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Babble Book Club: Paved with Good Intentions

Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Our new book club selection is Paved with Good Intentions: Canada's development NGOs from idealism to imperialism and author Nik Barry-Shaw will be joining us on Saturday December 8 6:30pm EST. 

The date is a bit of a curve ball: a Saturday and only one month for this selection, but Nik Barry-Shaw has really reworked his schedule in order to come on and chat with us about his book, so hopefully we can all read it, make it, and provide some great comments!

Paved with Good Intentions looks like an important and poignant read on today's NGO culture and also serves as another diverse selection in our reading. Big thanks go out to Left Turn for this suggestion as well!

As has been pointed out, the book is unfortunately not readily available at all libraries in Canada, which decreases our inclusivity factor, but maybe some rabble.ca friend lending and loaning could somehow take place? However, the book is available at lots of independent bookstores and Fernwood Publishing is selling a hard copy with links to ebook sites as well.

 


Comments

Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Just checking libraries across Canada and a lot have copies of Paved with Good Intentions or they are currently 'on order' and recieved! That is great!

Unfortunately, I mixed myself up, and I am unable to locate an ebook version. Hmm. Has anyone else?


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

My copy arrived yesterday. I may delve into it tonight.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Cool. I'm waiting for the mail to come. Will probably take a bit to come through the border -- it being so political and all :)


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Been researching the new book a bit while I wait for my copy to arrive, and found some interesting live interviews with Nik Barry-Shaw

radio4all: Warning Shots: Paved with Good Intentions (18:00min) -- Michael Welch and Nik discuss the book, especially the history section about NGOs and also discuss the call to NGOs to re-examine their values and standards in their work for the marginalized communities they apparently serve. 

Medio Co-op: Community Audio: Paved with Good Intentions (18:00mins) -- Dawn Paley and Nik discuss the book as well and also recent developments in Canadian foreign policy. As the title suggests they focus on aid, policing, and Canadian development NGOs.  

Sounds like he has a lot to bring to the discussion and should be an interesting read.


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

Finding the book dense and hard to get into. I doubt I will finish reading this selection.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Before starting to read this book the language use was something I wondered about as well. I plan on asking the author about the use of highly academic and niche language and if they worried about alienating the audience or if they had a really specific audience they were writing to. 

It seems to be a Catch-22: if they write to a broader audience for increased exposure, they risk potentially weakening the message with simplifications of language and not making the hard points; if they write to specific audience 'in the know' of this language, they risk that 'preaching to the choir' phenomenon, and don't get to present this issue on a larger scale.

From what I have read and researched, they seemed to have taken the latter approach, and only written to people with an invested interest in NGOs.


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

I have a minor in poli sci so it has some intrinsic interest for me. It just seems that this could have been a journal article rather than a 200+ page book.


infracaninophile
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Joined: Aug 31 2011

I'm quite interested in the topic and not easily put off by academic language, but perhaps that stylistic factor explains why practically no public libraries  (at least in Ontario) have it in stock. When TPL gets it I can perhaps obtain it through interlibrary loan, but that will be a year from now in all likelihood (my experience is that it takes more than 6 months from the time a book is ordered to when it is available to library patrons, and even longer before it will be available for interlibrary loan).

I'll be interested in babblers' reactions and look forward to reading it when I can get a copy. Meanwhile I think I'll reread White Man's Burden which touches on some of the same issues.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

@infracaninophile sorry about the availability factor on this book, my internet library research yielded false results. Thanks for being a sport and bringing some knowledge and insight from another book on this subject. Looking forward to your contributions on this topic.

@Caissa I originally liked the authors struture for this book, beginning background behind NGOs and then how all of that has affected Canadian NGOs (sort of). I have yet to get into the meat of the book though to really feel out the read, and hope the information is relevant as opposed to redundant.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Been reading away, feel like I am learning more insight about Canada Foreign Policy and Canadian NGOs, but unfortunately this area is not my forte (if you will) and I think sooner than later things are about to go over my head, or explode my brain capacity.

