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Remember Neo…there is no “field”

15 Jan

As this blog is also dedicated to those current and recent grad students seeking to dive headfirst into development, humanitarian and education work, I thought that this blog post I came across was worth passing along to our readers.

Last week, WhyDev blogger, AidSource co-founder, and author of “Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance Novel” (next on my ever-expanding reading list) “J.” (the elusive name only adds to the amusement and contemplation provoked by the post) recently wrote a piece on WhyDev about the myth of “the field.” Piggybacking off a recent rant on AidSpeak concerning the murky definition and romantic delusions about the obsession development workers have with working in “the field,” J. comments on the perpetual mystique and intrigue of this broadly defined place in international development and humanitarian work that young adventure-thirsty jobseekers like myself so often discuss as the place they feel they belong. J. comments on years of experience in development work, roughly a 50/50 split between international and HQ roles, and regards the two ostensibly unique placements within the development world to be remarkably similar. As the AidSpeak post highlights:

  • Work in HQ: Go to meetings. Stare at a computer screen. Send email messages. Occasionally visit project sites and talk to beneficiaries. Be responsive to the needs of donors.

  • Work in “The Field”: Go to meetings. Stare at a computer screen. Send email messages. Occasionally visit project sites and talk to beneficiaries. Be responsive to the needs of donors. Have a housing allowance. Awesome Facebook updates.

J. explains how in his own experience, it is the HQ-level jobs that enable you to decide and dictate where the indispensable funding that drives development work will be allocated, and in “the field” you are essentially relegated to a position of accepting these decisions as they are handed down from above. The myth of autonomy and being able to make a direct impact on the ground as you see fit is in reality at the whim (no matter how well thought out) of individuals and teams working on the other side of the world. Additionally, the post comments on a topic that has been discussed elsewhere on HREC, in regards to the hesitation of us international development folks who wish to work in foreign locations but do not want to fall into the ‘white savior industrial complex’ or Neo-colonial manifestation of the ‘white man’s burden.’ This is a difficult catch-22, especially being a tall white male with a fairly substantial blonde beard, with which I personally have qualms on a regular basis (I have qualms with the catch-22, not my amazing beard). J. talks about how despite “our” best intentions to breed “local” interventions with local ownership, we essentially “re-cement the divide between “us” and “them” every time we refer to the place where aid supposedly happens as the field.” J. offers a piece of unsolicited advice, for readers to “understand and be honest about your motivations—the “why” matters. Find your spot in the overall scheme of what needs to be done.”

I loved these posts. Through my current home-based consultancy work, I am continuing my own search for a position in this mythical “field,” specifically in East Africa with a desired focus on refugee education. I would argue that the motivations for individuals wanting to work in the “field” are not always confined to the desire to make what they possibly erroneously assume will be a tangible, direct impact on the ground. That is certainly part of it, but even in the smaller NGOs for which I have worked in the past where one would assume more direct impacts could be made, bureaucracy still thrives, and making a direct impact is always a challenge (don’t get me wrong, I am confidant that I personally helped improve the lives of many people, and I have those smaller NGOs to thank for that). In my travels I have even heard horror stories from Peace Corps volunteers who lived, worked, slept and ate with local communities 24/7, and they were still unable to get their organization to provide them with funding to carry out even basic projects that they knew the community truly needed, simply because it did not fit within a larger global development goal-oriented framework.

The posts allowed me to re-evaluate what truly inspires me to want to work in East Africa rather than in NYC or DC at HQ level where I could have the power to determine what communities and what issues get focus and funding. At the end of the day, aside from my powerful distaste for the lifestyle in the Northeastern United States (no offense NYC and DC, I had plenty of fun out there, but this California boy had his fill of that pace of life), I simply fell in love with East Africa in my various work endeavors. I fell in love with the people, with the cultures, with the communities, and those communities were the most welcoming I have ever experienced. I developed an undying passion not to help poor starving Africans, but to learn from the most resilient people I have ever crossed paths with. To draw from my own upbringing in relative poverty and apply my life experiences and my expertise to grow alongside those with whom I worked in Kampala, in Arusha, and in so many rural villages in between, was what motivated me to get the M.A. required to get the jobs that I saw essential to truly making an impact. To me, “the field” is more of a state of mind – it’s getting out of the classroom, getting your face out of books, and LIVING life while conducting work that truly benefits the lives of other people. I have never been concerned with money, I have never been concerned with titles, and I have never relished the glamor and intrigue of being based internationally. I just love to travel, and I love to live with peoples that are radically different than my own, while at the same time highlighting the beautiful and inspiring similarities that bond and bind all of mankind together as one.

