Category: Guest


foolishandweak wrote this article for  The second issue of Exchange: The Journal of Mission and Markets.

This is a copy of the original blog that you can find here

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Allow me to set a very common scenario: The church office phone rings and the person on the other line asks “Do y’all help pay peoples’ rent?” or “Do y’all pay water bills?” to which I always say no.  Others stop by the office seeking similar assistance.  Inviting them into my office, I work through a questionnaire that quickly paints a picture of brokenness.

In their book When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor And Yourself, Corbett and Fikkert describe poverty as a broken relationship between God, self, others, and the rest of creation which has negative effects on how one navigates social, religious, political, and economic systems.

 

poverty model image

 

With each person who is asking something of us or from us, this definition of poverty is clearly at work. However, the truth be told, all we really have to do is look in the mirror, to see this paradigm of poverty.  We are all broken at one level or another.  In light of this, God, through His Word and Son, has provided a precedent, paradigm and prescription for us, His Church, to enter into the work He is doing in redeeming and restoring all things; a work that ultimately produces joy.

Biblical Precedent

The foundation of a changed life is coming to faith in Christ.  After all, it is He who is at work reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:19). However, we see all throughout redemptive history God’s care and concern not just for the spiritual but the physical as well.  The law is full of commands to live a holy life and part of that is to care for the orphan, widow, fatherless, materially poor and stranger.  When describing the use of righteousness in the Proverbs, Old Testament Scholar Bruce Waltke says “The wicked disadvantage others to advantage themselves, but the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others.” This truth is ultimately lived out in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  As stated in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  The Bible is full of examples, accounts and commands about loving God and our neighbor.

As a people who have undeservedly received the riches of Christ such as eternal life, mercy and grace, this should move us to a life of compassion and mercy towards others, particularly the materially poor.   In a recent sermon, New York pastor, Tim Keller said,

A deep social conscious and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and real connection with God.  If you think, God says, that you have a real connections with me, you have humbled yourself and you have found me and yet you don’t care about the poor then you haven’t. This is a real index of your heart. Justice is the grand symptom of real faith. It’s the great symptom of a real relationship with God. And it will be there, maybe slowly, but it will develop. But if it never develops then you really don’t have the relationship with God that you think you have…Do you understand that this is at the heart of Biblical faith?

Why was Sodom judged? We often point to their lewd behavior but that only tells part of the story. In Ezekiel 16:49 the prophet proclaims “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” This could easily be attributed to the American Church and those who fill the pews. The Church & her people are guilty of the same sin of Sodom, but guilt alone will not solve the problem. It will not move the materially non-poor from apathy to action for very long. A lack of appreciation along with no quick fixes will fast turn guilt into bitterness and resentment toward the materially poor making things just feel more hopeless for all who are involved. As Corbett and Fikkert comment, this only reinforces the God complex in the materially non-poor and the marred identity of the materially poor.

Paradigm

However, if Christ is redeeming all things, this means work too. When we look to the scriptures the very first thing we read about is God working: “In the beginning God created…”  Soon after, God assigns Adam to work caring for His creation as a botanist, agriculturalist and zoologist. All of this happens before the Fall ever occurs.  So in our original, pre-Fall condition work was good and a part of the original design to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. When sin entered, it was not just our relationship with God and each other that broke, but even work:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of  your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:17b-19.

The effects of the fall were all inclusive and utterly devastating so we find ourselves in Romans 8:22 with “the whole creation…groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

It is also interesting to note John the Baptist’s commissioning.  We often associate him with a call to repentance, but Luke tells us that he was also called to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” This is quoted from Malachi 4:6 where it reads “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” The lack of fathers whose hearts are turned to their child is alarming in my community.  Many children have not even met their dads.  It can often seem like my neighborhood has been struck “with a decree of utter destruction” as a result.  As a father of three young children, it is unfathomable to me for my heart not to be turned towards my children.  However, for a myriad of reasons this seems not to be the case in my community. Is it because these fathers really do not care about their progeny?  I have never met such an individual.  Instead I witness an overwhelming sense of shame that is due in part to being unemployed or underemployed and all the effects of powerlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing, embarrassment, rejection, desperation and insignificance that follow and often lead to negative behaviors.  This leaves the two of the greatest repellents to poverty, work and intact families, busted.

