Innovation is not an option: it is a necessity - to keep on improving on the way we do things and having a role to play in the fluid economics context. Español
For some years now, we have been witnessing the emergence of relational, cross-over, participative power. This is the territory that gives technopolitics its meaning and prominence, the basis on which a new vision of democracy – more open, more direct, more interactive - is being developed and embraced. It is a framework that overcomes the closed architecture on which the praxis of governance (closed, hierarchical, one-way) have been cemented in almost all areas. The series The ecosystem of open democracy explores the different aspects of this ongoing transformation.
Hundreds of years ago, human agriculture made excess production possible, and this led to the accumulation of goods, the concentration of people in towns, and the end of the role of the hunter-gatherer. A few hundred years later, we came up with a system to organise the exchange of services and products at an abstract level: money. Today’s economy is based on the flow of real and fictitious money, which simplifies the value of assets, skills, people, resources, and almost every element of reality. Money has become a means and an end in itself.
If agriculture once transformed dramatically the way in which humans inhabited the planet, now the monoculture of money is threatening life itself. Our economy assumes that we have a limitless planet at our disposal, so that we can focus on one single objective, no matter what: cultivating money - as much as we can. What makes the monoculture of money possible is, on the one hand, the control over the access to information (the Internet is being hijacked, in case you had not noticed) and, on the other hand, the concentration of the means for production: energy, agriculture and the objects/tools which allow humans to survive, and to better interact with their habitat. The management (hijacking) of physical assets and natural resources is organized through other abstractions, such as legal systems, economic laws and models backed by national governments and corporations. If we were to democratise the means of production and make them accessible to all, and if we were to own - and protect - our digital information, we would be challenging the very foundations of the current economic, political and social structures.
Purpose, meaning and ownership are keywords to keep in mind when talking about the future. The conversation is not really about VR, AI, AR, ML, robotics, quantum computers, automation or synthetic biology. What we must ask ourselves is: for whom and for what purpose are these technologies useful? Who decides what to do with them? And how much do we really know about them?
These are the questions that motivate individuals, communities and organisations to collaborate in proposing and building new ways to own and use technology, and to put it at the service of human beings and the planet, not merely in order to survive, but to coexist in harmony with our living systems. This is, at any rate, the aspiration. We want to invent the future, not so much to be able to predict it, but to make it more accessible, and to meet the main challenges of our times, which are mainly social and environmental. For more than ten years now we have been doing research on the role of technology in society at the Fab Lab network, and developing new programs and projects aimed at developing a new productive and economic model for society.
The first Fab Lab outside MIT was created, more than a decade ago, by Mel King at Boston’s South End Technology Center (SETC), in collaboration with MIT’s Center for Bits Atoms. Mel’s vision was to use the technology that the lab could offer to recover the life of a neighbourhood that had been suffering from racial segregation and economic deprivation for decades, to the benefit of the real estate market. Decades before that first lab in Boston, Jane Jacobs had warned about the negative consequences of mass urban development driven purely by economic principles in New York. She stood up against Robert Moses in one of the most famous clashes in the history of city planning, activism and sociology. Jacobs defended the idea that cities should be devised by its citizens, and that the tyranny of the car and the highways, the removal of community identities that had been built by several generations, the market dynamics and progress were killing the cities’ DNAs. Kids in Boston’s South End were the victims of the new urban model that is still driving city development today. The local community and Mel decided to take action by making technology accessible, so as to build the future of the neighbourhood kids who were being left behind because they did not fit into the “normal” educational system, and creating mechanisms to find alternatives to the jobs that black or Latino kids would usually expect. SETC has been operating for some 15 years now, offering Boston kids free workshops and advice to develop their creativity. Mel’s lab has inspired hundreds of labs around the world, where the social dimension of technology is key. We usually hear that Fab Labs are elitist, or too MIT-centric, or even just a place for nerds, but the world should know more about Mel King, the man who, for the last 50 years, has been organising Sunday brunches at his home, where people sing, discuss and debate community issues, or just get together to read poetry.
But can a Fab Lab help rebuild communities and attract new economic opportunities? Fab Lab Barcelona opened 10 years ago, the first Fab Lab in Europe, located at Barcelona’s Poblenou, a post-industrial neighbourhood with a strong manufacturing and radical union history that used to be known as the Catalan Manchester. There, the local community has been suffering the consequences of the deindustrialization process that hit almost every city during the last quarter of the 20th century, and the devastating economic crisis that has, among other things, jeopardised the 22@ urban renovation plan (developed by Barcelona’s city council to stimulate real estate investment in the area). The 2008 crisis reduced dramatically the options for capital investment in Barcelona, and the real estate market in Poblenou did not boom as expected, even though some university departments did in fact move in, as did a few large corporations that were able to resist the economic meltdown. Then, the neighbourhood began to receive new creative industries - such as design studios, small architecture and design schools, digital production businesses - which, together with art galleries and collectively occupied buildings, began to create a new neighbourhood identity, similar to Brooklyn’s, Wynwood’s, or Mitte’s, the corresponding gentrification-related issues included.
Poblenou is now becoming an ecosystem where different initiatives are giving it a new, unplanned identity which has emerged as a result of the economic crisis, but also as a result of the obsolescence of traditional planning. The neighbourhood has now a private-initiative association (Poblenou Urban District) which groups most of this creative industries, maintains a communication flow among its members, organises events and promotes the area’s potential to the city and beyond. At Poblenou, Fab Lab Barcelona and Fab City found the perfect context in which to settle and build on the future of technology and its potential impact on society. At Poblenou, the recently launched Maker District (as part of the Barcelona Digital Plan) is now looking to add a new layer to the existing dynamics of the neighbourhood.
The Maker District has been conceived as a collaborative and co-created process aiming at building, with the local community and a global network, the Fab City project’s vision, and creating an experimentation playground to design, make, test and iterate new forms of governance, trade and production at the local (neighbourhood) level, using advanced technologies to accelerate the process of making cities more resilient and inclusive. At the city scale, Fab Lab Barcelona is leading the development of the Fab Labs public network: it advises the city council on building the first infrastructure layer for the Fab City, as described in the project’s white paper. The newly named Ateneus de Fabricació will then have to choose between two operation models: a) being bureaucratised by the City Council machine, or b) becoming an avant-garde force for innovation in public policy matters. This is, for now, still an open question.
