The MOST important research on global poverty eradication I’ve ever seen…

Are you ready for it?

It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day

I’ll just repeat that.

It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day

In the bath last week I decided that, somehow, without any of the right skills or training, I would set about to work out what the world would look like, in the current global economic system, if there was more financial equality… and actually to ascertain if it’s even possible (working on the assumption that the ‘rich’ are only rich because the ‘poor’ are poor). Governments and corporations the world over talk about ‘poverty eradication’, but what does that actually look like, and, when the powerful 1% are only so because they’re being propped up by the 99%, is it ever going to happen under capitalism? I didn’t think so. Luckily for me, I don’t have to: in a Guardian article today Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, highlighted a piece of research by economist David Woodward published in the World Economic Review that demonstrates that our current economic model, built on GDP, “will never be inclusive or sustainable”. Hickel claims that the headlines and statistics announcing that “world leaders have succeeded in cutting global poverty in half over the past couple of decades” are untrue and that “the numbers have been furtively manipulated to make it seem as though our economic system is working for the majority of humanity when in fact it is not.” Is it possible to end poverty under our current economic system? NO.

Let’s assume that we can maintain the fastest rate of income growth that the poorest 10% of the world’s population have ever enjoyed over the past few decades. That was between 1993 and 2008 – after the debt crisis of the 1980s that crippled much of the developing world and before the banking collapse of 2008. During that period, their incomes increased at a rate of 1.29% each year. So how long will it take to eradicate poverty if we extrapolate this trend? 100 years.

And that’s just to get the world’s poorest over the standard $1.25 benchmark poverty line, which, increasingly, scholars are pointing out isn’t adequate for people to live on. Hickel points out that to eradicate poverty global GDP would “have to increase to 175 times its present size if we go with $5/day” (as a ‘fairer’ minimum living benchmark). If this were even possible, not only would it drive commodity extraction, production and consumption, and therefore climate change, to “unimaginable” levels, it would mean that global per capita income would have to be:

no less than $1.3 million. In other words, the average income would have to be $1.3 million per year simply so that the poorest two-thirds of humanity could earn $5 per day. It’s completely absurd, but shows just how deeply inequality is hardwired into our economic system.

Hickel argues that poverty eradication is possible in fewer than 207 years without destroying the planet, but it will require huge changes. He suggests that the abolition of debts owed by developing countries; the closing down of tax havens; the installation of a global minimum wage; a moratorium on land grabs and an end to structural adjustment programmes that “allow rich countries to control the fates of poor countries”, will help, alongside a ‘dethroning’ of the GDP measure and replacing it with “something more rational – like the Genuine Progress Indicator or the Happy Planet Index.” It’s a powerful piece of research and an important article that are desperately needed to question the seemingly futile Sustainable Development Goals and the global elite. Like me Hickel is sceptical that the hegemony will adopt any of the changes needed to truly eradicate global poverty, as to do so would “threaten the interests” of the1%. But, also like me, he believes that we need to be pointing these huge disparities and falsehoods at every chance we get. Please do read the full article on the Guardian Development Professionals Network here. I’d also really urge you to share his important work far and wide. You can follow Jason Hickel on Twitter @jasonhickel (and me at @devtruths). What do you think about this research? How does it make you feel? Do you agree or disagree with Hickel and Woodward’s conclusions?


Capitalism #ADifferentStory

You’ll know from previous posts that I don’t believe that ‘we can solve global poverty if rich countries give aid to poor countries’. This new campaign and video from The Rules questions that rhetoric too and recognises that, in the current system, “rich countries are rich because they grab land and natural resources and exploit the human labour of poor countries”. It calls for us to tell #ADifferentStory to capitalism, and, like me, believes that we can change things. It’s really worth a watch.

Here’s their intro to the video:

How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of climate change but we are pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every single year. We are forced into economic crisis after economic crisis and the only people who aren’t brought to their knees are those that cause it. In fact, they often just get richer and more powerful while the rest of us work harder and harder for less reward. Politicians all say the same basic thing. No one, it seems, is offering anything that is really different. The whole operating system is somehow wrong, but also somehow inevitable. Nothing can really be changed because this is just how things are.

