Tag Archives: Wales

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.

A ‘globally responsible Wales’ in a global Britain?

Susie Ventris-Field sets out the elements that should influence Welsh Government’s new international strategy.

Susie Ventris-Field is the Chief Executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.

Brexit is just weeks away. Uncertainty and short-term thinking dominate the political landscape. This is exactly the right time for long-term and inspiring visions of what our future relationship with the world could be and the most important question for a strategy in uncertain times is not what do you want to do, but what do you want to be?

The UK is one of only six countries across the world that spends 0.7% of its gross national income on international aid, a commitment enshrined in law. But there are prominent voices shaping the ‘global Britain’ discussion that push for Britain to pursue its own trade and investment interests, regardless of this pledge and other international obligations and responsibilities. For example, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson argued that the 0.7% Britain commits to international aid should be spent on furthering political, commercial and economic interests, including spending on defence.

On the domestic front, Britain was one of the authors of the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, the Windrush scandal, long processing times for asylum applications and the use of detention centres has created a ‘hostile environment’ for those seeking sanctuary on our shores, who are fleeing conflict and persecution.

The ‘hostile environment’ also contributes to challenges for the inward migration that Wales needs. For example, universities are facing financial challenges as numbers of international students drop and NHS staff shortages are increasing. Furthermore, the UK’s Immigration Bill doesn’t account for the differentiated needs of the Welsh economy in terms of inward migration.

Against this backdrop, can Wales use its devolved powers to build upon British foreign and trade policy, differentiating itself as a globally responsible and welcoming nation and bringing out the values and qualities that are important to so many people across the nation?

For the first time, Wales has an International Relations and Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan, who has committed to developing a cross-governmental International Strategy for Wales. Trade and investment will, naturally, be dominant features in such a strategy, as will using soft power to further Welsh interests. However, this policy can and should do more. The minister has stated that she wants the new strategy to be based on strong shared values and rooted in civil society efforts spanning decades. Wales has a history of solidarity, international aid and development and campaigns for peace and justice around the world that can inspire a rounded strategy that defines how the country is perceived on the global stage.

Some examples: historically, we have the Message of Peace and Goodwill from the young people of Wales to the world, about to reach its 100th anniversary; the Peace Appeal where, in 1924, 40% of the women in Wales signed a petition to the women of America so they could lobby the President to join the League of Nations; long-standing links between Wales and Somaliland, Uganda and Lesotho; and the Wales anti-apartheid movement.

More recently, the Wales for Africa programme, established by the Welsh Government because people in Wales wanted to make a unique contribution to international development, is still going strong ten years on. It supports skills-sharing, solidarity and international development efforts that contribute to poverty alleviation. Much of the initiative is driven by local communities in both Wales and Africa, in response to mutual needs.

Wales has also shown outward-looking trends in domestic policy. It has been a Fair Trade Nation for ten years, with people across sectors making purchasing decisions on ethical grounds. Wales will hopefully be the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary as a counterpoint to the ‘hostile environment’. We have a Well-being of Future Generations Act that commits the public sector to be, among other goals, globally responsible and a new curriculum for Wales has a central goal that young people will be ‘ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world’.

So how do these diverse elements come together to influence an international strategy? I can suggest three ways.

First, Wales can build its reputation, showcasing its globally responsible domestic policies, hoping to inspire similar behaviours and learning from the practice of others so we can do even better. This recommendation is echoed in the External Affairs Committee report Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the world, published last week, to use international engagement to demonstrate international leadership.

Second, it is vital that Wales’ international strategy protects and builds on the commitment its people have shown to alleviating poverty, as in the Wales for Africa programme. Within this programme, a more strategic approach may be valuable. For example, given the current size of the budget, the strategy could focus on one thematic area or country and certainly offer more opportunities to build stronger relationships across the third, public and private sectors in programme delivery. What should be avoided when taking a more strategic focus is the dilution or redirection of the programme to enhance trade or for economic self-interest. The reputational benefits conferred to Wales by taking our international responsibilities seriously will make the country a place people want to visit and do business with, as well as meeting the wishes of the public in Wales to make a positive contribution.

Third, some key values should permeate the other aspects of the strategy and drive proactive diplomacy. These should include commitments to sustainability, respect for human rights, tolerance, cooperation, peace and justice.

In practice, there are many ways in which these values could be manifested. As a Fair Trade Nation, we care about ethical trade; we want a green economy. Trade and investment elements of the strategy should reflect these commitments. We should make as much as possible of Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary – a welcoming place that people will want to come to, including students and tourists; the vibrant diaspora and refugee constituents here in Wales, from countries like Somaliland, China and Portugal, have expertise and insight and should be involved regularly for their views.

As well as being the right things to do, these kinds of practical steps will make Wales a more attractive place to do business, and to visit.

Eluned Morgan gave an opening speech in the Senedd that included all the right messages. We are now hopeful that Wales will develop an international strategy for a truly globally responsible Wales.

 

 

Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash