outsource to detroit: it’s like brazil

I caught a recent news brief from the Detroit News reporting from the Mackinac Policy Conference put on by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and was surprised by the headline.

“Outsource to Detroit”

That’s a bit different than Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” tagline. I’ve been following this idea and imagery of Detroit. I’ve written previously about how misinformed the image of Detroit is, some critics call this “ruin porn,” while others (some academic professors) call Detroit Michigan’s “third world” city.

For these reasons I am not too surprised to read a headline that is generally associated with sending jobs to developing countries (“third world”). The article highlights the growth of businesses moving into downtown Detroit because of the low cost of office space and the surplus of technical talent. The technical talent may be reference to wider metro Detroit and the many existing technology companies, but I know that I often see billboards in Detroit promoting web and technology job opportunities.

In an interview with Tim Bryan, GalaxE Solutions, the CEO said,

“A hundred percent of the work we’re doing in Detroit is health-care related and is coming from outside Michigan. It validates our model to outsource to Detroit.” […] enable[ing] GalaxE to serve customers for roughly the same cost as operating from Brazil.

I would not call this outsourcing, since the primary idea with outsourcing is that the job leaves the USA for another country where business is cheaper. There are plenty of examples of companies shifting locations because of varying economic climates in different States. Case in point, GM moving production from Michigan to Tennessee because of different business regulations and tax breaks. Brazil is an up and coming developing economy with its hand in many international markets – is it bad to be like Brazil?

Detroit is quickly becoming an technology hub for Michigan, which is an amazing reversal from its manufacturing past, as well as innovating for better health care. Wayne State University School of Medicine is leading incredible research projects to improve health care along with the Detroit Medical Center’s (DMC) nine specialized hospitals, Henry Ford Health System, and Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

If this is the future for Detroit, then things are looking good. This is an excellent example of economic growth in a downturn via two growing industries: health care and technology. If Detroit lawmakers play the cards right, everyone in Detroit could get the best of both worlds: job creation and city revitalization. These are important steps to pay attention to for a better Michigan future.

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your thumbprint stays the same

Over the course of your life you will grow and your fingerprints will grow along with you, except for your thumbprint. Michigan is much like your fingerprints and Detroit is the thumbprint. As the state has grown (sometimes negative growth), Detroit has remained the same, “trapped” if you will, in its post-automobile slump. Alright, so I know Detroit isn’t in the thumb of Michigan, but it was nice analogy. Beyond the images of Detroit’s destruction lie the seeds of real growth. The economic situation of Detroit isn’t all lost and the state doesn’t need to sign on to stimulating reforms to make it happen.

Few people seem to grasp that the economic situation of Detroit reflects that of the state of Michigan. Where, unfortunately, politics plays a larger role. For many years there has been an unspoken clash between the former economic power that was Detroit and the political power that is Lansing. With Detroit’s decline, no region of Michigan has been able to match and replace the city’s production power and “driving” economic engine. To the rest of the world Michigan is Detroit and until politicians in Lansing recognize that fact – then the state may be doomed. However, the issue goes far beyond image, as I wrote before. One important point made in Professor Ritchie’s post, Is Michigan a Third World Economy?, is the need for “strong political leadership” which is missing in both Detroit and the state of Michigan as a whole.

The one thing that I have found to be a constant in Detroit is the sense of community. From people who live in the city at large, the various enclaves and districts of the city, and the groups and organizations that work to make Detroit a better place. Unlike any other major city, this sense of community needs to be fostered and developed. The city needs to stop trying to bring in people from the suburbs and from outside the city. There needs to be a greater focus on the people who are already here. Living the struggles of Detroit and working to make the solutions.

