We are happy to announce that ASAP and the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) have agreed to launch a collaborative effort to jointly execute the GPCR project over the next years. CROP is a program of the International Social Science Council (ISSC), hosted by the University of Bergen.
On April 7th, ASAP hosted a symposium bringing together academics and practitioners to discuss the future of poverty alleviation after the expiration of the MDGs. Among those who participated in the discussion were:
- Branko Milanovic – Lead Economist, World Bank Research group; Visiting Professor, School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
- Gustav Ranis – leading development economist and the Frank Altschul Professor Emeritus of International Economics at Yale University
- Varun Gauri – Senior Economist in the Development Research Group (Public Services Team) at the World Bank
- Thomas Pogge – Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs, Yale University and Research Director, Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, University of Oslo
- Philip Alston – John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University
- Hugh Evans – CEO of the Global Poverty Project
Ravina Khela, the incoming Chair of the ASAP Students-Birmingham Chapter, speaks to Sophia Ireland about her role as Midlands Youth & Schools Coordinator, Oxfam. Ireland shares insights on Oxfam’s approach to poverty alleviation and offers some tips for students who may want to apply for an Oxfam internship or pursue a career in development more generally.
Oxfam is well known to most people, but could you give a brief introduction of the organisation, and what makes it different from other NGOs?
The main aims and objectives are outlined in Oxfam’s Mission Statement, but it basically comes down to overcoming poverty and suffering — so, really big issues! There are a few ways we go about that, all are equally important. The first is humanitarian emergency relief. For example, in the wake of natural or manmade disasters such as earthquakes and wars or conflicts Oxfam is a leader in providing clean water. Oxfam is also often one of the first organisations on the ground to provide clean water, hygiene kits and other things you need to stay healthy. When you have a lot of people in close proximity in a camp it’s really important to have access to things like clean water to prevent disease spreading.
The second way Oxfam goes about reducing poverty is in terms of Development. We are involved with long-term programmes in which we work with communities for 5-10 years to embed practices such as work and education schemes, and try to ensure the sustainability of the work we start there. At the moment the majority — and the aim is for eventually all — of our projects to have someone from Oxfam, a representative from partner organisations and members of local government and the local community on the organising committees. This is particularly important so that when we move out the work we started has been embedded within the local government and community. When we stop delivering a project the work is then able to continue, for example livelihood projects could be continued by ensuring proper infrastructure in terms of adequate transport and government support.
The third way we work in is Campaigning, putting pressure on governments all around the world. We work with pressure groups and support people in order to have an impact in their local communities. One aspect of what we do at Oxfam is getting involved with high level research, so that what we say and what we ask for is well backed up and substantiated. A lot of our activity involved working in partnerships, for example on of our current projects involves helping women who grow onion plants to get realistic and sensible money and adequate support.
A lot of the work we do crosses over all of these three areas. In our UK based work we do a lot of policy and research, and advocacy work with the private sector and government to ensure development policies are appropriate. Our public campaigns try to make sure that the general public understand issues relating to aid, climate change, food security and other poverty related issues. These campaigns try to ensure people are taking action and really shouting about issues that matter to them and that they can speak with credibility about them.
What is your role at Oxfam?
My role really consists of ‘two hats’. My main role is as the Youth and Schools Coordinator in the Midlands. My job involves working with schools and youth organisations to develop global learning and campaigning. I work with volunteer speakers who deliver workshops, assemblies and lessons on topics spanning healthcare, climate change and food justice.
I support teachers to understand issues and how they can pass them on to their students. We use a participatory learning methodology: Learn, Think, Act. It’s about students using their own critical thinking and really developing that and getting them to engage with issues, thinking about how to take appropriate social action and how to deal with controversial issues, and ultimately acting – being an active global citizen.
My remit is to make sure that there is good strong learning that underpins the social action that young people take. The workshops we deliver meet the national curriculum so can fit into a regular school timetable and be delivered in class time.
