29 June 2010
25 June 2010
The American Volunteerism Series sets out to describe and understand the ways and the motivations for volunteers in America. This will remain American-centric because of not wanting to generalize about other Western nations that I do not have direct experience. Comments and additions are welcome. I will make updates to posts based on comments. In the second part of the series, I will examine the motivations for volunteering. The goal will be to identify what gives people the urge to volunteer.
- You have no choice (mandatory).
- Whether it is because of a plea bargain or a school assignments, mandatory community service has become a way to punish an individual and/or foster a feeling of connection to the greater community. Maybe a school will allow for its students to choose what kinds of volunteering they want to do, but the fact is that the main cause for the action is because of a graduation requirement. Much like an avid reader would consume books at a high rate, the fact that he or she has to read something for class changes the way the book is viewed and in turn the experience of reading the book.
- Let’s face it, employers and schools like to see that you have done some sort of sustained volunteering. It is one factor, but something that can make a resume just a little bit better. Volunteering tells an employer that an applicant is willing to go that extra mile and do more than (s)he is asked. Is it mandatory? Not really. There is nothing that is making a person go out and volunteer on their own time, but it sure would help things out…
- It might not be a major motivation, but it is a part of what gets some people to volunteer. In doing interviews and speaking with other volunteers, one thing that almost always seems to come through is the gratification that is felt from doing work or service that creates a sense of fulfillment. It is likely that many people would not (understandably) volunteer if they left with a sense of dejection and disappointment every day. It is possible that this is a taught or learned feeling. Christmas tells us that it is better to give than to receive (but who honestly does not like the receiving part to a certain extent?). I see this extended towards volunteering. There is no greater gift that of one self if we are to start with the idea of it being better to give. We take joy in seeing people happy because of our actions and volunteering provides a way this can be accomplished (without spending a dime!).
- The Bible is oh so full of times where it speaks to the value of giving and tending to the needy. Open to the New Testament, read a few pages and I am sure you will come across at least one example of this. In some ways this motivation can be related to mandatory. Individuals are taught and told to go and participate in acts of charity. Implications of a saved sole can be made in explicit or implicit manners, but it is still not mandatory. There is choice. A person has to listen to a sermon and then decide how he or she would like act. This covers a large area because someone might volunteer because she feels that it is the only way to reach salvation. Another will do it because it is the morally right thing to do and he volunteers out of a sense of what is just. In fact, the morality does not even have to come from a faith. The connection is the belief that volunteering is just.
- I knew people in High School and College who volunteered because of the group of people who were already involved with the program. They signed up because of friends who were already doing it or wanted to meet new people. When new to a place, joining clubs and organizations is a natural way to meet people with similar interests. So, if you like gardening you might volunteer in a park clean up program. It is possible that the reason for volunteering is not to clean up a park or improve the community, but to meet people who like the outdoors and might also be interested in planting tomatoes each year. For the younger set, there is a bit of peer pressure that can go into it. Maybe peer pressure is too negative for volunteering, but if friends or people a tween is hoping to associate with are doing an activity he will be sure to take part.
- A few variants can be found here, but the basic idea is the motivation to save a noun of choice. Some people want to save the planet, so they volunteer in order to do that. Another example are drives for disease and individuals. This can often be a strong motivator for young people. A need is matched with a a task. Volunteers can provide the labor to accomplish the need.
- Have any ideas other than mine as to what motivates us to volunteer? Post them in the comments and I will be sure to add them for next week when examining further the motivations and what they can mean when actually volunteering.
22 June 2010
I was immediately struck by this post from Nick Kristof’s blog post yesterday:
Just a quick note to say that since Nick’s Thursday column, which proposed giant bomb-sniffing, Tuberculosis-detecting rats as alternatives to more traditional Father’s Day gifts, Apopo, the organization behind the so-called HeroRATS, has received more than $150,000 in donations. And according to Mari Kuraishi, president of GlobalGiving.org, an online donations company that sponsors projects around the world like Apopo, an additional $30,000 went to non-rat-related enterprises.
