Posted by Andrew VanderPloeg
Since 2007, Blog Action Day (#BAD11) has focused bloggers around the world to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included water, climate change and poverty. This year’s Blog Action Day coincides with World Food Day and so naturally the 2011 theme is FOOD.
I’ve been working for Radiant for almost 8 years now and in that time I’ve had many opportunities to connect with people in relief organizations. I am always struck by how much there is to learn from people employed in relief work.
That thought inspired the approach to today’s Blog Action Day post on Food as we take this opportunity to talk about the issue of Acute Hunger and highlight the work of World Relief Canada as they play their part in answering the need.
The topic of Food isn’t just timely because it’s World Food Day, it’s timely in a bigger context as well, because for the first time in a long time (since Ethiopia in the 80’s), governments around the world have declared a famine, this time in a greater swath of Northeast Africa called the Horn of Africa. Famine is a word that you and I might use quite readily to describe various situations across the world, but governments are more discerning with their application of it because of the ramifications of responsibility (root word being response). You can read this article in Time that came out about a week before the UN declared a famine for more on this.
The reality though, is that, generally speaking, we are not facing a shortage of food across the world. In fact, right now, there’s enough to feed everyone on the planet. The future isn’t necessarily that bright as population increases and arable land decreases, but for now, the problem is an issue of delivery.
Compounding the issue is the fact that people who suffer through acute hunger aren’t worried about the bigger picture of building the infrastructure they need in order to secure tomorrow’s food for themselves. All they have time and effort to think about is where the next meal is coming from. This is the issue of food security, an issue that WRC approaches in its cause-based approach to relief work.
World Relief Canada’s Response
Causes at World Relief range from Human Trafficking to Clean Water to our blog topic of the day, Acute Hunger. Each cause is comprised of various projects, each project being a unique effort towards answering the need of the cause. Here’s one example:
Bangladesh – Koinonia Project
When you’re talking about the problem of Acute Hunger, the problem is many facetted and as such, it takes time to respond to. The Koinonia program in Bangladesh is a 5-year program built on the idea of microfinance and speaks to the unique challenges of the Hunger issue.
The majority of loans in the Koinonia project are for agri-business. The unique highlight of this project though, is that while this project is serving to build infrastructure that will provide a backbone for agriculture to thrive in this area on an ongoing basis, it’s not men who are most involved, it’s women (yet another of the causes that WRC seeks to address).
The reason that women are the primary audience for this project is due to a few reasons:
First off, in Bangladesh, women bear a disproportionate distribution of poverty due to cultural oppression. Women, more than others, face malnutrition, illness, hunger, separation from children, forced early marriage, etc. Coupling that with no seed capital to start a business, they sit idle.
The second reason they are the primary audience, is also a great irony. Not-for-profits who employ microfinance worldwide have consistently found that women run their businesses far better than men and have a very high repayment rate. It has been said that, “If you invest in a woman, you invest in a family. If you invest in a man, you invest in a man.” But it goes beyond family for women because it becomes a community effort.
Women band together to form accountability groups, knowing that if one woman defaults on a loan, others will pay the default. They have a culture of support whereby if someone gets sick, they cover for each other. As a result, they all have to buy into any proposed business models because they will all be responsible for it in the end.
So not only is the microfinance project providing an answer to the need for food security, it is also releasing women from idly starving to death and in some cases, women are beginning to hire men, a cultural coup that we can’t really appreciate in our North American context, but a happy side-effect of the relief work.
That compelling project is just one of the many that WRC has on the go right now.
So, with all that detail, the inevitable question is, “What’s our response?"
In talking with Eric Frans, Director of Fund Development at World Relief Canada, I was challenged to think differently about my response. Instead of thinking solely in terms of donating, Eric’s final thoughts were a bit different as he challenged me to think about the fact that it’s not just about writing a check and feeling good about it. Donations are good, and when you donate to World Relief, you also know that through their strategic partnerships, your dollars are being matched and exceeded to the tune of 9 to 1 in many cases.
But the big call to us is to find the cause that we are most passionate about and then run with that by our involvement and support. That will be what changes the world in a ripple effect.
Along the way, it will likely change us too.