Beyond public intervention in the Barcelona innovation ecosystem, private initiatives have been flourishing and finding their way to create business opportunities in addition to the maker movement in both Barcelona and Catalonia through spaces such as Makers of Barcelona, TEB (very similar to the SETC model in Boston), Tinkerers Lab, Beach Lab, Green Fab Lab - to name but a few. These spaces make technology accessible to people in different ways, by connecting it with existing co-working activities, social action initiatives, or educational programs. There is an interesting model to explore, which we have been proposing to different public administrations, that of the public-private partnerships for the creation of new labs: instead of having the city council trying to concentrate innovation and spending millions of Euros in new buildings, less than 30% of that investment could be directed to private initiatives already happening in the city. These initiatives, in exchange, would offer open school programs and free educational workshops and address unemployment by teaching new skills.
Public and private investment in new digital production technologies in Barcelona is acquiring a larger dimension with the emergence of the 4.0 Industry, which aims to digitise large-scale manufacturing processes. The 4.0 Industry has been wrongly narrowed down to the Internet of Things and 3D printing, which are some of the emergent technologies that will complement manufacturing processes. The new industrialisation of cities must look beyond the techno-centric view and invest in bringing technology closer to people. At the same time, industries should abandon the traditional, extractive model economic approach which makes them “takers” instead of “enablers”, in order to keep being relevant in a context of distributed production. On the other hand, the public sector might want to experiment with less-controlled models for nurturing new business, employment and innovation forms, without having to spend millions in infrastructure, competing with private initiatives. In this sense, the Catalan government is launching the CatLabs initiative as a way to create mechanisms enabling the creation of a larger ecosystem in the territory, and understanding the “lab” idea as a permanent way of operating. In our constantly changing world, innovation is not an option: it is a necessity - to keep on improving on the way we do things and having a role to play in the fluid economics context.
Barcelona has a unique ecosystem that can be used as a prototype for new forms of production in cities, something that is also currently happening in Paris, Santiago, Amsterdam, Shenzhen or Detroit, or in countries like Bhutan and Georgia - all of them places where the Fab City has been adopted and replicated with a local flavour, and is at the same time networked as part of a global community for building a new productive and economic model for the future. With the emergence of new forms of politics in the context of the so-called liquid democracy, we could just be at an interesting turning point for traditional governance in cities which are used to having a strong public presence in almost every sector, only challenged by central governments or large corporations. In a new iteration of democracy, participation should not be merely about giving an opinion or delegating power to elected representatives, but about co-creating and co-building neighbourhoods and cities. The risk here is that, at high-level power struggles (city, region, country, corporations), the other actors (citizens, communities, small businesses) be left to navigate in uncertain waters and ever-changing rules of the game, and the personalisation of power. Without institutional infrastructures enabling new productive city models, we are in danger of repeating the same mistakes the existing extractive, market driven economy has made. But we have the opportunity to test new forms of governance, with all the actors, in a fair and transparent way, using the technologies that can make the transition to a new economy possible – the transition to the mass distribution of everything (including democracy, participation, responsibility and governance).
The press claim they don't want to speculate on numbers until they have an official body count. That’s laudable. But very responsible reporting has become widespread overnight where it never was before.
These headlines would sell more papers than anything any British news editor has printed so far. If Lily Allen claims a fireman told her the death toll is three times the government’s figure, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. But it does mean the most incredible front page splash the British tabloids have had in a long time.
But these aren’t the headlines in The Mail, The Sun, or The Times this week. Why not? The profit-seeking ‘run it now and pay the legal bills afterwards’ tabloid media to which we’ve grown accustomed are now not printing the headlines that would sell the most papers. This needs some attention.
The press claim they don't want to speculate on numbers until they have an official body count. That’s laudable. But very responsible reporting has become widespread overnight where it never was before. Suddenly, and quite miraculously, the corporately-owned media no longer seem interested in selling papers and turning a profit. Shareholders must be scratching their heads.
If the tragedy at Grenfell could be spun a different way (imagine if the fires were caused by a plane flying into the building) The Mail, The Sun, The Times and plenty of others would be speculating. They’d be looking for an interview with the witness or relative claiming the highest numbers, and they would print that – in quotation marks if their lawyers told them to.
The headlines after 9/11 are a good example: “Hundreds of Britons among the dead” went The Mail two days after (in fact the number was much lower); ‘Hundreds of Britons dead’ was The Telegraph’s, The Sun ran with, “They Must Have Killed Thousands”, and The Times, “Death Toll of Thousands and Hundreds of Burn Victims Feared”. Both headlines were published the day after the attack and long before a coroner’s report came out. If Grenfell could be spun differently, the incredible, stomach-turning interview in which local resident DJ Isla estimates the need for 500 funerals, would be the feed-in to every Sky News report.
The police are releasing information gradually because their job is public order, and they know that reasonable people may struggle to articulate their rage non-violently when they learn of the extent of this avoidable atrocity. But the job of the press isn't to be the mouthpiece of police. The job of the press is to sell papers and – in theory at least – get to the bottom of things.
These investigations aren’t being done. Where is the journalists’ demand for a register of tenants to help with estimates? Where are the floorplans of the building dug out from the archives to tell us how many flats there actually were? The Telegraph is calling Grenfell twenty-four storeys and The Mail is saying twenty-seven – at six flats a floor that’s a difference of eighteen households. How can there still be a discrepancy about these numbers?
A normal, profit-seeking tabloid would get that tenants register, call the hotels around West London to find out how many have been re-housed, stalk the hospitals to find out how many had been admitted, and print whatever the difference between the two figures was. Not to mention pack their reports with harrowing eye-witness testimony, which has been eerily, chillingly absent from most news reports and should fill us with dread about the reality of how many people actually escaped to tell their tale.
What we’re seeing here is capitalism glitching. Corporations have become wealthy enough that they no longer need to make money as a singular priority. The Sun doesn't need to sell more papers than The Times anymore, because the same person owns both. In the coverage of Grenfell, we’re seeing corporations giving up on short-term profit and competitive advantage over their rivals in favour of consolidating their power in the long term. They can afford to wait.
