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Posts Tagged ‘development’

Everything is green nowadays. It’s the talk of the town. Newspapers are full of the latest green apocalypse heading our way. Bloggers blog green left, right and center – with fonts and pictures to match. Activists are up in arms about green washing and washing our greens. Governments want to govern what green means. The celebs and stars shine their special green glow all over us. Business jockey to out-green each other. And consumers are turning green with envy when the Joneses outdo them with the latest hybrid, organic, recycled, wind powered and turtle free cup of joe.

It’s not a bad thing. Saving our planet before it burns is not a bad idea. Even if it won’t happen in the next year or 50 – depending on who you believe. Having a tree dedicated to you somewhere in the DRC ensures you a retirement spot one day. And some of the ideas even save us some money! Switching light bulbs save us money – even if we can save more by switching it off. Getting 60 MPG is not to be sneezed – especially with the high gas prices. Although most small European cars can do that on flat tires.

But not everyone cares about the changes in our climate or the validity of the latest eco-friendly product. It’s pretty much a worry of the more privileged parts of society – the rich and middle class societies. You don’t switch to CFL lightbulbs if you don’t have electricity. You don’t really care about organic food if you have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. Or worry about renewable energy if you don’t have a roof over your head. But you might become greener even if you don’t care. Governments will continue to green the things we buy. Activist will continue to put on their green campaigning hats. Business will continue to grow and make greener products. And bloggers will continue to out-green each other to be the next Big Green Voice of Authority. All of this will continue to make everything we use and buy greener than before – even if we don’t care or want it.

But green means almost nothing outside of the big markets – mostly in the West. There are bigger issues facing people in places like Burundi, Zimbabwe, Niger and Liberia. They continue to struggle to survive each day. The cheapest bidder always wins when you live off less than $1 a day. And you don’t know if there will be a tomorrow if you live in Malawi or Botswana – HIV, TB or malaria can strike at any time. And who cares about the rainforest if you could be killed by a landmine in Angola or a warlord in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or care about sustainable farming when you have no food in Somalia.

The number one aim is to survive. If that means eating the last Rhino or chopping down the last tree for firewood – then so be it. Planning for day 2 comes when you manage to get past the survival stage. But this doesn’t mean you are going to start farming in a sustainable way. Or buy renewable energy for your manufacturing plants. Nope, you are now just planning for day 2 – securing tomorrow and competing with your neighbor. India, for example, continues to argue that they will start thinking of their impact on the climate once they are allowed to create as much trash per capita as the US – read: ‘you stuffed up your environment to create wealth, why can’t we?’ The alternative, of course, would be to pay the developing countries to play the game. We know where that debate will end up. They can’t solve trade and aid – imagine eco-aid for sustainability at a large enough global scale…

It is only when you don’t have to worry about might happen to you tomorrow – food, security, health, housing, job etc – that you can start worrying about tomorrow itself. Green debates will remain a rich and western debate and concern – unless we start dealing with these more immediate concerns that the majority of the world population still face day after day.

It doesn’t mean it is right. It’s just the way the world rolls. We can’t talk about sustainability without looking at dealing with poverty, diseases and the quest for survival so many in Africa and elsewhere struggles with each day. We must balance all three pillars of CSR and sustainability to make it work – economic, environment AND social. So often, and too easily, we forget about that third pillar. It’s three pillars to help us focus but it is one single strategy when we implement.

And this is where business plays such a crucial role. They can create and deliver the products to deal with the diseases and hunger, they can advocate and lobby for the political changes needed, and they can invest in countries who need the economic lift and hope for a better future. Governments will play the political game, activists will be crucial in highlighting the problems and help run programs on the ground. But they can’t create wealth, they can only fight poverty. Each one plays a key role. Governments provide the supporting framework, NGOs fight poverty and deliver during these emergencies and business (large and small – multinational and the woman selling fruits in the market) grows the economy to bring a sliver of hope. And in this hope lies the future of sustainability. But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, newspapers will chop down trees to print their green stories, bloggers will use computers and networks created and supported by nonrenewable energy and conflict minerals, activist will spread the word flying all over the world – and push up their emission count, governments will continue to make war over oil, celebs and stars will drive their stretch limos and live in their big houses, business will continue to confuse eco-friendlier with eco-friendly, and consumers… well, they’ll continue to buy what they want. Green or not.

