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The Globalization of Values

Siena Anstis's picture

 Stuck in Nairobi traffic on my way to the airport, I had the chance to think further about Project Diaspora’s post on the recent anti-LGBT laws in Uganda (without enabling my knee-jerk must-write now reaction).

I still worry that people are jumping on “the blame aid” train a little soon. Granted, I was swept away by the marvelous cohesion of Dambisa Moyo’s arguments (you can finish her book in one sitting!) and William Easterly’s strange but often witty and wise commentary on Aid Watch. But, obviously, there are other reasons for slow social and economic progress in many parts of Africa.

Aside from the fact that I would like to see good thinkers like Project Diaspora expand their boundaries by doing more critical analysis (as, granted, I should), I also think their post brings up an interesting point on the globalization of values. 

Back in university, not so long ago, I took a course in indigenous politics. As you may know, indigenous rights are a big issue in Canada, where they were woefully ignored for decades. 

During this class, my professor brought up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, he pointed out, was largely drafted by Western powers (one of the principal authors was Canadian law professor John Humphrey). Indigenous groups were not involved in the drafting. Now, they complain that their distinct (and often unconventional to Canadians) cultural heritage and beliefs are being undermined by laws they never consented to.

Granted, the "Have" world - equipped with money, time and a powerful intellectual middle class - has contributed more obviously to all global debates, whether it comes to capitalism or development or the role of polygamy. Given the resources to do this, we manage to overshadow most other voices. Of course, the occasional university student will dig out Ibn Masoud and reconsider his or her view of the Muslim world, but, for the most part, we are informed by the trend-makers. Those who have the funding or the charisma to get published widely and quickly (granted with a fistful of interesting and controversial ideas).

So, relating to PD’s post, this idea of “knowledge is power” becomes very important in the LGBT debate. Project Diaspora suggests that the aid organizations' overwhelming ability to manipulate the LGBT debate in their favor (i.e. throw out the law), means that countries like Uganda do not get to decide or lobby for their own laws. Are aid organizations over stepping their boundaries and influencing the societal politics of their host countries when they should not be?

Perhaps. After all, countries like Canada and the US went through (are going through) the same debate. Guided by the middle-class and those with the time and resources to lobby against and for bills like this one in Uganda, there is a healthy debate that fuels the democratic functions of the state. In Uganda, on the other hand, people are generally uninformed, busy (trying make it, day to day) and not connected to a world of resources that might explain the issue from a different perspective.

One part of me wants to say that aid organizations have a right to get involved when people are too disempowered to see what is really in their best interest. The other side of me protests that this is the same type of neo-colonialism that defines “White Man’s Burden.” It’s a hard debate to reconcile in my head, but an important one.

A country has the right to define its own values and have its own debates without the influence of powerful foreign lobbies (just as we want the corporate sector to stop influencing the environmental debate by throwing loads of money at lobby groups). In this sense, I think it is very important for Ugandans to win (or lose) the LGBT debate on their own terms. Of course, this offers a sense of empowerment and accountability between government and people. When we start painting it as the aid organizations’ movement, all those who have fought for a cause are lost in the turmoil of bigger powers.

In this long and elusive conclusion, what I am trying to say is that self-determination of values is very important in a country’s psychological development. In this sense, I think aid organizations - instead of totally pulling out aid to government's like Uganda - have the responsibility to empower people.

What form does empowerment take? Well, there’s this great example from a Girls’ Forum in North Eastern Province Kenya (posting on this next week). Girls fighting against female genital mutilation (FGM) started a lobby group among themselves. They went into markets and communities discussing the effects of FGM and their own stance against it. Of course, they were funded by foreign aid organizations (in part by USAID and the Aga Khan Foundation).

This type of “influence,” I think, is necessary and acceptable. Financial support and empowerment is what aid organizations are often here to do. In the LGBT debate, I think this is the appropriate form it should take. For those organizations doing direct deposits into the Ugandan Parliament, it might be best to remain out of the debate, but financially support local organization that fight against discrimination. 

My concluding point is that with increasing globalization of markets and societies, we might have to determine global values. Are these the values (that seem so right to myself, the "Have" born citizen) applicable elsewhere? What about a hybrid of customs from areas like Tajikistan and Iran mixed with belief systems in Malawi and Northern Uganda? Can we really globalize values when people’s cultures are still so varied and unique?

What do you think? How do we reconcile Western values (so well enshrined) with those that are less widely recognized and seem to have no place in Western society, which “makes the decisions"? Do aid organizations have the right to subscribe their beliefs onto others?



