No wonder there is conflict

Inclusive Economy19 Sep 2011Lucia Nass

Don’t try to change the aid industry, Lucia Nass argues: “Focus on mindsets and relationships instead”.

Should growth end? No. What should end is the pursuit of the destructive goal of profit maximization. It’s not about what’s good for business, but it is about what’s good for society. Companies are discovering that what’s good for society is also good for business. Rather than changing the rules of economics, I would focus on changing people’s mindset first.

What to make of increasing conflicts, and how to act? Local problems are increasingly linked to global problems. There are so many different layers of interests and so many different values and believes. No wonder there is conflict. Where there is conflict the system is on the verge of finding a new balance. We should not aim to get rid of conflict, but see it as an opportunity to find new ways forward.

It is not the actors in the conflict that need our attention, but the relationships between them. The best way forward is that each actor stops convincing others and starts inquiring. Truly hearing about each other’s interests and values creates new insights and possibility. That is why methods like Open Space Technology, and other methods that bring “the whole system into the (virtual) room”, work so well.

The best role for social movements would then be to enable groups with differing interests to really hear each other. If people can appreciate and acknowledge each other’s interests, they will improve their relationships and new capacities for the future will emerge. Oh, and make sure that people whose wellbeing is not ok are heard in this process.

Why is the aid industry stuck? Many development NGOs are already “fundamentally confronting the origins of the unequal distribution of human wellbeing” (Bellagio statement). For instance, OXFAM currently ‘tackles’ the fact that nearly one billion people do not have enough to eat. Their GROW campaign is about changing the global food system. It confronts origins like climate change, land grabs, food price hikes and intensive farming. The bi- and multi-laterals are dragging their feet. Why? Well, the UN is after all the largest and best paid bureaucracy in the world, and we all know how difficult it is to change those. Bi-laterals are a product of society and the political systems they serve. My own country, The Netherlands, is a case in point. Dutch politics today care about the wellbeing of the Dutch without connecting that to the wellbeing of others in this world. Yet, the Dutch still give generously to reduce poverty worldwide. As long as the public in donor countries still thinks in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction, the aid industry will remain stuck. Don’t try changing the aid industry. Focus on shifting the public mindset and promote inquiry-based political relationships.