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Resilience Spaces: Rethinking Protection to Address Protracted Urban Displacement

April 23, 2020
By 25334

Using an SRA grant, Pablo Cortés Ferrández conducted participatory action research (PAR) in Altos de la Florida, an informal settlement for internally displaced persons in an urban area outside Bogota, Colombia. He is making a firsthand analysis of the humanitarian conditions in the settlement to uncover challenges and propose pathways to improve interventions through protection and resilience approaches.

 * * *

Capacity building for urban IDPs (internally displaced persons) and host communities is emerging as a new way of working to confront the root causes of protracted displacement in unsafe, informal settlements in Colombia. Despite the challenges, these urban contexts provide an opportunity to advance the complementarity, connectedness, and localization of humanitarian and development aid.

View of Altos de Florida and Soacha on the outskirts of Bogota, the capital of Colombia.


“I was displaced by the paramilitary from Llanos Orientales to Chocó in 2005,” says Yomaira, who lives with her husband and three children in Altos de la Florida, an informal settlement in urban Soacha, just outside the Colombian capital of Bogota. “Three years later we fled to the urban areas of Buenaventura and then again in 2012 to Bogota due to increased violence. In 2014 we started to build a house on this hill because the cost of living in the city was too high.” Yomaira’s narrative reflects the experience of many families for whom armed conflict prompted just the first of many internal displacements: 5.8 million people remain displaced in Colombia as of the end of 2019.[1]

The Root Causes of Displacement

In Colombia, initial displacements due to armed conflict or generalized violence often results in displacements again to urban areas, where families seek protection and economic opportunities. An estimated 87% of the country’s IDPs come from rural areas, and they wind up in the only places that they can access due to their vulnerability: the informal settlements,[2] where more than half of the IDPs live.[3] Both authorities and humanitarian, development, and peace actors need to better understand these supposed urban refuges.

This article is based on a research project implemented from 2015 until 2018 in Altos de la Florida, including surveys of 211 households, 98 in-depth interviews, 3 social cartographies, and 3 focus group discussions.[4] Altos de la Florida is a neighborhood in Soacha, a municipality of approximately 1 million people, the largest of the cities surrounding Bogota. Over two-thirds of its population was living under the poverty line as of 2010.[5]

According to the city’s development plan, 48% of the municipality—378 neighborhoods—are deemed “illegal” by local authorities. The IDP population in the municipality stood at around 50,000 in July 2018. Since the outbreak of the economic and political crisis in neighboring Venezuela, at least 12,300 Venezuelans have joined the ranks of Soacha’s displaced people.

Altos de la Florida suffers from the common pattern of social and spatial segregation in a poverty area with low-quality housing, services, and infrastructure: 72.9% of households are in conditions of structural poverty. The neighborhood as an urban community, formed by 1,011 families of around 3,657 people, has two main characteristics: 52.49% are less than 25 years old, and 48.81% are women.

An article in a local daily linked so-called social cleansing with the murder of the son of a community leader in Altos de la Florida.

From One Informal Settlement to Another

The UNHCR and UNDP have diagnosed Altos de la Florida as a “vulnerable community due to the informality of the neighborhood.”[6] The informal nature of these urban settings limits the capacity to reduce vulnerabilities, yet the planning secretary of the mayor’s office refuses legalization.

Due to the absence of political will, households lack tenure security and have no official proof of home ownership. The neighborhood faced eviction attempts in 2009, and the lack of basic services and infrastructure in Altos de la Florida increases residents’ vulnerability. According to my survey results, 97.1% of households do not have access to drinking water except for a tank trunk, around 300 children need a kindergarten, and there are no primary health centers in the area—in fact, Soacha’s hospital has only 250 beds for 1 million people.

Altos de la Florida is regarded as an urban territory without state.[7] Urban violence increases protection risks. Informality combined with the settlement’s geostrategic position, and the absence of local authorities makes the neighborhood a strategic location for nonstate armed actors. According to Forensis data, the homicide index in Soacha was 40.58 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, the highest in the department of Cundinamarca. The profile of victims follows a common pattern seen in other urban contexts in Latin America: 91.5% are men, and 44.3% are between 20 and 29 years old. Interpersonal violence also represents a significant challenge with 2,898 cases per year, the fourth highest behind the cities of Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla.

The lack of political will, the structural vulnerabilities of communities in informal urban areas, and high levels of insecurity are the causes of new urban displacements, both intra- and inter-urban. Re-victimization and re-displacement are the two main characteristics of this vicious cycle. Intra-urban displacement is the victimizing event with the greatest impact on the urban dynamics of the conflict in Colombia.[8] Urban IDPs are forced to flee their informal settlements due to violence, only to arrive in other settlements with similar protection risks. Informal settlements are therefore at once expelling zones and arrival areas for displaced populations. In socially and spatially segregated Altos de la Florida, IDPs represent 30%–40% of the population.

A man in Altos de la Florida building a brick house.

Promoting Community Participation

Humanitarian, development, and peace actors have increased their interest in urban contexts in recent years. Despite increasing knowledge, though, a lack of experience and challenges inherent to urban settings continue to undermine humanitarian and development interventions. International humanitarian aid began in 2001, when World Vision International established a presence in Colombia. In 2006 UN agencies and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) started their intervention. Particularly interesting was the UN Human Security Program (2010–12) and the UN Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI) project (2012–16).

In the settlements, a protracted and supply-driven emergency response has caused people to become dependent on external aid. Emergency assistance is an essential form of humanitarian aid, mainly for displaced families, but protracted aid can discourage community participation and increase the gap between assistance and development. According to one development worker operating in the neighborhood, to avoid creating dependency, “it is necessary to promote sustainable public policy solutions and the participation of IDPs in the political, economic, and social life of the host community.”[9]

The dependency of community leaders on humanitarian assistance also undermines social cohesion in the neighborhood. Limited consultation and lack of coordination decreases the effectiveness of the intervention. Past project evaluations have found that “international cooperation is insufficient and requires the integral intervention of the State.”[10] Therefore, achieving a durable solution for urban displacement requires closer collaboration between the humanitarian sector and local authorities, along with strong political will at both the local and national levels.

Resilience Spaces as a Protective Approach

In urban informal settlements, humanitarian, development, and peace actors must work in a weakened and less cohesive social engagement environment, exacerbated by sporadic violence. These circumstances lend themselves to short-term responses and silo-approaches to deal with emergencies, further increasing dependence among the communities that receive support. Poorly integrated responses have limited capacity to address complex urban crises. Cooperation between humanitarian and development actors and engagement with national and local actors are essential, given the potentially limited capacity and political will of certain municipalities.

The protracted vulnerability of urban IDPs and host communities in informal urban contexts has revealed the need for real change in humanitarian aid, particularly as fragile situations are exacerbated by urban violence. Protracted urban displacement requires better connectivity between humanitarian and development efforts, and the needs of IDPs should be balanced with those of the host communities. Current debates show a growing consensus around new and comprehensive approaches. To face the challenges of protracted urban displacement, interventions must go beyond immediate humanitarian needs and should aim to reduce the vulnerabilities of both IDPs and local host communities.

Humanitarian aid should be committed to not only ensuring survival but also supporting people to live in dignity. “Resilience spaces” were developed as a complementarity approach in the UNHCR’s Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas (2009), combining assistance and recovery by not only addressing urgent needs but also strengthening local capacities. The framework combines a top-down protection approach with a bottom-up capacity building approach through three areas of intervention: creating education, economic, and labor opportunities; strengthening social cohesion; and, supporting leadership capacities.

Such resilience spaces have been set up in Altos de la Florida, resulting in the creation of two important grassroots organizations in the informal settlement: Comité de Impulso, a fortnightly meeting among community leaders, dwellers, IDP associations, and humanitarians; and Florida Juvenil, a youth community organization engaged in break-dance, theater, and football activities.

Resilience has emerged as one of the strongest responses to the humanitarian and development divide. In Altos de la Florida, the joint work of humanitarian and development actors, in collaboration with national and local counterparts, aims to achieve collective results in the short to medium term (three to five years) to reduce risk and vulnerability. The situation in Altos de la Florida features three criteria that are on the rise in modern humanitarianism and deemed essential in urban responses to displacement: complementarity, connectivity, and sustainability.

A youth theater group supported by Fe y Alegría in Altos de Florida.

In Altos de la Florida, international actors strengthened rather than replaced local and national systems. The complementariness of response included collaboration with local and national aid providers in affected territories, empowerment of leaders of both local and national NGOs and community-based organizations, as well as inclusion of authorities and municipalities at the urban level. Going beyond complementarity, connectivity can not only to bridge the humanitarian-development divide but also incorporate approaches like resilience, which is key to strengthening local capacities. Sustainability, evident through positive long-term results for the supported individuals and societies, depends directly on this capacity for collaboration among the actors and the strengthening of local and national capacities.