Submitted by Jimmy Kainja on
Thanks for the interesting post, Siena. Let me start by answering your question, "Do aid organizations have the right to subscribe their beliefs onto others?" The simple answer is no. Sponsoring someone does not mean you own them. And let us face it: the collusion of ideas and beliefs between the the donor community and countries like Uganda is inevitable and I do not believe threatening to withdraw aid once the collusion occurs is the best policy. This can only succeed in breeding resistance, and rightly so. I agree with you that the policy of engagement would be more helpful. Treating each other as equal partners. This is the only way. Also, I think it is important to remember that these issues involve politicians and politics - more so democracy - is a popularity contest. Politicians will always try to make decisions that will make them popular with the voting population and nothing else. This is where the policy of engagement is necessary. Unfortunately, people's beliefs can never change in a day. It is a process and it will take time. Ideologies do not change like an electric bulb goes out. On "Globalization of values": I think it would have been a very good idea. I am yet to be convinced that there is any globalization. All I have witnessed so far is one way flow of products, ideologies and values - from the global north to the global south.

Submitted by Cathy on
I think this is a very hard question to answer. I think that even if aid organizations don't try to subscribe their beliefs onto others, I think the beliefs will transfer along anyway. Simply by giving money to local organizations, they are doing it in a specific process, they have to make sure that the values of the organization match theirs, etc. In these processes, I'm not sure how easy it is to leave Western beliefs behind and how much of it doesn't transfer along the way. you said: "I think aid organizations - instead of totally pulling out aid to government's like Uganda - have the responsibility to empower people." I think that is true, except that it is a form of neo-colonialism, even if it is not the organization's intention. I don't think giving away money will empower people and I think you'd agree with me. I think that the way the West sees it is that the right values/laws are not there for people to be empowered (implying that the West knows best). Therefore, the aid organization empowers people by giving them new tools to overcome those laws and have new values. When a Western aid organization comes into a community and tries to help by transferring new knowledge, it insinuates that the community can't do it on their own and somewhat comes as a restriction of their freedom. But at the same time, can we let these communities suffer under what we perceive as being wrong? So when you ask if aid organizations have the right to subscribe their beliefs onto others? I think that even if they don't implicitly try, it will happen regardless.

Submitted by Anonymous on
This site is good

Submitted by Siena on
Hey Cathy, Thank-you for this interesting comment. It's great to have readers engage with the material! I just wanted to ask you a follow-up question in regards to: "I think that is true, except that it is a form of neo-colonialism, even if it is not the organization's intention. I don't think giving away money will empower people and I think you'd agree with me." I do agree, but I am having a hard time thinking of alternatives. There is a distinct lack of resources for community mobilization in the places I have lived in Kenya and Uganda and therefore Western resources are often welcomed. Of course, they are usually ear-marked and come with unbelievable reporting procedures (plus, they pull out within 5 years and expect huge results & no failures). I was recently at a dinner and we were discussing iHub with Erik Hersman. He also runs Ushahidi. I am going to aim for an article on his project within the coming weeks, but I wanted to comment on the basic model. Basically, three organizations are paying for the loft-area/hi-speed wifi etc. Anyone in the tech entrepreneurship field can file for membership and use their ridiculously fast wifi (well, I expect it will be the best in Nairobi) and open-area environment to work and be inspired. Aside from producing something, there are absolutely no restrictions (so it seems, but I'll have to dig into this a bit deeper). Members come in, drink coffee, write code, watch a great sunset and go home - whether it be back to Kibera or a chic high-security apartment in Westlands. Their model is that people will find their own inspiration without being subjected and constrained by set rules and set-results. In this sense, we have a mix of "foreign" and Kenyan funding supporting a social-ICT movement which could have widespread development impact through ICT4D programming. Might a similar model work for development?

Submitted by Siena on
Dear Jimmy, Thank-you for your great comment. I have replied to Cathy's comment and I think you might find the information interesting as well. And, I must emphasize, well said: "On "Globalization of values": I think it would have been a very good idea. I am yet to be convinced that there is any globalization. All I have witnessed so far is one way flow of products, ideologies and values - from the global north to the global south." Best, Siena

