Moving Blogs

Since I'm back in Canada I've decided to close this blog down. I'm not even sure if anyone is still checking it. I've decided to keep a blog going as it turned out to be a good way to force me to write and I enjoyed the process. The new blog will be related to work I did in Lesotho and also my research interests while I am in graduate studies. You can find it here.

Movember and the Commodification of Social Causes

Movember has been around for a couple of years, but seems to be catching on more this year. I haven’t joined in. I just think I look pretty good with a moustache.

I apologize for the hair, but it is a hangover from Oc-fro-ber (raising awareness of electrical safety). Actually I don't apologize. I think the hair compliments the moustache quite well. I also just made up Ocfrober (electical safety month), but if BC Hydro wants to use it I only charge a small consultancy fee.

I don’t have a problem with Movember. I think it can be a good thing if people are willing to put themselves out there to raise money and attention for a cause. What interests me is that there seems to be a commodification taking place in which advocates are focused on marketing and selling their causes through gimmicky or viral methods. I recently listened to an old LSE (London School of Economics) talk on celebrities and humanitarian work and it gave me the same impression. The speakers touched on many issues, but the one thing that stood out for me was the fact that many humanitarian organizations are using, and sometimes hiring, celebrities to advocate for their cause in the same way that a company would hire the celebrity to advertise their product.

It would seem that organisations are now targeting possible supporters as consumers. Give people a catchy superficial glimpse into your cause, or do something attention getting – like growing a moustache, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, or riding a long board from Nairobi to Mombasa – and people will reach for their wallets, forward an email, click the 'like' button, or paste something on their status on facebook.

For the most part we are a market-driven attention deficit society, so maybe humanitarian organizations need to compete for our attention and money the same way that profit-making organizations do. The problem I see is that by looking at people simply as consumers there is little chance for any meaningful engagement. When causes need to be sold as products then the people affected will need to be packaged in a certain way.

An example of this is a recent awareness raising campaign for autism – Communication Shutdown Day for Autism - that called on people to participate in a day of social media silence. I assume this was to give people an appreciation for communication difficulties. However, a number of people with autism felt that this awareness raising campaign did not represent them and started a counter-campaign, Autistics Speaking Day, which was planned for the same day as the Communication Shutdown and called on people with Autism to use social media to tell their stories.


November 12, 2010

FIFA, the IOC, and Sport for Development: Is the flock being led by wolves in sheep's clothing?

When Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month I came across a couple of articles that briefly mentioned the possibility of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) receiving the award. At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this past February, some IOC members also stated that the IOC should campaign for the prize.

I am working in sport for development. On some level I believe sport can have a positive impact on individuals and communities, so I should support the IOC. I don’t want to generalize, but I believe most people in sport for development would welcome the IOC winning the prize (if you have read my blog before you might notice that I usually preface a generalization by stating that I don’t want to generalize. It is how I plan my escape if I am ever confronted with facts). I attended the Olympics in Beijing and I was in Vancouver for the build up to the Winter Olympics there. I am a fan. I think they are entertaining events and I will probably attend more in the future. Preceding the Olympics in Vancouver the IOC was granted observer status by the United Nations. Observers have the right to speak at UN General Assembly meetings, participate in some voting, but not vote on anything substantive. Again, this is something that you think I would support. It was supported within sport for development. A comment from a reader of the article I have linked to makes the connections between the IOC and sport for development:

“The observer status for the IOC at the General Assembly is not only a great result for the Olympic family, but is a special occasion to express the potential of sport for peace and development. I hope next step could be to support the idea of Nobel Price for Peace for the IOC.”

At the time of the UN announcement and more recently with the Nobel Peace Prize articles I found myself having some nagging thoughts. Is the IOC in a position to represent sport for development? It is impossible to deny that the IOC is a profit-making entity. It is an organization that some may identify as being self-serving, corrupt, and complicit in violations of human rights. Some may point to the Olympic Movement and claim that the ideals enshrined in this movement are Nobel noble and worth supporting. I agree with that, but the question still remains as to whether the IOC is the appropriate flag bearer for these ideals? The IOC seems to try. In addition to numerous partnerships with the UN it has also undertaken its own initiatives. Last year it launched its Sports for Hope Project. This involves building sport-for-all facilities in developing countries. It appears similar to a programme it started in the late 80s called the Olympafrica Programme, which seems to have faded away. Are these partnerships and programmes representative of the ideals that the IOC claims to value? During the 2010 Winter Olympics, the IOC and the Vancouver Organizing Committee decided to the banish Right to Play from the athletes' village. RTP is an organization that was borne from the Olympics. It evolved from an entity called Olympic Aid that was formed during the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer and is dedicated to providing children in some very difficult situations with opportunities to play. In previous Olympics they were allowed to establish a presence in the village to promote their work. General Motors, Kodak, and Royal Bank of Canada were official sponsors of the Olympics in Vancouver; Mitsubishi, Scotiabank, and Canon sponsor RTP. As a result of this sponsorship conflict, RTP was excluded from the Olympic village. IOC is guided by profit and it will make decisions based on finances and not on ideals.

Until this point I have only talked about the IOC, but I could have replaced that acronym for another and it would be pretty much the same. A couple of weeks ago two FIFA executives were caught offering to sell their votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. It is not the first time this has happened, it will not be the last time, and it is not even that bad compared to other FIFA dealings. I would recommend checking out a book by Andrew Jennings called FOUL! the Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging, and Ticket Scandals, or his website, or the website for Play the Game.


Since João Havelange campaigned and won the presidency of FIFA in 1974, and then continuing through Sepp Blatter’s reign, there has been a significant amount of investment in football development in developing countries. I say investment in football development, but what I mean is that FIFA gives money to national football associations with the stated purpose being to develop the game, but then does little in the way of monitoring or holding the associations accountable. From a political stand point it would not make sense for FIFA to hold the national associations accountable. The presidency of FIFA is decided on a one-country-one- vote system. If Sepp Blatter gives large sums of money to the national associations of poorer countries with few or no strings attached then it is likely that those countries will want to keep him in power.

Money has been distributed through the Financial Assistance Programme and the GOAL Programme. Lesotho is part of both of these programmes and has received over $500,000 for projects over the past 5 years according to the FIFA website. According to a newspaper article earlier this year in Lesotho, LEFA (Lesotho National Football Association) is receiving $250,000 per quarter - $1 million a year. From the FIFA documents, 6% of funding should go towards youth football and 12% towards technical development including female football. Well, there are no youth football structures in Mafeteng - I can’t comment on other districts - and the leaders within women’s football have called on FIFA to cease funding female football because the funds don’t reach them.