Currently, there is consensus in the humanitarian community that in urban contexts populations can be protected by strengthening their capacity. In this sense, humanitarian action has a particular and perhaps unique role in protecting the population through strategies that allow people to build their resilience. Resilience approaches bridge lingering disparities and disconnections between humanitarian and development responses in urban interventions. The approach observed in Altos de la Florida helps better articulate an urban response around the construction of resilience as an instrument of protection. This protection, in turn, represents a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of urban displacement.

Resilience space in Altos de la Florida supported by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

 

[1] IDMC (2019), ‘Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019’, IDMC, p. 44, https://bit.ly/2WNKeKQ.

[2] CNMH (2010), ‘Una nación desplazada. Informe nacional del desplazamiento forzado en Colombia,’ CNMH and UARIV, p. 38, https://bit.ly/29uyNzv.

[3] IDMC (2015), ‘Global Overview 2015. People internally displaced by conflict and violence,’ IDMC, p. 20, https://bit.ly/2TSq3ZK.

[4] This part of the project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 691060.

[5] UNDP (2010), ‘Política Pública de Desarrollo Social Incluyente. Municipio de Soacha,’ UNDP.

[6] UNHCR and UNDP (2017), ‘Documentación proceso de integración local comunidad Altos de la Florida, Soacha,’ UNHCR and UNDP, https://bit.ly/2SQ0vgc.

[7] Laura Tedesco (2007), ‘El Estado en América Latina ¿fallido o en proceso de formación?’ Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior, Vol 37.

[8] CODHES (2013), ‘Desplazamiento forzado intraurbano y soluciones duraderas,’ CODHES, p. 18, https://bit.ly/2EEfmpf.

[9] Interview, April 4, 2016, with a UNDP TSI coordinator in Soacha.

[10] Econometría Consultores (2016), ‘Evaluación externa del programa “Construyendo Soluciones Sostenibles-TSI,”’ Econometría S.A., p. 19.

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The Greenhouse Enterprise

March 31, 2020
By 19669

Sylff fellow Sennane Gatakaa Riungu implemented a project to empower a local community in Kenya with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). The project seeks to provide capacity building and agribusiness training for community members in Maara constituency, Kenya Riungu’s home community—to equip them with the tools and information needed to develop agricultural business enterprises. Aside from her professional work, Riungu has been engaged in empowering her home community with others for over 10 years by utilizing her vast networks outside the community. The result of the project found both great outcomes and challenges to be addressed to fulfill a long-term goal.

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In the words of Simon Winter, Senior Vice President of a non-profit organization for development: “If we’re serious about ending poverty and feeding a growing planet, it’s imperative that we focus on the 2 billion people who live and work on small farms in the developing world. Often, the best way to support these smallholders has less to do with things they can do to improve their farms and more to do with the systems in which they operate.

“What happens at the farm level is important, and farmers need access to knowledge that enhance productivity inputs and tools. But to create sustainable growth in agricultural industries, that can provide opportunities for increasing economic benefits for farmers now and in the future, we need to take a broader approach to development that targets the entire market system.” ( “Beyond the farm: Promoting agribusiness as a way out of poverty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2013) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/feb/01/agribusiness-mozambique-cashew-farming

The Roots

Hailing from a community whose largest population depends on peasant farming for their livelihoods, I had a question that lingered in my mind continually: how can what is described by Winter and myriad other like-minded scholars become a reality? Maara is a constituency located in Tharaka Nithi County in the Eastern side of Kenya. Maara as a constituency has a population of approximately 78,000 per the 2009 census. Whereas the upper part of the constituency enjoys favorable climatic conditions, being on the windward side of Mount Kenya, the larger population engages in small-scale subsistence farming that yields only enough produce for household consumption. The majority of the constituents are unfamiliar with the agribusiness concept, which could make a big difference in their household income and improve their socioeconomic status if well applied.

Map of Maara constituency. It is one of the three constituencies in Tharaka-Nithi County

A view of Maara Constituency, Kenya.

 

Given the community’s physical location, the agrarian nature of its economy, and the educational levels of most of its population, I researched slowly and grew convinced that creating an agricultural business model that incorporates most members of the community will go a long way in assisting the community members in this area to overcome some of the major economic challenges that they currently bear—mainly poverty—and bring a new dawn of sustainable economic empowerment for them.

Prospects and Action

Together with some of the colleagues with whom I had seen the birthing of the Makuri Development Forum (MDF), a community based welfare organization based in Maara Constituency in 2013–2014 and a brainchild of a conference funded by Sylff Leadership Initiatives), we formulated the concept of providing a practical avenue through which some of the community members would gain knowledge and learn practical skills in agribusiness. The goal of the project is to provide a practical avenue for an agricultural enterprise model where community members can train and build capacity on agribusiness-related concepts with the long-term objective of establishing a sustainable agricultural enterprise hub for the younger generation in Maara constituency. Overall, the project aims at economically empowering the constituents in Maara constituency through agribusiness.

With the above focus in mind, we formulated a double-edged approach: On the one hand, members of the development forum who are connected with other community development organizations would attend an educational workshop that can provide them with relevant information on agribusiness as an economic enterprise. On the other hand, it was expected that a self-sustaining model of greenhouse farming as an example of a functional agribusiness enterprise would be set up within proximity of the community for all interested members to access and have a hands-on experience in this regard.

It has often been stated that most developing countries have a weak culture of entrepreneurship. To assist us in demystifying this myth, I contacted the proprietors at the East Africa Seed Company (EASEED), which has been successfully running agribusiness-related enterprises in Kenya for over 40 years. Fortunately the company’s director, Mr. Jitendra Shah, and co-director, Ms. Nima Shah, were willing to take on the risk of spreading their wings further to encompass the training element of local potential entrepreneurs in my community. Through the director and as part of their corporate social responsibility, EASEED has a goal of training at least 10,000 youths across the country on agribusiness-related enterprises. The Makuri Development Forum members were able to benefit greatly from this venture through a one-day training held on July 13, 2019. The agronomists from EASEED engaged gainfully with at least 60 members of the community-based forum. The company has further pledged to continue providing seeds and related farm inputs at subsidized costs to interested participating members and groups in the community. 

The training session held in July 2019.

A greenhouse set up in the project for practical training.

 

Following the successful training session, the gained skills were expected to be put to practical use. The community development forum engaged PHFAMS Africa, a professional horticultural farms advisory and management services organization, to conduct the construction of the greenhouse. The greenhouse was set up within weeks of the training session, and the first seedlings of tomatoes and capsicum were transplanted within 21 days after that. The first crop is in season, as can be seen from the photographs presented below, and has delivered in bounty as expected.

 

The crop in season, week 2.

The crop in session, week 4.

Tomatoes as of October 2019.

Tomatoes in early November.

Tomatoes on the day of harvest.

The Output

The impact of this work is already apparent in the community, with some of the community-based organizations already gearing up to set up more greenhouses in the locality. The desired outcome is that more greenhouses will bring increased economic activities in the constituency, which will lead to revitalization of the local business sector and the broader community.

The first harvest was made on a Sunday in the presence of a visiting SLI Program Coordinator, Ms. Aya Oyamada. It was expected that the harvest from the initial crop would be sold at very reasonable costs to the members of the community. Given the intricacies of storage of a bumper first harvest, however, this was transported to the capital city of Nairobi to a wholesale buyer who purchased the entire lot in one go. This included more than 200 kg of capsicum and over 100 kg of tomatoes. Subsequent harvests have been sold to the community grocers at reasonable prices.

The demand for the produce is very high, leading to quick plans of setting up a second greenhouse in the coming months by other group members. Other nonmember constituents have also shown great interest in this model of farming. At this juncture, the initial income will go toward the maintenance of the greenhouse for subsequent crops and continued demonstrations as a continuous effort to provide any additional information or required support to the members and other interested constituents. A second training session is scheduled for March–April 2020.

With the momentum gained, it can be projected not only that the presence of agriculture-based enterprises will rise in the community but also that there will be an increase in other income-generating activities, such as the setting up of agrovets and like enterprises that will in future cater to the foreseen demand of agricultural inputs and implements in the area. This in turn will translate to better incomes for the community members and significantly improved livelihoods in every other aspect.

The author with a basket filled with capsicum.

The Challenges

As expected with these kinds of projects, some challenges have also ensued. One of the major challenges that we faced in the initial construction of the greenhouse was the negative mindset held by the community members toward crops grown in a closed setup like a greenhouse. As mentioned before, the majority of constituents have been practicing small-scale farming for subsistence use for decades. This means that they have also used traditional methods of farming, in which the yields were low and a majority of the yield was affected by disease and pests. With the greenhouse setup, the output seemed too perfect for the community members. A crop that had not been attacked by pests was perceived as almost “unsafe” for human consumption. This is a myth that we are continuing to debunk through training sessions and smart farming method demonstrations.

The other challenge that we are thinking through is the development of a constant supply of produce for the market that we have now established. Our first harvest was sold in the capital city of Nairobi, which is about three hours away from the constituency. The first wholesale buyer has been asking for more produce, as he was impressed with the first produce that he bought. On the other hand, the local market has now awaken to the availability of a good produce in the neighborhood, and most of the grocery stores are also demanding more. At the moment, we provide at least a harvest every week for the local market. This means that we have been unable to supply on wholesale to our initial client in Nairobi.