What are they waiting for? Not the truth – not the exact number of dead forensically verified by the coroner. They are waiting for a truth that will not be so challenging to their power or the status quo. Right now, people directly impacted by Grenfell are pointing the finger at capitalism and its advocates: Conservatives, landlords, and the millionaires who clad buildings full of poor people in flammable plastic to save £5000 – and, of course, the press.
Right now, the people's account is winning while the press cast around for a more neutralising narrative, equivalent to the “drunk football hooligans’’ made up by The Sun to distract from policing and engineering mistakes that led to 96 deaths at Hillsborough in 1989.
Their efforts are pitiful. The Mail has tried to point the finger at 'green targets' (riveting stuff – I’m sure they expected that to fly off the shelves), at ‘EU regulations’ (nope, Germany has managed to ban the same cladding material used here), and even a grim attempt to ignite a scapegoating of the individual whose faulty fridge is supposed to have started the fire.
All of these are substantially less newsworthy than what people on the ground are saying happened, but we are not seeing the usual rush to find the most shocking narrative. We are seeing corporate media stand back in the hope that a narrative more amenable to their long-term interests – as capitalists, as landlords, and individuals – will emerge.
But another narrative will not emerge. It is becoming possible that more than 150 people – perhaps 200, 300, have burned to death as a direct result of a deregulated housing market and corporate greed. It is beyond sensationalism, and the corporate media are not even trying. The inequality exposed by this tragedy must be getting to them; it may finally be too dangerous to stoke a sense of injustice in this politically volatile environment, lest it land too close to home.
Where does trust end and continuous fear become the norm?
Political scepticism and suspicion, civic disengagement, chequered confidence in those we contract to protect us, have been terms thrown around academia for centuries. And though the connected debates are often over-dry and abstract, a sequence of events has just reminded us that without raw trust, the very ability of democracy to function is at serious risk.
Get careless with the small stuff - to paraphrase Albert Einstein - and you won’t be trusted with big ticket business. If this advice was pinned outside every committee corridor, every MP’s room, every debating chamber, every quango office, would it make a difference? On recent performances, the answer is, sadly, no.
Where to start? Those who work in the Palace of Westminster have been worried about the consequences of a catastrophic fire for years. This is not about altruistic concern for those living in sub-standard public housing.
It is about how £5.7 billion is needed to refurbish parliament, to bring a neo-gothic building into the 21stcentury; and about how the electrical system in Westminster is dangerous and maintenance might not be working. It’s also about security, and digital communications and protecting Pugin’s interior design, all with a sky-high price.
This work will get done and billions will be spent. But it will probably not take the lives of ministers, MPs or the staff of the Palace of Westminster to force through the project. It is unlikely a catastrophic fire will engulf the palace and destroy Sir Charles Barry’s work. And when the upgrade is complete it will remain a fitting monument to our democracy.
But what kind of monument is the blackened skeletal structure of Grenfell Tower? What is the significance of dozens of council-owned blocks that are either clad in the same combustible material that contributed to the horrors of Grenfell, or found to be sub-standard when experts carried out a thorough safety evaluation?
If one of the key roles of the state is to protect its citizens and to ensure their rights are upheld, then what is left of Grenfell – and I choose these words carefully, intending to upset no one – is a giant tombstone to democratic failure.
Whatever form or part of government you examine, whether federal or the UK’s parliamentary and local administrative system, trust is the glue, the belief even, that decisions will only be taken if the public are protected.
Living in an advanced civic society has its risks. Government, those we elect, is there to protect and minimise such risks – to ensure food is safe, roads are safe, energy is provided, waste disposed of, the environment protected. We learn, as political consumers, to trust the government and to trust the technical experts the government says it trusts.
But what happens when trust fails and we learn there is more focus on a £5 billion upgrade of parliament’s home rather than homes supposedly built for those unable to enter the private market?
The expenses scandal fostered concern that those who represent us may instead be stealing from us. Broken political promises and basic lies compound the problem - and trust slides. During the EU referendum, an extra £350m every week was promised for the NHS if Brexit happened. That pledge vanished quickly, along with the meaningless ‘Take back control’.
An election that Theresa May repeatedly said would not happen, subsequently resulted in her authority being abruptly removed. The marketing of a ‘strong and stable’ leader was rumbled as an unconvincing, feeble con.
Political trust, thin on the ground before the election, has since the Grenfell fire morphed into a deeper anger. And while we may accept conflicts over the outcome of competing economic arguments, we have no stomach to accept life-ending hazards that have been ignored or dismissed as unworthy of prioritising.
Political trust, thin on the ground before the election, has since the Grenfell fire morphed into a deeper anger.
The residents of Grenfell Tower knew where they lived was dangerous. Their concerns were well documented. Yet their voices, and their rights, were sidelined. Their concerns were not centred on advanced technological systems. It was far less complex. They knew sprinklers would help, that better alarms mattered, that a single stair exit was far from ideal.
That anyone slept well in this fated tower block says more about the tragic acceptance of risk than it does about faith and trust. And now? If Grenfell is to mean anything, then the low trust we have in politicians and in the commercial relationships formally connected to the state, must change. Business as usual is not an option, nor is a drawn-out judicial inquiry that tries to lean on the ability to forget and move on.
Trust is lost easily, but it is usually a slow learning curve. It produces a drip-feed of suspicion that those supposed to be on your side have their attention elsewhere. This fosters the idea that even tried-and-tested expertise should be questioned or rejected. From the state’s perspective, a wait-and-see approach to catastrophe then begins to look attractive.
The UK is perhaps more guilty of this approach than elsewhere. We improve rail safety after major accidents (Paddington, Clapham Junction); we improve oil rig safety after lives are lost in a major fire (Piper Alpha), we improve ferry safety after a sea disaster (Zeebruge). And now we will improve the building and safety of high-rise blocks after Grenfell.