This blog discusses education and human rights. And my work abroad taught me not only the true value of education, but it taught me what it means to be human. That understanding, and that experience, I believe, is essential for development workers to truly be in touch with those they seek to work alongside in order to make the world a more just and livable place for all human beings. More than that (stop reading if my hippie-talk is too much for you), life is all about connection, and sitting behind a desk in the community I am seeking to work with is a far more connected and active process for me than sitting behind a slightly nicer desk in HQ. A neophyte to the world of international development and humanitarian assistance, I eagerly await how a few more years of work abroad will shape and mold my perspective, and perhaps I will eventually get tired of that game and return to HQ where I may feel I can really make a difference. But gaining that perspective is what life is all about. Hats off to J. for allowing me to turn inward and think about these ideas, and for the inspiration that has come about because of it.

And maybe it IS time to reactivate my Facebook account…

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“With Nelson Mandela behind us…who could be against us?”

13 Dec

The world has been buzzing with the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday, with an incessant stream of stories on his life, his legacy, and his impact on crucial issues of civil, political and human rights. He was a champion of the equal provision of rights for all people regardless of race, class, and religion, but following his presidency, he also took on a role as a champion of the rights of people affected by HIV/AIDS. This week marked the 17th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Africa, which was appropriately held in Cape Town, South Africa. Conference participants reflected on the impact that Mandela made on the fight against HIV/AIDS, talking more openly about the epidemic at a time when it was still shrouded in silence.

Perhaps even more striking was the impact that Mandela made on the fight against stigma towards HIV/AIDS. From sporting a t-shirt reading “HIV Positive” upon meeting activists with the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières in Khayelitsha, South Africa in 2002, to inviting celebrated HIV-activists like Annie Lennox (I love her way too much) to the launch of his 46664 HIV-awareness campaign in 2003, to his acknowledgement in 2005 that he had in fact lost his own son to an AIDS related illness, Nelson Mandela ushered turning point after turning point in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma that stymies the efforts of AIDS activists everywhere. He was quoted as saying, “let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV.”

Anyone working in the global effort to curb the spread of HIV and educate populations on its causes and reach can tell you that stigma is often the most difficult barrier to break down in providing effective outreach. This phenomenon is by no means specific to African countries – it exists all over the world – but 97% of those living with HIV reside in low to middle income countries, and adequately providing sufficient resources to curb the spread of HIV in these countries is a colossal task. I remember first arriving in Tanzania some years back, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to join the fight by teaching HIV-prevention education in rural primary schools and local community centres. I was shocked to see and hear first-hand some of the misconceptions and myths about HIV and the general resistance to even acknowledging this devastating epidemic.

There are currently 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV (and that only accounts for those who have been tested…to say that the actual number of cases is significantly higher is a gross understatement) and over 25 million have already died from AIDS-related illnesses*. Though many still believe that HIV is a myth, or that it is a virus spread from the West to perpetuate some form of neo-imperialistic population control in the developing world. Many cultures believe themselves to be immune. Many believe HIV is spread through lies and rumors, through witches and sin, through curses and (ironically) condoms. There are millions of people in this world who do not want to get tested because they would rather not know their status. This is not only because of the devastating affect of HIV on a person’s health, but also because many communities still stigmatize and reject individuals based on their HIV status.

Educating the world about HIV/AIDS is essential to stopping it. So much emphasis is placed on radical new ARV treatment therapies that we forget that HIV is a 100% preventable virus – spread through sex, blood, and birth from an HIV+ mother. Educating oneself and one’s community about the facts of the epidemic can help to prevent the stigma and breed generations of people working together, regardless of status, to put an end to the spread of HIV.

Nelson Mandela recognized this. Just as he knew that no peoples of this world should be discriminated against based upon the color of their skin, Mandela knew that those living with HIV need the support, acceptance and love of their neighbors – and their country – in order to receive proper care and prevent the virus from spreading further. Though as the conference in Cape Town discussed, “vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and prisoners are still being criminalized and marginalized in most countries, and are often unable to access basic HIV services.”

