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Promoting Volunteering

 
I don’t know about you, but I get a little tired of hearing about how lazy, idle and morally degenerate my generation (I’m 22) supposedly are. It just doesn’t fit. For a start, many of my friends work long hard hours in the third sector for little or no pay, and lots have spent summers volunteering their time and energy for development projects.
 
We all know that so-called ‘voluntourism’ – combining volunteering with travel abroad - has attracted a fair amount of debate in development circles, and can be a little controversial (for more on the merits and shortfalls of short term voluntourism see this post.
 
An ad for a new initiative to encourage volunteering abroad - launched by David Cameron and funded by the Department for International Development - raises another important question. Watch it for yourself here:

 
Which images or words stuck with you after watching? How do the volunteers come across? What message do you take away from this ad?
 
Let’s leave aside for a minute the issues that surround the actual projects themselves – it looks like the International Citizen Service will be working with some really great organizations (like our friends at VSO and Restless Development), and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m criticizing the vitally important work that they do. Instead, I want to ask some questions about the way this ad portrays young volunteers, and crucially, what kind of motives it encourages.
 
It advertises the “ultimate volunteering experience”, a chance for 18-22 year olds to be part of “the UK’s global volunteering A team.” Is that an appropriate choice of words? The ‘A team’? The emphasis on the experience that you, the volunteer, have? In my mind, I now have all kinds of macho men on action adventure missions – not a picture that corresponds to my own experiences of volunteering in Uganda a couple of years ago.
 
Voluntourism, if done right, can be beneficial for all concerned. Educating people about development issues is crucially important, as is challenging prejudiced assumptions and stereotypes about other cultures and countries – and arguably there’s no better way to do this than to go and immerse yourself in a foreign culture.
 
Obviously this isn’t and shouldn’t be the primary aim of overseas development projects.
 
But I’m not convinced that this ad reinforces the kind of values or encourages the kind of attitudes that you might assume motivate effective volunteers or inspire a lifelong sense of social responsibility. Listen to the language, the phrasing and the overall tone of this ad, and tell us what you think – here at the Global Poverty Project we’d be really interested to know if this kind of thing would appeal to you, or if it’d more likely to put you off!
 
A few examples that concern me:  
  • “You go across hoping to change Africa. You return knowing Africa changed you.” - from this ad, I don’t get the clearest idea of exactly WHO the government considers it most important to make a difference to.
  • “Doing this training has given me so much knowledge”- that may well be the case, but is that the point? Should volunteering in Africa be promoted as training or practice for working in the ‘real’ world, or as something that looks good on your CV?
  • “You need to be there, you need to feel it, you need to see these things.” – I’m not sure about this tone. I wouldn’t want to give people the impression that if they personally don’t have the resources to voluntour, that they then can’t contribute to the fight against extreme poverty in other important ways – by getting involved in campaigns to change the structures – unfair trade practices or illegitimate debts for instance - that keep people poor.
The idea is that the new ‘International Citizen Service’ will enable young people from the UK to “make a real difference to some of the world’s poorest people”. Cameron’s own message was that the "International Citizen Service will not only help the world's poorest communities, but it will be a life changing experience for our young people: giving them new perspectives, greater confidence and higher aspirations."

The projects themselves might help to break down pernicious cultural stereotypes, and foster a kind of thinking about the world that goes beyond what the world has to offer me. But does this advert for those projects also do that? What impression does it leave you with?

Posted by Becky Driscoll (GPP Intern) in What Can I Do? for column Perspectives on Poverty on Apr 5th 2011, 11:38

Aussie TV challenges you to Live Below the Line

 
 
Global Poverty Project Australia Board Member and Australian of the Year Simon McKeon was on Sunrise on Monday, challenging Australians - and people all over the world to get involved in Live Below the Line.
 
Watch it above, and sign up below:
 
United Kingdom - www.livebelowtheline.org.uk
United States - www.livebelowtheline.com

UK Bribery Act: Alive, but perhaps not kicking

 

On Wednesday the Government released guidance notes for the Bribery Act. This is terrific news.