This has been going on for some time, but now FIFA is also becoming involved in the sport for development scene. The distinction is that sports development aims to develop the sport itself. Sport for development aims to use sport to accomplish any number of social objectives. A few years ago FIFA initiated its Football for Hope and Win in Africa for Africa campaigns. Both involve using the power of football to address various social or development issues. Part of the Football for Hope programme involves another project called 20 centres for 2010. One of the centres will be built here in Lesotho through an organization called Kick 4 Life.

Similar to my posts on Poverty Porn and donating equipment, there are positives and negatives that could be identified with the involvement of the IOC and FIFA. Being involved with both would be a huge boost for funding, exposure, and publicity. In addition, having large well known organizations supporting your cause can lend legitimacy and credibility to what you are doing, particularly for a relatively new field of work. On the other hand when I see FIFA or the IOC claiming to represent or champion for the field of sport for development I cringe. Many sport for development organizations seek to provide opportunities to those who lack opportunities. Kick 4 Life targets orphaned and vulnerable children – particularly street children. FIFA and the IOC, through their actions, have proven that they do not care about marginalized individuals, or people who lack opportunities. Previous Olympic Games and the World Cup in South Africa brought with them complaints of displaced peoples, suppression of rights, and crack downs on already marginalized groups: street vendors, the homeless, street children, minority groups.

FIFA and the IOC care about making money. They are basically corporations, albeit corrupt, nepotistic corporations without systems of transparency or accountability. The centres and funding that they are providing for sport for development organizations should be seen as a form of corporate social responsibility and nothing more. If you are running a healthy living campaign maybe you decide to accept some funding from McDonalds. That’s fine. I wouldn’t judge that decision – maybe I would a little bit actually. You put a little Golden Arches logo on the bottom corner of your posters, no harm done –actually maybe there is a little harm done. However, if McDonalds uses the opportunity to portray their organization as a beacon for the healthy lifestyles movement then I think things would need to be reassessed. If healthy living organizations submit to McDonalds' self-selected position as a contributer to their movement then there is a risk that the movement itself will lose credibility. The same is true for sport for development. If we can consider sport for development a sector, or a field of work, or a movement, then to have FIFA and the IOC set themselves up as pillars within this sector is dangerous for the credibility of sport for development.


October 30, 2010




Famo Music Gang Wars

At the beginning of September, Mafeteng Hospital hosted a children’s event for children with disabilities. Some of the coaches involved in our programme were invited to facilitate some soccer activities and other games.

While I was there taking some pictures a young man named Nalete, the DJ for the event, asked me to take his picture. He explained that he was a famo recording artist and would use the pictures for his album cover. I took his picture and a couple weeks later we worked out a way that I could email it to the guy who was putting his album together.


Recently, I ran into Nalete in Mafeteng and he was selling his album, so I bought one. I have included a couple of youtube videos below to give you an idea of the style of music. I would have included Nalete's songs, but I had trouble trying to embed an mp3 player into the post.





Famo is an interesting type of music. When I first listened to it I had to ask someone if they actually use an accordion. I think it's unique to Lesotho. I’ve read that it originates from migrant workers from Lesotho working in mines in South Africa in the 1920s. In Lesotho it is quite popular. Many of the minibuses will constantly blast it.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this, but another side story is that there has been a gang war between two rival groups over this past year. It’s somewhat similar to the east coast – west coast rap rivalries in the mid 90s, but with less talking and more shootings – 30 have been killed since the beginning of this year. In their lyrics artists will often direct insulting statements at the rival group or their family members. Mafeteng, the district in which I live, is a hub for famo music and is the location for some of these killings. Just recently in Mafeteng a number of famo artists were shot at while they were attending a funeral of a famo artist who was previously killed. There are even calls for the government to become involved to mediate the dispute. I guess HIV and TB are not the only things contributing to the 40 year life expectancy here.


Oct 25, 2010

Cricket

Last week I was able to attend my first ever cricket match. It was a one day international (ODI), which is a shortened version of the game – if you consider an 8 hour sporting event to be shortened. It was South Africa against Zimbabwe. I actually witnessed history as Colin Ingram had the best debut of any South African player and is only one of six players ever to reach a century in their ODI debut. For a national team game it didn’t seem that well attended. There were probably less than a 1000 people there. I suppose Bloemfontein isn’t a huge cricket market.

I grew up playing and watching baseball, so watching a live cricket match is not that much different. The stadium itself was a few grandstands and mostly just a grassy hill. People came into the stadium with gas braiis (BBQs) and picnic baskets. For the most part it seemed like people hanging out in a park with a cricket match going on in the background.


Sport-for-Development and Social Capital – Where’s my t-shirt?


From my previous posts I think it is obvious that, in my own mind, I am still trying to articulate how, or if, sport can be used to address various issues. I think that the predominant dogma within sport for development and peace (SDP) is focused on life skills and behaviour change.

(Image from Right to Play Website)

I have a hard time with these concepts. Trying to identify why people do what they do is already difficult, if not impossible, so I am slightly skeptical of organizations that believe their programmes can change behaviour.

As an alternative I am interested in a concept called social capital. I have been reading a book called ‘Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community’ by Robert Putnam, which focuses on social capital. Putnam describes it as the following:


'Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.

I may be accused of being a hypocrite as I am dismissing one debatable social theory for another debatable social theory. However, I see sport as having the potential to bring people together and form connections. Sports programmes, if organized appropriately, can provide safe social spaces for people to bond. According to Putnam these social connections will ultimately benefit society. Others within development are also aligned with this. The World Bank has stated that ‘social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustained.’ However, similar to behaviour change, it is difficult to prove if sport can contribute positively to building social capital.

Until recently I did feel that SDP could play a role in building or maintaining social cohesion. I still believe that sport can accomplish this, but I fear that many SDP projects may actually hinder this process. The distinction that I should make clear is that when I say 'sport', I am referring to the common conception of locally developed community-based sports structures. By SDP, I am referring to external organizations, such as Right to Play, that target specific groups, offer resources and support, and possibly implement programmes.