How would you define poverty?
A lack of power, choice and agency. We can look at it as not having much money, but more than this it is also not having enough money to feed your family, or to get an education for yourself or your family, not enough money to see a doctor or enough money to ensure your home is watertight. It’s really about the lack of power to change things in your life, that’s poverty. If you are a farmer and are experiencing drought but you have poor education then there may be very few ways for you to work your way out of poverty, or a farmer whose land has been grabbed by a company, the ability to engage with a legal process.
How do you think the issue of poverty alleviation can be best addressed, on an individual level and also at the national and international level?
I have recently been involved with some really interesting work on poverty and shame, with the University of Oxford. Some of the reasons people aren’t able to move out of poverty are partly to do with shame and the sense of not being able to come forward and admit it or feel stigmatised by the community around them.
Often other people in a community will look at people in poverty and make a judgement, in the UK for example there’s this ‘chav language’ and a lot of looking down on people who are not working, who can often be labelled ‘benefit cheats’ or the deserving and undeserving poor. We need to overcome this stigmatisation and rhetoric; this is what will be so important in overcoming poverty.
I did a workshop a few years ago with some young people about youth participation in governance and their view was the young people need information in a language that is accessible to them. This is not just the case for young people – information needs to be accessible to all. To the average person if a document is in very technical language they will most likely become disengaged or not understand elements of a piece. Furthermore, this kind of information needs to be in a location that is easy to access. You really need to think about how to get information out to people, don’t just assume that everyone who may be interested in what you have to say will have Twitter or Facebook, although these are often great places to start.
It’s really about education, and developing education for all people so that there is the possibility of choice. Education really opens up opportunities and for people who are, for example, struggling with a traditional way of making a living, it can allow them to change their livelihood, or adapt their work to be able to provide for themselves and their family. Referring back to the Poverty and Shame work with the University of Oxford that I mentioned before, educating the general public is so important in reducing the ‘shame’ surrounding poverty to open up honest debate and more tolerance.
In your work, in what ways and in which areas are you able to see the crossover between academia and practical action?
Academia has a really important role to play in good quality, long term research. It gives us the ability to look at comparative studies, to undertake the deep research that is needed to understand the deep underlying causes of poverty. I studied Anthropology and am interested in how poverty alleviation programmes look at what people need in specific locales, what are the causes and how can these be overcome, and ultimately what is the impact on the people involved.
Also in terms of advocacy, academic research is essential for advising government and policy development. It can also really help when advising private sector companies on their actions, and for looking at the ways in which the impact they are having is positive and negative and how opportunities can be created for developing good practice.
We definitely need rigorous research, but a lot of academic books and reports, are often complex and not very accessible. We need to look at communicating this research to the general population. It’s about making it easy for ‘Joe Bloggs’ on the street to think that they can really learn something and engage with the theories. One way this can be achieved is to simplify the language but not the message.
What kind of voluntary experience have you had and what made you decide to work within a development organisation?
I had worked in schools and theatres as a drama and creative education practitioner and delivered community theatre projects across England and in Thailand, Sri Lanka and India before I decided to make the move into a development organisation. I spent some time researching education departments in development agencies and was successful in gaining an internship with Plan UK whilst I studied for my masters in anthropology (development and rights) in the development education department. This gave me the chance to use my existing skill set and learn more about development/global education and global youth work, the area I had decided I was most interested in. I was then successful in gaining part time work with Plan whilst I completed my MA as their youth coordinator, which gave more opportunities to develop a solid base of experience in the field. However it is important to remember that completing an internship is not a guarantee of a job at the end of your placement.
What do you think is the most important or useful thing to know about poverty alleviation as a student?
For anyone, it is such a complex and difficult area. I don’t think that alleviating poverty is really about raising GDP. Overcoming poverty is about power and freedom and the ability to have a better life.
