China has become the world’s workshop. If I buy a parasol, a screwdriver, or a stove, I can see all the objects marked “Made in PRC – People’s Republic of China.” Wood that is purchased in Europe is exported to China and then comes back in the form of furniture. International transport of both raw materials and manufactured goods increases and contributes to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions. Manufactured products are so inexpensive – through the exploitation of the vast Chinese labor force – that repairing products is no longer economical. Suppose that I by a lawnmower for 500 euros. If it breaks down and the repair costs me 400 euros, it is “better” to buy a new one. The economics of waste are at full throttle. Many people are beginning to think that this system is no longer sustainable. It is too costly in terms of both raw materials and energy consumption. While it results in the growing industrialization of many countries, it keeps others in poverty. How might we build a different society, based on simplicity, the sharing of knowledge, and local development?
The Fabulous Laboratories
Part of the solution may be emerging. It’s becoming known as the Fab Lab: “Fabrication Laboratory” in English, “Fab Labs” in French. The Fab Lab concept applies to the industrial world the spirit of sharing and innovation that is presently encountered, free-of-charge, on the internet via shareware software and social networks. The Fab Labs allow consumers to create their own futures!
Neil Gershenfeld, an American physicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), launched the first Fab Lab in 2002. At the Insitute, he designed a course entitled “How to make (almost) anything.” In it, Gershenfeld has run sessions on designing prototypes to help students complete their research projects. The course provides them with a wide range of digital production tools, particularly 3D printers, that can apply one or more layers of plastic to transform a file concept into a real object; as well as laser cutters and milling machines that are capable of cutting and carving wood and iron following digital commands. Quickly, this concept has captured the imagination of the MIT students, moved out of the college classroom, and developed far afield. In his book, FAB, the next revolution on your desktop, Gershenfeld writes that instead of “providing information technology to the masses, Fab labs show that it is possible to give them tools to develop and find local technological solutions to local problems.”
In an article in Le Monde Diplomatique entitled, “Tomorrow: factories in our living rooms” (June 2012), Sabine White writes: “Here is the blueprint for an economic policy that bypasses traditional industry. Your washing machine’s button is broken? Using a computer and software for conceptualizing the problem [employing free software, of course], you draw up a plan, and the 3D printer models it, and you then produce the tangible object… the replacement washing machine button. Of course once the artifact is produced, you can share the plans on the Internet with other users, offering them variations and enhancements, giving the product more life after its production.” The Fab Lab can also fulfill industry needs that cannot be met because of an insufficient market. In Ghana, users take advantage of Fab Labs to develop solar stoves; while in Mali, digital radio can send video content for training programs in remote areas with tips found in Fab Labs. In India, a Fab Lab produces devices for measuring the quality of milk from small producers. In Kenya, Fab Labs make possible the manufacturing of water pumps without having to import parts from Europe. The Fab Labs enable students to participate in the creative process. They help isolated populations in poor countries and can provide machinery for innovative small and medium enterprises.
The consumer becomes a producer
Allowing anyone access to simple industrial machines at low cost is a departure from conventional production. This is why communities of hackers want to invest in Fab Labs. Alexandre Korber, Member of TMP Lab, a place of innovation run by hackers in Vitry, near Paris, said: “The Fab Lab uses the same principle as hacking: it teaches people to be themselves.”
The fabulous lab is conceptualized as a space in which to share skills, new technologies, and the art of recycling. It contains tools ranging from the most rudimentary to the more sophisticated machines, all controlled by software: saw, cutter, milling machine, free software, and small robots. Download a model of bike or plan for a washing machine, and then, thanks to a 3D printer that makes small objects and other machines which in turn cut and fold, you just have to assemble the final product.
So what are we waiting for?! To your computers and your machines! When will Indaba.Network set up its first Fab Lab?
[Please see the Indaba Resources page’s “Social Economy” sheet: “How to install a Fab Lab”].
Posted by biornmayburylewis in Uncategorized on March 19, 2012
Do you know Rose Wataka? Probably not. Her message came to us via indabaXchange, our social network project, like a message in a bottle thrown into the sea. It barely had any real chance to be read and taken into account.
Yet this message is not one that comes from another world. Rose Wataka lives in Webuye, a town of 19,000 inhabitants in the Bungoma District of northwestern Kenya. The neighborhood in which she lives is known as the Muslim Estate and has about 200 families. With some friends, Rose has created an organization: Muslim Estate Self Help Organization.
The purpose of this organization is to mobilize the local population to solve a crucial problem, that of collecting and recycling garbage.
Africa facing waste
Formerly, in African villages, most waste was organic and nature was able to recycle it easily. Today, the majority of Africans live in big cities and are gradually adopting Western consumption patterns. They eventually come to purchase the same food, same drinks, and the same consumer goods as people in Europe and America. For this reason, like us, they produce a considerable amount of waste, much of which is toxic and not biodegradable. Examples include aluminum packaging, used storage batteries, waste oil, and plastic bags. Today, plastic bags are utilized even in the traditional markets. In all African countries, tourists can see throughout the countryside black plastic bags caught in tree branches or strewn on the ground in fields. The bags will last hundreds of years, polluting the soil, while animals will swallow or become entangled in them and die. When the bags are burned, they give off dioxin, poisoning the atmosphere.