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Today I’m going to tackle Public Responsibility instead of Corporate Responsibility – the responsiblity of governments and government agencies within the broader sustainability and development debate. My focus is stakeholder engagement and materiality as seen happening in the discussions on Foreign Aid Reform in the US.

I must applaud the US government for taking on some reform that is way late – foreign aid. I don’t know any group, including USAID, that’s happy with the US foreign aid policies and practices. So it was great to read that Foreign Aid Reform is being discussed right now. And I like those already at the table – Oxfam America (full disclosure, I worked for Oxfam GB and love them to bits no matter what issues I might have with them – they remain an incredible organization doing incredible work), Center for Global Development and InterAction to name but a few. Good start and good company – but a few groups are missing and reform won’t work if we don’t have them around the table.

First let me just say that the idea of aid reform should be seen in the broader context of economic and social development. I read somewhere that Tony Blair asked for a shift from aid to trade. Nice to see you catching up Mister Blair… Trade not aid has been a slogan of African civil society for almost 10 years now. Others have caught on as well and nice to see world leaders starting to see the light. The US and EU actually agreeing on a trade regime that will benefit trade with the developing world is another question all together. Doha anyone?

Anyway, this trade not aid slogan and Blair now catching up highlights a major group absent from direct consultation on aid reform – African civil society. I know that the NGOs present will argue that they represent those interests and that they have a few of those participants in the meetings. That is not good enough though. I worked in Africa and represented African NGOs at numerous meetings in my life and the one thing I’ve learned is that we African civil society organizations tend not to tackle the big guys around the table too much or too often as it would be seen as biting the hand that feeds us. Really, we should speak out more often in public and not do it in the safety of our “homes” only.

We need these African (and other) civil society organizations to participate in these reform discussions to ensure that reform will reflect the actually reality on the ground and not what has been told through a game of “telephone”. In the case of Africa; if we truly believe that the “solution” to Africa lies in Africa then they need to be at the table and be the majority voice on all things Africa – especially on aid reform. The western NGOs do not represent Africans (or others). They have not been elected or appointed. They have their own expertise and should be at the table but not to represent the civil society (or society in general) of those countries who will bear the brunt of any reform.

Furthermore, a big challenge of aid is the role of the middle man or, as I call them, the NGO wholesaler – the western NGO. They do great work and have strong voices but they do act as a barrier to aid in many cases. Too often aid is given to the western NGO who then give the money to their “partners” on the ground. Good old Reagan and trickle down economics – but this time on a global scale. The NGOs from developing countries should be the lead voices in reform talks to make sure that more money goes straight to programs on the ground instead of going through too many middle men and wholesalers – heck, even developing country NGOs are middle men, just much closer to the ground. The first principle of reform should be to get the aid to those who need it quicker, more efficient and a larger slice of the pie.

Lastly, if we truly believe in trade not aid then we should have more business voices at the table. Again, Western businesses should be present but it should be led by businesses from developing countries. They know what is needed to operate and be succesful in their countries and regions. Remember, it is about helping them be better equiped to trade with the West and not (just) to trade Western made goods in developing countries. For trade to replace aid we should get more developing country made goods sold in developing and developed countries. Bring those who will drive this to the table. They will tell you what stops them from trading with the West (higher tariffs on manufactured goods, non-tarrif barriers, infrastructure etc.)

