About Me

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Policy provokes me to think, write and verbally spew. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring young people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Name, Same Game: The Africa Summit and "Global Resilience"

I am not a fan of 'summits'. And this first ever African Leaders Summit is not changing my mind any. That it's the first time anyone considered Africa worthy of this kind of attention is telling but I will give someone credit for FINALLY acknowledging that Africa is a market ripe for umm.... exploitation(?). Though it isn't a far leap to think that the Chinese invasion into Africa has 'nudged' the USAID machine into action. Like Dambisa Moyo, I question if another 'aid program' is the solution but I leave those arguments for her and Bill Easterly to do it justice.

Summits get folks all fired up then they go away and come back a couple years later and have a another go at it, reporting on what happened and what didn't and what they are going to do next time (which is usually more of the same with a new name and another big splash out of media attention) and everyone travels far far away in business class and say what they could skype in and reports get written and written and written and .... yeah.... anyway....

There's a new program for Africa and the Global South called Global Resilience with #globalresilience as it's Twitter hashtag and @grp_resilience as it's Twitter handle. (The marketing of aid initiatives is a whole marketing subspecialty and the 'cuter' the names the more annoyed they make me). As usual these projects are run by the aid gods (with local partners... uh huh....) that uses development economics language that may sound cool to them but reads like a mixed pile of horse, goat, cow and pig poo in 100%humidity at 100 degrees Fahrenheit to everyone else.  Especially if you're one of the local partners. It's all newname/samegame.

Quotes below are from the USAID press release announcing the new USD$100million collaboration between USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and 'local partners':

"the Resilience Partnership will enable communities to prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from shocks and stresses in a way that reduces chronic vulnerability and keeps them on the pathway to development." HUH??

"“The Global Resilience Partnership will help communities and individuals capitalize on the resilience dividend—the difference between where a region is after a shock where resilience investments have been made, compared to where the region would be if it hadn’t invested in resilience,” said Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin." WHAAA??

And of course there are 'new' proposals with a new name:

"An essential feature of the Global Resilience Partnership will be a competitive Resilience Challenge—a call out to the best and brightest to present bold and innovative solutions to the toughest challenges facing the three regions. The Challenge will launch later this year and be open to non-profits, academic institutions, and the private sector, with a focus on local and regional players.".

As if that isn't what they are always saying they are doing.... Saying it again and again - competitive, innovation, local - is just [expletive] annoying. Same crap, different package. (Actually the package seems the same too: a short-term grant to do stuff that requires long-term evaluation).

I am hoping for talk of family planning because one cannot talk about desertification and other impacts of climate change without considering the numbers of people that vulnerable geographic areas must support. But I wont get my hopes up because economists don't speak much of family planning but a growing family income doesn't have much impact if the family is also growing.

My favorite line: "The need for the Resilience Partnership is clear: Over the last 30 years, total development losses as a result of recurring crises represent $3.8 trillion worldwide." Which is basically an admission that all the previous 'challenges' taken on by the 'best and brightest' to create 'bold and innovative solutions' have not worked. 

I wonder what makes them think it will work this time. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The 'Good' Tourist: 6 best practices for visiting the world

Many developing countries in the world (and communities in the USA) depend on tourism as their primary source of economic income and development, but the good intentions of tourists can have a negative impact on a community and leave them at the will of far-away-owned hotels, cruise-ship companies and tour organizers.

So as you plan your holidays you may want to consider the country/people you are going to visit and the impact you will have on them and their communities. If you don't want to contribute to the degradation of the environment but want to promote social and economic justice, here are a few ways to making your sustainable contribution to local economies that reduces global inequalities and builds personal, community, and organizational capacity.