As much Kristof bashing as I have done in the recent past. I have to admit a bit of admiration for him. I do not want this to sound the least bit snarky, but there should be admiration for a person who is able to write articles for the NYT and garner interest that leads people to take action for a cause. He does not advocate things that are completely bad, but I just wish he could do better. It is really besides the point since he has been able to not only have people think twice but act by making a donation.
"'[Tostan has] done what UN conferences, endless resolutions, and government statements have failed to do,' Foege told us. 'When the history of African development is written, it will be clear that a turning point involved the empowerment of women. Tostan has demonstrated that empowerment is contagious, accomplished person by person and spreading village by village.'" (p. 228)
Given a 4 star rating on Charity Navigator, a quick glance at Tostan reveals that their work relies heavily on community requested involvement. The details of the program are not important to this post because the fact that Kristof can bring support to it through his writing is most significant. Being that he is published in the NYT with some syndication, it is impressive the impact that some of his columns and writings have had.
What does this mean?
Given the impact Kristof has had on attitudes on aid and charities, it seems that there is a place for a person or group of people to reach out and provide advice about how to engage in development/aid/charity/volunteering/philanthropy. This gives the community of aid bloggers who stand in opposition to some of Mr. Kristof’s writings to reach a large audience. Bonnie Koening put it best saying, “It is a rare situation where you can get ‘good media;’ the balance between needed publicity & credible info (edited from tweet).” To myself and some others, this balance is lacking in the Kristof columns. Is it possible to find this balance and essentially compete with the readership of Kristof? I say a tentative yes.
There is a place but it has to be approached carefully. For example, Bill Easterly writes numerous posts and tweets that call out and criticize the current aid consensus. He is met with strong support but equally strong opposition. In speaking to friends about Kristof in general conversations, most who read him see no problem with his articles. They fall under the group that say his intentions are good and that his aim is to spread awareness. To them, it is fine to objectify a raped girl (I refuse to link to the article, you can find it on Google) by showing her picture and using her name because people will understand what is happening in the DRC. To them, it is better to be a little extreme in order to bring to light something terrible that is taking place. I have tried to make them understand, but most are not willing. This is the greatest obstacle. People are fine with poverty porn because it at least shows people what is going on.
I often try to relate it back to the individual and have found moderate success. I ask a person if they think it is ok to take pictures of people who are living in abject poverty. A good portion will say yes because it shows what is really happening. I then ask them to imagine themselves at their absolute worst and most vulnerable. Do they want this moment be photographed? Used in a campaign? Printed in newspapers? Done without their asking? Some will still say it is ok because it shows the truth. I then ask if it would really be the truth? Would that precise moment when you are at your worst be a true indicator of your life? What about the 6 hours that proceeded and follow that moment? Or the weeks for that matter. Slowly more will come to understand the lack of compassion in such images.
I see Kristof part of the majority opinion. It is ok to take the picture but you dare not do it to me. So, again, how can the truth be told and compassion encouraged when the majority do not hold such an opinion? It looks like there is not a simple answer, but pseudo-evaluation can be made of the current state. Presently the audience is within the hands of Kristof, celebrities, and big time movers like Gates and Sachs. Kristof has a reasonable influence and is a writer, so his is the most reasonable approach to take and field to enter. Right now there are plenty of bloggers (listed in my roll on the left side and many more I do not list!) who deal with this issue. Some, such as Saundra, Laura, and Alanna, have made moderate crossover to the Huff Po, UN Dispatch and CSM (respectively). However, reading a post by Saundra on Haiti and responsible volunteering had links on how to volunteer in Haiti from other Huff Po contributors (sorry can’t find the link anymore). The three ladies, amongst the other bloggers, are writing great things but it is not getting to a larger audience.