Thankfully there are examples from initiatives in other struggling cities across the US to give direction as to how Detroit can begin to thrive again. The Governor and many experts have talked about innovative industries. Detroit and dense city centers like it can capitalize on the new “green” industry. But will “green” be enough to “save” Detroit? Hardly, and the third installment about Detroit will highlight solutions happening and the people who are pushing to make their communities better.

detroit is gotham without a batman

batman_truck

Michigan’s “third” world city, as it is often referred to, is a place where community stands out over commerce. It is best known as a place you would not want to visit and best recognized (on the big screen) through scenes of armageddon and the end of the world as opposed to its architectural prowess; qualified as “the nation’s finest.” Since the race riots of 1967, and earlier, the city has never been able to recover its image. Continually in movies and the news Detroit is marked as a pit of a city resembling in some parts a war torn city where bombs have reduced neighborhoods to rubble. Where is this gothic city’s batman? How is it that Detroit matches the “third” world?

I will answer the second question first.

Since August I’ve been living and working in Detroit focusing on youth empowerment and community service/ engagement. What I have seen has been this common image of a destroyed Detroit, but I have also had the privilege of seeing some of the incredible initiatives launched by the communities and people of Detroit. I have to disagree with the many who would say Detroit is “third” worldly. The majority of its population may fall far below the poverty line, but it is absurd to describe the city as a “third” world.

The recent Time Warner “Assignment Detroit” journalists “embedded” in the city have taken to writing similarly scathing articles of Detroit and have perpetuated the destroyed image of Detroit. Example from the New York Times: Ruin with a View. There are a few organizations attempting to recover and reclaim the image of Detroit from these corporate story weavers, notably Inside Detroit tasked with getting more people to know about Detroit: “they know it, they love it.”

Many people that I have worked with talk about the similarities between the developing “third” world and Detroit. Poverty has many similarities and often looks the same from the outside, but poverty has many stories and the circumstances are never the same. My friend Cory recently described what is and has been happening in Detroit as a man-made disaster. I couldn’t agree more. It is no hurricane, flood, or earthquake, but definitely comparable: from rapid industrialization, capitalism, racial tensions and white flight to relying on a solitary automobile industry, even the long running political climate in Detroit has been a contributing factor. “Third” world is just another negative descriptor for the city and an attempt to glamorize the city’s economic decline.

Stay tuned for the my answer to the first question this week (to be continued. . .)

* Note: I am not really giving “answers,” but my thoughts based on learning about and being located in Detroit over the past year. I wouldn’t dream of giving Detroit answers after just one year.

between first and third: conflicting world desires


(photo: Global Worship Center Vosloorus, South Africa – home to the black elites and british neo-missionary colonizers)

This is a topic that I have been thinking about for a very long time in relation to my development studies. While in South Africa this became extremely evident as I sought a more simplified life closer to people and many of the people I encountered sought a life that could be had in the country I had just left. What follows will be based on the noted and bullet points that I made on 2 June 2008.

First’s desire to return to simplicity:
– be unburdened by technology, communication, and fast-paced life
– experience difference that is removed
– leave 1st behind/ out of mind for some time (vacation)
– something missing from 1st –> true community, self-discovery

Third’s desire to gain complication?
– technology, materials, cars, Ipod
– false ideas of US –> “nigger,” media, hip hop, gangsterism
– leave 3rd behind in pursuit of new opportunity/ life (forget past)
– something missing (adequate schools, health, family, country)

13 October 2008 Reflections

Those to travel to ‘developing’ countries, who experience poverty, and who realize that there is a better way seek to simplify their lives, this is the goal of a conscious ‘first’ worlder. I sought to be unburdened by technology and communication and the fast-paced life. In the ‘third’ world I have experienced a difference that is all but removed from the ‘first’ – or rather attempts are made to hide the difference: poverty, lack of, etc. I wanted to leave the ‘first’ behind, put it out of mind for a time. In the ‘first’ I always feel as if something is missing; true sense of community is gone and what else. In the ‘first’ it is so easy to be wrapped up in society and systems and just the way things are, that opportunity for self-discovery is negated.