Social capital requires interpersonal trust and reciprocity. It is difficult for externally driven SDP programmes to accomplish this. If anything, programmes risk creating resentment and suspicions. A recent conversation with one of the coaches I am working with highlighted the challenge. The conversation took place at a youth tournament. The coach was watching the matches, but I had anticipated that his team would be participating. He informed me that his team had collapsed and he was in the process of finding more players. I asked him what happened to his team and he explained that the problem was the result of an earlier tournament we hosted.

In July we held a small event to celebrate the World Cup. As with most events here, we had planned on distributing t-shirts to participants. As an aside, I should just say that the t-shirt culture connected to events is interesting. As an example, the English Football Association hosted a workshop here in July. They did not give out any shirts. The participants did not react well and blamed the Lesotho Football Association for taking the shirts. It became a major issue at the workshop and escalated to the point where the Lesotho Times reported on it. Anyways, through a combination of my poor planning and the last-minute involvement of a number of teams we did not have enough t-shirts for everyone at the July event. As a result we decided that the shirts would be divided up equally and given to the teams; after which, the coaches and their players would decide what to do with the shirts. The coach I am referring to decided to use the shirts to reward those players who had been the most committed and were attending sessions on a regular basis. This rationale didn’t seem to placate the parents of the children who did not receive any shirts. The parents pulled their children off of the team. They accused the coach of using the team as a means to attend these events and benefit personally. Even some of the children who did receive shirts were pulled from the team as parents believed that at the next event maybe their child will be the one who does not receive anything. I think that the collapse of the team may have also involved some other issues, but our involvement contributed to the mistrust that resulted in the team dissolving.

The fact is, SDP programmes introduce resources and opportunities into communities that may lack both. When I meet people and explain what I am doing many people will ask if they can be involved; even if they have never been involved in football and are not interested in sport they still want to participate. It is seen as an opportunity. They might receive a certificate that they can mention on their resume, they might believe that the project will expand to include jobs for which they can apply, or there might be some other way they can leverage their involvement. The problem that results is that everyone wants to participate, so in the process of including and excluding people you are creating ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This may actually foster resentment within the community.

This situation is exacerbated through the process in which SDP programmes target specific groups. Because of the size of NGOs, as well as the requirements of donors, many projects will have a narrow focus. This narrow focus is also encouraged by funding organizations and is supported by individual donor behaviour. A programme that targets orphaned and vulnerable children, children with disabilities, former child soldiers, children living on the street, or girls is more likely to get funding. This narrow focus, with particular attention to marginalized groups may be derived from our own (Western) drive for inclusion and providing marginalized groups with access to services. It is not my intention to argue against providing services to traditionally excluded groups. However, I wonder why it is necessary to target specific marginalized groups with services that are lacking for nearly everyone. Why would an organization introduce a sports programme targeting street children when almost all children lack access to similar programmes? There may be a social agenda tied to targeting the specific group, but again, this process will exclude people and create ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Will this have a positive impact on social cohesion?

In saying that I still believe sport can contribute to social capital I am referring to locally conceived, developed, and implemented programmes. If international SDP programmes want to have a positive impact I believe their mission should focus on supporting locally developed programmes and sporting structures.


Oa Hao Lipapaling (Yours in Sports)

September 25, 2010


Minibuses and Tuberculosis

I already posted some general experiences with the minibuses, but I have begun to realize that I could probably have an entire blog dedicated to my minibus experiences.

I have wanted to write about a public health campaign that seems to involve the minibuses, but am just getting around to it now. I was going to wait until I could take a picture of the slogan that is used, but have decided to just write about it anyway. A few minibuses that I have been on, including my most recent trip, have had stickers posted inside that state: Bula Lifenstere – moea o potolohe, ho thibela ho ata hoa lefu la lefuba. I think it translates to open the windows to stop the spread of Tuberculosis (‘bula lifenstere’ is open the windows. ‘Ho thibela’ is to hinder, ‘ho ata’ is to multiply and ‘lefu la lefuba’ is TB. I just don’t know what potolohe means. Moea is wind, so maybe ‘moea o potolohe’ is fresh air). TB is a pretty big deal here. I believe Lesotho is estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence rate in the world.

From my experience so far the stickers have been a waste of paper- or whatever it is you use to make stickers; paper and the sticky ingredients I suppose. People don’t open the windows, even when it is 30 degrees outside and you have 20 people crammed into a 13 person bus. I am not sure what the reason is, but when I first arrived I was told that there is a common perception that opening the windows in vehicles actually allows bad air to enter and increases your chances of getting sick. I don’t know how true this is, but from my experiences so far I do know that Basotho people do not like to open the windows in moving vehicles. Hopefully the TB people are rethinking their sticker strategy.


September 25, 2010

Good Morning Mr. John

Good Morning Mr. John

Good morning is a very popular English greeting in Lesotho. In fact it is so popular that it is used all day long. When I first arrived and people greeted me by saying good morning at five o’clock in the evening I would usually respond by saying good afternoon or good evening. Now I just go with it. Last week a Basotho guy that I was talking with finally offered an explanation. He said that it is meant to be used when you greet someone for the first time during a day. I am still not sure how this works as there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent Sesotho greeting.

Because I work with local soccer coaches, many kids in town know who I am. However, most people seem to have trouble with pronouncing Shawn. It was the same in China. John is much easier and seems to make more sense. So, on my way home from work in the evenings I am inevitably greeted by groups of children saying ‘Good Morning Mr. John’. I don’t mean to be patronizing. I am sure that when I take the Sesotho words I know and try to arrange them into a coherent message I probably produce some interesting phrases.

I think that because I was born into an English speaking family and lived in an English speaking community I took communication and language for granted. Now that I have lived in a couple of countries where English is not the medium of communication I have a slightly different perspective. I frequently delude myself into thinking I am good with languages. However, after living in a place for a few months and studying the language I usually hit a wall; a wall of silence. My problem is that I don’t talk very much. Some people would argue that talking is a fairly integral part of communication. Those same people that are biased towards talking would probably also argue that in order to learn a language, speaking is pretty important.

Even though I am more of an introvert, I think that my experiences with language in China and now Lesotho have been enjoyable. I have come to view communication as a puzzle, or a form of problem solving. Because of this, daily communication can be incredibly frustrating, but also very gratifying. Fortunately, even if I am not able to learn any other languages I will still be able to develop an interesting form of English.

So, to sign off I would like to say Good Morning to everyone.