This was discussed a bit yesterday on twitter, but the way I see it is to make a concentrated effort. Have a single place where writers who are concerned about international aid, development and philanthropy can get together to produce posts that do not step on each others toes and show what responsible aid should be. The audience for such a site will be small. Most readers will be people already in the industry, but the point will be to create a voice. Kristof has an advantage because he found his voice and his audience. We, the opposition if you will, have not been able to do so. With many voices, I believe a collective approach can help to build a small amount of support but more importantly create a voice for responsibility and act as a catapult for some to move on to a larger audience. The project is a salon of sorts (too bad the name is taken) where by ideas can be shared and dispensed. Twitter acts as a place for this right now but it must move public and to a more complete setting.
A place like the Huffington Post would be a great place to have a section on this, but it appears that they are not prepared to make a real effort to support this movement. I believe that there is a need to prove that there is a strong effort behind it and a base of support that can be grown by being included in a larger resource such as the Huff Po.
If I had the ability to start a reasonable website I would do it, but I am not fluent in web design at all. Though some will be opposed because they see it as fruitless; I respond by asking, ‘what has the present strategy produced?’ The discussion has begun and I hope that we can organize a way to create a place where all of these strong voices can transform from a lonely vuvuzela to a World Cup chorus of them.
21 June 2010
18 June 2010
The American Volunteerism Series sets out to describe and understand the ways and the motivations for volunteers in America. This will remain American-centric because of not wanting to generalize about other Western nations that I do not have direct experience. Comments and additions are welcome. I will make updates to posts based on comments.
In the first part of the series, I will examine the ways that Americans volunteer. The goal will be to identify the definition of what a volunteer is and then list and describe the ways that this definition is met.
What is a volunteer?
The OED defines a volunteer as “1 a person who freely offers to do something. 2 a person who works for an organization without being paid.” They include military in the definition but I have excluded that because, to me, being paid to fight negates the second and very important part of the definition. That is not to lessen the ‘service’ of a person in the military, but to consider it in a different category.
I would also include an addendum to the definition the idea of doing something to help another person. The word help is a crucial one and will feature later when considering motivations and attitudes. To keep with the definitions, it is important to at least include the definition since I have included it as a part of my definition for volunteer. Help is to “1 make it easier for (someone) to do something. 2 improve (a situation or problem).”
So a definition that combines the two would read that a volunteer is a person who freely offers to make it easier for someone to do something or to improve a situation or problem for a person, group, or organization. I will use that to determine what kind of volunteering Americans do.
What kids of volunteering are there?
- Community Development
- Service Trip
- Long Term/Full Time
- Faith Based
- Service Trip
- Long Term/Full Time
- Faith Based
- 62.0 million volunteers
- 26.5% of residents volunteer
- 8.1 billion hours of service
- 34.4 hours per resident
The service they do is broken down by:
and they volunteer in:
The breakdowns continue on the site and it is worth playing around with a bit to see how different regions, states and groups volunteer. I have broken down the categories of domestic volunteering in a slightly different way that includes what is shown but also makes it more streamlined. Some will have crossover, but I want to highlight some of the main ways a person volunteers.
Community Development is any sort of volunteering that is done to improve the town or area in which a person lives. This includes things like park clean ups and soup kitchens. Generally, community development projects are organized for the betterment of the community at large and asks for members to give some time to fix the identified problem. Projects can be ongoing like a soup kitchen or can be a one-off like cleaning up the local baseball fields before Little League begins.
Some volunteering is not done by choice and should be noted. Within the mandatory volunteering falls court appointed community service, church or group mandated and school mandated. As a student, I was required to perform 8 hours of community service each year. I had to bring a sheet that was to be signed by a supervisor who ensured that I was going the required service. Incentives were given , such as getting an award for exceeding 100 hours (check). However, it was also a requirement as a part of moving from one grade to the next. I also had a similar experience during my Catholic Confirmation. I was required to fulfill a certain amount of hours of community service in a specific time frame. While court appointed is a punishment, it is really not all that different. Community service is required in order to fulfill a requirement set by someone in order to move on.
Volunteering that is done with the purpose of attempting to raise money for a cause, individual or organization. This includes traditional ways of asking for money through phone calls, letters, booths, door to door visits, etc. Also, it includes events where a person raises money by competing a task and raises money through sponsorship for his or her participation. In other words, raising money by doing something like running a marathon, walking a distance, or dancing for a specific time.
