Sunday, October 20, the closing day of Human Rights & Economic Justice: Essential Elements of the Post-MDG Agenda demonstrated both the diversity of scholars’ approaches to impact and the desire for greater coordination among academic activists. Speakers picked up the theme of academic impact, which was introduced in panel discussions on Saturday.
ASAP Board Member and Project Lead Luis Cabrera chaired the conference’s third and final panel on academic impact, which, perhaps more than any other, demonstrated the diversity of approaches that academics take to achieving impact on poverty.
As Director of the Just World Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Tim Hayward has led impact efforts that seek to make the university the site of social change, for example by calling on the school to divest from fossil fuels. Heather Widdows, Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, said in addition to research and consulting, one of her most important contributions has been mentoring young scholars in how to survive in academia while engaging in political work.
Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, co-directors of the Blum Center for Cross-Border Poverty Research and Practice at the University of California-San Diego, said they had sought impact on poverty by engaging locally, carrying out public art and policy projects in the cities of San Diego and nearby Tijuana. Jill Coster van Voorhout, Researcher in the Rule of Law Program at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, spoke on the importance of developing understanding of international law in conflict-affected areas.
The final panel speaker, Darrel Moellendorf, Principle Investigator at the Normative Orders Cluster of Excellence at Goethe University Frankfurt, said that academic impact can be largely captured by three categories: research and writing; institution building; and—not to be forgotten—teaching. And, indeed, several of his co-panelists remarked upon their gratification at seeing their students building careers around an ambition to promote global justice.
At the conclusion of these presentations, ASAP President Thomas Pogge gave a closing address, in which he called on academics to unite around a lean agenda for alleviating poverty and promoting justice. He argued that such cooperation runs counter to the incentives of academia. “To be successful as academics,” he said, “we must distinguish ourselves by developing new views on existing issues or else pioneer a new issue. To be successful in promoting justice, we must focus our energies upon a politically achievable goal or schedule of goals and then collaborate in realizing this goal together.”
Pogge put forward four policy reforms, which he said would deliver dramatic reductions in the extent of poverty and hardship worldwide and were strategic, insofar as they would shift power towards people living in poverty and would have a sufficient number of wealthy and powerful supporters that the could conceivably succeed. These reforms were: implementation of the Health Impact Fund; curbing illicit financial flows, either through global automatic exchange of tax information or an alternative minimum tax on multinational corporations that would compensate developing countries for money lost through tax abuse; a tax on protectionist trade policies, which would be used to fund poverty alleviation; and finally a global ban on the most carbon-intensive energy production methods. A global campaign by academics and activists to put such reforms into place “might be the beginning of the end of poverty,” he said.