The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 19 December 2012


Source: Creative Commons
When we were children we often asked why type questions.  Why is the sky blue?  Why does grandad have a walking stick?  Why do I have to go in the car?  Answers to these questions often were followed up with yet another why question.  If the answers weren’t satisfactory to our young and enquiring minds, our response was – but why?

Why? why? why?

As we grew up and began to leave childhood and all its innocence behind, questions of why also got left behind.  By our teenage years, of course, we knew it all and there was no need to ask why anymore.  (Apologies to any teens reading this, you may wish to differ).

What would our understanding of the world be if we had kept asking why into our adult years?  More so, if we had kept asking why, would we have a markedly different world than the one which we presently inhabit?

What if we asked questions like these:
  • Why are some people poor?
  • Why do we go to war?
  • Why do we chop down trees?
  • Why do we build prisons?
Of course, there are answers to these questions.  But, what would happen, if like our innocent child, we kept asking: but why?

We (the questioner and the answerer) may eventually come to a realisation that the answers that we so glibly promote are illogical, senseless and ultimately bring us face-to-face with some questions about our humanity and earthly guardianship.

The most important why question may turn out to be:

Why do we stop asking why?

This is my final posting for this year.  I’ll be back in the middle of January.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Mathematics of Inequality

When I went to school I was taught that one of the fundamentals of arithmetic and algebra was that the two sides of an equation needed to be equal.

Subsequently I started to learn about the state of the world and came to realise that we do not apply this sense of equality to our social relations.  Consider the following table which shows just how poor our social arithmetic is.  (Dollar amounts are quoted in US dollars. One trillion = 1,000 billion).

  Number   Number  
World military spending per person per year $162   $13 Amount needed per person to meet basic human needs for everyone
Number of books published each year 800,000   1 billion Number of people who are illiterate
Number of people killed in 9/11 attacks 2,977   3,027 + up to 20,000 Number of coalition forces killed in Afghanistan War + number of civilian deaths
Percentage of World Arms trade undertaken by 5 permanent members of UN Security Council 90%   over 26 million Number of people displaced because of armed conflict
Number of jobs created in oil and gas industry per $1 million of investment 2   15 Number of jobs created in renewable energy per $1 million of investment
Number of billionaires worldwide 1,226   2.7 billion Number of people worldwide who live on less than $2/day
Combined wealth of Worlds top 1% $80 trillion   $120 trillion Total wealth of rest of the World
Number of tons of grain fed to cattle in the rich world 600 million   790 million Number of people malnourished in the world

State of the world mathematics grade: D-

Monday 10 December 2012

Am I Happier?

Source: Ira Gelb (Creative Commons)
Forty years ago I was just entering my twenties, my life ahead of me.  I was an University student and lived in a flat with others.

Forty years ago we had a telephone in the flat with a cord that stretched maybe 3 metres, confining phone conversation essentially to one room.  Now, forty years later, I have a cell phone that goes with me wherever I go.

Then, I had a car that travelled at a maximum speed of around 120 kph.  Now, I could have a car that reached that speed from stand-still in around 6 seconds.

Then, I could board a ship and travel to the other side of the world in about a week.  Now, I can fly there in less than a day.

Then, we had a television set that had three channels of programmes.  Now, we have a television with at least a dozen channels and (if we subscribed to pay TV) we could have dozens more.

Then, I went to a library to research a topic.  Now, I can search the Internet from home at any time of day or night.

Then, we bought local seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Now, we can get exotic foods from anywhere on the planet at any time of the year.

Then, I was happy.  Now, I am happy.

But, am I happier?  I doubt it.  Does our increasing consumption make us happier?  Not really.  There may even be indications that the opposite is in fact the case:
  • Suicide rates have increased by 60% over the past four decades,
  • The incidence of obesity has doubled since 1980,
  • The use of anti-depressant drugs in the Western World has more than doubled since the 1990s.
  • Americans have on-third fewer friends than they did 20 years ago.
I am posting this in December, just two weeks before Christmas.  In this most consumptive of months in the Western World our suicide rates and depression rates peak, as does the rate for domestic violence.  Something to think about.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

HOPE: Moments of inspiration in a challenging world. (Book review)

Tim Costello loves stories, he always has.  As a child he loved to listen to his mother and grandmother tell him stories.  In this delightful book Tim becomes storyteller, sharing with us around 60 stories mostly from his experience as CEO of World Vision Australia.

Tim is also unashamedly a Christian and his faith is often apparent in his stories.  So too, is his commitment to social justice.  Occasionally the stories felt a little flat, but with 60 stories being told Tim can be forgiven this.  What is never very far from the surface though is his obvious concern for a world in which the poorest on earth are given a much fairer deal.

In order to achieve that better deal Tim acknowledges that “the sharpest tool on the development rack” is the empowerment of women.  A number of his stories portray this principle and he backs his claim up with convincing arguments and data.  He notes, for example, that for every dollar earned by a woman around 90 cents will flow to the family and kids, whereas only 40 cents of every dollar earned by a man will do likewise.

Tim’s writing style is easy to read using short snippets (often only a couple of pages long), and always told with compassion, honesty and occasional pathos.

But don’t get fooled into thinking that these are all feel-good stories about how we in the West, via charities like World Vision, are helping the “deserving poor”.  Tim Costello often squarely places responsibility for poverty on Western ideology, culture and consumerism.

Take chocolate for instance.  Tim tells the story of travelling through Ghana and the Ivory Coast and seeing lots of ill-fed, undernourished children spraying dangerous chemicals to kill weeds on cocoa plantations.  Many of these children, he was told, are been displaced far from their homes.  The reason for the use of child labour and poor working conditions, Tim says, is “because the economics determine that we in the West want to eat cheap chocolate.”

Tim Costello’s faith and humanism come together overtly about two-thirds of the way through the book in a story titled “Salvation that is public and personal”.  Following the visit of a South African preacher to the university where Tim was a student he came to the realisation that “the hope of the Gospel must address the big issues of racism and power”.   And address these issues he does.

Every now and then at the end of a story I was left wanting more, almost bemoaning that the story was unfinished.   As I read further though, the more I began to realise that perhaps that is the point: the stories are never finished.  Our work, and Tim’s work, for social justice is never finished.

The book “HOPE: Moments of inspiration in a challenging world” can be purchased online from the World Vision Australia web-site.  Click on the tab in the centre of the home page:

Thursday 29 November 2012

What to do about evil

Evil – a simple word, but, oh what sinister, demonic and malevolent images and notions it evokes.  Good and evil has been one of the most pervading of human predicaments throughout the centuries.  Most of us, particularly males, have played around with the duality.  As a boy I recall playing cops n’ robbers, cowboys and indians, goodies versus baddies.  The games always had the two opposites competing for whatever prize was on offer.

