four cups of tea

I had always been skeptical of Greg Mortenson’s work. Anyone who runs around the globe as a sole actor doing good works is opening themselves to lot of potential criticism. The Central Asia Institute seemed to be colonial in nature and mostly all I had heard about was how great Greg Mortenson was not about the level of success of his work. Working and studying international development, Three Cups of Tea was regularly suggested as recommended reading, but I held on to my skepticism and never ventured to read it. It wasn’t until I was working for a US based non-profit with the goal of building schools in developing countries and my older sister gave me the book for my birthday that I began to read Mortenson’s book in Nicaragua while building a school in a remote community.

It was on that trip that my fears of good intentioned non-profits that build schools came true. I witnessed first hand the manipulated stories told to better “sell” the non-profits’ good work. I saw a horrible lack of community engagement and understanding when the founder over stepped our welcome to reprimand the village leaders as if they were school children. I was appalled at the lack of respect for community members that occurred as well as the disempowerment of community members when it came to decisions related to the school building. As I was reading Three Cups of Tea I took away the powerful idea that it takes three cups of tea (or more) to really understand a community, its needs, and find the place where you can help without being an overbearing outsider. Mortenson did well to articulate the point that he went on multiple trips and met with many local stakeholders before starting construction of anything.

If nothing else I hope that Mortenson’s fame and best selling books spread this idea among the general population of people who would like to “do good” around the world. It is a complex task to take on development work and one that can’t be done lightly. Making a difference in the world takes time and patience. You have to develop relationships, meet with leaders and elders, and build credibility among a community as well as better understand community dynamics before you make a large donation let alone build a school or other structure.

Sadly there are many organizations doing more harm than Mortenson that pass under the radar because they know how to look good. Many international development non-profits can easily put on a good face by telling stories and publishing reports, but some are just as worthy of criticism as Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute. We can’t continue to have organizations that seek to recreate the exotic travel and heartwarming “good” experiences over and again for their founders’ benefit. How can we better empower communities to work for themselves? How can we better educate future leaders to avoid these pitfalls of international development work? How can we learn to be quiet benefactors?

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young, white, and in detroit: gentrification implications

http://current.com/e/88996181/en_US
Video from: Feministing – Detroit, Gentrification and Good-ass Political Hip-hop

“First-stage gentrifiers” are economically- and socially-marginal “trend setters”. Sociologically, these people are young and have low incomes while possessing the cultural capital (education and a job), characteristic of the suburban bourgeois. They often reside in communal (room-mate) households, and are more tolerant of the perceived evils of the city—crime, poor schools, insufficient public services, and few shops.

Am I a gentrifier? I’m young, educated, low-income, and living in a house with 3 other young people. Uh oh! Since moving to Detroit I have considered what socio-economic consequences I could have on the current population and cityscape. My fiance and I have had many discussions about gentrification and what it means for Detroit. The definition I will be using:

Gentrification denotes the socio-cultural changes in an area resulting from wealthier people buying housing property in a less prosperous community. Consequent to gentrification, the average income increases and average family size decreases in the community, which may result in the informal economic eviction of the lower-income residents, because of increased rents, house prices, and property taxes. This type of population change reduces industrial land use when it is redeveloped for commerce and housing. In addition, new businesses, catering to a more affluent base of consumers, tend to move into formerly blighted areas, further increasing the appeal to more affluent migrants and decreasing the accessibility to less wealthy natives.

I live in the University District, which like most of Detroit is now a majority black community, but that wasn’t always the case. The District has a long history from farmland to annexation with the city, to development as a model community where, “homes could never be sold to or used by persons other than ‘of white or Caucasian race.'” Following the riots of 1967 and full blown white flight to suburban areas, black families began moving into the neighborhood. I live in a home who’s family has a long history of living in the area, contributing to the community, and working with the labor movement.

Being a gentrifier in Detroit has a serious implication when tied to the city’s past. That implication is born of the history of racial segregation and violence in the city of Detroit and the Detroit metro area. Public policy and popular perception of black people systematically marginalized and segregated populations based on race. The extended outcome of those causes can be seen with Michigan’s “blackest” city: Detroit residing a stone’s throw away from its “whitest” city: Livonia. Because of this historical disenfranchisement of the black community in Detroit, gentrification is all that much more a hard topic in a city facing difficult economic development.

Young Detroit

Recently NPR carried a story from Model D, an online news magazine that seeks to create a new narrative for Detroit (they also wrote about gentrification in 2005). The story was about a Detroit neighborhood soccer (futbol) league. Initially I thought it was incredible, but then realized that this was a snapshot of the growing gentrification of Detroit as I noticed in the video that nearly all of the participants were young and white. Many were there for the excitement of working in Detroit for non-profits and other social ventures. A band of “first-stage” gentrifiers? On the flipside how is Detroit supposed to innovate and grow without an influx of young and creative people? How can Detroit bring in excited youth, who are often white and more established, without fueling gentrification or the continued disenfranchisement of the majority black population?

