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About the Author

Luan Galani
Science & Development Journalist (Curitiba, Brazil)

A twenty-something eternal apprentice who has a passionate interest in what happens around him. Fascinated by the under-reported, he refuses to be a detached observer and never tires of exploring the untold. His long-life dream is reporting from conflict zones to dig up the underbelly side of war.

Post

POVERTY PROFESSIONALS: OUR THOUGHTS ARE WHERE OUR FEET ARE

Published 26th May 2010 - 9 comments - 7223 views -

The Development Set is bright and noble

Our thoughts are deep, our vision global

Although we move with the better classes

Our thoughts are always with the masses.

                                    (Ross Coggins - 1976)

(by Peter Nicholson, The Australian, Sydney, Australia)

It is extraordinary how Coggins’ satirical poem resonates more than three decades later. The full poem lies here. It is definitely worth reading. Tell me what you think about it. 

But you may be asking yourself why I mentioned it, right?

It has all to do with an interesting paper from Ravi Kanbur which I have come across. He has written about how he feels as someone who makes a good living from analyzing poverty. Below is an extract:

What is striking about the class of poverty professionals (of whom I am one) is that the good living (granted, not at the billionaire or millionaire level, but pretty good nevertheless) is made through the very process of analyzing, writing, recommending on poverty. To me, at least, this is discomforting and disconcerting. I feel slightly ashamed within myself when I turn up to a poverty conference (perhaps even one where I am the keynote speaker), having flown business class, staying in an expensive hotel and (sometimes) being paid handsomely for attending. I recall many years ago, when I was in my twenties, telling the anthropologist Mary Douglas about how I was starting to do consulting for the World Bank on poverty issues, and how important it was to do this work. “And it’s not too bad for one’s own poverty either, is it?” came her worldly, knowing, reply. The seeds of discomfort sown by that comment have germinated and taken root, and now won’t let go.

I feel the same way.

And Mr. Kanbur goes beyond. He suggests that everyone working in development should rekindle poverty through immersions:

each poverty professional should engage in an “exposure” to poverty (also known as “immersions”) every 12 to 18 months. I do not mean by this rural sector missions for aid agency officials, nor the running of training workshops by NGO staff. What I mean is well captured by Eyben (2004); these are exercises that “are designed for visitors to stay for a period of several days, living with their hosts as participants, as well as observers, in their daily lives. They are distinct from project monitoring or highly structured ‘red carpet’ trips when officials make brief visits to a village or an urban slum….”

More, it is crucial for journalists to expose themselves to poverty to understand locals' point of views and realities. In Brazil, we have a saying: “Our thoughts are where our feet are”. 

Following this advice, I did an immersion for a few days for TH!NK.

Some community leaders from one of the main poor districts (‘Vila das Torres’ – ‘Villa of Towers’) of my hometown and I have managed to make a deal with the drug dealers of the area. So, I was free to report, but only from half side of the place. 

Soon you will see the result.



Comments

  • Johan Knols on 27th May 2010:

    Hello Luan,

    Looking forward to your results.
    On this article: It is not only poverty professionals that should spend time in poor environments, but everybody. Of course I understand that this is not possible, but it would at least silence the moaners and bitchers that have no idea in what luxury they live. It might also wake them up that we can not keep going the way we are at the moment.


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 27th May 2010:

    hi Luan,

    Same here. I’m looking forward to your piece. Journalists should be exposed to as much of the world as possible. Communities teeming with poverty are an example but it does not end there. There should be “follow-through” and sustained reporting. It’s good that in the Philippines, there are many journalists and photo journalists who immerse themselves in communities and make it a point to sustain their stories and not just do one-time spot stories. THINK3 is such a very good opportunity to let the world know of the different stories in our communities especially with the contraints of the daily grind which in my case is newspaper reporting. The stories which I were not able to write or submit in my paper, I am able to write for THINK3. So far, so good. What a privilege to be able to hear and tell peoples’ stories.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 27th May 2010:

    Luan, great post!

