“Billions of people taking millions of actions”
IdeasXChange: International Development, Interdisciplinary Solutions, 25th February 2016, Liu Institute of Global Issues @ UBC
As part of their 2016 series of workshops, IdeasXChange organized a night of discussion on the critical issue of developed vs. developing nations. The panel for the night included former diplomat and High Commissioner to Ghana Darren Schemer, local social activist Scott Nelson and Sauder School of Business student Malaika Kapur.
Darren Schemmer – Evolution of Aid
As someone who studies history, Schemer’s speech was extremely remarkable to me as he traced roots of international aid and gave a blow-by-blow account of how it has evolved over the decades. The concept of international aid, although so familiar today, is surprisingly less than 50 years old. Prior to the common picture of international aid today, the precursor to official development assistance took form in religious institutions providing help to need countries. But soon, religious aid gained criticism as many felt there was a need “to act rather than just pray.”
Fast-forward to post-WWII, the “first” official kind of international aid was established when the Marshall Plan was created. The 1980’s witnessed the emergence of loans and debts structures, notably with microeconomic policies such as the Grameen Bank. The turn of the century brought about the creation of the United Nation’s MDG – an idea Schemer labelled as a product of “a small group people with the brightest minds.” There was also a need to ensure that the events of Rwanda and Bosnia were never repeated again. Today, in the 2010s, we are faced with the issue of mobilization and other forms of complexities. International aid has taken on a completely different format when it first started with organisations such as The Gates Foundations – what is currently identified as “new philanthropy” – becoming the new face of international aid.
Schemmer insists that aids are more than just about the balance sheets. It is true that finance (and other quantifiable aspects) are important to measuring the well-being of a country but real progress, according to him, should go beyond the numbers. The concept of ever-changing international aid has been shaped by the circulation of ideas and hence, we need to think beyond the availabilty of financial resources to solve the problem of underdevelopment.
Scott Nelson – Progress and Technology
Scott examined the topic of international development from a technological perspective. He focused on the prospects of working with technology to affect important changes, particularly with globalization, trade agreements and IT entrepreneurship.
Malaika Kapur – Africa’s Future
I was extremely glad that they had a student on the panel to give a “young” perspective on this issue. From Tanzania, Malaika opened her speech by telling the story of her Indian ancestors who travelled to northwestern Africa in search of spice – demonstrating the early prospect of Africa as a land of business oppurtunity which continues up until today. Interestingly, Malaika is the founding president of the UBC Tanzania Heart Babies Project – a club on campus that aims to raise funds for children with congenital heart defects. 1 in every 200 Tanzanian children suffers from congenital heart defects and part of her mission is to ensure that that those children are able to obtain surgeries for as low as $3000. The Tanzania Heart Babies Project is emblematic of the “think globally, act locally” ideology.
Throughout her study at UBC, Malaika has continued to engaged herself with other initiatives concerning Africa. She is also on the committee for the African Business Forum at UBC. Africa is the “youngest” continent in the world (in a sense that many of them gained independence in the 20th century) and she believes that the darkest part about African countries is their ignorance (and I can say that it is also the case for many developing countries.) Despite so, many African youths like her – especially those who have the privilege of assisting the continent from abroad – are exited for what the future holds for Africa.
- Schemer brought up an interesting point regarding the fact that the idea of “progress” should go beyond aspects that are measurable. The World Economic Forum has recently launched a series of article questioning the validity of using GDP as an indicator for economic growth. Here are some interesting articles from the site supporting his position:
- ‘GDP a poor measure of progress, say Davos economists’ (23 January 2016)
- ‘The problem with measuring a 2016 economy using 1940s methods’ (27 April 2016)
- I recently acquired a copy of Why Nations Fail by Daron Aceomoglu and James A. Robinson (but it has been put on hold on my reading list as I have picked up Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money instead) but I am excited to see what connections I can draw from the book and I’m sure there will be lots of it.