At least, that’s what we’re told, and how it can feel. But this way of living – our system of modern capitalism – is just a story.  And this story is not the only one there is.  It’s not inherent within us.  It was invented by human beings, and so human beings can change it.

But in order to get there, we first have to face up to some difficult truths.

You can find out more about The Rules and their campaign on their website.

Let me know what you think. What story would you tell?

Advertising aid – the good, the bad and the ugly

I had intended to post about this a long time ago, but hey, it’s better late than never eh? You might remember back in November last year, I posted a parody video Who Wants to be a volunteer? by The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund.

Back in December, they held their annual Rusty Radiator Award in Oslo for charities using damaging development stereotypes in their advertising campaign. You’ll know from reading my previous posts that I believe that these stereotypes are not only unfair on those people portrayed in the adverts, but also perpetuates disempowering misconceptions and hinders long-term, effective development.

The winner of the award, as decided by social media voters, was South African aid organisations Feed A Child advert, the MOST ridiculous and offensive portrayal of a white women feeding a black child like a dog.

Jury’s comments: Completely ‘White Saviour’. David had to turn it off after 10 seconds. Racism isn’t something of 200 years back, it’s something very present in South Africa today. It’s interesting how this was produced by one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, and how they got it so very wrong. The message doesn’t justify using the same stereotypes to both raise awareness and steal agency. The poor are already depicted as incapable of their own rescue, now they are being compared to dogs. What next? Is there a score worse than 0?

Others shortlisted, include:

Hunger Stops Here – Concern Worldwide

Jury’s comments: “What mother would put their suffering kid in the middle of the sun and just sit there? This is straight up staged, with shocking images of children in HD. You would never put an American kid in an ad like this, because there’s too much dignity given to the privacy of the children. It promotes every stereotype about malnutrition, and tries to encourage giving and donation out of guilt. It’s like they found them by the roadside just waiting to die.”

The Most Important “Sexy” Model Video Ever – Save The Children USA

Jury’s comments: Uhm, wow. We’re speechless. They just got it wrong. This is an attempt to get Facebook likes and clicks by putting sex and poverty together. By using celebrities in this fashion, the message becomes hollow and meaningless. The models are made to look stupid. “I detest this kind of bullying. This video made me cringe”, says David

What Does Poverty Look Like? – CCF Canada

Jury’s comments: The winner of the Rusty Radiator 2013 is back! We thought we were watching a parody of it. They are basically using the same scenes they always use, we’d like to know how old these shots are. “Do you know what poverty looks like” – does it look like a person? Who talks about a human being like that? Teddy describes it as “poverty porn, white saviour complex, over-simplification to the causes of poverty to the missing $1 silver bullet solution to poverty”, and Boima as “everything that’s wrong with fundraising”. “I am amazed that this would run at any TV-station in the world”, says Rosebell.

The winner of the Golden Radiator Award, goes to the fundraising videos using creativity and creating engagement. In 2014, it was Save The Children UK’s Most Shocking Second a Day video

Jury’s comments: Any advocacy ad that can put you in the middle of the situation instead of casting people and situations you’d never imagine is a good one. This video presents conflict porn without overwhelming you with it, because you are so invested in this girl’s tragic day. You feel for the little girl as if she was someone you knew next door or your children went to school with. It emphasises the universality of suffering and empathy, and breaks racial stereotypes about who suffers.
– Video produced by Don’t Panic London

Also in December, The Guardian published a list of what it deemed ‘11 of the best aid parodies‘, turning the tables on the newly released Band Aid single. Including videos from Saturday Night Live and Africa for Norway/Radi-Aid, you can find the full list here.

One of my favourites is this Radi-Aid classic; Let’s Save Africa:

What do you think about these adverts? How do they make you feel? Are they totally inappropriate and offensive, or realistic representations of those living in extreme poverty? Do you know of any others worthy of this award?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their neoliberal agenda

You might remember I had my suspicions about The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation​, when I went to listen to Melinda speak at a Family Planning conference in London last year. This week, they’ve gone and proven me right…

Last week, it was reported in the Guardian that they’re investing in fossil fuels. This, from an organisation that says that the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed.  According to Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013, they held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies.

