The New American Community?

I am working on a project, that could potentially become larger than what it is currently. The central idea is to map out how philanthropy is shaping community : An idea I have argued for, in my dissertation.

Given that the past year or so has been spectacularly chaotic, both socially and politically in the US; the idea that America is being reshaped fundamentally, is something worth exploring. Whether this is true is something I would like to examine.

Steve Almond in his provocative book Bad Stories argues that Trumpism is a “bad outcome arising directly from the bad stories we tell ourselves. To understand how we got here, we have to confront our cultural delusions: our obsession with entertainment, sports, and political parody, the degeneration of our free press into a for-profit industry, our enduring pathologies of race, class, immigration, and tribalism.”

What this means in other words is also that we have become a people who form communities around these bad stories and are excluding those who dont believe in our versions of reality. This is potentially dangerous, as a society.

I see this occurring in India as well, another country that is beset with right-wing ideologues, who want to make ‘India great again’ though in a slightly different form. They want to make ‘India Hindu again,’ harking back to an era of supposed purity where the undesirables : Muslims, Christians and the secularists were not around.

I wonder if this new idea of what America means will radically alter what America will become, both legally and socially. This project aims to dig deeper, using philanthropy as a lens. If you would like to talk – to be interviewed – or even just pass on an idea to me, feel free to get in touch!

Insights into refugee resettlement in Germany

Last week, I was in Munich, attending a conference organized by the Institut fur Politisch Bildung, a German think-tank and Virginia Tech (my alma mater). The three day visit was overwhelmingly positive, except for a visit to the Dachau Concentration camp, which left me drained, emotionally.  Regardless, here is a quick synopsis of some of the key points made by Kelly T Clemens, Depy. Director, UNHCR, who was one of the speakers.

  • “Statistics are stories with tears dried off.” Stats do tell a story. Just 8 yrs ago, there were 42 mn forcibly displaced people. Afghan and Iraqi were about half (doesn’t include Palestinians). 75% resided in the neighboring countries of origin. Two years later, in 2012, this went up to 45 mn- by 2014, 60 mn and some of the same populations. We just published mid-year trends in 2017. 67 million now. The trends we have seen are clear and unambiguous. Old conflicts have festered and Somalia and Afghanistan have been major senders. New conflicts have erupted, including Syria, which led to new displacements. 2017 saw Myanmar’s Rohingya leaving. The situation in 2018 is not different.
  • Millions leave and are struggling in the margins. Minara, who I met in Bangladesh; walked for three weeks (1 yr old baby). Had lost her husband. The story of her flight is terrible. She and her husband were chilli farmers. It’ll be challenging for her to restart her life. This is a lesson we have learnt. Apart from physical safety, it impacts their ability to begin to reestablish socio-economically. Refugee crisis in 2015, it is impossible not to refer to Syria.
  • UNHCR, working with over 1000 partners, registerd 1 mn March 2015 and 4 mn by 2015. Today, its over 5.5 mn refugees. By hosting countries, neighbours provided global good (Syria’s neighbors). They granted people to enter local and national job opps. In most cases, they are not partners of 1959 Geneva conventions . We helped with setting up camps only where necessary and provided support shelter, aid and sanitation.
  • We also gave cash registration instead of in kind. Innovative solutions, in addition to traditional. We work with World Bank and other partners, to identify the most in need and embraced digital platforms, web based systems and other platforms.
  • Faith- based groups run by refugee groups are modern day echo of megaphones to refugees. Alongside, there is recognition of challenges to countries.
  • We work with UNDP, regional local UN resilience plan. With World Bank, Poverty and Welfare study.
  • Turkey has spent $8bn. UNHCR advocated funding to host countries. Can we provide concessional financing to Jordan, other countries? Concessional financing facilities. Inspite of generous response, at least to allow partial funding.
  • The appeal we have launched, only 41% support. Cuts in food aid for thousands. Thousands left out of cash funds. Lost access to healthcare. Many adults were forced to beg, etc.
  • In Jordan, new identity docs required too much money to pay. Limited education opps, were also factor. 90K students unable to access education in school. Lack of security for people in their own country was the major cause to leave.
  • ElSalvador and Honduras unspeakable violence. Gang violence and extortions. Flee to Mexico. Cash based support from UNHCR. What was clear from dozens of stories, we heard that they needed protection and aid. Their stories were not separated from socio-eco lives.
  • People resort to different and more dangerous routes. How do we advise asylees to seek help? It was one of the most frustration operations have experienced.
  • The 2015-16 left a profound impact on European systems. We can speak of pre-and post 2016. Populatinos have shown commitment to host refugees. New partners have been formed, down to municipalities, NGOs and govt. A broad commitment has provided a holistic system. A contribution to help refugees, designed to make their lives better.
  • NY Declaration– 129 countries adopted a declaration to protect people from all countries. It helps support people. Through this declaration, states have adopted robust measures to help fleeing people and a call for global solidarity. Intl responsibility sharing. Incorporates strong calling for solutions and need to address root causes and help resolve conflicts through peaceful means. Annex 1 mandated us to have a comprehensive refugee response network.
  • Four aims in 13 countries, to ease pressure on hosts and expand access to third country. Voluntary return in safety and dignity and covers entire cycle.
  • We have central lab in Central America who are driving the cause and strong network of countries in Horn of Africa, who want to take this on and interest from Asia as well. Applied from diverse range of actors and NGO actors. Our work in these countries has led to inclusion of eco. For refugees. Taking a step back, what’s diff now? First, it’s a political statement that we should engage more comprehensively and secondly, this response clarifies that humanitarianKelly.JPG action alone is not enough We need political and development efforts. Addresses root causes and requires us to consider refugees not in isolation but as part of communities.
  • Calls upon us to rely on private sector. Particularly, since 2015, engagement of World Bank and $2bn for refugees has been monumental.
  • Djibouti – new refugee law  – to settlement approach. Ethiopia too, to implement programs A roadmap driven by PM around large-scale employment. Removing encampment policies to have free movement of people.
  • Somali region – 200,000 people in Ethiopia – local community was struggling. Ethiopian govt has kept borders open and this has happened over decades and inspite of difficulties, hosts and refugee countries are working together to grow crops and help themselves. Private sector, through IKEA foundation, to irrigate farm lands etc. they have built schools that include both hosts and refugee kids. Also, renewal energy to save planet. Excellent example.
  • Uganda – coordinating mechanism place. Key role, to help sustainable response. Help other stakeholders in place. In addition to philanthropy, private sector are being tapped.
  • 3 countries accounting for major refugees hosting, other countries in the global North and South need to do more.