For students I would say, think about what area you are interested in and what work you are interested in. You don’t have to be in Malawi building toilets in order to make a difference! At Oxfam, for instance, we have working for us lawyers, auditors, stock-takers, campaigners, academic researchers and policy advisors. It’s about having an efficient organisation. Think about the impact you want to have. You don’t have to live in another country to do development work. It’s about thinking about the impact of your choices and actions, for example in making the choice to buy really cheap clothes what message are we sending to the manufacturer whose workers may be in appalling conditions. You could pressure those companies to have better working conditions, for example the War on Want Campaign pressuring Adidas.
Keep an eye out for jobs, not necessarily with a mind to apply for but to give ideas for areas you may want to apply to. A great site for that is bond.org.uk, it has loads of jobs listings from a good range of organisations here and overseas. Most development organisations will advertise internship roles here, and all Oxfam internships are advertised on Oxfam’s website – there are new opportunities posted regularly so check back to find something suited to your interests.
Could you give a brief outline of the internships and volunteering opportunities available with Oxfam?
Oxfam recruits a large number of volunteers across the UK so there is lots of opportunity for people to gain more experience in the NGO sector. Applications will vary from post to post and are either based on an application form or covering later and CV. We get large amounts of applications so check carefully how you need to apply, in order to be asked to interview.
Internships are created to support specific areas of work and as such we are looking for people with interests and skills that match, for example, I primarily work with schools and young people so am looking for people with experience of working with young people and an interest in the British education system as well as understanding of development issues. When you are looking at internship adverts please do think carefully if this is an area of development that you are really interested in, ‘I just want to work for Oxfam’ is not all that we are looking for.
What advice could you give to prospective applicants?
When completing your application do answer very clearly how you meet all the competencies we are asking for, paying specific attention to the essential criteria. Within excess of 30 applications for each post you need to communicate clearly how well you fit, and how committed you are. These are generally voluntary positions but we also want to know you are reliable, enthusiastic and will stick the course of the internship. In return you’ll normally get a great development opportunity with the chance to take a lead on new ideas and projects, some form of training process, a reference for future jobs, support in your future jobs and ‘a foot in the door’.
Do: Your research – on the organisation and role. Narrow your area of development interest… programmes, campaigns, policy, fundraising, marketing… Pay close attention to the person specification and competencies required. Be adaptable and ready to try new things.
Don’t: ‘Just want to do development’ – focus. Don’t write a very brief covering letter… or an essay! Think they should be happy to have me work for free… it is a competitive process and most staff have done an internship or two themselves. We do value all interns but you have to meet expectations.
Final thoughts: If you want to have a positive impact on global issues you don’t just have to work in development. Teachers, for example, have such an important and valuable role. You can go into business or social enterprise and have an emphasis on ethical practices. You can be part of this movement to overcome poverty by being part of a local campaigning group and getting involved with raising awareness.
Members of the new ASAP Students chapter at Delhi-area universities staged a successful launch workshop bringing together experts on food security and exclusion. Students from the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Ambedkar University Delhi came together on the Delhi University campus to engage on crucial issues of poverty, to strategize and elect officers for the new chapter.
They were joined by a five-member delegation from the ASAP Students chapter at the University of Birmingham in the UK, as well as by ASAP Board Chair Thomas Pogge, who was visiting Delhi to speak to various audiences about his Health Impact Fund initiative. Pogge led the students in dialogue about current and potential ASAP projects, and ways in which the two chapters could work together to have concrete impact on poverty-related issues in India, the UK and elsewhere.
Suparna Priyadarshini, a PhD student at Delhi University, was selected as the first Chair of the Delhi ASAP Students chapter, and several other members were chosen for officer posts. The group will be advised by Dr. Ashok Acharya, ASAP Board member and Associate Professor of Political Science at DU. An initial emphasis at the chapter will be the inauguration of the All Rights India project, aimed at helping the very poor learn about and actually claim their social entitlements.
