The Orientation event was held on September 24, 2016 at the CEPA premises. The event was attended by the twenty fellows, five members of the Expert Panel, Ms. Himali Jinadasa, Country Focal Point (UNESCO), Executive Director (CEPA), Resource persons, Coordinator of the project and members of the Communications Team. The one-day orientation programme provided an opportunity for participants to understand the many dimensions of poverty and how they should use their reporting skills to investigate and document stories to the interest of the public. The programme was conducted in Sinhala language, including simultaneous translations from Sinhala to Tamil language.
Photo credits: independent.co.uk
By Nayana Godamunne
Over 60 million refugees exist in the world today, the highest number since the Second World War. As a pandemic of anti immigration raises its head at near xenophobic levels, governments in many European states are taking measures to stop the entry of such people within the physical borders of their territory, raising the question; what do we do with these large numbers of people fleeing violence, war, hunger and poverty?
Jason Buzi, the Isreali-born millionaire has proposed that a ‘Refugee Nation’ be created which would host the refugee population and thus solve the world’s refugee problem. Buzi’s unorthodox solution has generated a mixed response. However, in the background of the scale of the crisis and the declining willing of states to provide territory to refugees, Buzi’s proposition is provocative and his diagnosis of the scale of the problem and the need to galvanise a response is creative and innovative.
Buzi’s ‘radical solution’ he says, will provide a home for the world’s refugees by creating a new state – ‘Refugee Nation’. He believes that a new state can be created in which ‘any refugee, from anywhere in the world, can call home’. The new state can be created on: an uninhabited island (e.g. Indonesia, Philippines); within a large country with natural resources agreeing to carve off a sparsely inhabited area (e.g. Finland); or a sovereign, sparsely populated country allowing itself to be ‘taken over,’ with the approval of its population. Buzi, claims his idea ‘isn’t unattainable or crazy’, and that the new nation can be funded from billionaires and governments to house up to 60 million people.
Merits and de merits of the proposition
Buzi suggests that the new nation be established in a sparsely populated existing state, or on an unpopulated island.
In the event of former; what happens to the long standing population when a new nation is created? Historical precedents, such as the creation of Isreal and Liberia, evoke negative perceptions where the new nation was created on already occupied land - the fate of the Palestinian people when the Jews effectively colonised the lands with scant disregard for the settlers on the land. Similarly, the Liberian experience was oppressive for existing communities when the Americo-Liberians were sent by the American Colonisation Society. However, more viable, though mixed experiences, of historical precedents can be used such as the Mandates established by the League of Nations following the First World War where territories were mandated such as; Lebanon, Palestine, Ruanda-Urundi and Tanganyika in a situation comparable to the present crisis.
This leads us to the other option – creating a state in a hitherto uninhabited island. Whilst the idea is appealing and comes without much of the issues related with the previous option, it has its own challenges: are we at risk of ghetorrising an already marignalised population? Are we absolving states from the international obligations they have signed up on? Which country is willing and able to provide such a territory? Who will fund the investment required? There are also legitimate questions about leadership, democracy and freedom, given the diversity of the citizens many of whom originated from situations where overzealous beliefs have triggered unimaginable conflict and violence.
What will the new state look like? It will be very colourful indeed given the diverse origins of the constituent population in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture. One argument is that this diversity will create conditions of conflict leading to further displacement and waves of refugees. Whilst this is a possibility, it is less likely than conflict, xenophobia and violence which refugees would face within existing countries. Furthermore, historically there are examples of plural societies, made up of diverse populations such as those of the new world; the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If we are to go by Buzi’s proposition that self selection is the basis for being a part of ‘Refugee Nation’, it can be assumed that refugees that choose to be citizens will want to start a new and peaceful living in the new land.
Whilst arguments against Buzi’s proposition are raised by those unconvinced by the proposed solution, growing anti immigration sentiments across much of the world, calls for creative and innovative ideas for dealing with the issue. It is in this context that Buzi’s proposition is bold and inspiring. It supports migrant agency by lending to the idea that refugees have the ability to reshape their future. In Syria for example refugee populations have transformed their camps from sterile lines of military type tents set up by international agencies into ones more conducive to community style living. These peoples have skills, talents and aspirations which can and ought to be realized. Besides, there are a significant number of skilled and professionally trained individuals; doctors, lawyers, scientists and thinkers penned up in the camps whose abilities and skills can be gainfully employed. As Buzi comments ‘why not, let them use their talents to build a new nation?”
One of the more attractive aspects of Buzi’s proposition is that he starts from the principle of full, active citizenship being granted from Day One. A country, as he states, ‘where each citizen has the same legal rights to reside, work, pursue an education, raise a family, buy and sell property, or start a business – rights that most people have but may not cherish, a country where everyone is an equal citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or any other personal status.’