With the interest generated from the produce, we are mobilizing resources to set up more greenhouses in the community with the other members from the initial founding groups of the development forum. The constant demand is a good sign that the agribusiness concept will actually pick up and become a sustainable venture for the constituents. Our five-year plan is to be able to establish not only a sustainable client base but also sustainable production of different varieties of horticultural produce for the market. Our current challenge is therefore a positive one: grappling with the high demand for the produce. We believe that with the sustained effort, we will be able to address the foregoing challenges to establish a business model that will elevate the status of the quiet community that lies in Maara constituency.

Youth in the community working in the greenhouse.

In summary, we can safely conclude that “We just need to think and act [in and] beyond the farm.”

 

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Developing an Inclusive Distribution Model Using 3D-Printed Prosthetic Legs

January 30, 2020
By 24612

Keio University fellow Yutaka Tokushima—who became the first recipient of a Sylff Project Grant (SPG) in 2018 for an initiative to provide affordable 3D-printed prosthetic legs—recently completed the second year of his project. The grant enabled him to form a partnership with a university hospital in the Philippines to improve the functions of the prostheses by conducting usability trials with 49 patients. In 2019, he continued to produce and provide artificial limbs while also reaching out to local governments, donors, and the national insurance commission to help expand his project. The following is Tokushima’s account of some of the difficulties he encountered and the knowledge he gained over the past two years, which have engendered new aspirations and prospects. A video introducing his activities can be viewed here (YouTube channel) or by clicking the link below

 

*     *     *

I am currently advancing an ultra-low-cost, 3D-printed prostheses project in the Philippines. The 3D-CAD software and 3D printer that we developed for prostheses can create a prosthetic leg from suitable materials (filaments) using data from a 3D scanner. At present, the price of producing one leg is 20,000 pesos (about US$400), roughly a tenth the average price of a conventional prosthesis and equivalent to the starting salary for a college graduate in the Philippines—making it affordable to the local people who in the past were not able to buy one.

In the past, prosthetic limb manufacturing required the patient to visit a production facility many times over several weeks, but 3D printing takes about 24 hours from scanning to production, so the patient only needs to visit the clinic twice; once for the diagnosis and again to pick up the leg.

What initially got me involved in this project was my experience working in Bohol, a small rural village in the Philippines, as a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) between 2012 and 2014.

Diabetes was prevalent among the poor there. Without the means to go to a hospital, they would not get regular medical checkups. Illnesses would get neglected, resulting in diabetic gangrene and forcing people to amputate their limbs or die from not being able to, as many actually did. Visiting the rural clinics where I was assigned as a volunteer, I discovered that about 1% of the residents had decaying legs. The major cause of this can be attributed to their eating habits. Poverty did not provide for more than a very small amount of salty fish or meat to go with a large amount of rice, resulting in an excessive intake of carbohydrates.

There are only three public facilities in the Philippines that manufacture prosthetics. During my research I asked people who had left their gangrene unattended why they did not get medical attention. I suggested that leaving the leg unattended might kill them, but most had no reply, their faces telling me that they had largely given up on life. Getting an amputation would only mean lying around at home because they could not afford prosthetics. They would just become one more mouth to feed, so they were better off dead. I was saddened and shocked when I first realized their plight.

From this experience, I decided to develop ultra-low-cost prostheses that could be made in emerging countries and purchased by anyone. I thought that this could save people all over the world who, like the diabetic gangrene patients I had met, had decaying legs but were not able to do anything about it.

Carefully measuring the dimensions of a patient’s leg.

Understanding the structure of a patient’s leg.

Scanning leg shape data.

I started by examining a wide range of possibilities regarding prosthetic limb production in emerging countries, including the use of construction waste, bamboo, and other readily available materials. I finally came to the conclusion that 3D-printer manufacturing was the best way to balance functionality and price to meet the demands of prosthetic leg production in developing countries. However, there were many problems in terms of quality and cost in designing and manufacturing prostheses similar to existing types using commercially available 3D-CAD software and 3D printers.

After I returned to Japan in 2015, as a Sylff fellow at Keio University, I started developing 3D-CAD software and 3D printers specifically for prosthetic limbs that could overcome these issues. I set out to develop 3D-CAD software and a 3D printer exclusively for prosthetic 3D printing, eliminating all extra features and applications of commercial printers—a process that took three years.

The ever-evolving 3D prosthetic leg printer today and artificial leg brace.

From fiscal 2018, thanks to the Sylff Project Grant and in cooperation with the University of Philippines, Philippines General Hospital (UP-PGH), we conducted material strength tests to secure patient safety and usability tests to obtain medical evidence while advancing preparations for local production.

In the usability tests, we asked 49 patients to wear our 3D-printed prostheses for three months while living as before. Compared to conventional prostheses for emerging countries, we were able to achieve a 128% functional improvement (based on patient evaluation using a prosthesis evaluation questionnaire).

Based on these results, in fiscal 2019, we started local production in the Philippines for the purpose of manufacturing and selling 3D-printed prosthetic legs in emerging countries. As of December 2019, we have been able to deliver approximately 20 prostheses per month to amputees in metropolitan areas in the Philippines, and 112 people now use our prostheses. We are aiming to reach annual production of 1,000 units in fiscal 2020.

Visiting a patient who has started wearing a prosthetic leg.

A patient is able to climb up and down steep steps after regaining a normal lifestyle.

Thus far, the people using our prostheses have been limited to those living in metropolitan areas who are middle- to high-income earners. As such, we can hardly say that the prosthetic problem in the Philippines has been resolved.

My next step is to deliver our prosthetic legs to amputees not only in Metropolitan Manila but also those in remote areas like Bohol, where I had previously served as a volunteer, and in the poorest areas where people cannot afford a $400 prosthesis.

This is why I established the Instalimb Foundation, a nongovernmental organization whose mission is to develop a new distribution model for prostheses delivery catering to those who live in remote areas and who cannot pay $400 for an artificial limb and to implement this model as a social business.

Through the activities of this organization, I hope to establish a sustainable system to ensure that all people who require prosthetic limbs, including the poor in developing countries, have access to them, starting with the Philippines in fiscal 2020. 

With fellow's project members and cooperators.

As for our performance in fiscal 2019, five leg amputation patients were referred to us from local governments, and contributions from local donors were enough to pay for 12 prosthetic legs. Next year, we hope to expand our cooperation with local groups throughout the Philippines.

We have also begun approaching central government agencies in the Philippines, such as the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry, as well as relevant Japanese ministries, such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, to have our prostheses distribution model incorporated in the PhilHealth government health insurance framework that is being advanced by the Philippine Insurance Commission.

We will continue to consult with stakeholders and make policy recommendations in the hopes of quickly realizing a social system capable of providing prosthetic legs to all amputees in the Philippines.

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REDD+ and the Forest Commons in Nepal

November 22, 2019
By 21457

Sylff fellow Shangrila Joshi, a researcher on environmental studies and climate justice, held workshops and a forum on REDD+, one of the climate mitigation initiatives, for forest community users in Nepal, with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). Although REDD+ is widely promoted as a global effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, Joshi argues that the implementation of associated projects often lacks informed consent by all stakeholders, and it is often the case that community forest users are left out from the discussion. Joshi conducted the SLI project to raise proper understanding of REDD+ among forest users with the ultimate goal in mind of realizing climate justice.

* * *

As climate change moves from being an impending crisis to an ongoing planetary emergency, it is important to critically evaluate the many so-called climate solutions that have arisen in response. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is one of the mitigation options that have emerged out of the United Nations deliberation process. It is a market-based mechanism to address climate mitigation by promoting the sequestration of carbon dioxide in forests while facilitating a global trade in certified emission reductions of sequestered carbon. This arrangement allows high emitters to meet their emission reduction targets by financing emission reduction programs in forest-rich developing countries.

Internationally, REDD+ has been heavily criticized and opposed by affected communities, scholars, and activists due to concerns about land grabs and human rights abuses and for not addressing the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, namely fossil-fuel-based industries. Nepal has been an attractive prospect for those seeking to pursue these mitigation attempts while minimizing their worst side effects, because REDD+ has been proposed for community forests with a proven record of governance that empowers local communities while enhancing forest cover.

Shangrila Joshi with members of Chaturmukhi Community Forest in Gaduwa, Chitwan.

SLI Project Highlights

The perceptions of REDD+ among Nepal’s community forest users have been the focus of my research investigations for the past few years. Specifically, I interviewed forest users and conducted participant observation in the three sites in Nepal where the REDD+ pilot project was implemented—Gorkha, Dolakha, and Chitwan—during the monsoon of 2017. I conducted follow-up meetings and site visits in Chitwan in 2018. During August 2019, with SLI support, I facilitated a series of workshops in Chitwan and a three-day forum in Pokhara bringing together 24 members of the Community Forest User Group (CFUG) and Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) from 12 districts of the Terai, where Nepal’s first World Bank program for REDD+ is slated for implementation.

 

Participants hearing a presentation by Dr. Joshi at the three-day forum in Pokhara.

