Thursday, October 04, 2007

Okay guys, I gotta brain dump.

I'm taking this class called Tools for Transformation taught by a practitioner in the field who works with World Vision. So our first class he has us start brainstorming what are the primary threats to life on earth...

global warming and pollution
homogenization of biosphere / lack of diversity
resource distribution
terrorism and wars
AIDS and other diseases
corruption and crime
lack of cooperation between countries
violence against women
limited access to information and technology
national debt
lack of access to the basics of life like food and water
peak oil crisis
extreme poverty
waste disposal
wealth gap
species extinction
ozone depletion
loss of top soil
and on and on!

The experts in the field say that if we fail to address these problems it will result in societal collapse or violence. There are a whole range of reasons for why governments and others don't respond to these (which I won't list).

We did start making lists of what are critical success factors that will help development people and others overcome these problems:

farsighted planning
clear goals and targets
education / knowledge / awareness
evaluation and measurement
cross-cultural awareness and understanding
knowledge of history (failures & successes)
social networks
guts & brains
technical knowledge

This was the class brainstorm. We also heard about what several different authors had to say:

  • different kinds of capital (human, resource, etc)
  • capital, labor, land, ingenuity
  • Uphoff: ideas, ideals, friendship
  • Landes: literacy, time consciousness, optimism
  • Inglehart: need a value system that emphasizes rule of law and tolerance of expression
  • de Soto: the ability to obtain title to a non-fixed asset
The second half of that list was from tonight. After finishing that discussion, we moved on to defining poverty. Your assumptions about poverty and its causes and impacts determine your responses. So it is important to know what your assumptions are. The class worked to define poverty as follows:

lack of basics: food, shelter, water, education
lack of access to markets, capital, finances, education, etc
poverty as identity, an inherited characteristic
poverty is relative
defined by society
disenfranchised / social isolation / being 'untouchable'
psychological blocks, limiting oneself, lack of options
lack of risk taking
lack of opportunity
having less than the cultural standard as far as resources, mental health, relationships, etc
lack of a social safety net

The discussion kind of broke down somewhere in there as we realized we all had such different experiences with what poverty is and how we define it. And realizing there is a different between relative poverty and absolute poverty - seeing yourself as poor versus really having absolutely nothing.

Our professor shared the idea of scarcity mentality versus abundance mentality. People can have the same amount but some have a mindset of scarcity and lack, while others in the same position have a mentality of abundance.

After this we watched a video called Guns, Germs, and Steel about the research of Jared Diamond who was trying to figure out just how the world became so unequal. He posits that 13,000 years ago we were all at the same place, but then things changed and certain parts of the world started advancing technologically.
His very simplistic answer for why comes down to geography.

People over in the fertile crescent area started farming wheat and barley which was very hardy and nutritious food. In places like Papau New Guinea they've been farming for thousands of years too, but they're growing things like tarot and banana which is much more difficult to grow and not quite as nutritious.

People in the fertile crescent area were able to domesticate animals so they left the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They also began to use these animals for muscle power. Suddenly they could make a lot more food for themselves, coupled with the new technology of being able to store food. This freed up other people to specialize in other things. So they began to invent new technologies. People in places like Papau New Guinea had no animals they could get to pull a plow. All work is still done by human muscle power. Everyone has to work at this so there is no specialization and no one is able to go off and invent other things.

Diamond argues this comes down to geography because wheat and barley were grown in Eurasia, North America, etc and this is also where many domesticated animals came from. Some parts of the world didn't have barley and wheat and they didn't have these animals that were easily domesticated. (I'm oversimplifying the video, sorry!)

So there was a huge class discussion after this about how Diamond defined poverty, if he was really talking about poverty or about development, the value statements he made about 'us' and 'them,' his assumption that it was better to be developed in the way Westerners are, and so on.

In the midst of all this we're all reading Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunnus which is absolutely fascinating. Yunnus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and has helped lift thousands and thousands (or millions?) of people out of poverty through micro-credit loans. I'll stop writing this post so you can go out and get a copy of the book right now and read it. =)


Omar P. said...

Who is the instructor from World Vision? I wonder if it is Randy Strash or one of the other folks I know there . . .

Aimee said...

It is Randy Strash!! He's pretty cool - a self described absent-minded professor. But a good teacher...

Omar P. said...

It is a small world. Tell him hi from me. We've not met in person, so he'll probably make the connection only if you tell him that I am the Mentor Program person from SPU. Thanks!

Aimee said...

Will do!