Our mounting loss of trust could be offset through formal links to international organisations, which monitor safety on a global scale. Instead the UK’s withdrawal from Europe risks a retreat to an ‘own-back-yard’ school of safety when we should be drawing on expertise beyond our borders.
openDemocracy has already pointed out inconsistencies in air safety in the North Sea where the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and its Norwegian regulatory counterpart both decided they will make decisions on their own rather than take directions from the European Union’s air regulator, EASA.
In February this year the CAA discussed proposals to allow a “phased return to service” for a helicopter (Airbus’ EC225) that had been banned from operating in the UK. Despite being deemed airworthy by the EU and returned to service by military and air sea rescue services world-wide, there are currently no Super Puma 225s flying from the UK or Norway.
The CAA stated that provided conditions were met on equipment checks and other issues, the aircraft could return to its business of ferrying personnel to the North Sea oil fields.
On the surface, this looks like the type of thorough safety regime absent from many tower blocks in the UK. Evidence was being judged and evaluated, and risks were being assessed.
However a month later the CAA opted for a two stage approach: the first where the UK and Norway regulators would decide if they are satisfied everything is safe; and a second stage where the crew and passengers who use the helicopters offer their assessment.
If this is an indication of how far institutional trust has been eroded, where industry regulators no longer believe their own expert opinion is enough, then the work of the inquiry into Grenfell ordered by the Prime Minister will be a far harder task than expected.
The UK is about to start work on a new generation of nuclear power stations. Park the questions over their economic viability. If we no longer trust the authorities that will evaluate nuclear safety, if we no longer trust the politicians who take decisions on our behalf, and instead want a local or DIY approach to public safety, then where do we draw line? Before we board a jet to fly off on holiday, do we want to inspect the engines ourselves? Where does trust end and continuous fear become the norm?
Grenfell is already more than an appalling loss of life. It may be a bonfire of our remaining political trust, trust any future government will need to work very hard to restore.
Recent research on Afghan immigrant women living in London has revealed a multi-layered crisis. What can be done to address this, and to empower them?
Afghan immigrant women in London seem to be suffering from a slow and hidden epidemic of unwanted pregnancies. The government has failed to give an exact picture of what is happening on the ground. However, at South Asian Sexual Health (SASH) we have conducted research that suggests a lack of awareness about sexual health is endemic among first generation immigrant families.
We interviewed more than 40 Afghans (women and men) in four boroughs of west and north-east London. Their testimonies reflected how racism and sexism have combined to produce numerous unintended pregnancies. Women are being denied basic human rights by male members of their families and the British government must do more to help them and address the sexual health burden they carry.
‘Shockingly, moving to Britain seems to have done little to help Afghan women transform their lives’
Afghanistan has been described as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. In the UK, the diaspora has grown significantly since 1997 when the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban seized control of the country. Under their rule, women were kept as caged birds deprived of basic human rights such as access to education and the right to marry who they chose.
Shockingly, moving to Britain seems to have done little to help Afghan women transform their lives. Twelve of the 20 women we interviewed were married, and most of these married women were unemployed – but not because of a lack of qualifications. Most were university graduates, including doctors. But they weren’t “allowed to go outside,” as several respondents put it.
Recruiting Afghan women to participate in research like this is extremely difficult as they often live in secluded communities that are hard for researchers to reach, in part because of language issues. Our in-depth discussions – in Dari and Pashtu – were intimate and emotional.
Rabia*, 41 and a mother of four, was a medical doctor in Afghanistan. She moved to London 17 years ago to live with her husband. She expressed little or no control over her sexuality. Rather, her testimony reflected how her body is bound by cultural assumptions that women’s duty is to submit to men’s demands. She said, for example, that she “never wanted to wear Hijab” but that her “husband gets upset” when she doesn’t.
“I'm not allowed to go out without my husband’s permission”
Nasrin*, 32, had an arranged married with a 43 year old Afghan man when she was 17. Her husband sought asylum in the UK after 9/11, after which she joined him. “I suffer from constant depression,” she told us. “I am not allowed to go out without my husband’s permission. If I do, he doesn’t talk to me and throws food. He sometimes hits me. I have four kids. I am busy cooking and cleaning. Afghan culture is like that”.
Women we interviewed described issues of culture, religion and gender as key barriers to accessing sexual health services as well as public places in general. They expressed finding it difficult to be part of broader social life because they can’t engage with mainstream society – as if their lives were hermetically-sealed, guarded by virtual, community fences.
For Rabia, an inability to negotiate safe sex with her husband led to unintended pregnancies. She said: “Sometimes I don’t feel like having sex but he tells me that I am an educated woman and I should know that men have more sexual desires than women. Sometimes he doesn’t even care if the children are sleeping next to us”.
Knowledge of contraception is also shaped by myths and lack of trust in modern methods. One woman said pills are “not good for [one’s] health”. Another claimed: “I am breastfeeding and most pills aren't compatible”. A third woman said, similarly: “I do not want to take pills. I have heard that they have side effects”.
Many of the women we interviewed said it is ultimately their husband’s decision which form of contraception is used. Several said that Afghan men prefer ‘traditional’ methods to prevent pregnancies, specifically ‘early withdrawal.’ This is concerning as 1 in 4 women will get pregnant if ‘early withdrawal’ is the only form of contraception used.
“It’s my husband’s decision,” said one woman who told us her husband had insisted she use an IUD even though she hated it. Nasrin said, about her husband: “There is a whole bag of condoms in the cupboard. He has never used them”.
“There's a whole bag of condoms in the cupboard. He's never used them”
Each of the women we spoke to said that while they should have the right to accept sex, they may not have the right to dissent. From my experience over the last seven years, working with Afghan women in South Asia and in the UK, including as an activist and with NGOs, this is not uncommon: refusing to have sex and displeasing your husband could lead to violence, and in some cases it could be seen ‘un-Islamic’ too.
Some women said they had made joint decisions with their husbands to seek family planning advice. But even in these cases they said their GP appointments were almost always led by their husbands who acted as interpreters and had the final say.
One 34-year old woman, Samia*, complained of “a lack of interpretation services”. Nasrin said: “I know a lot of women… [for whom] their husbands do the translation. I am not sure if women are able to convey their sexual health problems to their GPs, out of fear, or out of being shy”.