If only the playing was consigned to childhood.  But it’s not.  In adulthood the duality becomes Commies vs Capitalists, Catholics vs Protestants, Bible Bashers vs Immoral Atheists.  It gets played out in the Cold War, the threat of the Yellow Peril and nowadays as the War on Terror.  All require an evil force or an evil doer to fight against.

But what is evil?
“We must take up arms against this evil power that threatens our way of life.  With God on our side we must fight to defend our glorious traditions and values.”
Who said that?  George W Bush?  Or was it Osama bin Laden?  It could have come from the lips of either couldn’t it?  Perhaps it came from that devout Christian, Adolf Hitler.

Indeed, many of the atrocities that have plagued our history have been carried out in the name of eradicating evil.  By thinking that “the other” (person or community or nation) is evil we allow ourselves to justify harming or even killing that person or group of people.  That’s a trap!

The problem with a concept like evil is that it is viewed in terms of it’s dual opposite – good.  Good and evil is a dualistic conception.  By viewing the world through this dualistic lens we inevitably act in a manner that says “my side is right – your side is wrong.”  The conflict that ensues from this can then only be resolved by one side winning and the other side losing, often via violence.

The problem is further exacerbated by our propensity for seeing ourselves as separate entities.  I am separate from you and we are separate from them.  Another trap that is easy to fall into.

Perhaps, then, the evil is that we are too prone to look for evil in “the other”.  Continuing with the thinking of ourselves as separate and that the other side is evil means that when we look for evil we will surely find it.  For it was always there, embedded in our misguided thinking.  Time to reassess our thinking, methinks.

Monday 26 November 2012

The Circus of Injustice

Source: Creative Commons
“Just ‘cos you’ve got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean that the circus has left town”
This pithy, cynical quotation is attributed to George Carlin; a wonderful American comedian and satirist with an acerbic wit and the ability to cut through a lot of b.s. to reveal reality for what it is.
When I read this quote it struck me that in a few words Carlin had summed up a mindset that I see all too often amongst those who have grown up in less than fortunate surroundings and have gone on to become rich, famous or in authority roles.  Many times I have seen and heard from some that have benefitted in this way that because they were able to rise out of the situation they were in then anyone can do it and so those that remain destitute are undeserving of assistance.  “I did it, so can they”  I hear.
But, as Carlin so sublimely notes the circus is still in town.  The circus is well and truly in town masquerading as a system that allows for unbridled greed whilst many go begging.  Under the Big Top of Injustice there are communities who remain in poverty and cycles of unemployment, violence and discrimination.
It is because the circus is still in town that community development is so important.  Community development is just that, it attempts to develop communities not just individuals within communities.
Furthermore, community development recognises that there are systems, beliefs, worldviews, prejudices and social barriers that restrict and condemn some communities to remaining within the Big Top, never seeing the world outside the circus.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

5 More Inspiring Social Justice Campaigners

Clockwise from top left: Havel, Gandhi,
Mandela, Hanh, King.
Following my last post looking at 5 (female) Inspiring Social Justice Campaigners here is a listing of 5 men who are an inspiration.  Most of these names will be well known and maybe one or two not so well known.

Václav Havel

Václav Havel was the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic.  When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 Havel provided narrative on Radio Free Czechoslovakia thus helping the resistance.  As an essayist and playwright Havel wrote many publications opposing the Soviet occupation.  In doing so he found himself imprisoned numerous times, subjected to surveillance and questioning.  One of his most famous essays The Power of the Powerless was written during the Soviet occupation.

Although seen as a dissident, Havel was reluctant to view himself in the same way saying that “we simply went ahead and did certain things that we felt we ought to do, and that seemed to us decent to do, nothing more nor less.”  Nor was he interested in politics, or so he claimed, yet he became Czechoslovakia’s President two days before the end of 1989 and retained the Presidency in the country’s first free elections in 1990.  Following the dissolution of the country in 1992 Havel became the first President of the Czech Republic on 26 January 1993.

The Czechs seemed to have a love-hate relationship with him and sometimes it appeared that he enjoyed a greater popularity outside the country rather than within.  One of his first acts as the new President was to release political prisoners and those that had been falsely imprisoned during the Communist rule.  Included amongst this release was that of indigenous Germans imprisoned after WW II, a highly controversial act.

After quitting politics Havel remained active in human rights organisations and went back to writing plays.  In 2005 he was voted by Czechs as the third greatest Czech alive.  He received a number of awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Order of Canada and was the inaugural recipient of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Mohandas Gandhi

What can be said about Gandhi that has not already been told and repeated dozens, nay thousands, of times throughout the world.  Most well known for leading the non-violent campaign to rid India of the British colonists, Gandhi had already become famous for campaigning for the rights of Muslim and Hindu Indians in South Africa.

Behind the highly noticeable campaign for Swaraj (independence of India from British rule) Gandhi had led nationwide campaigns to end untouchability, to expand women’s rights, to reduce poverty, to build religious and ethnic harmony and foster economic self-reliance.

Perhaps his most inspired act was the 400km Dandi Salt March in 1930 protesting against the national salt tax.  As a protest against the tax on salt Gandhi marched the 400km from Ahmedabad to Dandi so that he could make the salt himself.  It took him more than three weeks and he was joined by thousands of Indians along the way.  It was to be one of the most successful campaigns in ending British rule.

Often attributed as the father of nonviolent resistance Gandhi himself said that “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”  He was however the first to utilise nonviolence on a large scale.

Nelson Mandela

Mandela was initially very influenced by Gandhi and his nonviolent approach to struggle, which he and the African National Congress (ANC) used until the Sharpeville Massacre. In response to this outrageous act, believing it to be the last resort, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC in 1961.  Via this organisation he planned and undertook sabotage campaigns against the South African racist government.  Mandela was later to rue this move and admitted that the ANC had also violated human rights.

In 1962 Mandela was arrested and accused of sabotage for which he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  During his imprisonment Mandela became an international symbol of the world-wide anti-apartheid movement.  Mounting international pressure finally saw the South African president (F W de Klerk) reverse the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups as well as release Mandela in February 1990.

Mandela immediately went back to leading the ANC and helped lead the party to the country’s first multi-racial elections.  At those elections, held in 1994, the ANC won 62% of the vote and Mandela became the country’s first black President.  F W de Klerk was chosen as his deputy, the man with whom Mandela had shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Nelson Mandela has inspired not only human rights and social justice organisations world-wide but also a host of musicians including: Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Simple Minds, Tracy Chapman, Whitney Houston, The Special AKA and Youssou N’Dour.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

As much as Gandhi was to Indian independence or Mandela to South African freedom, King was to African-American emancipation.  King was also significantly influenced by Gandhi and nonviolence.
So much was he inspired by Gandhi that King visited Gandhi’s birthplace in 1959.  At the end of that visit King stated on radio that: “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.”

