Why we should talk more about social sustainability

For our first blog post for Semester 2 of 2019, we hear from MIDPA’s Treasurer, Juliana Carreno, and her eloquent reminder of embracing social inclusion to close inequality gaps.

It is a fact that the sustainability concept is currently booming and initiatives to ban single-use plastic, to lower GHG emissions and to transition to the use of renewable energy sources are growing in strength onto political agendas, business strategies and the general public concerns. Yet, there is still a long way to go and little time to act, and even though a shift has already taken off and it represents good news for the environment, this revolution may be doomed to fail if we do not commit to embracing a more inclusive change. This constitutes a shift that not only encourages environmental or economic sustainability but a shift that promotes and embodies social sustainability and brings to it the same level of attention and sense of urgency.

We, as consumers that are now making more conscious decisions and are adopting more environmentally friendly behaviours and consumption manners, need to acknowledge that this shift constitutes a lifestyle that pursues the trend of a greener life. And as usually happens with trends, this trend is taking place among the middle and upper class, among those being lucky enough to be educated and among the young generations with access to social media channels that constantly promote such trend. In doing so, we are neglecting and forgetting about the more than 595 million people living in extreme poverty[1]. Not to mention that we are also overlooking the people without access to formal education, living without electricity and dying from malnourishment daily, among other equally important but often overlooked concerns. In a community facing such issues, saving the environment automatically recedes into the background.

We are being called the drivers of change only because we have the opportunity to make decisions to actually drive the most tangible change. We can afford to buy a stainless-steel straw, we can afford to reuse a bottle and refill it from the tap because is safe to do so, we can afford to buy a menstrual cup and access the information on how to use it in our language. Yet, nearly half of the world population do not have the option to make such decisions. In fact, we are trying to address global issues, but we are not taking into account the global population. What is worst, our economy is often undermining grass-roots movements and economies that naturally embody more sustainable ways of living through the implementation of trade agreements and the growing number of patents that make exclusive the use of new technologies for those at the top of the income scale.

And this is what social sustainability can bring to the table. Because there is no way to successfully address those environmental and economic issues that prevail on the global agenda if the global population is not included.  And our society runs on a system of capital accumulation, loss of cultural diversity and the prevalence of economic growth above social wellbeing. We are now not only experiencing a climate crisis, but we are also facing a social emergency too, an emergency that conveys a large inequality gap and lack of inclusion. Our planet is a whole system where every actor’s action will have a reaction in the balance of the whole system. So it should be evident that we need to embrace a shift that converges the three bottom lines (people, planet and profit).

The call is then not to give up on environmental goals, rather to boost, accelerate and guarantee it is sustainable in time through a balance among the social, economic and environmental spheres. This represents an opportunity window to put innovation and technology to the service of society through a collaboration between corporations, the economic system and humanity for a lasting and inclusive prosperity.

We as global citizens need to move from the analysis of isolated issues to the understanding of our system as a complex whole set of interactions and understand that solutions are interdisciplinary, involve multi-actor perspectives and respond to an adaptive system. We shall demand then not only environmental and economic indicators but also social impact procurement and measurement, because we cannot successfully address any problem if we do not take into account the people that are somehow both responsible and impacted by that problematic in first place.


[1] World Poverty Clock, https://worldpoverty.io/index.html


My Road to Development: Motivations & NGOs

For our next 2019 blog post, we hear from fellow MIDP student, Lay Thinzar Nwe, and her unconventional path to international development including her experience with NGOs in Myanmar, her conflicting motivations with pursuing a career in development and motherhood.

I became a humanitarian aid worker for an NGO by accident. I had no academic background in development, social science or anything related to social change. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It was most definitely a shock to my parents, relatives and husband when I told them my crazy decision to pursue development with no prior experience.

I was born and raised in a small town in Myanmar. I got both of my Bachelor and Master degrees at local University. I chose Botany for my specialisation as becoming a microbiologist was my ultimate dream. I spent nearly eight years completing my Bachelor’s degree and two years completing my Master’s degree. However, neither of these degrees helped me get a good job. That’s a sad but true story.

In 2010, I decided to leave my beautiful hometown and family to study social science and global issues. A difficult but much-needed decision. After Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, the number of Non-For-Profit Organizations and International Organizations in the country increased.  At that time, in Myanmar, working for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) was extremely popular due to producing a good income. In all honesty and with regret, it was the first reason why I chose to pursue development. Not because of my passion for humanities. This is how I became a humanitarian aid worker.