Industrialized countries have made considerable progress in reducing pollution. They have managed to establish mechanisms for collection and recycling of waste otherwise destined for landfills. This implies:
1. An administrative control that regulates waste management and provides for penalties for non-compliance;
2. Education of the citizenry to incorporate new habits from new models of consumption, while developing awareness of environmental problems;
3. Financial mobilization for the implementation of an infrastructure that oversees the classification, collection, and elimination or waste.
But all this is simply out of the reach of most poor countries. So, in effect, by exporting our products made in the industrialized nations to the those that are not industrialized, we export also our pollution. Sometimes we, in the wealthier countries, do even worse. Western societies are taking advantage of the weakness of some of the southern states (eg., Somalia), fraudulently dumping on their shores industrial and nuclear waste that is both very dangerous and very expensive to recycle. Apparently, Africans can go ahead and die of our waste if it saves us the cost of recycling.
The only solution within the reach of poor countries is to mobilize their people to make them aware of the problem and develop their own actions necessary for collecting and recycling waste. This is what Rose and her friends would like to do in Wataka with the Muslim Estate Self Help Organization.
Rose Wataka’s fight
Rose is 52 and a teacher. She is not an expert on the collection and recycling of waste. She is simply a woman aware of the dangers of not practicing waste management, and the threat that this represents to the environment and people’s health. We must help Rose Wataka.
I am in dialogue with her for several weeks, now, over the Internet. She probably is using an internet cafe computer to contact me. I am helping her, little by little, to build a viable action project. Not a ready-made model, projected to her from a distance, but an action plan built by her and her friends, related to their situation as well as the problems they experience, drawing on their resources. Soon Rose and her friends will create a group on IndabaXchange, enabling them to tell us directly their dreams and needs.
Help us to help Rose: Who among you has the skills or experience necessary in the field of collecting and recycling waste in developing countries? Do you have any ideas on generating income and jobs from recycling? Who might be available to help build a viable project? Who is willing to invest some money to help purchase equipment and basic tools?
Beyond the aid needed to start the action, the important thing is to help Rose and her friends to find solutions that will empower them and enable them to pursue the action on their own.
We are counting on you.
“Civilization and Its Discontents” Revisited: The French Interior Minister Condemns People of Civilizations other than His Own
By Dominique Bénard
The Interior Minister of the French Government, in an outlandish and peremptory statement, has directly attacked people of foreign origin living in France by saying:
”There are patterns of behavior that have no place in our country, not because they are foreign, but because they do not conform to our worldview, particularly regarding the dignity of women and men. Contrary to the relativistic ideology of the left, for us all civilizations are not equal. Those who defend humanity seem to us more advanced than those who deny it. Those who stand for freedom, equality and fraternity appear to us superior to those which accept tyranny, oppression of women, and social or ethnic hatred. In any event, we must protect our civilization.”
The minister’s objective is clear: in this campaign period (presidential elections will be held in France next April), attacking people of foreign origin, particularly those with Islamic backgrounds, can attract extreme right votes.
Mr. Guéant has his certainties, particularly that Western civilization protects freedom, equality, fraternity. It is therefore superior to others … How may me remind Mr. Guéant that the civilization about which he boasts gave birth to the Crusades, religious wars, mass slavery, colonization, genocide of Native Americans, racism, the world wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki … not to mention other smaller massacres?
Would a reminder of the judgment of American Indians (people who are victims of European genocide) on Western civilization, put the minister’s ideas in their proper perspective?
Wise old Wintu (California Indians)
“White people make fun of the earth, the deer, or bear. When we Indians seek roots, we make small holes. When we build our teepees, we make little holes. We only use dead wood. The white man, he upends the earth, cuts down trees, destroys everything. The tree says, ‘Stop, I’m hurt, do not make me ill.’ But blindly he charges on. He hates the spirit of the earth. He tears the trees and shakes up their roots. He saws the trees. This hurts them. The Indians never do wrong, while the white man ruins everything. He blows up the rocks and scatters the leaves. The rock says, ‘Stop, you’re hurting me.’ But the white man does not pay attention. When the Indians use the stone, they are small and round for lighting their fires … How could the spirit of the earth love the white man? … Whatever he touches, he leaves a wound.”
Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Sioux chief, 1875
“See, my brothers, the spring has come, the Earth has received the embrace of the sun, and we will soon see the fruits of this love. Every seed is awakened and even the animals come to life. We owe our existence to this mysterious power, which is why we grant to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same rights as we have to live in this land …Yet hear me, you all, we are now dealing with another race, one that was small and feeble when our fathers met for the first time, but today is large and arrogant. Strangely enough, they have the idea of cultivating the soil and love to possess it, which is a disease.
”These same people have made many rules that the rich may break but not the poor. They levy taxes on the poor and weak to maintain the rich who rule. They claim our mother, Earth, for their own use and barricade themselves against their neighbors, and they disfigure it with their buildings and refuse. This nation is like a torrent of melted snow that overflows its banks and destroys everything in its path. ”
Pachgantschilhilas, chief of the Delaware
”The white men proclaimed loudly that their laws were made for everyone, but it immediately became clear that, while hoping we would obey them, they did not hesitate to break them themselves.
”Their elders advised us to adopt their religion but we quickly discovered that there were a great number of them. We could not understand them, and two white men rarely agree on the need to follow them. This embarrassed us until the day we realized that the white man did not take his religion any more seriously than his laws. They kept their laws close at hand, as instruments to use at will in their dealings with outsiders.”
