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‘Ubuntu’ and how it applies to our narrative on poverty

Desmond Tutu talks about the concept of Ubuntu, in the context of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process that they embarked on after apartheid. He says it means, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong to a bundle of life.” A bundle of life. The Truth and Reconciliation process started by elevating the voices of the unheard.

In a world torn apart by wars, in the face of our humanity decimated by our greed to control precious resources, we have lost our ‘Ubuntu’. We lost it when the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy had to wash ashore for us to wake up and notice the plight of the refugees fleeing wars. We lost it when Charlie Hebdo created yet another cartoon mocking this death in the name of freedom of speech. We lost it when our headlines continue to be titillating news of latest celebrity scandals instead of the very real scandal of how we are collectively failing humanity.

The refugees, the poverty, the wars, the fight over control of resources, the new wave of colonialism that is sweeping through, it is cleverly disguised. Cleverly labeled as economic migrants looking for the easy life, a war to install democracy by bombing out entire cities, their citizens nameless, un-reckoned casualties, the news swept away, tucked somewhere in page 12 in a small column in international news. The number of these casualties unrecognized, unknown to the general population. The new colonialism that talks about integration, globalization, ensuring access to resources, for who? to what end?

We talk about the Millennium Development Goals and what a huge success it has been. So now we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals and how certain things need to be prioritized in order to ensure quality of life for everybody – “To leave no one behind”. Our narrative on poverty however has hardly changed. A large portion of our actions are still top-down, driven by political agenda, prioritized towards winning votes for parties, influence within the country or in international sphere. We cater to political leaders, to speeches to be made in parliament, to achieve goals that will look good when put up in a billboard. We cater to specific themes because that’s where the money is – that’s where the funding is.

In all the South-South talk and the North-South cooperation, how many specific areas for development were targeted because that’s where the real on the ground needs are?

I don’t know… maybe because I haven’t looked enough.

I want to know though. I want to know it the way I know the SDG’s. I want to see real life solutions coming out of grass-root movements, that impact on the people whose very lives we claim to want to change for the better. The people we don’t want ‘to leave behind’. Maybe the way we see things has to change, maybe that’s still a long way to go, maybe we’ll get there in one generation or ten. Maybe the change has to start now, with us, in this moment. Maybe we have to filter what news we consume and how we allow it to shape our narratives. Maybe we have to start questioning everything – including our deep-seated assumptions – even on issues that we believe to be ‘written in stone’.

If we are to live up to our promise of working for the people, with the people, for the greater good of humanity, then we have to rediscover our ‘Ubuntu’ and live up to it. And in this thought provoking talk by Mia Birdsong, she invites us to do just that.


The Locust Effect: How everyday violence undermines efforts to alleviate poverty

In the development discourse, violence is an issue that is discussed in terms of wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, gender, ethnic minorities etc. but perhaps not enough in the broad strokes of everyday violence in the way it affects the 2 billion people who live on 2 dollars a day. Not in the very tangible way it keeps people enslaved in poverty. We discuss violence against women in the household and outside as a factor to address in our march towards equality and economic emancipation. But are we really addressing the multi-faceted nature of everyday violence that is a part and parcel of the reality of the very people that we are trying to help? Are we shining a light on the daily instances of violence that pushes people deeper into poverty?

When law enforcement systems are broken, when access to justice is paved by payments unaffordable to the poor, where does that leave them and where does that leave us?

In The Locust Effect, Haugen outlines the catastrophic effect of everyday violence on the lives of the impoverished, and shows how rampant violence is undermining efforts to alleviate poverty.


Inherent goodness

We, the optimist, like to believe that there is inherent goodness in people. There probably is, otherwise in this world with so many people, there would definitely be a lot more trouble. Problem is when I wake up in the morning to news of cars being burned on the street, to a man being hacked to death on live tv, to 20 innocent children killed in a school shooting, it gets that much harder to hold on to that faith of ‘inherent goodness’.

A friend commented a couple of days ago that there is more good to people than we give them credit for. Yes, maybe there is, but there is also a lot of ugliness, viciousness and pure evil actions. I had stopped reading the newspaper a few years back, I stopped subscribing when I realized that the daily dose of death, murder, rapes did nothing to my peace of mind. I was becoming fearful and paranoid of bringing up my son in a society where life has no value, people have no integrity and the politicians are more interested in holding on to power than in securing the future of their citizens. It’s hard to hold on to that faith on ‘inherent goodness’ when the physical safety of yourself and those you love is in constant danger. When the biggest hope is simply that your loved ones will return home safe after the end of a long day.

In this holiday season, when love, charity and cheer is supposed to be the word of the day, I am struggling with keeping faith in my fellow human beings. I am struggling to hold on to the love I had for my country, the faith that no matter what, my country will rise from the issues that plague it. Right now the joy of a hard-earned Independence is overshadowed by the destruction on the streets, the senseless deaths , the shooting, the bombing. Right now, I am reminding myself that no matter how adverse the circumstances are, there was, there is, there needs to be, Hope. Hope to survive, to conquer adversity, for a better future, however that future maybe. Perhaps if we all do just one-act of good each day, we will restore someone else’s faith, someone else’s day, save someone else’s life and somewhere along the way, we will also save ourselves.