In the last decade, the trending work at Non-For-Profits has changed from just “doing good.” These days, when academics, students and the public talk about NGO work in underdeveloped societies, multiple issues can often arise. These issues include high income; expensive living conditions; high incentives of expatriates; expensive workshops; training sessions conducted at five-star hotels; unending meetings; discussions being hosted at private bars; dissimilarity between official reports and experiences from the “ground”; and poor accountability of organisations.

Photo Source: “Shufti Pro 2019” https://shuftipro.com/blogs/ngos-gain-identity-verification-services/

These negative traits may not represent the entire work of the international NGO community, however, it is a sad truth in many circumstances. Whenever I heard these sad stories as an NGO worker, I felt ashamed and started to question my own work ethic and motivations. What was my real intention of choosing to work in development and the humanitarian sector? For my own profit? Or something deeper? Thanks to my Master’s Degree in International Development Practice at Monash, I can now come to terms with the realities I faced as an NGO worker and accept my own motivations.

Despite the dark side of the NGO world, there are a lot of dedicated practitioners who try their best to bring sustainable change for marginalised and underdeveloped communities.  Working in the development sector inspired me to understand the work of these dedicated practitioners and their motivations. This led me to get out of my comfort zone and previous motivations of receiving a “good income” and apply for positions in conflict-prone and rural areas. Doing so, became the most memorable and exciting period of my life.

Despite being stressed whenever I struggled with reports and deadlines, when I felt depressed for not presenting projects and activities to international staff, when I felt guilty for neglecting my young and adorable daughter’s tears when heading to field visits… I could see the light at the end of the tunnel – bringing sustainable change for the greater community.

I have realised that if I want to work towards a higher position or supervisory role in the future, it is not enough to build my work experience but to expand my skills, my knowledge base and develop the confidence to better understand the challenges of international development. For that purpose, I decided to travel to another part of the world, here in Australia, and pursue a Masters in International Development. I truly believe that my tertiary experiences in Monash and my new network with fellow students will help me broaden my horizon and bring me a new and exciting chapter of life.

Six months to conquer perfectionism

For our next blog for 2019, we hear from Aimee Robinson, former MIDPA Committee Member and fellow MIDP student, and her insights on the heart-wrenching experience of completing an assignment and handing all of one’s hard work with a simple click of ‘submit.’ Does the perfect assignment exist? Read more to find out! 

I have lived my life in six-month increments. In six months I have saved enough to travel (cheaply) for the following six months. In another six months I have completed an internship. In the first six months of 2018, I moved to Melbourne and completed my first semester of a Master of International Development Practice at Monash University. Six months after that, I completed my second semester. This was a huge accomplishment for me. I not only moved across the country with no connections, I also managed to make it to the end of the semester, submitting all my assignments in on time.

Reflecting on those two semesters, I can’t help but be proud and grateful for the opportunity to study at this level. As part of a unit I was allocated a mentor who challenged my pre-conceived ideas of development. In another unit a lecturer challenged me in such an effective way that my awareness and critical thinking stretched greatly. In both units I met people from all over the world and made friends and connections that helped reduce my isolation as a new arrival in Melbourne. I was provided with information, orientation sessions, support, guidance and so much more.

Photo Source: Haresfield School 2019
http://www.haresfieldschool.co.uk/english/

All positives aside though, this was a tough six months. My mind often felt like a trampoline, with new information pressing into my brain before rebounding out. The stress of assignments left me feeling exhausted from the minute I woke up. I wondered if my classmates found this semester as challenging and trying as I did? Did the tonne of new information stay easily in their minds? Did they cope with the stresses and pressures that deadlines bring? As the final assignments were submitted and assessed, I realised one particularly important thing I did well each semester; something that got me through in good stead. I let go of perfectionism.

I let the pressure of handing in the “perfect” assignment go. I let the fear of not handing in the “perfect” assignment go. Don’t mistake me, I worked really hard, put in the hours, tried to write the best I assignment I could. But once I had written it, sometimes re-written it, asked for help and edited it as best I could, I let it go. I submitted the assignment and went for a walk. This was really difficult because you’ve not just handed in a paper, you’ve handed in all the time, effort, preparation, reading, thinking and your personal writing flair over to another’s critical gaze. Pressing ‘submit’ often left me with somewhat of a vulnerability hangover; a feeling of dread about the potential grade and whether or not I should have edited it one last time. But we will never be perfect, and our assignments will never be perfect. We can write them to the best of our ability and get support from lecturers and learning skills advisors to grow our writing skills, but perfection is impossible. ‘Perfectionism is internalized oppression’ as Gloria Steinem says and I agree. It traps us in fear and stops us from submitting our best work. Letting go of perfectionism and handing in that imperfect assignment was the best lesson I learnt in this increment of time.