So if the goal of the ‘first’ is to achieve simplicity. Is it the goal of the ‘third’ to gain complication? This is a long running debate within the development field among other fields of study. The ‘third’ seeks technology, cars, MP3 players, and the material things that I tend to leave behind. The ‘third’ holds false ideas of the ‘first’ (and vice versa), but the ‘third’ does not have the opportunity as the ‘first’ does to engage in world discovery. Many people in the ‘third’ world want to leave it all behind in pursuit of new opportunity offered by the ‘first.’ There is also something that is missing in the ‘third,’ but that tends to come at a higher cost, it is much more than self-actualization and discovery. What is lacking is health care systems, schools, infrastructure, family structure (orphans of disease and war), and adequate living necessities.

The conflicting world desires between the ‘first’ and the ‘third’ leave a hole unfilled. Many argue that through development world desires are made to conform as everyone seeks a life of happiness and wealth through materials.

3 June 2008
Sunday we went to church with Thuli, a friend of Celumusa’s, who she met at the Library. Thuli is a wealthy South African, went to University and her husband works for the UN or the government or something. We were to meet some good people to help the center at her church and a social worker.

We entered an incredibly live [musical] arrangement with a very vibrant choir. The Global Worship Center; the first thing I noticed was that everyone had a BMW, Mercedes, new Toyota, etc. This was the secluded enclave of wealthy South Africans; the nu-riche of South Africa. The pastor and founder was there this Sunday “out of his busy schedule” and he said, “I like to show-off at church!” Church is where you must show-off. It seems he founded this wealthy enterprise on his own love of music and dance (and fame). We learned at the invitation only lunch with him afterwards that he studied Chemistry at USC in the US – why start a church in South Africa after that? His sermon was taking Bible passages out of context and applying them to owning a credit card now. He spoke of the poor using credit cards, denouncing materials and working for others in his own new suit, probably a fancy car out back, he has a second home in Pretoria, a daughter studying at UNISA and just loves the US.

We had met the black African elites of South Africa. Very educated, knowledgable – debates on politics and world oil in the economy – and very taken aback that we lived and worked in Zonke – “Oooo, what an experience, huh?” Was this the real South Africa? At any rate the church is a great place to make connections in-country. The social worker, Christine, is a great NGO asset, even if the church promotes hypocrisy – nothing new. They even had their own bottled water and were indoctrinating their children to be “soldiers for christ.”

On Monday we planned the drama. Headed to the Library where internet happened to work very well and found a great assortment of books. The Library here is full of books on important people and events in South African history and social justice. The Librarian tried to get me a girl friend, but he failed – mostly because he was a shady character. Later we ran drama/ acting exercises with the students which was great fun.

Today we headed back to Germiston – again – to take care of some business. I was able to blog, SCOUT BANANA is growing and staff is working well during summer. We went to a stationary store that had a white (British?) shopkeeper and almost all white management staff. He treated Celumusa as our “girl” instead of the Executive Director of an NPO that she was. We will be working on coaching her so that she has the confidence to command the room from her past days as a domestic worker. Mostly a successful trip – field day tomorrow.

Notes:
Today was also Pension Day, when the government gives out all the checks for the elderly, children, orphans, and the disabled. It is like a massive market day all over the country and it is very difficult to get around in Germiston or Zonke. In Zonke the main street is filled with street vendors with everything and anything to sell.

There are municipal strikes happening because the Mayor was caught by his wife with another woman. He used government money to cover the cost of the lawsuit, etc.

Yet another rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning today. “It never rains in Zonke,” said Rachel (retracted statement) The rains are nice though and remind me of Michigan summer weather.

4 June 2008
I very much desire and long for the style of community and human interaction of many African countries, which is greatly missing in the US – there is a cold, calculated contempt for all others born on the beauty of self-advancement and a wanton individualism. [bred by a false exceptionalism] It is too often forgotten that you can never get anywhere alone and through working with and for others that you gain greater meaning and association in life.

The best example of this dream community I have found mirrored in African history and my own personal experiences. You always greet everyone on the street, neighbors are extremely well known that property lines really don’t matter, most everyone knows everyone in the community and help each other when needed – but the plagues of modernity and globalization threaten to tear that apart. Crime, materialism, drugs, self-advancement, personal over community – but who am I to speak against the oldest running practice in the world, globalization can be good. Who am I to say that desires for modern life, convenience and technology are not good?

