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Global Washington intern Lindsay Jackson reports on our July 15th event
This month’s Global Social event focused on Central & South Asia, confronting the issues of environment, poverty, education & health. The event consisted of a large variety of representatives from various global development organizations, which included; individual representatives, The National Council for Eurasian & East European Research, EarthCorps, “Journey with an Afghan School” Ayni Education International, Jackson School of International Studies of University of Washington, International Organization of Folk Art, University of Washington (Bothell & Seattle), Health Leadership, Wokai, Seattle International Foundation, and Global Washington.
The event opened up and began with an introduction from Bookda Ghesiar, the Executive Director of Global Washington. She introduced herself and explained what Global Washington was all about, its background and future goals. Prologues then led to the Bookda introducing Ethan Casey, the event’s primary speaker on Pakistan.
Ethan Casey is the most well known for his works & authorship of the book Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004). Ethan is also a frequent speaker on Pakistan at venues ranging from universities, The Pakistan High Commission in London, and locally around Seattle where he is from. Ethan has continued to use his position as an American traveler and author with 15 years’ exposure to Pakistan to help foster historical and geographic perspectives, human connections, and conversation between Americans and Pakistanis. Ethan gave a brief explanation of how he became so connected and interested in Pakistan through his early travels, he then brought the Pakistani situations alive by reading quotes and passages from Pakistanis that he had come across in regards to the American mistreatment and unawareness of Pakistanis. Ethan’s future plans consist of a second book to be published in 2010 that will be a follow up of Alive and Well recapping and covering the recent past five years in Pakistan since the publication of Alive and Well. For updates and further discussion Ethan regularly blogs at www.aliveandwellinpakistan.com and writes a column for the Books & Authors section of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
Ethan Casey’s stories quickly and successfully opened the group discussion up between attendees working in the Central and South Asian regions. Some questions that were brought up included;
· What is the best way to assist refugees, such as programs, for people who do not have a lot of experience?
Ethan’s response was to educate your self as much as possible about the situations that have occurred other than just the news, and have better communication and connections to American Pakistanis who are fully socially aware of what is going on. The main stream Americans need to start the conversation (Casey)
· How can you deal with open military?
The response was to find the right community to keep going back (Casey)
· There is great barrier in understanding the impact of the past 10-15 years in Pakistan, so where do you go from there?
The response was to make more and incorporate 1-on-1 human connections, and expose your self to travel writing for literacy expression (Casey)
Questions then began to shift from being focused on Ethan to more open group and responses.
· With the current economy that has caused enormous funding challenges, how can be help support each other?
Response was for NGO’s to partner and collaborate on events rather then individually, where this would benefit everyone and can make different missions be more congruent
· Is there a way to get a better influence over the media, giving it more balance?
Response was that local communities i.e. American Pakistanis, need to get connected to a reporter for more personal stories
Lastly, the remainder of the questions and discussion were directed towards Global Washington and their role.
· What are some recommendations for Global Washington; how do you want them to be able to help?
– Bring vast amounts of individuals working on Global Development in Washington State together to work on the smaller scale and build up
– Help the reservation of different arts and traditional culture, make sure it isn’t looked over
– Have the ability to be able to find and research more organization of massive diversity by having a more comprehensive and enhanced search that is very specific of organizations working internationally- extending international grid of access
– Difficult to connect when overseas, great value to develop an easy accessible way to communicate with others overseas in the same sector
Discussion and conversation was carried on for over an hour, and was closed for individual conversation and networking between various organizations to find out more about each other and make stronger connections for collaboration and support.
Critique the current system of international aid and you are bound to make some people angry. This is something that Tori Hogan has gotten use to as she’s taken her recently completed film “Beyond Good Intentions” on the road for a series of screenings that involve conversations revolving around each of the short, webisode-style videos that comprise the work. Under the banner headline “What Works In International Aid?” each vignette examines a different aspect of the do-good game in developing countries including microfinance, disaster relief, faith-based aid and more. Global Washington sent Tori some interview questions after attending her recent screening in Seattle, where the conversations following each episode ranged from inspiring to downright contemptuous. Whatever your opinions are regarding the state of international giving there is one thing that’s clear: conversations like this are a vital component of improving how countless NGOs, governments, and foundations do their work. Here are some of Teri’s thoughts.
GW: In all of your travels and work in international aid, what do you think are some key elements of the system that are just plain broken?
TH: I’ve been working in the field of international aid for nearly a decade now and some of the most serious problems that I’ve continued to witness include: the challenges associated with current donor structures, the lack of accountability to the people being served, an absence of real innovation, and a shortage of truly critical assessments of what works and what doesn’t.