Dr. Carl Ellis comments that for discipleship efforts among at-risk, minority populations, there is a pronounced need for the church to address dignity, identity and significance if we are to have any hope of seeing conversions, reversing generational poverty and “turning the hearts of fathers to their children.” Yet most churches and Christian non-profits rarely see this central to Gospel ministry.

Prescription One: Penicillin for Paternalism

We must all start with a look in the mirror.  As practitioners, pastors, church members or  middle or upper class laity, we easily run the risk of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. We would do good to take heed of the apostle Paul’s admonition to the Church at Philippi,

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4

Paternalism is deadly to the work among the materially poor and an anti-apologetic to the Gospel.  It only perpetuates the God complex in us and reinforces the marred identity of the materially poor. The work of sifting through our paternalism, racism or classism in our own stories is tedious and is often worked out over time but accelerated when we enter into authentic friendships with people different from us, particularly the materially poor, and allow them to graciously point out our deficits.  Proverbs 27:6 declares, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Prescription Two: A Dose of Dignity

Many Christian community development practitioners, such as Bob Lupton (author of Toxic Charity), have brought light to the fact that many of our models of compassion or mercy are broken, often leaving people inappropriately dependent on our programs to survive and stripping them of any remaining dignity.  The reality, though, is that handouts are much easier than entering into authentic relationships with the materially poor; relationships that can often by marked by long-suffering, let down and hopelessness though certainly joy, generosity, courage, and faith too.

Jobs for Life (JFL), describes the common scenario for most churches in their promotional video. They describe how churches often lead with food, housing and shelter when caring for the materially poor and rarely include work in their paradigm of assistance.  JFL offers a 8 week, 16 class curriculum to help equip people to enter into or improve their position in the marketplace.  With topics including conflict resolution, resume writing, skills assessment, interview skills and more, this program equips participants for success in the workforce.  The linchpin, though, is the mentor component.  JFL uses mentors, known as champions, to serve as a coach, encourager, reference and a network for participants.

A similar approach is taken with the Chalmers Institute’s Faith and Finances curriculum and Launch Chattanooga’s small business development curriculum.  With both programs, the core subject matter is taught through a biblically based curriculum and participants are matched with mentors to walk alongside them.  Together, these three programs offer the Church excellent tools to affirm the dignity, identity and significance of the materially poor while encouraging mentoring relationships that are marked by mutual indebtedness.

These are just a sample of best practices that are being implemented to provide a dignified solution to help alleviate and irradiate poverty. Others have launched businesses or hired at-risk teens or ex-offenders. The point is the old methods of clothes closets, Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, food pantries and Christmas toy giveaways are lacking, and often hurting those they intended to help.  New models of development must be implemented.

Joy

In Isaiah 58 the Lord instructs Israel,

Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.

Listen, though, to the promises God offers if we partake in such a fast:

  • your light shall break forth like the dawn
  • your healing shall spring up speedily
  • your righteousness shall go before you
  • the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard
  • you shall call, and the Lord will answer
  • you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
  • your light shall rise in the darkness
  • your gloom will be as the noonday
  • the Lord will guide you continually
  • He will satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;
  • you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I urge you to not settle for a mediocre, lukewarm, Christian life. Do not internalize the Christian radio station mentality of “safe for the whole family.” There is no joy to be found there. C.S. Lewis remarked,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

There is also no Biblical mandate for our good works, which God has prepared for us, to be efficient, clean, tidy and safe. The Psalmist declares that a “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Together let us find ourselves in the margins, the place empire has abandoned, the place of God’s holy habitation.

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Written by Frank Bruni

Having exhorted Americans toward six-pack abs and schooled them in 15-minute orgasms, the personal improvement guru Tim Ferriss turned his attention more recently to travel advice. It appeared in The Times on Sunday, and it said a lot about what’s wrong with our country.

Ferriss is the self-anointed superhuman who hawks not just the possibility of perfection, as defined by gobs of dough and a godly physique, but the speediness of it. Just heed his mega-selling books and you too can attain “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 4-Hour Body,” thus having quadruple or quintuple that time left over for self-adoration.

And for trips! Ferriss apparently jets around a whole bunch, a guru being only as good as his frequent-flier status, so his dominion extends to the heavens. He is master of air as well as earth. One of the tips he shared in The Times was this: if you must a check a bag, pack an unloaded starter pistol in it, so that the Transportation Security Administration will flag the piece of luggage, thus diminishing or altogether eliminating the possibility of its loss. It’s extra work and fretting for them but, hey, you get peace of mind. Isn’t that what counts?