You can support the Guardian campaign to persuade them to move this money here.

Today, an email from Global Justice Now, and confirmed by reports from The Ecologist and openDemocracy, announces that the Foundation is holding a secret meeting in London with USAID – US Agency for International Development​, entitled “Multiple Pathways for Promoting the Commercial and Sustainable Production and Delivery of Early Generation Seed of Food Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Or, as openDemocracy​ puts it “this is a meeting where corporations will discuss how to increase their control of the global seed sector”.

The report recommends that in countries where demand for patented seeds is weaker (i.e. where farmers are using their own seed saving networks), public-private partnerships should be developed so that private companies are protected from ‘investment risk’. It also recommends that that NGOs and aid donors should encourage governments to introduce intellectual property rights for seed breeders and help to persuade farmers to buy commercial, patented seeds rather than relying on their own traditional varieties.

Finally, in line with the broader neoliberal agenda of agribusiness companies across the world, the report suggests that governments should remove regulations (like export restrictions) so that the seed sector is opened up to the global market.

The neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatisation poses a serious threat to food sovereignty.

This neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatisation, currently promoted in almost every sphere of human activity – from food production to health and education – poses a serious threat to food sovereignty and the ability of food producers and consumers to define their own food systems and policies.

The two organisations organising the conference, BMGF and USAID, are two of the main driving forces behind the adoption of commercial, patented seeds among poor farmers in Africa. When seed markets are dominated by a handful of companies selling their patented seeds, farmers’ ability to save, exchange and sell their own seed varieties is threatened.

Source: openDemocracy, 23 March 2015


What a difference a year makes… 5 things I learnt in 365 days of ‘development truths’

I know it’s been a while. It’s been a few weeks since I posted at all, but even longer since I feel I posted something that I’d really been able to get my teeth into. For various reasons life had got in the way and I think that lots of changes in my personal life, coupled with a lack of confidence in my abilities to ‘hold’ this blog, have put me off posting for too long.

I spent the majority of February in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, exploring, seeing friends and dancing. Despite the trip being purely for the purposes of enjoyment (few people could believe we weren’t there to volunteer), I had a number of very interesting conversations and was able to observe lots of things going on that reinforced several of the thoughts and feelings documented in this blog so far, and introduced many more. I’ll be addressing some of these issues in subsequent posts.

It seems fitting then, that a year on (almost to the day), I feel more galvanised than ever to explore, investigate and interrogate some of the issues I’ve begun to address here. Whether or not this will continue in the form of a blog, I don’t yet know, but for now, I think it still serves as a good platform to help me shine a light on some of the issues I see in our wholly ‘developing’ world.

Here is a taster of what I’ve ‘learnt’ this year. I will go into more detail about each of these points in a series of posts in the coming weeks:

  1. Stereotypes associated with developing countries are only a tiny part of a much bigger problem

You might remember that my primary motivation for starting this blog was an advertising campaign by a well-known British NGO:

“…about a young African girl who had to walk several miles a day to collect water and how people could text to donate money to help her. It wasn’t the first time I’d had the thought but I was struck by how patronising and unempowering the advert was – that all we should feel for this human being, this personality, this girl, was pity – and these adverts become the poster campaign for how we feel about the whole of the developing world (or in this case, Africa.)”

As you’ll see if you’ve read some of my posts, the topics I cover now are so much more varied. I realised that these stereotypes are just a symptom of a global economic and political system that disempowers and subjugates whole continents… This year I hope to focus on a number of different issues and questions, which you can read on my updated About page.

  1. Colonialism never ended, and we’re in an era of neo-colonialism

Sadly, my return from West Africa meant that I narrowly missed Ghana’s celebration of Independence from Britain on 6th March. Although I’d had a sense of what’s going on there before my trip, it became increasingly apparent that, in actual fact, ‘independence’ in many ways, has been in name only. This is not to take anything away from the wonder that is Ghana as a country, and the many successes it enjoys as the result of its capable and active population; but it’s apparent to me that the country is consistently being disempowerered by external influences and prevented from reaching full autonomy and, subsequently, potential.