All of the married women we interviewed complained that family planning programmes assumed that they were in charge, when in reality it is their husbands who govern their bodies and their choices.
‘The overall message is that no help is available’
The government’s integrated sexual health plan does not give any specific consideration to inequalities faced by minority women. Too much is left to the discretion of local NHS commissioners who are given no specific guidance on the needs of migrant women or how to monitor and address inequalities.
Rayah Feldman, at the charity Maternity Action, has also warned that women asylum-seekers and those with insecure immigration statuses are particularly impacted by ever-harsher discourse and legislation around their access to health care. Migrant women in the UK are currently required to pay 150% of routine tariffs for services if they haven't already paid a visa ‘health surcharge’.
The women we spoke to emphasised that they are unable to even leave their homes to access basic health services without their husbands. This exclusion is amplified by the British government which emboldens a hyper-masculine religious agenda, and allows Sharia courts to run in the UK, while rebuking refugees from the Muslim world in the mainstream media. The overall message is that no help is available.
Health service professionals are failing to respond to minority women’s specialist needs. Rights to privacy and informed consent are being undermined by gender and racial stereotypes. Although sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics exist, they are not necessarily a one-stop shop for all services. Most of the women we interviewed did not know how to access them.
‘To empower women, sexual health programmes need to be integrated with other services’
London is also home, however, to positive models of secular organisation fighting racial and gender equality. I have been active for example with the group Southall Black Sisters that has defended Black and minority women from harsh judgments and racism from the outside while remaining critical of fundamentalism and sexism within their communities.
As human rights defenders and activists, we can learn from examples like this to help address the multi-layered challenges faced by Afghan immigrant women in London too. A key lesson is this: To empower women, sexual health programmes need to be integrated with other services. They must be linked to efforts challenging the lower status of women, as well as religious fundamentalism, in the Afghan diaspora.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.
Through my work with Peace Brigades International (PBI), I’ve been in contact with diverse members of local and international NGOs working on human rights, but few—if any—of these organisations have integrated a clear approach to counteracting the negative psychosocial impacts of human rights work in repressive contexts.
As an independent consultant, I recently worked with PBI to document and systemize the work done by PBI Mexico over the last 10 years, and our case study indicates that the inclusion of a psychosocial perspective can be an important mechanism to strengthen human rights organisations and their members. In our surveys and interviews, past and current members of the organization gave a variety of examples of how integration of the psychosocial perspective—in addition to specific tools and procedures—led to increased resilience, decreased internal conflicts, and improvements in protection and security work.
People who are aware of the psychosocial impacts of repression are more willing to prioritise adequate self-care.
Our interviews and surveys found that sensitisation and awareness raising about the psychosocial impacts of political violence (and human rights work in such contexts) were key—people who are aware of the psychosocial impacts of repression are more willing to prioritise adequate self-care.
To increase this awareness, PBI offered regular mental health workshops facilitated by an external expert, which addressed the impacts of violence and the problems that members of the organization deal with in their daily work. PBI also facilitated self-organized workshops, which are set up and managed by the teams in order to work on any issues related to mental health. These workshops—utilizing existing tools, knowledge, capacities and previous experiences of each member—helped staff and volunteers to recognise negative impacts and to develop strategies to prevent, cope with or counteract these effects.
Another important tool that the organization introduced was “check-ins”: these were spaces at the beginning of meetings (in person or virtual) where each person can comment on how they are doing and about aspects that influence their well-being (work-related or personal) and in which members can hear from others about how they are doing, express needs, concerns. The excessive workload and the dynamics of human rights work in the field can lead to situations in which team members do not know how their teammates are doing, and this lack of exchange can lead to misunderstandings, friction and conflicts. Proper use of check-ins can be a useful tool for preventing conflict and to promote mutual support. The tool helped to get staff and volunteers used to including expression of emotions and (the lack of) “well-being” into certain spaces, and in many occasions team members noted an increase in their empathy for each other.
"Paseo de Humanidad" (Parade of Humanity), a painted metal mural, is attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales.
In addition, PBI Mexico created “mental health minimums”, which are individual commitments by all team members to practice self-care and maintain a good state of mental health during the year in the field. These minimum commitments are different for each team member and involve simple things such as doing sports at least once a week, writing daily, and going to dance classes.
They are the result of an individual reflection process (sometimes promoted and/or guided in a workshop) and are shared with the other members of the team so that everyone is aware of each other’s needs. The implementation of these minimums is done individually but if stress dynamics linked to a lack of implementation arise, the team uses the workshops and/or the “check-ins” to follow-up as a collective. As such, the minimums help with conflicts about different perspectives on work management and self-care.
The organization also decided to rotate certain tasks considering the mental health of the team members. One example is the person who is on-call. This person is responsible for checking the phone and e-mail in order to respond to emergency situations, and PBI has taken care to avoid exposing the same people to the most difficult testimonies, such as victims of torture and forced disappearances. “During my year, the hardest moments for me emotionally were listening to testimonies of mothers of disappeared people”, stated one of the volunteers. During the workshops, the external expert provided tools to better deal with such situations and at the same time the rotation system avoided constant exposure to these testimonies.
Finally, PBI offered individual support programs with therapists through Skype. This is an external service to support employees and volunteers so that they can prevent and/or cope with situations or periods of stress and/or emotional charge. PBI has a working agreement with the European Gestalt Therapy Association where members can request individual pro-bono counselling at any time throughout their service (before, during and after the volunteer year, and also for paid staff) in order to prevent burnout and secondary trauma. At the beginning of the collaboration volunteers and staff did not used this specific service much. PBI Mexico started to promote this opportunity for support and integrated further information about this service in training and orientation of staff and volunteers alike. Now there is a regular use of the service and in the questionnaires and interviews several people stressed the importance of this tool.
PBI Mexico made extensive use of an external professional expert to support field teams to address the negative psychosocial impacts of the dynamics inherent to frontline human rights work. Before this collaboration (ten years ago) there was little work on mental health and the accompaniment work of PBI Mexico did not consider well (if at all) psychosocial aspects of the security and protection work for human rights defenders. While there was initially resistance from some members, people were rapidly convinced once they experienced the support. Over time the collaboration with the external expert led to the integration of a psychosocial approach in the internal and external work of the organization. One public example of this integration is PBI Mexico’s facilitator’s guide for security and protection workshops, which explicitly integrates a psychosocial perspective in each training module.