Conversations in the workshops and forum revealed that while the desire of forest users to benefit from REDD+ is strong, their knowledge of how REDD+ specifically and carbon trading more generally operates in the local, national, and international contexts is weak. There is high demand for such knowledge to be widely disseminated in areas where REDD+ programs are to be ushered in. Participants were highly enthusiastic about welcoming REDD+ to their communities in ways that maximize economic and ecological benefits while avoiding harm to local communities. There was strong consensus among all participants that knowledge regarding REDD+ is highly inadequate in the local communities to be affected by REDD+, that access to such knowledge is desirable and necessary, and that any policies and benefit sharing should be equitable and just and involve meaningful participation of all stakeholders from the start. Community forest users at the forum and workshops overall expressed a strong desire to be active participants, not passive recipients in Nepal’s REDD+ programming.

Without a proper understanding among those who would be most affected by REDD+ of how REDD+ operates, how it strives to mitigate climate change, and how local forests and forest users are implicated, I argue that its proponents risk ignoring the principle of free, prior, and informed consent. The deliberations of the forum and workshops have been summarized in a white paper that has been shared with concerned officials in the Ministry of Forests and Environment, the World Bank, and FECOFUN, as well as media outlets in Nepal, so that the voices of community forest users may reach concerned authorities. In the white paper, I argued that meaningful participation and fully informed consent were not facilitated in all community forests in the Terai before the agreement on REDD+ was made between Nepal and the World Bank. If REDD+ is to move forward in Nepal, it is urgent that these gaps and oversight be rectified with a coordinated drive to involve local forest stakeholders in all REDD+ districts, through educational programs and discussion about the complex connections between climate change and forests, how REDD+ operates, what the rights of local forest users are, and how they can best advocate for their rights, if REDD+ is to move forward in Nepal.

 

 

Neoliberal Climate Solutions and the Commons

Although Nepal does not present blatant cases of disenfranchisement such as land grabs in areas where REDD+ projects are being introduced, concern is warranted for possible erosion of progressive structures. REDD+ is often characterized as a neoliberal solution, meaning it is predicated on the problematic assumption that free trade is the best way to maximize well-being and that the market is the best place through which to resolve social and environmental problems by virtue of the enlightened behavior of consumers buying and selling commodities. This is a decidedly different approach to resolving problems from that of members of a community deciding to impose rules and regulations to change behavior and address identified problems. Those interested in learning further about these two distinct ways to conceptualize and resolve problems may wish to look into the work of Elinor Ostrom, who tirelessly sought to correct the misconceptions introduced into the realm of environmental problem solving by Garrett Hardin through his highly influential yet problematic article “The Tragedy of the Commons.”

Is the tragedy of the atmospheric commons best solved through collective action—such as through a concerted global effort to scale back the burning of fossil fuels, addressing the problem at the source—or by commodifying the atmosphere, buying and selling carbon credits in the global marketplace? Carbon trading commodifies the atmospheric commons by assigning a price for a unit of reduced emissions: a carbon credit that can be bought and sold in the global carbon market. As a commodity, the price of carbon is determined not by its actual worth but rather by the vagaries of the market, and hence it is greatly underpriced. Ironically, the buyers of carbon credit—the ones creating emissions—determine the price of emissions reduction, while those who are already relatively blameless have little to no say. The latter are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, hence the importance of a climate justice lens to evaluate these neoliberal climate solutions.

Not only do those members of the global community who are making a carbon trade possible due to their labor and everyday choices have little power to influence the price of the carbon commodity they are selling; they are in many cases enabling this trade without their fully informed consent. Intermediaries such as the World Bank and government agencies often mediate the transactions between the buyers and sellers of carbon credits in ways that diminish the agency of the seller. Even if blatant instances of disenfranchisement may not occur in Nepal, these subtle ways of what geographer David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession” are concerning. In addition to these issues that are generic in the world, the stakes are high for Nepal also because of credible threats to common pool resource governance structures such as community forestry.

Community forestry users and leaders are generally highly welcoming and desirous of REDD+ projects due to the resources they promise, even if and perhaps precisely because the complex connections between forests, community forestry institutions, and global climate change are not well understood. The integration of local forests into a regime of global carbon trade requires quantification and measurement of carbon sequestered in forests in such a manner that privileges reductionist ways of managing forests. A related concern then is whether a move to embrace REDD+ might disenfranchise forest users from their ability to use their local and/or traditional ecological knowledge for forest management in ways that disproportionately privilege outsiders with technological skills and training in “scientific forestry.”

Power dynamics in the local context are important to understand as well. Specifically, programs such as REDD+ operate within an established culture of patriarchal domination, caste privilege, and disproportionate power of the urban educated elite. Attempts at gender sensitization and gender mainstreaming are laudable if insufficient, but there are indications that efforts to encourage equity for Dalit and Janjati groups are occurring in problematic ways that appear to further exacerbate animosity between social groups. If these instruments of carbon trading are to continue and do so in socially just ways, the question of what constitutes a “fair trade” in carbon as commodity at multiple scales begs serious attention.

The climate crisis can be seen as creating opportunities to reevaluate power dynamics at multiple scales, as well as to re-envision how the earth’s resources are used. Even as climate change offers new frontiers for the decades-long project of commodifying nature, thus enhancing the power of corporations, it has strengthened the resolve of activists who are striving to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground and to hold companies and countries accountable for the climate crisis. In Nepal, there are opportunities to strengthen existing institutional arrangements designed to empower ordinary people to engage in ecologically sustainable behavior. The challenge is to do so equitably and in meaningful, not tokenizing, ways. The current moment in Nepal—and the world—serves as a reminder that the stakes for a battle between these competing forces have never been higher.

Shangrila Joshi, author of the article, visiting Baghdevi Community Forest in Parsa, Chitwan.

(All photos by Addison Joshi Felizola)

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Delivering 3D-Printed Prosthetic Solutions in the Philippines: An Interview with Keio Fellow Yutaka Tokushima

May 9, 2018

Sylff Project Grant (SPG) is a new support program launched in September 2017. The program awards grants of up to $100,000 to support projects led by Sylff fellows with the aim of contributing to the resolution of a social issue. Selection criteria favor projects that take an innovative, sustainable approach and have high potential for social impact. Grantees must personify the Sylff mission and demonstrate the kind of leadership and commitment needed to spearhead social change.

In March 2018, the first grant was awarded to Yutaka Tokushima, recipient of a 2016–17 Sylff fellowship at Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus. In the following overview and interview, we profile the project’s leader, his previous accomplishments as a Sylff fellow, and his plans for translating those achievements into an enterprise with sustained social impact.

***

Overview

Yutaka Tokushima is a doctoral student at Keio University specializing in fabrication design. Hoping to use his expertise for the good of society, Tokushima initiated a project aimed at leveraging digital technology to provide affordable prosthetic legs to low-income individuals in the Philippines.

Owing to dietary issues, diabetes is a growing problem among the poor in many developing countries, and when patients are poorly informed about their condition and its control, the complications can lead to amputation of the lower extremities. Unable to work, amputees typically sink deeper into poverty. A conventional artificial limb, which must be assembled by highly skilled artisans from multiple parts and a variety of materials, can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $9,000 in the Philippines. For someone subsisting on less than $400 a year, such a purchase is unthinkable. Yet an artificial limb would allow many of these amputees to find work and support themselves.

A 3D-printed prosthetic leg prototype and 3D printer (right).

In an effort to surmount these critical cost obstacles, Tokushima developed a system that uses 3D printing and machine learning to fabricate prosthetic legs entirely from plastic. The process yields dramatic savings, first of all, by eliminating the need for expensive materials. In addition, the application of a 3D printing system using software with machine-learning capabilities greatly reduces the need for advanced professional skills in the fabrication process. As a result, artificial legs can be created at a small fraction of the cost of conventional prostheses, putting them within reach of low-income amputees in developing countries.

Next, Tokushima set up a company, Instalimb, which is currently conducting clinical trials of 3D-printed prosthetic legs in Metro Manila. If all goes well, he plans to launch a social business in the form of a joint venture and begin providing 3D-printed prosthetic solutions on a commercial basis in Manila sometime in 2019. The next step will be to explore ways of expanding that business model to sparsely populated areas and outlying islands, where cost and accessibility hurdles are particularly high.

Tokushima believes he has a mission to apply his expertise in fabrication design to help better the lives of people in the developing world. He also believes that, in order to ensure lasting social impact, assistance from the developed world must focus on giving local citizens the means to tackle their communities’ issues themselves.

Interview

In the following interview, Yutaka Tokushima spoke with me about his goals and aspirations for the project recently awarded an SPG. (Interview conducted by Keita Sugai on March 26, 2018, at the offices of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.)

Yutaka Tokushima, left, with program officer Keita Sugai.

— What made you decide you to undertake the development of a 3D-printed prosthetic solution?

YUTAKA TOKUSHIMA: It all started when I was working in Bohol, in the Philippines, with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers [JOCV] under the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The digital fabrication technology already existed. I was wondering if that technology could be used to help people in Bohol help themselves. I realized that 3D printing was a groundbreaking technology that could give low-income individuals access to powerful fabrication tools even on a tiny island like Bohol. 