It’s possible to argue that there is a continuation of influence being exerted by the original European colonial powers on the region. In Ghana, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, the influence of Britain and France respectively, is obvious – examples include: disproportionate involvement in internal affairs, politics and trade, interests in raw materials and energy sources; even down to the fact that the CFA franc is printed in France. Additionally we’re now seeing an apparent ‘carving up’ of the continent by China and the US; in trade, investment, government infrastructure contracts and resource mining, and arguably, for the US in military influence and culture. NB: I will justify these assertions in subsequent posts.

I would argue that the West continues to be a huge external influence on the region, in a multitude of areas that covers economy (aid, trade, loans, government contracts, resource access), politics (manipulation of democratic process, leaders in pockets of Western leaders, assassination of Pan-African leaders, underrepresentation and inequality in global institutions such as the UN and the World Bank), culture, religion, language and much more. Over the coming months and years I plan to chart a map of external influence on the African continent as I believe that the current set up is disempowering and unequal, as I hope to either prove or disprove in subsequent posts.

  1. There are lots of wonderful people and organisations doing good work in this area

Here is just one example: At Cape Coast Castle, one of the most notorious British slave forts in Ghana, I found a book How Europe Under-Developed Africa by Walter Rodney, recognized as one of the “Carribean’s most brilliant minds. On the website of his foundation, his short introduction reads:

“His scholarly works and political activism engendered a new political consciousness.  His PhD thesis, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, illustrated his duality as an intellectual and activist as he challenged prevailing assumptions about African history and put forth his own ideas and models for analyzing the history of oppressed peoples.  His seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, provided a new construct for development theory and established framework for analyzing current global socio-economic and political issues.”

To discover him has been life-changing. Reading parts of his book felt as though he was sitting inside my head as I read pages and pages of arguments and points and theories that complimented my own thinking. Rodney has inspired me beyond measure and has been a catalyst for some of the work that I want to do in the coming years. This past weekend marked the 12th Annual Walter Rodney Symposium held by the Walter Rodney Foundation set up by his friends and family after his assassination. I was unable to attend, but am in the process of watching it online, and I look forward to reporting on it in the coming weeks. I really recommend you look him up.

  1. ‘Altruistic’ foreign aid is a cover up

Something I already knew (thanks to my dissertation), but that has been further reinforced, is that foreign aid is covering up a huge drain of resources and money from developing countries, namely on the African continent, through climate change mitigation, tax evasion and profits going to multinational corporations. Here’s just one article with more information. Aid can also often be linked to national or corporate interests in the form of ‘tied’ aid  (despite pledges to end it) and can be given strategically to promote national political and security interests:

“Over much of the South, (…) networks (leading states, NGOs, UN agencies and the business sector) are busy trying to provide humanitarian assistance, reduce vulnerability; resolve conflict and strengthen the capacities of civil actors: aid has become a technology of security” (Duffield, 2002: 153-4).

Which leads me on to:

  1. The ‘developed West’ won’t acknowledge how much it has benefited (has been built on the back of), and continues to benefit from the subjugation of developing countries and those living in them

In the latest edition of Red Pepper magazine, Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now writes:

“…But over the past two decades, the war on global poverty has been subverted and co-opted. In an age when obscene wealth became once again something to boast about, those big campaign groups and politicians concerned about poverty moved with the times. To keep ‘poverty’ relevant to Thatcher’s children, they gutted it of political content. Through the new concept of ‘extreme poverty’, it became possible both to believe in me-first individualism and free market economics, and to care about the very poor.”

This is something that has become increasingly apparent to me; that the large majority of us are blind to how complicit we are in the disempowerment and subjugation of those living in extreme poverty, and how essentially defunct and useless foreign aid is without change on a global, systemic scale to level the playing field. In the current system, ‘aid’ is at best a sticking plaster on a gaping wound, and at worst simply serves as a strategic tool to further Western corporate and political interests and as a salve for our collective consumer conscience, peripherally aware that all is not well.

This list could be endless, but this is just a small handful of the many things I have discovered and uncovered throughout the year (much of which may not be news to you). I’m learning new things every day and will continue to do so. My hope is that by unpacking some of these thoughts and issues, and bringing them out into the sunshine, somehow might contribute to their transformation.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about this post below!