Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Partnership not Poverty

This is Harriet. She is a young woman of 25; educated, ambitious, and opinionated she aspires to make positive change within her community. A university graduate from the University of Development Studies, Harriet studied integrated development and has just become a volunteer for International Service working on the Trade Aid programme to deliver sustainable fair trade across the Upper East Region of Ghana. Following her involvement in the programme she aspires to become a senior high school teacher for social studies and business management to further promote the work of NGO’s and individuals doing great work in her community.

Why am I telling you about Harriet? Why is Harriet’s story so important? Would it shock or surprise you to know that Harriet is African. More importantly, she is Ghanaian and from a town called Bolgatanga. You wouldn’t be alone if you were. Stereotyping is sadly a human trait, and unsurprisingly, the British media and in some instances British charities portray peoples in Africa as poor, war torn and downtrodden. These stereotypes are damaging, but are consistently re-enforced in British and European society. This is not only unfair on the likes of Harriet, but can be harmful and unproductive in the long term for those working in international development. We need to look past the stereotype and learn about the individuals’ needs and ambitions.

Stereotyping is more damaging than we imagine; categorising people and portraying them as charitable cases rather than equals often leads to the sidelining of achievement and even promoting the concept of poverty and dependence on aid, rather than long term partnership. International Development was the new buzz word of the naughties, brought into the public eye through the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. It continues to be a sexy topic in the lead up to their target year in 2015, but unfortunately, many of these goals have not yet been achieved. Pessimistic and simplified reasons include their ambitious nature and lack of funding from primary financial countries, but the message from the UN is the importance and achievable nature of these objectives, now extended to 2020. “Develop a global partnership for development” is one of these goals, its focus on co-operation with developing states and their internal communities. Stereotyping in this space, to quote the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, isn’t mistaken. It’s harmful, and leads to cyclical prejudice.

It’s easy to be negative on poverty statistics and the daunting tasks ahead for the international development space, but in order to reach these ambitious targets, we might start looking closer at the individuals involved with their communities and the partnerships we might create. From here we can endorse the positive work that has already been achieved and in turn, encourage further promotion of worthy achievement. It could be argued that development would gather pace if we took the time to see past the stereotypes portrayed, subsequently listening and partnering to bring about positive, sustainable change. 


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