Shit – this is something we really need to talk about.

For our second blog of 2019, we hear from MIDPA’s Managing Blog Editor and Website Editor, Yvanah Hernandez, and her emphasis in gaining support and greater awareness for World Toilet Day.

Toilets.

We don’t give them much thought. Probably not at all. They’re just porcelain-made objects that often sit in our bathroom or have their own special room – hopefully with its own exhaust fan. We all know what goes in there. But do we talk about it? Not really. Do we admire its significance in our life? Probably not. Unless you happen to be a woman, like me, who has had painful experiences standing impatiently in a lengthy queue of a shopping centre, stadium or theatre, waiting to use the bathroom, desperately wishing that the female race was more ‘stereotypically’ efficient in the toilet than men.

Photo Source: The Japan Times 2019, “Restroom Queue,” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2010/09/26/cartoons/restroom-queue/#.XJC0iBMzY_U

Whether designed for a sitting or squatting posture, toilets safely collect and dispose of our urine and faeces. But they are so much more! They are the world’s sanitation haven. A sanctuary we often neglect and billions of people globally, have no access to one.

UN-Water estimates that 62.5 per cent of the world’s population don’t have access to safe sanitation and 1.8 billion people use drinking water sources that are contaminated with human waste. Okay, so now those white pieces of hardware in our bathrooms seem a little more significant – well, in comparison to how much credit we give them for saving our lives on a daily basis.

Toilets are important. We should hug them for protecting us from contamination, infections and poor health. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t hug them. But we should definitely stop taking them for granted.

Photo Source: World Toilet Day 2018, “World Toilet Day,” http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/resources/social-media/

Increasing global access to toilets, particularly for remote communities improves sanitation levels. It eliminates disease by reducing the risk of diarrhoea and the spread of intestinal worms. It improves health conditions and the impact of malnutrition, particularly on developing and vulnerable bodies. It promotes dignity and safety. It strengthens school attendance, particularly for girls during their menstruation cycle. Undoubtedly, improved sanitation is a human right, no matter where one lives in the world. A study by the World Health Organisation in 2012 calculated that for every US$ 1.00 invested in sanitation, there was a return of US$ 5.50 in lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths.

However, increasing access and availability of toilets is an international challenge. Poor sanitation is being exacerbated by global water scarcity, increasing salinisation, climate change, rapid population growth and development. Around 892 million people in the world use no toilet at all. When nature calls, they go out in the open. That means millions of children are growing up with human waste in their environment, putting them at risk of deadly diseases. Therefore, strengthening water efficiency and improving water management for sanitation purposes is critical to balance the world’s increasing sanitation and water demand.

On the 19 November each year, we celebrate World Toilet Day. It’s a day to advocate for every person, no matter where in the world, to have safe access to a toilet by 2030. This is in collaboration with Goal Six of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Whilst November is quite some time in the future, it’s never too early to advocate for everyone’s human right in accessing a safe toilet.

Are you courageous enough to join the movement and get involved?

Join us, and share on your social media, on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people without access to those white porcelain objects in our bathrooms, the importance of toilets!

Want to read more? Click here – http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/

Nature is calling!

Resources:

Lijster, M 2016, “10 reasons we should care about toilets,” viewed 13 March 2019, https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/10-reasons-we-should-care-about-toilets/

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) 2018, “When nature calls, where do you go?” viewed 13 March 2019, https://blogs.unicef.org/blog/when-nature-calls-where-do-you-go/

World Toilet Day 2018, “World Toilet Day,” viewed 13 March 2019 http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/

**Statistics from UN-Water, the World Health Organisation and World Toilet Day gathered from http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wtd2018/resources/

What is International Development?

For today’s post we hear from 2019 MIDPA President, Emily Meggs, and her dilemma in answering the popular question most International Development students get asked at barbecues- what exactly is International Development?

Photo Source: Australian Artist Solidarity 2019
http://www.australianmaristsolidarity.net.au/first-meeting-marist-international-development-agencies/

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

A few days ago I was sitting with my friend Hoeun in a café; conversation inevitably turned to our jobs and degrees. We both work in customer service industries, her as a medical receptionist, and myself as a retail sales assistant in a department store. One of the things that we bonded over was the difficulty of explaining our degrees and what it is that we want to do with them with our respective clients. Quite often we hear “oh international development, what’s that?” And so begins the protracted and difficult explanation or tangent of what it is that we study.