Given the scale of the refugee crisis, the growing resistance of host populations who have borne the brunt of insecurity, war and austerity, and the outcry by right wing populist parties in Western Europe against, the albeit, relatively small numbers that are hovering within or near their borders, there is a pressing need to move away from old ideas and modes of coping. Whilst creating a ‘Refugee Nation’ might not be THE solution, we need to recognize the limits that NGOs and international agencies have been placed in and the limits to stretching the goodwill and the political limits of the generosity of neighbouring states (e.g. Lebanon. Jordan, Pakistan) who play host to the vast number of refugees who arrive at their borders on a daily basis.
Buzi’s proposition is a response to the appeal for a new approach to deal with a dynamic human issue. ‘Refugee Nation’, is a new model, that can offer, citizenship, security, employment and a future for displaced populations who may not want to or can’t go back to their homes. Whilst the modalities of how the nation will be created and function will have to be worked out, it begs the question; is it a viable alternative response to act to ameliorate a major moral obligation of our time?
The above article draws on content from interviews, articles and blogs posted by Jason Buzi, Prof Alexander Betts and Prof Robin Cohen
Originally Published in the Huffington Post As Sri Lanka marks six years since the end of a bloody war, looking at the country's post-war political realities through art By Prashanthi Jayasekara The post-war Sri Lanka witnessed "an unraveling of a…
This may be a strange thing to say after the recent devastating landslide in the Meeriyabedde Tea Plantation in Koslanda that occupied our thoughts in the last couple of weeks, but there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ disaster. …
If you are to ask a young Sri Lankan what they want to be when they grow up, the most traditional answer is likely to be a Doctor, an Engineer or a Lawyer1. Given that the majority of the Sri Lankan population sees these professions as powerful and influential, society pressures the young2 to follow what has been set as the norm.
Meanwhile the local education system provides a syllabus that is stagnant and memorization based with very little practicality3, leaving students reeling when they face the real world. A “learn to get a job” attitude has been cultivated so well that one dares not venture out to create something new. People who don’t conform to this trend and do not measure success by the usual standards of money and fame will be seen as outcasts.
These factors have led to a serious lack of innovative, creative individuals who can think for themselves. Thus very few people leave the herd and find their own calling by creating products or services that people need to make their lives better.
In a rapidly evolving sphere of enterprise, Sri Lankan youth are losing out. More than 66,000 unemployed youth4 provide testimony to it. Dasa Mudalali, Nawaloka Mudalali and Wegapitya of Laughs have created entrepreneurial empires with their business acumen and strategy, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the times of Upali Wijewardena, the legendary entrepreneur who was the richest man in South Asia. Unfortunately, enterprises that address social issues haven’t emerged much or at all. This is due to the misconception that such enterprises do not make a profit5 similar to a traditional profit focused business.
Most often success in our society is measured by the amount of money made by an individual or an enterprise. What if enterprise did not mean something that makes money? What if a successful enterprise was measured by how many people it helped while preserving the environment? What if development meant co-existing in harmony? Would people be satisfied or happy with what they have? With radical and different thinking, enterprises like social enterprises have emerged, targeting not only profits but social issues that affect disadvantaged communities.
An enterprise may be a venture to provide social justice by training persons and providing them with jobs to gain a service. It requires coming out of one’s comfort zone. Embracing change, be it positive or negative is an integral part of being an entrepreneur as it broadens one’s horizons and fosters creativity by addressing the needs and wants of society in reimagined ways.
Our current enterprises with only money in focus have left in their wake, much destruction and despair. The overuse of natural resources and the non-committal clearing of lands have led to development becoming synonymous with pollution and desolation.
An enterprise can be any remarkable venture that has a positive impact on a majority of the society. The Global Poverty Project6 which creates fundraisers while providing tickets to concerts for volunteering hours is one such enterprise, as is the Grameen-Danone7 yogurt enterprise which buys milk from communities to create fortified yogurt and sells it back to them at subsidiary rates. These enterprises not only tackle social issues but also provide long term solutions with added financial benefits.
To create such enterprises, an entrepreneurial eco-system with enabling conditions is now being created in Sri Lanka. A few years ago networking events for entrepreneurs were rare and were reserved for persons who were “connected” socially. Therefore, the success of an entrepreneur from a rural area reaching success was considered to be unusual.
However with seed funds and angel investors8 like Lanka Angel Network and Venture Engine now active in Sri Lanka, any entrepreneur with a great idea can create their own enterprise. Angel investors are successful business owners and individuals who invest in aspiring entrepreneurs. As opposed to traditional investors, Angel Investors provide mentorship, connections, skills and guidance as needed. Thus entrepreneurs can fund and power great ideas while continuously scaling up and improving to iron out any kinks. These networks also assist in finding partners who can consolidate skills to scale up an enterprise to reach global heights.
To gain access to such benefits, an entrepreneur must demonstrate strong commitment and dedication to the tasks at hand as an investor will not work with one who will not give the best at creating a successful enterprise. The entrepreneur must have a clear idea of his/her introduction, value proposition, sales strategy, technical/product/delivery model, competitive analysis, risks and mitigation strategies. Having a clear purpose and understanding of the enterprise ensures credibility and long-term working ability with investors.