This is a golden opportunity for aid to work and for trade to drive development. Let’s not forget to add the voices of those who are meant to benefit from these changes. It’s the number one principle of stakeholder engagement – ensuring that every important stakeholder is sitting at the table. We can talk about Corporate Responsibility but we should also remember that Public Responsibility should have the same materiality assessment we use for companies when it determining their CSR and sustainability work – what is material to your key stakeholders. So how can you discuss what is material to your stakeholders when you don’t have those stakeholders directly participating in those discussions? Look at your whole value chain and include all your key stakeholders from the ground up and right through your wholesalers. If not, then it just won’t be responsible or material. And it won’t be reform.

(Another issue I did not get into due to relevancy to this specific discussion and limited space: Another benefit of having the developing country stakeholders directly participating – identifying the changes they have to make to ensure your reform works. They will have to work within the new reforms and part of the reforms should be about how to ensure that the intended changes are implemented on the ground. It could require changes in how they work, new efficiencies on their side or new rules – whatever it is, their participation will ensure that they also change and reform to bring to life the changes we need in aid. Do not be surprised if even the best reform fails when your key stakeholders are not at the table.)

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Give us a bit of water and some sand and we will build the Empire State building. It amazes me how innovative people in Africa can be. Natural born entrepreneurs. I know we have loads of issues and problems – and our own baggage to carry as well. But some of the things we do when we get our hands on something new is just “awesome”. (I have been in the US for too long! Picked that one up from my daughter…) The way people in Africa use mobile phones and the Internet in Africa is way beyond what any of us (or foreigners) predicted or dreamed of.

I know. I said that we in Africa are staying disconnected from the world. But that is just part of the story. Yes, we struggle to stay connected but don’t give us half a chance or we will rule the world. Once we get off World of Warcraft or Facebook. Boy are you lucky we don’t use that too often. Imagine people who like being connected to each other having the opportunity to do social networking while in different places! World here we come! I wonder if we will ever get off the Internet and still live and interact with each other if we were given that opportunity? Thank god for staying disconnected – it allows us to stay connected.

But I have two other stories about us and our version of web 2.0 to tell you about. The first one starts in Zimbabwe…

Yes. Zimbabwe. The country that is going through hell at the moment. And it has been going on for the last few years. But give someone a mobile phone and see us fly. OneWord Africa (one of my favourite sites – hidden agenda, I worked with them for a while a few years back. Hi Patricia!) reported on how people are using mobile phones to go hi-tech in campaigning for the upcoming election. It is not that easy to campaign in Zimbabwe at the moment. Crazy Uncle Bob isn’t what he used to be. Democracy isn’t what it used to be in Zimbabwe. He isn’t allowing much freedom for people to campaign for anyone other than him. And he instigates violence and riots against the opposition. So what are people to do?

Well. He made the mistake of allowing people to have mobile phone. And when you have some water and sand… We campaign. The people in Zimbabwe text each other left, right and centre to get the message across. But not just personal messages. No way. They do it African style. In a way to make sure people know where it comes from and who they all support. A group with no place to meet – but a group none the less. They text a message that identifies them as a supporter of a specific party or person. A simple “Vote for Simba” to highlight support for Makoni and a longer “Have you not suffered enough? Morgan is the solution” for Tsvangirai’s faithful. Simple, but beautiful and genius. Bob – you control the radio, television and newspapers, but you can’t control the keypads.

But they don’t stop there. No way. They go further. Ring-tones. Here it is more about opposition to Crazy Uncle Bob than support for an individual. The opposition play a local song, which asks in Shona: “How long will you vote for ZANU-PF?“. Pure genius. People phone you and others hear. One snag. Run when the phone rings and you are close to the police! Pure genius for keeping democracy alive though. I almost gave up hope on Zimbabwe, but the people proved me wrong again. And I like being wrong in cases like this.