We now have a Bribery Act and it will be coming into force on July 1. It is the first update to the UK’s anti-bribery legislation for over 100 years. We at the Global Poverty Project welcome the government’s announcement and we thank you for campaigning with us to have the guidance notes released.

In our campaign to have the guidance notes published over 300 of you sent emails to the Justice Secretary and No 10. They have listened.

Despite this positive outcome we nevertheless hold grave misgivings regarding the guidance notes.

According to the Justice Secretary the reason for the delay was due to the Evening Standard stirring him into action. As a result of this last minute lobbying from business groups, the guidance notes go far beyond a simple watering down of the Act. In fact the guidelines undermine both the spirit and intent of the Act which, after all, was originally passed under an all party consensus in November last year.

So here’s the result.

Originally the Act introduced two new offences. First, it became illegal to bribe a foreign public official. Second, a company would be guilty of bribery where it failed to prevent bribery occurring on its behalf.

Both of these crimes have now been completely undermined by the guidance notes. They open a huge loophole that allows companies to use subsidiaries to pay bribes to foreign public officials.

In addition, the guidance also exempts foreign companies listed on the London Stock Exchange from the remit of the Act. As long as they ‘carry on their business’ elsewhere, they won’t be covered by the Bribery Act. This is in direct contradiction to the Act.

According to Ken Clarke, ‘without changing the substance of the act’ the new guidelines represent a common-sense approach to tackling bribery. That’s the copout. He hasn’t had to change the substance to undermine and change the intended meaning of the Act.

Indeed, we now have a situation where the government’s guidance notes – their view of what the Act means in practice – contravenes a plain reading of the Act. It’s a capitulation to business interests and their intense lobbying campaign. It’s no surprise then to see the Confederation of Business Industry, the self-declared ‘voice of business’, welcome this ‘much-improved’ guidance.

Lobbying from vested interests and business groups has now undermined an Act that would have placed the UK as a leader in the global fight against corruption.

Lobbying from vested interests and business groups has undermined the democratic process. Just last year the Act was passed with a cross-party consensus. And more than that, the Act was passed just before the election in April. That’s right – moments before the parties were about to begin competing they came together recognising the need for a strong, broadly focused Act to fight corruption and defend British businesses that want to operate to a fair, ethical standard.

And it was passed following an extensive consultation with the business sector to begin with.

It’s no surprise to see the response from our friends at Transparency International and Global Witness. They both consider the Government’s guidance to be a white flag to last-minute lobbying - the result of which has opened up numerous loopholes in the Act.

Neither of them mince their words.

According to the Executive Director of Transparency International Chandrashekhar Krishnan the guidance notes are deplorable reading more ‘like a guide on how to evade the act’.

Global Witness is equally enraged considering the guidance notes to be a reprehensible cave in by the Government.

But it’s not all over yet.

Fortunately, Ken Clarke isn’t responsible for enforcing the Act.

In fact that role falls to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The SFO is an independent government department responsible for fighting major fraud and corruption in the financial system. In other words, they’re responsible for enforcing the Act against the companies that have been courting Ken Clarke.

Led by their Director Richard Alderman, they take a different view to the Ministry of Justice on the Bribery Act. They see it the way it should be seen.

According to Richard Alderman the SFO isn’t concerned with an ‘over-technical’ interpretation of the new law. Rather, the SFO views itself as having a wide jurisdiction to enforce the Act and ensure that ethical UK businesses are not disadvantaged by unscrupulous competitors.

And that’s what this is about.

Ultimately, we at the Global Poverty Project want to see UK businesses succeed on the basis of their high ethical standards. We recognise that business has a crucial role to play in the fight against corruption and we want our businesses to be world leaders in this. Corruption perpetuates and exacerbates poverty. It is a cancer and it requires all of us – individuals, governments and businesses – working together to combat it and end extreme poverty.
 

Finding Frames & the Live Aid Legacy

 
Do you remember Live Aid? I wasn’t even born in 1985, but I feel like I was there – we all know the words, we can all recall those pictures.
 
