuel emissions offsetting scheme, and the opportunity just seemed perfect.  Once the transport company signed up for the challenge, its managing director publicly exclaimed: “The more kilometers we travel, the more we help Australia’s environment.”

What does offsetting actually do?

The most common understanding of the answer to this question goes something like this: By purchasing carbon credits, we are investing in activities (such as the planting of trees or adding of renewable energy instead of carbon-energy) which restore the balance of the ecosystem by facilitating the reintegration of the carbon that has been used in the burning of fossil fuels or by removing carbon-emitting that would have be placed without the offset.  So, for instance, if I take a flight (which burns fossil fuels) I can buy carbon credits (which contribute to the planting of trees) to negate the damage that otherwise would have taken place because of my flight.

However, that’s not actually how it works.

We are, in fact, dealing with two carbon pools: the active carbon pool (which moves among forests, atmosphere, and oceans, and rarely increases or decreases), and the fossil carbon pool (which is locked away in coal, oil, and gas deposits – until extracted, that is).  When fossil fuels are used, carbon is being irreversibly shifted from the fossil to the active carbon pool.

Trees don’t store carbon in the lock-tight manner of the fossil carbon pool: forest fires, timber harvesting, disease, decay, and other processes keep this carbon active. And planting trees is not a benign activity either – not at this rate.  The demand that is now emerging for large-scale tree plantations is being resisted by many who are most effected by the trend.  Indigenous peoples and other communities that rely on forests in areas where these plantations are being developed are facing loss of land, and increased violence and disputes.

Similarly, the ocean, which also acts as carbon sink, can only absorb so much before its ability to keep absorbing increasing amounts of CO2 diminishes. Offset or not, the use of fossil fuels permanently adds otherwise inert carbon into the active pool. To further complicate the issue, the warming-climate fuelled melting of permafrost and release of previously locked up carbon will release yet more significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, creating a vicious circle.

Add to this fact the likelihood, as demonstrated in the three stories above, that carbon offsetting may actually increase the consumption of fossil fuels, and it becomes clear that rather than being a solution, offsetting is a potential contributor to climate change as well. Take, for example, the fact that several large airlines are now making claims of carbon neutrality, and promoting themselves on that basis. Our carbon emissions continue to raise with increasing speed, regardless of efforts in offsetting.

It is often the communities that are most reliant on the land which are the first to experience the devastating effects of climate change. If these communities suffer from the loss of land that comes with tree plantations used for offsetting and from the emissions that come with the still increasing levels of consumption of fossil fuels, then that means these communities are doubly impacted (while others profit from it, often none the wiser to the reality).

We must also pay attention to the phenomenon that has become known as Jevon’s Paradox: History has shown us that with each technological advance that improves efficiency, consumptions rates have actually increased, not decreased, over time.  From wood, to coal, to fossil fuels, this has proven to be the case.  So for us to suddenly believe that a technological fix such as carbon offsetting will solve the issue of consumption (carbon or otherwise) once and for all, we may be naively turning a blind eye to a fairly predictable truth about ourselves.  And as the stories above indicate, increased consumption on the basis of offsetting is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

The familiar language – and practices – of reduction

Of course, we don’t need much imagination to think outside the box of offsetting.  Rather than asking how we can offset what we consume, we can go back to the tried and true practices of reducing our consumption and emissions, and eliminating what we can.

On a systemic level there are some really easy wins if there is the will to pursue them.  For example, what if we no longer permitted or facilitated boomerang trade: the exporting and importing of like goods?

Imagine if this were not longer happening:

  • 5,000 tons of toilet paper exported from the UK to Germany, but then the UK imports over 4,000 tons back again from Germany
  • 22,000 tons of potatoes imported from Egypt to UK and then the UK exports 27,000 tons back to Egypt
  • 4,400 tons of ice cream gets exported from the UK to Italy, and 4,200 tons is then imported back
  • 116 tons of ‘sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, gingerbread and the like’ goes into the UK, rumbling past 106 tons headed in the opposite direction

And what about altering the food production and distribution processes that contribute to the hideous waste of food that is an accepted feature of globalisation?  Or doing away with the rise in disposable plastic products in the name of efficiency and convenience?

These shifts do not require complicated systems of design and distribution, or new technologies yet to be discovered.  They simply require political will which is at the moment directed elsewhere, because of our collective obsession with growth and the belief that it is worth the damages caused by these and other practices.

On a personal level, we can also make deliberate choices about what carbon usage is responsible, and what we might be better off doing without.  Sounds easy, right?

It’s not.

This means, of course, that we can’t appease our guilt by offsetting on Sunday morning and consuming again for the rest of the week.  It means we will all face charges of hypocrisy while we fumble towards more gentle ways of living.  And it means being gentle with ourselves and each other as well, knowing that we live in the very conditions we are striving to transcend, and we are all going about it imperfectly.

But with that in mind, it means we can start from wherever we are.  We don’t need a mathematical formula in order to participate in this collective transition.  We just need to try, share our mistakes and successes, and support one another along the way.

This is a cross-post from the Post Growth Institute Blog.

Child poverty in context: more than one way forward

Global Citizens

In times of unprecedented globalisation and immediate access to international news, events around the globe have become a significant aspect of daily reality for most of us. We often find the destructive acts of nature, economic recessions, and ongoing conflicts that we witness making their way into dinnertime conversation, but little else. However, for some (citizens, institutions, and governments), these events fuel efforts towards poverty alleviation.

In Canada, we have CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, to support those who struggle elsewhere, and our Australian and American counterparts have AusAID and USAID, respectively.  The mission of CIDA is to” lead Canada’s international effort to help people living in poverty”, and according to its website, CIDA does this through its aid effectiveness agenda which focuses efforts along three theme priorities, namely: “increasing food security, securing the future of children and youth, and stimulating sustainable economic growth.”  Likewise, AusAID and USAID also prioritise poverty alleviation, and economic growth is also among the primary commitments of these organisations.