My other story comes from one that was told to me by Martin Feinstein a few years back. He used to run Proudly South African, but now runs Enablis that tries to help entrepreneurs use the Internet to enhance their business – and support them financially and with management support. (I can’t vouch for them. They have good methodology, but I don’t know how effective they are. Just haven’t been keeping an eye on them. So this is not a plug for them.) He was telling me about this guy in Soweto who found a brilliant business idea – a pure win-win (almost). And all he needed was a computer and a shipping container for an office and storage. His plan? So simple. He used to go to one of the markets every single day to buy his stuff. And there were hundred, if not thousands, of women selling their goods. But they closed every single Monday to go to the wholesaler to buy their stuff they sell. They all got into the taxi’s and travelled into the city to buy their goods.

And what a loss for their business. No discount because they bought little amounts at a time. Loss of business for the day they were closed. And money for their travels. And the wholesale had to deal with so many people at the same time. His idea? Why not get them to place their order with him and he logs it into the computer and sends one order (with separate packaging) to the wholesaler. The wholesaler then delivers because it is a huge order and gives him 15% discount for the large order. That is his cut – the 15%. The women didn’t pay anything more than the usual and actually saved because they didn’t have to pay the taxi. And they were open on Monday’s for an extra day of business. Genius isn’t it? Everyone won. Okay – the taxi guys lost out, but less sympathy there with their driving skills… The plan was not rocket science, but still genius by the guy to see the opportunity. (Sorry – never got his name.) And what did he want from Martin and them? Just help to get a container and a computer. Less than $2,000 and bam you have a highly profitable business. I love that story – it tells us so much about the entrepreneurs hiding away all over Africa.

Okay, so it is not the typical web 2.0. But we are not “typical” in Africa either. We take technology and turn it into something that helps us make our society better – and ourselves better. The fastest growing mobile phone users in the world? USA? UK? Maybe India or China? Try Africa. We have few landlines. No problem – we’ll go wireless. Yes, we are disconnected from the world. But we are so connected between the ears.

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Fairtrade has the perfect brand name – it tells people that this brand is about being fair and implies that anything else is unfair. And Fairtrade is a great certification system. Yes, I know, they don’t like to be called a certification system. But they are. And an excellent one. Maybe even the best global certification system dealing with poverty. I can’t think of a single other certification system that tries to deal with poverty more effectively than Fairtrade. And they have, by far, the most recognizeable logo amongst ethical certification systems.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much in a world of such low standards. Bloody hell, everyone raves about ISO 14001 and all that ‘guarantees’ is that you do have an environmental management system. Mmm, not what your environmental impact is or whether it is good or bad. I like Fairtrade and always buy their brands when I can (affordability and availability rules apply), but I think they can do so much better.

I have 5 issues. Five issues they should focus on to truly make Fairtrade fair. Just 5 little things that really annoy me beyond what is good for me.

Firstly, Fairtrade focuses almost exclusively on small farmers who are organized in cooperatives and associations. Unfortunately, this excludes small framers who are not organized in this way. Most small farmers are not organized in this way – at least not where I come from – Africa. And the problem is that the poorest of the poor farmers are not organized in cooperatives. So, Fairtrade actually doesn’t work with the poorest of the poor – more like the “middle class” of the poor. To really affect change for the poorest of the poor, Fairtrade does not have a choice but to include ALL farmers in their system. Including those not organized in cooperatives. I know that it makes it more expensive, but it also makes it more fair.

Secondly, Fairtrade really needs to jack up on their environmental criteria. They have always had a half hearted attempt at sustainability. But what it came down to was poverty – but not a systematic way of addressing this. Only paying the price and not looking into making it better for the farmer in a sustainable way. Fairtrade needs to strengthen on the environmental side of sustainability – but also strengthen the labor rights aspect. This will ensure that Fairtrade is truly fair for everyone involved – farmer, environment, worker, Oxfam and consumer. I know that they have strengtened these areas, but there are huge gaps that still needs to be filled. They do work with the farmers to make them more sustainable, but they lag behind say a Rainforest Alliance when it comes to this.