 

— Why did you choose Metro Manila as your market? 

TOKUSHIMA: I’ve always thought that I’d like to do something to contribute to development in Southeast Asia, and when I joined the JOCV, I was sent to Bohol. As an outgrowth of my work there, I had the idea of leveraging digital fabrication technology to help the poor via social entrepreneurship. I chose Metro Manila because it’s a big city with a lot of poverty and inadequate access to urban services, and because there’s a widespread feeling that something needs to be done about its social problems. In other words, it was the place that offered the best opportunities for this kind of social enterprise. For me, a key challenge is striking a balance between philanthropy and business viability, and Metro Manila seemed like the best location from that viewpoint.

 

— We know that you’ve already conducted some trials on a limited basis. What’s been the response from your subjects?

TOKUSHIMA: We’ve had a great response. I remember particularly an elderly man whose leg had been amputated seven years earlier. He couldn’t wait to get back to his job as a cabinetmaker, and his wife was so happy she was crying. It was truly gratifying.

 

— So, what are your short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives?

TOKUSHIMA: This year I’m going to continue usability testing to perfect the product, while establishing a business model that can be applied to most third-world cities. I’m also going to make preparations for the launch of my venture business. And I’m going to conduct a feasibility study to gauge the possibility of developing a separate business model geared to remote areas and islands. Medium term, I want to begin offering prosthetic solutions throughout the Philippines within the next three years. Beyond that, I hope to use what I’ve learned in the Philippines to expand to other developing and semi-industrialized countries.

 

— Do you have any ideas about what you might do next?

TOKUSHIMA: I know that I want to pursue this approach of using new technology to empower developing nations. The traditional model of development assistance was based on a vertical relationship. The donor countries brought in their own materials, equipment, and know-how, and when something broke down or wore out, it was often difficult to fix it. The trend in international cooperation nowadays is toward a horizontal relationship between donor and recipient. There’s a growing emphasis on providing technology that empowers people in the developing world to solve their own problems. I’d like to be a part of that.

 

— Is there any message you’d like to convey to other Sylff Association members reading this interview?

TOKUSHIMA: Sylff's goals are very consistent with the trend toward horizontal cooperation that I was talking about. The Sylff mission centers on transcending differences and joining together to address the issues confronting society. It’s an honor to be selected for a Sylff Project Grant. For others around the world who are eager to pursue similar projects, I want to say that we’re lucky to be living in a time when there are people who will give us a chance. I want to make the most of that opportunity and provide an example for others by strengthening cooperative ties and making a real difference in the world.

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Indigenous Technology and Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Report

October 23, 2017
By 19603

Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu is a Sylff fellow from Howard University in the United States. She was also awarded an SLI grant in 2016, with which she implemented a workshop on leadership training for future young leaders in Rwanda. Born and raised in Nigeria, Chika first visited Rwanda as a junior consultant for the World Bank during her PhD studies and was enchanted by the peaceful, welcoming, and hardworking nation. She joined the faculty of the University of Rwanda after completing her PhD at Howard and, since then, has been vigorously contributing to further economic and social improvement in the country. The following article is based on her recent research on indigenous technology and how it can empower rural women in Rwanda.

***

 

Need for Local Technology

Drinking banana wine.

Technology is more strategically positioned to trigger innovation and growth within a community when it is founded on the realities and lived experiences of a people; indigenous technology is that technology with roots in a community or group of people. Many industrially advanced societies commenced their journey with indigenous technology as the starting point, from where they have traveled to reach their present place. A dependence on imported technology often leads to stunted growth of the industrial system. As such, and because innovation and creative output arising from indigenous knowledge is a pertinent driver of economic growth, societies aiming toward unhindered industrial progression will need to seriously explore options available within the indigenous technological knowledge pool (Basu & Weil, 1998). Processes, products, services, and systems built in response to existing and projected challenges or even the realities of a particular environment are essentially sustainable and hold potential for further enlargement by community members.

Role of Rural Women in Local Technology

Rural women are increasingly becoming the major custodians of indigenous technology. There are several reasons, including the traditional role of women in homesteads and the migration of men to urban areas in search of employment. Rural women apply indigenous technology to agriculture and food processing, family healthcare, livelihood management, and community development; even where they have access to employment in rural areas, women do not always have access to modern technology for use in the production process and still turn to traditional methods and techniques. Although many governments concerned with rural women’s economic empowerment have made efforts to institute modern technology and make it more accessible, its adaptation and sustainability has been a major challenge. The high cost of importing modern technology pales in comparison to the needed investment of time and funds in continuous education, training, and maintenance of that technology.

In rural areas, women are often marginalized in the distribution of jobs, mostly due to traditional beliefs about men being breadwinners and women being homemakers. Women in rural areas often have to contend with social norms that limit their ability to combine work, family, and other social and personal responsibilities. When they are engaged in meaningful employment, women tend to be clustered in fewer sectors than their male counterparts. In the field of agriculture, for instance, women tend to dominate the subsistence production sphere, even in situations where other nontraditional and commercial farming opportunities exist.

Despite the noted challenges, available empirical evidence across the world indicates that with women being increasingly in control of household resources, either through their own earnings or by cash transfers, the chances of overall economic advancement are remarkably improved. Indeed, at the family level, research outcomes from countries as varied as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom point to the fact that expenses on overall family well-being and children’s education increase when women have greater access to household income (World Bank, 2011).

Rwanda and Rural Women’s Advancement

Fifty-four percent of Rwanda’s population is female, while 30 percent of rural households are headed by women. Many rural households are not entirely food secure, because they cannot depend on farming due mainly to environmental factors and their utilization of technology that requires intensive labor (IFAD, 2012). In rural areas, women often cultivate smaller plots of less than one hectare and depend on rain to irrigate grain crops, rear traditional livestock, and grow vegetables. Few female farmers compete with men in the cash crops production sector, which occupies only about 4 percent of total arable land. In essence, female-headed households in rural Rwanda are susceptible to poverty and malnutrition.

The government of Rwanda has shown an unwavering commitment to advancing women on several fronts. Economically speaking, the percentage of Rwandan women who are in paid employment is higher than ever in the history of the nation. The government of Rwanda is one of the few countries in the world that have a dedicated Gender Monitoring Office tasked with ensuring the mainstreaming of gender issues in policy making. Still, as in many other parts of the developing world, unemployment and underemployment remain prevalent in Rwanda, especially among poor rural women, who are mostly subsistence farmers. This is despite several pro-poor policies by the Rwandan government that attempt to accommodate the needs of rural women. Several factors account for this, including low financial literacy, poor information access, and weak bargaining power (Pozarny, 2016).

Rwanda: An Empirical Study

The need to find homegrown and grassroots approaches to the economic empowerment of rural women in Rwanda informed research on the role that indigenous technology can play in achieving this aim. The research was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Rwanda led by the author and supported by the International Development Research Center of Canada. Studies were conducted on the possibility that products based on indigenous technology, such as indigenous beverages (banana wine and juice, sorghum beer and drink), indigenous vegetables, and traditional fermented beer, could contribute to the economic empowerment of rural women.

Indigenous Beverage Production

The results indicate that indigenous-technology-based beverages and fermented milk hold great potential for improving the livelihoods of rural women. We interviewed 100 rural women who produce or sell indigenous beverages and 100 rural producers of fermented milk, who said that they make profits of between 40 US cents and 1 dollar per 20-liter plastic container. Sales can range from a few jerry cans to as much as 40 per week. Female producers also employ a number of casual workers, sometimes as many as five. Many female producers of indigenous beverages note that they were unable to afford meals for their families prior to beginning the business but can now pay school fees, purchase health insurance, and secure decent living spaces. Although these women do not receive government support—as they have said themselves and government officials have confirmed—they do pay taxes. However, many of them note that tax preparation takes up a lot of time, and many have to shut down business during tax preparation. Women producers also find it difficult to obtain loans from financial institutions due to their inability to provide collateral. Women say that although they would like to package their drinks, the cost of packaging is prohibitive and the packaged product would be outside the reach of their current customers.

The study established that rural women can benefit much more economically when diverse beverage products are on offer, especially when basic hygienic and aesthetic standards are met. Rural tourism is receiving a boost in many countries around the world. In France, for instance, tourists travel from all over the world to rural France in order to have a taste of locally made French cheese, crafted using centuries-old indigenous technological know-how. Rwanda can tap into the rural tourism market by identifying local champions in various rural areas and supporting them with branding and marketing.

Indigenous Vegetables

Female rural producers say that indigenous vegetables like urudega, ibidodoki, inyabutongo, and isogo have healing properties and have been used to effectively treat such conditions as anemia, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, oral candidiasis, abdominal pain, and more. They testify that demand for these vegetables in rural areas far outweigh supply, whereas in the urban areas only a few traditional vegetables, such as dodoki, are in high demand and are quite expensive, as demand far outweighs supply. Female rural indigenous vegetable farmers note the penchant of urban dwellers for imported vegetables, such as cucumber, cabbage, and tomatoes. They say they are unable to produce sufficient quantities of indigenous vegetables due to limited land, lack of manure, limited knowledge, diseases and pests, the damaging effects of climate change leading to droughts and heavy rains, and the perception that the youth and urban dwellers hold of certain traditional vegetables as being food reserved for poor rural dwellers.