GW: On the flip side, what are some parts of aid that work really well?
TH: One of the greatest things that the field of international aid has going for it is that it is typically motivated by true compassion. There is no shortage of well-intentioned people around the world who are eager to help those in need. The ethic of giving seems to be universal, and the generosity of millions generates the necessary capital to make these aid projects run. Also, aid projects often have the flexibility to adapt to changing situations in the field and to fill in holes in government services (for better or worse).
GW: As a follow up, and this is a question I ask people all the time– if you had A Million Bux to hand out to an aid group, and NGO, a business, etc., who would you chose and why?
TH: I really can’t advocate for just one organization. But, on the whole, if I had a million dollars I would probably either give it to an organization that strengthens opportunities for social entrepreneurs, or I would invest it into a social business that is creating innovative, life-saving products to market to the poor.
After filming my series, I became more convinced that innovation is one of the keys to success in international aid (which is why I am so excited by the work of social entrepreneurs). I also realize that “profit” should not be seen as a dirty word in the development sector—turning “aid recipients” into “clients” provides an enormous amount of accountability and it’s amazing what happens when “customer satisfaction” trumps “donor satisfaction”.
GW: You seem much more comfortable as a filmmaker asking questions from the sidelines rather than rolling up your sleeves and trying to fix what’s broken. Is this cheating?
TH: Anyone who has done even the slightest bit of research on my life and my work would know that I am not merely operating from the sidelines. I started working in international aid in 1999 and I have been intensely involved in serving on the ground and working to reform the field ever since. But I also realized very early on that reforming the problems with aid from the inside of organizations is nearly impossible (After being disgusted with what I was witnessing in the field while working for a large international NGO, I wrote a scathing memo to executives which was never taken seriously). It became clear to me that I needed to invest my time and energy in more powerful methodologies.
I am not a filmmaker for the art of it; I am a filmmaker to make an impact. My films have already reached thousands of people in over 100 countries and they are stimulating a much-needed dialogue about the realities of aid among students, practitioners, and recipients. However, beyond my film work, I am also involved in providing educational programs on aid for the next generation of changemakers including workshops, training sessions, and summer research fellowships in aid effectiveness. I also am beginning to get involved in the policy side of this work through an array of advocacy campaigns. I also write a blog about these issues on SocialEdge, I provide pro-bono consultancy to existing and start-up aid organizations who are eager to improve their approaches, and I have just wrapped up a 16-city nationwide tour to promote these issues on a national level. I can hardly call this “cheating”. I made a decision in 2005 to dedicated my life to “fixing what’s broken” and I have been doing that ever since.
– Editor’s Note: We don’t think Tori is ‘cheating.’ But we do think this is a criticism that any documentarian, artist, or writer often faces.
GW: One thing I noticed at the screening is that your films actually started to fire some people up with your critiques of the aid situation. Is this something you experience often, and why do you think people take your suggestions so personally?
People are often fired up when they see my films, but the screening in Seattle was unique because it was the first time that I have ever had so many past and current aid workers in one room watching the films. By questioning the effectiveness of aid, many of the older viewers probably felt that I was also questioning the legitimacy of their life’s work. The other half of the audience, which was full of young college students, reacted in the opposite way. It was extremely interesting for me to see.
I have been showing these films all around the country and I am always thrilled when viewers get fired up. The purpose of this series is to generate this dialogue—I feel that I create a more powerful impact when I am able to stimulate strong reactions. One of the primary reasons that I get such reactions to my films is because many people want to believe that the aid world is now and always has been the “good industry.” They want to be assured that their time and donations have made a positive impact on those in need (it can be disturbing to have this questioned). But I continually remind viewers that when providing aid we are dealing with peoples’ lives… it is absolutely irresponsible to rely on our good intentions alone and never question whether or not we are really helping.
GW: What’s next for you? More films? More school? A new career all together?
TH: I am dedicated to reforming the field of international aid. I see it as my life’s calling. The next steps are still to be determined, but it will likely involve a combination of filmmaking, educational work, and advocacy.
And we wish Tori the best with her work. Here’s one of the webisodes below. You can watch the ten-episode series at Beyond Good Intentions online.
There was a big crowd representing Washington NGOs working on a range of health, environmental, and development issues across Central America. We heard from organizations with programs in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Among the different areas of focus there was one shared value: a passion for working for social justice in Central America through giving people the tools and support to solve their unique problems.