At the July 19 workshop, discussion focused initially on problems with the way India’s government counts the poor. Utsa Patnaik, professor emeritus of economics at JNU, provided detailed evidence showing that the number of those unable to buy sufficient food has dramatically increased in recent years, even as government poverty-line figures have decreased. Dr. Arindam Banerjee, assistant professor of economics at Ambedkar University, provided further detail on ways in which the government’s counting methods ignore recent worsening of conditions in how the poor actually live. In terms of access to food, shelter, decent housing and other indicators, he said, India’s new economic dynamism has not filtered down to the poor.
Narayan Sukumar Associate Professor at Delhi University, gave an impassioned talk about the persistence of discrimination against lower-caste persons in universities across India, as well as outside the academic sector. Despite laws formally banning caste discrimination, he noted, it remains pervasive in virtually all aspects of university life and the broader Indian social context.
For information on the ASAP Students Delhi chapter, including on how to join, contact Suparna Priyadarshini at firstname.lastname@example.org
Undergraduate student leaders from the Birmingham UK ASAP chapter gained invaluable insight into the lives of the global poor in taking the poverty-line challenge. They pledged to spend no more than £1 per day on food for five consecutive days. That limit is approximately equivalent to the World Bank’s global poverty line, or the level below which a person is said to be living in extreme poverty. The challenge has been promoted by the Global Poverty Project. The Birmingham ASAP chapter adapted it as a fundraiser for the Deshkal Society, an Indian NGO working on behalf of lower-caste persons.
Here, two ASAP Students members and their staff (faculty) adviser share their experiences of taking the challenge:
A New Appreciation for Simple Things
In June 2012, for 1 week, I pledged, along with my ASAP colleagues, to live on £1 a day to symbolise the 1.4 billion people that live in severe poverty — people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering from a complete lack of the most basic of human needs. Meanwhile, those lucky enough to be born in a land of plenty continue to live our lives comfortably.
We decided undertake the challenge to raise funds and awareness of extreme poverty which affects so many across the world. Of course a week-long challenge is nothing compared to the experiences of the countless men, women and children who, day in, day out, live through the harsh reality of poverty.
I learnt so much from the challenge (though I did cheat slightly by taking a day off and making it up later due to a family celebration), and also had a lot of support from family and friends, raising around £100 for the Deshkal Society in India.
I began by collecting my £5 for the week and making a trip to the local supermarket. I quickly found that certain products such as cheese were just too expensive to include, as were fruit and fresh vegetables. I began to realise that whilst so called ‘developed nations’ have increasingly become so health conscious, this is a luxury. I couldn’t afford to have a balanced diet – only enough to satisfy my appetite – though I did manage to sneak in a pack of donuts that had been reduced to 20p. I left the supermarket having bought bread, rice, sauce in a jar, eggs, beans, and not forgetting the donuts.
The response from friends was interesting. I went out with some friends half way during the week. Whilst they ate lunch and snacked on chocolate, and urged me somewhat worriedly just to take a bite of what they were eating, I ate my stick of bread, which I found very fulfilling. I saw that my level of appreciation for the simple things in life was so much higher. When you’re hungry, you don’t mind if your bread is a little dry and crumbly. You appreciate what you have. A friend who had completed the challenge before me said something so profound – “Eat for need, not for greed.”
Our society has become enveloped in a culture of eating. We eat as a hobby, not as a necessity – and with the great diversity in colours, tastes and textures that we are lucky enough to experience, we become picky and unappreciative. The challenge above all taught me the importance of gratitude, of humility and of the strength of human will and determination.
We can make ethical choices in life, and whilst we may sometimes have to give up some luxury in order to do this, ultimately that’s the road that people are increasingly inclined to take. Why should a man or woman in the developing world have to go without the basics in order grow mangoes and papayas to satisfy our exotic diets?