The gap between the “1st” and “3rd” world desires hinge on privilege. I seek a simplified life, a sense of community, an absence of technological wonder, for a human face, to leave America behind for some self-discovery. At the same time I see the African communities I visit caught up in popular culture, music, media, movies, slang, technology, and wealth – do they just not see or know the complications this all brings?

I often dream of denouncing the system, backpacking my days on the generosity of others, and not worrying about the ills of structure. So privileged that I can even think of this, I know the communities I visit have no ability to even fathom this dream – burn my money, take almost nothing, and live in the natural world – seeking seclusion in a shrinking world. And as I have stated before, my travels to African communities are short lived and I can easily pick up and leave, whereas the people here have no choice and no privilege to do anything of the sort.

Yet this still does not deter me from continuing this dream quest of seclusion from society structure that shames me to meet real people and experience the world without the weight of America or anything its ‘culture’ brings. But is that something that can really be avoided? Am I not just running from my own rendezvous with my own ‘harsh’ reality? Is it so despised as to run from it?

helping hands of the US

Why is it that the simplest methods and the unheard of people do the most good in the world of the poor and oppressed? Why is it that individuals with a cause are the tool for the greatest change in the world? Why is it that you and I can make more of a difference than foundations and governments? How can people be so much more powerful than the institutions and structures? The basic fact and truth is that because we are simply people who care with passion that we are most motivated and connected to the causes and issues for which we fight.

In a recent blog written by Allison Fine of the Socialedge my sentiments are reflected. She writes about the power of individual activists. “[…] the catalyst for significant social change in the Connected Age will continue to be individual activists. Foundation grants are a perfect vehicle for seeding, supporting, and encouraging these efforts.” Allison is also reflecting the idea that it will be the searchers and not the big planners who will create the most significat social change. This idea I covered more fully in a previous blog.

Being that the simplest methods and most unheard of people make the most significant social changes for people I will attempt to highlight a few of them. Last month there was an <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/africa/01/27/rwanda.carr/index.html
“>article on CNN which covered the death of an elderly woman, Rosmand Carr, who had made it possible for 300-400 orphans in Rwanda to receive education, medicines, and the support they needed. Without any children of her own these children received a new mother who was extremely dedicated to their care. At the age of 81 she decided to open an orphanage in the country she had called home for most of her life until evacuating when the 1994 genocide broke out. A month after the fighting stopped she returned to Rwanda to begin fixing up an old farm building to house orphans from the nearby Kibumba refugee camp where almost 200,000 people had fled. By the age of 94 Carr’s had aided 300-400 with the orhpanage she founded, Imbabazi Orphange. Imbabazi translates from Kinyarwandan to mean “a place where you will find all the love a mother would give.” When Carr died the children were very very upset and it was as if they had lost their mother. Carr would not leave Rwanda, even in death. Her grave lies in the garden of her farm, beneath the Virunga volcanoes, Africa’s heart.

Another example of a ‘typical’ person making a differnce I found on the Foreign Policy magazine online. FP covered the story of a 29 year-old new mother from the Midwest, Jill Youse. Before starting the International Breast Milk Project, Youse had been “in pharmaceuticals and medical device sales. I was just a typical American consumer of daytime television and People magazine, embarrassingly ordinary. I’d studied communications and played soccer in college. I had never been to Africa. In fact, I’ve only been out of the country once in my life, to Argentina for two weeks when I was in high school.” Youse said that with her excess of breast milk and influenced by the work of Bono, Angelina Jolie, and Oprah she began to search ways to help. Although the methods of celebrities is controversial and somewhat naive, this is a case that shows a ‘typical’ person can be inspired by their actions and find the ways to effectively make a difference. Youse’s organization works through already established groups to get the breast milk to the people who need it. “Many newborns throughout the developing world are undernourished because they are not breastfed during their first few months of life. Often their mothers have passed away or are HIV-positive.” You do not have to be a celebrity to make a difference. Maybe it is best that you are not a blinded celebrity trying to change the world with your vast funds. I encourage you all to read the entire interview.