Poverty Close to Home

Of course there is poverty within Canada as well; in fact according to a recent book called Child Poverty in Canada by Patrizia Albanese, we remain “among the least successful at addressing child poverty among modern, industrialized nations” (p. xiv).  Even though we committed in 1989 to eliminate child poverty nationally, rates actually increased in the ensuing decade, and it wasn’t until 2007 that they finally dropped to the 12% they had been in 1989.  While we celebrated this ‘success’ in 2007, Albanese reminds us that 18 years prior it had been “cause for alarm and shame” (p. 107).

Perhaps taking a look at how we address poverty at home can shed some light on our international initiatives, and their prospects.  If we can learn what took place during those years in which child poverty increased in Canada – the same years during which economic growth also increased – we may rethink our approach to international aid in relation to poverty alleviation.

Beyond Causal Explanations of Poverty

Albanese is careful not to simplify such a complex social issue as poverty.  She dedicates a great deal of time and attention to family, neighbourhood, and community factors, and attends to matters of gender inequity, racism, disability, age, and geographic and language barriers (which are all indeed significant in complex ways).  However, she reminds us that focusing our attention in these areas can lead us to “forget the wider social, political (public policy), and economic factors that help to create and maintain the low-income status quo” (p. 56).

It is to these factors that I will turn for the remainder of this discussion.  My reason for focusing on these economic and political factors is not because they are more important.  I am focusing here because I think we will find that in light of Albanese’s research, ‘economic growth’ as a ‘priority theme’ for international aid will cease to make sense.  Fortunately, Albanese does not leave us without alternatives.  Drawing from an array of international examples and from Quebec’s precedent-setting child-care initiatives, she demonstrates that there are much more hopeful, sustainable, and pragmatic possibilities already in play, thus demonstrating the potential of more egalitarian policies.

But first, a brief note: Why refer to child poverty, and not family poverty or poverty in general?  It is clear that children are not impoverished in isolation; their poverty is connected to the poverty of those who care for them.  On the one hand, this shift has been a strategic and successful move on the part of anti-poverty advocates; centering child poverty has helped to keep poverty on the agenda in a political climate that is more likely to blame individual adults for their own hardships.

At the same time, state policy discourses have drastically shifted from referencing family poverty to child poverty.  Perhaps not surprisingly, “the shift in discourse has de-gendering and individualising effects on family poverty” (p. 3), contributing to the view of poverty as a matter of ‘charity’ rather than a social justice issue.  This move towards charity is outlined in great detail by Shereen Ismael in her book Child poverty and the Canadian Welfare State: From Entitlement to Charity.  But I digress …

Poverty in Political Context

Both Albanese and Ismael track the ideological changes in Canadian governance in relation to child poverty rates.  As Ismael describes it, we have transitioned from a welfare state to our current residual state, which explicitly promotes an ethic of liberal individualism.  She links this transition with such developments as: extreme market capitalism, emphasis on child development (which individualises child poverty), and the downgrading from federal to provincial jurisdiction of matters of social policy.  All of these shifts have led to a current situation in which child poverty has been normalised and as a result, is not decreasing despite increasing national and provincial economic prosperity.  She notes that “in the welfare state, increases in federal expenditures precipitated declines in child poverty; under the residual state, increases in federal expenditures accompany increases in child poverty” (p. 59).

Albanese, although using slightly different language, observes similar shifts and notes that both Canada and the US are among the ‘less generous’ of the affluent nations.  Within societies such as ours which have adopted neo-liberal policies, there is an assumption that the state will step in if citizens are in dire need, but will otherwise leave individuals to make social welfare decisions themselves.  She notes that “the mixture of Canadian policies … assume and reflect the perspective that a main cause of poverty is the individual and his or her personal choices and actions” (p. 103).

What Else Can We Do?

It is not necessarily how much money governments spend, but how they spend it, reminds Albanese.  While economic prosperity is comparable between the EU and Canada, for instance, rates of child poverty are much lower in the EU than in Canada.  Furthermore, it has been during the periods of our most accelerated growth that the gap between rich and poor has grown the most in this country (with both the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer). Thus, the argument that we need to grow economically (and help others do the same) in order to bring people out of poverty simply doesn’t follow.

Looking to Western Europe, however, we can see that there are realistic approaches to alleviating poverty, and that doing so means prioritising people, not markets.  According to Albanese, social democratic regimes – such as can be found among the EU – are more likely to

“support programs promoting the material, educational, emotional, and physical well-being of all its citizens – to prevent poverty … This is done through the implementation of generous parental or maternity leaves, paid health and family related leaves, employment supports, accessible child care programs, national housing strategies, etc.” (p. 104-105)

A significant component of social democratic state interventions is that they are more likely to provide universal measures (such as higher minimum wages, and those listed above), rather than targeting poor families.  Universal supports are far more effective in: a) preventing poverty from becoming an issue for families; and b) enabling them to ‘exit’ impoverished situations more readily.  Targeted programs, on the other hand, which focus resources only on those ‘in need’ often serve to trap families in situations of dependency because it is difficult for them to access (and sustain) supports unless they are destitute.

Intentional Engagement

In 2005, Canada, Australia, and the U.S were among the bottom third of 26 developed countries compared in terms of child poverty rates.  Given our dismal domestic track records when it comes to poverty, are we really in positions to provide recommendations and aid on an international level?

It could be argued that given our relative affluence and privilege, it is our responsibility to engage in matters of social justice, whether within our borders or beyond them – and I agree.  But is it ethical to be informing our interventions based on what we are doing domestically (but we know isn’t working)?  In this sense, how we engage with these matters is itself a matter of social justice.

For instance, rather than focusing on ‘economic growth’ in our international initiatives, might we instead consider Albanese’s observation that it is not simply how much is spent, but how governments distribute their resources that contributes to lower rates of child poverty?  The recommendations she makes, several of which are listed above, draw from many successes around the world, as well as recent ones in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Given that these are not the most affluent provinces in Canada (and that British Columbia, which is growing economically, has the highest rates of child poverty in Canada), perhaps we should take heed: poverty alleviation does not rest on economic growth.

Drawing from the vast body of evidence as to what is and is not effective regarding poverty alleviation, we can see that insisting on prioritising growth in efforts to alleviate poverty (at home or abroad) is not only misleading, it will continue to move us farther from our stated aims.