Yours in Sports – Oa hao lipapaling

September 14, 2010

Oa Hao Lipapaling – Yours in Sport

One of the coaches I am working with came into the office yesterday and asked if I could help him draft a letter of invitation for a tournament he is organizing. Formal letters of invitations are a fairly common occurrence here and I still haven't developed the literary skills to pull off such a letter, so I suggested the coach write a draft of the letter in Sesotho and then I would print it out on my computer.

He took a couple of minutes to write the invitation and then passed it over to me. My Sesotho still isn’t that great so as I was typing it up I would only pick up the occasional word or phrase. At the end of the letter, where you have the complimentary close – such as ‘sincerely yours’ (I actually had to do a google search to find the appropriate term for this) the coach had written ‘Oa Hao Lipapaling’. I recognized this pretty quickly as meaning ‘Yours in Sport’. I am not sure if this is a common way to close a letter in other parts of the world, but it resonated with me immediately because of a book I recently read during the World Cup.

While I was travelling around South Africa for the World Cup I used the time to stock up on some books. Fittingly, I ended up purchasing a number of books relating to soccer in Africa. I read two during the World Cup – ‘Feet of the Chameleon’ and ‘Football United’.

Both were quite good. The chapters covered a variety of stories relating to soccer in different African countries. Another book that I bought, but didn’t read until I returned to Lesotho was called ‘More than Just a Game’. It told the story of how the prisoners on Robben Island – the prison that was used during apartheid to hold political prisoners – organized and ran their own soccer league for a number of years. It detailed the struggle that they had to go through to have the ability to play and then how the league itself became a political tool for the prisoners in their negotiations for better living conditions.

The league was very well organized and incredibly formal. The author theorized that the inmates were governing their soccer league the way they expected their country to be governed. All correspondence had to be done through written means, which wasn’t easy since paper was difficult to access. At the end of each letter the sender would finish with the complimentary close ‘Yours in Sport’. Before reading this book I had never come across this expression, but when I read the Sesotho version of it I couldn’t help but smile.


Oa Hao Lipapaling


September 9, 2010

Problem of Proximity - Outsiders and Social Change

The work that I am doing now means that I am cast as the outsider. Through the blogs that I read I recently came across an excellent analysis of being an outsider in international work (click here). In the post itself the author briefly mentions the possibility of local knowledge containing biases. Even before I read that post I was writing my own reflections on being an outsider and questioning the impact of outsiders on social change. In some of my meetings in Lesotho I am often confronted with local experience as rationale for supporting or criticizing an initiative – I don’t mean to imply that this is either all good or all bad. Sometimes this local knowledge is relevant and necessary, but at other times it has come across as biased or fatalistic. I have wondered if proximity to a problem develops this bias.

In 2007 I was able to travel to Tibet while I was living in China. I was there for about a month. What confuses me to this day is how issues around Tibetan-Chinese relations are such a popular cause – I suppose the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere had something to do with it. I guess I was expecting some serious repression by the Chinese, but the amount of cultural and religious practices that seemed to be preserved surprised me. I am not sure how the comparison came into my head and it may be completely inappropriate, but while I was in Tibet I started to think about the situation of First Nations people in Canada (Native Canadians/ Americans). To me, it seems that the Tibetans have been able to retain their cultural and religious practices to the same extent or even more so than First Nations in Canada - This judgement may be slightly biased because I was a tourist in Tibet and may have been exposed to more culturally relevant experiences.











I understand that it is asinine to discuss which of two oppressed groups is ‘better off’. I think this would be about as effective as a school yard argument about whose dad would win in a fight or which super hero is stronger. I am just interested in how people perceive social problems that occur within their society and within external societies.

I believe that many Canadians dismiss issues involving the First Nation population as problems that can be attributed to the First Nations themselves. These same Canadians may decry what the Chinese government has done to the Tibetans and take on Tibetan independence as a social cause.

People may be incredibly interested in issues relating to global poverty, but at the same time dismiss the homeless man situated on the street corner outside their apartment as a drug addict, or alcoholic, who is responsible for his own problems. I think I could be included as an example as well. I am currently working internationally, but I haven’t been as interested in working with similar issues in my own community.









Is it easier to join a cause that addresses an external social problem so that it is simpler to rationalize away your responsibility for, or involvement in, that social problem? If I identify local issues as societal problems then I am being critical of the society that I live in, participate in, and contribute to. Unless I am hypocritical or delusional I would need to examine my role in that society and how I may be contributing to those social problems. However, if I take up an external cause I don’t have to waste my time with any of that introspection and reflection.

If people are less likely to identify problems as societal problems then is an outside perspective necessary?I am not trying to justify or rationalize my involvement in international work, but am also referring to outside influences such as media, education, or travel


September 7, 2010


Being a Sports Missionary

Since my last post was about religion I thought I would continue the thread by talking about my role as a sports missionary.

I remember reading an article a while back that described the pre-departure training of a group of sport-for-development interns. The article may have been in an academic journal, or on a blog, or on a website, but I haven't been able to find it again. It is possible that I have imagined it and am now using it to frame my blog post. Anyways, the article described in passing a brief exchange that occurred during the pre-departure training that I felt was interesting. During the training one of the interns described their future role as being equivalent to a missionary, but instead of spreading religion they were spreading sport. The others vehemently disagreed with this description and the intern embarrassingly recanted his statement. I can’t remember the details of the exchange, but I believe the reason that his suggestion was looked down upon was because of the negative reaction that some people may have towards missionaries and the belief that they are imposing a set of values/beliefs on people. However, if that intern was a little more stubborn I think he could have put forward a pretty good argument that we are in fact sport missionaries.

Bruce Kidd, a Canadian academic, has an often cited quote which is related to this line of thinking:

Whereas the best community development is ‘needs – and asset-based’, i.e. premised on the expressed needs and available resources of the local population, articulated during a careful, consultative joint planning process, much of SDP (sport for development and peace) is donor-defined, planned and conducted with missionary zeal. Sadly, the single-minded purpose and confidence that sport instills in champions, a commendable attribute when transferred to many other settings, militates against inter-cultural sensitivity and needs-based programming in development. There is a fear that SDP simply imposes the values of first-world middle class on the disadvantaged of LMICs(Low and Middle Income Coutnries)…

Professor Kidd is discussing the process of planning and delivering programmes, but I think that the entire concept of sport-for-development should be examined. I think the driving force behind many sport-for-development projects is the belief that sport can teach certain life skills and impart certain values on participants as well as improving things like self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. We go out in the world preaching these benefits. We go into communities, holding a soccer ball like a sacred idol, clutching our coaching manuals like bibles, and attempt to spread this utopian version of sport that we have conceived.

