Wise words on climate change from Wade Davis

This, from Wade Davis‘s brilliant foreword to “Tibet, Culture on the Edge” by Phil Borges:

“There is no serious scientist alive who questions the severity and implications of this (climate) crisis, or the factors, decisions, and priorities that caused it to occur.  It has come about because of the consequences of a particular worldview.  We have for three centuries now, as Thom Hartmann has written, consumed the ancient sunlight of the world.  Our economic models are projections and arrows when they should be circles.  To define perpetual growth on a finite planet as the sole measure of economic well-being is to engage in a form of slow collective suicide.  To deny or exclude from the calculus of governance and economy the costs of violating the biological support systems of life is the logic of delusion.”

A beautiful and important book.

Business practices in INGOs – good idea, or bad?

In the wake of the massive, worldwide response to the Ethiopia famine in 1984 and 1985, international development organizations grew in size, and began to attract increased public scrutiny.  As a result, consciously or not, we began to adopt many private-sector practices, and to import a number of basic for-profit cultural influences.  Has this been good for our sector, or bad?

Based on my own experience, I think the answer is mixed: in some ways the systems and ways of working and viewing the world that we imported from the business world were of crucial help as we scaled up in the 1990’s and beyond.  But in a number of fundamental ways, these influences have undermined the effectiveness of our agencies, and the sector in general.

In 2010 I presented a paper on this topic at the “Reconceptualising Development” workshop, held at Deakin University in Melbourne.  It will be published later this year, and is attached here.


What next for civil society?

Happy New Year from Sydney!

Just back from a great overnight hike in the Blue Mountains.  On the train there, read an interesting article by John Clark, “Civil Society in the Age of Crisis.” Really resonated with what we are trying to get at in Cambodia now, what could be a legitimate role for INGOs in the future:

“… what this means, in practice, is more civil society attention directed towards the processes, rather than towards the substance, of politics and especially to matters of governance. CSOs can help elected representatives in their oversight of government practices related to global challenges and can respond to and even create opportunities for direct citizen participation in the affairs of governments at local, national, and global levels. Such measures will encourage governments to put into practice the rhetoric of their stated policies and will provide feedback on the degree to which this is achieved and the efficacy of those measures…”  (John Clark (2011): Civil Society in the Age of Crisis, Journal of Civil Society, 7:3, 241-263.

Clark frames this as a CSO response to an era of three crises: trans-national terrorism, financial crisis, and climate change. For me, it captures trends that might echo beyond those three (real, grave) crises.  Shouldn’t we (INGOs) be trying, whenever possible, to mobilize collective action of people excluded from processes through which their rights are realized or advanced; and supporting duty-bearers so that they can fulfill their obligations?  That sounds like a (more) sustainable, just, future.

See also the important Syracuse University evaluation of Plan International’s work in Guatemala here.

So what happens when these processes don’t work?  What about Paris, Accra, Busan?