There Is No “Them”

I don’t know what this means but, despite being inspired by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (author of “The End of Poverty”), I sometimes find myself also agreeing with Dr. William Easterly (author of the book critical of foreign aid called “The White Man’s Burden”).

Today was one of those days:

What Dr. Easterly is referring to is the fact that, even if you had the power to control billions of aid dollars, this really can’t be about what “we” (in the developed world) can do to help “them” (those in the developing world).

But here is where I believe we need to change the conversation – and the thinking – on global poverty. When it comes to humanity, there is no “them” there are only facets of “us”. So we don’t have to help “them”, we have to help “us”.

And we can only help “us” if we understand “us” and talk to “us” and not second guess what will help “us”. This, of course, is what any good charity or NGO says they are already doing. But I believe we can do much more on this front.

For example, take the very medium in which Dr. Easterly is espousing his views on aid. Even if “we” derive an online consensus on what is and isn’t “good aid”, it is a consensus made without the inclusion of the poorest of the poor.

If the poor don’t even have a say in a “free and open” platform like the internet, what chance do they have of having a strong say anywhere else? In the classrooms of Western universities? In NGO boardrooms? In government?

“What can we do?” is really the only question that needs to be asked – but only if “we” is redefined.

2 Responses to “There Is No “Them””

  1. 1 Ute Orgassa

    As long as there is a need for charity and foreign aid, there will be people who follow the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ train of thought.
    I think your method of bringing the people who are the primary recipients of that aid to the table, let them speak for themselves, and have their input respected, is a great step in the right direction.
    I just don’t see the general mind set of charities changing anytime soon.

  2. 2 Imagine there is no...

    There is no “Them” indeed! Great post and I do agree that the word “we” creates the concept of “them” and this is a major distortion that often happens in discourses around international  development.

    In fact, I wonder why Bill Easterly introduces autonomously the concept of “We” (who is this “we”?), while the original question on the blog (  is  “How would YOU spend  $1 Billion?”. I guess it is a way to deflect the topic and not answer, but it is indeed a tweak that introduces a distortion of the original concept. Interesting, it seems like a few people replied to the tweet without reading the original blog.

    “How would YOU spend  $1 Billion?” is a personal question directed to Bill Easterly, the President of Rwanda, a shop owner in the street of Kitali (Kenya), and Yourself, it does not imply a “we” of any sort. I do see that it is a question challenging to answer, deflection is an easier strategy.

    So what do You think? How would You use (or not use) the Billion $? 


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