This article can also be found at

Believing is seeing

A couple of years ago I read a fabulous book by James Scott called Seeing like a State.  Rather than portraying an in-depth look at the unique complexities of one failed (or floundering) state, he took a refreshingly more contextualised approach. By widening his gaze and looking at the commonalities across the globe and over time, Scott makes some similarities among them embarrassingly apparent.  In doing so, he suggests that the failures which have been historically noted as disastrous examples of poor decision making are anything but exceptional.  The take-home message from the book (if I understood it correctly) was that by looking broadly and deeply in order to note these similarities, we can finally see where we keep going wrong, and how problematic ideology informs policies and actions.  Many of the failures Scott notes in his book involve growth-oriented notions of progress: monoculture crops, mass production, urbanization.  He makes a compelling argument that even good intentions go wrong when such considerations are not accounted for.  It is an argument with which I certainly agree.

And then last year I read another noteworthy book, this one a little more widely read.  In Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein takes a similar approach to Scott in terms of methodology: she casts her gaze across a vast expanse of time and space in order to recognise global economic (and other) patterns that could be easily overlooked when focusing on the intricate details of the here and now.  Klein’s premise, however, differs greatly from Scott’s.  She does not convey the common circumstances that have left populations devastated in every corner of the world as failures or mistakes.  On the contrary, she presents a convincing argument that for those at the helm, things have unfolded exactly as they should have.  Although a heart-wrenching idea to entertain, this book raises the possibility that part of the genius of the neo-liberal model’s success is our widespread willingness to interpret ongoing social injustices as mistakes.

The media has left many of us shaking our heads in dismay and confusion, as last year’s destructive earthquake in Haiti was respectfully acknowledged.  Discussions about the failure of the concerted effort to support Haitian people in the aftermath of the quake have ensued. But, as I reflect on the two perspectives above, I fear contemporary discussions are missing an important element of the situation.

This has been driven home to me loud and clear as I contrast the current discourse of ‘good intentions gone wrong’ with yet another incredible book I am now in the midst of.  Pathologies of Power was written by Paul Farmer, an American-born physician and anthropologist who has been living in Haiti for decades.  He wrote this book in 2003; the copy I have is an updated version published in 2005.  (Please take a moment to digest these dates, in relation to current discussions about the plight of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake).

Farmer’s book is incredibly well-researched and well-reasoned.  While he also shares Scott’s and Klein’s contextualised approach to global affairs, he dives deeply into the particulars of Haiti’s situation, as it is the part of the world he knows best.  He goes into great detail about the relationship between America and Haiti in recent history, including American involvement in the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, and the detainment of Haitian refugees in Guantanamo, Cuba.  Below, is an excerpt which focuses on what happened in the period between those two events:

For ten years, including the last four of the Duvalier dictatorship and six years of military juntas, the United States, in defiance of international law, forcibly returned Haitian refugees to their country.  This was the result of an arrangement, brokered in 1981, by which the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier permitted U.S. authorities to board Haitian vessels and to return to Haiti any passengers determined to have violated the laws of Haiti.  The United States granted asylum to exactly eight of 24,559 Haitian refugees applying for political asylum during that period.

In the two weeks after the coup of 1991, with the attention of the world press fixed on Haiti, the United States suspended the practice of seizing and repatriating Haitians … a quarter of a million Haitians were displaced in the first three months after the coup, by conservative estimates.

On November 18, 1991, with an estimated fifteen hundred Haitians already dead and military repression churning full throttle, the administration of U.S. President George Bush announced that it was resuming forced repatriation; those intercepted would be returned to Haiti without being interviewed by the INS … (p. 55).

Farmer continues to describe how this was in direct violation of both American and international law.  But what is most significant (to me) about Farmer’s book is his emphasis on injustices that somehow manage to seep into the spaces around and between laws, a process which he (among others) terms “structural violence” (p. 82).  And on this topic, in the case of Haiti, Farmer doesn’t mince words.  He identifies how a number of institutions are systemically “punishing Haiti” (p. 86) – the news media and the types of narratives it readily takes up being but one of them.

His analysis is particularly relevant now, a year after the earthquake in Haiti, as concerned citizens around the world are dumbfounded as to what went wrong.

I find myself wondering, however, whether our confusion is a result of asking the wrong questions: seeking solutions to the wrong problems.  What if we asked more questions about the systems at play that have been influencing Haitian reality since long before January, 2010?  What might we learn if we take power dynamics seriously, as Farmer urges (and Klein, too, for that matter), and allow ourselves to consider some of the difficult possibilities that follow?

Coming from such a perspective, the events of the last 12 months might be less surprising, and we might be less inclined to interpret them as mistakes or failures.  Indeed, a mere three weeks after the earthquake, it was observed by Graham Lavery that turning thirsty people away from a portable military filtration system in Port-au-Prince because it didn’t meet Canadian potable water standards (and providing bottled water instead) was a recipe for disaster.  “The soldiers turn away people arriving with buckets; they take their water instead from the streams that are polluted in the extreme, creating yet more health issues in an already devastated city.”  If a casual observer could predict the cholera outbreak that indeed occurred a mere 10 months later, then surely those in decision-making positions did too.

What’s complicated for me in all of this is how to understand these power dynamics.  It would be very easy to identify a villain, claim that power is being wielded unjustly, and take it back.  However, I am certain that James Scott’s version of events is also at play here: amidst the systemic violence identified by Farmer, there are also good intentions at play.  There are a great number of dedicated individuals and institutions with the well-being of children, families, and communities at the heart of what they do.  I think we need to be careful, when critiquing one single story of events, not to simply adopt another one.  Power dynamics are just that: dynamic.  And in the Foucauldian sense of power, there is no stepping outside of power or possessing it.  There are only the ongoing processes of finding different (and hopefully more just) ways of engaging with it.

So if that is the goal – to find more just and effective ways of engaging in global events – then I think we have to be realistic about some of the power dynamics that are at play, and not preclude them from consideration simply because they are undesirable, too complex, or highlight our own culpability.

This is particularly tough for me, since it sometimes makes hope hard to hang onto.  But hope in falsehoods is not the kind of hope I’m looking for.

