Category Archives: Poverty and Development

Wales – Africa Community Linking: Development Cooperation in Action

Republished from September 2014 article on Dev.Cymru, by Craig Owen, Head of Wales for Peace and Global Action, WCIA. This opinion piece long predates the Brexit vote, and the establishment of the Welsh Government’s’ International Relations Ministry; but is republished as an important contribution to Wales’ peace heritage on ‘International Solidarity’.

 

“International Cooperation, the shaping of our common future, is far too important o be left to governments and experts alone.”

Willy Brandt, “The Independent Commission on International Development: A Programme for Survival”, 1980

 

In August 2014, the Welsh Government published their grant bid for the ‘Wales for Africa’ programme – long awaited by civil society organisations and those active in internationalism – stimulating debate about how future programming might best be focused.

Online discussion, stimulated by an excellent blog post by Associate Professor Ele Fisher,  focused on how Wales for Africa could be more recognised in international development circles. But is it ‘international development’… or is it actually an international volunteering sector, with a strong ‘communitarian’ element, and if so what difference does this make? Should our reference be the UK / DfID approach, or does Wales have more in common with European approaches – in particular, emerging thinking around the ‘Fourth Pillar of International Cooperation’, which explicitly focuses on the role of burgeoning ‘citizen initiatives for development’? And how should the government’s Wales for Africa programme (and perhaps more importantly, civil society’s response to it) be framed, in order to be more effective – and better understood?

Re-framing Wales’ contribution to International Cooperation

One could posit that Wales for Africa is actually not a governmental international development strategy in the sense that the wider international development ‘establishment’ see it; but a support mechanism for Wales’ civil society movements, through global citizenshipand volunteering, to participate in international cooperation – with shared aspirations to contribute towards ending poverty (the MDGs). The challenge – quite apart from these words meaning little to Ioan or Joan on the street – is that the language of Wales for Africa over the last few years, and therefore the focus of critique, has been framed firmly in international development.

To the ordinary volunteer or person on the street, the great goal of ‘making poverty history’ is what motivates them to give their time, money, energy, commitment and passion. The public pressure for the Welsh Government to create ‘Wales for Africa’ in the first place emerged directly from communities’ involvement in the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign. It reflected the desire of ordinary people to do more than just sign a petition; and the desire of civil society organisations ‘beyond the development sector’ to offer tangible skills and knowledge.

Over recent years, this has started to be recognised as what some call a ‘distinct Welsh model’ with an approach that has been coined as ‘communitarian’. It is about harnessing the power of community-based civil society links, connecting professionals such as health, teachers and environmental workers as well as members of the African diaspora, Fair traders and equality activists, to support each other on a ‘community to community’ basis – not just communities of geography, but communities of interest, knowledge and expertise. Rather than professional staff in country offices, it is volunteering and cooperation through direct contact with local in-country partners.

Making Poverty Personal

As BOND’s own research on public attitudes to global poverty has found, the mainstream international development sector has left the public behind in understanding of poverty issues – and as research led in Belgium & Holland has identified, this has been paralleled by a burgeoning movement across Europe of small scale, private, voluntary and citizen-led initiatives, as people seek to make a more personal contribution in an ever-globalising world. In the Benelux nations this has been dubbed ‘the Fourth Pillar’ of development cooperation – and it is all about relationships. It should perhaps be emphasised that these initiatives exist throughout England too – it is just that there is no (properly resourced) support infrastructure for them, nothing to steer them towards good practice, or away from bad practice which can therefore flourish undetected.

Networks in Wales that have blossomed have to date been primarily been ‘identity driven’ (ie by the inputs of the Welsh participants who make them up, such as health professionals, diaspora or community linkers), rather than ‘outcomes driven’ (i.e. by the change they are seeking to create). Consequently, individuals across Wales have very different interpretations of why they do what they do, and what they believe Wales for Africa is (or should, or could, be). There is a great opportunity here for civil society to shift the narrative, defining real goals and priorities, and redefining ‘effectiveness’ against the outcomes we collectively seek to achieve.

Back to Schools (of thought)

One can identify three distinct schools of thought across the ‘Wales for Africa sector’:

  • Global Citizenship– education, awareness raising, and engaging people with global issues
  • International Volunteering– active, experiential involvement and skills / expertise exchange
  • Development Cooperation– mutual support and building capacity of southern partners

Let’s explore these pillars.