  1. AVOID CRUISE SHPS. (If you're going to Alaska, you are forgiven as there's no other way to see much of it). Cruise ships are the biggest tourism offenders in destroying our natural resources - the very same ones you go to visit on their ships. The volume of waste they produce (and dispense of in the water!) is phenomenal and in general, their impact on host sites skews the economics in their favor (i.e they discourage guests from buying from locals and encourage them to buy from cruise ship approved vendors). Furthermore, they significantly change the local culture when they disembark thousands of people in one place at the same time for no more than a few hours.
  2. AVOID ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS. These places have no connection to their locales, very little economic impact on local communities and usually puts the local economy at risk by sucking in all the money (and sending it back to their home country or ta ax haven) and human resources that otherwise would be spent on building local capacity with much less infusion of capital.
  3. GO LOCAL. Buy your goods and services (hotel, food, travel & souvenirs) from locally owned businesses.  Scared of eating local? Buy/Eat it hot and fresh. Spread the wealth. Build the capacity of people and communities worldwide with your travel budget, no matter how small it is. You will contribute to the growth of sustainable economies instead of the growth of surreptitious companies.
  4. MAKE A FRIEND. Get to know at least one local person that is not serving you as servers are paid to be nice. Knowing people gives you a great inside perspective to the country and culture and also makes the world smaller in meaningful ways.
  5. BE A GREAT GUEST. You are a guest of the country so act in the way you would want a guest in your house to behave.
  6. LEARN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE. Learning even a few words of the local language shows goodwill. If you learn a few basic words/sentences ('travel fluency'), you will find your experience to be less stressful and more enjoyable. You will find it goes a long way in going local, being a great guest and making new friends. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peace-Building in the Middle East: Joining hands across borders, religions and institutions

This is a story of peace-building amidst all the stories of war-mongering. The McGill Middle East Program (now known as the International Community Action Network - ICAN) is based on the ground even as rockets fly through the air. It is a story of hope, faith, trust, hard work, and cross-border, inter-faith and institutional collaboration. It is a story of people much more than a story of politics.

Amidst the fray of Middle East dramas (btw the USA bombs kids too - they are called 'collateral damage'), it is good to remember that that there are many people in Palestine and Israel wanting and fighting for peace. People who believe in peace despite all the reasons that make it seem impossible. People who have risked life, limb, sanity, health etc to create community-based peace solutions (that also involves politicians at high levels). 

In the interest of disclosure I acknowledge  that this blogpost is also committed to giving props to my mentor, friend and best teacher ever -- Jim Torczyner of McGill School of Social Work -- an energetic, tenacious rebel of a (Jewish and Israeli) man, who has always believed in peace solutions and has applied his incredible gifts of gab, humour, intellect and tenacity to creating peace strategies. He inspired who I am as 'intellectual', practitioner, teacher and activist as he so strongly believes in, and acts on, the belief that ordinary people are at the heart of social change and that all humans deserve basic human rights. As an academic he is brilliant and as a 'doer' he is amazing! There are many more people like him (well, not quite... as he's quite the character:-) who believe in peace and are fighting for it but it is difficult to see and hear them among the cacaphony and visual horror of Middle East geopolitics. 

This is also the story of a peace project rooted in human rights, collaboration, community mobilization, political strategy, practical 'intellectualism' and a whole lot of trust and faith. It is a story of bridge-building across cultures, faith systems, institutions, political ideologies and national borders.

"“The argument is: Look, there will be an earthquake,” Torczyner explains. “It’s not going to be a Jewish, Muslim or Christian earthquake. It’s going to kill people.” He argues that to save lives, victims must be taken to the closest medical facility, even if it’s across the border. Protocols for such cooperation are being developed now. Thanks to the efforts of the MMEP, 18 Jordanian students are now studying emergency medicine next door in Israel—instead of Australia, as they needed to do in the past."

As an example of 'practical education' and education for social change, the project builds networks of like-minded people to change people's lives. It directly links classroom and community to make education useful and relevant to the people whose lives are the focus of study.

"Each MMEP centre is founded and directed by a McGill graduate, and that initial connection blooms into even more connections on the ground. “It connects universities with practice and practice with real people,” Torczyner says." 

Despite the never-ending challenges that are presented by conflict, mistrust, history, politics, stereotypes and discrimination, Torczyner is focused on the future of the lives touched by the project, and war makes things more difficult but he plans to keep going.