I remember the first day of my master’s course, I was so nervous; I felt like I was 17 again and starting university for the first time, who did not know where anything was. The first class that we take looks at the history of and issues related to international development. I spent two hours listening to my lecturer define what is and is not international development, and afterwards, I was still no clearer on how to succinctly define and explain what international development is, let alone describe it to someone who hasn’t heard of it.

All I could conclude was that international development is “fluid” and full of overlapping themes and ideas. Colonies = bad, but decolonisation = troublesome. I could say that international development is rooted in poverty alleviation and ‘third world inequality,’ but that ignores vital work that is done in post-conflict societal reconstruction, sanitation, ethical fashion and decent labour conditions, sustainability, health, and the big, bad elephant in the room; climate change. See, it’s not so simple to describe it.

Sometimes I say international development or NGOs and I hear “oh you mean The U.N.” Who wouldn’t want to work for The U.N., but this cannot be exclusively considered as international development, especially considering the increasing use of contract work, corporate social responsibility, and the encroachment of private enterprise in development. 

Then there are the people that conflate international development with international relations, and you have to tell them “sort of, but not really.” Now I believe that there is overlap between the two, especially because it was a big part of my undergraduate degree, but I also see international relations as a chess game that emphasises the power of both the state and free market. This could not be more different to international development that emphasises the needs of people to improve quality of life and often has to rally against the state and the free market. The overlap occurs between the global governing institutions that regulate debt, money, and resources, often to the detriment of developing economies and lining the pockets of wealthy international creditors.

The final common answer I get is, “ah so you want to save the world.” There are some that do have an idea what development is but assume that you have ideas to change the world, that we can “fix” poverty and the refugee issues that keep coming back into fashion every election cycle. This is not so easy. Now we can have a lengthy and protracted discussion about this, but my mid-twenties brain does not necessarily have the knowledge or experience to solve these issues. I might have general knowledge about these issues, but this may not be my area of expertise or interest due to the broad nature of development.

International development and the issues surrounding it are too complex to merely reduce it to a sentence. Usually, if someone can understand a part of what international developments constitutes, I often think “eh close enough,” rather than spend the next 15 minutes of my shift trying to explain exactly it is what I want to do. International development is so much bigger than the sum of its parts, and after two years and 66 credit points, I am still no closer to being able to succinctly describe what international development is.

I Came, I Saw, I Learned: My Journey into the South Pacific


For this article we are privileged to hear from MIDP’s Rowena (Weng) Veloso, who provides a wonderfully informative and reflective piece about the experience of her recent Monash internship in Fiji.

‘Bula, na yacaqu o Weng’ (Hello, my name is Weng). This was my usual introduction in the communities I visited during my month-long internship in Fiji. Perhaps it was my funny accent in the Fijian tongue, but I found it amusing that most of the women in the different villages called me ‘Wendy’.
Before ending up at Monash to study a Master in International Development Practice by some twist of faith, I was an accountant and a Master of Business Administration graduate in the Philippines. I also worked at a multinational company for 7 years doing finance and sales. I suppose due to my background, I have always found the subject of financial education interesting and how the knowledge, or the lack thereof, could spell boon or bane for people.

I was one of the 5 students who volunteered for this year’s Fiji Impact Trip. The program is a collaboration between the Monash SEED, a student-run organisation, and the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the largest microfinance institution in Fiji, with branches spread throughout the country. Centre Managers, who are part of SPBD’s staff, are the institution’s front liners and managed the accounts of the members who organised themselves into groups and centres. One of my main tasks was to work with these different managers to visit four to five villages a day, where women held Centre Meetings to make weekly loan repayments and savings. During these gatherings, where the women also socialise and discuss any issues, I conducted member satisfaction surveys using a semi open-ended interview format aimed at gathering data and feedback on the participants’ experiences with SPBD.

My short stint in Fiji provided me with a greater insight into microfinance and financial literacy. Microfinance has become a bridge to financial inclusion for these women, most of whom are housewives, and some of whom are illiterate. It has enabled them to become financially included despite their lack of formal documents, collateral, and their villages’ lack of proximity to traditional financial institutions. I heard multitudes of amazing stories on how these women were able to start their own businesses, turn their skills into income-generating endeavours, improve their household, contribute to their children’s education, and build up their savings. Sadly, these narratives are not reflective of everyone as there were those who have not been able to pay their obligations, leading to a worse financial standing. Some of the women have been alienated from their communities as other members had to shoulder the debts because of the group and centre guarantee clause. Even though microfinance is often hailed as the panacea for poverty alleviation, it can also be a double-edged sword. Does it truly empower women or does it make others more vulnerable? There are no easy answers. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to understand more of how microfinance plays out in gender and development.