    I agree with Johan and Iris on exposure to poverty. People do need to put themselves in a wider context to see the bigger picture. And if it works as a wake up call - even better.

    I’m very interested in the point you make about guilt. I guess it’s only natural that it appears (unless one is a completely insensitive creature), but then this can be said about many professions, for example, doctors make a living on somebody’s pain and disease. Of course in poverty, the connection between money and no money is much clearer as it’s right into your face. Anyways, this dilemma is psychologically very very interesting.

    Waiting for the results of your immersion!!


  • Andrea Arzaba on 27th May 2010:

    Great post Luan…

    Ah this is such an interesting topic…do people who are actually working on poverty and development issues feel guilty if they earn an outrageous amount of money?

    If they don’t…does that make them less ethical?


  • Luan Galani on 27th May 2010:

    Thank you guys. Your comments are always inspirational for me. Please, keep it coming!

    @Johan, I totally agree with you. I personally think everyone should spend time in poor environments. In all aspects, we learn a lot. However, unfortunately, it is not feasible since we cannot oblige people. Anyway, I think this is essential for better understand this whole situation.

    @Iris, you’re absolutely right! There has to be a follow-through and sustained reporting. Unfortunately, in Brazil it is the other way round. Most journalists do one-offs. That is something we have to change here.

    Indeed, TH!NK is a golden opportunity and we are very lucky. The same happens to me in the newspapers and magazines for which I work and collaborate with.

    @ Giedre, that is it. Such immersions have to work as wake up calls. It is urgently needed.

    Our duty to be human, as highlighted in our meeting in Brussels, leads to this guilt feeling. But now you said that I partly face it in a different way. Yeah, it is kind of natural, but even so I think feeling this sort of guilt is crucial. It keeps our human duty flame burning.

    @Andrea, it is a very, very interesting topic indeed. And I believe we should explore it more. I think we all are partly responsible for that. We harvest poverty because for so long we’ve sponsored an exclusive way of life, which results in more and more income and social disparities sprouting.

    I do not think such serious poverty workers - who are always there shielding the poors’ rights and sincerely devoting their lives to make a better world - are guilty. But some cunning, shrewd people - who take advantage of this poverty environment only for their own good - are definitely accountable. A quite complex issue. Did you get my point?


  • Ian Sullivan on 28th May 2010:

    I thought the poem and the article were interesting!

    as someone working in thsi area - I agree that you have to visit developing areas and you have to understand the context of where you are working.

    I get paid OK for what I do (not amazingly but enough to live). do I feel guilty? No - development agencies need to recruit well trained professionals….well meaning amateurs can’t always do what’s necessary. Does that mean I don’t think about the paradox? No, I think about it all the time and really don;t know the answer!

    Looking forward to the other blogs fom your immersion…


  • Elsje Fourie on 28th May 2010:

    And then, of course, there’s the famous notion that those working abroad in development and conflict resolution are either “missionaries, mercenaries, misfits or broken-hearted”.  grin  It’s good to be continually reminded of the fact that our motives are clouded by self-interest and other considerations, even if we are limited in what we can do about it.  Ian is right that trained, skilled professionals cost money—especially after aid workers have been volunteering for free for a few years and the prospect of raising a family beckons. The immersion idea sounds like a good one—especially for those who make the decisions but have never been in the field.  Looking forward to reading about your experience of it!


  • Luan Galani on 02nd June 2010:

    Thanks so much for your comments! I’ve really appreciated that. Keep coming…

    @Ian, you’re totally right. Amateurs can’t do what is necessary indeed, but, as you said, we can’t stop thinking about this.

    @Elsje, as you mentioned, there is this famous bogus notion about development workers. In Brazil, though, it is a true notion.
    I promised myself to explore the Brazilian perspective on this issue. I will keep my promise wink


  • Robert Stefanicki on 04th June 2010:

    In my country people working for non-profits earn considerably less than in commercial sector - for example: spokesman to Polish branch of well-known international NGO gets 50 % of what she would get from a big company - so I don’t think they feel guilty at all. The more people earn the more of them will be ready to do good. But business class conferences on poverty are another matter, true.


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