"Torczyner doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. He’s planning 20 new centres and aims to enlist young volunteers in the next five years as part of a cross-border social movement: “Imagine having 10,000 Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian social entrepreneurs in these neighbourhoods, pushing the same message and learning from each other!”"


Friday, April 11, 2014

Why Are We Racist?

I appear on this week's episode (Friday, April 11, 2014) of the BBC World Service show, 'The Why Factor' as they explore the whys and wherefores of racism.  Listen to the podcast by clicking here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Perkins Paranoia

When Tom Perkins, founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wrote an inflammatory letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal on January 24th, I wonder if he knew how explosive his letter would be. He should have. We all know that Holocaust references are only made to create a firestorm. Which makes one question the editorial choices of the Wall Street Journal which most likely gets hundreds of letters a day on much more pressing issues than the brief tasteless burst of paranoia that was Mr Perkins letter.

What Mr Perkins feels in terms of hostility towards the ultra rich in America is undeniable. People want to find a target for their economic frustrations and so they find a group to pick on. That is never a good idea as Mr Perkins so inappropriately acknowledged in his short missive. Whether it is immigrants, the wealthy or bankers, making any group the target of hate does not reflect the complexity of the problem nor does it solve it or make us feel better.

However, be sure that whatever frustration Mr Perkins may feel it does not come close to the hungry bellies, inadequate housing or unstable employment that is the fate of the poor in the USA. If you are poor in the USA it is easy to feel that someone thinks you are not worthy of the basics of human life: food, shelter, a good education for their children etc.

That said, there need not be a contest for who has it hardest in the USA because noone, not even Mr Perkins himself, could possibly feel that his luxurious life is one to be pitied. His poor little rich boy pity party was quite unbecoming a man of his stature.

What is to be pitied are the policies that permit Mr Perkins his fabulous wealth while depriving others of basic sustenance. Hating rich people gets us nowhere. Instead, their should be vitriol for food stamp policies. For tax policies that give poor kids poor schools and allow the wealthy to maintain their wealth through tax loopholes and low tax rates (relative to other countries in the OECD). Even the generous who set up foundations are coddled by the taxman for their philanthropy, which is needed to plug the holes left gaping by a social safety net with holes so big it is saving noone.

I am sure that Mr. Perkins has been duly chastised by his Jewish friends for his unfortunate use of metaphor. Perhaps if Mr Perkins knew some not so wealthy people he may not feel so persecuted. In the meantime he could take his formidable legal skills and work with other rich folks like Bill Gates Sr. to reform taxes to make this country more economically equal, and thus a less scary place for Mr. Perkins.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Simple Argument for A (Barely) Living Wage

I couldn't say this any better so I will repost it.

It's Not OK That Your Employees Can't Afford To Eat
by Peter Cappelli
Professor of Management at the Wharton School
Harvard Business Review Blogs Facebook Page
December 16, 2013

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/scrooge-is-alive-and-well/

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Feminist's Thanks Giving

Today is a day when I want to give thanks for some human rights I deserve and some things I am lucky to have as a woman.

I am grateful that my parents were happy I was born a girl.
I am happy that my parents valued my education, and for all the education I have achieve,d and that I can use my education to take any job I choose.
For tampons and feminine sanitation, I feel lucky.
For contraception and the right to abortion, I thank the women who came before me.
For being free to marry who they choose when they choose, I am happy for my sisters who thinks this the right choice for them.
I wish my 16 year old daughter would appreciate her good fortune at having the right to drive.
I am thankful for a job that allows me to buy as much or as little clothes that I can wear as I please.
I am grateful for laws that protect me from rape and violence (the effectiveness of such are left for another day)
It's great to be able to have sex outside of marriage.
Happy to not need a male escort to appear in public.
Without wanting to practice any religion, I am happy that I can change my mind at any time.
Lastly I am grateful for being able to write this piece without impunity and censorship.