I have only been in Lesotho for a short time, so my experience is limited, but I am not sure if this belief is replicated in local communities. Most everyone I talk with in Mafeteng about the benefits of sport will point to sport acting as a diversion; time spent playing sports means time not used for drinking, using drugs, or having sex. I haven’t had one person mention life-skills, values, self-esteem, self-confidence, or self-efficacy unless they are volunteers working in sport-for-development, but I suppose these people would be equivalent to the religiously converted. Sport is a universal endeavor. Everyone plays. But are these values that we associate with sport universal or are we exporting our vision of sport?

I suppose that it could be argued that any international, or inter-cultural, programme is imposing a set of values on people. Even if a project is claiming to be participatory it is still imposing certain ideals.

I am interested in this type of work because I believe sport had a positive impact on me and I believe it can have a positive impact on others. However, I have no idea what aspect of my youth sport involvement resulted in my personal development. Was it being exposed to strong role models? Was it peer recognition? Was it having access to volunteer and employment opportunities through refereeing and coaching? Was it through various community interactions such as fundraising, being included in the local newspaper, receiving recognition from friends’ parents, teachers, and other adults? Was it through the process of being committed to a team and setting and achieving goals as a group? Was it the result of being involved in regular competition and learning how to deal with winning and losing? I could go on. The point I am trying to make is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify what aspect of sport benefitted me. It becomes even more difficult because what was a positive experience for me may have been a negative experience for one of my friends. It becomes even more difficult when you try to identify what benefited me and then transplant that into a different culture.

So, what’s my point?

I suppose that my feeling is that if we believe that sport can be beneficial should our efforts not be put towards simply building youth sport structures. Why do we have to design and frame programmes based on a definition of sport that we have created? Maybe it comes back to what Professor Kidd mentioned about sport-for-development being donor-driven, but I would like to see more programmes that simply help local communities access funds for infrastructure, equipment, and develop youth sporting structures: associations, leagues, clubs, etc. If there are values to be learned through sport and life skills to be taught, why can we not leave that for the communities to decide?


August 30

Religion

Since I have arrived in Lesotho I have wanted to write about religion. I have mostly avoided it because of how divisive and complicated it can be and how ignorant I am regarding it. In general, I am a fairly indecisive person. This indecisiveness includes religion. If I were really pressured – if God was sitting on a cloud throwing lightening bolts at me and Buddha, Jesus, and Vishnu were chasing after me all screaming ‘what do you believe in?’ – I would probably have to admit that I am an atheist (I apologize for the possibly offensive description). I wouldn’t consider myself an atheist in the mould of a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. I am not necessarily against religion. I think that religion, and religious organizations, have the potential to help people and in many situations do help people a great deal.

After reading a recent post at the aidwatchers blog I have decided to try and write down my thoughts. The post I refer to was not specifically about religion. William Easterly, the author, was travelling in Ghana and was able to attend a religious service. After attending the service he made the observation that “the people in the congregation this morning, in one of the poorest regions of Ghana, do NOT see themselves primarily as “poor” or “developing”, they see themselves as Christians”. He was using this point to challenge commonly held perceptions about people living in poverty – what he calls humanizing the poor. He was trying to use a personal experience to illustrate his point, but the reason it got me thinking was because it comes across as such a huge simplification.

Over 80% of the population of Lesotho identifies as Christian, but I feel that it would be a fairly superficial observation if I just said that most Basotho see themselves as Christian. I would think that the perceptions of Christianity differ a great deal between cultures, especially in many African countries where the religion has been introduced by missionaries and has evolved over time in concert with traditional religions and practices.

What has surprised me a great deal is how much interaction there is with religion in seemingly all facets of life. When we hold workshops and meetings in Mafeteng we have a prayer to open the gathering and we usually have a prayer to close – I should note that the meetings I have attended in Maseru have not followed this pattern. During one meeting I forgot to include a prayer to open the meeting and a number of the participant feedback forms I collected at the end of the day mentioned the lack of a morning prayer. Another example that has stayed with me occurred during my first month in Lesotho. I attended a community meeting involving all of the organizations working with HIV/AIDS in Mafeteng. There were about 50 people in attendance. At one point in the meeting there was a small discussion/debate about the role of abstinence education in HIV prevention. The debate mostly involved two of the participants, a man and a woman. This conversation regarding abstinence would have probably offered me some insight into the role of religion in community based work in Mafeteng, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand any of it because they were debating in sesotho. What I remember most is that almost every time the woman stood up to present her argument or to disagree with the man she would break into a gospel song/prayer. All the participants would get up and sing and dance – including the gentleman that was arguing with her. After the song she would continue with her argument. This happened three or four times. If anything, I thought it was an interesting debating tactic.

Religion is also ever-present in my personal life. When I meet people an invariable question in the introductory small-talk script is ‘What church do you belong to?’ I still haven’t found a way to answer this without just desperately trying to change the subject.

As a result of this continued exposure to religion, I have been able to reflect on my beliefs, or lack of beliefs I should say. I have started to wonder how someone who is born into a life of almost limitless opportunity could question the existence of God; whereas someone who is born into a life with limited opportunities would seem to have unquestioning faith. Maybe it would be simplistic of me to assume people have unquestioning faith. There could be a number of reasons why religion is entrenched in a society and it may have nothing to do with faith, belief, or spirituality. I would think that belief and belonging become a social necessity when religion is so pervasive. It is also possible that belonging to a church provides more benefit then not belonging, regardless of personal belief. However, there still seems to be a significant amount of people who outwardly express their faith in God. It seems backwards to me. I have met people who have lost so much – parents, siblings, friends, and yet they still have the belief that God is giving them the power to persevere. It has made me wonder if atheism is a position borne of privilege. Maybe I can afford to be an atheist because my life has been relatively free of adversity.


August 23, 2010


Donating sports equipment to Africa

Similar to my poverty porn post, this blog post will be rehashing a fairly common theme that comes up in the development sector and the development blogosphere: donations-in-kind and the Buy One Give One concept. Donations-in-kind refer to donating goods such as clothing, shoes, food, etc, instead of giving cash. I believe this practice is fairly common in the sport for development field. Through various friends and newspaper articles I have come across a number of examples. The most common one I have encountered is volunteers for a programme called Hoops 4 Hope shipping containers of equipment to Africa (click here for one example).