To Ferriss’s thinking, yes, and I fear he’s not exotic in this regard. While I doubt there will be a rush on starter pistols by airline passengers — it’s just too much trouble, and too bizarre — his overarching interest in gaming the system at hand is mirrored in other Americans’ behavior. So is his emphasis on personal advantage over the public good, which would be undermined if every traveler did as he counseled. There’d be bedlam in airport security operations and a ludicrous number of people carrying around what could be mistaken for lethal weapons.

Selfishness run amok is a national disease (and, to judge by Greece, Italy and a few other European countries, an international epidemic). Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior.

They game, connive, cheat. Sometimes it’s small stuff: the perfectly healthy man who presents a sham doctor’s note so that his 60-pound pooch can be designated a “service dog” and thus accompany him into a lounge where pets aren’t allowed.

Sometimes it’s more consequential: perfectly (or at least mostly) healthy people bilking the government. Over the last four decades, the number of Americans drawing Social Security disability insurance has more or less tripled, by some estimates. That well outpaces population growth and reflects not just a liberalization of the requirements to apply for such insurance but the readiness of some people who don’t truly need it to finesse the criteria nonetheless.

I’ve known a few of them. I bet you have, too. Making a mockery of all the Americans who rightly depend on such aid, they exaggerate impairments, pressuring doctors to validate their conditions, on the theory that no harm is really done, not when they’re suckling at a teat as elastic and amorphous as the federal Treasury.

But that treasury is the sum of us — of our deposits and withdrawals — and to cheat it is to cheat your neighbor. It’s really that simple.

You wouldn’t know this from the way people approach taxes, which are what the federal Treasury must take in if it’s going to spit out anything at all — for the military, the highways and a whole lot else. Americans most frequently boast of how little they manage to pay, crowing about accounting gimmicks exploited, tricks successfully tried. I’m all for cunning, but we’ve gone beyond that.

Looking out for No. 1 is the pox on our politics. No industry wants to let go of a loophole and no constituency acquiesces to a significant sacrifice without being assured first that other industries or constituencies are doing as much or more. And even then they hesitate.

I’m ceaselessly surprised by how many older people of means push back against necessary changes to Social Security and Medicare. Some of them are grandparents, maybe even doting ones. And there’s a crucial disconnect between their impulse to safeguard their slice of the American pie and the concern they should feel for the crumbs their grandchildren may be left with.

A few of them are surviving members of the “greatest generation,” which we justly lionize for its sacrifices. Where are our sacrifices today? Our investments in the greater good?

In ourselves we invest plenty. Ferriss’s success speaks to that. Advocating what amounts to an epic narcissism, he has ruled the best-seller list and become rich.

Still he schemes.

Don’t pay for airport parking, he advised in The Times, if the accrued tickets from leaving your car on the street won’t be as expensive. Sure, you’re unlawfully hogging a space someone else might make legal use of; maybe you’re thwarting street sweepers, too. Not your problem. A conscience is for chumps.

This article was originally posted on the New York Times website.

Geskryf deur Fourie Rossouw

 Jy moet regtig lief he.
Delete jou junkmail folder gereeld.
Opgradeer jou anit-virus program.
Hou jou besig met goeie goed.
Nooi jou buurman oor vir ‘n braai.
As jy die sypaadjie voor jou huis se gras sny, sny jou buurvrou s’n ook.
Moenie opgee nie. Byt vas. Doen wat God van jou vra.
Wees opgewonde oor al die nuwe moontlikhede.
As dinge rof gaan, staan sterk.
Praat gereeld met God.
Help waar jy kan.
Deel uit wat jy het.
As iemand iets lelik aan jou doen, moet dan nie dink jy het ‘n rede om te skinder te nie.
Sommige mense is hartseer, ander is gelukkig. Leef altyd met deernis en empatie.
Moenie so windgat wees nie.
Luister vir ‘n slag.
Moenie jou swembadwater in jou buurman se groente tuin laat afloop nie.
As jou buurman ‘n poepol is, moenie jy dan ook een wees nie.
As dit vir jou moontlik is, probeer om van almal te hou.
Laat God worry oor hulle wat jou te na kom. Laat jou woede staan.
Maak vrede. Vergewe.
Wees ‘n geniunely nice teenoor hulle wat nie van jou hou nie. Niks is meer irriterend as dit nie!
Moenie dat die donker jou baas word nie.