Conclusion

The Rwandan government and development partners can play a key role in improving the production of indigenous products by rural women using indigenous technology. Rather than the previous emphasis on imported technology, which is expensive, difficult to maintain, and does not foster local technology, emphasis can be placed on supporting rural women through a variety of means, including training on processing, hygiene, aesthetics, customer service, financial literacy, branding and marketing, business management, and simple production methods. There is also a need to provide these women producers of indigenous beverages with expanded access to finances, as well as ensure that they have improved market access, infrastructure, and facilities. Moreover, the public needs to be enlightened on the nutritious content and health benefits of indigenous products. The government of Rwanda will then be more likely to achieve its vision of turning the country into a self-sustaining economy, not dependent on external funds or resources for advancement and growth, in record time.

(NB: The full article will be published in 2018 as a special issue of the journal Indigenous Knowledge: Other Ways of Knowing.)

References

Basu, S., & D. Weil (1998). “Appropriate Technology and Growth.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, 1025–54.

IFAD (2012). Enabling Poor Rural People to Overcome Poverty in Rwanda. Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Pozarny, P. (2016). “The Rwanda Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) Public Works and Women's Empowerment.” GSDRC at the University of Birmingham/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

World Bank (2011). World Development Report. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

 

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Finding a Lasting Solution: Insights From the Forum on Violent Extremism and Radicalization in East Africa

May 31, 2017
By null

Dr. Jacinta Mwende, Majune Socrates, Steve Muthusi, and Alexina Marucha, four Sylff fellows from the University of Nairobi, initiated and implemented a forum titled “Understanding the ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Factors Underlying Violent Extremism and Radicalization among the Youth in East Africa” on December 8 and 9, 2016, at the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus. The forum gathered 35 young leaders from African countries including 10 former and current Sylff fellows from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The participants identified the fundamental causes of the grave problem of violent extremism and youth radicalization and suggested the importance of small but meaningful steps taken by individuals that will bring a major change in their community, country, and region.

 * * *

The twenty-first century has experienced more rapid changes and crises than the previous ones. While the past centuries saw more interstate conflicts, recent crises have centered on intrastate dynamics. The challenge of violent extremism did not emerge yesterday; in earlier times, though, minimal attention was given to violent extremism and radicalization. The horrors of 9/11 set off a spate of violent extremism in various countries and led to the emergence of terror groups pursuing various agendas with political and social motives. Civilians have been the main victims, but members of security forces have also lost their lives in the struggle to protect their beloved countries.

Extremism in East Africa

With the recent development and growing pull of violent extremism and radicalization, a significant number of youths in East Africa have joined extremist groups. Kenya, for instance, has witnessed a sharp increase in individuals joining extremist groups since 2011, when attacks were launched on Kenyan soil. The government responded by “putting the boots” in Somalia. Since then, more troops have been added while extremist activities have escalated, resulting in the loss of lives and destruction of property. Furthermore, the government’s move to target Muslims of Somali origin has led more youths, the majority of them being Muslims, to join these extremist groups in revolt against marginalization. Religious and tribal identity, which are most prevalent in Kenya, have highly accelerated the rate at which radicalization is spreading.

The states are therefore faced with a major problem that, if not curbed in good time, will claim their youths to violent extremism. The Sylff Peace Forum held on December 8 and 9, 2016, brought together 35 citizens of the African continent to not only better understand the problem but provide solutions and a way forward to countering radicalization and violent extremism. Ten of the participants were former and current Sylff fellows (from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while the rest comprised nationals of Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Tanzania, Sudan, and Burundi. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they included members of civil society, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and government, as well as students.

During the two-day forum, various speakers—among them were Professor Bruno Kaimwa, Barbra Natifu, Dr. Hassan Kinyua, Dr. Patrick Maluki, and Debarl Inea—gave various insights, prompting heated discussions that delved into experiences of the individuals present and literature that they had read.

Photo session of all attendees on day two. Photo session of all attendees on day two.

Presentations

To start off the discussions, Dr. Patrick Maluki gave a presentation on the “Political and Economic Perspectives of Radicalization” in which the definition of radicalization was deeply explored. According to Maluki, a radicalized person is one who is tricked, swayed, and seduced into taking radical beliefs. Hence, radicalization is a process whereby individuals adopt extreme political and religious beliefs once they join a certain group with radical ideologies. The group believes that change is necessary and that violence is the means by which this can be achieved.

Professor Bruno Kaimwa, a former Sylff fellow from the DRC, extended the discussion to the state of violence and radicalization in eastern DRC. Barbra Natifu outlined the role of historical injustice in perpetuating violent extremism, while Dr. Hassan Kinyua outlined the link between religion and radicalization. Lastly, the role of media in radicalization and extremism was reviewed by Debarl Inea.

Based on the discussions by current and former Sylff fellows and others, the following factors were identified as drivers of radicalization and extremism among youth: social networks, which are useful in the recruitment of new members; poverty and unemployment; corruption and favors in the public sector; and marginalization due to religious and ethnic affiliations, a big contributor where some communities have been sidelined not only by the government but also by parts of the private sector. Denial of political and civil rights by the government and lack of opportunities to be heard by the government or leaders in power have also fed radicalization. Selective application of the law to citizens, which is harsher on youth, is another one of the major reasons why radicalization has become rampant.

Conclusion

What can be done to solve the crisis at hand? That is the major question facing states. Although efforts are being made to curb extremism, the real challenge on the ground is complex and difficult. Fleeing of countries to places where the ideology is more profound is what is being experienced. One speaker noted that the marginalization of Muslims by governments is real. A refugee from the DRC shared an experience where, while crossing the border using the same pass as that of other refugees, his Muslim comrade faced tougher scrutiny than him.

The exploitation of religion and tribalism has led to the spread of violent extremism and radicalization. Remedies include holding peace forums, promoting education, addressing the challenge of youth unemployment, strengthening governance, and bringing the leaders on board as well as getting them to understand that ideological wars need to be fought using the mind and not physical force. Only when we have achieved this will we eventually see violent extremism and radicalization eradicated from society.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.

Facebook page of the University of Nairobi Chapter: https://www.facebook.com/Sasakawa-Fellows-University-of-Nairobi-397988557219449/

 

Dr. Jacinta Mwende Maweu received Sylff fellowship in 2004–2006 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. She is currently a lecturer in philosophy and media studies at the university, having obtained a PhD from Rhodes University. Her areas of interest include critical thinking, socio-political philosophy, leadership and governance, media ethics, political economy of the media, mass media and human rights, peace journalism, and media and society.

Majune Kraido Socrates received Sylff fellowship in 2013–2015 to pursue an MA in Economics at the University of Nairobi, where he is currently a PhD student in economics. His areas of interest include international economics, public economics, institutional economics, and econometrics. Socrates is also a sprinter who specializes in the 100 meters, 400 meters, and 4 x 100-meter relay.

Alexina Marucha received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. Her areas of specialization are event organizing and coordination, media and public relations, and development communication.


Stephen Muthusi Katembu received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue a Master of Psychology degree at the University of Nairobi. He is passionate about helping to uplift the lives of all by working together with individuals, institutions, corporations, and communities. He furnishes them with information through training and education for personal, professional, and community development with the aim of leading to improved livelihoods and a better-informed, healthy, and peaceful society.

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Living with Wildfire: Voices from the Local Community

May 9, 2017
By null

Three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, organized a volunteer initiative between April and August 2016 in response to smog pollution in Northern Thailand. They led a group of local residents and students in the construction of a check dam to function as a wet firebreak minimizing fire danger and to help slow down the fast flow of the stream during the storm season. They also conducted a focus group discussion with community leaders to learn how to deal with wildfire and haze.

 * * *

Target site for check dam construction

Target site for check dam construction

Introduction

For more than 10 years, the residents of Chiang Mai and other provinces in Northern Thailand have been experiencing smog that regularly blankets the region during the dry season from February to April. The haze crisis not only reduces visibility but also causes negative health impacts and obstructs tourism activities. The sources of haze are varied, ranging from geographic features, wind direction, and wildfires to burning of agricultural waste and industrial emissions.

As smog pollution has come to affect larger communities, the government has pointed to the burning of fields and brush by local people in rural areas as a major cause. It launched an official “60-day no-burning” rule, banning burning from March to April in the hope of controlling the “serious smog situation.” Enforcing the rule is difficult, however, because people consider burning to be a “way of life.”

Brainstorming and Project Planning

In response to the smog problem, three Sylff fellows from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, initiated a community service project aimed at reducing smog pollution and developing an understanding of the ways of life of local people as it relates to myths and facts about forest fire. The project took place in Ban Huy Jo village, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai, an area where hotspots have been occurring repeatedly. The three authors chose to work on building the ability to reduce hotspots, which is key to mitigating smog. We exchanged ideas and discussion within our working team, and we also asked for suggestions from an experienced researcher who has previously studied the problem of wildfire in this area.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The volunteers were divided into many groups. Some helped collect rocks from the ground, while others helped pass the rocks into the check dam.