The event was moderated by the Executive Director of Global Washington, Bookda Gheisar. She shared that part of Global Washington’s mission is to bring together members of the local development community to share information, network, and determine ways to collaborate. She welcomed the Global Washington members attending and encouraged other attendees to consider membership. We were offered some background by Enrique Gonzalez on our host location, the Centro de la Raza, a Latino community center that asks “What kind of world do we want to leave our children?” Enrique suggested that “A lot of organizations run in parallel and it’s not until we have meetings like this we realize it.” Everyone was invited to attend monthly “Café y Pan Dulce” gatherings the first Thursday of each month. More information about the Centro de la Raza and these events can be found here.
Next, Mauricio Vivero, Executive Director of the Seattle International Foundation (SIF) shared information about his organization, including its history, mission, and areas of focus. We learned that the objectives of the foundation include promoting the Seattle & Washington non-profit environment as a model for the rest of the US through support of Global Washington, as well as a Small Grants Program that provides grants to internationally-focused NGOs based in Washington. Mauricio expressed that SIF’s support of Global Washington comes from a desire to build connections in the local development community, and to learn from each other’s work. He also detailed how SIF’s specific focus on Central America comes from a 15 year history of giving by Bill and Paula Clapp who have both been deeply involved in poverty alleviation in the region. You can find out more about SIF’s support of programs as well as information about grant opportunities here. The deadline for the next round of grants is June 15th.
Following Mauricio’s talk, we spent some time hearing from different organizations about their work and areas of potential interest in collaborating. Possible collaborations included:
- Sharing shipping containers between groups working in Guatemala.
- Partnerships between organizations working in similar regions to address a greater range of needs.
- Establishing connections between organizations to help deal with on-the-ground logistics.
- Providing students to partner organizations for eye-opener trips.
- And finally, an interest in providing low-cost, bamboo-based housing to any group that might be able to utilize this type of resource.
Some of the organizations in attendance included:
Adopt a Village in Guatemala– www.adoptavillage.com
Empowering Guatemalan children through educational programs that teach leadership and self-help skills so they may improve their future lives.
Agros International– www.agros.org
Committed to breaking the cycle of poverty for rural families in Central America and Mexico by enabling landless communities to achieve land ownership and economic stability.
Billing Middle School– www.billingsmiddleschool.org/
A school focused on social justice issues with a mission to create global citizens.
The Brave Foundation– www.bravefoundation.org
Improving the fire and life saving efforts in Guatemala.
Campaign for the Santa Cruz Center For Vocational Education www.amigosdesantacruz.org
Supporting education, better health care, a cleaner environment and sustainable economic development for the remote village of Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala and other outlying areas.
Co2 Bamboo– http://co2bambu.com
Fostering ecological objectives through bamboo conservation and reforestation, contributing to economic development, and facilitating social integration of marginalized segments of society.
Friends of The Orphans– www.friendsoftheorphans.org
Supporting 9 children’s homes in 5 countries across Latin America.
Global Brigades– http://globalbrigades.org/
Empowering student volunteers and professionals nation-wide to provide communities in developing countries with sustainable solutions that improve quality of life while respecting local culture and improving the environment.
Global Partnerships– www.globalpartnerships.org
Engages the business community and others in advancing sustainable solutions to poverty in Latin America.
Global Visionaries– www.global-visionaries.org
Youth empowerment and education with a focus on the environment and social justice.
Healing the Children– Oregon and Western Washington Chapter- www.htcoregonwashington.org
A national, non-profit organization whose mission is to restore health to impoverished children of the world through donated medical services.
Literacy Bridge– http://literacybridge.org
Working to empower children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning, as an effective means towards advancing education, health, economic development, democracy, and human rights.
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)– www.nisgua.org
Linking people in the U.S. with the Guatemalan people and their struggles for justice, human rights, environmental protection, and dignity.
Ninos Estudiando El Salvador (NESES)– www.neses.org
Enriching the lives of orphaned and underprivileged Salvadoran children and expanding their knowledge of educational and occupational opportunities in their home country.
Unitarian Universalist Central American Network– www.uucan.org
Working with witnesses of the Guatemalan genocide and endeavoring to build public awareness about Guatemala and advocate for humane policies in Guatemala and the rest of the Central America.
Women’s Enterprises International– www.womensenterprises.org
Creating opportunities that equip women in developing countries to overcome poverty and transform their lives and communities.
Thanks to everyone in attendance for sharing their ideas and experience. We look forward to seeing people at future events. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, check out our calendar, and follow us on Twitter.
Wed June 17th: Sijambo Sub-Saharan Africa
Wed July 15th: Convening Central and South Asia
Wed August 19th: East Asia and South East Asia
Wed September 16th: Salaam Maleukum Middle East and North Africa