Ready for Some Good News?

girl with curls v1

photo by Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (South Africa  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

…maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we [journalists] almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.”

—Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, Oct. 1, 2015

Things seem so grim some days that sometimes I want to turn off the news. But such a “head in the sand” approach isn’t beneficial — it is important to me to know as much as I can about what’s going on globally. But I keep believing there are many good things that are happening in the world that we just aren’t hearing about — the kindness and compassion of people, the connections that make us truly human, the tireless efforts to educate more children, feed more people, and eradicate diseases.

On a particularly glum day, I was delighted to find a NY Times Op-Ed Column by Nicholas Kristof—something that actually gave me reasons to feel more optimistic about the improving situations of people globally. While the daily struggle continues to be difficult for too many around the world, there actually is some good news.

Funny thing is, US Americans don’t know about it. Kristof puts this lack of knowledge squarely on the shoulders of US journalists, but I wonder if others around the world know this information?

According to Kristof, “…the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty… has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).”

What? Why didn’t someone tell me? All this work actually is making a difference! For example, in the 1980s, only half the girls in developing countries completed elementary school; today the number is 80 percent. In 1990, more than 12 million children died before they were 5; now the number is less than half that amount.

Kristof writes: “The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.”

Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a forthcoming book, The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World, notes, “We live at a time of the greatest developmental progress among the global poor in the history of the world.”

All this is very encouraging news—caring, hard working people do make a difference, just as I want to believe! Thousands of people all over the world share their knowledge, skills, and expertise to help others have a better life. We at Cultural Detective salute each of you doing your part to make the world a better place!

Focus on Happiness vs. Growth!

“Overconsumption” photo ©The Guardian.

Interculturalists have long known that the answers to our world problems lie within the diversity of values and wisdom in the people of our world. Today I learned that economists are now agreeing with us.

For over seventy years economists have told us that growth is the solution to world poverty, that “growth” equals “progress.” Progressives and some of the world’s wealthiest have recently begun to advocate taxation schemes to redistribute monies from the wealthiest and thus build a bit of justice into our systems. Yet, neither approach will work.

Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.
—Jason Hickel in The Guardian, 23 September 2015

We are already over-consuming Earth’s bio-capacity by 60%. The real problem is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest countries, and the way in which we conceptualize “progress.”

Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares—many times their fair share.
—Jason Hickel

In a wonderfully insightful article in The Guardian, Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, tells us that an intercultural approach and cross-cultural values may be the solution to problems facing our world. Jason tells us how “economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.” Costa Rica, for example, manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

“Perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses! According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.”

Jason directs us to Latin American values such as “buen vivir,” living the good life, to which I’d add also a respect for the planet, Pacha Mama, and community values such as the African “ubuntu.” You can find in-depth explanations of hundreds of non-dominant values in Cultural Detective Online. Changing our western- and northern-centric definitions of progress to a definition more inclusive of the eastern and southern value system could be just the ticket to our survival as a species. Jason also points us toward books such as Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough?

As Jason concludes his article:

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one.

This is not about giving anything up. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Cultural Detectives, let us use this new-found recognition as a catalyst to breathe new motivation into our efforts!

Kids Skyping Around the World

tumblr_mqvsd7ij1c1rkz363o1_1280Remember the goal of intercultural communication? To help us be able to better understand one another, talk to each other, collaborate, and make our communities and our world a better place in which to live?

Sometimes, however, I get discouraged that my beloved intercultural field has lost its way. It’s great that we now have so many PhD and MA programs, but when did intercultural communication become all about dimensions and theories? Or about exercises and activities without an underlying coherent design?

Yes, perhaps these are expected mid-life or late-career gripes. Then I come across a movie entitled, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It,” showcasing a most excellent-sounding project called “Skyping Around the World” by a group called “Do Remember Me: Connect, Dispel, Build,” and my faith is restored. The project gathers youth aged 12-15 at neighborhood recreation centers in France, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA for a series of workshops that use art for social advocacy and to motivate activism.

Kids connect with one another via Skype to engage in positive dialogue and dispel the myths of hopelessness, overcome media stereotypes, and bridge cultural differences. Their mission is to delve deeply to find their common ground, to share experiences, and to work toward actively supporting one another. They encourage activism and advocacy for issues such as peer violence, the absence of leaders and heroes, and many other pressing issues.