In all of this, what I think is perhaps our biggest challenge is finding a way to move forward amidst multiple versions of truth.  I’m not so sure ‘seeing is believing’, as the old saying goes … it seems more often to be the other way around.  In other words, my preconceived notions of what is true, possible, or believable will inform what I see and how I interpret any event with which I am confronted.  And I will find a way to make sense of that event  (be it an earthquake in Haiti, a war in Afghanistan, or an encounter with a sales clerk at home) by drawing on my pre-existing worldview.  In fact, I will probably be more likely to use my interpretation of this event to strengthen my worldview; but I will be very unlikely to shift my preconceived notions based on the exposure to new events.

If this is the case, how can very real crises be responded to when our only certainty is that there is no consensus as to what people believe is really going on?

Hope for sale

A couple of months ago, a friend sent me a powerful article by Delphine Rabet called Corporate Power in Global Governance.  The paper argues that profit alone does not encompass the primary concern for corporate entities.  Even more important is the consolidation of power. Rabet argues that when the quest for power is recognized as a central motivation, then the complex activities of multinational corporations can begin to make sense.

For instance, by 2001, “private flows of capital accounted for 87% of the nearly US$296 billion transferred from richer to poorer countries whereas official development assistance comprised less than 13 percent” (Rabet, p. 5).   Rabet explains that this kind of involvement is precisely what allows foreign firms to not only operate in developing countries (thus gaining access to their markets), but also to be granted certain legal powers (extending well beyond domestic laws) and provide access to labour, resources, and much more.  This in turn secures a kind of hegemony that increases protection for investors (real and potential), thus further contributing to the roles of corporations as powerful political players in terms of global governance.

But in order for such drastic shifts to occur in global power dynamics, corporations must “develop the ideological justification for their political existence” (Rabet, p. 7).  This is where corporate social responsibility (CSR) comes in.  Rabet argues that “CSR contributes to the construction of an ideological system which consolidates the power of particular actors in the international realm” (p. 7).  She suggests that rather than contributing to their stated philanthropic aims, CSR serves (and is intended to serve) the political purposes of corporations in that it confirms “the imperatives to protect the wealth generation processes” by highlighting the central place of free markets in efforts towards positive social change (p. 8, emphasis added).  Indeed, through CSR, corporations even attach themselves symbolically and otherwise to legitimate political actors, including states.  This contributes to the hegemonic shift, leading to extremely unequal power dynamics which can, nonetheless, be experienced by parties on both sides of the relationship as voluntarily entered into.  Therefore, even though developing nations are now increasingly dependent on a smaller and smaller group of very powerful entities in more and more ways, resistance seems to be limited to a soft hush and nearly everyone can sleep at night.

Having read this article, it was impossible to overlook – and not be terrified by – the immense corporate presence at a recent event I attended as a chaperone for a group of high school students.  October 15 was Vancouver’s second We Day – a massive event consisting of motivational speakers (including Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and Rick Hansen, to name just a few) and musicians (including Hedley and The Barenaked Ladies).  The arena was full of 18,000 teens from all over the province and beyond, excited to hear how each of them can ‘be the change they want to see’, with two other events of equal size taking place in other Canadian cities.

The energy in the space was undeniable.  And the intentions brought there by teachers, volunteers, presenters, and attendees were surely coming from the right place.  So why did it feel so wrong?

Allow me to paint a picture, and then return to the issue of corporate social responsibility:

We Day took place at the ‘Roger’s Center’ – a huge sports arena bearing the name of a telecommunications company.  Waiting in line outside, the kids danced to beats being pumped from the promotional tent of a radio station.  Once through the doors, we walked past opportunities to win free stuff from Nature’s Gate (a ‘green’ food company) and buy bottled water (the proceeds of which we could be assured were contributing to a good cause).  Once past the T-shirt sales, we made it in to our seats to be greeted by a (reusable) bag of free stuff including coupons for Telus, Nature’s Gate, Me to We promotional material, a book, and a few other items.  Then we sat down, watching Telus, CTV, and Omers Worldwide advertisements slide across the screens in front of us as we waited.

When the show finally began, I had some difficulty discerning the invited speakers from the corporate representatives.  Spokespeople from companies such as The Vancouver Sun and The Keg Steakhouse and Bar spoke passionately to their captive young audience about the good their businesses are doing for the world’s least privileged citizens.  Those companies that weren’t represented in person aired slick, loud adverstisements, introduced by Entertainment Tonight’s Ben Mulroney: “Now let’s watch this video about how Telus believes in the power of young people to change the world”, met with ear-piercing applause.  Aviva Insurance put forth a challenge to all 18,000 students to enter their contest, the prize of which will be a portion of 1,000,000 dollars donated by the company for youth-led initiatives for social change (successfully making Aviva a topic of conversation on the bus ride home). During the lunch break Coke Zero, CTV, Molson Beer, Air Canada, and Disney advertisements encircled the entire arena.

The message was clear:  It’s up to us to change the world.  And with the help of some powerful corporate entities, we can do it.  The necessity for corporate handouts was made evident, despite the mantra, “It’s not a handout … It’s not charity … It’s sustainability” being emphatically repeated by We Day representatives throughout the day[1].

I understand the argument that perhaps we need to use ‘the master’s tools’ in order to get the job done.  And indeed, this may be a legitimate approach at times.  But my argument is that in this case, this is not getting the job done.  In fact, the implications of this kind of initiative direct us away from the stated intentions of freedom, justice, and equality.

Keeping the earlier discussion of the hegemony of corporate power in mind, I’d like to now contextualise this event.  Craig Kielburger, who founded Free the Children 15 years ago and is the face of Me to We (along with his brother Marc), kicked We Day off by celebrating the accomplishments of Free the Children over the past 15 years: 650 schools have been built in developing countries, 10 villages have been supported through the Adopt-a-village program, over 1,000,000 hours of service have been clocked by Canadian ‘We School’ participants in the last year alone.  Women have been supported to find alternative sources of income, and clean water has been introduced to poor communities.  His message was loud and clear: in the last 15 years, we have taken great strides towards levelling the world’s inequities by contributing to these programs.  The crowd was pumped.

