US Calls on Low-Income Countries for De-development Aid

While working in Zambia in 2006, I had a conversation with a man who was particularly frustrated with the aid situation in his country. He told me: “All those rich foreigners romping around in SUV’s, dropping food and gadgets here and there, snapping photos, and then returning home to tell stories of snakes and sickness in Africa” were getting Zambia nowhere.

I happened to be one of these guilty foreigners at the time, but our conversation sparked an alternative idea. Why don’t Zambians reverse the situation and create an organization to bring aid to Americans?  I assured him of the great need in my home country:  we need help learning to repair and reuse items, eat seasonally, integrate physical activity (not just the internet) into a day’s work, and cultivate local customs and cultural traditions. Zambians could train us in sustainability!

It turns out someone else had a similar epiphany and is actually doing something about it.  Late last month, a student at New York University launched a competition called Design for the First World (Dx1w). This competition calls for “developing country” citizens to design and propose aid projects to help those in “developed countries.” The winning project receives $1,000 and will be presented at a gallery in New York City. Not exactly the billions of dollars the World Bank doles out for third-world giveaways, but a fascinating step in the right direction.

Competition entries must address one of the following goals for the developed world:

–          Reducing obesity

–          Reducing consumption rate of mass produced goods

–          Integrating the immigrant population

–          Addressing aging population and low birth rates

Not sure that last one quite aligns with the goals of sustainability, as we’ll need to reduce total global population growth rates to create a sustainable society; however, consumerism (and one major side effect—obesity) is an explicit target of the competition. Entries are due May 31 and I’m waiting on the edge of my seat to see what submissions come through. I can see this competition gaining lots of attention and possibly spurring similar competitions. It’s all too clear that this is a good idea—instead of funding the third world’s “development” toward higher levels of consumerism, let’s fund our own de-development toward sustainability.

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