Two Americans in Ecuador

While the American political apparatus is busy withdrawing itself from the world, I met two incredible Americans who have not only spent their energies, but also their time trying to make Ecuador a better place.

Just last week I was in Quito, the country’s capital to visit Sun Mountain, an organization founded by Scott Solberg, an alumni of Cal Lutheran University, where I teach. He has been in Ecuador for over 17 years now; managing projects in Ecuador and around the world. The focus of Sun Mountain is sustainable living, broadly defined. They also bring expertise in agriculture, community development and related areas. Jake Hutton, also an alum is one of the other employees at SMTN.

While I spent time in Quito and went around the country, visiting places like Pacto, a little dream of a village; tucked away in the mountains, I also witnessed the kinds of collaborations that can occur between groups that are training locals in environment sustainability and eco-tourism. These groups are largely local ones started by concerned farmers and activists who want a sustainable and equitable model of development for their communities. I attended two such meetings and was impressed by their dedication and focus. And of course, I spoke in Spanish!

A group called Pacto Magico is bringing together local businesses in Pacto to help them grow and promote eco-tourism and best practices. The focus seems to be on improving the living conditions of the locals, help them stay true to their mission, as organizations; while remaining afloat.

It was reassuring to witness two Americans and an American led organization still be involved in Quito, to the extent that Scott and Jake are. While there are hundreds and thousands of such people, with a clear mission of serving the world and doing it with clarity of thought, such examples need to be highlighted. Highlighted not only to bring positive attention to them, but also to inspire others to go out there, explore the world and be a force for good. That is what the US can be and in these times, when Americans seem to be forgetting this side of their legacy; Sun Mountain serves as a reminder of what is possible.

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Me with Scott (with the blue cap) and Jake.

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Does giving free money work?

One of my students in my Nonprofit Management class pointed out  ‘Give a man a Fish’ by James Ferguson on the (controversial) idea of a universal basic income (UBI). This has been an ongoing debate in the world of development studies. The premise is simple : Give the poor enough money so they don’t have to worry about the basic necessities. This stems from the understanding that the poor need help and with enough food, money for living etc. they will focus on the higher needs of life – following Maslow’s hierarchy.

When I suggested this idea, the class was more or less bought in, except for one (or perhaps two) who thought that this would make people ‘lazy,’ and dependent. While in principle, this may seem possible; studies conducted in Kenya show promise in terms of how giving directly seems to be working. The speakers in the podcast point out that most people know how to spend money to become self-reliant. The field research project being conducted shows that money, given on a regular basis, to a while community ultimately helps them.

They also point out that US Founding fathers thought of this idea, so was the idea around during the French Revolution. With growing industrialization, fewer jobs; there seems to be a realization that such an income is the only way to take care people who don’t have jobs.

Of course, this has opposition from those who don’t believe in distribution of income, for no efforts from people.