We have to challenge the injustices of the system we have helped to create. Buying cheap chocolate for example only fuels the unjust cocoa trade which relies heavily on child labour. Let’s each pledge to join the movement for change.
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.”
— Nelson Mandela
‘One Illness Away’ Lesson Brought Home
I began the challenge of living off £1 a day powered by the belief that such a task would be hard but possible. I soon realised that, in reality, being surrounded by expensive branded food in the shop I worked at, and becoming sick at the start of the challenge, the task both broke my spirit and was impossible once I became physically weak. It also made me realize that the things I consider normal in my daily life are mostly luxuries that many never get.
I spent my £5 budget for the week on mostly carbohydrates, firstly because they were the only things I could afford in this country (Britain), and secondly because I hoped they would fill my stomach for long enough. Even then I did cheat. I stole food from my house-mates’ fridge when I became hungry, and my craving for caffeine led me make two guilty cups of tea.
Working at my store proved both a luxury and a curse. People would approach me at the till with chocolate boxes that cost my entire food budget for that week! I really began to watch how much everything people bought even in a convenience store was actually a luxury. Chocolate bars, crisps, pieces of fruit, coffee all being bought simply because it was what someone ‘felt’ like having, whilst I served them hungry and wanting that chocolate bar that I couldn’t have.
The only positive side of my work was that I could eat food that would be thrown in the bin. It was considered ‘too old’ to be sold to customers but was still perfectly edible. Thus at the end of every day, I came home with a bag filled with expired treats I could never afford on my £1 per day. This got me thinking of how much I actually waste in my day to day life, and how wasting something is really a luxury that many wouldn’t dream of.
My final thought on this challenge was that for those who have no choice but to live off £1 a day, being sick or weak is simply not an option. Only one day into my challenge, I became ill, however I had the privilege of stopping until I became healthy and strong enough to start again. Many don’t have that choice, just proving that you can’t get sick if you live in poverty as the consequences are often dire.
Savory Food a Luxury Too Far on £1 Per Day
Luis Cabrera (ASAP Students Birmingham Adviser)
I’ll add just a bit to the compelling accounts offered by Shabaana and Heather. I was very pleased at first to find that by sticking to the ‘Basics’ line at ubiquitous British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, I was able to buy sufficient calories for the week, with vegetarian protein and green veg as well. What I couldn’t buy was variety.
For my £5, I brought home a large bag of rice, several cans of kidney beans and, at 10 pence the can, a number of portions of that favourite British vegetable serving, mushy peas (far better than they sound). I also bought a cheap bag of popcorn for my treat food.
The first thing I realized was that I couldn’t afford anything to season my dishes. Nor did I have any oil for the popcorn. Most importantly, I hadn’t been able to afford any caffeine to support my pot-a-day coffee habit! The latter proved to be the most difficult part of the challenge, as I spent the first day absolutely listless, barely able to move from the couch at home.
So, I started to cheat. I took coffee from the cabinet, at home and at work. Then I took salt for the first batch of rice, beans and mushies. By the third batch, I had snuck some pepper, then paprika, then, shamelessly, a packet of that Puerto Rican spice-mix staple, Sazon Goya. At night, I snuck oil for the popcorn. I managed not to cheat with the free buffet food available at various campus events, but I can’t honestly say I ate on £1 per day. It just proved a bit too challenging to eat the same rather plain meal three times per day without any seasoning. And, shamefully, I only lasted four days of the five-day challenge.
What did I learn, besides affirming my rather low willpower threshold where savory food and caffeine are concerned? It was brought home to me just what a struggle it would be to try to feed oneself on such a small income, never mind trying to feed a family, and trying to keep them in adequate shelter, clothing, medicine, etc. I do recommend the challenge as a way to develop greater empathy and insight. It doesn’t put one directly in the shoes of an extremely poor person, of course, but it gives an invaluable glimpse into the barriers the global poor face in securing even the most basic necessities for themselves and their families.