Social media9 and the internet provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary exposure and the ability to showcase their ideas to attract more investors and consumers. Using a website and a Facebook page has provided many an entrepreneur with the ability to scale their operations up due to the interest of investors and consumers.
With entrepreneurial learning being offered at university level10, diploma level and online through interactive learning methods, the ability to gain more knowledge about enterprise and one’s own enterprise initiative is more possible than ever before.
Someone once said that entrepreneurs are people who live like no else is willing to live for a couple of years, however they live the rest of their lives like no other person ever can. This is why entrepreneurship is not meant for the faint at heart.
Entrepreneurship is the new frontier of re-imagining development that is both sustainable and beneficial to communities. It provides livelihoods and support for countless beneficiaries while creating an enriching experience for the entrepreneur.
The potential for enterprises contributing to long-term development in Sri Lanka is immense, and with the right ecosystems in place budding entrepreneurs can thrive not only in the region, but also in the larger world.
Therefore, it is vital that we ensure that Sri Lankan entrepreneurs reimagine their wares for development11.
$1 6. http://www.globalpovertyproject.com
10. 10. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/@emp_ent/@ifp_seed/documents/publication/wcms_117393.pdf
11. 11. http://www.ips.lk/publications/series/gov_reports/sme_white_paper/sme_white_paper.html
The use of urban, rural as well as tourist sites for business purposes has seen an exponential growth during the past few years and constitutes a major component of the informal economy. For the convenience of this study, these spaces have been categorized into three sections based on their legal status: legal, de facto or semi-legal spaces. Spaces where the occupants possess deeds and legal contracts will be defined as legal spaces whilst de facto spaces denote the exact opposite of the given definition and semi-legal spaces will be defined as spaces where the occupants have to register at a municipal council or make a monthly payment to government institutions for using spaces belonging to the government.
Currently, urban spaces are being excessively used as informal income earning avenues by a diverse range of people; men, women, adults, youth, -children, abled, disabled, residents and migrants alike. Street vendors who establish eateries and mini-shops where they sell toys, plastic wares, telephone equipment, fruits, fish, vegetables, wall hangers, incense sticks, camphor by the roadside and pedestrians, railway platforms etc. contribute to the congestion and chaos of the city. Prostitution also thrives; pedestrians on the roadsides stand in disguise, holding babies in their arms and try to attract prospective customers. Meanwhile beggars, who sit by the roadsides or get into buses in search of a living, use urban spaces as a mode to earn an income.
Moreover, certain vendors apply an enormous amount of creativity to attract consumers. For instance there are groups who utilize stacks of old newspaper to make wonderful handicrafts such as flowers, trees and ladders. Some others sell incense sticks, pictures for school children’s scrap books, General Knowledge books, ephemerides etc.
Furthermore, there are quite a few semi-legal spaces within junctions and roadsides where three-wheel drivers and mini-lorry owners have been allowed by the government to sell food. Therefore, they have been able to extend their autonomy as they have been registered in relevant government bodies and have therefore received a certain level of legitimacy. In this scenario, it is important to note that they are either occupants of de facto or semi-legal spaces and their livelihoods or incomes remain highly vulnerable and unstable. Especially under recent development initiatives both these groups have been expelled from their traditional places and have had to grapple with the issue of making a steady income.
First, we need to understand why people end up with such sporadic jobs. For instance, a few vendors at Delkanda fair used the roads to make an extra living during weekends and went back to their villages to run their cottage businesses such as making incense sticks. Recently they were moved into permanent spaces by the government. Some of the three-wheel drivers also said that they ran their three-wheelers after work to make extra money. They attributed this to the rise in living costs in the recent past that had made it increasingly difficult for them to educate their children and maintain the economic stability on the home front. In contrast to this there are some people who are permanently involved in the informal sector and use it as their major source of income.
Moreover, there are groups of beggars who have opted for that way of life. A lack of access to mainstream markets also compel these groups to find alternative ways to sell their products. Especially the vendors in Delkanda Street Market come from distant areas such as Wellawaya, Ampara in order to sell their vegetable and fruit harvests because they find it hard to access mainstream markets. However, when you converse with them it is clear that many of them do not prefer their children pursuing the same job. There is a sense of frustration on their part for failing to do well in education due to many reasons ranging from economic, and cultural barriers to ignorance. It is noteworthy that many of the street vendors are dissatisfied with their jobs due to the harsh and unstable conditions they have to undergo. Meanwhile, the three-wheel drivers also believe that running their own three-wheel makes them feel more independent than engaging in other jobs.
Nevertheless, these jobs are extremely unstable and uncertain as they occupy the urban spaces which are not owned by them. There have been occasions when street vendors have been chased away by the municipalities. Meanwhile, in terms of prostitutes there is a great danger of being arrested by police and chased by people in the area as it still remains a taboo in Sri Lankan Society. What many people do not notice is that the prostitutes also provide an essential service to the society and it is crucial to provide them with safety and security. Thus, it is important to explore not only their issues related to economic securitization but also social and health securitization.
