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I was proud to call Lisa Smirl a friend. Last week I attended the posthumous launch of her important book, Spaces of Aid: How Cars, Compounds and Hotels Shape Humanitarianism. I have extracted some choice quotes from the preface here. It is provocative, fearless and honest – and an exemplar of Spoken Truths…
The book, and accompanying website, will ensure that Lisa’s legacy lives on…
Aid workers will tell you that the spaces and experiences of working in the field often sit uneasily with the goals they’ve signed up to. Aid workers visit project sites in air-conditioned Land Cruisers while the intended project beneficiaries walk barefoot through the heat. The aid workers check their emails from within gated compounds, while the surrounding communities have no running water. But the longer they work in the ‘field’, the more normalized these experiences become. Instead of living and interacting with the communities they have come to assist, aid workers are drawn towards other international ‘expats’ and rarely move beyond a small number of hotels, restaurants, offices and compounds. While these observations are intuitive and much bemoaned within aid circles, no concerted academic or policy study has dealt with the impact of these factors on theory or policy.
The physical environment of the aid world – the hotels, planes, cars and compounds – has been a fundamental yet overlooked aspect of aid relations since the advent of contemporary humanitarian response. Each one of these built forms has played a key role in the evolution of development practice. Consider, for instance, how the Land Rover has normalized the use of high cost, petrol-guzzling SUVs and the way this has impacted on town planning and pedestrian safety in places where most people walk; or how the highly guarded humanitarian compound has drawn upon colonial architecture to maintain hierarchical spatial divisions between the aid workers and local residents. Taken together, this landscape of aid has been a key driver in how the West has collectively understood aid and for the kind of policies that have been pursued.
The influence of these spaces of aid has increased in recent years as security considerations and reliance on abstract planning technologies, such as logical frameworks, have led to policy being heavily based upon the views of a select group of individuals: experts, international field staff or consultants who live in or visit the field. This book shows how these individuals’ understanding and exposure to a situation will often be bounded and secured. Their experience of the field will rarely extend far beyond the hotel conference room or humanitarian compound. The resulting policy made at headquarters is therefore also spatially constrained by an overly narrow understanding of the place that is being assisted.
It is important to stress that this book is not a moral tirade against the luxurious lifestyles of aid workers. Almost every aid worker comes to the ‘field’ with the intention to improve other people’s lives. But as aid dollars become ever more scarce and aid workers are increasingly the target of violent attacks, a careful examination of why it seems so difficult to merely ‘do good’ is drastically needed. What is it about the way in which aid is delivered that continues to reproduce situations where aid money is wasted, projects are left unfinished and aid workers are themselves under attack? This book points to the elephant in the room: the way in which aid workers work and live.
Extracted from Spaces of Aid: How Cars, Compounds and Hotels Shape Humanitarianism by Lisa Smirl
Our master iced dessert chef, Cynthia Dea, developed a special sweet new year flavour, Cinnamon Honey, for the occasion. With help from volunteers, staff and patrons of Kisharon, we gave away free scoops of Antonio Russo – to help raise some donations for the exceptional work of Kisharon in the Jewish community, providing support to people with learning difficulties and their families.
We thought long and hard as to what we could name the flavour, and provisionally decided on “Cinnamoney”..!
We wish all supporters of Kisharon, and Antonio Russo, as well as our friends at Yarden, and of course, you, a sweet, rich and healthy new year ahead. L’Shanah Tovah!
Young British Jews are giving less to Jewish causes and to all charitable causes, and feel no responsibility to give more, reported the first and thus far only systematic study “Patterns of charitable giving among British Jews” (Institute of Jewish Policy Research, 1998).
Happy Givers, a program launching in London September 23, will introduce what some feel is a missing factor amongst young Jews balancing whether and how to give philanthropically: peer pressure.
Happy Givers will introduce public competition into the giving process through quarterly events. For each, four projects will be selected based on innovation, need, and interest. Any charity with a Jewish connection — supporting Jews in need or Jews helping others in need – may apply, with smaller projects prioritized. At the event, the presenters have six minutes to make the case for deserving funding using any means: film, comedy, even in-person appearances from beneficiaries. The audience has a six-minute window to fire off questions. Then, the audience votes. Attendees are given back £10 of their £20 entrance fee to add to their personal funds to publicly pledge to the project of their choice. The £10 balance covers the cost of organizing the event and grant administration.
The competition between the charities is designed to appeal to our generation, brought up on the likes of X Factor and Big Brother.
“When the idea of such competitive and public giving was suggested, I must admit I was not immediately convinced,” says Teddy Leifer, 26, a founding member of Happy Givers and creator of RISE Foundation, which funds education programs for underprivileged children. “From personal experience, I know how hard it is pitching to prospective donors. I can only consider how much more daunting that would be in front of a live audience, and then having to face their vote.”
“But the more we considered the possibility,” Leifer adds, “the more sense it made, knowing how easy it is to give little or nothing at all at synagogue or charity dinner appeals with pledge cards. There is no fun in that either. But whether this model of giving is ultimately successful will be proven by the funds raised. ”
That is where the MC will be critical. A UK Jewish television celebrity will cajole and encourage the audience to secure ever-greater sums, which the group hopes will be matched by an established philanthropist. The aim is to raise at least £1,000 per project at the first event, which over 100 young Jews will attend, before it is matched.
The Happy Givers idea was developed by Dame Hilary Blume, Director of the Charities Advisory Trust and leading social entrepreneur. Previous projects include restoring an Indian palace in Mysore as a community-run Green Hotel, pioneering ethical present-buying catalogues, and Peace Oil, a joint venture between Israeli and Palestinian olive farmers.
First published: PresenTense Magazine, October 2009 Issue.
For more information on PresenTense Magazine, please visit: http://www.presentense.org/magazine