Back in Canada

I know this post may seem a bit late, but I wanted to take some time to reflect myself before I shared my thoughts and reflections with the worldwide web. From past experiences, coming back to Canada is always the hardest part about leaving because you struggle with who you are versus who you were, you struggle with your next steps, how to integrate what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed into your life, you struggle with falling back into how you used to be or how you want to be. It’s a major learning experience and it takes some time and reflection each time to decide how you want to decipher it.

This time, I felt as though there was more preparation and the university set up some debriefing sessions to help us determine how to answer those questions. In addition, we aren’t coming back into a former life, we’re coming back to the completion of our degrees and the beginning of something completely new – whether its work, more school, travel, or no plans – so there aren’t old patterns to fall back into.

Personally, there were some elements of placement that I really struggled with, however despite these struggles, I would never trade the experience for anything. I learned a lot about myself while in Hanoi, I developed a completely different sense of independence than I could have in Canada, I challenged myself, and I realized that there are no limitations to what I can do or accomplish.

My time in Hanoi gave me the self-confidence to stand out from the crowd, to be myself regardless of what is happening around me, to stick to my goals, and to shoot for the stars. Prior to living overseas, I never would have imagined that I would be good enough for grad school, that I could get a scholarship, or that I deserved to be noticed in that way. But it really pushed me to work outside of my comfort zone and to recognize my own strengths.

Placement also brought me a lot closer to some of my classmates; there are people that I spent time with in Hanoi that I will be close with for the rest of my life. I’ve made friends that understand me more than anyone I’ve known previously and who are unconditionally supportive. The heart and strength that I’ve seen in my classmates astounds me and I know that they will accomplish anything they set out to do. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience placement with such a wonderful and supportive group of people, and I feel even more fortunate to have such incredible people in my life.

Participating in an international experience is about more than school, it teaches you things that you can’t learn about in class or in books. There’s a value to travelling and living overseas that you can’t get from anything else. No other experience encourages you to test your boundaries, nothing else will ever ensure that you learn about yourself and the world in such a genuine manner, and there is nothing equal to it. Regardless of whether you are studying international development or anything else, go outside and learn about the world, go experience it. It will challenge you and it will expand your horizons more than anything else ever could.

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How can civil society contribute to policy?

Check out a website article I just wrote for the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) to see one idea!

The good stuff

I know I usually only share the bad stuff that happens in my daily adventures (because it’s usually funnier), but there are many incredible, wonderful, great things and people that I come across every day as well.

Firstly is the man who sits at the end of my alley. I would guess him to be in his late 50s and he is always hanging out at the end of the alley way, sitting at a table with his friends either eating or playing cards. When I walk by in the mornings he goes out of his way to say hello and share what English words he knows (usually ‘Thank you’ or ‘I love you’). When he thinks the weather will be either cold or rainy that day and doesn’t think I’m appropriately dressed he rushes me back down the alley to make sure I have a jacket or a sweater. In the evenings when it’s dark, he watches and waits for me to make sure I get into my house safely. When I have friends or family over, he always asks who they are if he doesn’t recognize them. He just truly goes out of his way each and every day and it ensures that I start each day with a smile thinking of how kind he is.

Second is the woman on bus #32. I met her last month and I think that she thinks that I just moved to Hanoi and don’t know my way around but every day she has waited to make sure I get on the bus and, as she gets off at the same stop, she also chit chats with me and is just really friendly. She’s been openly curious about me and has shared information about her life. It’s great to have a friend on a long, crowded bus ride and since I’ve met her I haven’t been groped by any strange men – coincidence? I think not.

Third are the xe om drivers (motorcycle taxi) near my street. As I cross the perilous, crowded, traffic disaster that is Kim Ma Street, they watch me, waiting to see if I need help. When I get across the street they usually smile and applaud – it makes something like crossing the street feel remarkably accomplished. The drivers on the other side of the street always wish me a good day and a good bus ride.

There are many more people and things that just make this placement absolutely incredible, but these three people/groups of people are the ones that I encounter every single day who bring a bit of happiness into the day (especially when its pouring rain like today).