Following the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott inspired by Rosa Parks (see 5 Inspiring Social Justice Campaigners) King went on to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leading to the 1963 March on Washington.  It was here that King delivered what could arguably be considered one of the most inspiring speeches of all-time – “I Have a Dream”.  This famous speech was given in front of the Lincoln Memorial to more than a quarter of a million people of many ethnicities.

King remained committed to nonviolence (although some of the marches and sit-ins did turn violent) and led many marches seeking the right of African-Americans to vote, for desegregation, for the implementation of labour laws and other human rights,  Many of these campaigns were successful with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year.  He was arrested and imprisoned many times.

King was not just focused on human rights within the US but also outside of it.  By 1965 he was speaking out strongly against US involvement in Vietnam.  He recognised the injustice of one nation attempting to colonise another as well as the wastefulness of the war in terms of lives of young men (many of whom were black) and that money spent on the war was money that could be spent on welfare.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968 the day after giving another of his famous addresses: “I Have Been To The Mountaintop”  Words from this speech turned out to be prophetic.  There had been threats of bombs and so King had finished his speech with these words:

“I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man”

Thich Nhat Hanh

In 1966 Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh visited the US for the second time and whilst there met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged King to denounce the war in Vietnam.  It was King who the following year nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, no such prize was awarded that year.

In the 1950s Hanh established a Buddhist University in Saigon and a corps of Buddhist peaceworkers who helped to build schools and healthcare clinics and re-build villages in rural Vietnam.

The 1960s saw Hanh lecturing in Buddhism at Columbia University and becoming proficient in six languages as well as his native Vietnamese.  At the end of the decade, in 1969, he was the delegate for the Buddhist Peace Delegation at the Paris Peace talks.  However, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973 he was denied permission to return to his native land and went into exile in France.

Although since managing to return to Vietnam a couple of times, Hanh continues to reside in south-western France where he established Plum Village along with Sister Chan Khong.  He is well known also for establishing the Order of Inter-Being and coining the phrase Engaged Buddhism (a movement that promotes individual contribution to social change within a Buddhist framework).

Thich Nhat Hanh has written well over 75 books many of which are geared towards Buddhist readers but there are many from a wider audience amongst his readers.  One of the most widely read is The Art of Power from which comes:

“It is my conviction that there is no way to peace – peace is the way.”

Wednesday 14 November 2012

5 Inspiring Social Justice Campaigners

Social Justice as a concept covers a range of issues; economic, gender, race, identity and freedom from violence to name just a few.  Hence, it is difficult to pick out just five campaigners to highlight here.  Those that I have highlighted are by no means the most important or the most effective or any other form of “most”.  They are simply five that I have found inspiring.

You’ll notice too, that all of them are women.  I do intend posting a secondary listing at a later date of 5 More Inspiring Social Justice Campaigners who happen to be men.

In the meantime here are five women who have been an inspiration to many.  A couple of them are well known and a couple less well known, especially within the Western world.

Asmaa Mahfouz

This 27 year old Egyptian woman is possibly not well known in the West.  But the movement she began certainly is.  In January 2011, tired of the way in which the Egyptian people were being victimised by Mubarak, Asmaa posted a video on Facebook saying that she was going to protest in Tahrir Square.  She and four others did so and were surrounded by security forces and moved away.

Undaunted, Asmaa posted another video announcing that she would do the same again a week later.  “Never say there’s no hope.  Hope disappears only when you say there’s no hope” she proclaimed.

This time her video got uploaded to YouTube and went viral.  The next time she went to Tahrir Square there wasn’t just her and four others – there were thousands and thousands of people.  The Arab Spring had begun.

The video that began it all

Aung San Suu Kyi

Source: Wikipedia
By now the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of the Burmese pro-democracy movement is well known because of the movie “The Lady.”  The 2011 movie tracks the life of Suu Kyi in her campaign to end the brutal military dictatorship that had ruled Burma for decades.

Suu Kyi’s father was Aung San, considered to be the father of modern Burma, who was assassinated when Suu Kyi was just 2 years old in 1948.

In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Burma, to care for her ailing mother, after studying at Oxford University and marrying a British academic.  She soon became involved with the National League for Democracy.

Although a general election was held in 1990 the military dictatorship refused to recognise the results and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest until 1995.  It didn’t last long, she was placed under house arrest again in 2000, released in 2002 and re-arrested yet again in 2003.  She was finally released from detention in November 2010.  In the 21 years from 1990 to 2010, Suu Kyi had been under house arrest for 15 of them.

In April 2012 Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy won parliamentary seats although her struggle for democracy within Burma still persists.

Although she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 it was not until June 2012 that she was finally able to deliver her acceptance speech.  One of her most famous quotes is:
"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."
Germaine Greer

Feminism without Germaine Greer is as hard to imagine as Cubism without Picasso or Rock n’ Roll without Elvis Presley.  Greer was at the forefront of the resurgent feminist movement of the 1970s and her book “The Female Eunuch” (1970) became a feminist classic.

Born in Australia in 1939 Greer courted controversy from a very young age and continues to do so today at almost 74 years of age.  With a highly academic background (her PhD is in Elizabethan drama) Greer has lectured in Coventry, Oklahoma and Cambridge.

But it was her book, “The Female Eunuch”, that thrust Greer into the headlines.  The central theme was that society and in particular the nuclear family represses women sexually thus rendering women as eunuchs. Furthermore, she asserted that women were taught to be submissive and so considered themselves as inferior to men.  From today's perspective these sound rather exaggerated ideas, but in the 1970s the claims resounded with thousands of women (and some men).

Much of her thought was informed by Marxism and anarchism (and Greer openly states this) and so although she espoused many freedoms she was wary of institutionalising those freedoms.  In a television interview just four years ago she stated that she
“believe(d) in permanent revolution. I believe that once you change the power structure and you get an oligarchy that is trying to keep itself in power, you have all the illiberal features of the previous regime. What has to keep on happening is a constant process of criticism, renewal, protest and so forth.”
Dame Whina Cooper

Source: Wikipedia
If Dame Whina Cooper is known at all outside her native Aotearoa (New Zealand) it is as the figurehead of the large Maori Land March (hikoi) that marched the length of the North Island in 1975 to protest the continued theft of land.  By the time the marching protesters arrived at Parliament Buildings in Wellington the 80 year-old Cooper had 5,000 marchers behind her.  There, on the steps of Parliament she handed a petition signed by 60,000 people to the New Zealand Prime Minister.