Madiba has left the world with an immense legacy of compassion, vision and the relentless pursuit of equality for all human beings. Let us honor that legacy by educating ourselves about HIV/AIDS in our countries and around the world, and recognize that stigmatizing an individual based on their HIV status is no different than discriminating against them based on the color of their skin.

*Quick Fact: Few people seem to understand that HIV is a virus that depletes the immune system over a number of years, most of which are marked by no symptoms, which is why getting tested is the ONLY way to know one’s status. AIDS, on the other hand, is a stage of HIV that comes about once a person’s T-Cell count (the ones that keep us immune to illness and disease) drops so low that our bodies are unable to fight off infection. To say someone has died of AIDS is to say that that person died as a result of opportunistic infections that took advantage of a body with no immune system to protect itself. Next time you hear somebody say “You’re going to get AIDS” or “I don’t want to get AIDS by engaging in Behavior X, Y, or Z,” let them know that this erroneous understanding of a complex virus is detrimental to the fight to end it. Educate yourself. Find out more.

Drones for the Congo

5 Dec

The United Nations has recently launched the first surveillance drones ever deployed by a UN peacekeeping force. And where else but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the first UN peacekeeping force ever authorized to use lethal force in an effort to weaken – and ultimately help defeat – the recently surrendered M23 rebel movement in DRC’s North Kivu province. Following justifiable concerns that a lethal peacekeeping force could have a detrimental impact on the humanitarian presence on the ground in DRC and the ability of civil society to effectively deliver aid to those in need, the UN has been further criticized for providing too little help, a little too late.

Two Falco drones, manufactured by the Italian Selex ES, were launched this Tuesday after the UN Security Council approved their trial use in January. Another drone will be on the way later this month and two additional drones are expected to be launched in March 2014. The drones will be used to monitor population movements in areas affected by recent violence, as well as monitor the alleged transfer of arms and munitions from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

If the UN has managed to approve a mandate to launch drones to monitor military presence, what could this mean for the future work of UN agencies like OCHCR, UNHCR and other coordinating bodies for monitoring forced displacement, attacks on schools, and the myriad widespread human rights violations that plague DRC and surrounding regions? Ideally, this increase could signal an imminent expansion of the United Nations’ global reach into the safety and well-being of populations usually too remote and removed from urban centres to adequately monitor.

Like here in the United States, many may argue that the increased use of surveillance drones by the UN could constitute an invasion of privacy. Or, as in the case of recent allegations aimed the International Criminal Court, African nations could interpret this move as yet another “toy of declining imperial powers,” being used to remotely monitor and ultimately influence the affairs of African populations.

Here in the U.S., I for one do not generally lose too much sleep over Orwellian prophecies (despite my love of sci-fi). Perhaps that is because there is nothing that the government could pick up in my phone calls or find in my mail that could ever get me into any trouble, but I do believe that such ‘Snowden-era’ surveillance (despite the geopolitical and moral implications) is ultimately conducted in an effort to keep us safe, not to control our thoughts or actions. With a new mandate to launch surveillance drones now in the UN’s hands, could this indicate new options for the future of global security? Could this mean that rural populations in the developing world may one day be afforded the same protection and security that is arguably offered in the United States? Will the people of Syria, Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan be able to benefit from this effort to monitor the interactions of armed groups and civilians? Or will this program simply run out of support and funding next year and be remembered only as a waste of time and money?

Fighting Fire With Fire: The UN in DRC

3 Aug

I am curious to get some other views on this development. Back in March, the United Nations issued UN Security Council Resolution 2098, which authorizes the use of a new UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The FIB is the “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to ‘neutralize and disarm’ the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” As of Thursday, August 1st, the invitation for the M23 and other rebel groups throughout the region to lay down their arms peacefully before the FIB is fully launched has officially expired.

It may be an appealing option to some: send in a force of 3,096 armed troops from Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa with the sole mission of disarming any armed individuals who are not members of national or UN security forces. The aim is to ultimately bring peace to the tumultuous Great Lakes region by reducing the level of weaponry in the hands of rebel groups. However, many have expressed concerns about the level of danger that the first offensive combat force coming out of the United Nations will cause, particularly for civilians and aid workers operating in the region. A May 23rd letter signed by 19 NGOs was sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleading that the FIB be kept under close surveillance to ensure it is operating solely within its mandate, to prioritize the protection of civilians, and to fully commit to the inclusion of community voices throughout the process.