Wees die donker se baas deur in die lig te lewe.

By Listener

(Dan Smith)

 

We’re all born to broken people on their most honest day of living

and since that first breath… We’ll need grace that we’ve never given

I’ve been haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts

and it’s not only when these eyes are closed

these lies are ropes that I tie down in my stomach,

but they hold this ship together tossed like leaves in this weather

and my dreams are sails that I point towards my true north,

stretched thin over my rib bones, and pray that it gets better

but it won’t won’t, at least I don’t believe it will…

so I’ve built a wooden heart inside this iron ship,

to sail these blood red seas and find your coasts.

don’t let these waves wash away your hopes

this war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors

pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors

but I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board

washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores

so come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief

and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach

come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever

we only have what we remember

 

I am the barely living son of a woman and man who barely made it

but we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts

we all have the same holes in our hearts…

everything falls apart at the exact same time

that it all comes together perfectly for the next step

but my fear is this prison… that I keep locked below the main deck

I keep a key under my pillow, it’s quiet and it’s hidden

and my hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right

but they’re heavy and I’m awkward…always running out of fight

so I’ve carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship

hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks

because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam

lost and found like you and me scattered out on the sea

so come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief

and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach

come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever

we only have what we remember

 

My throat it still tastes like house fire and salt water

I wear this tide like loose skin, rock me to sea

if we hold on tight we’ll hold each other together

and not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep

all these machines will rust I promise, but we’ll still be electric

shocking each other back to life

Your hand in mine, my fingers in your veins connected

our bones grown together inside

our hands entwined, your fingers in my veins braided

our spines grown stronger in time

because are church is made out of shipwrecks

from every hull these rocks have claimed

but we pick ourselves up, and try and grow better through the change

so come on yall and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief

and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach

come on and sew us together, were just tattered rags stained forever

we only have what we remember

 

from Wooden Heart Poems, released 06 July 2010

Music Video

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others – even our enemies – is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

 

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.

 

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

I found this version of the Charter on the official website for the Charter for Comapssion

Hiding the Real Africa

By Karen Rothmyer

And now for some good news out of Africa. Poverty rates throughout the continent have been falling steadily and much faster than previously thought, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The death rate of children under five years of age is dropping, with “clear evidence of accelerating rates of decline,” according to The Lancet. Perhaps most encouragingly, Africa is “among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions,” according to the McKinsey Quarterly.

Yet US journalism continues to portray a continent of unending horrors. Last June, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked woman from Sierra Leone dying in childbirth. Not long after, CNN did a story about two young Kenyan boys whose family is so poor they are forced to work delivering goats to a slaughterhouse for less than a penny per goat. Reinforcing the sense of economic misery, between May and September 2010 the ten most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth.

Reporters’ attraction to certain kinds of Africa stories has a lot to do with the frames of reference they arrive with. Nineteenth century New York Herald correspondent Henry M. Stanley wrote that he was prepared to find Zanzibar “populated by ignorant blacks, with great thick lips, whose general appearance might be compared to Du Chaillu’s gorillas.” Since the Biafran War, a cause célèbre in the West, helped give rise in the late 1960s to the new field of human rights, Western reporters have closely tracked issues like traditional female circumcision. In the 1980s, a famine in Ethiopia that, in fact, had as much to do with politics as with drought, set a pattern of stories about “starving Africans” that not only hasn’t been abandoned, but continues to grow: according to a 2004 study done by Steven S. Ross, then a Columbia journalism professor, between 1998 and 2002 the number of stories about famine in Africa tripled. In Kenya, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1960s and where I returned to live four years ago, The New York Times description of post-election violence in 2007 as a manifestation of “atavistic” tribalism carried echoes of Stanley and other early Western visitors.

But the main reason for the continued dominance of such negative stereotypes, I have come to believe, may well be the influence of Western-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international aid groups like United Nations agencies. These organizations understandably tend to focus not on what has been accomplished but on convincing people how much remains to be done. As a practical matter, they also need to attract funding. Together, these pressures create incentives to present as gloomy a picture of Africa as possible in order to keep attention and money flowing, and to enlist journalists in disseminating that picture.