Within the development sector this is heavily frowned upon. To read about the arguments I would recommend visiting the Good Intentions are Not Enough blog. The author has written extensively on the issue. She has even written a post specifically referencing the donating of sports equipment (click here). I would also recommend doing a google search on onemilliontshirts. Or check out the Good Intentions post here. The discussion/ debate/demolition of the onemilliontshirts idea serves as a good summation regarding the feelings towards donated goods and as development drama goes it was fairly entertaining.

I actually started writing this post a couple of weeks ago and I was going to use this logic to denounce donating sports equipment. However, after a couple of weeks of thinking on it, I am instead going to try and argue both sides.

There are many arguments against donating goods, but the main ones that are relevant to sports equipment relate to the economic impact and the relevance of the donated goods. Shipping a container of equipment that will be given away for free can suffocate local businesses selling similar products, or deter businesses from ever being started. Additionally, the cost of shipping containers to Africa can be enormous. For the cost of shipping equipment you could, in many cases, purchase new equipment locally. There is also a risk that the equipment might not be suitable for local conditions. Would it be helpful to donate a container full of football boots suitable for playing on grass in damp northern climates when local fields are a mixture of hard packed dirt - almost as hard as concrete - and occasional patches of grass?

All this makes perfect sense. The argument can be strengthened further with an example from my work in Lesotho. One of my volunteer coaches is currently not employed. He would like to set up a business in Lesotho to sell sports equipment. Currently, there is one small sports store in Maseru, but most people who need sports equipment will cross the border and purchase what they need in South Africa. It would appear that there is a need in Lesotho for a store that can supply sports equipment. Would this business be successful? If I had to wager on my friend's success I would place a cynical bet against him. The reason can be illustrated with two social enterprises that I came across during the World Cup: One World Futbol (All things aside I would recommend checking this out. They market their product as the most durable football in the world. It is made out of foam, never requires inflating,and cannot be punctured. It is also produced in Canada. Good for the Canadian economy, but maybe not so much for the economies of the communities where the balls will be donated) and Kick4Change. Both organizations operate on a Buy One Give One (BOGO) model. Part of the profits from your purchases will be used to send equipment to disadvantaged groups. To coincide with the World Cup, Kick4Change has implemented a Pledge my Seat campaign that aims to send large numbers of football boots to Africa. So, getting back to my friend, how successful would his sporting goods shop be if One World Futbol and Kick4Change dumped thousands of free footballs and boots into Lesotho. He would obviously struggle. In fact it would not make a lot of sense for him to even start the business. Another article that talks about the Buy One Give One philanthropy hurting African business can be read here.

The arguments make sense. For the most part I agree with them. They are hard to argue against. However, the problem I have is that there is often a knee jerk reaction to even the mere suggestion of shipping in equipment from an external source. Usually, this reaction limits discussion. I believe that debate is always good, so I will try to bring up a couple of points of exception.

An article I read that got me thinking more about this topic was written by Elizabeth Pisani. She is an epidemiologist who has worked with UNAIDS and has been involved in the HIV/AIDS sector for a while. Recently I read her book called 'Wisdom of Whores' and as a result of that I started to follow her blog by the same title. Her most recent article talks about the conflict between scientific evidence and political evidence. She argues that you cannot look to scientific evidence in isolation to impact policy. In her field, HIV/AIDS, evidence points to the effectiveness of offering services to injection drug users in dealing with the epidemic. The problem is that the evidence of politics demonstrates that politicians will not support these programmes because helping junkies does not go over well with the general electorate. I think the same conflict occurs in a lot of situations; a conflict between what you should do in theory and what actually works in reality.

A similar conflict occurs in the donation of goods. I would label this economic logic versus donor logic. I am avoiding the term evidence because as far as I know there are no scientific studies relating to the economic impact of donating sporting goods on developing economies. Also, some argue that treating the field of economics as a science is a bit of a stretch. We can ask a similar question that Pisani alludes to in her post: is it constructive to look at the donation of goods from an isolated idealism? Is it constructive for people to condemn the donation of equipment as poor practice without considering donor behavior? Looking at donor behaviour, are people likely to donate cash for an organization to buy equipment locally, or would they prefer to donate goods, or participate in a BOGO offer? I believe that if a programme were to refuse donated goods and instead ask for cash to buy equipment locally that they may struggle. They may end up diverting resources and time away from their programmes and towards educating the donors. Ultimately, you may end up in a situation where you are taking the right stance, but the beneficiaries of your project suffer because you lack the resources to implement your programmes. Instead of dismissing all forms of donated goods as evil based on economic logic, would it not make more sense to engage with the donating organizations and hope to create change over time?

If an organization in Lesotho partners with social enterprises such as One World Futbol or Kick4Change then they may receive free publicity, increase their exposure, and possibly attract more funding. With more funding they can expand programmes, hire more local staff, offer stipends to volunteers, and contribute more money to the local economy. Would these economic inputs offset putting my friend out of business? Would the economic impact of a strengthened local programme be more significant then helping a single businessman sell sporting equipment? This argument could also be extended to donation campaigns. As volunteers canvas their community in search of donations they are publicizing and promoting organizations. This promotion could lead to increased funding and strengthening programmes.

Additionally engaging with social enterprise presents opportunities to expand to local markets in the future. I sent a couple of emails to Kick4Change to find out where their equipment is manufactured. I received a reply from one of their founders who was very open and approachable. He mentioned that their ultimate goal is to move towards local manufacturing, so that the sports equipment they provide to disadvantaged groups in Africa is manufactured locally. For an example, an organization already doing this is Alive and Kicking. They have stitching centres in Kenya and Zambia. They produce footballs locally and provide jobs for people in their programmes. If these social enterprises are engaged with and supported, regardless of where their equipment is initially coming from, then over time local economic opportunities can be created. If these organizations are immediately dismissed because they are perceived to be doing damage to the local economy then future opportunities may be missed.


July 24, 2010


Emotional Rainclouds and Fire Hoses

Starting on Tuesday of this past week the organization I’m working with, LENEPWHA (the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS), was hosting a workshop involving HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, psycho-social support, positive prevention, and palliative care. Five of the coaches from the football part of the project were included in the workshop and I thought that for the most part I would just check in to see how things were going sporadically over the week. I ended up attending the whole workshop. It worked out well. I was able to bring my English-Sesotho dictionary and used the time to improve my language skills. I also ended up being the designated photographer/videographer.