Global Citizenship

A driving force of the Welsh Government’s narrative around Wales for Africa is to engage ‘more’ people with global issues. Perhaps the most stunning demonstration of this is Wales’ becoming the world’s first Fairtrade Nation in 2008 – a cumulation of many thousands of individual achievements by campaigners, schools, community networks, local businesses and institutions. But this also encapsulates a staggering array of schools activity, awareness raising, local events, debate, media coverage, fundraising, casual volunteering, creative arts and community outreach work that infiltrates almost every community across Wales in some way or other.

Global Citizenship in itself is not a driving force of other governmental international development strategies – this tends to fall under schools policy, in the domain of development education and awareness raising. Following the last change of UK government, DfID deprioritised awareness raising initiatives in the UK, considered to dilute the remit of a ‘development agency’ (indeed, DfID Minister Andrew Mitchell viewed it as no more than brainwashing to support the government’s development commitments).

But in Wales – whilst arguments for stronger Welsh Government schools policy are backed up by a recent June 2014 Estyn Report into ESDGC – global citizenship is also a motivation behind the government’s support for work with Africa. It is part of a wider narrative about Wales’ place in the world, a distinctive nation and culture with values that are complementary but not the same as ‘Britishness’; a leader in sustainable development, a good place to visit and to do business, a nation where relationships are important. Encouraging people to engage with the world through Wales for Africa seeks to broaden horizons, knowledge and aspirations. Just think what could be achieved if all of these exciting and disparate activities could be better supported and joined up.

International Volunteering

Welsh health professionals delivering training with Liberian nurses, are giving their voluntary time and energy. Welsh citizens from the African Diaspora are volunteering their knowledge and connections. Environmental workers are volunteering their expertise to conservation or clean energy projects. Ordinary citizens participating in exchange visits are building long-term relationships and friendships that many southern partners value highly indeed, as a refreshing change from the ‘transactional’ nature of many vertical development programmes. International volunteering is perhaps the cornerstone of the Wales for Africa programme.

Development practitioners hold valid concerns around parochialism, poor practice, and grasp of ‘do no harm’ principles whilst volunteers (and hosting African partners) are going through these life changing learning journeys. A similar debate around ‘Voluntourism’ in the USA highlights great gaps in ‘thinking about linking’. But this is precisely where Wales for Africa’s resourcing can make perhaps the greatest difference.

It is easy to forget that Oxfam started out as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief… a small, amateur, voluntary organisation on a learning journey. With the right nurturing, acorns grow into great oak trees.

The Welsh Government do not have devolved powers to directly fund poverty project partners in the south – this is the domain of DfID. But they do have competency to support professionalization of Welsh organisations, and of the (very small number of) people employed across Wales’ international sector to date, all are employed to support and advise Welsh volunteers and organisations to involve more people in delivering better projects.

The challenge I would opine for the next phase of Wales for Africa is to shift towards support that is tailored to the very different types of volunteering contribution that Welsh individuals make. The support needs (and risks) are greatly different between a casual volunteering role such as local campaigning or fundraising, semi-structured volunteering such as charity trusteeship or a 2-week exchange trips to Africa; and a structured placementsuch as internships of ILO, VSO or UNA Exchange. Delivering cataract surgery in a remote rural village presents a whole basket of risks that are not mitigated by the ‘intent to do good’, and for which proper support and training are essential. But a volunteer is less likely to do much harm running a fundraising tombola – although support and training in how to communicate poverty issues might deepen people’s understanding and propensity to support African development.

Development Cooperation (vs. International Development)

One of the most visible elements of Wales for Africa since 2007 has been the expansion (or perhaps more accurately, raised profile) of organisations actively in Wales Africa linking exchanges and mutual project development – community links, health links, diaspora links, school links. As mentioned earlier, the ‘identity focus’ on Welsh networks has perhaps excluded some organisations who don’t identify with these (such as, ironically, small international NGOs) – and confused those with multiple identities (such as community links with health and fairtrade projects). Perhaps the most important need for Wales for Africa programming going forward, is not to ‘label’ organisations with an identity, but to recognise and support them for what they are.