Conducting the field work helped me gain a much greater appreciation for the theories I learned at university since I have no prior background in development, notwithstanding the fact that I am from a developing country myself. The field work reinforced the importance of cultural sensitivity, which was not only limited to the physical observance of wearing the sulu (traditional Fijian skirt), leaving my footwear at the door, or sitting on the mats with the women in the villages. Being culturally sensitive is essentially about respect. In this context it was also a celebration of the uniqueness of the Fijians I engaged with and of my own multicultural team. The acknowledgment of differences is also fundamental in practicing reflexivity, which is the awareness of how my own background could inform my biases. I also discovered that in dealing with people, no theory can ever substitute sincerity, empathy, and deep listening. It was indeed humbling to recognise that I came to Fiji not because I could teach something to the women, but because I needed to learn from them. Being open-minded enabled me to immerse myself in the stories of resilience from the ladies who warmly welcomed me into their homes and into their lives, even if it was for just a brief period.

This same kind of openness was what perhaps drove me to feel at home. Midway through the field work, in the villages and in the SPBD branches, I decided to embrace my Pacific Islander name ‘Wendy’, which I could never help telling people without a chuckle. Maybe this sense of having a newfound identity is quite telling of what’s in store for me in the future. A shift in career may not be far behind, who knows. For now, vinaka vakalevu (thank you) Fiji!

Rowena Veloso

Renewable Energy: a mess or a hope?

Joining us on the blog today is our colleague Eva Medianti, who writes informatively on the current state of renewable energy, the importance of switching from fossil fuels, and what is required in order for this change to occur.

Facts of energy usage

The world’s energy consumption has increased significantly, aligning with the growth in human population and development. 5 billion people on our planet enjoy energy to support their activities, but more than 1 billion people still lack this access. The biggest contributors to energy consumption are heating, cooling, transportation, and power. Energy use for heating and cooling accounted for more than 50% of world energy consumption in 2016. This heating includes water heating, space heating, and cooking. Oil use accounted for 32.9% of global energy consumption, which mostly related to transportation sectors. High dependency on private transportation significantly boosts demand for oil. Power demand, though not as significant as the other two, is also a large source of demand for energy.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the source of the world’s energy generation was dominated by fossil fuels energy (80.7 %), while renewable energy only provided 19.3 % of supply. The majority of this fossil fuel use concerned coal and oil. High dependency on non-renewable energy has numerous disadvantages. It produces carbon emissions, which increase global warming and trigger climate change. Climate change causes detrimental effects such as increased variability of climate, which increases the intensity and frequency of extreme -weather events; rising sea levels, leading to island erosion, which can result in climate refugees; and coral bleaching that threatens the marine life ecosystem and the fisheries industry. In addition to its severe impacts on the environment, fossil fuels such as oil are declining significantly. Therefore, the natural resources created over billions of years has been extracted and will soon vanish, all because of human activities in the past few centuries since the industrial revolution begun. Like it or not, the world must transform its energy supply to renewable energy. Otherwise, we will be unable to continue to enjoy modern development as we understand it.

The current progress of energy generation in the world

Renewable energy offers safe, environmentally-friendly energy, and is self-sustaining. Global renewable energy in 2016 was 19.3%, and within the last decade, it only increased by 2.8 percent on average, mostly by hydropower, solar power, and wind energy. However, its growth is only slightly above demand growth in energy demand due to the high increase in global population. The question is how to supply the energy demands of 6 billion people with renewable energy. Technology, funds, and politics will underpin the change required, not to mention the switch of mindset in energy preferences. It is a battle between the rising new industries and the enormous fossil fuel industry.

Where is Australia?

Australia is one of the highest per capita users of carbon emissions in the world (McCarthy, Eagle, & Lesbirel, 2017). It also depends highly on coal, both as its main electricity generator, contributing 63% of its electricity, and as a national income generator, with 90% of black coal production being exported. In addition, in 2016 38% of energy consumption came from oil. These numbers show the significant role of fossil fuels in the Australian energy portfolio. This highlights the importance of funds, stakeholders, and policy in the industry.

On the other hand, Australia has the natural resources for renewable energy supplies. Its abundance of sunshine and wind are two of its most valuable potential resources. However, it has not optimised these resources to its full capacity. Australia’s renewable energy generation only contributes to 17.3 percent of total energy generation. Its main resources for renewable generation come from hydropower, wind, and solar, which contribute 42.3%, 30.8%, and 18.3 % respectively. In relation to the rest of the world, Australia is ranked fifth together with Greece for solar PV capacity per capita category. Renewable energy sectors in Australia in 2016 provided employment for 11,150 people, with the biggest contribution coming from solar and hydro energy. However, country-level reports do not identify the progress of renewable energy by state. South Australia, ACT, and Tasmania lead the rest of the country in their energy policies and implementation, while Western Australia and Northern Territory’s programs are still in their infancy. Speeding up the renewable energy growth in all states is a major challenge. Increasing the rate of change is necessary to boost renewable energy performance in competing with the fossil fuels business.