Functional Advertising

In class last year we spent some time learning about advertising and to try to think of a time, place, day where you haven’t been exposed (or even inundated) with advertising seems practically impossible from project placement, billboards, commercials, clothing, the products you buy and consume – its everywhere.

If advertising is going to be so prominent in everyones lives, why not make it more functional? Why not have advertising serve a greater purpose or provide a service?

In Peru, that exact question is being answered: researchers have developed a billboard that will provide clean, potable, drinking water to anyone who wants it for free. This billboard is taking advantage of the 98% humidity in the areas outside of Lima that have little to no rain during many parts of the year (conditions common in many tropical areas) and captures condensation. If this kind of technology can (and has been) developed for conditions of high humidity, why not find a way to develop other services as well? Perhaps advertising space could come at a lower premium if it serves a greater purpose.

What better way to promote your product or company than by already showing how you can meet a need?

Tet (or New Years take 2)

Tet is the New Year in Vietnam (which you can read about here, here, or here); its a lunar new year and is the only solid week off that we get as interns here!

Myself and 5 friends decided to go to Bangkok and Bali for the week (meaning we slept in the Bangkok airport and experienced major taxi-induced anger, then relaxed and enjoyed the wonderfulness that is Bali). Read about how exciting it was to prepare from Daniel’s perspective here. If you want the details of the trip you can check out my friend, classmate, and travel partner’s blog where Christian explains the trip much more eloquently than I ever could. If you want more information on one of the trip highlights – climbing Mt. Batur (active volcano) you can check out my friend, classmate, and travel partner’s blog out (I’m actually going with her to Cambodia next week), where Madiha explains why it was such an incredible experience.

As they have covered the details so well, I thought I’d just share some photos.

Bangkok

Bangkok

Bangkok (gold everywhere)

Bangkok (gold everywhere)

Bangkok

Bangkok

Bankok (Reclining Buddha)

Bangkok (Reclining Buddha)

Bangkok (Democracy Monument)

Bangkok (Democracy Monument)

Bali (Sunrise on the beach)

Bali (Sunrise on the beach)

Bali (Sunset on the beach - see a theme here?)

Bali (Sunset on the beach – see a theme here?)

Bali (Sunrise from the peak of Mt. Batur)

Bali (Sunrise from the peak of Mt. Batur)

Bali (WE DID IT)

Bali (WE DID IT)

Bali (The descent - Can you spot my friends?)

Bali (The descent – Can you spot my friends?)

Bali (Still descending. . )

Bali (Still descending. . )

Bali (Mt. Batur - Yes, we actually climbed that in the middle of the night with a flashlight)

Bali (Mt. Batur – Yes, we actually climbed that in the middle of the night with a flashlight)

Bali (Ubud - explored after climbing a volcano)

Bali (Ubud – explored after climbing a volcano)

On Entitlement and Respect

I’ve experienced a fair share of battles here regarding how men treat women, and today was no different.

While on the bus, the bus attendant announced to someone that he thought I was beautiful; someone disagreed and said I was ugly. This was followed by a fair amount of debate while pointed at various parts of my body and garnering a small attentive crowd. I turned around and announced that I understand Vietnamese and was met with silence.

People felt as though they had the right, ability, and freedom to openly discuss what they did and did not like about my body, while pointing to the body parts in question and when it became obvious that I knew and understood what was going on there wasn’t even an apology. Then on the rest of my trek home I had several men try to get me to sit and eat with them; what is it a joke or game to try to get the girl to sit down and eat or drink with you? Do people really expect that someone they have never met or spoken with is really going to want to sit down right at that moment to enjoy a meal with a stranger? I sure wouldn’t. But when I say no I’m met with someone who is shocked and offended that I don’t want to sit down with a strange man and eat whatever he offers just because he asked.

Just because I’m female does not mean I’m your property. Just because I’m different than you does not mean you have the right to discuss or debate my body. Just because you ask me to do something does not mean I have to say yes. I am human, I am not your property, I do not exist as a source of entertainment for you, and I deserve the same level of respect you want to receive.

American or British?