The greatest opportunity here, is to elevate the involvement of some of Wales’ leading organisations. Many linking groups are primarily focused on volunteer exchanges and learning; but some have gone on to develop projects that, through cooperative working, are truly building the capacity of their African partners and supporting delivery of cutting edge, effective, small scale community development work. But these organisations face a massive jump between the ‘small grants’ level (£2-4k) of community linking funds, and those of international development project funders such as DfID, Comic Relief and Lottery which tend to be £100k upwards, with a laser sharp focus on poverty reduction rather than more general ‘cooperation’ and capacity building activities.  Again, there is an opportunity gap here.

Professor Fisher’s article highlights the ‘grand project’ of global development that is moving increasingly towards big players, multi-billion budgets, aid choice, infrastructure projects – and how this may open an opportunity for Welsh organisations to move into the ‘community level gaps’ that emerge. With £600,000 – is there any added value in Wales trying to play on the grand development stage? The whole WG Wales for Africa budget could be spent on 2 water boreholes in the Sudan, or a couple of miles of road in Angola, that could indeed benefit thousands of people and seem more focused. But against many hundreds of others playing on this stage, with vastly more resources and experience, it is difficult to see what ‘USP’ Wales could add to this mix.

But Cooperation  is another ‘development language’ that is the focus of many European and Scandinavian development agencies, carrying with it a whole load of different connotations. Cooperation implies more ‘equity based’ relationships, which would go a long way towards addressing concerns about paternalistic attitudes and charity dependency – and would align Wales with wider European models of practice.

Learning from European Cooperation

Three ‘pillars of development’ are universally recognised:

  1. Multilateral institutions (such as the IMF and World Bank)
  2. Bilateral aid (government to government)
  3. Non Governmental Organisations (such as Oxfam, Christian Aid or many charities).

Approaches that do not fit these models, such as volunteerism and community linking, struggle for credibility with an International Development practitioner community who can see these as an amateur infringement at best and a major threat to practice at worst. However, across Europe, there have been recent shifts towards recognising a ‘Fourth Pillar’ of Development:

  1. Citizen Initiatives’ in international cooperation.

Individuals, private initiatives, community groups and small voluntary organisations, independent of both the state and multinational NGOs, have been a rapidly exploding movement across Northern Europe in the last few years , and international cooperation agencies in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany are exploring how to engage with this untapped energy. The first mapping exercise of which (titled ‘The Accidental Aid Worker’) was published in January this year by Leuven and Nijmegen Universities, as the platform for a first European Conference on the topic.

Flanders, a devolved state within Belgium with strong parallels to Wales, have had a devolved Flemish International Cooperation Agency since 1993. They have now grown, with a budget of E31million, to a point of directly funding south-south cooperation projects; but retain a strong foundation and support across Flemish Civil Society through core funding 11.11.11 , the ‘Fourth Pillar Support Platform’. This services more than 550 Flemish citizen initiatives through training, advice and information exchange – a not dissimilar function to the Wales International Development Hub.

That Wales could learn from these models is undoubtable; but perhaps there is more to this. Is Wales for Africa actually more akin to European models of international cooperation? And could civil society and the Welsh Government position our future scheme to be a lead player in this emerging arena of thinking and practice?

Joining the Dots: A Radical Redirection that builds on Wales’ Strengths

So, more of the same, slight change or radical redirection? Is it too idealist to seek all three – a radical redirection that builds on Wales’ strengths?

My ‘radical redirection’ would be to shift the language and thinking of Wales for Africa to explicitly recognise and build joined-up programmes around the three pillars of global citizenship, international volunteering and development cooperation. One could reinforce this by committing roughly equal resources to each pillar. This would chime with calls from International Development practitioners to commit more dedicated resources to well-established Welsh organisations with strong southern partners (the international cooperation pillar), whilst balancing the recognition that there are other players in the sector whose contributions, through more focused support to Global Citizenship and International Volunteering, will lead to a truly holistic Wales for Africa programme for the future.

Republished from September 2014 article on Dev.Cymru, by Craig Owen, Head of Wales for Peace and Global Action, WCIA.

Poverty in Wales: A Globalized Perspective

By Aphrael Spindloe

Disclaimer: The blogs on this site are written by our volunteers and guest writers. They do not reflect the views of the WCIA. We hope that sharing a range of views will encourage discussion and debate. Please get in touch if you wish to contribute a blog. Blogs are published in the language the volunteer has chosen to write in (whether that is Welsh or English) and we welcome submissions in both languages. 