Thirdly, Fairtrade should be a bit more clear about what the farmer actually gets paid and stop false advertising. They don’t need to do this as they are already better than almost all other systems. No need to lie or hide the truth – it will only come back to bite you. Really, the farmer does NOT get $1.25 per pound of coffee. Not even close. It varies from cooperative to cooperative – and what the cooperative decides the farmer should get. In some cases the farmer will receive as little as 70 cents/pound. The rest is distributed to other parts of the cooperative. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t try to spin it to make it sound as if the farmer receives $1.25/pound. They don’t – and never have.

Fourthly, if you really want more companies to take up Fairtrade then say so, be consistent and ensure your business model can handle it. Not everyone within Fairtrade agrees that large businesses should become part of Fairtrade. But don’t tell them your system is the best if you don’t want them to join. A classic example was when Oxfam asked Nestle (and others) to start buying Fairtrade. And when Nestle agreed? Well, certain Fairtrade bodies refused to sell to Nestle. Lesson? Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

Finally, stop charging farmers such a ridiculous amount of money to qualify for certification. In many cases the yearly fee is way more than what the average income in the poorest of the poor countries – and well over $1 a day. The financial commitment that cooperatives must make to become Fairtrade suppliers is ridiculous. Not everyone believes that suppliers should carry the burden of compliance or certification – neither Starbucks or Nestle charges their suppliers – and they shouldn’t, and neither should you. And Oxfam and others generally ask for the company to pay in any case for any certification – just ask Nike or Levi’s – so way is Fairtrade different? All Fairtrade suppliers pay to become certified. The financial commitment by producers to be certified can vary from over $5,000.00 dollars for initial certification – and that does not guarantee certification, only assessment. Annual fees are over $500, and then another few cents per pound certified as well. I wonder how much the farmer actually gets in the end of the day? I know they benefit from Fairtrade, but they could benefit more if they didn’t have to pay Fairtrade for certification.

Another extra one thrown in. Remember that it is only the commodity that is certified Fairtrade. The coffee bean. Not the making, grinding, roasting, container, wages in manufacturing or anything else that is certified. Only the raw material – the coffee bean. Same with cotton. Not the manufacturing – only the cotton. One can make a general assumption that buyers of the Fairtrade commodity will also be good employers and manufacturers, but these parts are not certified – only implied and assumed.

Okay, I have one more problem. Not every country has a Fairtrade organization. Even when a Fairtrade organization is present, a purveyor of Fairtrade goods will have to negotiate with each Fairtrade organization in each country to be able to sell in that specific country alone. There are 19 national Fairtrade organizations – covering mostly Europe and North America. If someone wants to sell in each country – they have to negotiate with 19 different organizations to enable them to sell in each of those countries. And no guarentee that they will allow you to sell in each country – just ask Nestle. Yes for the UK, no for Italy. Furthermore, what if you want to sell in every part of the world – and in most cases there isn’t any Fairtrade presence at all. This makes it extremely problematic to sell a Fairtrade certified product in countries where there are no Fairtrade offices to negotiate with. Supporting Fairtrade would be much easier if there was a single co-ordinating body through which each buyer, or any other large multinational for that matter, could drive all its Fairtrade needs. Hum, something like a cooperative…

But the aim was not to slam Fairtrade. I worked with them and in support of them for many years. It is not a perfect system. And I don’t expect it to be perfect. But imagine if we get it to push on a bit and work at 80% of potential – not 50% of potential. Now that would be closer to being fair to all those who need it most – the farmer in Africa and elsewhere. Come on Fairtrade, try to be a bit more fair.

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Yes, this whole week I was stuck in conferences telling me the world is going to burn in the next 50 to 100 years. And the rising oceans will act as a temporary cool-down – but then we will drown as they rise a bit too much. Bye-bye Manhattan. Bye-bye Cape Town. Bye-bye London. Depressing. Not really. As you all know I am a natural optimist. I know that we will find a solution. We’ll just first go through all the other bad options before we do the right thing. But I am still stuck on what we can do in Africa. And I can’t find a solution. I think we are stuck in a Catch 22 situation on dealing with climate change in Africa. We are stuck – each time we find a solution it forces us back to our starting point.