The paradox of ‘legal spaces’ that are used for businesses will not always be directed towards the ‘legal’ means of income earning. However, another aspect that we tend to forget is the close link between the people and the de facto occupants of urban spaces. Though street vendors would appear to be a menace, they are still a part and parcel of our everyday life. Street shops are easily accessible, and they provide cheap as well as rare products such as home-made, organic products which are much more nutritious than the products in the super markets. We should also re-think how dull our life would be if we do not get to buy some edibles on our way back home in the evenings from the regular wade, kadala or achcharu vendors.
As mentioned above, those who occupy semi-legal spaces enjoy a certain level of state patronage whilst the others in de facto spaces do not have any form of legitimacy. Thus, it is important to incorporate the needs of both the groups in urban designing plans and establishing employment security networks such as proper registration processes, labor laws, loan schemes and other relevant benefits that any other employer would enjoy.
‘Doctors will rarely ask whether or not you have committed a crime, what your profession is, or how much money you make. They will look at your position inthe line, call out your number, ask for symptoms, produce a diagnosis, and move on to the next person. Lawyers on the other hand, can afford to ask you whether you are innocent, what you do, and how much you are willing to pay. Depending on your answers they will decide whether or not to represent you.
Tuk tuk drivers must be like doctors. They must take anyone, and everyone, wherever they want to go. Theirs is a job that is fuelled by luck.’
It is clear that the number of three wheelers in Colombo has dramatically increased over the past few years. In fact the streets seem to be swarming with them. Parallel to this, since the end of the war, night-time adventures like trips to theatres, restaurants and clubs, have risen because people are no longer afraid to stay outdoors after dark. Safety concerns have considerably lowered.
However, it is odd that public transportation has not seen similar results.
Why then has the number of three wheelers risen? Is it because we now have more places to visit that deviate from the regular bus route? Or – for the average middle and upper middle class citizen - more money to spend and seemingly less ‘valuable’ time to waste?
Prior to writing this article, these were questions and answers that arose from pure conjecture. Though cases of supply and demand are intrinsically linked and often cyclical in nature, I could only speculate reasons for an increase in demand, while I remained at a greater loss for the rising ‘supply’ of three wheeler services.
I arrived at a simple solution: I thought I’d ask a few tuk tuk drivers.
Out of the drivers that I spoke to, some said that they had been in the profession for a considerable amount of time; between 5 to 15 years. Many had initially joined because the vocation brought with it a sense of independence, the freedom to choose their own work hours and routes, as well as the pride of owning their own vehicle.
‘Most people think that travelling in a tuk tuk is for the privileged. But the truth is the tuk tuk is driven by the poor person. It is also driven for the poor person.’ Driving a tuk tuk gives the driver the flexibility of dropping their children at school, the ability to carry things to and from their homes, to travel through narrow, secluded roads and the privilege of doing something they love all day.
Other drivers who have joined the tuk tuk race within the last 2-3 years echoed similar reasons for their choice of profession. A variety of explanations emerged however, when the following questions were posed: what did you do before becoming a tuk tuk driver? How did you purchase your three wheeler? And why do you think competition has increased so much over the past few years?
Several replied that they had been engaged in small business activities - the sale of food and beverages from the back of their vans; the exchange of plastic and aluminium materials on the pavements; some had been street vendors selling wholesale goods across Colombo- but now their shops had been cleared, relocated or discouraged due to urban beautification efforts. Others, who once ran small shops, were adversely affected by economic fluctuations in the country. A few others replied that they had moved out of garment industries, manufacturing companies, saw mills, government offices, IT departments, and other lucrative posts on pension, or due to low/no pay.
A great many of them had already owned a three wheeler, for personal and business purposes. These were immediately put to use on the streets once their luck turned. Since then, they have been struggling to make ends meet with an occupation that had once appeared to be profitable, and easy to tap in to.
In the past two years, local banks and finance schemes have caught on to this ready market of aspiring three wheeler drivers. By allowing them to pay back their loans in instalments, the purchase of a tuk tuk has become easier. This initiative is commendable as it creates job opportunities for hundreds of people who would otherwise be left unemployed. Yet, the irony is that both these loan schemes and the latest models of three wheelers, which are being imported into the country, have the average life span of four to five years.
‘Once the loan scheme is fully paid off, it will be time for me to trade in for a new one. If I am lucky, I will only have to repair and restore parts. If I’m unlucky, between now and then, I’ll have to take out another loan for something else. With or without your three wheeler, the payments go on.’ Along with these schemes, it is also rumoured that large numbers of three wheelers are being provided at substantially reduced rates by politicians and other influential persons. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in addition to looking for fulltime jobs, many three wheeler drivers have also taken to the occupation part time -running solely morning and afternoon shifts, or alternating between the day and night - while juggling other jobs in restaurants, public services, and other industries, to earn extra cash.