But the truth is otherwise.

Staying within Kielburger’s frame of reference of the last 15 years, Rabet has a slightly different observation, “it is really in the last 15 years that [philanthropic action] seems to have definitely become part of the global corporate landscape … [CSR] has moved from a peripheral and controversial function of the firm … toward a more central and widely accepted one by businesses themselves” (p. 8).

One might wonder why this is not something to be celebrated?  If corporations are taking social responsibility seriously then we can trust that finally the rich are looking out for the poor.  But again, looking within these past 15 years, the means can certainly not be justified by the end alone, because the end is not looking good at all.

According to a study by the Asian Development Bank, the gap between rich and poor in many Asian countries has notably widened from the 1990s to the 2000s, as it has in the US during the same time.  This trend is linked to the fluidity of markets that coincides with economic booms in those areas.  But that is not the only thing that has changed during this time; ecosystems have also become less accessible for citizens.  While this may seem to be a seperate area of concern entirely, there is indeed an important relationship among governance, poverty, and ecosystems.   Earthtrends explains that increasingly limited legal, political, and material access to ecosystems contributes to the vulnerability of the world’s poor.  In this way, governance is directly linked to poverty in that even though ecosystems can effectively guard against the risk factors associated with poverty, the poor are steadily loosing their access (while corporations have more).

For the rural poor in particular, public participation – not private philanthropy – is critical for positive social change.  So, while the World Bank celebrates the fact that the number of people living on $1 a day has decreased in this time frame (admitting the move has been uneven across the board), we would be well advised to take those findings with a grain of salt, as they do not account for inflation, nor do they take into account other measures of health and wellbeing, such as those identified by Earthtrends.

I returned home from Vancouver feeling fearful that the next generation is being duped into believing their power lies within their role as consumers, not citizens.  I admire the passion of the young people who attended the event, and I worry that their good intentions are being harnessed to support the hegemony of corporations, which directly corresponds to increasing global inequities and injustice.  I look at the world in which they live, and lament the fact that this single message of the value of CSR is being delivered to them from every direction.

It is critical that alternatives to this single story are offered, in order to reclaim ‘hope’ and ‘change’ before they become two more catchphrases used to sell what freedoms still remain.

A version of this article is also published at

[1] Importantly, these are not only ‘We Day’ representatives, but spokespeople for ‘Me to We’, a for-profit social enterprise which donates 50% of its proceeds.

Politics, the arts, and nature

This summer has been somewhat of a rollercoaster in terms of my personal reactions to local and global political events. Within my home province of British Columbia, Canada, there has been substantial debate over such diverse issues as a new sales tax, preservation of salmon habitat, controversial hydro energy projects, massive cuts to social services and the arts (on the heels of massive spending on the Olympics), and the fear-based response to a recent group of Tamil asylum-seekers who entered Victoria’s port in August.

Nationally, there were the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario and the skewed coverage of those who protested these meetings, as well as the privileging of (short-term) economic interests. Add to these issues the conservative government’s shameless insistence on ‘getting tough on crime’ and the classist implications of such policies, and the elimination of the mandatory national census with no public consultation, and I have become genuinely worried about what we continue to refer to as democratic leadership within this country.

Internationally, I have found myself saddened by the embarrassingly ill-informed ‘debate’ over the Islamic Cultural Center in New York and the thinly veiled racism that surfaces within such discussions. I have been disheartened by our unwillingness to learn from the ongoing economic crises, as we continue to believe in a market economy for which ‘growth’ is the only sign of success. And I feel personally ashamed of my country’s involvement in Afghanistan, and frustrated that the only news on the issue available to me as a citizen feels much more like propaganda than information. All of this fills me with apathy and despair. It feels too immense for me to be able to involve myself in any meaningful way. My political involvement shrinks to the level of dinnertime conversations.

In the meantime, and on another level, I have been having quite a nice summer. In my own little corner of the world, I have been strangely gratified by the hard work involved in gardening. Planting, nurturing, growing, harvesting, and preserving food has filled me with a sense of satisfaction I could hardly have predicted. Boating, swimming, and picnicking in picturesque places, feeling the heat of the sun and hearing the breeze, the waves, and the birds … it buoys me and somehow makes me feel alive and engaged. Taking in outdoor music and theatre performances, or even sitting in on a casual jam session, I find myself retaining a sense of hope that gets lost in the list of despairing events above. My apathy subsides and I feel propelled to action when I step away from the computer and engage in these more embodied and sensual aspects of life. I no longer experience these larger issues as beyond me; but instead recognise that I am a part of them – intricately connected even to those things from which I feel so far removed. And with such a realisation I know that I have no choice but to perseve.

Meghan Hildebrand: They Are Our Neighbors

The arts and nature are not simply pleasant escapes from the insanity of political life. They are important elements of meaningful civic engagement. They can be – and indeed have always been – significant aspects of political action. Woodstock serves as a fitting example of the power of music to draw people together. With no individual leading the movement, this was a non-hierarchical participatory event. Rather than waiting for the next great leader to make the next great move, such movements encourage involvement that does not require political clout as a prerequisite for engagement. Other examples include Live Aid, Theatre of the Oppressed, and the simple fact that when times are tough and hope is sought, it is to the poets that we often turn our attention for at least a slight hint of a way out of the current predicament.

But it is not only the inclusion of art and nature into the lives of those who are politically driven that I am advocating. It is the process of engaging in art or relating with nature from which I believe great learning can emerge. Several years ago a representative from Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue met with a committee of which I am a member. In our discussion about how to construct community dialogues, she said, “be sure to invite an artist or two to participate in the planning.” She emphatically reminded us that artists view the world differently; they think outside the box; they are visionaries. If we want to make change, artists can help us not only with what they contribute, but in how they creatively engage with the current state of affairs.