Africans themselves readily concede that there continues to be terrible conflict and human suffering on the continent. But what’s lacking, say media observers like Sunny Bindra, a Kenyan management consultant, is context and breadth of coverage so that outsiders can see the continent whole—its potential and successes along with its very real challenges. “There are famines; they’re not made up,” Bindra says. “There are arrogant leaders. But most of the journalism that’s done doesn’t challenge anyone’s thinking.”

Over the past thirty years, NGOs have come to play an increasingly important role in aid to Africa. A major reason is that Western donors, worried about government corruption, have channelled more funds through them. In the mid-1970s, less than half a dozen NGOs (like the Red Cross or CARE) might operate in a typical African country, according to Nicolas van de Walle, a professor of government at Cornell, but now the same country will likely have 250.

This explosive NGO growth means increasing competition for funds. And according to the head of a large US-based NGO in Nairobi, “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need. Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.” So fierce is the competition that many NGOs don’t want to hear good news. An official of an organization that provides data on Somalia’s food situation says that after reporting a bumper harvest last year, “I was told by several NGOs and UN agencies that the report was too positive.”

Rasna Warah, a Kenyan who worked for UN-Habitat before leaving to pursue a writing career, says that exaggerations of need were not uncommon among aid officials she encountered. “They wanted journalists to say ‘Wow.’ They want them to quote your report,” she says. “That means more money for the next report. It’s really as cynical as that.”

Western journalists, for their part, tend to be far too trusting of aid officials, according to veteran Dutch correspondent Linda Polman. In her book The Crisis Caravan, she cites as one example the willingness of journalists to be guided around NGO-run refugee camps without asking tough questions about possible corruption or the need for such facilities. She writes, “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa, but that’s not how reporters see them.”

Pushed and pulled by slashed budgets and increased demands, journalists are growing increasingly reliant on aid groups. Sometimes that involves not just information or a seat on a supply plane, but deep involvement in the entire journalistic process.

In an online essay written in 2009, Kimberly Abbott of the International Crisis Group discussed a 2005 Nightline program on Uganda that her NGO helped to produce and fund. It was hosted by actor Don Cheadle, the star of Hotel Rwanda. Nightline’s Ted Koppel explained in his introduction, as retold by Abbott: “Cheadle wanted his wife and daughters to get a sense of the kind of suffering that is so widespread in Africa. The International Crisis Group wanted publicity for what is happening in Uganda. And we, to put it bluntly, get to bring you a riveting story at a greatly reduced expense.” According to Abbott, “versions of such partnerships are happening now in print and broadcast newsrooms across the country, though many are reluctant to discuss them too openly.”

Daniel Dickinson, a former BBC reporter who is now a communications officer for the European Union in Nairobi, has seen the impact of technology and economics on reporting on Africa first-hand. “The big difference in the past five to ten years is the expansion of the Internet,” he says. “Journalists have got to feed these animals. Add to that the financial crash, and more and more internationals are taking the content we offer them.”

Ben Parker, co-founder and head of IRIN, a news agency that is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, admires Dickinson’s success. “He does stories and they’re picked up whole,” Parker says. IRIN itself can point to many similar successes in finding takers for its stories on aid projects. “The Western media won’t reprint us verbatim,” he says. “But some plagiarize.”

Lauren Gelfand, a correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly who is based in Nairobi, says most reporters she knows string for three or four news organizations to make ends meet, and can’t afford to do time-consuming stories. She saw the effect when she took a year off from journalism to work for Oxfam. “If reporters were going to cover a development story it had to be easy,” remembers Gelfand, noting that the simplest sell was a celebrity visit to an aid project.

Gelfand says that her Oxfam experience helped her to understand just how much attention ngos put on getting their story told. “All the talking points are carefully worked out…. It’s a huge bureaucracy and there are as many levels of control as in any government,” she says of Oxfam, adding that many NGOs are reluctant to cooperate with media unless they know they’ll be shown in a positive light.

To be fair to the NGOs, Gelfand says, “It’s easier to sell a famine than to effect real, common-sense policy change.” And, she says, she continues to believe that most aid workers do what they do because they want to make a difference. Nonetheless, “A lot of what Oxfam does is to sustain Oxfam.”