Sticking with it for sure, but can't help my brain from continually yelling out "What is the solution!" because every attempted answer seems like a huge mistake (or already has been). Also, Harper seems to play our villian.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

infracinophile mentioned a recent book (2011), Generation NGO, that reflects about the experiences of young Canadians working in various NGO situations abroad. "It's more anecdotal and reflective than analytic but definitely presents a nuanced view." Would be an interesting juxtaposition to 'Paved with Good Intentions' and it's hyper-analytical view of NGOs, and to see if the seeming corruption of NGOs trickles down into the experiences of those involved at any level.

Also, reminder! Discussion with Nik Barry-Shaw this Saturday at 6:30pm EST! Nik will be here for one hour to answer all your questions and hear your comments, so as always, everyone is encouraged to ask questions and post comments and reactions with respect to everyone in the space! Excited to hear everyone's opinion and questions about the book, especially from our well-informed rabble crowd!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

I have found the first three chapters of this book confusing and overlapping -- are NGOs entrenched in neoliberalism? wait no, sometimes NGOs counter neoliberalism. are NGOs too proliferated and fractured to make change? no, sometimes they affect change, but it is just not visible?  should more money be given to government and civil operations to fund change and take power away from NGOs? wait no, government is corrupt and bloated.

BUT I found this line to kind of sum up the issue at hand, through all the confusing and overlapping facts:

Today, NGOs continue to imply that their projects do indeed constitute durable solutions to the problems of the world's poor. 'Romantic visions in which individual communities can somehow resolve problems of livelihood and sustainability on their own are politically misguided and a politcal disservice.' By suggesting that their rural women beneficiaries are just one goat, or one $10 loan away from escaping poverty, the marketing messages of NGOs constantly do ciolence to the true sources of world poverty.

call for accurate transparency?


Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

Either chapter 4 or 5, I can't remember which, argues that NGO's act to blunt radicalism and become tools of hegemony.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

I'm in that section currently, and can get a feel for what he's saying. I mean my issue with NGOs through friend experience is similar to that of some independent business and non-profits is the explotation of the worker and worker rights 'in the name of'. 

It's such a strange disconnect to think that at the root, like the fundamental definition even, NGOs are non-government, yet, as supported by the book, a large portion of funding comes from govt, therefore it is implied that the govt would have some strings, some sway, and eventually veer NGOs off course. I think he was arguing that there used to be a sort of 'check and balance' and that PMs beforehand used to try to stay out of the way, but Harper just doesn't give a shit and will do what he wants and certainly defund who he wants. So now it has become a question of get in line with Harper or be defunded. 

I think, at times and in certain areas, the actions of NGOs are more grey and blurry than the authors make it seem. Some people would argue it is better to play the game and make small changes than carry a radical message and get defunded and therefore have no power. Neither provides a great solution or alternative.

It is deflated and disheartening.

Also, I'm glad the authors have touched on the proliferation of NGOs (as more than just money-making, and more as wanting to aid) and the fragmentation of projections and therefore money. I'm hoping that will be further discussed as I read because, as mentioned by the book, the hundreds of projects that happened in Haiti and other areas had minimal effect because of this said fragmentation.


Left Turn
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Joined: Mar 28 2005

Caissa wrote:
I have a minor in poli sci so it has some intrinsic interest for me. It just seems that this could have been a journal article rather than a 200+ page book.

Caissa, the fact that it's a 200+ page book is what allows it to be so powerful. 200+ pages gives Nik and Dru the space to position development NGO's within the framework of neoliberalism; to explain how NGO's have helped to reinforce neoliberalism and, as in the case of Haiti, actively worked to undermine movements for social justice; and then to explain the trajectory of Canadian development NGO's fits within that broader picture

Nik and Dru could have written a journal article instead, but if they'd done that they wouldn't have had the space to make their broader argument about neoliberalism and development NGO's, which clearly shows that the problems being perpetuated by development NGO's cannot be solved within the framework of neoliberal capitalism.