Kondiarionk, Huron chief, addressing the Baron de Lahontan, French lieutenant in Newfoundland.
”You are already so wretched that you can hardly become more so. What kind of man is the European? What kind of creature does he choose to be, forced to do good while having no real motivation for this other than fear of punishment? (…) In truth my dear brother, I pity you from the depths of my soul. Take my advice and becomes Huron. I see clearly the profound difference between my position and yours. I am the master of my condition. I am the master of my body. I have myself at my disposal, I do what I like, I am the first and last of my nation, I fear no man absolutely, and I depend only on the Great Spirit.
“It is not the same for you. Your body as well as your soul is condemned to depend on your great captain, your viceroy who commands you. You have no freedom to do what you have in mind. You’re afraid of thieves, murderers, false witnesses, etc. And you depend on a multitude of people whose place is situated above yours. Is this not true?”
Brotherhood of man.
Perhaps we might also remind Mr. Guéant of this passage from the Gospel of Luke (6, 41): “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye and do not you see the plank in your own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me take the speck in your eye, you who do not see the plank in your own? Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye and then shalt thou see clearly enough to remove the speck in your brother’s eye.”
At Indaba-Network, we believe that there has only been one human family since the appearance of Homo Sapiens on earth, and that each particular civilization is a symphony in the concert of humankind that we must discover and enjoy to allow us to grow as Humankind. Thus, any civilization progresses when it looks at another fraternally and regresses when the other is stigmatized or excluded as an enemy.
For better-off families, the December/January Holiday Season is a period of traditional overeating, while the millions of people who suffer from chronic lack of food and the millions of children who die of malnutrition, worldwide, remain forgotten. Yet paradoxically, diseases once associated with opulent societies and wealthy people increasingly affect both rich and poor countries.
A worldwide epidemic
Being overweight and obese (fat) are among today’s leading health risk factors throughout the world, causing 4 million deaths every year. Obesity is often associated with high blood pressure, high blood glucose (diabetes), cardiovascular diseases and cardiac failure.
Until a few decades ago, obesity was considered a condition associated with high socioeconomic status. Indeed, early in the 20th century, most populations in which obesity became a public health problem were located in the developed world. Beginning in the United States and then spreading to Europe, obesity is now fast emerging as the new pandemic (or worldwide epidemic) of the XXIst century. It affects both sexes and all age groups and has a disproportionate impact upon disadvantaged population groups. By 2030, for example, more than 50 per cent of the adult population in the USA will be obese.
Dramatic increases in some developing countries
Now, however, the most dramatic increases in obesity are occurring in some developing countries. In poor countries, initially the higher socioeconomic strata of the population were primarily affected but a shift is taking place from the higher to the lower socioeconomic levels. So, while low childhood weight is still responsible for the death of over 2 million children every year, mainly in low-income countries, it is not uncommon to find households with an undernourished child and an overweight adult, often a woman. In 2010, the World Health Organization reported that more than 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese, and, of those, 35 million lived in developing countries. In addition, obesity goes hand in hand with inequality. In any country, the higher the level of income inequality, the higher the numbers of obese people.
What is the cause ?
In the long run, the rise in obesity will reduce overall life expectancy, while it is already increasing short- and long-term healthcare expenditures, contributing to making such expenditures unsustainable in national budgets.
What is the cause of this catastrophic global rise in chronic diseases related to obesity?
If you think that fat people are solely responsible for their condition because of their individual behavior, or that their obesity is not your problem, you are wrong!
Indeed, at the individual level, obesity is basically the consequence of the imbalance between energy consumption (physical exercise) and energy intake (what and how much you eat): individual choices. Yet choices are strongly influenced by and increasingly dependent on powerful external factors. Let’s analyze them briefly.
Change in the global food system
The process of globalization has transformed the global food system: traditional food production, feeding practices and behaviors have been abandoned or have profoundly changed. Local agricultural production has become increasingly dependent on resources (such as fertilizers, pesticides, genetically engineered seeds) controlled by powerful transnational companies at the global level.
To maximize their profits those companies, which often control the entire production and distribution cycle, push for increased consumption of food by offering their consumers ample opportunities to eat throughout the day. Global fast food chains are strategically positioned everywhere offering low cost, palatable, high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt food. Sugar is possibly addictive and salt causes thirst which pushes people to consume increasing quantities of sweetened beverages which are of no nutritional value. Highly processed food is pervasively and persuasively marketed.
Industrially processed foods
Globalized diets based on industrially processed foods (with added sugar, fats, salt, and chemical flavor enhancers) have progressively substituted traditional diets based on locally produced and individually home prepared foods. Such diets are at the root of the dramatic increase in chronic diseases and obesity. Concurrent causes are urbanization (with reduced distances and availability of transport) and new technologies, which have revolutionized work and entertainment and dramatically reduced physical exercise: think of children and young people sitting many hours a days in front of the TV or computer, typically consuming popcorn, sweet snacks and beverages!
In addition, the production and distribution cycle of industrially processed food is not environmentally sustainable and implies enormous environmental costs, adding additional long term consequences to health, including unpredictable genetic effects.