In conclusion, shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy requires considerable effort and well-planned strategies. It also demands that all levels of society make an energy preference decision, not just major actors with access to power, large funds, and technology. In other words, this change should happen on both a global and household level. Australia is an example of the struggle for change in energy preference decisions in the world. There is a long way to go, but it is not impossible. Energy generation strategy development should include social, economic, and environmental dimensions to create sustainability in human development. This is necessary in order for the luxury of energy to be able to be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva
Sustainability Officer (2017)

Why MIDP? – The Journey

Joining us on the blog today is the newest member of the MIDPA committee, Presley Kajirwa. Presley shares with us the fascinating story of why he decided to study MIDP at Monash, and what he has gained from the experience so far.

Introduction:

Habari nyote! (Greetings to all!)
I am Presley Kajirwa, a young soul embracing his 20-something years miles away from my home country. I was born in Western Kenya. To reach my home you would have to embark on a nine-hour drive from the capital Nairobi.

When it comes to Africa, many people are only familiar with South Africa, but there are fifty-three other beautiful countries on the continent. I hate to be biased, but when it comes to my country, I cannot help but be overly patriotic and proud of the home that I did not choose. I come from a resource-rich country governed by ‘poor’ leaders (at least that Is what they pretend to be). My home is Kenya, aka Kenia, and we are the power house of East Africa, although of late we have been struggling to maintain that reputation.

Background:

It was mid-2015 when I graduated from Daystar University, located in Athi River, Kenya. Through my undergraduate course I learned about numerous topics, such as conflict resolution and transformation, peace studies, international relations, & security and refugee studies (just to name a few). I figured therefore that my future would lie in the military or development worlds. After two or three unsuccessful attempts at joining the men in uniform, I decided to focus more on my passion for development. This is how I ended up seeking more knowledge and skills at Monash. Prior to this period, I had temporary employment with international rescue committees, as well as an NGO tasked with protecting refugees and providing essential services once they were safe and settled.

What did I do there?

Apart from receiving and loading trucks with aid materials, we had chats with truck drivers who shared their fascinating stories. The most common narrative concerned how insecurity and poor infrastructure was a constant challenge to their ability to carry out their job of aid delivery.

Why Monash? Why MIDP?

While pondering the next move in my life, my family members recommended that I look into furthering my studies. Following my online research, I decided to settle for an Australian university. Monash University (and I am not saying this just because I am a student here), really stood out for me. I was intrigued by the fact that, from the campus website, I was able to visualise my life as a student both inside and outside of the lecture halls. The clarity, openness, and detailed information made me extremely eager to experience learning the Monash way.

Armed with my passion and experience, I enrolled in the Master of International Development Practice. To be honest, this course is so interesting that if I had the power to wind back time, I would study International Development Practice for my Bachelor’s degree. Aside from how fascinating and enlightening it is, I find this development course to be incredibly diversified, integrative, and realistic.

The goal!

Having completed my first semester, I look forward to building on what I have learnt throughout the remainder of the degree. I am also looking forward to the events put on by the MIDPA, particularly the tremendously-informative Brown Bag seminars. I think that every aspect of the experience of undertaking MIDP here in Melbourne is benefiting me and helping me to achieve my goals. I believe that development agents have a key role in social justice, streamlining public governance, and promoting progressive development. I cannot wait to contribute to these fields. After several windy winters and hot summers full of new experiences and memorable times, I know that the time will come that I will pack my bags for the trip back home. While I will certainly miss a lot, like the many insightful debates with interesting friends, at the same time I am eager for this period, for I know that I will return to my home as a wiser, more knowledgeable individual than the one that left. One that is far better-equipped to meaningfully contribute to making my country, and my planet, a better place to live for all.

Presley Kajirwa

72nd UNGA General Debates Summary

On this occasion, the MIDPA is proud to announce the coverage of the recent developments that transpired throughout the 72nd United Nations General Assembly General Debates. In the following segment, you will find key summaries of the debates (and controversies) that occurred each day. This year’s theme was ‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’.

Day One

– US President, Donald Trump, provided a controversial inaugural speech at the UN which justified his administration’s stand on refugees by stating that “for the cost of resettling someone in America, we can resettle ten people in their home region”.