The English language has far too many differences in each region. If you utilize American English then your organization or center works extremely hard and put in lots of labor to run programs. But if you utilise British English then your organisation or centre works extremely hard and puts in lots of labour to run programmes. What does that mean for a development organization?

If you live and work in a country where English is not the first language then you don’t have an official national English dictionary, and therefore either of those options could be correct. But what would be incorrect would be to mix American and non-American English in the same document or sentence. This may seem boring but to an NGO working with partners and donors around the world it is remarkably important.

Development organizations are constantly stuck in this middle-ground, with no ‘official’ English in the country of operation they must constantly switch between different regional versions of English and this means tailoring each document to the donor or audience. This is hard enough to do if English is your first language, but even harder if its your second or third.

As much of my job involves editing and reviewing documents I get to spend a lot of time up close and personal with the oddities of the English language and this has made me more aware of how to properly tailor your writing to your audience. If your donor is British do not write a document full of the letter z or words ending in or. If your donor is American use the letter z all you want, don’t end words in our. This stuff matters a lot. Using the wrong language or the wrong grammar will make sentences and documents look ‘wrong’ to a reader and can very well be the different between FUNDED or BROKE.

Inequality will not be tolerated.

“This is the first time women have gathered to protest the kind of daily violence many of them put up with.”
Ravi Nessman

I find it both sad and empowering that this is the first time women have gathered to protest the kind of daily violence many of them put up with. Imagine putting up with sexual violence, harassment, rape, abuse, violence, etc. every single day and having no opportunity for recourse? No opportunity for justice or self-protection? Even worse, imagine having people tell you that it’s your fault you were raped? Imagine the very people who are supposed to promote justice and safety telling you its your fault you were raped?

It is empowering because this never has to happen again. It’s empowering because it is an opportunity for change – not only in India, but around the world. This is a chance to teach women and families that men and women are equal, that no person deserves to experience violence, and that such violence and inequality will not be tolerated.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Where do we go from here?

A wonderful post for anyone who wants more perspective on Idle No More, why it’s important, and to pose ideas for the sustainability of the movement.

Idle No More: Where do we go from here? – âpihtawikosisân

 

Merry Christmas to All

Venturing Vietnam

Merry Christmas to everyone around the world, no matter what day it is right now, what you are eating, who you are with, or how you are celebrating. Though many of us had a very different Christmas than usual this year, it was filled with touches of Canadian familiarity, lots of friendly faces, and three awesome helpings of Mr. Bean.

Just to provide a bit of a visual, here is what “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” meant for us in Vietnam:

On Christmas Eve, it was so cold in the office that I could only type for five minutes at a time. I took breaks to sit on my hands.

There was a very skinny man dressed as Santa standing outside a store on my street (that sells who knows what) giving out free stuff to kids (and who knows what the free stuff was.) He was…

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Connecting the Constitutional Dots of #IdleNoMore for the White (like me) Layperson

Wonderful history for anyone wanting to learn more about colonization and the need for #Idlenomore

Behind the Hedge

In 1763, King George III of the United Kingdom issued a royal proclamation as an initial statement of British law and policy concerning it’s territory in the New World, both the old British Colonies along the Atlantic Coast and the newly conquered lands of New France.  Remember the Plains of Abraham?  Also, the Royal Proclamation declared clearly the Crown’s understanding of the status of the aboriginal people of the New World. To be clear, the Royal Proclamation is a statement of Canadian Constitutional law which remains in force today, both on its own and through the Constitution Act (1982).

The Royal Proclamation, together with the Quebec Act of  of 1774,  is the legal reason that Quebec continues to have a distinct Constitutional position as a Nation within Canada and as a Nation with distinct, constitutionally guaranteed legal institutions.

The First Nations are very clearly described in the Royal Proclamation as…

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#idlenomore

“Our government has a clear objective to focus on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world. We take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations whether popular or not, and that is what the world can count on from Canada.”

What Canada has proven is that Canadians cannot count on Canada with regards to freedom, democracy or human rights. While Canada may reject its failing grade with regards to Human Rights, Canadians are standing up and demanding better.

“We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes,” Rick Roth said.

And we find it strange that Canada isn’t focusing on the serious human rights violations in Canada that have been happening for longer than Canada has been a nation.