My bet is, that having just said ‘those pictures’ and ‘Live Aid’ in the same sentence, you’re now thinking of the images beamed into our living rooms from nearly 6,000km away in Korem, in Ethiopia, showing the devastating human impact of the famine of 1984.
 
More specifically, you’re probably thinking of “starving children with flies around their eyes, too weak to brush them off”. 
 
And what about Live8? When you look back on these hugely publicised events, which gave hours, if not days, of media coverage to the campaign to end extreme poverty, what is it that you remember now?
 
I ask because Monday saw the release of Finding Frames, a report which opens up a much-needed discussion into the way that we, the British public, engage with the issue of extreme poverty. Authors Andrew Darnton and Martin Kirk argue that there is a growing problem with this engagement. And it’s not simply a problem of awareness of the existence of poverty on a vast scale. Like I say, we’ve all seen those all too familiar images of masses of people who simply haven’t got enough food to eat.
 
And indeed, we’ve all responded to these images, frequently and generously, in the past. Only a few weeks ago, Comic Relief raised £74.3m – a record in its 23 year history - and in part, it did so by showing us these same kinds of images of starving children, with flies around their eyes, too weak to brush them off. Which leads you to ask the question, what’s changed since 1985? And here’s the problem. We got stuck in 1985. Our perceptions of poverty haven’t really changed since the 80s:
  • When asked, most respondents argued that the all we in the UK can do to help fight extreme poverty is to give money, which they believed probably wouldn’t reach those for whom it is intended
  • This assertion begs the question then, of why fundraising revenues have continued to rise? And the answer seems to be found in the way that charities increasingly engage with us, their supporters – a shift to what ‘Finding Frames’ aptly describes as ‘chequebook participation’.
Think about it. How many times a week, or even a day, do charities ask you for money? How many times do they ask you to do something else – to take a different form of action than simply reaching for your credit card? And if they do, does it extend to anything further than adding your name to a petition which seems to disappear off into cyberspace?
 
How well do they keep you informed about the development work that they do? The clue is in the word – ‘development’ – sometimes we seem to forget that we’re aiming at permanent, systemic change, and we forget in part because the organisations we support forget to tell us when it’s occurred, when progress has been achieved.
 
Frankly, it’s hard to stay interested and well informed on any issue unless that information is provided in an accessible, engaging manner. Just because most of us don’t have a degree in development studies, shouldn’t mean that we’re not familiar with the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, or how Fairtrade actually works.
 
By positioning themselves as ‘protest businesses’, with the emphasis on a monetary transaction as the sole or major medium through which we can engage with international development – “all we can do is give money” – charities seem to assume that we’re all motivated solely by wealth, status, or guilt. This focus on the ‘powerful giver’ donating to a ‘grateful receiver’ obscures the values of justice, of empathy and of community that motivate us to get personally involved in the campaign to end extreme poverty.
 
Framing involvement solely in terms of how much you can give isn’t just disempowering. It could even prove counter-productive. Campaigning that is openly based on positive values of justice are more likely to sustain long term engagement – and frankly, I find that it’s simply more interesting, more inspiring and motivates me to do more. But that’s just me – what’s your experience? Who gets it right in this regard?
 
This report raises all kinds of fascinating questions. For instance, are campaign actions that start and end with a single click actually going to engage people in our values, or is it just another transaction, rather than a genuinely public campaign?
 
Here’s why it matters:
  1. Because WE, the public, give NGOs and the Government a licence to take action on global poverty
  2. Because WE, the public, can and do make a difference through the choices you make every day – from buying Fairtrade, to volunteering, and lobbying for change
  3. Because WE, the public, help to open up space for debate on how we as a society can best our bit to end extreme poverty within a generation.
At the Global Poverty Project, we know that our supporters care passionately about creating a fairer world for every person who lives on this earth – that’s why we call our presentation ‘1.4 Billion Reasons’, to constantly remind ourselves of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty who give us 1.4 billion reasons to do something today.
 