From my own experience, of witnessing my (late) mother – a school teacher – help many of her students and nephews and nieces, who were poor; I think this idea works. My mother gave ‘directly’ to many families, for over 25-30 years, often sums of money that helped the families educate their kids, feed them and in many cases, helped them send them to school. The long-term effect of this strategy? I know at least three families that are doing significantly doing better, with the children having been educated at universities, many of them working in stable jobs and the entire family being lifted out of poverty.

Do I believe in UBI? I have reasons to, as I have seen the effects of such a measure. Will this become a policy in the West? That, I am not sure of. However, countries such as India, Kenya could be persuaded in this direction.

Civil society in Saudi Arabia?

Earlier this month, government officials, nonprofit professionals and donors got together at one of the most important gathering of nonprofit leaders in Saudi Arabia. If discussions there are any indication, the kingdom may be in for a major overhaul. Hosted by the Center of Excellence in Development of Nonprofit Organizations at the King Fahd University, the conference brought together ideas on how to involve the nonprofit sector in development and addressing issues of public health, education and housing- challenges that are facing the Kingdom.

There is a new momentum around nonprofit institutions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which could transform how we think of the ways in which people in the country dispense of their excess wealth. This could have implications in terms of how people think of their relationship with the state apparatus and also with each other.

What is the need for developing the nonprofit sector, where the state is so strong, one might ask? The answer to this question is both complex and multi-faceted. While there is increasing realization among the ruling class that the dependency on Oil cannot be continued forever, there is also a concurrent realization that there can and needs to be greater individual and group level participation by those who have wealth. Religious and cultural norms favor greater individual philanthropy.  Nonprofits are seen as potential agents that will bring about greater civic participation – both in terms of volunteering as well as setting up institutions that address key fundamental issues. While health, housing and education sectors will need significant inputs in the years and decades to come; this stress on increased funding and efforts is being put on nongovernmental entities. A new nonprofit law is being drafted to allow for potential tax-deductibility, according to sources.

In my conversation with foundation executives and legal experts, I found that the sector leaders see a greater need for clarity on regulations. Secondly, there is also a perceived need for clarity in terms of what the nonprofit sector is supposed to do. “The government should let us work” pointed out one senior executive, pointing to the need for greater freedom of action.

Regulations are being framed and put together as we speak. This will help in framing the identity of the nonprofit sector, which will be unique to the country. While the nonprofit sector needs to borrow ideas from the rest of the world, it also needs to adapt them to the realities of life in the Kingdom. This means an intelligent and thoughtful fine-tuning of ideas, concepts that have worked for decades or even centuries in the West.

Human capacity development is another area that needs focus. While there is a huge pool of young people who are being trained in areas of public policy, nonprofit management etc. this capacity should be mentored, channeled to work in the development sector in the Kingdom. “Young people don’t see this as a stable career choice,” pointed out another senior executive. He suggested that this needs to change and the government involvement in legitimizing the sector may help.

The need for greater women’s involvement in the sector came up time and again during the three-day conference. There was a healthy participation by women in the conference and all participants – both women and men stressed women’s involvement in developing Saudi society using all tools available to the third sector.

If discussions and exchanges during the three days are any indication, then there is great momentum and energy in the country. The future of nonprofits in KSA will depend on how the government and nonprofit leaders work with each other to collaborate, create norms and a culture of mutual respect and trust in their abilities to solve social problems.

 

News from ARNOVA 2017

This year’s ARNOVA was held in Grand Rapids, MI. As someone who has been a regular for the past five years, I was excited for this year’s conference also because I released a co-authored book (with Dr.Shariq Siddiqui) and also won the ARNOVA-Al Subaei Arab Philanthropy award. 

The book is available for purchase here.  While we are anticipating a good response, only time will tell whether it is received well. We have taken a unique perspective of using Public Administration and Nonprofit theories to test some hypothesis and also to build theory in terms of how Islamic schools gain legitimacy. While our findings indicate that most schools are using the nonprofit form, to gain legitimacy; we were surprised to find that they operate just as well (or badly) as other faith-based schools. The issues of governance, management and fundraising remain the same.

 

Small kindnesses, big impact

I watched the movie Sultan and the Saint over the weekend at the Bayan Claremont Graduate School of Theology in Claremont. While the movie was quite well made and it has a strong message of interfaith dialogue and courage, the point that stuck to me was not the central message; but rather a peripheral one : Small acts of kindnesses can have huge impacts.

In the movie, the Sultan, Sultan Al Kamil is shown to be kind to his aggressors,  the crusaders who have attacked Egypt. At a time when the aggressors are locked from all sides by water from the Nile, the Sultan sends food and other provisions so the crusaders dont die. This single act, argue some of the scholars interviewed in the movie changed the course of the war. In addition to getting the crusaders to giving up their war, which was getting too costly and fruitless, one can argue that this act could have had a transformative effect on them as well.

Kindness from a friend is to be expected, but from a sworn enemy can be transformative. This is the one lesson I took away from this movie.