My own austerity measures & 5 timeless leadership lessons

I am planning to go on vacation end of this month and my time is running short, before I know it the days are gone and I am still left with a mountain of paperwork on my desk. So come today, I have decided on new austerity measures since time is proving to be my most precious & rare commodity

1.  Anything irrelevant goes, that includes emails I don’t really have to read right now or respond to.

2. The to-do list needs an update, so I am scratching out the previous one and making a new one with all the “absolutely” must do tasks which need to be ticked off within a set deadline.

3. Delegate delegate delegate.

4. Get my desk clean – putting all my papers where they need to be, filed, archived, discarded.

5. I am tempted to put off blogging but I did promise myself to post as much new stuff as possible for my readers 🙂

Now I am off to close my outlook, put the phone on silent and just concentrate on one activity at a time.

Meanwhile, for additional reading check out the following article by Steve Tobak over at CBS Money Watch – Five Timeless Leadership Lesson.

Here are five timeless lessons I’ve excerpted. There’s a revelation or two, but there’s nothing like reading Heider’s book all the way through.

Knowing What Is Happening

When you cannot see what is happening in a group, do not stare harder. Relax and look gently with your inner eye.

When you do not understand what a person is saying, do not grasp for every word. Give up your efforts. Become silent inside and listen with your deepest self.

When you are puzzled by what you see or hear, do not strive to figure things out. Stand back for a moment and become calm. When a person is calm, complex events appear simple.

The more you can let go of trying, and the more open and receptive you become, the more easily you will know what is happening.

Stay in the present. The present is more available than either memories of the past or fantasies of the future.


Forget those clever techniques and self-improvement programs, and everyone will be better off.

No teacher can make you be happy, prosperous, healthy, or powerful. No rules or techniques can enforce these qualities.

Polarities, Paradoxes, and Puzzles

All behaviors contain their opposites:
– Hyper-inflation leads to collapse.
– A show of strength suggests insecurity.
– If you want to prosper, be generous.

– Water wears away rock.
– Spirit overcomes force.
– The weak will undo the mighty.

Learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down.

All the Answers

Nobody has all the answers. Knowing that you do not know everything is far wiser than thinking that you know a lot when you really don’t. Probably every leader has tried this form of pretense at one time or another.

The wise leader has learned how painful it is to fake knowledge. Being wise and not wanting to bear that pain, the leader does not indulge in pretending. It is a relief to be able to say: “I don’t know.”

The Reward

It is more important to tell the simple, blunt truth than it is to say things that sound good. It is more important to act on behalf of everyone than it is to win arguments. It is more important to react wisely to what is happening than it is to be able to explain everything in terms of certain theories.

The wise leader is not collecting a string of successes. The wise leader knows that the reward for doing the work arises naturally out of the work.

And here’s a bonus lesson that is eerily predictive of our gadget-crazed, always on, instant gratification culture. Keep in mind, it was written more than 25 years ago and adapted from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, c. 6th century BC.

Time for Reflection

Endless drama clouds consciousness. Too much noise overwhelms the senses. Continual input obscures genuine insight. Do not substitute sensationalism for learning.

Allow regular time for silent reflection. Turn inward and digest what has happened. Let the senses rest and grow still.

Teach people to let go of their superficial mental chatter and obsessions.

When group members have time to reflect, they can see more clearly what is essential in themselves and others.

The Danger of a Single Story

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie )

I love this talk. I love … love… love how she uses simple every day examples to show how one single story repeated over and over again can become the defining factor in how we perceive something. You can watch the video on TEDTALK by Chimamanda on “The Danger of a Single Story”. 

I love my country but I find it frustrating that I get friends (mostly from the West) who call me up or message me on Facebook asking if I am flooded in. The particular flood that they are concerned about may not even be something that I am aware of and yet it defines how they see Bangladesh. The current political unrest is also something that people are concerned about, not just here but abroad as well. It is defining how our partners – business or development aid – are now seeing our country. Are we just a country that is poverty-stricken, flooded and politically unstable? is that our story?

When I look around me, I see people and I see the potential still left in this country. I look at my friends and I see that each person who helps themselves is one less person who is waiting for someone else to help them. I see the volunteers at all the organizations that I support and I see that there are still people here who believe enough to donate their time, effort and money to help others live a dignified life.

For every garment worker who has been tortured and killed, there are thousands more who has found economic independence and a decent workplace. I see social reformers who are willing to speak up for someone else, even when the message is not something that those in power want to hear. They risk their lives to put the truth out there, to shine a light on the darkness, to preserve the secular, sovereignty that we have. We, the people, should never forget that each one of us is part of a story that affects every one else. Each one of us is creating our own reality and thereby defining the reality of those around us with everything that we say, do and think.

I would rather be known for the hero who lost his life trying to stop the mugging of 2 helpless women. I would rather be known for all the street children who are seeking a better future by making the effort to gain an education. I would rather be remembered for the rickshaw-puller who saved half of his earnings until he had enough to establish a health centre in his village. I would rather remember the outpouring of pledges and donations that this old man got when his story was published in the newspaper. I would rather remember the farmer who started to farm a new vegetable in the off-season to make extra money and in the process ended up bringing prosperity not just for himself but for 5-6 villages in his locality.

Our story is an amalgamation of all these stories, the success and the failures. The many facets and truths that make up the whole.

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