Traveling for a week or so to do a volunteering project. One of the big guys in this industry is Habitat for Humanity. They are a popular choice for colleges, but there are many others that do similar type work. The idea is to get a group of people who want to go to a new place and do a service project over a short period of time. Recently, New Orleans has been the place to go because of Katrina. With rebuilding continuing there is a constant flow of volunteers to the region.
Long Term/Full Time
I define this as doing a year of volunteering. This means joining AmeriCorps, NCCC, JVC, Vista, Augustinian Volunteers and so on. Programs like Teach for America do not count because they provide a full salary for their teachers. Other programs will offer a living stipend that I consider to allow it to be considered volunteering because no financial gain can be made. There are some AmeriCorps programs that do offer a full salary and they do not qualify for the same reasons as TFA.
Individuals who will volunteer in a setting where by they are teaching or tutoring adults and/or children. This includes after school tutoring, adult ed programs, volunteer teachers and so on. The main purpose is to provide educational assistance to a person or people who cannot otherwise access what is determined to be adequate assistance.
As the name states, this is related to the health field. This can include volunteers at a blood drive and doctors who do mobile clinics for free. The general goal of health related volunteering is to bring cheap or free health care to areas in the United States where people could not otherwise afford or access quality care.
Groups organized based around a shared faith or faith community. Generally put together by churches to do service projects and trips. While they fall under many of the above categories, they are notable later when considering motivations and impact.
According to the Brookings institute, 46,000 Americans participated in volunteer abroad programs in 2005 (if anyone comes across a more recent study it would be greatly appreciated). Of that number 7,600 were Peace Corps members. The following table comes from the Brookings study (note: faith based programs meant to primarily proselytize are not included):
Estimated Number of Programs and Volunteers in 2005
Peace Corps 7,800
Generalist Programs 18,700
Professional Programs 9,600
Corporate Programs 2,200
Faith-Based Programs 8,000
I had a category called ‘immersion’ as a part of the International side but I realized that immersion programs do not involve volunteering. Programs like study abroad and immersion trips are mindful of volunteering and do not include it as part of their programs. While notable, and something that will be expanded upon later, it does not fall under the definition of volunteering since the entire experience is aimed at personal learning and understanding.
Voluntourism is a more appropriate term. It is traveling to a country or group of countries to tour an area, vacation, and/or volunteer. There is no set standard here but it may include any of the previous activities. A shorter trip, the idea is generally more similar to domestic programs like habitat for humanity. Volunteers work on an ongoing project that is continued by other volunteer groups prior to and after. I have included ‘service trip’ in this grouping because it is another name for the same thing. In addition, some international services trips will include a period of pure tourism in the time spent abroad.
Similar to domestic teaching but the difference being that international teachers generally are used to teach their native language. What is thought is that English speakers make good teachers of English because it is what they speak. You can go to sub-Saharan Africa to do it or to Seoul, South Korea. Some nations (such as Kenya) prohibit paid foreign teachers, so volunteering is the only option if a school wants an American English teacher.
Long Term/Full Time
Volunteers who work for an organization or community (Peace Corps) for at least a year. Time is not a hard standard, but have to have a cut off somewhere and a year seems to be a good benchmark. These volunteers will assume permanent roles as a part of the staff for a school or INGO. Some will pay a small fee, a full fee, independently fund or receive a small living stipend (Peace Corps).
International volunteering at a hospital, clinic, school, or community in order to provide health services that cannot be accessed by individuals or a community.
Volunteering organized around or based in faith. This includes actively looking to convert people in a community to a specific religion. All of the above can fit under this category, but this speaks more towards motivation than to type.
I will look at what motivates people to volunteer. The purpose of today was to set out definitions for what kinds of volunteering exists. Motivations are an important part of volunteering and something that cannot be ignored. The motivation aspect will be split over the next to weeks. Next week I will try to list different motivations for volunteering and the following week will go further into the motivations and evaluate how they can affect decisions when determining when, where and how a person volunteers.