But Dame Whina Cooper was well known within Maoridom well before this.  In 1951 she helped found and became the first president of the Maori Women’s Welfare League, a highly influential and successful organisation that improved the conditions of Maori everywhere, especially those caught in the rural-urban drift trap..  When she stepped down from the presidency she was awarded with the title of Te Whaea o te Motu (Mother of the Nation).  She continued to work for the benefit of Maori people at a more local level until her calling in 1975 to lead the Land March.

Although Dame Whina Cooper’s work focused on the conditions for Maori she became widely respected within New Zealand society and was given the honour of opening the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990.  When she died in 1994 over a million people watched the live broadcast of her tangihanga (funeral) on television.

Rosa Parks

December 1st, 1955 was a turning point in the history of the American Civil Rights movement.  On that day in Montgomery a 42 year old African-American boarded bus number 2857 and sat down in the coloured section.  When a white passenger boarded she refused the bus driver’s order that she give up her seat in the coloured section because the white section was full.  Rosa Parks was arrested.

It wasn’t the first time that buses and discrimination had played a part in Parks’ life.  As a child she and other black students had to walk to school whilst white students took the bus.  As she recalled:

“I’d see the bus pass by every day… the bus was among the first ways I realised there was a black world and a white world.” 

In 1943 she boarded a bus, paid her fare and then had to get off the bus and move to the back to enter via the rear door because there were white people sitting in the front of the bus and she was not permitted to pass them by.  As she walked to the rear of the bus, the driver drove off leaving her to walk home in the rain.  Ironically it was the same driver that ordered her arrest on that day in December 1955.

On 5 December 1955 Parks was tried on charges of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance.  The day before, a Sunday, 35,000 handbills were printed and distributed and black churches in the area announced plans for a Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Even though the day of the boycott was wet, African-Americans continued with the boycott and maintained it for 381 days.With dozens of buses sitting idle and the transit company’s finances being severely hit the city finally repealed its public transport segregation laws.

Rosa Parks (front) boarding the first desegregated bus in
 Montgomery. Source: "Through Zena's eyes" blogsite.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks refusal to submit to racial discrimination itself became one of the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights Movement in the US.

In her autobiography Rosa Parks refutes the allegation that she refused to move for the more mundane reason that she was “tired”. 
“I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Thursday 8 November 2012

Relate, Relate, Relate

Source: tuchodi (Creative Commons)
In Real Estate the mantra is “location, location, location”.  In Community Development it is “relate, relate, relate.”

The basis of any good community development work is and always has been in the building and maintenance of good relationships.  When you think about it, it makes absolute sense.  Community development is work that is people-oriented, persons-centred (if you like).  Only secondarily is it about sitting down by yourself and writing reports, devising plans or going over a budget.

First and foremost it is about people.

When healthy relationships are built we simultaneously build into the social structure beneficial values such as trust, confidence and understanding.

With trust comes openness, transparency and letting go.

With confidence comes learning, creativity and empowerment.

With understanding comes acceptance, tolerance and humbleness.

All these values are vital in community development, and they come from something as simple as building relationships.

And how do we build these healthy relationships?  No differently than we do with our partner, spouse, parents, children, family or significant others.  We want what is best for that person, we want for that person to feel valued, appreciated and loved.  It is no different for a community.  Just a few more people involved.

The indigenous people of the country in which I was born, the Māori, have a saying which is well known and widely quoted:
“He aha te mea nui?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.”
(What is the greatest thing?
It is people, it is people, it is people.)
Its as short and as simple as that: relate, relate, relate.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

We Pull Together

Satellite image of Hurrican Sandy
“We pull together.”  I heard this a number of times recently on television stories about Hurricane Sandy.  It was used by at least one US Presidential candidate, a Governor or two and maybe a couple of Senators.

“We pull together” at times like this, help one another out, share the load, make sure that our neighbours are safe, clothed, fed and warm.

It was a bad time for folk on the eastern seaboard of the US, as it had been a few days earlier in the Caribbean.

“We pull together” though, and we do.  Life continues.

I heard similar sentiment expressed 20 months ago whilst living in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The city had just experienced it’s second, and most deadly and disastrous, earthquake.  181 people had been killed, buildings had collapsed, homes had been engulfed by liquefaction (a word that very few of us had heard until those fateful days).

Where I lived cliffs had tumbled with some houses teetering on the edges whilst others, at the bottom, had been crushed by rocks falling upon them.  One man had been innocently picking strawberries for lunch when he was struck by falling rocks.  He was never to eat that or any other lunch.  Another had been crushed by a rock the size of a house behind the RSA building.

“We pull together” though, and we did.  Within hours, farmers from the hinterland were loading their utes and trucks with gallons of fresh water and delivering it to us city dwellers.  People were going door-to-door checking on neighbours, especially the elderly ones.

Without electricity or water those that had access shared with those that didn’t.  Those that had friends and family missing were comforted.

“We pull together".  In my suburb, within a day or so of the earthquake, a spontaneous community-driven information, support and distribution centre was established.  The first parcels of fruit cake from a community 1,500 km away in the North Island arrived.  Packets of soup and cans of fruit and vegetables materialised.  Not even the pets were forgotten – dog and cat food was donated.

A week or so later a young man who was a builder turned up with his tools in his truck from Invercargill, a 7 or 8 hour drive away.  Introducing himself he simply said “I’m here to help, who needs assistance?”  He helped people with their dangerously damaged chimneys, repaired windows and doors.  He stayed for a week.  As did another man, a plumber, from Nelson 500 km to the north of the city.

“We pull together.”  It was heartening, it was gladdening, it was humanity working at it’s best in the worst of times.

If Then, Why Not Now?

We can pull together in the worst of times.  Why, then, can we not do so in the best of times?

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is yet to come, but the experience of many other disasters around the world, including the Christchurch earthquakes, suggests that once the disaster is over then we often return to the same order as before the disaster struck.

We return to communities and societies in which poverty exists alongside enormous wealth, where families live in overcrowded dwellings whilst others rattle around in spacious opulence.  We return to an order in which many do not get the health care they need, where children grow up in abusive environments and where the elderly or those with disability are ignored.

“We pull together.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could hold fast to the compassion and generosity that emerges during the worst of times and continue pulling together during the best of times?

We can.  In order to do so we must resource and encourage the bottom-up approach that arises during the worst of times.  We must also ensure that community development works to strengthen that approach.

In short: cut through the red tape, dispense with big brother knows best, allow and enable community development to emerge.

Friday 2 November 2012

Maybe the Mayans

We have less than two months.  At least that is what the doomsayers say about the coming end of the Mayan calendar.  Just four days before Christmas this year a 5,125 year long Mayan calendar cycle comes to an end.

Some predict that this heralds the end of the world.  Others say that it means that humanity will undergo a spiritual transformation.