Obesity in the industrialized world goes hand in hand with food waste. Rich and fat societies are also squanderers. Yearly, at the level of the consumer, rich countries throw away 222 million tons of food, an amount which is slightly less than the total net food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons), where malnutrition because of the lack of food is still widespread causing the death of millions of children.
In synthesis, obesity is a very serious global problem increasingly affecting populations everywhere which is linked to disease, high mortality, unfair distribution of resources and destruction of the planet! But the trend can be reverted and we can do a lot both individually and as organized groups, acting locally, nationally and globally through appropriate networks.
Let’s reverse the trend!
Let’s start by modifying our individual nutritional behavior. Avoid as much as possible industrially processed food, including snacks and sweetened beverages. Avoid fast-food and adding sugar to your food. Privilege natural food rich in fiber, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, locally produced and prepared at home. Increase the quantity of vegetables and reduce the amount of meat in your diet (meat consumption is related to cancer and meat production implies enormous consumption of water; furthermore, to produce a kilogram of vegetable protein costs far less in inputs than production of a kilogram of meat protein). Keep active and do physical exercise on a regular daily basis.
If we organize ourselves in groups we can do more. Those who live in rural areas may engage in local production of food and apply the rules of biological cultivation and farming (avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using instead dung and compost and organic repellants!).
Those who live in an urban area can create a consumer association to buy directly from farms in the region that use biological agriculture and farming techniques. This will grant both to consumers and the farmer fair prices and reduce for the latter the higher business risks of biological agriculture.
By networking nationally and globally we may engage in advocacy for public health nutritional education campaigns. We must especially push for public policies that regulate the production and marketing of unhealthy food. Scientific literature shows that health promotion programs do not address the underlying social and economic drivers of the obesity epidemic and that policy-led approaches (such as banning high fat and sugar food in canteens, strictly regulating unhealthy food marketing, or using fiscal leverages to reduce incentives to consume and produce unhealthy food) generally show greater cost-effectiveness than health promotion.
No corporate social responsibility without a strong social control
Transnational companies control much of what we eat. Exercising social control on the food industry, for example participating in watch-dog networks, is another possible way to engage in a movement for public health. Industries are extremely sensitive to social pressure which may put their profits at risk, and they may respond to public health concerns and consumer demands to change their products and portfolios.
Nowadays, companies often point out their Corporate Social Responsibility policies, but without strong social control from civil society organizations, that claim may remain just another way to attract consumers, showing the company’s good face, while perpetuating malpractice and the marketing of inappropriate and unhealthy food. Too often, food industries resists national and international public health attempts to modify current practices through legislative changes. Companies eventually by-pass regulations governing marketing strategies, or simply sacrifice their profits in industrialized countries and turn to developing countries where both institutional and civil society responses are often weaker, whereas social damage may be even greater.
The overall model of development is the threat
As you can see, obesity and chronic diseases share an underlying cause with many other threats to humanity: namely, the overall model of development in which we live. Young people are those most capable of embracing a future-oriented vision but, to be effective, they should take advantage of the experience of previous generations and lessons learned. Obesity is another good indicator of the urgent need for a paradigmatic shift from today’s development model. To that end, let’s reduce inequalities, maximize health rather than profit, promote and sustain local knowledge, local production and local consumption, while enjoying our experience and sharing it with others!
Posted by biornmayburylewis in Uncategorized on December 30, 2011
“…Poverty is created by the system, and therefore, if you want to fight against poverty, we must change the system.”
Muhammad YUNUS, Nobel Price 2006
We hear all about the social economy or solidarity economy but how do we define the social and solidarity economy?
The social and solidarity economy is an economy at the service of another type of development. Today, we speak of social and solidarity economy to refer to companies and associations whose purpose is more focused on the social or environmental value added than solely on financial gain.
The term “social and solidarity economy” (SSE) is an expression that emerged in the 1980s. It is more frequently used in some countries than in others. In Quebec and in English speaking countries, for example, the term “social economy” encompasses all of what is termed here the “social and solidarity economy.” While in France, as in some other countries, there are researchers and activists who believe that the social economy and solidarity economy refer to quite different approaches.
The Social Economy
The social economy was born in the 19th century with the idea of basing the production of goods and services on the needs of all and not on the interest of a few. The aim was also to apply democratic principles, such as “one person, one vote”, to economic activities; for example, the voting at shareholder’ general meetings.
Confronted with the damage caused by capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, during the 19th century, social reformers and utopian thinkers sought alternatives to the nationalization of the means of production. They would invent a collective way to produce goods and services. They created cooperatives, mutual benefit societies and associations. The term “social economy” now commonly refers to all these institutional structures, which are particularly active in complementary social protection: insurance, banks, welfare, public education, sports, culture, agriculture …
The solidarity economy appeared, in the 1970’s, within a context of mass unemployment, rising social exclusion and a search for a new mode of development. Alternative economic activities were created: fair trade, organic farming and shortened distribution channels from producer to consumer, micro-credit (well developed in India), local exchange trading systems (LETS), structures of social integration through economic activities…
Social and solidarity economy
The term “social and solidarity economy” appeared in the early 1980s in France, following the actions of certain Socialist Party leaders who favored these “other forms of entrepreneurship.” It is a term that has become common in countries where Latin languages are spoken (especially in French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking countries), but not in other linguistic areas.