16 June 2010
Lars Hasselblad Torres writes at the MIT Global Challenge Notebook ‘US Aid Professionals to American Volunteers: Stay Home’
An interesting side effect of [William Easterly’s] work has been a rising call for American voluntary aid workers to stay home. In fact, you might even say that the work of journalists like Nicholas Kristoff to popularize awareness of conditions in struggling regions has been met with frustration at Americans’ corresponding desire to do something.
This do something spirit, perhaps amplified in our age of Internet-enabled media and visibility, has even been given a new name, voluntourism.
The frustration with Americans pitching in generally, and voluntourism specifically, is exemplified by the blog Tales from the Hood - at the center of a group of bloggers with titles like Blood and Milk, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, and Wronging Rights - that regularly launches salvos across the bows of DIY do gooders and “amateur” aid workers. Its not clear how they themselves cut their teeth in aid, for whom they practice, and the lasting results that they have produced.
The basic claim of these writers seems to be that “amateurs” - volunteers, really - don’t know enough about aid and development to get it right.
Young people are still a huge force in international voluntary organizations. In addition to providing youth with hands-on experience in varying conditions, in the best of circumstances these experiences expand their world view, foster positive social ties with local youths, and contribute meaningfully to the quality of life in the host community.
I recoil a bit at the “chilling effect” that the vocal derision of efforts like 1 Million T-shirts can have on the general public’s attitudes toward aid. Do we really want to cultivate “why bother” over “yes we can”? Is it really better to pull the plug than to work smarter? I think about the incredible contributions MIT students are making, through voluntary efforts, to communities around the world - from the development and implementation of clean water systems to the design and delivery of better wheelchairs. By engaging early with community partners, learning alongside faculty, and working hard in often resource scarce environments, these students are making lasting, necessary contributions to the quality of life in communities around the world. Students are learning as they go, yes. Mistakes are made along the way (it would be irresponsible for any development worker to not admit their mistakes). Some students give up or move on. Many succeed.
I am a fan of anything that works to break up exercises of group think. Mr. Torres presents some valid points in regards to ways that volunteering can be a positive thing. Since I will be exploring this topic over the next few weeks I am going to refrain from commenting on his thoughts (but I will say that his arguments will be featured later). What I will say is that I am disappointed that he wrote his post without taking just five minutes to see that the writers at the blogs he listed do not all share the exact same opinion and fully disclose their aid experience. A reader of only Mr. Torres will assume that the listed bloggers are without any experience and only gripe because they can. If anything, that is disappointing.
I encourage everyone to go read the original post and all of the comments that follow. Each of the bloggers Mr. Torres calls out respond and Mr. Torres responds in kind.
15 June 2010
“I don’t want to live on handouts. I am subsisting on money borrowed from friends. Every day, I spend the few gourds I have at a nearby internet café, sending out my CV to anyone who can offer me a job, any small job.” – Haitian Manes Barthelemy
Claire Doole writes about Manes over at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ page.
Definitely will delve into the ways that Volunteering can have a negative impact later in the American Volunteerism Series.
HT to Michael Keizer
14 June 2010
The natural disasters over the past few years (ie. Haitian earthquake, Tsunami, Katrina, and so on) have contributed to an outpouring of the desire to help. [J. at Tales From the Hood has been working on a series of posts that he has titled American Culture 101 where he has tried to understand why people feel the desire to help.] Bloggers continue to write posts about the issue, but it appears that they fall on relatively deaf years.
What I would like to do is to use my thoughts and those of aid experts to build a series based on American volunteerism. The series will be my attempt to be a thorough as possible in terms of what volunteering means, how it is done, why it is done, what it means for ourselves, what it means for those who we ‘help’, and finally what new volunteerism should look like.