The systems thinker, Ervin Laszlo, has used the date as a reference point to the crossroads at which humanity presently stands.  His view is that we are in a period of transition.  Transition to what?  Reflecting the conflicting predictions of the Mayan calendar believers, Laszlo suggests that we face one of two scenarios; breakdown or breakthrough.

We could breakdown and experience catastrophic natural disasters, wide-spread famines, rampant global pandemics, lingering droughts, severe flooding, serious water shortages, increasing distrust and anger.  All of which could fuel resource wars and acts of global terrorism.  In short, a breakdown of any semblance of human decency and order on a grand scale.

Or, suggests Laszlo, we could breakthrough and realise a humanity based on greater compassion, respect and mutual cooperation.  Concurrent with greater social cohesion and well-being would also come a desire for equitable, sustainable practises that would slow, halt and, eventually, turn back the detrimental effects of our growth-at-all-costs mentality of the past few centuries.

To Laszlo and others the end of the Mayan calendar could be a wake-up call that we humans need to hear.

So too could hurricanes such as Superstorm Sandy currently making headlines around the world.  Although Hurricane Sandy is a weather system and cannot be thought of as climatic in nature, many climate scientists find it difficult to track the connections between climate change and specific weather patterns, but acknowledge a link

In order for an hurricane (along with typhoons and cyclones) to form, the sea surface temperature must be warm.  Over the past few decades sea surface temperature has increased and in that time the annual number of intense storms (category 4 and 5) has nearly doubled.  Not only has the number doubled but they also make up a much larger share of all categories of storm.  In short, storms are getting more intense and bigger.

Indeed, Superstorm Sandy is the largest diameter Atlantic hurricane on record.

Another wake-up call?

A Role for Community Development

Community development workers must be amongst the first to hear those calls and respond to them.  It will increasingly become a fundamental role of the community development worker to enable communities to build resilience in the face of dawning changes.  Simultaneously, helping communities to envision a future of breakthrough will also be a key task for community development workers.

If community development workers haven’t heard or understood the thinking behind the phrase “think global, act local”, now is a time to do so.

It is time for community development workers to actively become community educators also.

Can we do it?  Can we breakthrough rather than breakdown?  Have we passed the tipping point?
Who can tell?  I’m reminded of the Chinese diplomat who, when asked what he thought of the French revolution, responded with “hmmm… too early to tell.”

It may be too early to tell.  It may (pessimistically) be too late to alter the outcome.

But it’s not too early, or too late, to act.

Friday 26 October 2012

Doing Good, Changing Worlds

Here are two quick questions:
  • Why do community groups and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) get involved in community development?
  • Why do people work for or volunteer for community groups and NGOs?
When I have asked these questions of community development workers, volunteers, NGO board members and others I get a variety of answers.  On the whole the responses boil down to two very simple one-line answers:
  • to do good, and
  • to change things.
These two answers can either enhance each other or they can hinder.  It’s all in the motivation of the responder.

Let’s look at things simply.  I know that it’s not quite as simple as I’m about to make out, but it does give us a starting point.

When we want to get involved in community work “to do some good” we need to do so aware that there is a danger that our primary motivation is the personal satisfaction we get from helping someone.  When our motivation is too much determined by our own need for approval then the danger is that we lose sight of the real needs of the person or people we are espousing to do good for.

Some developmental work can also display this form of acting.  Communities and neighbourhoods have something done to them or for them with the decision as to what that is made by an external agency without regard to the thoughts, ideas or even the wish of the community.

These actions are easily spotted in newspaper photographs and stories all over the world.  A high ranking official, a politician or a celebrity is seen in front of some new, often costly, development.  They are seen smiling and beaming, perhaps with scissors at the ready or spade in hand.  Off to the side of the photograph may be a representative of the community that is to be “helped” by the project.

Yes, it smacks a little of chauvinism doesn’t it?

On the other hand, if our primary motivation is to change the world then we can be in danger of doing so with little regard to the means by which we do so.  In doing this we again lose sight of the needs of those for whom we are seeking the change.  Decisions can easily be taken in terms of the goals we seek or the resolution of the problem.  The cliché is of course, that the ends justify the means.

Both motivations, unfortunately, can help to further entrench the very issues or situations we are attempting to solve or help overcome.  When a person is given a hand-out instead of a hand-up then we set up situations of dependence, co-dependence, disempowerment and ultimately nothing changes.

In other words, the very thing we seek can in fact be made less attainable.

Unthinking passion can be just as damaging as unfeeling rationality.  What we need is passionate thinking and rational emotionality.

Centuries of Western philosophy attempting to separate mind from body and rationality from feeling has made this a difficult path to discover.  For, like the fish trying to describe water, our cultural backgrounds and belief systems are so pervasive that we often don’t recognise them, let alone understand them.

So, how do we find a way in which our head and heart can work in tandem?  Can we find a way in which our desire to do good can be assisted by our understanding of how our actions affect the world and those we work with?

Here are some ideas for us all to consider in our reflections on why and how we work:
  • Recognise that there is no external issue or problem or person.  Everything is inter-connected.
  • As much as we can act to resolve an issue or solve a problem we need to also work on our own feelings, perceptions and understandings.
  • Start with an open mind.  Beginning with a fixed idea as to what the solution is leads to error.
  • Accept that none of us have all the pieces to the puzzle, that we don’t need to work on the whole puzzle, but that there will be others working on other bits of it.
  • Learn as you go, pick up techniques, tools and methods.  Be like the carpenter with a bag of tools.  The more tools the carpenter has the better placed he or she is to help fix a situation.  The key is to be able to know which tool to use in which situation and how to use the tool wisely.
  • Realise also that failure is an excellent opportunity for learning.  Consciously search for the learning in the experience. 
  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Even though you may have a full toolkit there will always be a situation in which none of the tools work. 
  • Understand that whatever we do there will be consequences.  Some of those we may be able to foretell, others we will have no prior knowledge of in which case we need to master forbearance and tolerance.
  • Further understand that no matter what we do, there will always be someone else or something else that also has an effect upon what we are trying to do.
  • Constantly question our motivation.  Are we doing this because of our own wants and needs?  Have we fully considered the needs of those we want to assists and have we included them in the decision-making?

Thursday 18 October 2012

Community Development, Empowerment and Voting

Martin Pettitt.  Creative Commons
I once had a fairly senior local authority officer tell me that “empowerment is all about voting … and nothing to do with community development.”  Really?  Empowerment has everything to do with community development and precious little to do with voting.

Anyone who has been involved with and understands community development will tell you that empowerment has been one of the most enduring and potent themes in the history and practice of community development.  Indeed, aside from the phrase community development itself, empowerment has been perhaps the most often defined term in the community development lexicon.  I’m not going to add another, just quote a couple so that we know what we’re talking about.