Moreover, the promise of a demand for three wheelers, in a city that has become dependent on such a service, has brought in an influx of out of town tuk tuk drivers. Many bring children to school, and men and women to work, and with them, a sizeable contribution to the growing numbers of three wheelers running in Colombo. Interestingly enough, their presence has been further facilitated by the introduction of meters to the tuk tuk trade. A comparatively recent initiative, the meter, aside from trying to introduce a sense of fairness and standard to prices, also attempted to draw three wheelers out of their parks and on to the streets. With this new piece of machinery, people have no longer become reliant on parks and familiar faces, but are more trusting and accepting of often unknown three wheeler drivers.
Strikingly, in relation to this new mechanism of ‘fairness’, most three wheeler drivers adamantly disputed their assurance of equality. Out of town drivers, various other drivers and taxi companies were said to be driving for lower (and sometimes higher) prices per kilometre. They could afford the reduced petrol rates outside of Colombo, and were keen on attracting more customers. Repeated suggestions were made that meter rates be standardised, albeit with the understanding that fuel fluctuations should proportionately tally with the meter rate requirements.
Above all, the three wheel drivers submitted that ‘any policy changes that are made should be both sustainable and current’. Promises which have been made in the past regarding petrol subsidies, remain unfulfilled and difficult to implement, and speed limits that have been allocated for three wheelers have long since been surpassed on the speedo-meters of newer models. Prices for three wheelers, largely due to tax, have dramatically risen in the last few years. While prices for simple parts, remain far above that of their counterparts in India and China.
‘Development should take place without harassment’. Though the conversion of roads to a one-way system has resulted in the price displayed on tuk tuk meters rising, at the same time they have made drivers travel around in circles, miss pick up opportunities and waste large amounts of petrol. Likewise, as roads are being widened, the space tuk tuk parks occupy are being encroached on. This gradually threatens to keep them running all the time or completely forces them off the road.
The instances and the frequency in which a three wheeler presents itself in Colombo’s everyday scenery, consciously, or unconsciously, has made the three wheeler ever proliferating and iconic. Despite the fact that many drivers have left behind their former jobs, or entered this job due to lack of economic security, as the competition between three wheelers continues to grow, they are finding themselves re-entering a state of uncertainty. Living on daily wages, each morning, for the most part, they must wake up and get on the road.
‘One day away from the wheel, can mean one week without a meal.’ It remains an occupation of luck and chance. Three wheel drivers are increasingly aware that for every rapid growth, there is a saturation point.
The next time you get on a tuk, be sure to ask your driver for his story. Because everyone has a tale.
Why do Bangladeshi garment workers feel compelled to work in hazardous factories? People keep asking this since the factory collapse that crushed 1,129 people to death near Dhaka. The answer lies in where these young people are within the global economy: at work, they are precariously at the bottom of the global garments value chain; at home, they face steep cost of living rises from unpredictable global food and commodity prices. Halima, 33 year old garments worker and mother of three told researchers in 2012:
"There is no guarantee for our job stability, what will happen tomorrow only God knows ... we cannot make any plans to save ... I need nutritious food for my health. But because there is not enough nutritious food in my diet, my working capability is decreasing day by day ... working with needles doing garments work causes a severe headache ... If I concentrate to see something, everything seems dim-sighted to me and my eyes fill with water. In fact, I don’t have the education for a better job."
People like Halima are being squeezed by their place in the global economy, and this is why they ‘choose’ to work in death-trap factories.
Since 2009, Dhaka garment workers have been among the people on low and precarious incomes talking to researchers about how global economic volatility plays out in their lives. In 2012, as part of the Oxfam-Institute of Development Studies Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project, with fears of price spikes still live following the US drought, teams spoke to people in 23 communities in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. The sense of a squeeze was widespread. Food, fuel and other costs of living have risen since 2007, in some cases, by double or treble or more. How well people eat is the single best indicator of their wellbeing, and people on low incomes, like Halima are not satisfied with what they eat: few nice and nutritious foods, no protein to speak of, possibly contaminated fish or vegetables, cheap additives for taste, and for the worst off, small or no meals at all. Famine-type behaviours – gathering wild vegetables, eating what is in effect livestock feed, and relying on ‘hunger’ recipes – are common.
Earning cash is pushing out other priorities. People take on higher risk jobs, in garment factories notorious for poor safety records, or gold mining in Burkina Faso. More women are out trying to earn cash to add to the family budget than before, even where women traditionally stay at home, as in Pakistan. This is having important but often overlooked social costs that further squeeze the lives of people living in or near poverty. The unpaid care work necessary for wellbeing at home is turning into a juggling act, with grandparents and older children drafted in to help with cooking and childcare, where possible. Food shopping has become a marital battle zone: hard work does not guarantee a decent meal, and men that fail to meet their families’ most basic needs feel emasculated. And people can afford to help each other less, depending more on earning a daily wage.
