The first chapter of Academics Stand Against Poverty Chapter in Latin America was launched on August 20, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.
ASAP President Thomas Pogge attended the event and gave a presentation to mark the emergence of the new chapter. In his talk, he spoke of the importance of working together to alleviate poverty, stressing the potential for academics in particular to make an impact through outreach to policy makers and the public and direct intervention projects in poor communities.
He noted the continuing extent of extreme poverty: 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water; 868 million are chronically undernourished; 2 billion lack access to essential medicines. The persistence of such widespread poverty, he said, represents a massive failure on the part of the international community to live up to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights treaties.
Pogge argued that this persistent and widespread deprivation can be explained, at least in part, by what he calls “inequality spirals”. He said that affluent countries and global elites are able to influence the formulation and application of supranational rules and institutions that affect the global distribution of wealth. As their wealth increases, so does their ability to distort the rules and thus ensure their future prosperity, often at the expense of the poor. “The strongest…have the greatest opportunities and incentives to achieve the expertise and coordination needed for effective lobbying. They use these opportunities to expand their relative position; then they use their increased influence to shift the rules or their application even more in their own favor.” Pogge argued that all people have a responsibility to make these global economic rules fairer and to alleviate the harms they impose on people living in poverty.
Academics, he argued, have a special duty to reform rules that harm the poor and work towards the eradication of extreme poverty. Academics have the capacity to influence public perception of the causes of poverty and our responsibilities to the poor. He also pointed out that because of their special expertise, academics may, consciously or inadvertently, serve to justify the status quo if they do not actively work to change it. Their silence is often understood as informed approval of existing political and social structures.
He praised ASAP as a way for academics to work more effectively for the eradication of extreme poverty. He pointed out that it serves to bring academics together in collaboration, across disciplinary and political boundaries. By uniting the voices of many scholars, ASAP makes their outreach to policy makers and the general public by more effective. Finally, it serves as a source of expertise, support, and resources for academics wishing to lead direct intervention projects in poor communities.
At the end of the presentation, two members of the audience raised concerns. First, someone wanted to know what kinds of projects the new Mexican chapter might take on. Pogge explained that each national chapter sets priorities based on the interests of its members and the needs of the communities of which they are a part. The future of ASAP Mexico will be determined by Mexican scholars, rather than ASAP’s international Board of Directors. The second question from the audience addressed the political allegiances of ASAP: must ASAP members subscribe to particular political beliefs? Pogge replied that students, scholars, teachers, and activists of all political persuasions are welcome to join ASAP and that a diversity of perspectives will enrich the work of the organization.
In the coming weeks, David Mena, Professor of International Studies at Universidad Iberoamericana, will call a meeting of scholars interested in ASAP Mexico to identify next steps for the new chapter. If you would like to take part in this meeting or to obtain additional information about ASAP Mexico, contact Mariana Ramírez Herrera, Yale Global Justice Fellow, at email@example.com.