Left Turn
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Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
It's such a strange disconnect to think that at the root, like the fundamental definition even, NGOs are non-government, yet, as supported by the book, a large portion of funding comes from govt, therefore it is implied that the govt would have some strings, some sway, and eventually veer NGOs off course. I think he was arguing that there used to be a sort of 'check and balance' and that PMs beforehand used to try to stay out of the way, but Harper just doesn't give a shit and will do what he wants and certainly defund who he wants. So now it has become a question of get in line with Harper or be defunded.

Kaitlin, Nik and Dru's argument is based on Marx's theory of dialectical materialism. According to Marx's theory of dialectics, any object has it's opposite contained within it, and under the right conditions, will express that opposite.

So although Canadian development NGO's in 1960s and 1970s were idealistic organizations that provided a counterweight to the Canadian government , they had contained within them the potential to become agents of the Canadian government and the imperialism that it represented. once NGO's were dependent on Canadian government funding, the government was able to make continued funding conditional on them carrying out programs that are an expression of Canadian imperialism.

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
I think, at times and in certain areas, the actions of NGOs are more grey and blurry than the authors make it seem. Some people would argue it is better to play the game and make small changes than carry a radical message and get defunded and therefore have no power. Neither provides a great solution or alternative.

The actions of NGO's are of course dyaliectical in nature, which means that they're grey and blurry more so than black or white. So when NGO's carry out policies designed to further imperialism, those actions also have the potential to act as a counterweight to imperialism.

An example would be an NGO providing Haitians with temporary wooden modular housing manufactured in Canada. On the one hand, they're spending money on housing that's inadequate to meet the needs of Haitians, both in terms of the amenities provided, and the ability of the building materials to stand up to the climate in Haiti, where it rains about as much as it does in Vancouver. Such housing probably would deteriorate quite badly in a couple of years. In addition to which these NGO's are not doing any work towards the establishment of a Haitian ministry of housing capable of providing for Haiti's housing needs, which is the real solution to Haiti's housing crisis. At the same time, this housing gets Haitians out of the tent camps and significantly lowers the chances of getting Cholera, which was brought to the country by UN troops from Nepal.

Quote:
Also, I'm glad the authors have touched on the proliferation of NGOs (as more than just money-making, and more as wanting to aid) and the fragmentation of projections and therefore money. I'm hoping that will be further discussed as I read because, as mentioned by the book, the hundreds of projects that happened in Haiti and other areas had minimal effect because of this said fragmentation.

The other thing that's really diminished the effectiveness of NGO aid projects in Haiti is that most of them are not coordinated with the Haitian government, which would enable the aid projects to be targeted much more effectively to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people. A notable exception is Partners in Health, which has worked with the Haitian government to establish a network of hospitals that actually employ Haitian doctors and nurses, and which could form part of a public health care system for Haiti if advanced capitalist countries were willing to give money to the Haitian government to fund such a project.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

One hour until author Nik Barry-Shaw joins us to discuss Paved with Good Intentions! Everyone is encouraged to ask questions and leave comments and reaction for both the author and other readers.

Does anyone have any inital reactions about the book they would like to share before we get started with the conversation with Nik?

[Left Turn, thank you for your comment, I'm just reading/digesting it and will respond soon!]


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

conversation will officially begin in 10 minutes!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Giving a thanks out to cyber space to Nik Barry-Shaw for joining us this evening to discuss his book with everyone.

To start everything off, I quickly begin with this: regarding language and accessibility within the book, who were you targeting and what conversation were you hoping to provoke with this book and its message?


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Hi Nik! Congratulations to you and Dru on this book. It's thoroughly researched and well written. I took part in some of the debates around Canadian NGOs and the coup in Haiti in 2004 -- some of it here on rabble in fact -- so the genesis of this book resonated with me. 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Hi everyone,

I have been trying to reach the author, and unfortunately have not been successful. I'm not what has happened, but I am going to keep trying until at least 7:00pm EST. Apologies for the inconvenience in this situation.

In the mean time, let's get the conversation going between all of us!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

@Derrick, as someone well-versed in the issues of Canada in Haiti and Canadian NGOs I'm interested in your opinion of this read and how you felt it addressed those isssues.

