I’ve been a little bit delighted to see the publicity that the Jaded Aid card game has been generating (see for example this Foreign Policy write-up). Nothing is more loltastic for development workers that some wryly-observed development humour. As Wayan Vota observes in that FP article, it is affectionate humour; most of us care deeply about the work we are doing. But if we can’t laugh at some of the absurdities of our industries we might go mad (or explode with pomposity).
In this spirit, I’ve been thinking about what other business projects I could crowd-source funding for from the jaded aid generation. I think I have come up with some crackers. Here they are – in ascending order of cynicism 😉
Somehow I suspect that my business ideas wouldn’t get me that far on Dragons’ Den…
1. Many people have questioned aid workers abilities to actually end world poverty – but surely no-one could deny their deep, contextual knowledge of long-haul flights and seedy business hotels. I mean, I don’t know anyone else as good as me at securing the best seat in economy class or blagging my way into business class lounges. So my first idea is to combine this latent travel knowledge with another skill which development workers have – creating online knowledge repositorieshttps://kirstyevidence.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/why-your-knowledge-sharing-portal-will-probably-not-save-the-world/. My one-stop-shop would enable seasoned development workers to mentor and share knowledge with long-haul tourists looking for exotic adventures. Development workers will get the satisfaction of being truly useful. And the boost to the tourist industry may benefit poor countries more than many misguided development projects: win win.
2. Wherever you go in the world, you get ethnic spas based on sanitised versions of indigenous health beliefs. So you get Thai spas with incense, Thai muzak and traditional Thai massages; Indian spas with ladies in saris, treatments inspired by Ayurveda and incense. And, to my surprise, I recently came across a ‘traditional African spa’ with treatments inspired by African traditional medicine carried out to the sound of the Soweto gospel choir. And incense.
People love these spas because it is well known that while people in developing countries may lack wealth, they are rich in indigenous wisdom, charmingly exotic practices… and incense.
So, my proposal is that we give something back to all these developing countries from which we have appropriated our luxury spa treatments. And what better gift than the marvelous indigenous health system of Germany: homeopathy*. I suggest that we set up our german spas across the developing world. Homeopathic massages will have been watered down to the extent that no actual massage is left. Instead, customers will sit in a room with a mulleted German masseuse listening to the relaxing sound of David Hasselhof – and sniffing bratwurst-scented incense. Health impacts will be mediated by the placebo effect – and the huge pitcher of German beer you will be given before leaving.
3. I have long felt a dilemma about gap-year voluntourism projects. On the one hand, I feel that sending under qualified people to carry out projects in poor countries can be patronising, unhelpful and potentially undermining to local economies. Or the other hand, I do think that it is useful for young, impressionable people to have the chance to connect with people from other cultures and (hopefully) to realise that people the world over are just people. I wondered if there is a way to enable this cross-cultural exchange without the patronising well-digging projects. Which is how I came up with the Mzungu** houseboy project. The idea is to link up earnest European gap year students with nouveau riche African families. To be precise we would need to find a particular subset of the newly wealthy who want to show off to their friends and family. The Europeans would get an authentic experience of poverty as a houseboy/girl – secure in the knowledge that they are not falling into the white saviour cliche. And the ostentatious families of Lagos, Nairobi or Kampala get the ultimate status symbol; a European houseboy! What is not to like?!
* A system of alternative medicine/quackery – invented in Germany – where active substances are diluted down to infinitesimally low concentrations.
**The word for a European/Caucasian (or sometimes foreign-resident Africans) in many Bantu languages