Although we found that workshops with the external expert were especially important, it was the combination of the different tools and procedures that led to a proper integration of the psychosocial perspective. The ongoing support via the regular workshops helped to develop or adjust these tools and procedures to make them more effective. We found that participative processes were important, as commitment and implementation depends on buy-in from all team members—coping mechanisms should not be imposed from the outside, in order to avoid resistance and/or dependence on intervention. Our study also illustrates the need to create an organizational culture that not only allows and promotes the use of time and resources for well-being and mental health, but actually integrates it as important part of the human rights work that is obligatory, reflected in work plans and job descriptions. Unless this incorporation happens, we observed that self-care gets lost or de-prioritized in the frequently overloaded agendas of HRDs and their organisations.
The horizontal and participatory working approach of PBI has certainly facilitated progress, but most of the tools and procedures described can be integrated and adapted by other local and international NGOs alike. In addition, a similar type of case study to what we completed could also help organizations identify their specific needs.
Of course, a cultural shift and strong effort to raise awareness are still required in order to foster well-being and counter negative impacts of repression within the sector. But profound changes in the staff and organisation are possible with proper investment in and implementation of psychosocial support.
One person’s experience becoming a business owner shows how our economy is based on luck rather than merit and how it rewards people who own stuff rather than people who do stuff.
I have a private basic income – a small, regular cash income without means test or work requirement. It’s probably large enough to meet my basic needs. And I got it thanks to privilege, nepotism, and two big lucky breaks.
My first big lucky break happened in 2009 when Georgetown University hired me as a philosophy professor on their campus in Qatar. Georgetown-Qatar, which is funded entirely by the Qatar government, has to pay an enormous premium to get faculty to agree to live and work in Qatar. I get paid three times as much as my wife. I teach half as many classes. She’s a full professor. I’m only an associate.
Qatar can pay more than US universities because of their own series of lucky breaks that put them in control of enormously valuable resources. Their position today comes largely from decisions made about a century ago, as the Ottoman Empire was breaking up. Britain and France arbitrarily drew lines on the map to create what became the states of the Middle East. They had no idea those lines would eventually give some of those states enormous amounts of oil and gas and leave others desperately poor.
I 'earn' my salary by doing a job few others are both willing and able to do. To some extent wages compensate for other disadvantages of the job. But this equalisation is only partial and more importantly, it only occurs among people with similar options.
I had better options than most people in the world. My white, American upper-middle class privilege gave me the opportunity to get the qualifications and the flexibility to take this job. For every highly paid professional 'expat' in Qatar like me there are maybe eight or ten extra-low paid 'migrant labourers', some of whom make as little as $200 a month. They live in dorms for years at a time, separated from their families. They are unfree to quit or to change employers. They are unfree to leave the country without their employers’ permission.
There is no combination of hard work and grit that could have put any one of these workers in my position from their starting point in life.
I see these workers often. They clean the toilets at my university. They bring me tea if I want it. They are, on average, several inches shorter than me thanks to childhood malnutrition, because human resource companies in Qatar have scoured the earth looking for the most vulnerable, cheapest labour. There is no combination of hard work and grit that could have put any one of these workers in my position from their starting point in life – nor is there a combination of bad choices that could conceivably put me in their position from my starting point. I’m paid partly because I’m willing to see unfree labourers up close rather than to stay home and consume the products of billions of workers like them without seeing them.
I do not 'earn' my salary in the sense of doing more useful work. I’m a competent professor, but I’m not outstanding. My work is no more valuable than the work other academics do – perhaps less because most of my students are already so wealthy they need education much less than the average person around the world.
I receive a high salary because I was lucky enough to be in the position to serve the whims of rentiers – that is, people who own resources and the stuff we make out of them. There are exceptions but on the whole, the highest paid people are those advantageously placed to serve the whims of wealthy people. Doctors who perform cosmetic surgery for rentiers make far more than doctors who treat malnourished children.
The real money isn’t in doing stuff for the people who own stuff. It’s in being one of the people who owns stuff. My chance to do that was my second big lucky break.
A few years before I left for Qatar, my brother returned to the Midwestern United States with a significant amount of money he’d saved while teaching English. With that money, he’d bought a couple houses, fixed them up, and rented them out. Although he made a very good rate of return, he had no more money to invest. He had less money because he was now teaching underprivileged children in a public school in South Bend, Indiana instead of teaching relatively wealthy people in Tokyo.
We were a perfect match. I had the money but not the time or skills. He had the time and skills but not the money. And as brothers we had a bond of trust. No one is going to give tens of thousands of dollars every year to some guy who owned a couple of houses and said he knew how to manage more, but I’d give it to my brother. Nepotism made my business possible.
South Bend is a fabulous place for small investors to get into real estate. Thanks to overbuilding 50 years ago, houses there are extremely cheap to buy, but not as cheap to rent. So, we needed less money to buy in and made a higher return than most real estate investors in most US cities.
I also benefited because the US tax structure is extremely favourable to business owners in general and landlords in particular. Capital gains are taxed far less than income, and people who don’t need their income are taxed less than people who do. My brother needs to live off of the salary our business pays him, and so he pays income tax on it. My wife and I don’t need the money we make from owning most of the business. We live off the salaries of our jobs, and reinvest virtually our entire share of the business. These reinvestments count as “losses,” and so officially we have never made any income or paid income taxes on our share of the business.
The business pays property taxes, but they average about $15 per house, per month – minuscule compared to the rent we make. Our business needs to maintain the houses, but the cost of maintenance is far less than we receive in rent. Eventually, I’ll take money out and pay income taxes on it, but that amount will probably always be a small portion of the returns to my share of the business. As long as my wife and I (or our heirs) keep reinvesting most of our profits, the vast majority of it will never be subject to income tax.
My wife and I don’t have enough property income to put us in the one percent, and at our age, it probably won’t get there while we’re alive. But we could quit right now and be safely out of poverty with probably as much as the most generous basic income proposals on the table right now.