Political discussions and decision making all too often stick to the ‘facts’ – they are largely outcome-based, rational, and literal. Political decisions are generally made on the basis of what already is, rather than on the basis of what may be. The emphasis on accountability and liability makes for a fear of uncertainty in the political realm. Artistic endeavours and encounters with nature, on the other hand, are important reminders that certainty can in fact be limiting, and perhaps responsiveness and attentiveness are qualities that might be more likely to serve us if we wish to contribute to lasting systemic change. In an essay called Eye and Mind written in 1964, philosopher Merleau-Ponty effectively conveys the posture towards which I am striving. He says:

“Only the painter is entitled to look at everything without being obliged to appraise what he sees … possessed of no other ‘technique’ than the skill his eyes and hands discover in seeing and painting, he gives himself entirely to drawing from the world (p. 3) … The eye is an instrument that moves itself, a means which invents its own ends; it is that which has been moved by some impact of the world, which it then restores to the visible through the traces of a hand … The painter, any painter, while he is painting, practices a magical theory of vision … It is the mountain itself which from out there makes itself seen by the painter; it is the mountain that he interrogates with his gaze … The painter’s role is to circumscribe and project what is making itself seen within himself …. It becomes impossible to distinguish between who sees and who is seen, who paints and what is painted … The painter’s vision is an ongoing birth” (p. 6).

The focus of Merleau-Ponty’s analysis is not the painting as product (noun) but is the painting as process (verb). It is the ongoing dialectic that occurs during the doing that is portrayed as most transformative. The openness required for the painter to be able to fully and effectively engage in the painting (process) by submitting herself to it does not defeat or render her powerless. Instead, her acceptance that no painting is the complete or final action allows her to understand every painting as a contribution towards something beyond it (which will remain unknown).

I recently had a conversation with a documentary filmmaker during which the power that resides in such open curiosity became clear. As she described her filmmaking to me, she spoke about her fascination with human experience and the joy she gets from the interview process. Rather than journalistic interviewing which seeks truth and certainty, the process she described was much less directed. Her openness to receive that which her participants shared with her, and to attend to the spaces in between, involves more than mastery of a technique. In some ways it is precisely the opposite of mastery. And perhaps ironically, it is this forfeiting of control that has the potential to contribute something great – not only the product (painting or documentary) but the process that occurs in the collaborative construction of it.

It is this emphasis on creative processes, on acknowledging the unpredictability of the world in which we hope to intervene, and on the potential that lies in the relational nature of experience that gives me hope with regard to the political conundrums in which we collectively find ourselves. Art and nature are important avenues through which such emphases can be accessed, opening doors to alternative ways of engaging with local and international affairs.  Working towards positive social change does not have to mean playing the game smarter or harder.  The game itself is not working, and that is what needs to change.

We need new ways of conceptualising our world and the potential that lies within it if we want to avoid spiralling into a state of apathy in the face of despairing realities.   We need to take a step back, relinquishing the desire for control or mastery in order to contribute positively (and we need leaders who are willing to do the same).  We need to emphasize depth and quality of life over material accumulation and growth.  And in my own experience, it has been those moments in which I have embraced the embodied aspects of life, through experiences with art and nature, that apathy has been overcome in favour of intentional engagement.


Merleau-Ponty, M.  (1964).  Eye and Mind. Transl. C. Dallery, in J. Edie (Ed).  The Primacy of    Perception. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.  pp. 159-190.

A business model of care

I have recently been preoccupied with the fact that regardless of the issue at hand, business interests seem to be privileged above all else.  I am concerned about the implications of this in my own field, and have been thinking about the role metaphor plays in perpetuating this tendancy.  Allow me to explain:

We all use metaphors every day.  They enable us to succinctly draw links from one situation to another, transfer knowledge across contexts, communicate with others, and understand our world. They are crucial for communication.

Although metaphors are often thought to be merely linguistic practices, by reflecting on how war metaphors are evoked (such as ”front line’ work, ‘trouble shoot’ and ‘targets’, and of course the ‘war on terror’) it is evident that more is at play.  By noting the capacity of such expressions to provoke certain kinds of action and stifle others, it quickly becomes apparent that metaphors are more than descriptive.  They can serve to promote certain attitudes and actions (that might not otherwise even be tolerated) and silence others. In this way, metaphors do not only communicate norms, but they also to help establish them.

My current concern is the impact of business metaphors when it comes to social responsibility. A doctor friend recently told me about a disagreement she had with another doctor in which he justified a medical decision on the basis that, ‘after all, the hospital is a business.’

By gradually increasing our use of business and economic metaphors in this way and throughout all aspects of personal and professional life, we now seem to have reached a point in which the metaphor has transformed into a taken-for-granted bottom-line truth. Such metaphors/truths can render actions based on a business logic to be more intelligible, rational, and responsible than other potential actions, as was the case with the doctors, above. Thus, economic metaphors are currently serving much more than linguistic functions.

Consider the following expressions and the various aspects of life in which they surface:
• it’s an investment (in your relationship, in the future)
• that’s how we do business here
• it’s a means to an end
• not on my dime
• we need them to buy into it
• more bang for your buck
• I’m not sold on the idea

Although these ways of making sense of experience and justifying behaviour permeate aspects of life as diverse as environmentalism, love relationships, education, war, and democracy, my particular concern at present is what seems to have become a business model of care.

As a child and youth care researcher and practitioner, I can no longer deceive myself into believing the ‘helping professions’ are driven by altruistic intentions alone. It seems that (in Canada at least), social services have fully embraced a business model of care. That is, while other considerations do make their way into decision-making processes, the ‘bottom line’ is often economic when it comes to which decisions are determined to be the most viable, responsible, ‘accountable’, and thus, favourable.

I am most concerned with this overarching business metaphor that seems to guide helping practices.  By noting some of its implications for social responsibility, action, and change, perhaps space can be made for possibilities other than economically-driven ones to be recognized as viable alternatives.

In the caring professions,  evidence-based practice (EBP) has been touted as the most sure way to attain predictability and control, which are, of course, priorities within any ‘business’.  This shift to EBP has had profound effects on policies and practices. For example, addressing social work in particular, Thyer (2008) promotes EBP based on its ability to measure phenomena, evaluate efficacy, save time, attain grants and credibility, and contribute to professionalization. He asserts that by focusing on concrete, measurable aspects of their work, social workers can learn to “ask answerable questions” (p. 344) making success – and the evaluation of it – possible. Despite the fact that ‘quality of care’ does not appear on this list of assets, the reputation of EBP as the most credible approach to care continues to grow.