– France’s Macron minced no words in addressing the Rohingya crisis, calling on Myanmar to cease all military operations and to reconstitute rule of law, stating: “As we know, we are dealing with ethnic cleansing here.” He also discussed the importance of fighting for gender equality, declaring that, “where the role of women is undermined, development is undermined.” He then spoke about climate change and the Paris Agreement, announcing that it can always be improved and updated, but “we will not backtrack”. He maintained that the door is always open to the United States, but threw a sly shot at them, adding that “at a time when some want to stop, we must keep going”.

– Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, praised the UN for their contribution to the countries’ peace efforts, stating: “What a time for the UN, successfully fulfilling its main goal in our country.” He also declared that 7 million people had been taken out of poverty in five years, a figure that represents 10% of their population.

– Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, called for a stop to the violence against the Rohingya, for their repatriation and for an end to discrimination against them. He urged all countries to provide humanitarian assistance and demanded that Myanmar ensure “that they have their full legitimate rights as full-fledged citizens.”

– Turkey’s Erdogan announced that his country had used 30 billion euros to assist Syria and its refugees, while the EU had significantly underperformed and left many promises unfulfilled. He proclaimed that Turkey is one of only six countries to meet the UN target for aid with 0.8% of its GDP. He, therefore, called on the rest of the world to step up. He then demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq stop the upcoming independence referendum, threatening them with sanctions. He concluded by criticising the global response to the Rohingya crisis.

– Last but not least, Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís, called for an end of defining development by economic indexes such as GDP and stated that we need to use more multi-disciplinary indicators. He then spoke about gender equality, declaring how unacceptable it is that “women’s unpaid work makes up 30% of global GDP, and that “women make 25% less for the same job as men.”

Day Two

– In response to Trump’s ‘Axis of Evil’esque speech, Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, spoke of his country’s enormous economic potential, including how last year it was the country with the highest global growth rate, and how sanctions against them only solidified their resolve. Rouhani stated that Iran has always been a supporter of human rights and freedom, and remarked on the hypocrisy of “those who claim to stand for freedom, but support dictators elsewhere,” a clear dig at the US.

– Italy’s representative, Paolo Gentiloni, argued that the stabilisation of Libya is a priority objective and key to the fight against terrorism. He also acknowledged the link between climate change and forced displacements, highlighting that there were “more than 200 million displaced persons between 2008 and 2015 who were forced to leave their homes because of the devastating effects of climate change phenomena.”

– Namibia’s Hage Geingob proclaimed that “development that is not led by the people and does not benefit all people is meaningless development.” He then spoke of how, as a result of a resolution from his government to increase representation of women to 50% at all levels, women now constitute 48% of parliament, which is the second-highest ratio in Africa, and in the top five in the world.

– British Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke of how economic inequality and weaknesses in the global trading system continue to undermine the support for liberalism and free trade, which she considers to “have done so much to propel global growth.” She also praised the UN for its achievements in the past, but also added that “throughout its history, the UN has suffered from a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the nobility of its purposes, and the effectiveness of its delivery.” May then announced that Great Britain will continue to provide large amounts of funding to the UN, as its second-biggest donor but declared that this ‘generosity’ will be results-oriented, with 30% being allocated only to those parts of the UN that achieve ‘sufficient results’.

Day Three

– Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasana, spoke powerfully on behalf of the Rohingya. She also denounced Myanmar for placing landmines on their stretch of the border and preventing the Rohingya from returning to their rightful homes. Hasana also called for UN safe zones to be created if necessary to ensure the safety of the Rohingya.

– The Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, reiterated that “we must not associate terrorism with any particular ethnic group or religion”, a statement that brings to mind Trump’s oft-repeated phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”.

– President Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa hailed the Agenda 2030 as the framework to put the world on the right path to achieve a sustainable future and encouraged other small island developing states to pursue the Samoa Pathway. He also emphasised the need to increase international awareness of the SDGs.

– Germany’s Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, also had some strong words against militarisation saying how 1.7 billion US dollars are spent worldwide on arms per years, and that just 10% of that would achieve the extreme poverty SDG, and even less would be required for the education goal. He said the World Food Program receives less than 50% of the funds needed to achieve the hunger goals.

– Jordan’s Crown Prince, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, noted that regional insecurity has affected tourism and investment, through no fault of their own, and characterised Jordan as “a resource-poor country in a conflict-rich region.” He announced that the direct cost of Syrian crisis now consumes a quarter of their budget, and remarked that Jordan is one of the world’s largest accommodators of refugees, declaring, to significant applause, that “our soldiers dodged bullets to let refugees into our country, not to keep them out.”