The project was started in April 2016. We agreed to focus on activities that would help reduce the chances of wildfire hotspots forming. The first step was conducting a field survey in Ban Huy Jo village, the results of which suggested that check dams to serve as wet firebreaks should help in minimizing fire danger and help slow down the fast flow of streams during storm season. Check dams give the water time to soak into the dry soil and bring humidity to forests throughout the year, thereby functioning as natural firebreaks. After consulting with the community’s leaders, we decided to raise funds and solicit volunteers with the goal of building a permanent concrete check dam, as well as to conduct a focus meeting with community leaders to learn how local people cope with wildfire issues. The event was set to be held in the middle of August 2016.

Fundraising and Dam Construction

While temporary check dams made of such materials as sandbags, logs, and rocks may require lower budgets, their life spans are limited. We therefore chose to build a permanent concrete check dam that would last longer, which called for the need to raise decent funds to budget the construction. Fundraising activities included planning and preparing to ask for support (including money and in-kind donations), as well as related activities such as campaigning through social networks and personal connections. Generous supporters made donations worth a total of 16,000 baht (USD 500). All of the money has been used in the interests of the local community.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Early in the morning on Saturday, August 20, 2016, 25 villagers and students gathered at the foothills of Doi Inthanon National Park, located next to Ban Huy Jo village. After a brief introduction, everyone was assigned a duty; this helped us finish the construction within a day. The construction method used was simple: suitably sized rocks were collected near the stream to fill in the check dam structure, and sand was dug from a dry creek to mix with cement. These were then passed along in buckets toward the dam. The volunteers kept hard at work, undeterred by the hot weather.

After half a day, we had a quick lunch together with the support of The Opium Serviced Apartment and Hotel, Drill Drop, and Lactasoy. The students and local volunteers had a chance to get to know one another over lunch. Construction was done at 3 pm.

The authors would like to thank all the donors and supporters who funded the project, and, above all, we wish to thank all the volunteers who contributed their labor to constructing the dam. The check dam was functioning in time three weeks later.

Voices from the Community

After construction, the three Sylff fellows and community leaders held a focus group meeting to exchange insights on how the local community lives with wildfires and how they manage this issue in response to the haze crisis.

Changing life of people neighboring the forest

We asked Po Long Plern, the community leader, to share with us the history and local life of people in Ban Huy Jo village. “We have lived here for eighty or ninety years, and the forest was already there,” Po Long Plern said. “Our ways of life have relied on the forest.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

Community volunteers provided the labor and local materials for dam construction.

“This village used to be an elephant camp catering to logging concessions. The majority of our men worked in activities related to the forest industry. When the Thai government banned logging concessions, the villagers lost their jobs. Above all, logging activities adversely impacted the natural environment, leaving only small trees. The villagers cut those small trees to make charcoal for family income, further aggravating the situation and making recovery even harder. Most of the villagers then changed their careers to become rice farmers and longan gardeners. When the rainy season comes, though, flash floods damage the paddy fields and longan gardens every year.”

Fires are set to protect local safety

Next, we moved to the topic of how the community engages in forest conservation. In the past, the community leaders told us, the villagers did not know how to care for the forest. But the Thai authorities came 10–15 years ago and instructed them on what they should do. The leaders had the chance to visit the King’s project at Huy Hong Krai and learned how local people can manage natural resources on their own, such as by making firebreaks and check dams.

“Wildfire is a part of village life, and some fires naturally occur in the deciduous dipterocarp forest,” Po Laung Plern added. “We want people in the city to understand this truth. Since the smog problem became a serious issue about ten years ago, we have been blamed for setting fires on purpose for our personal benefit. But that is only a small part of the whole story. Our local people need to maintain and use traditional fire knowledge so that they can preemptively burn forest landscapes for our personal safety. Otherwise, the fires will damage our houses and farms.”

We did it at last!

We did it at last!

Conservation must begin with mindset adjustments for both authorities and villagers

“None of the villagers want to see a dry forest; the forest is our food security.” The local community explained to the Sylff fellows that they already had fire management knowledge but lacked a management system. Three years ago a researcher came to the village and helped them deal with wildfire problems by using management procedures. “Since then, we have learned about setting planned fires to reduce leaves and waste in the forest in a proper manner. We make plans together about when to set a fire and who will be involved.”

The check dam after rainfall.

The check dam after rainfall.

Although the villagers may be willing to participate in fire control activities, these activities would not be sustainable if the villagers have nothing to gain from protecting the forest. Making profits from national conservation forests is illegal under Thai law, but local authorities have pragmatically asked the villagers to make a commitment that they will collect only enough vegetables and wild foods for family meals and not for business purposes. This is why the local community agrees to protect the forest. In some cases the authorities may allow poor villagers to cut trees for house construction, but only with restrictions. Thanks to this agreement, the villagers are happy to be forest guards and working together with the authorities.

Don’t blame us, please help us: Reflections from the local community

When talking about smog pollution, the community accepted that some of its members used to set fires for the purpose of vegetation regeneration but noted that they have since changed their beliefs. But this image still endures in people’s minds, especially among those who live in the city. “We would like the general public to hear our voices and to understand that the forests belong to every single person. Why don’t they come and help instead of blaming and leave all the problem solving on our shoulders?”

In Closing

Through the meeting, the authors learned that the enforcement of legal measures alone may be insufficient in alleviating the haze crisis. Successful efforts to control smog from forest burning requires that we understand the context surrounding this issue, how it happens, and why it has not been under control for years. We also learned that blaming does not help in dealing with wildfire and smog problems. On the contrary, it could destroy the will of local communities to protect the forest. In summary, we suggest that outsiders who have expressed their desire to see an end to this problem offer their helping hands to local communities to let them know that they are not fighting alone.

Apirada Cha-emjan received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Health Social Science at Chiang Mai University. Her research examines the effects of everyday violence toward the decision-making process on abortion among Burmese migrants. She is conducting her study in Mae Sot District along the Thai-Myanmar border and identifying protective factors that enhance the physical and psychological well-being of the mother who decided to abort her child.

Rapipun Maoyot received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Geoinformatics at Chiang Mai University. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of using market-based strategies for achieving conservation goals. Her question concerns what the advantages and disadvantages are of using Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Upper Watershed areas in Chiang Mai.

Kedsirin Thammachai received a Sylff fellowship in 2014 for her MA in Public Administration at Chiang Mai University. Her research aims to study the causal model and influential factors that can help to objectively analyze the effectiveness and results of training programs that the State Railway of Thailand have provided to traffic operation officers.

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Nubian Women’s Arts and Cultural Continuity:The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Nubian Women Art

April 25, 2017
By 19646

Naglaa Fathi Mahmoud-Hussein, a 2015 Sylff fellow at Howard University in the United States, implemented a social project for women handcraft artists in Nubia, Egypt, under the Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) program from mid-June to September 2016. The three-month project, comprising field interviews, workshops, and a training program, helped these women get educated on financial knowledge and skills. More importantly, the women are now aware of the value of their artistic pieces and how they should be fairly evaluated.

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Motivation behind the Project

Women in the Middle East and Africa share a common history and cause. In both regions, women played active roles in resisting and recovering from the colonial trauma. In postcolonial times, however, the perceptions of African and Middle Eastern women and their role in development have often been underrepresented. Women handcrafters, for example, are considered merely producers of unsubstantial commodities—goods that add little to the economic empowerment of nations. The artistic production of those women is seldom acknowledged as art that should be nurtured and included in the art scene, which defines the scopes of cultural identities of these societies. As a case in point, Egyptian Nubian women handcrafters do not enjoy the ranking status of artists whose work is based in Cairo workshops, studios, and exhibitions. Hence, it is important to reach out to those women.

Nubian women handcrafters are now navigating different facets of their identity complexes. Already placed on the periphery and being darker skinned, residing mainly in the villages on the border between Egypt and Sudan, Nubian women are negotiating their blackness, their gender dynamics, and state policies toward their artistic productions.

During the time of Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011), Nubian women handcrafters depended heavily on the trading of their artistic productions during seasons of high tourist influx in Egypt. However, the political unrest in recent years has greatly impacted the influx of tourists to Nubian villages. Moreover, new state legislations restricting civil society work have resulted in a shortage and even lack of funding to these women.

For example, on November 28, 2016, the Egyptian parliament approved a new restrictive draft law to govern civil society organizations. The draft includes provisions that require permission from the government before civil society organizations (CSOs) can accept foreign funding; require government permission before foreign CSOs can operate in Egypt; require government permission before CSOs can in any way work with foreign organizations or foreign experts; limit CSOs’ activities by requiring government permission to conduct surveys or publish reports; raise the fee for CSO registration and give the government broad discretion to refuse to register a CSO; and heighten the penalties for violations of the law to include prison sentences and steep fines.

