Bread & Lipstick

The precipice of development and culture

The hands that toil

Source: At work Photo by Trevor Cole — National Geographic Your Shot

For small hands toiling away on tobacco farms, in artisanal mining, or textiles, searching for a job is a rudimentary pursuit to secure the next meal, or the response to a call to support family. Often times, a child’s safety hangs by a thread. Each increase in the demand for child labor triggers precarious work conditions and health risks, while baring the forgone opportunities of school-age children to an education. 168 million children are subjected to varying forms of child labor across the supply chain, from service work to manufacturing. Manual labor and indentured servitude are common; a modern day slavery of sorts that hovers under the radar. After all, even in quantum theory, reality does not exist until you observe it and measure it- a glaring fact for millions of voiceless children and youth.

A majority of these jobs occur in the informal sector, practices go unregulated and children find themselves confined to long working hours without decent wages. So why are the most vulnerable of us exploited? Well, labor is cheap and children are easily managed.

Since local jobs feed into global supply chains, corporations at all levels have the social responsibility to monitor labor standards and ensure transparency. At a minimum, consumers have a common duty to verify that the products they procure are ethical. This year’s World Day Against Child Labor is on the theme ‘child labor and supply chains’. It might start with small hands but ultimately the responsibility of child protection lies in ours.

What’s in a smile?

Source: Hiding the Smile Photo by Aidan Ware — National Geographic Your Shot

Ethiopia boasts myriad traditions- a rich cultural tapestry that cuts across customs, languages and religions. Administratively, it is demarcated by 9 regional states and 800 districts. It has a population of over 97 million inhabitants, 88 living languages and is reputedly known for maintaining its independence with the exception of the Italian occupation (1935-1936). Culturally, there are many behavioral traits that are unique to Ethiopia compared to its neighboring states. Among them, is an implicit partiality towards modesty and prudishness. This photo by Adrian Wade captures a gleeful girl trying to suppress her excitement. A mannerism most are acquainted with. Such shyness is common among children and youth, especially girls in the rural expanses of Ethiopia. Girls are socialized at a young age to be bashful; humility is revered and too much confidence is frowned upon. Reidulf Knut Molvaer in his book ‘Socialization and Social Control in Ethiopia’ states: “a certain kind of ‘shyness’ is culturally favored and encouraged, leading to pretense… this is called meshkormem, a ‘virtue’ in girls that may be called ‘bashfulness, shyness, decency’.” I hold the belief that shyness is natural to some, what I take issue with is that such patriarchal norms, which inhibit self-expression in females are encouraged well into adulthood. For my part, I believe in the power of conviction; that too is decent.

Chasing Paper

In my few years of trudging up, or rather across the interminable plateau of positions in International Organizations (IOs), one caustic trait never ceases to rear its ugly head- the unequivocal love for Daily Subsistence Allowance. DSA is what many IOs pay their staff, personal service contractors and conference participants, to cover the costs of lodging, meals and transport during authorized work travel. Any administrative backlogs in the provision of DSAs could invoke the rage of Achilles within the odd Development Practitioner (DP). A select few can’t seem to function without it. In all fairness the benefits of local currency when you arrive in a foreign country is important, the berating of administrative staff due to a short delay in disbursement, however, is not. Grown men and women throwing tantrums outside conference halls where experts and ministers gather to deliberate on pressing development issues, is far from pleasant. In fact, it’s so insufferable it resembles Marlon Wayne’s character in Little Man.

All bad jokes aside, let me deconstruct this. First, we can agree that most DPs have personal utility functions that satisfy their material needs and wants (the Lipstick). This is not so much a paradox, until it is. (Bear with me). In spite of ‘tree-hugger’, ‘captain planet’ monikers, DPs actually appreciate the good life and that’s OK. Yes, many things can exist at the same time; such is life (gasp!). In a perfect world DPs select a career path that lets them spring the world’s most vulnerable out of poverty, mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure peace and security in fragile states. Checkout the Sustainable Development Goals for more info! But somewhere in the midst of ensuring social progress, issuing business class flights and allocating DSAs as regular add-ons to salaries seemingly take precedence. In other words, all these development priorities cease to exist separately from the DP’s capitalist mindset, rather they lie in the center of a continuum- a grey area where the elements of social need and personal wealth intermingle and taint opportunities for development, what some call ‘chasing paper’. For this, I recommend a serving of humility, a pinch of altruism, dash of consideration and smidgen of integrity.

The purpose driven career: from secret codes to results based development

Working in a sector that is intrinsically gratifying is a form of invisible currency, in and of itself. This is by no means exclusive to development but for all intents and purposes, I’ll stick to what I know best. When I first entered the field some 6 years ago, I was as eager as they come. A few short weeks later ‘stunned’ would be the best descriptor to reflect my disposition. Stunned by the extraordinary amount of time allocated to dialogue by way of ad-hoc meetings, cluster meetings, divisional meetings, expert group meetings, section meetings, task force meetings, town-hall meetings, working-group meetings and the like (the short list). I felt it was a remarkably unproductive use of my time. With a full schedule of meetings and new lexicon so contrived I was only partly attuned to what was being discussed, the activities to be undertaken were completely lost to me.

Development jargon against the backdrop of endless meetings largely sums up the shortfalls of the sector. When program objectives and activities are incoherent it leaves plenty of space for ambiguity, and freedom to be shifty with deliverables. Yet, when ideas are clearly expressed and easily understood, dialogue serves as a great communication for development (C4D) tool. Dialogue falls under the umbrella of C4D, along with advocacy, behavioral and social change, and media development. So in order to use it effectively, the information being shared needs to be explicit. That being said, the art of influencing people outside the development sector through the use of aid speak is a skill I have yet to master. After all, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

By and large for development workers, using jargon when it’s crisp enough to command attention is sure way to get the tacit nod of approval from donors. Sexy words such as ‘strengthen’, ‘build resilience’, and ‘mainstream’, in layman’s terms simply translate to ‘we’re going to improve [insert activity], make it adaptable [insert context] and popular’. This naturally begs the question: ‘How?’. In the development world using such language potentials success before the work has even begun (Strategic? Possibly. But only in so far as the words produce tangible results). Needless to say, even though I’m a perpetual user of development jargon when the audience is right, I’m more interested in the outcomes, and the subsequent impact of social change. Ultimately, it’s not only about how organizations start projects but the impact those projects have long after the work is done.

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