The good news should have been that wages and earnings are also rising, mainly. Yet progress is illusory: in real terms, people feel their wages are not keeping pace with five years of food price rises and they are in fact worse off. Many worry they can no longer save or plan for the future. Farming has become so uncertain that neither parents nor young people themselves see it as their future – most avoid it as risky, unrewarding, hard and dirty.
Policymakers are unlikely to worry that women are juggling paid and unpaid work, or that men are feeling like failures. But they will want to pay attention to what these changes add up to. Unchecked food price rises are pushing out all other priorities: the importance once paid to the invaluable work of caring for families and the social cohesion built through socialising and helping neighbours are being replaced with calculations about daily wage incomes and the cost of living. This is social change by stealth, with people being dragged into the ever tighter coils of the global economy.
The hidden costs of food price rises on individuals and communities will worsen with time. Governments cannot indefinitely rely on the ‘resilience’ of individuals or the ability of families to absorb extra unpaid care responsibilities. The assumption that communities will take care of each other in times of stress will no longer hold.
Poor people expect their governments to stabilise food prices and listen to their concerns about the cost of living. Yet their worries about food price rises affect the things that matter in everyday life – how they care for and live alongside each other - are not heard in global food policy debates. Until they are, the pressures of life in a time of food price volatility mean we are unlikely to have seen the end of workers squeezed into dangerous factories.
In one of his major books, the well-known critic of corporate capitalism and its associated globalization, David Korten has written that “To create a just, sustainable, and compassionate post-corporate world we must face up to the need to create a new core culture, a new political centre, and a new economic mainstream” in the pursuit of what elsewhere in the same book (his 1999 volume The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism) he calls the shift to “a new integral culture that affirms life in all its dimensions”. And I think that he is very right. The problem is that he, like many other writers in the field of what might be called “alternative development”, while indeed discussing in detail the political and economic dimensions of a sustainable future, does not in fact elaborate on what this “new core culture” might look like. But any discussion of “development” must surely raise this question, not only of the political changes desirable (no doubt in the direction of democratization and participation), and the economic ones (in the direction of social justice, solidarity and environmental sustainability), but also of the cultural forms that might accompany and indeed support such political and economic initiatives, neither of which exist in a social vacuum and both of which are deeply informed by cultural values. Some would even go further and argue that the roots of our current crisis – persisting poverty, conflict, ecological degradation on an unprecedented scale, loss of both biological and cultural diversity, and a cascading multitude of other problems, are to be found in our dysfunctional culture(s) and “civilizations”, ones that are out of touch with nature, have in many cases in practice severed themselves from their traditional spiritual roots, create endless forms of alienation, inequalities and social exclusion amongst their own members, and which seem to be committed to the blind belief that endless “growth” and consumption can be sustained forever.
But if we stand back from this situation for a moment and ask ourselves what role culture actually should play in development (understood here as the process designed in principle to bring about human and ecological security, meaningfulness and well-being for the greatest number), and what a new “core culture” compatible with the sustainability of our planet might look like, very fresh and interesting questions arise, and with them potentially new methodologies for approaching development in general.
In the past, “culture” has often been seen as a way of delivering “development” – as a body of knowledge often derived from anthropology, useful in understanding how best to impose a set of policy decisions on the target population – whether these be in agriculture, health, population planning, or whatever. This is legitimate up to a point: reasonable policies do indeed need to be implemented. But it also has fundamental weaknesses: the purely instrumental approach to culture, and with it the ignoring of the intrinsic value of the particular culture in question easily leads both to the subtle denigration of that culture, but also the failure to recognize that there is a feedback loop between new policy initiatives and changes in culture. A new health system in a village does not just “deliver” new therapeutic and pharmacological goods, it also changes conceptions of illness, of its appropriate treatment, alters the links between religion and illness, and profoundly changes what the medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman has called the “narratives of illness” – the ways in which people make sense of their own illness and explain it both to physicians or health-care professionals, and to others in their own community. Cultural change is, as a consequence often driven not by direct assault by other cultural forms (although of course this very much happens with the advent of TV, foreign movies, new fashions, the spread of alien popular cultures, for example), but by changes in the context of the original culture – its relationship to itself, now refracted through wider national, governmental, or developmental policies designed to “uplift” it and in which the old meaning systems of the original culture no longer quite make sense or seem “old fashioned” when compared with the new world views being promoted, and which are of course often collectively called “globalization”.
One quite natural response to this is to jump to the defense of “traditional” cultures and to try to shield them from the erosion effects of globalization. But this is not only in practice difficult, but overlooks the fact that “traditions” themselves are constructed and have a history. Another danger is to accept an implied uniformity in Korten’s conception of a new core culture. Note that he uses the word ‘culture’ in the singular. What he is no doubt implying is not a new and subtle form of cultural colonialism, but the identification of a set of core values held across a wide range of cultures and compatible with a wide range of actual cultural expressions, and which when applied would eventuate in a sustainable and socially just future for the majority of humanity. Assuming this to be the case, I would like to discuss what these values might be. But I would like to do so within a certain framework, which is that culture is the source of our collective and social imagination, both the depository of historical experiences, but also a tremendous resource for conceiving and mapping humane and viable futures for the planet. Culture then is not just what is but also what can be. One piece of very empirical evidence for this is that with our looming ecological crisis, almost all religious traditions have begun to explore their own scriptures and practices to begin the process of re-orienting themselves in a more ecologically responsible direction.