Values of the social and solidarity economy
The social and solidarity economy combines reciprocity, the market, redistribution within a legal framework based on the freedom of membership as opposed to private profit making (surpluses are not redistributed as a return to capital provided), and equality based on real needs. The solidarity economy looks for a mix of various kinds of resources (market, non-commercial, non-monetary). The solidarity economy is not an economy of repair. Instead, it renews the public debate on economic and social issues. Networks of the solidarity economy are at the origin of a myriad of social initiatives aimed at meeting new needs.
But to be concrete and practical …
The originality of the social and solidarity economy is to provide accurate and concrete answers to difficulties of linking local actions with a broader effort to democratize the economy. The SSE, indeed, was gradually defined from practices that have emerged within individual and collective actions, at the grass root level, developed by:
- residents, users or professionals taking charge of the design of services they feel necessary
- entrepreneurs, wanting to support the social integration of people in difficulty through utilization of economic mechanisms
- consumers, organizing themselves to ensure the quality of products they buy
- investors, willing to use their money differently …
All these practices, despite the diversity of situations, gather around a common feature: they put mutual aid and reciprocity at the heart of economic action; people associate freely to conduct joint actions that contribute to creating economic activities and jobs while strengthening social cohesion through new social relationships of solidarity. The individual and collective willingness for entrepreneurship, demonstrated by involved actors, cannot be explained solely by material interest. The risks taken by contractors are due to the existence of a shared vision to democratize the economy.
These experiences are organized in a spirit of citizenship by fostering the creation of local public spaces, that is to say places allowing people to speak, debate, decide, design and develop economic projects tailored to the contexts in which they emerge. In this, they are widely reported to networks of civil society which, by their commitment, also contribute both to the production of goods and services as well as to the deepening of democracy.
So now you know a little better what is the SSE. You also know your home territory, your neighborhood. So, if you look at your environment, you may well be able to identify a space where you might set up a small social project. The Indaba Network can help you and guide you to be successful at implementing this economic project at the service of another ‘piece’ of broader development: the development that will change the system and that can save the world from the current economic crisis.
For more information, we invite you to look at ECONOMY AND SOCIAL SOLIDARITY on our Web site: http://indabanetworkfr.wordpress.com/champs-daction/economie-sociale/
According to the latest estimates from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the global CO2 concentrations were 391.55 ppm (parts per million) in March 2011, this corresponds to an increase of almost 40% from the beginning of the industrial revolution (about 280 ppm in 1750). For comparison, it took more than 5000 years for the CO2 concentration increases of only 80 ppm at the end of last ice age … (IPCC, 2007).
Lack of political will
The UN conference on climate change, bringing together representatives from 194 countries in Durban, South Africa, to decide the future of planet Earth, has just ended and yet its debates had few echoes in the media around the world.
The political will of major countries like the United States and China was so weak that the Durham conference was close to a complete failure: it had to be prolonged an extra thirty-six hours, including two sleepless nights of work, for the 194 countries gathered in South Africa to achieve a common road map to fight against global warming.
For the first time, all the major emitters of greenhouse gases agreed to be part of a global agreement to reduce their emissions, but the specifics of the agreement remain to be codified, by 2015 at the latest, to take effect in 2020 only. So much time lost! Is there still a chance to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in time? Scientists are doubtful.
The poorest people are the victims
What will happen then? The countries of the South, and the 325 million of the world’s poorest people who live there, are already the most affected by climate change. Hurricanes, cyclones, floods, torrential rains, droughts, decreased drinking water resources, exacerbated desertification, resurgence of infectious diseases, rising sea levels … are threatening many countries and billions of men and women. It is estimated that between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people by 2080 will suffer from water shortages while hunger will haunt between 200 and 600 million. The EU High Representative Javier Solana, already in 2008, wanted to prepare Europe for climate refugees and migration pressure that the continent will face.
The powerful are locked in their selfishness
Here, amid the present financial and economic crisis, very powerful lobbies act upon governments to prevent the adoption of any binding global regulations. The legal framework of the commitments made in Durban still has to be clarified. The text of the agreement opens the door to all interpretations, from the most stringent to the most lax. The latter is a loophole into which several countries will be tempted to rush, forgetting that the climate emergency requires everyone to transcend their own immediate interests.
Confronted with the problem of climate change, most governments are weak, subject to the influence of lobbies, unable to see beyond the next election. Or, they are downright cynical as in the case of the Canadian government which confirmed, on Monday, December 12, its immediate withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in December 2012. The Canadian Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, justified the decision by the fact that Canada – which does not meet the target of 6% emissions reductions made under the Protocol for the period 2008-2012 – runs the risk of having to pay penalties of $14 billion (10.6 billion euros) if it remains a signatory. A country cannot show greater inconsistency… How are Canadian citizens reacting?
We need actions that come from the field
“We need actions that come from the field” – believes Stéphane Hallegatte, climatologist and economist at the International Agency for Research on Environment and Development (CIRED) and a lead author of the forthcoming report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – “Because besides the disappointing results of the negotiation, there is a lot going on locally, even in countries like the United States and China.”
The action of environmental protection associations, youth groups, and civic groups will be crucial to bring about a global awareness and pressure governments to take the necessary decisions. Everywhere around the world, civil society, driven by new generations, must speak and act.