Stories featuring aid projects often rely on dubious numbers provided by the organizations. Take Kibera, a poor neighborhood in Nairobi. A Nexis search of major world publications found Kibera described as the “biggest” or “largest” slum in Africa at least thirty-four times in 2004; in the first ten months of 2010 the claim appeared eighty-three times. Many of those stories focused on the work of one of the estimated 6,000 or more local and international NGOs working there, and cited population figures that ranged as high as one million residents. Recently, however, the results of Kenya’s 2009 census were released: according to the official tally, Kibera has just 194,269 residents. In 2010, Rasna Warah wrote in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan paper, that while working for the Worldwatch Institute, an NGO, she had published inflated population estimates using UN-Habitat data, despite knowing there was no consensus on the numbers among her former colleagues at the organization. Sometime after 2004, she wrote, population estimates for Kibera started to rise, and “Before we knew it, the figure spread like a virus.” She added, “The inflated figures were not challenged, perhaps because they were useful to various actors…. They were particularly useful to NGOs, which used them to ‘shock’ charities and other do-gooders into donating more money to their projects in Kibera.” Questionable figures of another sort are to be found in reports on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets on poverty reduction and other measures of well-being. UN and NGO officials routinely describe Africa as failing to meet the goals, and the press routinely writes up this failure.

But some experts, among them Jan Vandemoortele, one of the architects of the MDGS, have expressed concern that the goals are being misused. He wrote in 2009 that the MDGS were intended as global targets, but have been improperly applied to individual countries and regions. “It is a real tragedy when respectable progress in Africa is reported as a failure by international organizations and external observers,” Vandemoortele wrote, voicing the suspicion that particular measurements have been selected “so as to present Africa as a failure, solely to gain support for a particular agenda, strategy, or argument.”

Nonetheless, when the UN met in September, The Associated Press quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying, “Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa,” while the Los Angeles Times quoted an Oxfam report as saying, “Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGS, we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.”

The consequences of skewed or incomplete reporting on Africa are not just a disservice to readers but also have the potential to influence policy. “The welfare model [of Africa] is still dominant on the Hill and in Hillary Clinton’s world,” according to van de Walle. Among corporate officials, says Catherine Duggan, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, the perception is still that “Africa is where you put your money once you’ve made it somewhere else.” Moreover, such reporting is demoralizing to Africans working for change. Martin Dawes, a unicef regional chief of communication for West and Central Africa, says that when there is a disaster, journalists “come to us as aid workers but often don’t talk to the government, which is often what we’re working through. It means that the chances for Africans to show an engaged response is limited. They are written out of their own story.”

Even with shrinking resources, journalists can do better than this. For a start, they can stop depending so heavily, and uncritically, on aid organizations for statistics, subjects, stories, and sources. They can also educate themselves on how to find and interpret data available from independent sources. And they can actively seek out stories that deviate from existing story lines.

But in the end, it will probably take sustained economic progress to break the current mold. Sunny Bindra, the Kenyan management consultant, recalls that in the 1980s, “Japan got attention because it was whacking the US. It’s the same with India and China now.” Until that happens, a sick African woman in labor will continue to be treated as poverty porn, and most Africans will have to starve in order to make it onto the evening news.

 

This article was adapted from a paper (pdf) written for Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

I found this story at the following link on the website of CJR

The future of the library

Author: Seth Godin

What is a public library for?

First, how we got here:

Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.

This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read books that they didn’t have to own. The library as warehouse for books worth sharing.

Only after that did we invent the librarian.

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

After Gutenberg, books  got a lot cheaper. More individuals built their own collections. At the same time, though, the number of titles exploded, and the demand for libraries did as well. We definitely needed a warehouse to store all this bounty, and more than ever we needed a librarian to help us find what we needed. The library is a house for the librarian.

Industrialists (particularly Andrew Carnegie) funded the modern American library. The idea was that in a pre-electronic media age, the working man needed to be both entertained and slightly educated. Work all day and become a more civilized member of society by reading at night.

And your kids? Your kids need a place with shared encyclopedias and plenty of fun books, hopefully inculcating a lifelong love of reading, because reading makes all of us more thoughtful, better informed and more productive members of a civil society.

Which was all great, until now.

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you’ve seen and what you’re likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

This goes further than a mere sideline that most librarians resented anyway. Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t shlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.