 


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

OK, thanks Kaitlin, hope Nik can make it... my questions weren't so much around language and accessibility. For the most part, they have to do with what risks getting lost in such a polemical, overarching critique -- like counter-examples of (usually smaller) NGOs doing vital work despite some dependence on CIDA funding; the risk of Ayn Randian right-wing critiques of foreign aid altogether appropriating this sort of critique and helping build the case for the type of transformations that we're starting to see under Harper, such as more direct finaning of mining corporatations' operations through CIDA...

But I think the authors do a good job of providing an accessible intro and conclusion, and of defining their terminology. It's true that people without a personal or professional interest already in the details of the NGO world might be turned off by all the acronyms and terminology, but I felt the terms needed to be defined and that it was done very clearly.

 

 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Yes, I feel a bit left out of this conversation because I don't have that strong background, and ultimately understood three words in your question Wink and wonder if there is some other BBC readers who are more well-versed in this discussion. 

I think my questions and critiques are by no means advanced and simply border on my reaction to the book, as well as questions about 'realistic solution', transparency, etc.

 


Nik Barry-Shaw
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Joined: Dec 8 2012

Hello, my apologies for being so late, some technical difficulties with my ancient computer!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Oh great! Just got an email from Nik, is old Mac is up and running and he will be on shortly...


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

The facts on the coup in Haiti were fairly represented in the book. The big NGOs who failed to take a position -- or, worse, ended up de facto or explicitly supporting the coup -- were not alone: progressive people in Canada basically didn't know anything about politics in Haiti before the coup. This general ignorance allowed the coup plotters to fund NGOs/parties/and progressive-sounding groups in Haiti who did an effective job of denouncing the (democratically elected) Aristide govt in leftist rhetoric.

For further reading on Haiti, there's a new book out from Justin Podur that provides an excellent overview of the 2004 coup and its aftermath: 'Haiti's New Dictatorship', published by Between The Lines. Justin have been touring the country the past few weeks.  

 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

As someone with a basic, I guess, knowledge/understand, the question on audience factored because I feel like the book could have been split up into two potentially three sections. 

On a separate note, I found the quotes from Arundhati Roy and subsequent support a bit ... irking. The concept of "no salary" and "real resistance=no salary" a bit hypocritical in the way that classifications of "real" anything are harmful (re: Palin and "real America") and isn't forcing this activism into volunteer streams unrealistic and a form of exploitation?

 


derrick
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Joined: May 8 2008

Great that Nik's here. I'll try to make my question specific: Given the defunding of KAIROS, Alternatives and others under the Harper government, isn't it politically important to be clear about supporting specific Canadian development NGOs that are doing good work -- regardless of the validity of general critiques? I have in mind, most specifically, Codevelopment Canada, based here in BC, which works closely with the labour movement on international solidarity. Codev has been a key organizer of support for activists in Honduras targeted since the 2009 coup, organized union delegations to report back etc -- among many other important activities. (If Codev were to be defunded and cut back, I don't see how this work would get done at the same level of capacity. My apologies if Codev is addressed in the book; I've read only about two-thirds of the book so far.) 

 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Left Turn wrote:

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
I think, at times and in certain areas, the actions of NGOs are more grey and blurry than the authors make it seem. Some people would argue it is better to play the game and make small changes than carry a radical message and get defunded and therefore have no power. Neither provides a great solution or alternative.

The actions of NGO's are of course dyaliectical in nature, which means that they're grey and blurry more so than black or white. So when NGO's carry out policies designed to further imperialism, those actions also have the potential to act as a counterweight to imperialism.

I think where I grew frustrated with the book, at moments, was when the author's presented this "grey, blurriness" as something that should have been black and white, and almost worked too much within the theoretical sphere of politics. Taking money from government as a non-government body will no doubt lead to tricky moments, but as that body that has no money or limited money, it is money that needs to be taken, some would argue. With taking it, I doubt anyone would have suspected things to get this bad.


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