On December 10th, the world woke up and something long overdue happened. The Idle No More movement is unprecedented in my generation, this is one of the first times that I have seen people in Canada organize together and not only advocate for change, but demand change. The demand for change does not only affect Aboriginal communities in Canada, but all Canadians. Idle No More is advocating for better human rights, better environmental treatment and a wake-up call to Canadians and the Canadian government in general.

Despite the fact that I am currently in Vietnam, this is a movement what I will be a part of, I am committed to doing everything I can for the rights of my own people and the rights of Aboriginal people and ethnic minorities around the world. I cannot advocate for international development or development unless I can see that it is done in my own country. I can’t stand up for the rights of people around the world unless I’m willing to stand up for my own rights. I urge you, Aboriginal or not, stand up for basic human rights, protect the environment and demand change from the Canadian government.

The message is simple: respect treaty rights, stop federal legislation that could affect the environment and improve living conditions in Aboriginal communities. 

This is about more than Canada’s reputation, this is about more than money. This is about making right for decades and decades of injustice, this is about making right on our commitment to protect our natural landscape. This is not radical, it is not uncalled for. This is common sense, basic human compassion and necessary.

“Once the last tree is cut down, once the last river is dried up, once the last fish is caught is when Harper’s going to realize you can’t eat money.” – Melvin Wilson, Cheam First Nation

Learn about Idle No More

Read more:

Wake-up call to Canada – findingdevelopment

Idle No More protesters remember Oka crisis – CBC

UN envoy blasts Canada for ‘self-righteous’ attitude over hunger, poverty – National Post

Idle No More protest continues in Vancouver – Vancouver Sun

A peoples’ movement that is Idle No More – CBC

Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike – Rabble.ca

Idle No More: Women rising to lead when it’s needed most – Rabble.ca

Chief vows to ‘die’ if necessary to improve the lot of Aboriginal People – Leader Post

Wake-up call to Canada

I’m certain that a lot of my readers know this, but some probably don’t. I am Aboriginal, Metis to be specific and while I was not solely raised according to this heritage, it is a part of who I am, it is part of my identity, my culture, and my family. It pains me to see that discrimination based on heritage, culture, ethnicity still happens every day in Canada (and many parts of the world) and that it is happening by our governments, the groups of people who are elected to protect and guarantee basic rights.

People have been talking about the failures of the Canadian government with regards to the Aboriginal population for longer than I have been alive. We have the extensive crisis in Attawapiskat regarding education, housing, water, and so much more. There is also Kashechewan where there have been numerous evacuations, boil water advisories for years (this is one of 100 First Nations communities with extensive long-term water problems), a housing crisis, and in one month alone this community of 1700 people lost 21 to suicide. In Manitoba, rather than send the appropriate tools to deal with flu outbreaks (i.e. hand sanitizer) a community was sent body bags. Let me guess, you probably haven’t heard of most of this? It has been a fairly invisible crisis to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world, remarkably hidden and that received extremely limited news coverage. Why? Because these things happen so frequently within Aboriginal communities, human rights transgressions (at the fault of the government) are so commonplace that they have become normalized.

And that’s just the beginning.

So is it really any surprise that Canada received a failing grade for human rights by Amnesty International? As said in the report “By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis.”

What are we going to do about it? What commitment do you make as a Canadian to improve the status of human rights in Canada? If you are not Canadian, what will you do to protect and improve human rights in your nation (or abroad)? As Canadians who do we think we are? Why do we erroneously believe that we can push for, represent, and speak on behalf of human rights around the world when we haven’t the common sense or decency to guarantee those same rights within our own borders?

Those of us who have had free, equal, unlimited and fully realized human rights for years cannot become complacent in the misplaced belief that this does not affect us. Because it does. When we become complacent or apathetic about the human rights of others, we are complacent about our own rights and freedoms. My rights, my education, my freedoms mean nothing to me if I am exercising them at the sacrifice of other’s rights.

And just because I’m a decent human being.