The series will begin with my first post this Friday and will continue with Friday posts over the next few weeks. Friday will talk about the different faces of volunteering in America. From Soup Kitchens and Habitat for the Humanity to large gala fundraisers and tricky trays. I will do what I can to list, describe and understand the differing parts of volunteering in America. I will do my best to withhold any of my personal feelings about different parts of volunteering until later in the series.
In doing this I ask for two things:
- Please feel free to contribute ideas and comments. I have laid out what I want to do, please even begin to comment, email or call my google voice, if you have ideas. If I miss something please let me know and I will update a post to include your suggestions. Comments will also keep me in check if I begin to inject opinion in posts where it should not exist.
- Let me know if I am missing any citations for statements I make or things I reference. I will do my best to keep on top of this, but I will definitely miss things in this series. So, if I have not given due credit to your blog or somebody else’s, let me know by including what should be cited and a link to where the original can be found and I will be sure to credit you.
Be on the lookout for Friday’s post: How Do Americans Volunteer?
11 June 2010
This has sat as a saved topic for several weeks as a draft for a future post: talking heads directing conservative news vs. liberals looking towards other sources. Finally, I am going to take this on.
The idea has been settling within me for awhile as I have been looking for a delicate way to approach this topic. To begin, I should do a little bit of self identification. I consider myself to be Social Libertarian (or Libertarian Socialist, can’t decide which sounds better). In short, I think that small scale socialism can effectively create communities where prices and labor costs are set and agreed upon. Small scale is vital to this idea. Because of this, the only concern will be economics and personal freedoms will not be tampered with. Transgressions are dealt with on the basis of infringing on the liberties of each individual. Essentially, allow people to maintain individualism without neglecting to remember the whole. I will get into this another time, but I wanted to be up front with my personal views since they can and will color my opinions.
With that said, I am an avid fan of conservative radio. I find it to be entertaining, appalling, funny and infuriating all at the same time. The crazier the better. I am lucky to get my fix of this via my Sirius subscription. I could listen to the line up of Church, Beck, Wilkow, Hannity and Levin (in order) every day. Sometimes I have to step away because the crazy becomes too much to handle.
Most of all, I listen because I think it is important to have an understanding of your opposition. In baseball, a pitcher studies tape of batters and reviews pitching charts from previous match ups before a start. The same applies to other sports and professional fields, but does not seem to be the case when it comes to politics. Conservatives happily start their day with Fox and Friends, then listen to Sean Hannity, read the Drudge Report and then watch Beck every evening. Liberals, especially young ones, will frequent the Huffington Post, watch MSNBC and laugh along with Jon Stewart. Sadly, the majority of Americans also use outlets like CNN.com where the majority of stories are about celebrities and animals.
As I thought about the differing news sources between the two ideologies, something stuck out. There is no reasonable liberal voice on the radio. I turned my radio to the Liberal Sirius channel and quickly realized why. Liberal talk radio is boring and lacks firebrand opinions. Turning back, Hannity was in the middle of his usual rant on Obama turning the US into a Socialist state (I wish!) and likening him to Mao and Lennin. He then claimed that the administration is out to get everyone and will ruin the nation. Back on on the Liberal channel, the host is talking about the stupidity of Conservatives. Hannity does his fair share of general liberal bashing (Levin, Wilkow and Church are the worst when it comes to that), but he takes on Obama and just makes things up.
I reconsidered my thought on why Conservative radio was successful. To me, they make up whatever they want in order to scare people. What is more surprising is that these opinions are what seemingly feed the Tea Party movement. There is something to be said for fiscal restraint, but calling the weak healthcare bill a Socialist program is way off base.
Yet, the rhetoric coming from the mouths of Conservative talk radio seems to be reaching the ears of a lot of Americans. On the other hand, Liberals really only have Jon Stewart. He has 30 min of air time late at night on Comedy Central. Hannity and Beck are both on the radio for 3 hours and then do 1 hour tv shows on Fox News. Their audiences are massive. That is neglecting to mention Savage and Limbaugh, who are have strong followings as well.