In the field of nursing, Walker (2003), on the other hand, critiques the assumption that EBP will result in ‘best’ practice. On the contrary, she is sceptical of movements that are based in a desire for certainty. She fears such an approach is more closely linked to economic rationalism due to limited resources than it is to a commitment to ‘best’ practice. Indeed, Walker fears EBP may limit patient choice, create biases that misrepresent evidence, oversimplify the complexities of care, wrongly interpret averages as norms, and compromise clinical freedom. She urges a commitment to developing alternatives in order to remain critical and informed, thus contributing to the provision of quality care.

Economic rationalism is currently one of the key considerations in human service design and implementation and bureaucratic organization (Foster and Wharf, 2007). However, Callahan and Swift (2007) note that this business model of services has sought “little input from its customers” (p. 158).  Moreover, interventions that are considered to be economically feasible are most often interventions that center the individual.  But when conditions are not taken into consideration, the social injustices at play can be obscured, such as the fact that the families most in need of support are not randomly dispersed. For instance, Aboriginal children, families, and communities face a wide variety of social challenges in Canada (which must be understood in context), and are more likely to be deemed ‘at risk’ than non-Aboriginal Canadians (Armitage and Murray, 2007). Thus, an individual-centred business model can give both practitioners and policy-makers tunnel vision when it comes to the broader forces at play.

It is our responsibility to widen this tunnel vision. And this is relevant on both an interpersonal and international level. Indeed, simply reading the international news with this as our lens can draw attention to the fact that the current state of affairs marginalizes some groups, who then experience perpetual and multiple struggles as a result first of certain social conditions and second of the global refusal to acknowledge those conditions. Violence, displacement, poverty, and further marginalization can then follow (see for example the battle for Congo’s mineral assets). Centring helping interventions only at the immediate and individual level does little to alter unjust conditions. By abandoning the overarching business metaphor for care, however, we can begin to widen our perspective and perhaps begin to see our own complicity in sustaining the hardships we then busy ourselves trying to remedy.

Economic metaphors encourage us to capitalize on unjust power dynamics for individual gain, rather than calling them into question. Once inequities are acknowledged, however, ‘intervening’ on an individual level without addressing those larger conditions feels irresponsible. Perhaps intentional use of metaphors that acknowledge human connectedness can move us beyond such power struggles in order to unearth some potential alternatives.  And there are seeds of such potential being sewn:

Recently I attended a day of training that was unlike most I have experienced. Gerry Oleman, a residential school survivor himself, brought together a group of human service practitioners to discuss the plight of Aboriginal communities in British Columbia, Canada. The group consisted of local social workers, police officers, teachers, nurses, and more. By bringing us together simply to hear his story and have conversations, we moved in an entirely different direction than likely would have been the case if the same group of professionals were problem-solving about a particular individual’s situation. Without said individual, we had nowhere to look but to ourselves, and the relationships among us and within our community. Our interconnectedness and the complexities of the issues under discussion were undeniable. Coming at them from an economic perspective would have made no sense at all. Talk of ‘measurable outcomes’, ‘productivity’, ‘accountability’, or ‘incentives’ would have been unintelligible in such a context. Instead, metaphors of webs, circles, and networks were called to mind as we each set to work imagining how change can occur. This brought about concrete possibilities for solutions to concrete problems, but they were significantly different because such metaphors did not allow us to position ourselves as ‘experts’ preparing to help others to change. Instead, we were discovering what we could do to be differently in our community.

Addressing social hardships with a business model of care simplifies the dynamics at play, locating the onus for change outside of ourselves as participants in these dynamics. On the other hand, contextualizing hardships and recognizing their complexities would profoundly shape the way we imagine and enact positive change – locally or globally – with each of us bearing some responsibility.

While we do indeed need to question the ways we understand and engage in economic activity, we mustn’t stop there. We also need to question the way we allow business models to influence the ways we conceive of and engage in other aspects of life as well.


Armitage, A., & Murray, E.  (2007). Thomas Gove: A commission of inquiry puts children first and proposes community governance and integration of services. In L. Forster & B. Wharf (Eds.), People, politics, and child welfare in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Callahan, M., & Swift, K. (2007). Great expectations and unintended consequences: Risk assessment in child welfare in British Columbia. In L. Forster & B. Wharf (Eds.), People, politics, and child welfare in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Foster, L. & Wharf, B.  (Eds.).  (2007).  People, politics, and child welfare in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Thyer, B. (2008). The quest for Evidence-based practice?: We are all positivists! Research on Social Work Practice, 18(4), 339-345.

Walker, K. (2003). Why Evidence-based practice now?: A polemic. Nursing Inquiry, 10(3), 145-155.

An open letter to Dambisa Moyo

Open Letter to Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa (2009).

Dear Dr. Moyo,

It was with great anticipation that I ordered your book Dead Aid after seeing you interviewed.  During the interview, I found your perspectives refreshing, well articulated, and hope-inspiring.  I was excited about the space you opened up for alternatives to the status quo.

Reading your well-researched critique of aid as a dominant way for the western world to support African countries I was once again inspired that indeed, there are other much more realistic, sustainable, and equitable possibilities.  As you indicate, there are not only two options: either provide a never-ending increasing flow of aid, or turn a blind eye.  Further, you demonstrated how foreign intervention via aid is in fact a major contributor to the corruption and conflicts that occur in many aid-receiving countries.  Rather than presenting those conditions as further ‘evidence’ that more aid is needed, you illustrate the role aid plays in perpetuating those conditions.  Your critical engagement shed light on these complex international relations.  I have not been effective in articulating my discomfort with this paternalistic model of care, and your arguments are insightful and indeed a contribution.

As I read further on (to your proposition that increased reliance on international trade is Africa’s ‘way out’), however, my experience of the book changed.  The critical engagement that was so effectively exhibited in the first half of the book disappeared.  You seemed to select evidence that supports your proposition, and strategically overlook the abundance of evidence that foreign corporate ownership of African resources, infrastructure, and development will doom the continent to even more international dependency.  The alternatives you offer simply tie African nations to the global economy in such a way that they will only thrive if other countries are thriving more.  If (as is currently the case) there is an economic crisis which places pressure on countries outside of Africa to subsidize and support their own local manufacturing and service provisions, African countries will once again be left to fend for themselves with no control over their own governance.  But worse, they will not even hold the rights to their own infrastructure.