What I find most challenging

I’m a pretty vocal person, I’m used to speaking my mind, I’m used to discussing policy and somewhat challenging topics, and I’m used to having the freedom to do so. I’m one of those people who if you say ‘You can’t do that!’ I want to do whatever it might be even more.

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Democracy, freedom, apologies and rights

‘Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.’

What kind of image does that bring up for you? One where citizens have the right to choose what happens in their country, with themselves? That’s what I picture. It’s not one where other nations determine the rule of law, rights, freedoms; it’s not one governed with weapons, fear, or oppression.

It is also not grant one nation the right or ability to impose views or beliefs onto another person or nation; it does not reign superior over any other thoughts, actions, or systems of beliefs. It simply one option.

I believe that it is inherently un-democratic to enforce ‘democratic’ beliefs on other nations by force, economic sanctions, tied aid, or any other means. I believe it is inherently un-democratic to invade other nations for the ‘sake of democracy.’

Now, I understand that ‘military interventions’ have the unique ability to stimulate the economy; particularly the economy of such nations that have large investments in weaponry; but it halts and harms the economies of the nations that are invaded, devastated, and destroyed.

Now, does having these beliefs make me un-democratic? No. Does believing this make me anti-USA? No. Even if I chose to protest or partake in a protest? No, still in the clear.

Then why must singers, performers, actors, etc. apologize for doing this very thing and/or risk being banned from the country?? Isn’t it democratic for them to be able to voice their opinions and act on those opinions? Particularly if those voices and actions are causing no harm. Why must all ‘leaders’ and ‘role-models’ dissent to popular opinion? Aren’t they simply doing what the definition of ‘democracy’ encourages them to do: have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives?

International Human Rights Day 2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a seminar in Hanoi for International Human Rights Day and I must say it was interesting. I will not be posting very much about it for now, but in the meantime here are some select quotes and upcoming events that I thought were interesting as they apply to citizens of Vietnam, Canada, and the world. This was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate human rights achievements in Canada, Vietnam and the world from 1948 to the present.

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A Tale of Two Villages

Follow-up on a previous post

Chieng Khoang and Chieng Chung are located less than a kilometer apart within a 20 minute walk of Tuan Giao Town in Tuan Giao District, Dien Bien Province yet these two villages each have a unique story. But before I get into that, I’ll begin with a little bit of history from the area.

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Development Stereotypes

As a Canadian intern one of my greatest assets is my ability to speak, read, write, and comprehend English; being able to work comfortably in English and represent SRD to the English speaking world are a few of the things I’m valued for here. What this means is that I’m often sent to workshops, training sessions, meetings, and – recently – policy development working groups where I’m expected to represent SRD and all of the Vietnamese NGOs that they represent. At these types of meetings, I have seen several stereotypes come into play many of which I’m fairly certain I’m supposed to remain silent about and pretend don’t happen…

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Humanity: what it means and why we can’t lose it

The Case Against Killer Robots, sounds like the title for a sci-fi meets detective movie doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, its not. It is a real report written by Human Rights Watch depicting the development of robotic machinery that require no human involvement in the warfare part of war, which could be finalized in as little as twenty years. International humanitarian law has found they this type of machinery would be unable to distinguish between civilians and armed forces and therefore violates such laws.

Not surprisingly the USA seems to be taking the lead in the development of such weaponry and the US Department of Defence has written that it ‘envisions unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.’ Sound terrifying? It is.

This would essentially restrict the need for nations to have human involvement in war, which would reduce the thought to humanity given before invading other nations. However, this would only happen for countries with the research capabilities and funding to invest in such technologies and would increase deaths and civilian deaths for other nations.

You’d think that if we have the technology, resources, and intellectual ability to literally make autonomous robot killing machines we would have it in us to not fight. I bet the money the USA uses to make one  of those machiens could end poverty in their own country. . .

Contraception is a Human Right

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.

That is a quote from the researchers who are two years in to a five year study abortion – specifically the first scientific study which looks at what happens to women who have been denied abortions. This study has been following 956 women who sought abortions, 182 of which were denied. This study takes place in the USA but I believe much of the information can be extrapolated to other nations.