 

Poverty in Wales: A Globalized Perspective

When in November 2018 Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the UK, it was a surprise to many in Government (but less so to UK citizens) that he described the extent of UK poverty as ‘not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.’ The visit highlighted the extent that poverty has affected the UK, and how Globalization has had its own part to play.

Homeless Tent In Shop Doorway I have been a student at Cardiff university since October 2017, and it is clear that policies such as austerity and universal credit has had a significant impact on citizens’ livelihoods. These policies were implemented after the 2008 recession, an economic crisis which led to the UK Government feeling justified in reducing costs in areas such as welfare, health and education. It has been over ten years now, yet the effect of the crash is still evident to see. Foodbank use is growing at an alarming rate as people struggle to find money for both food and bills (even when they are in a job) and it is normalized to witness a large number of homeless people on the streets; neglected by their government who has failed to provide even the simplest provision of shelter (In Cardiff, the Wallich has seen an 81% increase in rough sleeping between 2013/14 and 2015/16) Even though my generation can hardly remember a time before the crash, we are all very aware that the policies of today are not working. Something must change.

Neoliberal cuts to welfare, the Government’s lack of action in relation to the rise in precarious work such as zero hour contracts and rising prices of goods in all sectors, has meant Wales poorest are living in fear of where their next meal will be, or if they will have to go without food so that they can pay their bills to make sure a roof is over their heads for another month. As we privatize more and more of our services, allowing global businesses to take over and ramp up prices (it has become a usual sight at the beginning of each new year to hear of train fare prices rising, often around the 3.5% mark) we are creating an environment that poor people are unable to survive in without adapting to a life of debt and squalor.

Scare techniques are commonly used by certain media outlets, which are often owned by rich people or individuals who do not live in the UK. They create a demonized view of those on benefits, claiming them to be ‘benefit scroungers’. This should be seen as yet another scapegoat which allow multinational corporations who evade tax to keep on hoarding their money, whilst those in poverty have sanctions put on them for simple acts such as not turning up for a work search review.

Yet poor people are still viewed as the problem.

Multinational corporations are also frequently based in other countries such as America. This means that their employees in other countries become a number rather than an individual with aspirations, friends and family. This, unfortunately, makes firing people much easier. If a corporate giant is told that sales are low in an area, then they could simply make people redundant in order to save money and transfer production to areas where sales are high, such as Honda which is planning to move out of the UK by 2021 (Honda suppliers factory Kasai in Merthyr Tydfil has 200 people supplying both Honda and Nissan, this decision to leave the UK means 200 individuals will now be facing uncertainty about whether they will lose their job or not). It becomes a numbers game and unfortunately the lives of employees become increasingly precarious as individuals are viewed as being part of a dispensable workforce.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though, there are still plenty of ways that Wales can try and help people out of poverty. Putting pressure on the UK Government to make precarious work such as zero hour contracts illegal would mean everyone in work would end up having a stable income. Raising wages from the minimum wage to the Living Wage would mean people should find themselves in a position to afford Image result for tax evasionbasic necessities such as food, clothes and shelter. Another step to preventing poverty is by ensuring business pay their taxes. This will require global cooperation to prevent them being able to move their money into offshore accounts, and ultimately  both Wales, the UK and the World would become more accountable.

Finally, re-nationalizing is vital and will require cooperation with companies that currently own UK services. One big fear the Government has is that if it forces businesses to do such things as pay tax or give services back to the state, then they will move their service elsewhere; leaving the country derelict. However, if we carry on the way we are, (allowing global corporations to evade tax and the Government to privatize more of our services), then surely people will be unable to give money to these businesses anyway (as they will not be able to afford their products). If this is the case, then there is not much hope that these businesses will be able to stick around anyway.

Overall, both Global cooperation and accountability is key if we are to deal with poverty in Wales. In our transnational world we interact with other countries all of the time. If we wish to help end poverty in Wales, then we must make sure we maintain a strong stance in showing that the UK will not accept low employment standards as being the norm; only when we hold the world to account (just as we should hold our own Government to account also) will we be able to make Wales a place with high standards, stronger job security and independent individuals.

 

Image of ‘Poverty can be eradicated’ by Howard Lake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4103261671