When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it’s not that the mall won, it’s that the library lost.

And then we need to consider the rise of the Kindle. An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars. A thousand ebooks can fit on one device, easily. Easy to store, easy to sort, easy to hand to your neighbor. Five years from now, readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less than the blades.

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.

Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data.

The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information. (Please don’t say I’m anti-book! I think through my actions and career choices, I’ve demonstrated my pro-book chops. I’m not saying I want paper to go away, I’m merely describing what’s inevitably occurring). We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now, (most of the time) the insight and leverage is going to come from being and fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user servicable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.

Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousands things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.

Originally posted on Seth’s blog

2011 marks fifty years of successful conservation for WWF, one of the world’s leading environmental and conservation organisations.

As WWF staff and supporters gathered in Zurich last week to celebrate their half-century, guest of honour Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a long-time champion of fair and sustainable development – warned that we live in a world threatened by greed and consumerism.

“Our desire to consume everything of value, to extract every precious stone, every drop of oil and every creature from the sea knows no bounds,” said the Archbishop. “This quest for profit subverts our present and our future. There are too many people who are getting better and better at exploiting the environmental heritage which belongs to us all. We are not heading for an environmental disaster – we have already created one.”

“We are meant to live in a world which we share, and we are meant to live as members of one family,” said Archbishop Tutu. “And yet whenever we look around, isn’t it devastating to see the inequities and levels of poverty? Our population is increasing, environmental degradation is increasing. How do we resolve these inequities when all we are told is growth, growth, growth?”

However the Archbishop sounded an optimistic note and said he believed humankind could learn to live within its limits. “There is enough for everyone – but not enough for our greed,” he said. “There’s enough for us all to live a full life – so why do we want to destroy the only home we have?”

Since 1961, WWF has been instrumental in getting more than a billion hectares protected, several species brought back from the brink of extinction, and raising more than one billion dollars in conservation finance. The organisation is now supported by more than five million people and is active in over 100 countries on five continents.

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey highlighted WWF’s record of achievements and said the organisation was vital in today’s world. “The protection and sustainable use of natural resources is one of the most pressing issues today. Thanks to WWF we have learned we have to take a holistic approach to the environment,” she said. “Addressing environmental issues at global as well as local levels becomes ever more important.”

Earlier, guests at the gala event in Zurich heard WWF International President Yolanda Kakabdse outline the advances made in conservation in the past half-century. “When WWF was founded there were no ministers of the environment and no environmental treaties. Today such ministries are found in governments worldwide, and treaties are increasingly used to govern and protect the environment,” she said.

“Right from the beginning, this organisation has been built by individuals with a deep and inspiring passion: a commitment to stop environmental degradation and build a future where people live in harmony with nature, ” said Ms Kakabadse. She also joked that the Duke of Edinburgh – President Emeritus of WWF – would have been present were it not for a family wedding taking place in London. In a message Prince Philip said: “Perhaps its [WWF’s] greatest achievement so far has been to make a significant number of people in all communities, in all parts of the world, aware of the serious threats facing the world’s natural environment.”

Al-Jazeera anchor Veronica Pedrosa introduced a video-taped message from world-famous naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough in which he said conservation organisations such as WWF were becoming increasingly important as the planet faces greater challenges. “As WWF has pointed out, this is an issue for everybody because it affects everybody,” said Sir David. “We are dependent on the natural world for everything we need. The job of WWF is more important than ever and it deserves all the support it can get.”

WWF International Director General Jim Leape reminded guests why they were there and of the work still to be done to achieve a fair and sustainable world for all. “The world would be much poorer today without our efforts, yet it is a cruel irony that, for all that we have accomplished together, somehow we have to find a way to do even more. We have to find a way to bend the curves that will define our future – carbon, water, fisheries, erosion of biodiversity; fraying of the fabric of life. We have to find a new way to forge connections with nature.”

“We live in an increasingly urbanised society that is largely ignorant of the wonders that inspire us. And we live in an economy that is still often stubbornly indifferent to the natural systems upon which it depends,” said Mr Leape.

Guests at the gala evening – which was held to say “thank-you” to staff and supporters world-wide – were treated to environmentally-themed theatre, dance, and musical performances, specially-commissioned art installations and a children’s choir. WWF stressed that the costs of the event had been met by sponsors Chopard and Sarasin.

This article was originally posted on the WWF website.