I find it fascinating that less than halfway into the study researchers are already able to debunk many of the common reasons why women are denied abortions and protestors push for pro-life national agendas. Firstly, abortion does not cause mental illness. Secondly, abortion does not cause drug use. Particularly when combined with the emotional distress of carrying an unwanted child to term. In fact, the study found that giving birth to an unwanted child caused more physical damage than an abortion: “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.”

What I also found interesting was that only 11% of those who were denied abortions put the child up for adoption and that there are higher rates of putting children up for adoption among those with a history of drug abuse. While there are plenty of people who desperately want to adopt children, particularly from within their home country, adoption is still looked down upon. Many people are discriminated against if they put their child up for adoption, there is a stigma associated with this that makes many people choose to keep the child.

Also notable is that this week the United Nations declared contraception to be a human right. About time, right? Family Planning is universally acknowledged to be critical for development; spacing children apart by a minimum of 2 years improves their health, developmental capacity, brain function, in-utero nutrition, and improves the health of the mother and ease of her delivery. Additionally, 82% of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided simply by increasing access to information and services regarding contraception. Who needs access? Women and adolescents as

Thai Minority Women in Dien Bien, Vietnam discussing the importance of family planning and maternal health (November 8-9, 2012)

those are the target groups and the people who need to be able to have control and power over decisions regarding their own bodies. This is a huge step forward for international development and a wake-up call for so called ‘developed’ nations to improve the dissemination of information and services regarding contraception. It also should indicate a need to not discriminate against such services on the basis of religion, funding, or personal beliefs.

Take a step forward with the United Nations and protect the rights and freedoms of people around the world by supporting family planning, improving access to contraception information and services, reducing the stigma surrounding adoption and abortion, and ensuring that women people are never denied the ability to live out their basic rights.

2012 USA Election

I’ve noticed an increased number of blog hits in the past while from people searching such things as ‘romney parental leave’ (or other variations of that) and ‘romney’s views on women.’ All I can say is that if you are taking the time to do your research, I commend you. Congratulations, an informed voter is my favourite kind.

Now all that being said, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have political representation that fights for basic human rights, and in my opinion, Romney is the farthest from that. Now, I’m not American, I am Canadian and living in Vietnam of all places. But I have seen first hand how American politics have the ability to influence politics and development around the world. No politician will be perfect, no one person or political party will meet all of your needs, but look beyond yourself and look at what is better for humankind in general. Do we want political representation that will force the world to take gargantuan steps BACKWARDS for womenkind? Do we want to regress (even more) on maternal health and gender equality? Do we want to spend money on ‘national defence’ that could be better used on health care and education? Not at all.

So I urge you, make the decision that is best for humankind, for people around the world, for the majority. Protect the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Protect existing human rights and women’s rights. Do not make the world move backward. We just can’t handle it anymore.

Post 2015: What’s next for International Development?

If you’re passionate about international development or anything that can loosely fall under this category than you have most heard of the Millennium Development Goals, if you have no clue what the MDGs are or want to learn more about them please click here.

What I’m particularly interested in is what happens after 2015? We all know that the MDGs won’t be entirely successful; in fact the most recent indicates that none of the goals will be universally successful across all geographic regions. Now this shouldn’t take away from the successes of the MDGs, but it demonstrates that there is still a lot of work to be done, namely with regards to maternal health (least success across the board), gender equality and the empowerment of women, and universal primary education. These goals had some of the least success (apart from equal girls’ enrolment in primary school) and in some instances actually showed a decline. In addition to this, there are worrying trends with regards to poverty and hunger and environmental sustainability as we continue to cycle through periods of extremely volatile food prices leading to higher populations that are food insecurity and with the rapid rates of population growth and urban sprawl it is incredible difficult to promote and maintain sustainable environmental practices.

All this being said, what’s going to happen in three years and sixty-six days when the MDGs expire?

There are two suggestions that have a significant amount of overlap: the Bellagio Goals and the Sustainability Goals. Now for some background information:

The Sustainability Goals suggestion came out of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June, 2012 by Colombia, Guatemala and Peru. The SDGs look to combine goals on economic growth, social equality, and environmental sustainability into a concise goals and indicators for development. The SDGs have broad goals which cut across manner factors and include: poverty eradication, environmental sustainability, and sustainable consumption and production. These goals could be achieved through many dimensions, themes, approaches, and priority areas and will be threatened by many challenges. The SDGs have received criticism due to their similarities to the MDGs as many people believe that they neglect developed countries, maintain ‘donor-driven’ programs, and fail to consider actual needs of developing countries.