We believe it’s important to build on the real successes of the past – from the eradication of smallpox to the civil rights movement – in the challenges we face today, remembering that permanent change is possible and has been achieved. We want to tell the real stories of lives that have been changed.
 
We campaign to end extreme poverty because it’s the right thing to do, and we know that you do. We want to show you how you can do simple things every day to make big changes. And we want you to let us know how we can best help you to help the world’s poor, as part of a conversation, not just a campaign.
Posted by Becky Driscoll (GPP Intern) in Aid for column Perspectives on Poverty on Mar 30th 2011, 08:17

I'm hungry. In fact - I'm ravenous.

 

Dennis Marcus Lived Below the Line in September 2010. He shares his experience with us here.

I’m hungry. In fact – I’m ravenous. Not even for quantity of food, but just for something that has taste. Anything has set me off in the last four days – the smell of a microwaved meal, walking past any cafe or just even talking about food leaves me in a fantastical weak-kneed state.

Why am I so hungry? Because for eight days, I’m living below the line – in extreme poverty.

1.4 billion people around the world live on less than what you can buy in the US for a $1.25 a day (2005 ppp). It’s enough for some rice, some vegetables, cooking fuel and some clean water to make two basic meals. Then there’s 10 cents left over for everything else in life – housing, transportation, education, clothes, healthcare – anything else they might need to survive.

So what’s happening?
We've made great progress - reducing the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty from 52% to 25% since 1981 - in my lifetime.

In 2000, 190 world leaders came together to the UN to create the Millennium Development Goals - eight goals that will halve extreme poverty by 2015. From 20-22 September 2010, the UN met to discuss the progress of the MDGs and how we can ensure we achieve them. It’s was vital meeting to the future of those 1.4 billion people.

So for eight days I was only allowed to spend 93p a day on food, with which I’ve been able to buy some muesli, milk, fruit and pasta – or put differently: a marathon of boredom for my taste buds.

Why am I living in extreme poverty?
I’ve been very lucky in my life – the example of my family has both been quite daunting but most of all inspirational. My South African family gave up so much, in some cases even their lives, for what was the challenge of their generation – ending apartheid.

When I was ten, at my granddad Oupa Natie’s 80th birthday in South Africa, I ended up sitting next to an old man on the sofa in our lounge. I had no idea really who he was – but no person has had greater impact on my life. Nelson Mandela was one of Oupa Natie’s oldest friends. I was in awe of him that day and I immediately went to find out everything I could about him and the giants that he stood shoulder to shoulder with (it’s him I blame my innate geekiness on!).

Reading about how these men dreamt and hoped for a better world inspired a life-long desire to make a difference. It’s a desire that has informed my life so far – and it’s why I’m living below the line.

Raising funds
So far the generosity of people at work has stunned me – I’ve even revised my target up to £750. My boss has also generously agreed to match anything I raise up to £1000.

It’s been an amazing, tough week. I’ve come face to face with only a fraction of the challenge of extreme poverty – having to make careful decisions about what to buy, when to eat, when to go hungry. That hasn’t even included the other decisions. For example – what would you do if you were in charge of the spending and a member of your family became ill? Would you pay for them to go to the doctor or would you pay to feed your family? If you pay for the doctor, then your family goes hungry. If you feed your family, you can only hope that your brother, your sister, you mother or father – whoever it is – gets better.

I’m not sure I could make that decision.?But this week has shown me that a partnership of people can take action – governments and leaders, charities and local communities, people living in extreme poverty themselves and people just like us. Working together we have and can achieve great things as we face the challenge of our generation.


Dennis eventually raised £2400 from his 8 days Living Below the Line. You can sign up with thousands of others taking the challenge at:

UK - www.livebelowtheline.org.uk
AU - www.livebelowtheline.com.au 

US - www.livebelowtheline.com

Posted by Dennis Marcus (Guest Blogger) in What Can I Do? for column Live Below the Line on Mar 29th 2011, 10:59