Global Brigades is now one of the largest student-led movements for international development on the planet. We represent a growing number of youth getting involved in development issues and dedicating themselves to the improvement of the quality of life world-wide. To increase the power of youth in the field of development, we need to hear your voices, your ideas and your stories. For this reason, and for the success of Global Brigades and for the direction of our future, I ask YOU, whether you are a student, a professional, Global Brigades staff or just an interested reader, to enter the ongoing conversation about development.
To get this conversation started, I pose a single question that hits at the core of what we do. The question is: What are some of the unintended consequences of the work that Global Brigades does as well as aid work and development projects in general? What are we affecting (both positively and negatively) that we may not always be aware of?
I will begin the dialogue by giving two examples. First, clothing aid is a program with a history of unintended consequences. Millions of dollars of clothes are donated directly to African countries each year by Goodwill and other used clothing collectors. This service helps people who previously could not afford clothes access new clothing and improve their lives. One positive side effect of this aid is that now some Africans that used to spend money on clothing have more money for other services that lead to increased quality of life, such as medicine, food and shelter. Unfortunately, another much more negative side effect makes clothing aid a controversial program. With access to free clothing around Africa, the demand for and purchase of any locally manufactured clothing, no matter how affordable, becomes insignificant. This is a primary reason, many argue, for the failure of the African textile and clothing manufacturing industries to develop. People lose their jobs, the economy weakens and the overall impact is to set Africa back in development. An unintended consequence that may be making African growth even more difficult to achieve.
A second example comes from my own work on water projects in rural Honduras. While developing a project in San Juan Guaimaca, I worked very closely with the local leaders to create a long term plan for a water project that the community could run self-sufficiently without the need for outside aid. A Global Water Brigades group with students from around the U.S. helped to make some very important infrastructural repairs that would jumpstart the success of this project and serve immediate needs of over 5,000 people. In addition to the infrastructural issues, the community also suffered from poor water quality because the water council did not have the funds to purchase chlorine for their project. The price charged to families for water was too low to support a plumber and some members did not pay at all. This was a primary reason that the community could never provide itself with clean water. After some investigation into the socio-economic standing of the community members, and in collaboration with the local leaders, we found that almost all community members could afford to pay more and we decided to support a small price increase for water that would go towards purchasing chlorine and paying a plumber to monitor water quality. After we left, the leaders implemented this increase. In response to the increase, many community members simply refused to pay, the amount of money collected actually dropped and San Juan Guaimaca became more dependent on aid to operate its system. Another unintended and unforseen consequence of development work.
With this introduction, I ask you all to start asking this question, both to Brigades and to the rest of the world. What are the unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the aid and development work that we do? And please add, if you can, how can we begin to forsee these consequences and ensure that our work leaves lasting positive change rather than unintended negative impacts?
Let the conversation begin..