We have a basic income – a permanently growing basic income – not just for life, but forever. Because we own stuff we don’t need, our society rewards us with more and more stuff every year. We don’t have to do anything to get more every year. Our money works for us, so we don’t have to.
Because we own stuff we don’t need, our society rewards us with more and more stuff every year.
We don’t quit because employers have offered us jobs with good working conditions and pay that makes us significantly better off than living on our basic income alone. Most people in a similar position would do the same. If some people don’t work when a basic income becomes available, we should consider the possibility that employers aren’t paying high enough wages. My wife and I are not better humans than most of the world’s poor. Our lucky breaks make us different from the poor. And those same lucky breaks make us similar to most other people with money.
Just because I benefit from the unfairness of our economic system doesn’t make its rules any fairer. Those rules are not some natural feature of the universe. People made them. People can change them.
Why don’t we?
Obviously people who own stuff have a great deal of political power, but there’s more to it than that. Most people and policymakers do not understand the difference between rewarding people who do stuff and rewarding people who own stuff. Spending rewards production, but rewarding production is not the same as rewarding people who do things that make production happen. Everything humans produce is made from a combination of human effort and resources. Some spending rewards human efforts, but the biggest rewards go to the owners of resources and of the things we’ve made out of them in the past.
People like to think that owners are 'entrepreneurs' and 'job creators'. To some extent this is true. Entrepreneurs are owners who put forth effort to increase the value of what they own, and often what they do is valuable. But there are three reasons entrepreneurship can’t justify the enormous inequalities in the world today.
1. For owners, work is optional. For everyone else, it’s mandatory. Owners do not have to be entrepreneurs. They don’t even have to be competent. They can hire competent people to manage their money for them. The amount of 'entrepreneurship' in my story was miniscule. It amounts to this. I lucked into money. My brother knew what to do with it. I gave it to him. For nothing more than that, I never need to work again. Neither will my successors. And unless they’re spendthrifts or exceedingly incompetent investors, they’ll have more than me, and their successors will have more than them.
2. Most owners aren’t really entrepreneurs. Economists have a saying, “the entrepreneur tends to become a rentier”. The reason is simple. The more money you make, the more it makes for you, and that part of your income will eventually outstrip the part from the things you actually do. As a human, you will eventually stop working, and so, you’ll stop getting money for doing stuff, but your stuff will keep on making money forever.
3. We can get entrepreneurship without the enormous rewards to ownership we have today. Rewards were smaller a half century ago, but there was just as much entrepreneurship. What can I possibly have done in the seven years that I’ve been accumulating stuff to justify rewarding me and my successors with a perpetually growing stream of work-free income? In short, nothing. I do not exaggerate. I’ve studied the market as an economist and as a political theorist. I’ve lived it as a wage earner and as a business owner. It’s not just me and my wife. It’s how the economy works.
Some people who read this story will probably accuse me of hypocrisy, saying something like, “If you’re an egalitarian, why are you rich?” If I wrote a similar description of the economy when I was poor, they’d accuse me of jealously, saying something like, “if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” That’s the catch-22 for people who complain about the rules of our economic system. You’re either hypocritical or jealous. No one has the right amount of property to complain about the distribution of property.
I plan someday to use most of my money to do something good for others instead of just for myself. But it’s the system that needs to change. Individual owners giving away things at their whim will not fix the unfairness of the system. We need to change the rules.
We don’t need to eliminate the market economy or property rights. We just need to realise that a lot of the income in the world today goes to the people who own resources and the stuff we’ve made out of them. Tax that unearned income and share it with everyone – a universal and unconditional basic income. The most common objection to basic income is that it’s supposedly wrong to give things to people who don’t work for it, when actually, the economy already gives billions of dollars of unearned income to people who are already wealthy. The problem is we don’t share it.
This article is based on an earlier version published in May 2010 at basicincome.org.
Satire III : 190 - 231, from The Satires, written in the early second century AD.
Who fears, or ever feared, that their house might collapse,
In cool Praeneste, or in Volsinii among the wooded hills,
Or at unpretentious Gabii, or the sloping hills of Tibur?
We inhabit a Rome held up for the most part by slender
Props; since that’s the way management stop the buildings
Falling down; once they’ve covered some ancient yawning
Crack, they’ll tell us to sleep soundly at the edge of ruin.
The place to live is far from all these fires, and all these
Panics in the night. Ucalegon is already summoning a hose,
Moving his things, and your third floor’s already smoking:
You’re unaware; since if the alarm was raised downstairs,
The last to burn will be the one a bare tile protects from
The rain, up there where gentle doves coo over their eggs.
Cordus had a bed, too small for Procula, and six little jugs
Of earthenware to adorn his sideboard and, underneath it,
A little Chiron, a Centaur made of that very same ‘marble’
And a box somewhat aged now, to hold his Greek library,
So the barbarous mice gnawed away at immortal verse.
Cordus had nothing, who could demur? Yet, poor man,
He lost the whole of that nothing. And the ultimate peak
Of his misery, is that naked and begging for scraps, no one
Will give him a crust, or a hand, or a roof over his head.
If Assaracus’s great mansion is lost, his mother’s in mourning,
The nobles wear black, and the praetor adjourns his hearing.
Then we bewail the state of Rome, then we despair of its fires.
While it’s still burning, they’re rushing to offer marble, already,
Collect donations; one man contributes nude gleaming statues,
Another Euphranor’s master-works, or bronzes by Polyclitus,
Or antique ornaments that once belonged to some Asian god,
Here books and bookcases, a Minerva to set in their midst,
There a heap of silver. Persicus, wealthiest of the childless,
Is there to replace what’s lost with more, and better things.
He’s suspected, and rightly so, of setting fire to his house.
If you could tear yourself from the Games, you could buy
A most excellent place, at Sora, at Fabrateria or Frusino,
For the annual rent you pay now, for a tenement in Rome.
There you’d have a garden, and a well not deep enough
To demand a rope, so easy watering of your tender plants.
Live as a lover of the hoe, and the master of a vegetable bed,
From which a hundred vegetarian Pythagoreans could be fed.