Atrocities carried out on civilians run rampant in the Great Lakes region, perpetrated by both rebel and government forces alike. It is thus understandable that introducing more arms into the region is a powerful cause for concern. NGOs and aid workers on the other hand, now have added cause for concern. With the United Nations and MONUSCO now associated with an offensive armed force in the eyes of rebel groups operating in the area, the connotation could easily spread across the aid-community. Personally, I have stopped applying for jobs based in DRC, for the same reason many NGOs likely fear reprisal for actions they have nothing to do with. As IRIN reports, “several observers have questioned whether MONUSCO’s existing role of protecting civilians, particularly in displaced peoples’ camps, will be possible in areas where the Brigade attacks armed groups, as this could result in retaliation against all UN military and civilian personnel as well as against other aid workers and civilians.”

Meanwhile, other armed groups are strengthening in the region. The DRC-based Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) could further exacerbate UN efforts and serve to spread the FIB’s mandate into neighboring countries as well. The Ugandan government hopes that the FIB will ultimately assist in the disarmament of ADF rebels, but where will the FIB’s mandate stop? With new rebel groups emerging from Eastern DRC and its neighboring regions each year, how long will FIB be charged with ‘protecting’ the local populations. I see this move as a dangerous and volatile solution to a dangerous and volatile problem. Peace talks have perpetually failed, and though the FIB may be seen as the only option remaining, I don’t believe that introducing more armed groups is really what the region needs. The situation reminds me a bit of the death penalty – deterring murder by murdering – and the United Nations does not look fondly on that deterrent. Now the UN is effectively situating itself as a lethal force to wipe out lethal force in the eyes of regional armed groups, and that image will be very tough to shake. Looking back at the onset of genocide in Rwanda, I am of the opinion that military force SHOULD have been enacted by the UN, but exacerbating the subsequent history of violence pervasive throughout the Great Lakes seems to be quite a risky move in this particular situation.

I am interested to hear the opinions of others, but I will first say that I was very moved by the way Stephen Oola, transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, framed the issue with reference to Uganda in particular. I am glad someone can see the forest for the trees:

According to Makerere’s Oola, Uganda needs to do some soul-searching if it is to defeat the rebellions that continue to destabilize the country: “We must sit down as country in judgment of oursel[ves], through truth-seeking and national dialogue, to ask the right questions. Why are they fighting? What should be done to end their rebellion? How do we address the impact of the cycle of violence that has bedevilled this country from independence?”

The path of military personnel has been wrought with complication, confusion and a failure to recognize the unique needs of a heterogeneously populated region. I am not sure if the UN’s new ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach is the best idea. Thoughts?

Sub-Saharan Sub-Culture: Goths in Kenya

27 Jul

I recently came across a fascinating article from Think Africa Press – a really interesting source of in-depth news, opinions and current events analysis coming out of Africa – entitled “A Day in the Life of a Kenyan Goth.” Of course, as a young professional and scholar focused on East African youth development AND as a former youth who was associated with the term ‘goth’, I couldn’t resist giving it a read (Note: I use this term loosely, because my friends and I – who came to school sporting black pants, chains, spikes, black NIN and Marilyn Manson shirts, black nail polish and black makeup – never cared for the term, but were labeled with it for lack of a better one). Quite entertaining, and a nice departure from the usual op-ed on the struggles of African youth in the face of poverty, conflict and failing education systems.

gothWhile the issue itself is not specifically education-centered or an offense to human rights, I find Rowan Emslie’s piece to provide a remarkable insight into the burgeoning influence of globalization on East African youth, and worth a read and a few remarks. East Africa as a whole seems to me to be a region where pro-Western sentiments and an interest in Western culture seem to be much less frowned upon than in other locations throughout the developing world where influence of tribalism AND often conservative Islamic culture are simultaneously quite pervasive. Far from Huntington’s oft-criticized (for good reason, I think) theory of a clash of civilizations, this Western influence takes many forms that are agreed upon to be positive influences: modern medicine, democratized education systems that stray from elitist colonial education (is that influence in itself a contradiction?), and of course, Coca Cola (a saving grace on many a hot day in East Africa), to name a few. Traveling through East Africa as an American is generally quite positive (just don’t tell anyone if you happen to be Dutch), and the influence of a variety of cultures that permeate the Swahili context are omnipresent. That’s what makes Swahili culture so vibrant, so dynamic, and at least in my opinion, so fluid in a rapidly changing world, giving East Africa the ability to adapt relatively quickly to global trends and even serve as models for the continent as a whole.