“Here we are, tiny humans, on the tiny film of life surrounding the tiny planet lost within a huge universe. This planet is also a burgeoning world, ours. At the time where societies scattered around the globe have become interdependent, the awareness of the community of earthly destiny must be the key event of the end of the millennium. We stand in solidarity with and in this planet. It’s our Earth-Homeland.” [Edgar Morin, Earth Nation. 1996]
Between November 1 and 3, 2011 in Doha, Qatar, the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) was held (for information on the event, please see http://www.wise-qatar.org). The overview of the site suggested to me some thoughts.
Instruction vs. Education
Much of the WISE debate at Doha concerned instruction, the transmission of knowledge at educational institutions ranging from literacy programs to the university levels. The problem is important since there were still 774 million illiterate people in the world in the early 2000s, an improvement given that there were 870 million in the year 1990. Yet illiteracy still affects a large part of the world’s population, with strong disparities between countries and a greater proportion of girls and women still mired in illiteracy. Of course, at the other end of instruction, in higher education, the proportion of students who participate is as inadequate as primary education is insufficient. The question of the overall rise in educational attainment remains a huge problem in much of the world.
But the title of the summit focused the participants’ attention on education, that is to say everything that prepares a child to become a well integrated adult in his/her society. This includes school instruction but not only of the formal kind. I have in mind also the education of mothers, often very young in developing countries, and the empowerment of fathers. I have in mind all the teenagers who are left to their own devices in the megacities. I have also in mind what we call “life skills”: that which you learn by acting together, the principles of democratic and political life, the basic rules of management, the non-violent ways to put a pressure on power holders — the list could go on indefinitely!
I do not think that all this requires heavy new structures, but a willingness to mobilize society as Gandhi did in his time. I do not think either that this is a reflection for “rich” people only because the world is changing for all with globalization. Having enough to eat is essential, as is instruction, but educating is also necessary to free up stifling social constraints that exist all over the world.
WISE awards a prize for innovation in the financing of education and has worked in this area a great deal! As I am a citizen of the French Republic, which made school compulsory, free, and secular 130 years ago in accord with a vision of national solidarity supporting public state-funding, my vision may be distorted. Of course, there are other possible methods of funding. Yet are they really better when we see the military budgets of poor countries (and rich countries as well, by the way), or all the money diverted by corruption? It becomes a matter of choice!
I also know that mass instruction is a ‘profit center’ for investors, as such education amounts to a captive market. Of course, teaching provided by civil servants is not a guarantee of neutrality. Ideologies of the twentieth century have proven that. But ‘private’ schools have no better guarantees of neutrality as they must submit to their funders,who have their requirements. If the schools are organized by religious groups, they have “their” programs. And if the schools are fundamentally elitist, it leads to the doubling of the time each child must devote to studies, like the schoolboys of Korea … Where is the innovation in that? When will international bodies have the courage to be politically incorrect and insist that education is not a commodity but a collective duty to respect each child put into this world?
Innovation at the ground level
Having taught for forty years, I learned a simple thing that was also present in the experiments mentioned at the Doha summit. Namely, innovation is always at the ground level, in the mysterious chemistry that appears between a group of students and the teacher. It is at this basic level that new strategies are constantly invented to make possible the transmission of knowledge. In order that this “chemical reaction” occurs, two convictions are required.
The first is that teaching is a skill that must be learned. Training teachers is as necessary and subtle as the training of airline pilots! However, learning to teach is a matter rarely and poorly studied and the time devoted to teacher training too often seems an unnecessary luxury to education officials: not only the initial but also the ongoing training. Pedagogy, the ability to guide children in their learning, is not innate, it is not a gift that we have or don’t have, it is a body of knowledge including learning processes, child psychology, ways of increasing interest for school subjects, and many more areas!
The second conviction stems from the fact that teaching has been and needs to remain scientific. As in any science, we must observe the reality, the group, and each child, and make experiments to draw from them the “laws” by which the group and each student will evolve, generalize the experiments that work, and start to continue this learning process step by step! We cannot use “ready to wear” in teaching, but only “tailor made,” and we cannot ensure that that which was effective with one class will be effective with the next.
The lessons of the pioneers
This is why I think that teaching truly, at any level, is a process of continuous innovation at the ground level, at the time and where the class and its teachers are living. Then, teaching becomes an ever new, exciting profession, always full of surprises! But how to collect these billions of innovations in a world conference?
WISE asked Charles Leadbeater to observe innovations around the world. He has written a report entitled “Innovation in education, lessons from the pioneers,” doubtless very interesting. But in the meantime, while reading it, I continue to say to all those who participate in education and instruction: watch and innovate, invent and try again, consider the importance of play in learning, even with very limited resources; and do it with heart and intelligence. Children grow forever.
You who are following the work of Indaba-network, a large number of you certainly have interest, commitment to, and experience in the field of teaching or education. No doubt a number of you have experienced innovative projects. I invite you to join the groups working in the field of education in IndabaXchange and share your experiences, suggestions, questions, or rants!
The first innovation in this area is to exchange in order to avoid the “blues” of the poor lonely teacher!
Posted by Dominique Benard in Uncategorized on December 4, 2011
Do you know what is poverty?
Angola is a country that has recently emerged from a civil war, accentuating the social differences that already existed and worsening its extreme poverty.
Mussende is the centre of the Kwanza Sul district, located 750 km east of Luanda, capital of Angola. It is inhabited by about 5,000 people. Industrial activity is negligible, so the economy is based on agriculture and hunting. Among its important features:
- Rural populations cannot provide for themselves their own basic needs such as health, education, food and housing – because they lack water, electricity, healthcare facilities, natural gas (or cylinders) and an efficient educational system.