The resistance I feel to your solutions is not merely a fabrication of what might be.  Experience has shown repeatedly in other parts of the world that the rewards to be reaped by large-scale foreign investment in Africa and large-scale trade with African manufacturers are far greater for the countries doing the investing than for those providing the resources and services.  Not only that, offering a model in which the average mosquito net maker (to borrow your example) is to benefit simply from the trickle down of investments far ‘above’ him is shortsighted and unrealistic, not to mention inequitable.  The model you offer projects the possibility of a thriving consumer economy for all of Africa: exactly the growth model that has been demonstrated as unsustainable in America, especially for Mr. Mosquito Net, who receives no bailout under such circumstances.

Allow me to contrast your example with a local example of my own: the fisherman of 20th century Newfoundland, Canada.  Quite poor and quite detached from the local market, Newfoundlanders sustained themselves largely by fishing.  Most settlements were along the coast, accessible only by boat, and nearly all men were involved in the fishing industry.  Small boats, small nets, small yields: but large enough to sustain their small communities.  (Please note, I am not suggesting life was easy.  Government intervention was indeed necessary.  The kind of intervention you advocate, at the scale to which you propose, however, is highly problematic).

Enter offshore international fisheries.  Big boats, big nets, massive yields.  The results? Far more than enough to feed these Newfoundlanders, but strangely, that was not what happened.  The fishing vessels reaped the benefits of this seemingly unlimited resource by selling them overseas.  And worse, because they were fishing so ‘efficiently’ offshore, the local fishermen closer to shore began to experience a decrease in their yield.  They soon had no choice but to join the dragnet crew.

That’s OK, we might think, by Dead Aid logic.  This gave them stable employment, good wages, and the ability to feed their families with far less backbreaking work.  A win-win situation – much like the scenario you paint for your mosquito net maker with the entry of Chinese development in Africa.  It is true: during this time, Newfoundland enjoyed more access to the international community, a growing consumer culture was cultivated, roads were developed, schools and hospitals were built.  But then what?

The fish got smaller and smaller, until in 1992 a moratorium on cod fishing was put in place (and still is) for the foreseeable future.  The big boats had to move on, and took their ‘stable’ jobs with them.  Many Newfoundland men were forced to move away from their families to Alberta with its promise of unlimited wealth: oil.  We are now seeing just a few short years later that this promise also came with a few strings attached.  Newfoundlanders, now with their unpayable mortgages in Fort McMurray, Alberta (thanks to the increase in accessible credit, which you also advocate), are heading home to their Atlantic island in droves: with huge debt, no fish, and no prospect of work.  All while the Newfoundland government made the huge step from a ‘have-not’ to a ‘have’ province in Canada.  So much for the trickle down.

And, as I’m sure you know, this is not an isolated case.  I realize there are many differences between the scenario I paint and the one you are now drawing our attention to.  This is because of the particularity of each local context in its time, place, and history, which is exactly my point (and I believe it was yours, oddly, at the beginning of your book).  The needs of all communities cannot be addressed with the same broad brush approach worldwide.  If it is – if the Dead Aid approach is embraced – I fear your mosquito net maker will have more in common with my fisherman than is currently the case.

What alternative am I offering?  The one I thought you were working towards in the first half of your book, which I so enjoyed.  You spoke of a need for increased government responsibility on a local level.  With current economic conditions worldwide, there is growing awareness of the unsustainability of the growth model economy.  Increasing Africa’s dependency on foreign countries through the global market is simply relocating the dependency and corruption that is currently instigated by aid.

On the contrary, decreasing African dependency on the more capitalist countries in the global economy is required for Africa to sustain itself amidst unpredictability (which is, as we all know, the only thing we can predict).  The Dead Aid model will only work (and even then, only maybe) if conditions are unchanging and optimal.  Of course, that is a house of cards on which to build the foreign policies of an entire continent.  Instead, as you indicated in your critique of aid, it is imperative that Africa look inward and draw from its own expertise, its own skills, its own resources, and most of all, its own people.

Governments play a role in this indeed, but as a buffer – not to invite large-scale foreign investment and trade, but to resist it.  If foreign aid was drastically reduced (as you suggest) and large-scale foreign investment was kept at bay (as I suggest), African governments would then a) be forced to listen to their own citizen’s voices when decision making rather than the luring voices of aid-providing countries, b) have the capacity to develop a thriving local economy that employs its own people, buys its own goods, and sustains its own infrastructure, and c) be better equipped to weather the turbulence of global economies in their ups and their downs.

What is the international community’s responsibility in all of this?  First, to ramp down the obscene amounts of money feeding corruption at a government level in Africa in the name of aid.  Second, to stop using the African continent as our own development playground, taking solace in the fact that there may be some unintended benefits trickling down to Africans here and there.  And third, to think more sustainably in our own consumption, which would include being much more responsible about how we worm our way into Africa to extract its resources, leaving civil wars in our wake.  International involvement in Africa must be much more socially responsible than it currently is, and must be more socially responsible than Dead Aid proposes.

I am not suggesting no trade whatsoever, no investment whatsoever, and no aid whatsoever.  I am suggesting an approach that is more future-oriented, takes into account the failures of the capitalist economy, and does not offer a proposal in which Africa’s growth depends on the crumbs that are left behind after the powerhouses leave.  Perhaps more importantly, I am not suggesting something for Africa that I would not recommend in my own back yard.  These recommendations are not only for ‘developing’ countries or for communities a body of water away from me.  These recommendations are highly relevant for Canada (my home country) at the present time as well.  Responsiveness is necessary for sustainability.  Diversity is necessary for sustainability.  Moreover, the growth model is counterproductive to sustainability.

I appreciate you having opened this dialogue, as it is an important one.  But I urge you to engage as critically with trade as you do with aid – the implications of each if done to excess can be devastating.


Janet Newbury