The World Bank defines empowerment as
“… the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives.”
Notwithstanding that you may wonder that the World Bank has not lived up to its own definition or that it has not been held accountable by the majority of the World’s poor, the definition is useful.

The next definition comes from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).  IAP2 has championed a spectrum of public engagement that passes from the least engaged stage of Inform, through Consult, Involve, Collaborate to Empower as the highest level of engagement.  The definition of Empower that IAP2 gives is:
“To place final decision-making in the hands of the public.”
So what have empowerment and these definitions got to do with my assertion that empowerment has little to do with voting?

A further defining feature of community development has been that it’s focus has always been on community and/or collective actions and programmes as opposed to an individual or family-centred approach.

Voting could be said to more readily exist as an individual rather than a community action.  One of the great rallying calls of electoral democracy has been “one man (sic), one vote".  Certainly there have been community-based campaigns around the right to vote; the suffragette movement most notably.  Nevertheless, once the right to vote has been won, or the community has been rallied to enrol, when the voter enters the polling booth it is very much an individual act.

Regrettably, under electoral democracy, once the voter has placed their mark upon the voting paper that is generally the end of their participation in public decision-making for the next three or four years.

Furthermore, when we look at the outcome of this process who do we see?  A mostly homogeneous group of career politicians drawn largely from the upper deciles of society, highly educated and articulate, confident not only in themselves but also in their opinions and beliefs.

Look at the backgrounds of most Western parliamentarians or local body councillors.  Lawyers, teachers, business owners, wealthy farmers, financiers.  You need to search long and hard to find hairdressers, motor mechanics, truck drivers or – unspeakably – anyone who is unemployed.

No, these parliamentarians and councillors are hardly representative of the communities in which community development seeks to work.  Very few, if any, are representative of the poor people in the World Bank definition above.

Empowered by Random Choice

If empowerment entails communities taking the final decision-making then electoral politics and the voting system are not routes towards it.  Is there an alternative?  What if there were a way to more easily ensure greater representation of the demographics of communities, cities and nations?

When making a decision what could be more simple or more fair than a random throwing of a dice, a flipping of a coin, or a drawing of names out of a hat.

Wait!  Don’t dismiss the idea as absurd or fanciful.  It’s been done.  The birthplace of democracy itself – ancient Athens – used the casting of lots far more often than they did a voting system.  Ahh – but that was over 2000 years ago.  Yes, but recent experiments and research have resurrected the idea and found that it has enormous merit.

The idea even has a name, in fact, it has a couple.  Sortition is used to describe a system whereby randomness is used to select people for some position.  When applied within a political setting often the term demarchy is used.

When we think of empowerment as a community goal then demarchy has much to commend it.  Randomly selected public decision-makers suggest a far more representative possibility than does our present system.  In order to be selected by lot one needn’t be rich enough to be able to campaign, nor does one need to be famous enough to be voted for by name association.  One just needs to have a name!

A further benefit of demarchy that has been found to occur is that once someone has experienced the practice of public decision-making they tend to apply and teach the acquired skills within the community from which they have come.  There is then the possibility of overcoming another of electoral democracies pernicious weaknesses – elitism.

If, as the World Bank declares, empowerment seeks to enable people to participate and negotiate so that they are able to influence and control, then demarchy provides some answers where presently our political institutions do not.

Yes, community development has everything to do with empowerment and it can empower communities using randomness.  Let’s not toss it aside, let’s toss our names into the hat.

Friday 12 October 2012

I’m for stimulating the Economy

We must stimulate the economy.  Everyone’s saying so.  From Barack Obama to Angela Merkel, from Julia Gillard to Mario Draghi.

So I may as well add my voice.

Amongst all the rhetoric of politicians, business owners and financiers I hear others saying that these people “don’t know what they’re talking about”.  Now, I don’t want to be accused of that so I thought that before I talk about economy I’d better find out what economy is.

So I checked.

The online etymological dictionary tells me that economy came from the Greeks (οἰκονόμος) and is the “management of the household”.  Ah ha, I thought - I can devise a list of what may constitute the management of a household.  This is what I came up with:
  • providing shelter and safety,
  • maintaining health and well-being,
  • ensuring sanitation and cleanliness,
  • raising children and providing them with education and encouraging them to realise their potential,
  • providing nutritious meals,
  • tending the garden and surrounding land,
  • making sure that communication is honest and transparent,
  • keeping the peace,
  • remembering to celebrate.
Source: koukiks damz, Creative Commons
When the Greeks coined the term οἰκονόμος a couple of millennia ago a household was probably not very large.  Since those times we have come to travel further and quicker.  Our communication has expanded enormously from talking in the streets and councils of Athens to being able to Skype from one side of the planet to the other instantaneously.  Today, then, it could be argued that our household is the whole planet and the people upon it.  With that idea in mind how do we manage this household, how do we stimulate this economy?

The list above gives some clues.  Thus, here is my programme for stimulating the economy:
  • eliminate homelessness and provide adequate shelter for refugees,
  • ensure access to clean water and sanitation for everyone,
  • provide health care for all,
  • give children everywhere access to free education,
  • make sure that pollution is minimised and in most cases eliminated,
  • distribute food so that no-one need go hungry,
  • find ways to resolve conflict without recourse to violence and war,
  • recognise our cultural differences and welcome diversity,
  • open up channels of communication and allow for transparency in public decision-making,
  • clean up our wasteful and dirty industries,
  • celebrate life with festivals, carnivals, concerts and gatherings.
Quite a simple programme isn’t it?  You could almost call it economic in it’s simplicity.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

The Wave

Walk a mile in another person’s shoes.  A piece of counsel often heard.  It’s origin is uncertain, although there is an old aphorism of the Sioux:
"Oh Great Spirit, grant me the wisdom to walk in another's moccasins before I criticize or pass judgement."
As well as the advice to reflect before passing judgement it can also suggest recognising our differing perspectives.  Another analogy for discovering different perspectives is The Wave.1

The Wave is a useful tool for introducing discussion about differing perspectives and getting us to recognise that where we stand makes a difference on how we perceive issues.  As such it is an handy tool in the toolbox of people working in community education or community development.

In the diagram (Diag 1) below we see four people.  One in a boat, one on shore, one standing on top of a hill overlooking the sea and one on the other side of the hill.  A wave is about to crash over the boat.  What perspective do each of these four people have on this situation?

The Wave

For the person in the boat (1) the situation is critical and immanent.  In order for this person to deal with the situation they must understand a number of factors: the dynamics of waves, where to place their boat in relation to the wave and how the wave is formed in the first place.