- In rural areas like Mussende, families are organized in small villages and their houses are far apart from each other. The houses are very poor, consisting of a single chamber built of adobe bricks and thatch. The lack of drinking water, bleach, disinfectant, bathrooms, and toilets causes the conditions to be unhygienic in both private homes and collective facilities.
- Water is extracted from wells or rivers, though in some cases people must carry heavy buckets 2 to 5 km from the source to their homes.
- There is neither an electricity network nor natural gas supply, while gas cylinders are sold 150 km away at unaffordable prices for the Mussende population.
- Local families are large, eight children is the average. Women are responsible for sustaining their families. They work at home, on their private farms, breeding livestock, selling their goods on the roadside and even engaging in exchanges for oil or salt.
- As they lack access to electricity, Mussende residents have no means to preserve food, resulting often in food poisonings due to spoiled provisions.
- Literacy levels are very low, reflecting the poor educational system. Schools are built of adobe and have neither seats nor desks. There is only one blackboard and one teacher for all levels. International organizations and NGOs donate all the school supplies, and they consist of one notebook and one pencil per student per school year.
- In addition to the conditions described above, there is lack of medical care, resulting in life expectancies of 43 years for men and 38 for women: low by any standards, and very unusual in that, unlike the norm in most of the rest of the world, Mussende’s women, on average, live shorter lives than men.
Far from there, a youth group in Argentina…
In mid-2009, Griselda, Martín, Federico, María Celeste, Jesica and Eunice, undergraduates, graduate students, and lecturers from the Faculties of Chemical Engineering and Water Sciences at the University of Litoral, in Argentina, decided to create a group called ‘Unconventional Green.’ Their project was to develop alternative energy production mechanisms for their local community. This group, along with local producers at the ‘La Verdecita’ Agroecological Farm, built solar collectors, solar-powered stoves, and a biodigester (equipment that can turn organic waste into useable fuel) on this farm and in District III April 29, an area within the city of Santa Fé, Argentina.
These technologies offer many advantages. They are:
- low cost
- complementary to other energy services
- simple to build
- built of easily obtainable materials
- require only ordinary tools for construction.
The work of this group attracted the interest of Sister Cristina Mondino, auxiliary at St. Mary’s Parish, part of the missionary group called Solidarity Network for Angola. As a result of this first contact, and with the intention of transferring their expertise in the construction and installation of biogas digesters and solar stoves, the young scientists were invited to take part in a cooperative experience in Mussende, Angola. Part of this joint group is committed to travelling to Angola while most will continue the work home in Santa Fé.
Together, a project for social change
Their project aims to provide educational tools, theories, techniques and best practices for the construction of alternative energy equipment. Such equipment can advance the effort to reduce energy consumption and its cost, benefiting local families.
The proposed alternative energy equipment would include water heaters, solar stoves, and biogas digesters:
- Both solar stoves and water heaters have the advantage of transforming solar radiation into heat. In the first case water is heated for human use: sun rays are concentrated in the focus of a parabolic reflector. This allows users to bake or boil various foods as well as to process products such as jams and sweets.
- Energy from biomass digesters is a renewable because it uses organic and inorganic matter (often waste) and is formed in a biological process. Generally, the energy (often in the form of methane) is derived from organic substances that constitute living things (plants, humans, animals, etc.), or debris and waste. The utilization of biomass energy is performed directly or by conversion into other substances that may be exploited later such as fuel or food.
As a further advantage, these technologies contribute to the preservation of the environment, particularly the biodigester. It generates fertilizer (applied to urban gardens) and methane (fuel for home cooking). In addition, these facilities are simple to construct and use, require easily accessible building materials, and are low cost.
It is therefore feasible to carry out theoretical and practical workshops with residents of Mussende who have never received any previous technical training. The theoretical and practical workshops involve the Argentinean team constructing the equipment together with the recipients, thus leading to a direct incorporation of knowledge. In Mussende, volunteers will have the support of translators, provided by the missionary group, in order to accomplish their tasks.
The project will be implemented in three stages:
1. Theoretical and practical workshops:
- Informing and raising awareness of the benefits of alternative sources of energy.
- Training on the correct treatment of organic waste (separating and classifying, ways of organising the neighbours to collect organic waste to ‘feed’ the biodigester).
- Training in the technical aspects, construction and maintenance of the equipment, as well as its proper use.
- Training in the use of the products produced as fertilizer for gardens and methane gas for use in family kitchens.
- Training in the transfer of knowledge to others through teaching methodologies.
2. Construction and commissioning of equipment.
3. Assessment of the experience.
- Internal assessment of the joint team.
- Reflection and self-criticism in order to detect possible weaknesses, taking into account the views of all participants.
We can now all participate in this innovative project
Indaba Network works in support of youth groups committed to achieving a more just and equitable world. In order to achieve this, it has launched a fundraising campaign to support this project: ‘A bit of energy for Angola,‘ to help these young people to travel to Angola. We have implemented a platform to raise small contributions. We invite you to join the project and collaborate for the Mussende community to achieve, by next summer, a significant part of the change that they need to build a better life. A small contribution can make a big difference. Everybody can contribute! In exchange for your contribution, you will get a certificate. Our objective is to raise at least US$ 5,000.
