‘Aid vs trade’. It’s a debate I find myself in often. I remember in my second year of University being given an assignment on the downfalls of aid. I honestly and naively thought there would be little for me to find on the topic and found myself on a sharp learning curve as I delved into books such as ‘Dead Aid’ by Dambisa Moyo and began reading of the “unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world” that aid has been (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweal TED talk on ‘Aid vs Trade’)
Fast-track forward a few years and I’m here, in the Developing World, dependant on this ‘aid’, yet situated in the private sector. I have journeyed in my experience and opinion on this debate, yet still don’t know where I stand on it. So I set out to do some research, find my single stand-point and quick opinion. I quickly realized that like with every complex debate, a single stand-point or quick opinion is not overly useful or achievable. Because all that did was create for me a single story of aid and of trade. And THERE IS ALWAYS DANGER IN THE SINGLE STORY.
So, I want to encourage you, as I have done to start reading, seeing and learning of the different stories. Read of the terrible failures of aid, read of the millions spent on a sending shoes and shirts to countries with local clothing and footwear industries (http://matadornetwork.com/change/7-worst-international-aid-ideas/). Also read of the stories of aid initiatives that daily provide starving people with food, orphaned children with homes and unequipped schools with resources. Let me tell you beautiful stories of missionaries, volunteers and locals here, who provide homes for orphans, teach sustainable farming methods and efficient cooking methods, who provide much needed health care at a high quality in an affordable and accessible way. You will see that aid is not exclusively a story of failure, but within aid there are stories of people and initiatives bringing amazing healing.
Trade is also not exempt from having many different stories. I hope you’ve heard of trade initiatives that are destructive of our world, like nestle initiatives to provide nutrition supplements (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestl%C3%A9_boycott), or other giant industries, dominating markets destructively. I recommend reading the ‘ ethical electronics guide’ (www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/BehindtheBarcode/Readable-Ethical-Electronics-Guide.pdf) and learn more about where your newest smart phone or tablet was sourced, produced and assembled and learn about the injustice still existing in this market. But do you also hear the stories of trade initiative that are creating industries of integrity and opportunity? Do you hear of small businesses driving sustainable and ethical markets? Do you see the thriving fair trade industry, advocating that we do indeed care about the quality of life for all people involved in produce production? Do you hear of local entrepreneurs creating new industries and driving change in their own countries?
My story of the last 6 months has been one of these, as I have partnered with a private paediatric service (www.sandi-malawi.com) and seen the value and role that high quality, private health services can have in increasing health availability in a country. This experience has taught me is that through locally owned business, empowerment can happen naturally and powerfully, as those businesses own the change that occurs. I have seen and been inspired by my Malawian colleagues who are successfully developing quality business and driving the positive change that is happening in their country. If you’re interested a little more my story of this is told in an article I wrote here: http://www.australianvolunteers.com/volunteer/stories-from-the-field/empowerment-through-business-in-malawi.aspx
I am privileged to share life with workmates, a housemate and a community of people who regularly share these diverse stories of success and failure in aid and trade. I have shelves of books (eg. ‘The World is not Ours to Save’- Tyler Wigg or ‘When Helping Hurts’- or ‘The end of Charity’- Nic Frances), I subscribe to blogs (eg. http://africasacountry.com/) and podcasts (eg. www.developmentdrums.com) where these stories are told and explored. I only touch the tip of the ice berg of the stories. I challenge you to engage with learning more of these stories, I invite you to share stories of your own, before you start making a single story about what is needed anywhere in the world.
I stopped perpetuating a single story and discovered that what is needed for our world, for Africa, for Malawi, for my workplace, for my soul, are many good stories of aid and of trade. Stories of God’s kingdom breaking through in our world. Stories of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control overflowing. I hope I can be a person who leaves a legacy of many good stores, whether it be classified as ‘aid’ or ‘trade’, because I ascribe not to aid or trade, but to the character and work of the Jesus Christ.