So what are these values? I would suggest the following to begin debate: the search for non-violent cultural expressions (and development has often been very violent in its effects and a high percentage of popular culture most certainly is); the promotion of positive relationships between humans and nature and seeking of a notion of human identity that transcends anthropocentrism; the recognition that culture contains and often conceals inequalities, hierarchies of power and domination, traditionally justified patterns of gender, age or ethnic discrimination and that these need to be confronted and overcome; that culture cannot be separated from economics, but must overcome the strange contemporary situation in which economics has become the master of culture, rather than its servant; the promotion of a culture of responsibility rather than of rights and entitlements; the encouragement rather than the suppression of cultural and linguistic diversity; the recognition that in a very real sense culture means life, and that if ultimately development means the enhancement and protection of life, then it is through culture that this will be achieved.
Development has come to be regarded as a technical process, and one furthermore dominated by economics. I would prefer to argue that it is an art, one that involves a continuous balancing act between preserving existing cultural and biological diversity, drawing upon them and their component parts (in the case of culture for example religion and modes of spirituality) in the attempt to conceive of better and more humane and sustainable futures, and developing culture itself as the actual content of our everyday life-worlds. We may overcome material poverty, but without overcoming our cultural poverty, our future in a state of “affluence” may be simply another form of spiritual poverty. As a patient of the anthropologist and medical practitioner Arthur Kleinman (mentioned above) so clearly put it in words that are as applicable to development as to medicine, “We have powerful techniques, but no wisdom. When the techniques fail, we are left shipwrecked”.
“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development. Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development. Today we invite John Clammer, a visiting Professor in the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan. Professor Clammer’s principle interests are in the sociology of development and the sociology of culture as applied to development issues. He has worked extensively on these issues both in theoretical terms and in the field in Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe, India and Latin America. He is the author of fifteen books on aspects of culture and development and has one in press; he has edited eleven others and is the author of over a hundred articles in books and professional journals and is on the editorial boards of several leading journals.
The article was first published in The Island on 23.09.2013
I explore the relationships inherent in the production of knowledge within Southern think tanks (STTs) as an attempt to understand how, and in what ways local and independent organizations, their initiatives, and their staff of researchers are linked to global processes of knowledge and power.
Knowledge and Power
Michael Foucault, in his analysis of power, demonstrated how power and knowledge are closely related. Simply put, power is capable of producing forms of knowledge that dictate social relations at a particular period in time. Conversely, power draws on knowledge to appropriate and legitimize itself (Rabinow 1991, Gould 2008).
Hans Weiler, at the Stanford Department of Political Science points out four facets of the relationship between knowledge and power as described by Foucault, that help us understand knowledge creation in STTs and the inevitable donor-recipient relationships that surround them. These are: 1) established knowledge hierarchies; 2) the relationship of reciprocal legitimation between knowledge and power; 3) the transnational knowledge system of the international division of labor; and 4) The political economy of commercialization of knowledge.
Different forms of knowledge are endowed with varying status.
Most STTs give preference to research that is situated within a positivist framework where research is founded on the principles of empiricism, objectivity and rational thought as compared to research that may be more subjective or that follows alternate belief systems. This benchmark within STTs (and NTTs) reflects the hegemony of western thought and philosophy over the global knowledge system. The hierarchy of North over South manifests in multiple ways. The institutional arrangements tend to favour knowledge produced in the North. Even with the rise of southern institutions, it is northern-based institutions that are widely accepted as the leading knowledge producers. Development theories and methodologies that shape southern research are also derived from northern institutions. In addition, the financial, political and military hegemony of the north determines the hierarchy in terms of prestige, resources, and influence of knowledge institutions in the North over their southern counterparts.
Hierarchies within STTs also illustrate the North’s influence over the South. The overall organisational set up of STTs is adopted from a northern model of institution building. Hierarchies play out as clear distinctions between management and staff, and, between researchers and administrators; as such the end product (such as a publication) is negotiated through the power plays that exist within research institutions. These hierarchies also reflect the credibility attached to qualifications earned from northern institutions. In a large number of STTs, staff that have received their higher education from Northern institutions tend to occupy senior or management level positions. It is these persons who have greater control over research agendas which in turn reinforce the northern-positivist outlook to local knowledge production.