Don’t wait! Go NOW to our system of crowd funding and give your contribution:
- Energetic Donor : US$10
- Energetic Plus Donor : US$20
- Super Energetic Donor: US$50
- Solar Energetic Donor: US$100
- Main Energetic Donor: US$500
You can also communicate with Griselda, Martín, Federico, María Celeste, Jesica and Eunice, through the group they have created in indabaXchange.
“For we are all small powers now, and once again Greece is in the forefront of the fight for the future.”
Professor Mark Mazower, the New York Times on June 29, 2011
Greeks have been feeling really bad during the last two years, after the “crisis” took hold, along with the newly elected prime minister. Greeks feel bad, in the first place, about themselves because they really messed up everything, and secondly because of their loss of interest in politics during the last few decades. This has led to a political situation lacking in leaders and solutions. Greeks will never express this view in public, but it is common knowledge and on everyone’s mind. Now, the reaction is riots and fire: like a heavy smoker who suddenly learns that he suffers from cancer after 30 years of cigarettes. Greeks find themselves in the worst phase of democracy – a democracy run by an ex banker nowadays. Anger and Fear.
But what are ‘the facts’ commonly accepted in northern Europe concerning what is happening today in Greece, giving us a glimpse of the fight for the future to which Professor Mazower refers? The ‘facts’ include this scenario: It is almost a ‘given’ that Greeks—mostly because of the sunny Mediterranean weather that they enjoy (remember Apollo?)—are more or less lazy, accustomed to just having fun and spending (their) money. It is also almost ‘certain’ that if you move a Swedish or a German family to live in Greece, after three generations, the result is the same: a lazy German family, lying in the sun and looking at the blue sea, spending time eating fish and enjoying cold coffee.
What is depicted, above, is a cruel stereotype of contemporary Greece. Despite the “lazing by the sea” imagery so popular in some northern European circles, Eurostat statistical tables report that the Greeks work more hours per year than both the Germans and the average European. Now, to ‘fix’ the economy, they are effectively being asked to work more and earn less than they already do, while surviving with far fewer government services.
So why all this mess in Greece and European unhappiness with it today? Because its unproductive people simply spend money unwisely? No, unfortunately it’s not that easy. The root of European anger with the Greeks is because of values.
The Greeks invented real values and taught them to the West. When and how? These values came via ancient Greece and the Greek colonies, passing through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the French and Greek Revolutions…democracy, concern for the common good, loyalty to institutions, trust and mutual respect, as well as the belief in the openness and honesty of people elected to public office…. Culture is the expression of a society’s ideas and values. Values are why the ancient Greek culture (and its protagonists) is considered among the top cultures, not only in the West. Values brought global respect and acceptance (as well as tourist revenues, of course!). Greeks now are blamed, actually, because, in less than thirty years, they have lost their own ancient values. Europe, especially, will never forgive them for that. Values are the reason why Greece joined the European Union, in 1981, not because of its labor force or huge market.
The future? Greeks have to find their lost values again and come back. Will it be easy? Nobody knows… it may amount to a struggle between humanity and vanity. I’ve met many people (non-Greeks) who tell me that you have to come to Greece in order to learn who you are and search inside you… I don’t know whether I would agree or disagree. I was born Greek, so my opinion doesn’t really count. But what I can do is to try to bring all these people to my homeland who want to live and experience the Olympic spirit, philosophy, and democracy and share it with them. Greeks just have to fight their only real and biggest enemy: their bad side – a side that has totally vanquished them in the last few years—and remember who they were in their glorious past. After all, the 2004 Olympics are recent. This is what Europe really wants, what the rest of the world really needs. Real values, from real humans, for real people.
A possible change (a change, that is, for the better: change, in its original conceptualization, is not necessarily, in itself, a positive word) will come from inside of Greece. Everyone knows that modern institutions may embrace appropriate values (just like the oracles did for the ancient Greeks: remember the Delphi Oracle). They are the ones that can make change happen. Such institutions would include the Orthodox Church, the schools, the universities and of course contemporary families. Unfortunately, these institutions, like the Orthodox Greek Church do not support this much needed values-based change, even though, for example, Greek Orthodox employees (the priests) are paid from the Greek State budget, actually making them public servants… Greece’s ex-prime minister promised a separation of church – but did nothing.
What Greeks need now is extroversion: something that the famous wealthy Greek ship owners experienced some decades ago. This would mean overseas education, a kind of cultural and economic Enlightenment. This is because Greeks cannot really understand WHY but mostly HOW the crisis happened to them. Besides, Europe’s philhellenism movement (“the love of Greek culture”), two centuries ago, with heroes like Lord Byron, actually made Europeans really interested in Greece. History just repeats itself. Both the Greek people and its leaders just need to make this circle again and again (for better or worse).
In short, Greeks must accept that they will need to look inward and outward to make right their country in the coming years: particularly with regard to being more interested in and reforming their political system. Yet, at the same time, the European community should also look at the rate at which Greeks work—much more than the average European—and the extraordinary burden most Greeks are now being forced to bear, despite their above-average annual work rate. If the planned austerity measures go through, these same Greeks will have to pay for the very costly mistakes that their leaders in business and government have made with Eurozone banking and state partners: errors regarding financial agreements that in no way benefited ordinary Greek citizens who will now be forced to pay for them.