To me, it seems as if the current gap can be attributed to the ways that people get their news. In my estimation, most people casually read either cnn.com or something like Yahoo. The next largest portion are Fox News watchers. They fall under those who do watch Fox News and those who likely would but get the same kind of news via talk radio. A much smaller group is part of the Stewart/Huffington Post crowd (anyone notice how much celebrity news has taken over the Huff Po?). Last, is a small minority who consult a variety of news sources. They might be an all of the above type, but they follow differing opinions. They will read Ann Coulter and Bill Mahar in succession.
I place a large portion of blame on the current media. They cater too much to what people think they want to hear rather than what they should be hearing. I engage in the celebrity gossip game happily, but when I go to a news source I think that more important things can take up the majority (not necessarily all) of the front page.
With print media suffering, quick hitting news delivered on television and the internet must be more responsible. However, it is one of the oldest forms of media, radio, that seems to continue to wield a large amount of influence.
What do you think about the current media? Should we be blamed more for this? Is radio really that influential?
10 June 2010
Center for Economic and Policy research discusses the high budgetary cost of incarceration. There have a ton of stats and graphs, but this to me is much more striking than the ones showing that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world (easily taking the title over Russia and Rwanda).
08 June 2010
With the election of President Obama, the hopes of many Americans were realized. We know this because he marketed himself as the bringer of hope. One word changed political discourse for a year and it got people feeling warm and fuzzy. After winning, people ran to the streets of cities like Chicago to party like it was the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004.
Hope did not fade as people continued to believe that the President would take us out of the dark Bush era years into prosperity and understanding. We were entering the post everything world and Obama was our leader. Sure, he was attacked for seeming cold and calculating, but he was Obama and he said, ‘yes we can.’
I voted for Obama in November of 2008. To be honest, I was taken by him back in 2004 at the DNC in Boston. I followed him closely after, knowing he would certainly run by 2012. I supported him throughout the primary over Clinton (not that I did not like her, but her love for Israel and electability issues drove me away). I cast my ballot and was happy when at 10PM EST I knew that the Democratic party was going to be in the White House and Bush would be gone.
However, I said before he was elected that Obama would not be the change he positioned himself to be. Yes, we now have new healthcare, but it is not nearly enough. This is all besides the point I want to make. Obama portrayed himself as the anti-Bush. He is smart, pragmatic, well spoken and deliberative in his decision making. This is what attracted me to Obama and what now surprises me as people are calling the BP spill his Katrina for lack of leadership.
Obama never pretended to be or said he was anything other than what he has done as president. I would have been more surprised by him acting with strong emotions. He takes in information and makes decisions without wasting time to get upset. Personally, that is the leadership style that I admire.
However, for some reason the media and Americans expected different. They created their own expectations based on personal wants and perceptions. This is only fueled by a terrible media, but it existed long before the spill. It is a part of the reason why there has been a rise in Tea Party support and other reactionary politics.
To me, this is interesting because it seems to be applicable to development as well. The message and intent of organizations can be lost due to perceptions and desires. In my time in Kenya, it was assumed that I was both extremely wealthy and willing to fund every project presented to me. I was not upset by this because I understood that something had to have created this assumption.
I do not mean to argue that we create a dependency class, I think that is shallow Hannity type thinking. No, I think that it creates expectations. It is sort of related to the Halo effect. Americans loved Obama, hoped he would be our savior. When he did not meet the expectations people got angry.
Aid must be aware of this when being implemented. I am still learning a lot about the industry, but there is something to be said for the idea of being both physically and emotionally effective. It is what has harmed the US when considering the cases of Rwanda and Darfur and hurt us in Kosovo and Iraq. When creating high expectations, it is assumed that the right decisions will always be made and everyone will be pleased. Win-win.
How can a balance be created? How can all the spirit and inspiration created by figures (or groups) like Obama be used for good without creating unrealistic expectations?
Frankly, I am working out a thought that came to me yesterday and this will probably have to be updated a few times as I meditate on it more and (hopefully) get comments. Please, expand on this and offer suggestions from where I have started.
A View From The Cave by Tom Murphy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.