Submitted by Alejandro Moreno Pérez on
Nowadays everyone talks about the importance that the students of every career and country have an international experience during their school years. Professors, parents, businessmen and many other people argue that an international experience gives students an advantage because they can meet people and cultures from other parts of the world, which helps them to understand the globalized world of today. However, just a few ones talks about how understanding the globalized world of today will help students. Some say that this will help them to achieve a well- paid job, and others say that this will allow them to help their communities and countries making an international cooperation. For me, both of them are right, because an international experience gives you the tools both to success in a professional way, so as well to collaborate in the development of your country and two or more countries in the same time is the most rewarding for me. I believe that because if you work abroad, of course you met people from different parts of the world and their cultures, but also you have the opportunity to live experiences of which you could only read if you stayed in your country. For example here I can read and give my opinion about the advantages and disadvantages of one county, but if I work with people form that country (specially working in one of the most important organizations for cooperation and development of the world), I will have first-hand information and will better understand the complexity of this country, and in consequence I will have a better opinion about it, and I can make an international cooperation, seeking answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies. Like that are many examples of how an international experience gives you an advantage in understanding how the world functions, how diverse forces (economic, financial, social, political, etc) act different in many countries, and how the situation of one country affects the situations of others. On the other hand, if you I have the opportunity to work in this traineeship programme, I will learn how Governance, Economy, Society, Development, Finance, Innovation and Sustainability are evaluated and analyzed, a usefull piece of information if you want to be part for positive change working for your county and the world and also I can develop my experience of economic & financial articles, or in the present you can import some successful practices to your own country in order to improve its competitiveness and productivity. But, how will this help me in my professional life, or collaborate in the development of my country? Well, first of all this internship program experience teaches you how to interact with people from different countries (CULTURE), knowing which is the proper way to ask them for an interview, the way their prefer to report and write news, and other important issues that will help you, as I said, to interact properly with them. All of this information will help you get a good job, both in public and private sector, because in a globalized world the most you know about other countries the most desirable you are for a job. Now, in my personal point of view, if you have a good job, then you are in a favored position to help your country, a thing that can be done in a variety of ways: you can share your experience with others, you can improve a company or create a new one in order to create new and better job opportunities for others, you can improve governmental practices to make it easier for citizens, and many other things that, in way or another, will develop your country.

Submitted by Alex C. on
I never really thought about globalization and it effects. This site shows me what I missed; which is a lot. It shocks me how uninformed I was. It's true that economic integration is a big problem, but if China, India, Uganga, Vietnam, and other countries can open up to the world and reduce poverty then we should all work together to get all countries to that status.

Submitted by Danielle K. on
Like this article points out, globalization--the development of an increasingly integrated global economy--is inevitable. Whether you are a hard-core advocate or a die-hard critic of globalization, there is no denying the fact that it has become the proverbial "fast train" on its track to interconnecting the people, countries, and economies of the world. It's an unstoppable force guaranteed to impact the lives of billions of people who live--and will live--on this planet for many, many years to come. In my opinion, there is countless energy wasted on determining whether or not globalization is more beneficial than it is detrimental, and vice versa. I can say with 110% absolute certainty that, living in today's world, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to eradicate ALL of its forms, aspects, and influences on our lives--now, and a hundred years from now. So, instead of directing so much time and energy into praising or lamenting what will inevitably continue regardless of your actions, all of that effort should be aimed at collectively establishing laws and regulations (perhaps develop a global organization or modify an existing one to address these issues?) aimed at 1) improving the economies of struggling/developing nations such as those in Africa and Asia, and 2) monitoring those developed nations in order to ensure that they do not exploit the people with whom they conduct business. In essence, more effort should be directed at ensuring that extraordinary measures be taken--implemented by law or by an organization, etc.--in order to protect the basic rights of people WORLDwide. If only we could be rest assured that no one's life be harmed in our pursuit of an interconnected world--even if that meant we would have to delay progress (in some parts of the world)... For surely, the desire for globalization should never be pursued at the expense of thousands, if not millions, of lives, right? To wrap up, let me just reiterate this: yes, globalization is an unstoppable force, and nothing man can do (or won't do, in some cases) will halt its progress; we as a people who all share the same basic needs and desires can only put effort into enacting laws and organizations that will improve the economic statuses of underdeveloped nations, protect peoples' rights all around, and monitoring all nations' progress.

Submitted by Abby H. on
This article was very helpful and really made me think. I believe that in globalization, each country should contribute as much as it is able, without trading so much that it weakens the country's economy. I also believe that it is right for each developed country that is involved in globalization to come alongside developing countries. Despite those who disagree with globalization, we are still actively involved in it and are working together toward the same goal. Globalization in every country should be closely monitored to be sure that no government is being taken advantage of, despite the country's economic status.

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this was interesting!

Submitted by Ra5ch-The Five Is Silent:P on
Wow, I really couldn't believe this artical! It really made me think of things that I never thought of before. I am definently gonna think about this in the future!!

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