I know I have argued that people will first look at the things that will kill them immediately – health, food and war. But the climate change will affect Africa and the impact will be felt way more than in any other region. The impact will be disproportionate. Why? Because we live such a marginal life – always on the edge. And the only way we can survive is through ubuntu – supporting each other with the little we have. This social safety net is build with little chain links that helps us stay connected to each other and connected to life. We only have each other to depend on and our social safety net is each other. When this break we are pretty… hum… stuffed (sorry, wanted to use a harder word). We have seen it when these safety nets break – Ethiopia in the 80’s, Somalia in the 90’s,  Sudan today. The impact is so much worse than anywhere else. Because people can’t share anymore. There is just nothing to share. And people die. Climate change will have a huge impact as we will see consistent crop failures and the breaking of the social safety net. We will help each other until there is nothing left to share. And then we die. So climate change is important. But I just can’t see a way out of it. I just can’t see a way of dealing with it in Africa. How to get beyond where we are.

The first problem is dealing with the money that would be needed to fight climate change in Africa. It isn’t as easy as we think. More aid? Maybe. But from where? One of the proposals is that some of the money that comes from carbon trading should be diverted to Africa’s fight on climate change. I have a problem with that (no surprise there). There will not be enough money generated from carbon trading to deal with Africa and all the other areas that needs to be dealt with. So where will the money come from? More aid from the US and Europe? That could work. Couldn’t it? No.

Aid money is needed for the first fight – HIV/Aids, TB, malaria, food, water, etc. All these areas are already underfunded. So any aid going to fight climate change will be money that should go to the first group of priorities – things that are killing people today. Even if we include the funding in projects aimed at sustainability – farming, manufacturing, trade, investment – the money will still be a diversion from the main aim of improving Africa. And we just don’t have enough money going around at the moment. Look after the first things first. Once that is done you can look at climate change – but not a minute earlier. And we know that adequate aid (and trade) ain’t gonna happen soon.

So what do we do if we get the money from somewhere (and somehow)? How would we spend it? We struggle with basic capacity in Africa already. We struggle to get the medicine to people even if we get medicine for free. We can’t help all the farmers become more efficient even if we get the funding that is needed. We have a lack of capacity to do some of the basics – where do we get the capacity to deal with climate change? Do they want us to hire some more of those western consultants to help us out? Divert some more money away? And what do they know? They can’t even solve it in their own country where they have all the solutions already – how are they going to solve it in Africa?

And what about the infrastructure? We are so behind in providing the infrastructure needed to run our countries – how are we going to build infrastructure for climate change? We have coal – not wind-farms or geothermal. I can picture it now – a huge wind-farm right next the coffee farmer in Ethiopia. That ain’t gonna happen soon either. We have to build the roads before we can build the wind-farm. Shouldn’t we?

Even if we get all that sorted (how I don’t know) – should this be the priority for governments? Can we just get them to govern a bit more efficiently first? Their priority should be to start governing and not to talk about things that removes them even further from the people. They should get their priorities straight. Govern first. Plan for tomorrow next. And then plan for the long term. But first things first, thank you.

Sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? Each solution offers a new challenge that brings us back to our starting point. How to deal with climate change in Africa. Catch 22? More money needed… but elsewhere. More capacity needed… but elsewhere. More infrastructure needed… but elsewhere. More governing… but elsewhere. I just don’t know what the answer is. And, in all honesty, I haven’t seen or found a solution that seems to do the work. Nothing has convinced me yet. But I am convinced of one thing though. That in the end the African people will find a way through this. They will find a solution. They always somehow manages to find solutions when they face the most impossible situations. Throw a war our way – we’ll get through to the other side. Colonize us – we’ll survive. Crops fail – we’ll share the little we have. HIV/Aids killing people – we’ll look after the kids. Somehow we find a way forward.

Catch 22? Not really. That book was written by an American. More like A Long Walk To Freedom if you ask me. But please, just not Things Fall Apart.

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