Gentrification is happening mostly in areas around Wayne State University, the historic Corktown neighborhood, and neighborhoods near the Riverfront. The argument that these empty places in Detroit aren’t displacing anyone lacks a long-term vision. The city is beginning to see an increase in the number of “first-stage” gentrifiers and simply what follows is a second and third stage where eventually the first and second stage gentrifiers are displaced themselves by lawyers, physicians, and bankers. While all stages of gentrifiers are displacing the “native” populations of these areas by way of their socio-economic power. Is gentrification a natural fluctuation of the urban landscape? Can gentrification do any good?

Is Gentrification Growth?

No, if you look at the face value of gentrification and its broad economic impact, then sure gentrification is growth. However, when you factor in community and the effects on people – gentrification never equals growth, rather displacement.

Nothing good can come of gentrification. There is a minimal increase in tax dollars being sent to the city government, but that has little impact when (for now) the business dollars are being invested and collected in the suburbs surrounding Detroit. Communities don’t grow and get stronger, communities are changed by economic force through gentrification.

Looking Forward

The important step for Detroit now is to strengthen its community organizations and engage would be gentrifiers to support neighborhood development. Downtown redevelopment only benefits those with social mobility and that is not the majority of the Detroit population. Detroit’s black community has seen years of oppression and gentrifiers come in with a load of unearned privilege and resources.

First-stage gentrifiers (young, white, educated) can change the course for Detroit and instead work to be “allies in development” – partnering for stronger community organizations in black communities and actively engaging in local community efforts: shopping locally, attending block club meetings, and utilizing their privilege to highlight the progress that has been happening by native Detroiters as opposed to outsiders coming in with grand ideas for development.

If Detroit (and Michigan) is going to make it there can no longer be a black and white divide. There needs to be engagement from both populations where black communities have strong neighborhoods and white migrants recognize their privilege and work to assist community development that is already getting started. Get to know your neighbors and community, don’t create enclaves of white privilege, and support your community leaders!

“Detroit’s future is its neighborhoods” – Reframe Detroit

Gray Panthers, Youth in Action, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (live blogging #USSF)

Here are summaries of some of the workshops I attended today:

Organizing Across Communities: Age & Youth in Action by the Gray Panthers of Metropolitan Washington

A workshop run by a sweet group of older (wise) people focused on bridging the gap of age in activism and building an intergenerational movement. Gray hair = gray panthers. Some critical thoughts on organizing with age in mind: 

  • #1 = Build Common Values!
  • utilize mentors – teach activist history, learn from older movements and successes
  • Listen! old and young listening to each other
  • Build skills – young activists can learn from old
  • Mutual RESPECT
  • Both young and old, ask each other for what is needed

Movement Building: Storytelling, Framing and Messaging by: Dream Act

Caught this workshop at the end with YP4 2008 Fellow, Sonia Guinansaca! Working with the Dream Act, Sonia spiced up the Youth Space (Basement of Cobo Hall near Michigan Rooms) with some excellent tips on telling your story to build support. She focused on making your cause personal. Awesome work! 

Growing Wings – Evolving out of the Nonprofit by: The Movement Strategy Center (MSC)

Tackling the concept of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex elegantly with a fun skit, one of the key members of the MSC who helped build the YP4 blueprint curriculum, Jidan Koon and colleagues from Serve the People, APAL, and Anak Bayan packed the 7th floor room of the Wayne State University Student Center. The building’s shifting and shaking could not deter the young leaders’ voices as they talked about operating within and without non-profits. Some key concepts to take away: 

  • Meet people where they are: house meetings, coffee shops, events at clubs
  • Connect to project with field trips
  • Create a collaborative/ cooperative organizational model
    • delegate responsibility
    • distribute leadership
    • collective decision-making/ agreements
    • build family/ organization culture of helping each other
    • create voluntary levels of involvement
  • Have a 40/60 gender rule to keep balance

something new for the new year

A group that has really captivated my interest this year has been the Acumen Fund. They do amazing work towards creating change and sustainable solutions to global poverty issues with people at the center. Check out their work and what they do, I would encourage you all to get involved in the new year! Have a good one!

Acumen Fund Philosophy
Who we are and why we exist:
Acumen Fund is a non-profit venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We build financially sustainable and scalable organizations that deliver affordable, critical goods and services that target the four billion people living on less than $4 a day. We adhere to a disciplined process in selecting and managing our philanthropic investments as well as in measuring the social and financial returns.

How we work:
We identify some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and organizations focused on delivering critical, affordable goods and services – such as water, healthcare, and housing – to improve livelihoods, health and opportunities for the poor.

Our investment process:
Using the skills of business, the flexible capital of philanthropy, and the rigor of the marketplace, we aim to develop and deliver systems-changing solutions to the world’s problems. Our investment approach focuses on organizational sustainability, strong leadership and scalability through managerial support and financial investment.

Measuring results:
Within each investment organization, we focus on the areas of design, pricing, distribution and marketing of critical goods and services to the poor. We measure and share both social and financial returns of our investments, as well as our own financial sustainability and the strength of our community. Our risk management aims to generate positive returns where possible and recover a substantial portion of their capital to reinvest in new philanthropic ventures.