Knowledge legitimates power and, conversely, knowledge is legitimated by power
In the case of northern donor funded research, locally generated knowledge by STTs is used as the rationale by donors to fine-tune their interventions and shape future aid policy. Conversely, donor organisations in the North tend to set the development agenda for the south thereby deciding which areas need further research, and subsequently which think tanks should receive funding. That is, donor interventions gain legitimacy from locally generated knowledge, and, in turn, locally generated knowledge derives its legitimacy from its acceptance by donors who accord special standing to one kind of knowledge over another. In order to attract funds from donors, the type of knowledge generated by STTs, is largely shaped by the needs and requirements of northern institutions.
International division of intellectual labour
This is the division of labour where ‘key intellectual tasks’ such as setting the theoretical agendas and methodological standards are held by a relatively small number of ‘institutions…located in the economically privileged regions of the world (Weiler 2009)’.
Most southern think tanks are bound by northern donor’s Terms of Reference (TOR). These guidelines provide the methodological and theoretical frameworks that STTs are expected to follow. Apart from ensuring research that is deemed ‘high quality’, adherence to these guidelines can determine the STTs reputation amongst donors and access to subsequent funding.
One of the perks of being an awardee to research related grants from Northern donors is that STTs get free access to otherwise very expensive, high quality research papers. The high costs are usually a barrier to access for relatively under resourced STTs. Paradoxically, recent moves to provide free access to information by Northern institutions entrenches the hegemony of the North over the South by facilitating wider dissemination of north-generated information and further strengthens the positivist discourse. The recent Open Access initiative of the World Bank to provide all World Bank published information free of charge is a case in point. It would be interesting to know why the Bank has decided to provide free access at this point in time.
The ‘knowledge market’
The economy today is more reliant on knowledge production than it has even been. Access to high quality knowledge largely determines an organisation’s ability to compete in the market economy.
To survive, most think tanks need continued access to funds, which in Sri Lanka, are largely from foreign donors, including MNCs and philanthropist foundations. These institutions ascribe to the neo-liberal framework in which the ‘politics of production and profit are arguably the most powerful dynamics’ (Wiener 2009), which means that knowledge outputs that are labeled independent and objective research are in many cases influenced at a pre-natal stage of knowledge production. The situation is compounded when knowledge production takes place within political environments that also have little tolerance of an alternative perspective.
These observations illustrate how development theory, methodology, practice and work culture in STTs are significantly influenced by Northern institutions and constrain the ability of STTs to challenge the dominant development discourse of positivism and neoliberalism.
The Rise of the South
Resistance from southern development institutions against a largely north influenced development agenda is taking place at two levels.
At the think tank at which I work, a number of conflicts have risen in negotiating the research agenda with a northern think tank that is also the ‘leader’ of a northern donor funded global research consortium. I would like to highlight one observation in particular.
As part of the international division of labour in the transnational knowledge system, it is the ‘northern think tank that takes responsibility for the ‘global study’. Southern partners are limited to being local experts, without the space to engage directly with the global discourse. The conflict arises when local researchers attempt to address local knowledge gaps that don’t fit in with the partner’s need for information that is comparable across multiple countries; or vice versa. Subsequently, research methodologies developed by the Northern think tank (to fit the global study) are contested by the local organisation that (in the local context) sees fit to use an alternate methodology.
I notice that there is a concerted effort from within the local organisation to contest for applying methodologies that they believe would better suit the context. In addition there is a gradual attempt from within the organisation to influence the northern donor and therein the global discourse.
At a global level, with the emergence of the BRICS countries there has been a push for the south having its own development agenda. This agenda is to be championed by the setting up of a BRICS development bank (by 2015) that will seek to address issues of development, poverty and inequality within the south that northern institutions such as the OECD bloc and World Bank have largely failed to tackle.
However, the southern agenda, at both the level of BRICS and the think-tanks, seem to exist within the same discourse that is espoused by their northern counterparts.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which the BRICS bank parallels the World Bank in terms of its mandate, policy design, and organisational structure. Its seems likely that even if the BRICS bank hails a ‘new paradigm’ for development in the south it will still derive its power and legitimacy by conforming to the hegemony of positivism and neo-liberalism.
Similarly, the aspiration of people within the think tank to influence the global discourse is partly dependent on the organisation’s ability to produce high quality research. In order to assess the quality of its research the organisation prescribes to the globally accepted standard, which is measured in terms of the ‘validity, reliability and generalisability’ of the research, all of which are proponents of the positivist framework.
A stronger, more consistent resistance to the dominant discourse comes from feminist critiques, subaltern literature, violent protests, hunger-strikes, and dharna’s. However, the resilience of the positivist and neo-liberal paradigm and its ability to co-opt contradicting and alternate voices within its highly elastic framework, implies the need to persist with alternate interpretations and new possibilities.
“The Monday Morning Question” is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development. Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.Today, we invite Mr. Aftab Lall, an intern at the Centre for Poverty Analysis to shed some light on the relationship between knowledge and power in the global system. His article presents a different point of view to that of Mr. Sarath Fernando in “Sri Lanka’s Development Debate and the Role of NGOs” published on 30th of August, 2013, in the Monday Morning Question Column.
The article was first published in The Island on 09.09.2013