The Bellagio Goals came out of a post Rio+20 conference in Bellagio, Italy that discussed some of the principles from the SDGs. The Bellagio Goals are somewhat more inclusive (yet still not firmly determined) and include Inclusive Growth, Food and Water, Education and Skills, Health, Gender Equality, Environmental Sustainability, Resilient Communities, Infrastructure, Civil and Political Rights, and Global Governance. These goals would be applicable to developed and developing countries and would involve global targets, regional targets, and national targets; instead of being determined globally, national targets would be determined by the nation to which they apply based on a pre-determined minimum level. The indicators would also be determined nationally and regionally which allows for increased ownership and more applicable aims and results. These goals are intended to be multidisciplinary with actions overlapping multiple goals – this will help to distribute funding and work and develop a more sustainable approach overall.

What do you think? Are these types of goals the answer? Is it possible to develop global goals or are national approaches better? Do you agree that ‘developed’ nations should have targets and be held to a standard?

What is governance?

I was at a workshop this morning that made me question my perspective. Participants kept discussing what governance was and asking what this word means, where did it come from, how is it different from management, etc. and it made me question what I knew about governance.

Growing up in Canada and always being interested in international development and human rights in general, I had never really questioned what governance was, I just accepted it. Governance was this word that was inherently good; it was this important thing to achieve. Now I find myself questioning what it means and whether using ideals like governance is positive or negative.

This meeting discussed the history of governance, how it emerged as a Western Ideology roughly 300 years ago, and how organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund popularized it in the mid 1990s. It discussed that because of this, governance may not be suitable for countries like Vietnam, or other eastern nations that do not share Western roots or ideology. Does this mean governance is bad?

The participants had no real understanding of the ‘governance’ I grew up understanding, instead many people simply believe that governance is equal to management and is a top down approach, which is understandable as it was popularized by some of the largest international organizations. They believe governance to be a method of enforcement rather than a method of participation and a tool to increase donor funds.

This is a huge failure on the part of international development; governance is intended to involve everyone, to ask questions, to look at the needs of the most vulnerable, and to give every citizen a voice. It is not in the scope of governance to impose beliefs, ideologies, or methods on others, governance is supposed to let people come to their own conclusions and made independent decisions on their actions while taking into account the effects it will have on others. It goes against the very nature of governance to ‘enforce’ governance.

Anyway, this meeting made me curious and made me question a lot of what I grew up accepting, I hope it encourages you to think critically about some of the theories and ideologies you know of.

I will be doing more research on this whole governance dilemma and will get back to you but in the mean time share your perspectives on these questions: What is governance? What is good governance?

Sustainable Forest Governance

As you know (or should by now) I’m currently working in Vietnam at the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development, or SRD and am placed in Ha Noi.

What I didn’t know coming into this placement was that I’d be working primarily with forestry related things: forest governance, forest management, land-use law, land allocation problems, forest trade, forest licensing, forest monitoring, civil society’s participation in forest policy drafting, etc. However now that I’m here I’m finding that my role is involving lots of policy drafting, capacity building, and networking about forests.

In my first week at SRD, I attended a workshop on Capacity Building for Civil Society Organizations on FLEGT/VPA and REDD+. Its quite a mouthful. FLEGT is Forest, Law, Governance, and Trade and is legislation drafted by the EU for countries that they trade in timber with. VPA is the Voluntary Partnership Agreement which is a bilateral trade agreement between a country and the EU (in this case, Vietnam). REDD+ is one of the products of the Cancun Climate Change talks and stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. All of this can be coordinated to work together, but as the Vietnamese government is in the midst of developing all the policies, the local and international NGOs are working on trying to get input from civil society and figuring out the best way to do this.

If you are curious and want to know more, you can check out the condensed version of the report that I wrote here.