This influence of Gothic culture is particularly striking to me, not only because of my personal past affiliation with this subculture, and not only because I never personally came across any examples of it in my time in East Africa (not surprising with an estimated gothic following of around 300 individuals in Kenya), but because of the association made in the article between goth culture and Al-Shabaab, the Islamist Somali militant group whose influence and ongoing campaigns of violence continue to surface in pockets throughout the region. The police officers in this story who forced David to shave his head to avoid any future confusion were clearly caught off guard by the shocking appearance of a subculture that is, in reality, perceived as a shock all over the world (though in a more conservative society like Kenya, I cannot imagine ever wearing my NIN and Marilyn Manson shirts and getting away with it…). But to associate this small movement with a terrorist organization that wreaks havoc on lives all over the Horn and East Africa is very troubling to me, despite my best attempts at maintaining a culturally sensitive position.

This limitation on youth subcultures and alternative youth expression is a huge impediment to the process of self-discovery that youth undergo all around the world. The influence of Western cultures and alternative modes of expression are simply another avenue that youth may explore when riddled with confusion, struggles with identity formation, and the typical angst bubbling up in any teenager. The lack of such alternatives leave youth with few options to constructively formulate their own sense of self, and limited options are precisely what drive scores of African youth and youth all over the world alike to align themselves with gangs, extremist movements and armed groups like Al-Shabaab every year. For the Kenyan police to place limitations on this or any mode of youth engagement with alternative cultures leaves teens trapped in their feelings of isolation and confusion that go hand-in-hand with adolescence, leaving youth with no outlet for the highly tumultuous and volatile inner-turmoil that all humans experience.

What I believe this ultimately comes down to is a global fear of foreign influence, of the impacts and effects of globalization, and even more, of new trends that are often difficult to understand. When goth culture began permeating Western societies (like punk culture, hippy culture, mod culture, hip hop culture – the list goes on…), it was certainly not met with open arms. That is what makes subcultures subcultures. My point is, while I am not claiming that what worked for me will work for everyone, I can say that my ability to express my own identity crisis as a teen through weird dark colored outfits and some nail polish that allowed me to transcend concrete gender categories, I feel, benefited me in the long run. It enabled me to gain a firm and healthy understanding of what it feels like to be viewed as different. It enabled me to gain a sense that I was a unique individual and I could express myself however I so choose throughout life, and that I could choose my own path and still thrive in my environment. Ultimately, dressing like an ‘outsider’ or a ‘freak’ taught me how to think for myself.

That experience fueled my ability to travel through my young adulthood on a path unlike most people around me, and I feel I have become a better human being because of it. I think back to the lack of understanding with which my clothes and music taste were met, and had I let those forces prevent me from expressing myself in the way I saw appropriate, I likely would have taken a remarkably different path, choosing drugs and degenerate behavior over college, community service, volunteering overseas, graduate school and ultimately (job pending) a career assisting vulnerable populations who the world seems to scorn for being different – whether that difference is a stigmatized HIV infection, status as a refugee, or recovery from servitude as a child soldier. When a new phenomenon comes about in a culture, I think it is crucial for people to try to understand the true intentions behind the movement rather than shunning it simply because it is unfamiliar.

I do recognize that many of my ‘goth’ friends took a much less savory path in their own lives, and I also recognize that American and Western cultures as a whole tend to be a bit more accepting of alternative lifestyles. I recall working with a man in Tanzania who preferred to style his hair in cornrows, but wore a hat whenever going out into the village or into town to avoid being viewed as alien to the society that raised him. But I do feel strongly that these explorations of alternative modes of identity formation and expression should be accepted, so long as they are not impeding on the health and well-being of youth and those around them. Taking away the ability for a teenager to express his or herself, whether it’s through tearing all their band posters off their bedroom wall or forcing them to shave their head because their hair looks different, can have disastrous effects. I am interested to see where this movement goes in Kenya, and interested to look further into other modes of expression being pursued in the region.

Comments and experiences, as always, are welcome.

People of purpose

7 Jun

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to go to a great place called The Painted Turtle (TPT). TPT is a camp for children with chronic illnesses designed to make the kids forget about their medical conditions and to enjoy themselves and to just be kids.The Camp is situated in California and is part of the SeriousFun Children’s Network Camps founded by Paul Newman. Unfortunately, due the wildfires in California, TPT had to cancel all summer sessions.