Now I feel it is extremely important to note that this is not the work of governments, they don’t have a care one way or another, it is the people – empassioned and active who are creating the social change! Politicians run on a mindset of short-term, just long enough for them to take a stand to get re-elected. This is a failure when in reality the long-term is the key. In the long-term (and short-term) is where lives will be saved and lasting, sustainable social change will take place, but that all needs to be set-up and supported in the short-term. Everything hinges on the present choice and action. This is where I also become dismayed. Just today I read an article about former President Carter. Carter is now on an 11 country Africa tour. The Carter Center has done some great work in Africa, but there is a large problem here when Carter promotes the idea that Africa depends on the West to get help. Yes, the West is a great helper, but the West needs to adopt better methods to effectively help besides just throwing money at problems – that is when the money’s effectiveness is lost. Currently in Ethiopia, the Carter Center will be purchasing three million mosquito nets to distribute. The ‘Third World’ needs the West? I blogged about this issue in a post here.

We are the social changers, but we are not imposers. We work with the people who need help to most effectively get them that help. S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. is an organization of individual activists taking up their causes for access to basic healthcare by working through students in the West to provide aid to African communities. Check us out at: http://www.scoutbanana.org/

Individuals with a cause will be the ‘catalyst for social change’, individuals who care about the world and the people in it, ‘typical’ individuals who become inspired in a day’s time to take action on the world’s problems, individuals with $5 to donate to a cause – these will be the people who save lives and make a difference in the world as we know it. The age of the large organizations and foundations is still here, but who will be left to make the change – the individuals!

new world discovered

Somewhere out there, in the deep and expansive universe there lies a world. Circling the misty reaches of space and swirling in an almost unrecognizable fog. A world where there are vast deserts and jungles, mountains and volcanoes, long droughts and rainy seasons. A world of vibrant color and cloaking mystery. In this world there lives a certain type of creature; a being so distant and unknown we would not even recognize its existence. Most of our society would consider this creature’s living condition to be less than their own. Our society would shun such a creature, let’s call this creature povertarius developinus.

Povertarius lives in the so called ‘third’ world. The world that orbits around the cerebral matter in our skulls encircling the first world, somewhere near the trajectory of the second world. Povertarius is trapped in this world because the inhabitants of the first world keep povertarius in a perpetual course so as to hinder povertarius’ ability to develop, whether known or not. What those in the first world do not realize is that povertarius is not the only creature developing.

Ok, so crawl back out of fantasy world before we go too deep into that illustration. The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as the ‘third’ world. It is an idea that has been put into our heads by western society because there are members of this world that do not live at the same ‘standard’. That term seems to denote a high standing or ability, but is almost near opposite. There is only one world and we are all a part of its rotating wonder. The majority of the peoples on the continent of Africa are labeled as living in this ‘third’ world. Even as they develop and build they remain in the ‘developing’ state. As the President of Zambia, Mr. Mwanawasa said, “It is not easy to achieve everything at once like they are telling you. Even developed countries are still developing.” In the last five years, his administration worked hard to stabilise the economy and now time had come to improve the living standards of the people.

African countries may be in the process of developing, but so are we, the people in western countries. We are developing the way we see the world and how we react or act to the different situations that various people face. We are developing our ability to care and show compassion, the most basic human action, to those who need our help. We need to start developing a process to assist those who most need our help. We need to develop our government’s actions to fit the size of its big words and statements. The world’s people need to recognize that we are not separated by very much anymore, except maybe our prejudices and false perceptions. We are not so distant as to claim we live in different worlds any longer. The distance is only in our minds. Welcome to the world. This is your formal welcome, we’d love you to join us.

(I guess I really don’t have the authority to welcome you all to the world, but it sounded good in writing. I hope the collective peoples of the world welcome you with open arms, open eyes, open minds, and open hearts.)