The person on the shore (2) is able to look out and see that the person in the boat is shortly going to be in an awkward situation.  If the boat is swamped this person may be able to swim out to rescue the person from the boat or perhaps raise the alarm.  Maybe they even suggested earlier that the person in the boat not attempt to pass through the wave, or gave them advice as to how to do so safely.  However, at this moment, watching from shore, although they can see what is happening, they have little influence upon the situation.

Standing atop the overlooking hill this person (3) gazes out to sea and perhaps thinks to themselves “what a lovely pattern the breaking waves are making” (diag. 2 shows an aerial view).  If they see the boat at all, because of distance they may not understand that the person in the boat is in any danger.  On the other hand, however, because they can see the bigger picture they may be better placed to see the specific location of the reef and maybe even gaps in the reef through which the boat may be able to pass safely.  Equipped with this knowledge though it is of little use if it is not translated to the person in the boat.  At some stage the hilltop sightseer must descend at least as far as the shore.

Meanwhile, behind the hill this person (4) has no direct knowledge of the wave and in response to news may even reply with “what wave?”  It may be to our peril to ignore them though - perhaps they are a boat designer or a meteorologist.

This tool is a handy one because it allows us to:
  • recognise that we all see things differently, that we have differing perspectives,
  • that from these differing perspectives we gain differing knowledge,
  • realise that where we stand evokes differing feelings,
  • understand that our feelings may urge us to act in differing ways.
The Sioux were wise when uttering the aphorism that began this post.  All of the people in the wave analogy have differing perspectives and if we wish to understand the perspective of another then we may need to put on their moccasins and walk to where they are standing.  Together, both may then walk to an entirely different spot and view the issue through another perspective.

However, let us not forget that in the analogy above it is the person in the boat who is most at risk of suffering a calamity.

1. I first learnt of “The Wave” analogy in the early 1980s at workshops run by Filip Fanchette from the Paris-based INODEP (Ecumenical Institute for the Development of Peoples).

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Mind Change on Climate Change

Climate change is challenging human ingenuity.  Engineers are enjoying the challenge of coming up with solutions to the effects of climate change.

Geoengineering projects are amongst the biggest, most audacious engineering projects ever.  These are huge manipulations of aspects of the earth designed to reduce or mitigate the effects of climate change.  Several projects are proposed.  One such project suggests spraying the stratosphere with sulphur aerosols in order to change the amount of sunlight reflected from the upper atmosphere.  Another involves increasing phytoplankton blooms by adding iron to the world’s oceans in order to increase carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.

Critics claim that geoengineering is highly risky.  They charge that the technologies have never been used on such large scale with a consequent risk of irreparable damage to ourselves and our descendants.

More recently another group of engineers – human engineers – have propounded some equally highly manipulative options.  One of the high priests of human engineering defines these options as “(involving) the biomedical modification of humans to make us better at mitigating, and adapting to the effects of, climate change.”1

Liao proposes; pharmacologically making us meat intolerant, reducing our height genetically, lowering birth rates through cognitive enhancement and, inducing us towards altruism and empathy via hormone introduction.  Liao does sound a caveat that no-one would be coerced into any of these options.

However it is proposed, no matter what the safeguards are, both sets of engineers – geo and human – are proposing that they take on god-like functions.  One group wish to manipulate the planet, the other wish to manipulate the humans upon it.

Both forms of engineering are branches of the very historical approach over the centuries that has landed us in the mess we are in today: namely, technological intervention in natural processes.  To paraphrase Einstein, we cannot get out of the mess that we are in by applying the same logic that got us into it.

Why don’t we do something a lot easier than huge, costly, highly risky manipulations?

Why don’t we simply change our minds?

Instead of thinking that the environment is outside of us, understand that we are intimately part of the world
Instead of thinking that reality is conditioned by a linear cause-effect sequence, recognise that there is an ever changing system of feedback, reinforcement and emergence happening.

Instead of thinking that we do not impact upon the earth, realise instead that we do and that not all of our impacts have been for the good.

Instead of thinking that we are just a small cog in a big wheel, change our minds to realise that we have options, we have choices, we can act differently.

Instead of thinking that the experts will solve things, realise that it is our collective common sense that we need to tap.

Instead of thinking I can do nothing at home, at work or in my community, change our minds and think what each of us can do at home, at work or in our community.

Instead of thinking that our decision-makers (“leaders” if you prefer) are best suited to making decisions on behalf of all of us, re-frame our thinking so that we re-engage with our collective wisdom.

Instead of continuing uncritically down the technological, inhuman path, change our minds and take the less worn but more human, sustainable pathway.

1. Matthew Liao, The Sun-Herald, 30 September 2012 pp. 82-83

Friday 28 September 2012

How About a Maximum Wage

What’s the minimum wage?  I would guess that many who read this will be able to hazard a reasonable stab at the answer to that question.  Some of you may even be living on or just above the minimum wage.  Perhaps other readers are living where there is no such thing as a minimum wage.

Source: Glenn Caley Bachmann,
Creative Commons 2011
Now, ask the corollary to that question and there is likely to be no one who can answer it. What’s the maximum wage?  Well, er, um, you see…. there isn’t one.

There isn’t one?  Should there be one?  90% of respondents to a recent Sydney Herald poll said that they thought the amounts paid to some CEOs compared to their staff was obscene.  In the UK the “shareholder Spring” has seen 46% of the CEOs in the FTSE 100 companies having their basic salaries frozen.

So, without articulating the question itself it seems that Australians and Britons are considering answering that there should be a maximum wage.  With so much attention being given to the minimum wage there has been little given to a maximum wage.  It’s time to do so.

There is, of course, the moral case for putting a curb on salaries.  Fairness, equity and justice come to mind.  Some though, are unlikely to be swayed by moral arguments.  Increasingly pragmatic arguments for limiting maximum salaries are being raised.

Until the recent global financial crisis very few economists gave any attention whatsoever to income inequality.  James Galbraith (son of the highly regarded economist James Kenneth Galbraith) has likened those economists working in the field of inequality as working in a backwater.  However, a slowly growing body of economists are now undertaking research in the field.

One of the major findings that these economists are noting is that “the growing income divide help(ed) to drive the the global economy over the cliff in 1929 and 2008 (and) it is now helping to prolong the crisis.”1

I’m not an economist, hence I am in no position to offer a complete economic theory nor to suggest economic recovery packages.  One thing is blindingly obvious though: income inequality is not just unfair and immoral, it is also downright “bad for business".

A maximum income might just be worth throwing into any global economic recovery package.

“But that’s ridiculous” I hear those of orthodox economic theory cry.  “Where would be the incentive for innovation and investment?”

