Saving the world takes more than an English degree

We have awareness. We have emergency response. We have stories and passion. We need strategy. We need implementation. We need law and justice, capital and foreign investment.

April 1st, 2010

Say we're into social justice. Awareness has never been higher. I have never had so many students who are keen on "social justice" and (justly) enraged by poverty, scarcity driven conflict, racial and gender violence, maternal health and affordable education. I love these students; I would never begrudge or denigrate these convictions.

But conviction's not where the policy community is hung up. We're hung up on strategy, and all the awareness campaigns, Capitol Hill marches and rock star concerts in the world aren't going to hammer out actionable strategies. It's not just that people don't care; it's that we're deadlocked about what to do. We're all on the side of doing good in the world, but the trick is moving past the moral imperative to talk strategy. And I've found that when students graduate from university and navigate that critical quarter-life crisis, they're just as deadlocked as the rest of us. What to do?

1. Get architectonic about it

The basic criticism of pundits like Dambisa Moyo is that well-meaning development has facilitated short-term results and long-term dependence. It lacks, in the language of Abraham Kuyper, an architectonic critique. Kuyper means that the problems that lock people into poverty, injustice and segregation are not exclusively individual in nature. It's not simply that there are some bad people out there doing bad things, and we've got to root them out and lock them up. No, it's that there is systemic injustice. The problem is actually in the machine, and so it is not enough to ask short-term questions about where one bad apple came from. We must ask why the courts provide no justice, why the fields produce no food and why we cannot freely buy and sell.

Yes, short-term we may need some transitional seed money in the form of aid. Indeed, we may also need a peace-keeping regimen to firmly establish the rule of law. But these are not indefinite solutions. They are intended to be transitional, as the solutions within states are given a chance to emerge. Security, governance, trade and aid are all part of a package of solutions that contribute meaningfully to long-term growth.

Surely every good aid worker should be in the game to work themselves out of a job. But to work ourselves out of a job, we need a complimentary partnership with folks who will secure laws and rules, jobs and capital. We need good social architects.

2. Invest in a skill that contributes to long-term development

We have been learning about short-term aid strategies, about crisis intervention and emergency reactions. Canada, much to its credit, learned important lessons from the tsunami of 2004, so when a major earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, our reaction was swift, practiced and effective. I wonder: will we answer the long-term call in Haiti as effectively?

This is where passion needs to be tempered by practice. Passion is not enough to arm a summer student to run a brothel raid, crash a forced labour ring or line up seed money microloans. My millennial generation isn't inclined to wait, but this is one vocational call that we dare not stack with the green and untried. Development is not a summer jaunt for youth off to find themselves: it is delicate, professional, rigorous work that must be done at the highest level. We must be sending our best and brightest, not our passionate but marginally qualified.

Malcolm Gladwell famously talks of the 10,000 hours that it takes to form mastery. David Greusel meaningfully meditated in this space on Tessa Virtue and the "joy of mastery." This is the kind of approach we need to development: an approach that is architectonic, intelligent, masterful—full of joy. Not the joy "of someone who barely qualified. Not the I don't care what happens joy... the joy of someone who had mastered a difficult task, and who is ready to perform it, and who knows she is ready, and who can't wait to let the world see what she and her partner can do. It is the joy of mastery."

3. Get social innovation

Social innovation is critical for institutions facing flagging development strategies. More than ever, traditional and governmental institutions need Millennials committed to social innovation. As world economic capacity shifts to the developing world, strategies for what Paul Collier calls the bottom billion will need to shift in tandem. Already the major question on the development scene is China's global activism. Stephen Lewis calls it a "deal with the devil" but Dambisa Moyo says "the Chinese are our friends." The Sudan, among many others, hangs in the balance. This is one sector that simply will not have the luxury of depending on tested models; development strategies will need to be lean and adaptive into the twenty-first century, critically sensitive to the rapid movements of labour and finance.

This is one reason why it's important to not abandon traditional state institutions. While the foreign service of major states can be guilty of running silo strategies, decentralized and, at times, disconnected NGOs run a much higher risk. The bar can be very high to aspire to elite government institutions, but that should only encourage us that the cultural cache is higher, the resources more available, the results more lasting. These institutions need leading innovators for lasting architectonic reformation. The finest NGOs in the globe might transform postal codes, but only a collection of innovation-minded policy jocks at the World Trade Organization or World Bank—like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Collier—can move a system toward architectonic reformation. Transformation depends on both.

Two Examples

Let me conclude with two NGOs I think everyone should know: Hope International and the International Justice Mission. The work of these two organizations is at once architectonic and imminent. IJM makes legal interventions all over the developing world in the cases of the worst abuse of slavery and of exploitation. Hope International runs a microfinance program in the bottom billion, societies with no hope of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) but who depend on these seed monies and the local activism of an international community. Both are in dire need of professional and practised people in the areas of law and finance. And critically, both need people staffing other global institutions that close legal loop holes, provide fairer and freer trade, drive FDI abroad, increase labour governance and more: in short, experts renovating the global social architecture, toward a fairer and a more equitable system of governance that their work depends on.

I talked with Peter Greer recently, President of Hope International, who told me that if I knew crack business students who knew the fundamentals of how to invest soundly, he had a job for them. The truth is, he can't find enough. The actual practice of long-term development, of providing loans to communities to spur return and reinvestment, is understaffed.

Conclusion

The generalization is that our disciplines of English and social work intellectually fund the social left, and our business and law fund the political right. The truth is you can't build societies without both. Hernando de Soto sharply criticizes developed countries for splitting their left and their right when they go abroad. The left takes foreign aid, development and diplomacy, and the right takes trade and treasury. Our development strategies start to look schizophrenic—we've effectively exported the fault lines of our own societies to those of others. Our incapacity to politically communicate within is seriously impeding our capacity to partner with developing societies abroad.

I wish I had more business and law students in development classes. I wish, to be blunt, that social justice wasn't a clarion call for only one half of the political spectrum. We have awareness. We have emergency response. We have stories and passion. We need strategy. We need implementation. We need law and justice, capital and foreign investment.

Want to save the developing world? Great! But English and social work won't be enough. Send us your MBAs and LLBs; we've got some architectonic work to do.

 

Robert Joustra (Ph.D., University of Bath) teaches politics & international studies at Redeemer University College, where he is also Director of the Centre for Christian Scholarship. He is the author and editor of several books, most recently The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why Foreign Policy Needs Political Theology (Routledge, 2017). He is a Fellow with the Center for Public Justice and an Editorial Fellow with The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

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