– The Seychelles, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia called for reform in the UN, a common theme of today’s speeches and Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs went further by stating that the “UN development system needs to be built on the basic premise that neither governments nor institutions have the capacity or resources to achieve Agenda 2030, they need to cooperate with civil society, the private sector, innovators, NGOs, and academics.” She also called on all countries to reach the 0.7% target for aid and said that Denmark, one of the world’s largest aid donors, will allocate more funds than ever before in their 2018 aid budget. She also commented on how we must effectively manage the blend of immediate relief and long-term development assistance.

Day Four

– Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at length of the significance of female empowerment, an issue close to her heart as a representative of “the world’s first feminist government.” Female empowerment was a theme shared by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who highlighted its importance to economic development and national prosperity, and announced that, for the second consecutive time, his country’s government is made up of 50% women.

– Kenyan representative Amina Chawahir Mohamed spoke of the impact of climate change on her country, explaining that it costs approximately 3% of Kenya’s GDP annually. Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, likewise told of the calamitous current effects of climate change and announced that they are the world’s only carbon-neutral country, and in fact, they are carbon negative. The PM called on all countries to fulfill their commitments and explained that as climate change adaptation costs money, the role of global financing institutions is crucial, especially for those who may have the will but not the resources.

– Thailand’s Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that we need “less about debate and more about action”, and told of how their late King said that those living in a community know best about their needs, highlighting the importance of participatory methods. This was an idea that Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, also emphasised, along with the view that things will improve if we increase partnership and cooperation.

– Belize’s representative urged the UN to establish a participatory framework for the private sector, an idea that was shared by Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, who called for a new, participatory, equitable economic order. He highlighted the wealth gap that exists between rich individuals and poor countries, emphasising that “the wealth of 8 men is worth the same as the 3.6 billion poorest people and, of the 100 richest entities, 69 are transnational corporations, not states”. The minister further contended that neoliberal capitalism is unsustainable and irrational and will inevitably lead to the destruction of our planet. He concluded by stating that military expenditure has risen to 1.7 trillion US dollars, contradicting the claim that there are not enough resources to eradicate extreme poverty.

Day Five

– Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Aziz Ghandour, spoke of how his country had turned over a new leaf and begun a new era of peace and stability. The Minister said that they were hoping to “receive peace and development funds, especially the UN peacekeeping fund and the World Bank and its mechanisms, so we can implement the approach of the government which promotes peace and the outcomes of national dialogue”. He stated that this will also help his government to convince the remaining rebel groups to lay down their arms and join the peace process. Ghandour also remarked on how much the situation in Darfur has improved, announcing that it had recovered stability and peace. He also said that the UN has been impressed with their cooperation and transparency and that, as a result, existing sanctions against them should be reviewed.

– Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Mohammed Saleh, stated that the developing world will benefit most from coming together to make a better world. Mohammed Saleh heavily criticised inequality and the fractured nature of the international community, but announced that “Eritrea is confident it will meet the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of time”. He referred to his country as “a haven of stability in a turbulent neighbourhood”.

– Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that climate change is an existential issue and their reality, and explained how difficult it is for Caribbean countries, as reconstructions costs dwarf their economies. She argued that there is a need to improve global preparedness and response to climate change, otherwise countries will get caught in a cycle of recovering from disasters until the next one takes place. Jamaica’s representative called on the UN to a establish a mechanism to provide the requisite support to vulnerable countries affected by natural disasters and assist in issues such as providing viable compensation. Johnson Smith reported that her country was collaborating with Chile on an initiative called ‘Resilient 20’, to promote resilience in countries vulnerable to natural disasters, especially ones that belong to the lower-income index.

– India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, remarked that India had implemented the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme and that many youths had been able to get out of poverty as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Day Seven

– Norway’s Chair Tore Hattrem highlighted the four building blocks needed for a sustainable future: acting together towards common goals, peace and security, upholding international law and the principles of global governance, and an abandonment of perfectionist and isolationist practices.

– There were several calls to strengthen multilateralism and international governance including East Timor’s Maria Helena Pires who stressed the importance of the UN for ending conflict and restoring stability, and Peru’s Gustavo Meza-Cuadra who stated that the UN will be an essential institution in the future. These calls for calm and dialogue come as no surprise considering the escalating tensions between the USA and North Korea following a weekend of threats and alleged war declarations.

– New Zealand’s representative, Craig Hawke, argued that ongoing support to the state of Afghanistan is critical, but emphasised that its future lies in the hands of its government and people. Hawke also highlighted the importance of the Paris Agreement and praised global commitment to take action on climate change.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

sids

For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)