First, rather than fuelling productive investment over the past couple of decades, most of the growing surplus that has become available due to the growing income inequality has in fact been swallowed up in commodity speculation, financial engineering and corporate take-overs.2

A Basque Example

Second, income fairness can work, extremely well in fact.  Take the example of the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain.  Founded in 1956 this federation of cooperatives now employs 85,000 people across 256 companies.  Within each of these companies the wage ratio of the General Manager to the minimum wage in that company varies from 3:1 to 9:1, with an average ratio of 5:1.  This is a ratio far, far, lower than that of most traditional companies, with some CEOs on exorbitant ratios of 400:1 or more.

How are Mondragon companies faring in the current financial crisis, remembering that Spain is one of those countries hardest hit in the Euro-zone crisis?  Very well it seems.  The Basque region has an unemployment rate half that of Spain generally and the area in which Mondragon is concentrated has a rate even less again.

Arantza Laskurain (Mondragon Corporation Secretary-General) admits that Mondragon has been affected by the crisis.  But, she emphasises, the corporation is still growing and it is maintaining worker levels.

Yes, it’s time to bring in a maximum wage.  What is more, it can be done, has been done, it’s fair and it contributes to economic, business and social stability.

1. Stewart Lanskey, “Inequality, the crash and the crisis”, June 2012.  Lanskey is the British author of “The Cost of Inequality” published in early 2012
2. op cit.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Working The System (Part 3 of 3–Effectiveness?)

Source: Peter Pikous, Creative Commons
Where is the most effective place to create social justice?  Is it working inside or outside the system?

The answers to that question are no doubt well beyond the bounds of this blogsite.  The answers may even be beyond the purview of any of us.  However, we all have our thoughts and ideas about what should be incorporated into those answers.

I recently asked just such questions of a small group of colleagues and got back some fairly open-ended answers.

Part of the difficulty in attempting to answer these questions is the curly problem of defining “the system”.  One of the world’s foremost systems analysts, Donella Meadows, warns that
"there is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system.  We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them”.1
Where have I chosen to artificially create boundaries?  Working inside the system was loosely defined as including working in governmental bureaucracies (local and national), working for political parties represented in parliament and working for quasi-governmental agencies.

The problems that Meadows warns of arise in this case when we think of working for social justice which entails changing the system.  No longer is the system bounded by the definition of the previous paragraph.  The system that we are seeking justice within is much greater than the system that I defined loosely in the previous paragraph.

So, given this caveat, can we make any realistic attempt to suggest the effectiveness of working for social justice inside or outside the system?  Here are some thoughts, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

Almost all the respondents to my short survey suggested that working inside the system was at least “partially effective”.  The same suggestion was made of working outside the system: most said that it was “partially effective” or “highly effective”.  Both spheres of working were effective to some degree or other.

Comments from those working outside the system suggested that having allies inside the system was of great value.  Many of the respondents suggested that the roles of working inside and outside the system were complimentary.  The effectiveness of working for social change required both working inside and working outside the system.  Having said that, one respondent did say that they thought that working inside the system was “highly ineffective”.

What is the lesson from this?  First, I suggest, is that we must each find our own niche, role or sphere to work in.  There is no right or wrong.  Where we work is likely to be based on our feelings of what we are comfortable with and our expertise and experience rather than some notion of what is right and proper.  Second is that we must recognise the value of each of us and seek to build relationships of trust and respect, whether we work for a government bureaucracy, a voluntary community organisation or in some other capacity.

Finally, the following chart summarises the thoughts of the past three postings looking at the pros and cons of working inside and outside “the system” and the effectiveness of doing so.

Inside The System Outside The System
Pros Understanding the system
Like minded colleagues
Access to resources
Ability to make helpful decisions
Ability to mobilise quickly
Able to obtain support from others (e.g. pro bono work)
Fewer compromises to make
Answerable to yourself
Cons Inflexible
Can become identified as “the enemy”
Susceptible to corruption of power
Lack of resources
Lack of access to decision-makers
Lack of credibility
Demands of funding
Prey to factionalism
Effectiveness The effectiveness of working for social justice and change has less to do with working inside or outside the system.  The keys to effectiveness are the building of relationships based on trust, respect and mutual understandings of others roles, values and ways of working.

These three postings have not attempted to be any sort of comprehensive or definitive analysis of the pros and cons of working inside or outside the system. I do hope though, that the postings have given some leads on thoughts to pursue when it comes to the work that each of us does in our pursuit of social justice.

1. Meadows, Donella H. Thinking in Systems, 2008, p 97

Friday 21 September 2012

Working The System (Part 2 of 3–Outside the system)

Source: Kliefi, Creative Commons
Is it better to work for social change from outside the system?  Part 2 of this 3 part posting suggests some of the pros and cons of doing so.

Most of the benefits of working outside the system suggested by respondents to a short survey were primarily of psychological, social and/or emotional benefit to the individual themselves.  Not surprisingly these benefits are often the very converse of the drawbacks of working inside the system.

Notions of freedom, independence and being answerable only to oneself were commonly suggested as the main benefits of working outside the system.  These benefits led to further plusses such as having less compromises to make and the ability to be flexible with workloads.

Perhaps because of the space that freedom and flexibility allow, a number of the respondents noted that it was easier to be creative by working outside the system rather than inside.  One respondent took this a step further and suggested that there is greater opportunity to be open to the Universe.  Yes!  It’s hard to imagine the complexity, fullness, openness and potency of the Universe having much room to move inside many of the bureaucracies, agencies and parliaments of the World.

Of significance to the potential to effect social change by working outside the system is that there is greater chance of obtaining support of others and greater openings for quick mobilisation.

However, working outside the system is not without it’s nuisances.  A sense of lack was often mentioned by respondents: lack of resources, lack of credibility, lack of funds and lack of access to decision-makers.  Even when relationships have been built with decision-makers the system often moved people on so that the opportunity to maintain those relationships is reduced.

A significant impediment to working for social change outside the system is that of being sabotaged by factionalism.  One only has to think back to the disputes of the 1970s and 80s as to which form of oppression was pre-eminent: race, class or sex.  Into that factionalised melee was also thrown environmentalism, gay rights, animal rights and even the peace movement.  Thankfully the recognition of inter-connection has allowed for a less flammable holistic social change movement.  The system still wishes to stir up embers and fan the flames of factionalism though.  Working for social change means having to be ever vigilant about ensuring to not get caught in forms of factionalism.

So, is it any better to work outside the system?  There certainly appears to be advantages for the individual in terms of their well being, but it is not without it’s frustrations, limitations and potential discord.

The final, third, part of this posting will explore the effectiveness of working inside or outside the system.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts related to the pros and cons of working for social change outside the system then please add your comments.

Part 1 of this series suggested some things to consider regarding the pros and cons of working inside the system.