The main objective of my project was to contribute to the empowerment of rural Nubian women artists by helping women to run small businesses and providing them with the necessary skills needed to establish and effectively run their businesses. Secondly, I hoped to create a sustainable instrument that provides Nubian women with economic consultations and support. Finally, my project’s overall endeavor was, and still is, to preserve and promote Nubian artistic handicrafts.

The Project

Field Interviews

In my field interviews, I focused on underscoring key challenges that face women running small businesses as articulated by the interviewees. Thirty women were interviewed.

Based on the field interviews, which were also documented on video, I found that women owning small businesses in Aswan suffered from several problems including the lack of marketing and promotion skills, inability to perform simple accounting tasks, and lack of knowledge on loans institutions, on how to carry out feasibility studies for their projects, and on the registration and taxation process. Most of the women whom I interviewed had never participated in art exhibitions, lacking the means to reach out to the exhibition organizers. Most interviewees welcomed the idea of establishing economic consultation centers (ECU) that provide economic consultation to women owning small businesses.

Training of Trainers Program

Ms. Mahmoud-Hussein with TOT trainers and participants

Ms. Mahmoud-Hussein with TOT trainers and participants

I then organized a Training of Trainers (TOT) program from July 26 to 28, 2016, in the Aswan governorate. The training brought together 15 young educated women with relevant university degrees to become economic consultants who can provide capacity building for women running small business. The target trainees were selected based on their education, their willingness to volunteer and continue to provide business consultation for women, and their geographic location. Participating women cadres gained TOT skills, consultation providing skills, small business accounting skills, and various outlets for obtaining small business loans. The training included practical exercises, such as simulations in which the trainees played the roles of a consultant and a woman seeking a specific business consultation. The trainees worked to design and produce a blueprint of the proposed training lessons, which they will be using to train women who run small businesses.

Women Training Workshops

There is no question that the above-mentioned legislations will hinder efforts to reach out to women handcrafters through systematic work with grassroots or civil society. In an attempt to open up a way forward for these women artists, I traveled during the summer of 2016 with the support of a Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) grant to conduct two workshops to help Nubian women handcrafters find a platform for economic support. The two workshops saw the participation of 30 women running small businesses and provided these women with small business skills such as identifying business opportunities, business development, administrative skills, basic accounting, managing credits, and loans skills. The women received training on how to develop and refine their products for better marketing and on how to identify wholesalers and develop a commercial network. They also learned about how to outreach and participate in art exhibitions in and outside the governorate of Aswan.

Economic Consultation Units

Trainees who underwent the TOT program and those who have been trained in economic consultation skills work in coordination with partner NGOs in Aswan to provide free consultation. The contact information for the consultants were disseminated among women running small businesses during the training. The women regularly contact the consultants by phone, and in many instances they request a meeting, which then usually takes place either at the premises of a partner NGO or at the consultant’s place.

Outcomes

Trainees participating in the workshops acquired new skills including project management and marketing skills. They learned about the role of the Ministry of Social Solidarity in supporting the small business sector, the various forms of technical and financial assistance provided by the ministry, and means of approaching the ministry. The Nubian women gained information about various financial and lending institutions and the necessary procedures to apply for loans with such institutions as Nasser Bank, the Social Fund for Development, and NGOs working in the field of small projects. In addition, they learned how to carry out bookkeeping and use simple accounting methods to manage the financial side of their projects.

In conclusion, the three-month project helped raise the aspirations of these women to develop, promote, and market their small businesses. The impact that workshops like these have on women handcrafters’ businesses makes it essential to hold such trainings frequently.

Despite any difficulties that researchers and members of civil society may be stumbling across, they are looking at the future of social activism through artistic work with enthusiasm, devotion, and commitment.

Details can be found at http://tamkeen.webs.com.

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Tackling Humanitarian Challenges—A Global Responsibility

February 10, 2017
By 19619

Dr. Gosia Pearson, who received a 2004 Sylff fellowship at Jagiellonian University to study at Oxford University, currently works in the European Commission’s department for humanitarian aid and civil protection (ECHO). She reports on the challenges of the humanitarian sector and outlines solutions to overcome them.

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Working for the leading humanitarian donor—the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO)—is an exceptional privilege. Each year, ECHO provides over 1 billion euros to help around 120 million victims of natural and man-made disasters in over 80 countries worldwide; these include not only major crises that are high on the international agenda but also those that escape media attention. But the job also carries an enormous responsibility to exert all efforts possible to save lives and give hope to disaster-affected populations. This is particularly difficult in current times, which witness challenges not seen in recent history.

The Changing Humanitarian Reality

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, ®EU/ECHO.

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, ®EU/ECHO.

Current humanitarian catastrophes are more devastating than ever before due to political, socio-economic, and environmental factors. There are numerous endemic internal conflicts, many of which are ideologically highly charged, involving elements of conventional war and terrorism, and resulting in dramatic regional consequences. Last year alone, there were over 400 political conflicts, including tens of wars, which affected lives of 50 million people. These crises often last for years because of lengthy negotiations and lack of political solutions and happen more frequently in poor and fragile states, adding up to the vulnerabilities of the local populations.

Climate change, environmental degradation, urbanization, and population growth increase possible hazards and lead to a global rise in disasters. The number of climate-related events worldwide has doubled in the last 25 years. Every year natural disasters impact the lives of nearly 100 million people, and in the last 15 years they have led to direct economic losses of an estimated 2 trillion euros. There is a growing interdependence among these factors, making crises more complex and unpredictable.

These drivers have led to unprecedented human suffering and record-high humanitarian needs. In the last decade the UN humanitarian appeals grew by 640%. At the beginning of 2016, 87.6 million people in 37 countries around the world were in need of humanitarian assistance, and about 60 million people were displaced. These numbers represent nearly a doubling of people affected by humanitarian crises in the last decade. This year the UN requested over 20 billion US dollars to meet the needs of the affected populations, which is the highest appeal in history.

The ongoing pressure on humanitarians to provide assistance that goes far beyond saving lives and alleviating suffering makes humanitarian work ever more challenging. The financial and operational capacities are stretched to the limits, hindering adequate response. Last year, donors provided over 10 billion US dollars to help victims of conflict and disaster. This was the highest contribution in history; still, it covered only half of the estimated needed help. Funds are most constrained in protracted crises, which absorb nearly 80% of humanitarian funding. In addition, the operating environment has become increasingly complex, politicized, and insecure. The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence are often challenged, and international humanitarian law is bluntly violated, resulting in arbitrary denial of access and lack of protection. Civilians are directly attacked, sexual based violence is used as a weapon of war, and children are recruited as child soldiers. Humanitarian personnel are also victims of direct attacks and kidnappings.

Partnerships as a Basis for Principled and Effective Humanitarian Action

EU delegation to the World Humanitarian Summit Global Consultation, ®EU/ECHO.

EU delegation to the World Humanitarian Summit Global Consultation, ®EU/ECHO.

The response to these challenges should be based, first and foremost, on genuine partnerships between the various actors engaged in humanitarian action. No single actor has the capacity and resources to face these challenges alone. It is only through linked and coordinated action that the global community can respond to the escalating and multifaceted crises and disasters that demand humanitarian assistance. Such partnerships should be fostered for two purposes in particular. The first is to reaffirm the very basic humanitarian values: the values of dignity, integrity, and solidarity; humanitarian principles; the respect of obligations under international law; and the commitment to keep humanitarian work distinct from political agendas. This will help ensure access to assistance, protection, and security. The second objective is to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian action. This should include risk-informed response based on needs; closer cooperation with local actors, where possible; efficient and sufficient funding; and closer cooperation with the development community.

To build a more inclusive and diverse humanitarian system committed to humanitarian principles, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the convening of a World Humanitarian Summit, which took place for the first time in May 2016 in Istanbul. This multi-stakeholder event aimed to set a forward-looking and collective agenda for humanitarian action. At the event, 50 world leaders and 9,000 humanitarian, development, and political stakeholders from around the world made altogether 3,000 commitments to support a new shared Agenda for Humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering.

EU solutions to humanitarian challenges, ®EU/ECHO.

EU solutions to humanitarian challenges, ®EU/ECHO.

My most recent task was to prepare and coordinate the EU’s position for the Summit, where the EU pledged over

100 commitments on its own policies, programs, and funds. Some examples of its commitments include adopting new guidelines on protection of civilians, signing the Grand Bargain on Humanitarian Financing, funding for the Education Cannot Wait initiative, adopting a new policy on forced displacement, signing up to the Charter on Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, and signing the Urban Crises Charter. The EU also signed the Political Communique, which was supported by over 70 countries. Like the EU, other countries and organizations made commitments for a better functioning humanitarian system.

What Next?

While the World Humanitarian Summit was an important milestone, the work toward a new global partnership linking political action to prevent crises, development assistance, and more effective and principled humanitarian aid has only just begun. The challenges we are facing are complex, and there is no simple solution. The European Union confirmed that it would play its full part in reshaping aid to better serve people in need and called on all world leaders to do the same.

Session with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Humanitarian Summit.

Session with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Humanitarian Summit.