You’d be somebody, whatever the place, however remote,
If only because you’d be the master of a solitary lizard.
translated by A.S.Kline
DemocraciaAbierta busca contratar a un editor a tiempo parcial, enfocado en el desarrollo de redes sociales y de audiencia, y ubicado en América Latina.
Si desea leer esto en inglés, pulse aquí.
DemocraciaAbierta (DA) es una plataforma global para voces latinoamericanas que debate asuntos de la democracia, la movilización, la participación y los derechos humanos y civiles en todo el continente, y más allá.
Su audiencia principal está principalmente constituida por activistas, analistas, policy-makers, y activistas de los derechos humanos, de los pueblos indígenas, de defensores de causas sociales y medioambientalistas. DA se centra también en la experimentación política, la innovación y las iniciativas de participación política en toda la región.
Actualmente, DA se concentra en aumentar su audiencia, redes e impacto, en cuatro de sus países prioritarios: México, Colombia, Brasil y Argentina.
Trabajando junto a un reducido equipo central, usted será responsable de:
• Escribir, comisionar y editar contenido relevante para DA que alcance nuestras audiencias a través de plataformas múltiples
• Trabajar con el Director y Editor principal para desarrollar la estrategia digital - incluyendo contenido, redes sociales y emailing
• Trabajar con nuestra red de socios editoriales en la región latinoamericana
• Aumentar la participación e interacción de los lectores con las redes sociales de DA (FB y Twitter), más allá de la promoción del contenido de DA: desarrollar la voz de DA en la región
• Explorar oportunidades para DA en otros canales y plataformas de redes sociales, y hacer recomendaciones para el crecimiento de la audiencia
• Promover el perfil de la marca y el contenido de la DA en América Latina
• Identificar y construir listas de contactos relevantes e influyentes
• Impulsar e implementar una estrategia para incrementar la lista de subscriptores comprometidos
• Planificar e implementar estrategias para incrementar el compromiso con la audiencia del DA y llegar a nuevos públicos en América Latina, utilizando el conocimiento de las herramientas de análisis y de tendencias de la industria de los medios digitales existentes
• Informar sobre el crecimiento de la audiencia y recomendar acciones y respuestas para incrementarla
Experiencia y capacidades
Estamos buscando a alguien que cuente con:
• Experiencia en la escritura, en la edición y en la creación de audiencias a través de redes sociales y blogs, creando contenido llamativo y atractivo
• Capacidad para trabajar de forma remota y autónoma
• Experiencia en la gestión de prioridades múltiples, encargos y / o proyectos
• Capacidad para adaptarse a responsabilidades cambiantes y a cambios de última hora
• Se requiere fluidez en español e inglés (bilingüe).
• Pasión por, y comprensión de, la tecnología social, y conocimiento clave de las mejores prácticas digitales
• Competencia demostrable de medición e informes de impacto
• Experiencia y credibilidad como activista en áreas relacionadas con el contenido DA (deseable)
• Conocimiento del portugués
• Experiencia en el uso de Content Management Systems, Mailchimp y HTML / CSS
Si está interesado y considera que su perfil se ajusta a esta descripción, por favor envíe una carta de motivación detallando cómo su perfil se ajusta a los criterios del puesto, junto con su CV, pulsando aquí.
Las entrevistas de los candidatos seleccionados tendrán lugar a partir del 7 de agosto.
El inicio del trabajo está previsto para el 4 de septiembre.
DemocraciaAbierta – the ‘Latin’ section of the global website openDemocracy, is seeking to hire a part-time editor with a media / audience development focus to be located in Latin America.
To see this opening in Spanish, please click here.
DemocraciaAbierta (DA) is a global platform for Latin American voices, debating democracy, mobilisation, participation, human and civil rights across the continent, and beyond. Its core audiences are mainly built around activists, campaigners and policy-makers, working specifically on issues like violence, human rights, indigenous peoples and environmentalists. DA also focuses on political experimentation, innovation and participation initiatives across the region.
DA is currently focusing on growing its audience, networks and impact on four priority countries: Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.
Working with a small core team you will be responsible for:
Writing, commission and editing eye-catching content for DA which speaks to audiences across multiple platforms
Working with the Lead Editor develop DA's digital strategy – including content, email and social media
Working with the DA network of editorial partners in the region
Sourcing content and building editorial networks
Increasing engagement on DA social media channels (FB and Twitter) beyond just promoting DA content – developing DA’s voice in the region
Exploring opportunities for DA on other social media channels/platforms and making recommendations for audience growth
Raising the profile of the DA brand and content in Latin America
Researching and building lists of relevant contacts and influencers
Recommending and implementing a strategy to grow an engaged newsletter list
Using analytics plus awareness of industry trends to plan and implement strategies to increase engagement with DA’s audience and reach new audiences across Latin America
Reporting on audience growth and recommending responses
Experience of building audiences through social media, blogging, commissioning and creating eye-catching and engaging content
Passion and deep understanding of social technology and knowledge of key digital best practices
Proven track record in developing meaningful engagement through online channels
Track record of establishing metrics, developing insights and reporting on outcomes, using Google Analytics and social media analytics
Demonstrable understanding of measuring and reporting impact
Experience of creating engaging e-newsletters and analysing effectiveness
Experience writing for social media, developing a social media strategy and building an online community
Experience managing multiple, competing priorities, duties and/or project
We are looking for someone who is:
Both an excellent writer and imaginative and detail-focused editor, able to work across multiple platforms
Fluent in Spanish and English
Confident in working autonomously and remotely
Able to accommodate evolving responsibilities and last minute changes
Has strong communication skills, both verbal and written, and a collaborative approach to working, with the ability to liaise with internal and external stakeholders at all levels
Excellent planning and organisational skills, and the ability to work to tight deadlines
Experience and credibility as an activist in areas related to DA's editorial focus
Knowledge of Portuguese
Experience of using Content Management Systems, Mailchimp and HTML/CSS
If you are interested in this role please submit a covering letter, detailing how you meet the criteria above, plus your CV by clicking here.
Interviews of selected candidates will take place from August 7.
Job to start on September 4.