This past week I had the fortune to spend a couple of days with half of the summer staff and the full-time staff. We spent five days together and day and night we played, we laughed, we cried, we learned from each other and we hoped for the best. During times of uncertainty people’s true colors tend to surface and an atmosphere of desperation, pessimism and frustration usually predominates. However, in this case everyone’s reaction to uncertainty was quite the opposite. Everyone was sympathetic, hopeful, cheerful, understanding and a positive vibe predominated the whole time. The sense of family and community among the staff (many had just met a couple of days ago) was something unknown to me. These folks in their twenties come from different paths in life and even from different countries. It’s a very diverse group of enormously talented people. Their sense of purpose is truly inspiring and the passion and dedication they put into working towards achieving that purpose is just incredible.This is not your average college or post-college young adult. Don’t let their age fool you. Some of them may be young, but they will surprise you by their maturity, discipline, commitment and how well-versed they are.

The series of events over the past days and the wonderful people that I’ve met have been very inspiring to me. It’s been like one of those moments/events/situations that restores your fate in humanity. I now understand why so many people call TPT a “magical place”. Camp is the people and it will go wherever its people are.

I’m confident that next summer TPT will come back stronger than ever as it will also be commemorating its 10 year anniversary! Please visit its website for more information regarding Camp or to show support through this hard times.

Changing the world one tweet at a time

19 May

#globalcitizen

A couple of weeks ago I whored out my social media feeds in the name of free concert tickets.

I am usually a jealous curator of my social media accounts, but last year a few do-gooding tweets on behalf of ‘Global Citizen’ had been enough to gain two tickets to a great festival in Central Park.

So this year when Global Citizen emailed me to say that through a little more clicktivism, I’d be able to earn tickets to a whole bunch of shows by a whole bunch of great artists, I immediately leapt into action. My Twitter feed began to fill with uplifting bites and links about ending poverty.

The tweet storm did not last very long. As I clicked around the Global Citizen site, it became clear to me that the odds of getting concert tickets were infinitely smaller than last year. The decision to stop tweeting had absolutely nothing to do with any sense of global citizenship, poverty alleviation or other do-goodery: it was entirely a question of the rapidly diminishing odds of scoring tickets to Grizzly Bear, coupled with a vague sense that endorsing Global Citizen just made me seem naïve.

Why would I be so squeamish about promoting good causes on a social media account that is otherwise largely dedicated to sarcasm and snark? Simply put, I don’t think the Global Citizen project works.

I don’t have any stats or figures to back this up. I don’t know how far Global Citizen has advanced the cause of polio eradication. Then again, it seems that Global Citizen doesn’t know either, or if they do, they’re not being forthcoming with info. The site mentions only that its members/supporters contributed an unidentified amount to a global pool of funds to combat the disease

In any case, my scepticism isn’t based on numbers. Rather it’s based on the set of assumptions that underpin the sort of activism promoted by Global Citizen.

Specifically, it’s the comfortableness of this mode of activism that I think is the problem. It is the idea that to reduce poverty and eradicate disease, all we have to do is more of what we’re already doing. Like concerts? Go to more concerts and help beat poverty. Like Twitter? Tweet harder and promote gender equality. Beneath such assumptions is the notion that the current political order, the models of consumption and distribution, and the balances of power, are all fine just the way they are. They just need people to believe in them, to do them more vigorously, and we’ll have a better world.

It’s the same sort of mentality that says you can buy boutique footwear and improve the lives of children in Africa, or that through carbon offsetting you can fly as often as you want, and do so secure in the knowledge that your lifestyle has no negative environmental impact.

What’s missing is any idea of renunciation: that we might all have to give something up in order for others to gain anything. That the systems that benefit us may cause detriment to others, and that we might have to break a few things that we like – whether habits or big old transnational systems – in order to affect any real change.

I’d love to believe in armchair activism – I’m a fan of concerts and twitter and gas-guzzling international flights – and if Global Citizen ever does offer tickets to a Grizzly Bear show in New York, I’ll be sure to whore out my twitter feed once again. But I won’t pretend I’m really changing anything. If there were some stats or figures that said otherwise, I’d be very happy and would dedicate even more of my time to changing the world one tweet at a time. I suspect, however, that any really activism or change will have to come from a far deeper and less comfortable place.