I was pretty happy with my role until the morning of the last day of the workshop. I arrived at the workshop a few minutes late. There were a couple of participants loitering outside smoking, so I just took a second to chat with them before proceeding inside the conference hall. Inside the hall the participants were standing in a circle. On the ground, In the middle of the circle was a large HIV/AIDS ribbon made out of leaves and pebbles.

In my role as photographer I started taking some pictures and video without thinking. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening. It was a sharing circle - I don't know if this is the correct term, but it describes the activity fairly well.

In an earlier post (doom and gloom binge) I talked about being drawn to this type of work because of the emotions involved. Even though I’m working with an HIV/AIDS organization, with people who are HIV positive, the presence of HIV/AIDS and death seems distant. I am not sure what I expected, but at some level I must have thought that there would be this ever-present cloud of grief raining on everything. It hasn’t been that way and I think the normalcy has surprised me slightly. I would not say that people are suppressing their emotions, but similar to anywhere else there has to be some form of emotional compartmentalization for people and society to function.

If I thought there would be this emotional rain cloud in Lesotho I think the sharing circle showed me that it is actually more like a fire hose. I was in this room with about 30 other people. I was the only white guy – not really an issue because LENEPWHA are incredibly welcoming, notice the picture of me in the traditional Basotho blanket, but it makes me feel like I stand out –

I was the only person who has not been affected by HIV/AIDS, and I was the jackass holding a camera. I couldn’t completely comprehend everything, but from what I heard and what I was told later, people were talking about learning about their status, getting sick, friends and family dying, and discrimination and stigma - families disowning them, friends abandoning them, husbands throwing them out. Almost all of the participants were crying or had tears in their eyes. While telling their stories many became inconsolable – crying hysterically. A couple of minutes in and I wanted to leave that room more than I have ever wanted to leave anywhere, but I wasn’t sure if that would be offensive – as much as I felt like I stood out no one was really taking notice of me. At this moment of trying to decide if I should stay or if I should go the project manager tells me that I can go into the middle of the circle to get some better photos and video. I must have looked like he had turned a fire hose on me from a couple of feet away. I whispered ‘umm…I would not feel very comfortable doing that’. Luckily one of the local LENEPWHA staff was fine with it, so I handed the camera over to him. In retrospect I think that it would have been fine for me to jump in the middle of the circle and shove my camera in peoples’ faces, but at the time it seemed like a horrible idea.

After the activity was over it was like someone turned off the valve on the fire hydrant and everything was back to normal. People who had collapsed in tears only a few minutes earlier were now laughing, joking, and posing for pictures with the HIV ribbon made of leaves.

I can only imagine what it is like to be branded as HIV positive: marginalized, discriminated against, and stigmatized. In a sense you have to put your emotions into a compartment and lock them up. I can only imagine what this sharing circle can provide: a safe space to unlock that compartment, to share, to vent, to console, and to comfort. It was very powerful.


July 18, 2010


Poverty Porn in Sport for Development

I have started reading a lot of ‘development’ blogs since I have been in Lesotho. I would like to think it's because I am trying to learn and stay engaged in what is happening, but mostly I think it's because after dark my town shuts down, I don’t have a TV, I read through the books I buy pretty quickly, and I have internet access. That means I end up wasting a lot of time on the blogosphere. I often come across posts that I find interesting, but I sit on them for a while until I find a way of reworking them into something more relevant to my line of work – sport for development.

Something that surfaces a fair bit is the idea of poverty porn. The term refers to the process in which an organization, in an effort to solicit funds or attention from concerned global citizens, will portray people as poor, starving, helpless victims. I would highly recommend checking out this blog post and photography project – Perspectives of Poverty - by Duncan McNicholl who is working with Engineers Without Borders in Malawi. Also I would recommend checking out William Easterly’s blog. He has one post titled ‘should starving people be tourist attractions;' like many of his other posts it initiated a discussion and further posts on his blog.

In terms of marketing I suppose it is necessary. If you want someone to donate to your organization or pay attention to your message it is important that your publicity elicits an emotional response and implies that the audience can help. It is especially important since you are attempting to have the audience donate to projects or organizations that are most likely operating in a country that the they have never visited before. Nicholas Krisof is a writer with the New York Times. He is often accused of producing poverty porn – depicting black Africans as victims and white foreigners as saviours. He recently hosted a youtube Q&A and had to respond to this question. His response was similar to what I describe. His justification is that he needs to grab the attention of the audience and the best way to do this is to have a protagonist that is white/american.

Because I am a fan of Right to Play on facebook I was sent links to some of their new advertisements earlier this year. They are just short clips, but the images and text are very loaded. The first commercial titled ‘assembly’ is of a young boy putting together a gun. The text on the screen says ‘let him be good at something else/ let him play’. It conjures images of victimized child soldiers and then pleads with the concerned viewer to allow him to play. The second commercial has a young boy playing in a dump, using an object - maybe a discarded computer component - as a toy car. The text pops up and says ‘this shouldn’t be so fun for him/ let him play’. Again, it represents a power dynamic where the child is a victim and the audience has the power to let him play – even though he is playing, just not in the proper way. Is it not slightly pretentious for us to dictate what should and should not be fun?





From a marketing sense the ads are good. I think they follow a similar formula to other Right to Play commercials and I believe that Right to Play is not doing too badly in terms of fundraising. Also, I might be a hypocrite for arguing against this type of advertising since I am sure that the images and emotions reflected in these videos played a role in me choosing the path I am on.


July 10, 2010


Diamonds, gold, oil, coffee and…football players

I actually wrote this before the World Cup, but I never got around to posting it. However, I read a couple of interesting news articles during my trip that were related.

At the conference I attended in Glasgow there was a lot of talk about how social enterprise could assist with sport for development programmes becoming more sustainable. A lot of the presentations were interesting, but I am not sure I agree with the overall idea. The founder of Magic Bus gave a presentation on what their organization has done. His presentation was great and I admire the work the organization has done in India, but he mentioned something at the end of his presentation that has stuck with me. Recently Magic Bus has established a professional football team and it sees the sale of players as a possible social enterprise. The Mathare Youth Sports Association, a very long running and effective programme operating in Kenya, has also sold some of the players it has produced. The presentation got me thinking more about the sale and movement of players.