Regular readers of this blog know that the “contact hypothesis” tells us that merely bringing kids together via Skype isn’t enough to achieve these lofty goals. The meaning they make of their Skype experiences must be facilitated, and that is apparently done, at least in Philadelphia, by two teaching artists, Sannii Crespina-Flores and DJ Lean Wit It.

The 12-minute film is most definitely worth viewing. It is embedded it below. Come on, get your cup of tea ready, and prepare to smile and be encouraged.

“The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It” | Sundance Institute

These kids use their phones and iPads, which they would normally use to text local friends, take selfies, or make social plans, to enlarge their worlds by forging friendships with peers across the world. For young people who have often never left their hometown, these exchanges prove to be both touching and surprising, giving them exposure to new corners of planet Earth and encouraging them to witness to the great (and sometimes unfulfilled) potential that exists in their own back yards.

The film came to be when it was the winner of a 140-character story entry in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, designed to help put an end to extreme poverty in creative ways:

“As technology advances, our world grows smaller. Yet, while we are more connected than ever before, we remain separated by the lottery of where we are born. Around the world, people just like you – with the same beliefs, dreams, and aspirations – have drastically fewer opportunities due to extreme poverty and hunger.

Through the universal power of storytelling, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge will put a spotlight on our similarities—showcasing stories that communicate how we can support one another to end poverty and hunger once and for all. There is a more hopeful future for millions of people around the world, it’s up to us to inspire a positive change together.

In 2015, storytellers from around the world will gather to showcase how creativity can change the world.”
–Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge website

Obviously a very noble cause—ending poverty—though the Film Challenge is taking a  Minimization (in DMIS and IDC terminology) approach to intercultural competence. A Minimalist approach, of course, is probably most appropriate to build critical mass; while it by no means stretches us to the levels of intercultural competence needed to end poverty, it can, at least, help build momentum to get people on-board and helping to accomplish the goal. The Film Challenge is an impressive global partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sundance Institute, and the following organizations:

partnership There is some connection to Global Citizen as well, though I can’t figure out from the website exactly what that affiliation is. The Global Citizen is a platform that advocates for the achievable goal of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030; it was created in 2012 by the Global Poverty Project. Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sundance Institute, as well as all the sponsors and participating organizations!

Some of the other films in this challenge are also very interesting; all highlight successful attempts to bridge cultural differences in order to end world poverty. Watch them here.

Thank you for joining with Cultural Detective on this journey to build intercultural competence. We are thrilled to be able to share projects like these that parallel our goals: better understanding of others and ourselves, and innovative and meaningful collaboration. Together, we can transform our world. As Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Help End Poverty; Make a $25 MicroLoan for Free!

You’ve heard of micro-lending, and how small loans to the right people can transform poverty and starvation into community-wide collaborative entrepreneurial spirit, leading to clean water, food, light and hope. You all no doubt have many ways in which you help make our world a better place. I’d like to ask you to join us in another terrific and easy way to help alleviate global poverty. Join our Cultural Detective team on Kiva! By clicking on this link, you can make your first US$25 loan for free! Let’s take put this offer to great use!

What do I love about loaning with Kiva?

  • 100% of the money you lend goes to loans, not overhead. Kiva has Charity Navigator’s highest rating.
  • In this case, your first loan is free!
  • You can make your a loan with as little as US$25.
  • You choose who you want to lend to. Kiva allows you to search by gender, country, economic sector, or lending organization to review profiles of people worldwide who are requesting a loan.
  • It is fun to loan with a group of like-minded colleagues. There is strength in numbers! Watching my loans get repaid, and the loans I’ve extended multiply, is even cooler because I can see how much impact all of us together are having! And, I can see how others on the team are loaning, and learn from them. (You can also be perfectly anonymous and private if you choose.)
  • It all happens online. When a loan gets repaid, you get notified. If you want to see what’s going on, you visit the website.
  • You make a loan, the loan gets repaid, you either get your money back, or you get to make another loan! The assistance just keeps echoing out, helping more and more people.
  • I so enjoy looking through all the terrific ways people find to improve the lives of their families and communities. A few minutes spent on Kiva can uplift your soul!

Micro-credit isn’t the only answer to poverty, but it sure seems to have been an answer for millions of people.

Thank you so much for being part of our Cultural Detective community. We are thrilled you have joined us in the quest to make our world a more equitable, sustainable, collaborative place. Joining the CD Kiva team is just one more way of doing that.