I have always found the movement of players and the globalization of sport to be an interesting topic. I suppose African players moving to Europe is an inevitable aspect of globalization. The ability of players to move between countries fairly easily and the ability of clubs to search out and buy top talent create a fairly open market. Some argue that this ‘leg drain’ is not really an issue because there are systems in place to ensure that athletes remain connected to their country. Even if a player is bought by Manchester United that player will still return home to play with and represent the national team. This isn’t the same for doctors and nurses.

However, for some reason in my mind I see a lot of parallels between the migration of players to Europe and the extraction of many other commodities from Africa. A resource is taken out of a country with very little investment, value is added elsewhere, and then huge profits are made off of that resource. Sepp Blatter has mentioned the same thing, but with slightly stronger words – equating the process to ‘social and economic rape’. You could argue that there is some trickle down economic effect. Players who go on to make millions will return some of that money to their country’s economy. Also, Sepp Blatter made that statement a number of years ago and there are now FIFA rules which dictate that a small percentage of transfer fees must go to clubs who contributed to a player’s development. On the other hand a lot of European clubs are establishing their own development academies in Africa. This would in effect eliminate any compensation for African clubs.

Over the past couple of years this extraction of players has also become fairly market driven. There is a perception that European clubs are only really looking for a certain type of African player. If you look around the European leagues there seems to be a disproportionate number of African defensive-midfielders and African strikers. Some former players, coaches, and analysts point at this development as the death of African football. They argue that player development in Africa is now based on the needs of European clubs and what those clubs perceive to be African strengths. As a result, African nations are not producing the same types of players they did in the past and are not able to produce the same type of creative, spontaneous, attacking football that they have become known for - this logic seemed to act as a justification for the 'poor' performance of African teams at this World Cup.

If you are really stretching you could probably even draw parallels between this type of specialization and previous failed agricultural development efforts. African football is being ruined by the market demands placed on it from European football in much the same way that the agricultural sector in some countries was destroyed by structural adjustment policies that advocated production and export of specific crops. Like I said, that might be stretching a bit. I am sure that part of the process is also governed by African children wanting to emulate their heroes – in this way the system is self-perpetuating. It might be similar to how so many hockey goaltenders seem to come out of Quebec.

I have sort of departed from my original idea relating to sport for development organizations selling players as a social enterprise. Football is a business, so it is understandable that European clubs will look for talent in Africa and try to use that talent to their own advantage. However, having sport for development organizations capitalizing on this market comes across as incongruous. It is hard for me to comment because I have no direct experience with selling football players, but it seems like it could possibly create a number of contradictions within the field of sport for development.


July 8, 2010

The Worst Job for a World Cup Fan?













While I was attending some World Cup games in South Africa the on field security personnel would always capture my attention. They would march out onto the field in their bright orange jackets and take up positions at about two meter intervals around the field. For the entire game they would watch the crowd. For the most part they seemed very diligent. I never saw anyone sneak a peak of the action.

I tried to imagine what it would be like having your back turned to a World Cup match for its entire duration. I don’t know if I would have the patience for it, but it would be interesting to experience a sporting event only based on the sounds and reactions of the crowd.

July 7, 2010

A Canadian Soccer Fan and North American Identity

I just returned to Lesotho after a week and a half of travelling around South Africa to attend some World Cup matches. Overall, it was an amazing experience, but one thing that stood out for me was the fact that I was a Canadian at a World Cup without an affiliation to any of the competing nations. This situation is highlighted every time you speak with someone because the inevitable question is ‘who do you support?’

I think that many Canadians would identify themselves as English, French, Italian, Greek, etc and therefore support those nations in the World Cup. For the last couple of World Cups I have begun supporting the United States. Generally, I tend not to support the U.S. in any event and instead actively cheer against them. However, I feel they represent North American soccer (I am excluding Mexico from this statement – not intending to offend) and as a North American soccer player and fan I am cheering for them. While I travelled around South Africa I would encounter people from African countries who were actively supporting other African nations. Now that Ghana is the only African team remaining I believe that the entire continent will be supporting them, as they are representing Africa - This is a huge generalization, but go with me here.

I have a feeling that it is not the same in North America. Do we lack North American identity, North American pride?


June 24, 2010

Conferences and Summits and Seminars Oh My!

I just got back from Glasgow where I was attending my first ‘sport for development’ conference. It was actually called the 3rd Commonwealth Sports Development Conference: Achieving Sustainable Development – Building capacity in communities, clubs, and NGOs. It was actually quite relevant since I have been thinking about the idea of sustainability lately. I wasn’t really that satisfied with some of the sustainability talk, but I did meet some pretty interesting people. If I stay involved in this type of work it seems like conferences are a fairly common feature. I think that there are sport for development conferences occurring every week for the next few weeks in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. The week before the conference in Scotland there was a similar one in India. I haven’t really kept track of it, but I imagine that for the last couple of years, since sport for development has taken hold, there has been a conference at least every month. I might be exaggerating though. They might just be more frequent right now because of the build up to the World Cup in South Africa.

This congestion of conferences brings up a lot of issues, but one thing that it brought to focus in my mind was how much of a business the development/aid world is. A few weeks ago I came across an article by Ravi Kanbur through one of the development blogs I read. The author identifies himself as a poverty professional and the article goes through his internal debate regarding this line of work: flying off to conferences, being put up in hotels, writing about poverty, researching poverty, and basically making a living off of poverty. You can rationalize this self-doubt away by thinking that if you are helping people get out of poverty then it doesn’t matter if you are making money off of it. There are many professions that capitalize off of the negative. Doctors make money off of the sick, lawyers and police officers make money off of crime, psychiatrists make money off of the mentally unwell.

However, I feel there is a slight difference. It seems that many of the people who attend these conferences are outsiders. They are not living in poverty. This by itself doesn’t have to be a problem; doctors don't have to be sick to help people. However, the difference is related to accountability. The system is set up so that the poverty professionals are not really accountable to the people they are lifting out of poverty. If your doctor or your lawyer makes a mistake there are systems in place to hold those people accountable. I don’t believe it is the same for the development sector.

The article I linked to advocates for poverty immersion trips. One week trips that allow poverty professionals to become connected to the context in which they work. Seems interesting, but I am not sure how effective a one week trip would be. I have been in Lesotho for a few months now and I still don't know what the hell is going on. I also find it laughable because it emphasizes how much of a divide there is between poverty professionals and the people they serve - assuming they are serving people living in poverty. The fact that they are so far removed from a situation that they have to be flown in for week long immersion trips seems ridiculous.

June 8, 2010