Global Goals – The party’s over

October 8, 2015


The glitter has settled over New York, celebrities and world leaders have flown home and the party is over. A week after the adoption of the United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, we take a moment to reflect on the Global Goals and the efforts of The Rules community to question their dominant narrative that economic growth at all costs and a few technical fixes can end global poverty by 2030.

Our intention for the ‘How To Feel Good About Poverty” campaign was to stage an intervention that “opened up the mental space for inquiry among development professionals and change agents working to address systemic threats to humanity.”

The strategy involved weakening the core logic of development-as-usual by challenging its assumptions and revealing cover, unpopular agendas; and asking three questions designed to open up the conversation to a new set of stories by initiating people on a learning journey that revealed the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

To-date /TheRules community has written over 25 blogs and articles and created a collection of videos, infographics and memes challenging the narrative of the SDGs. We’ve also seen and spread many more from the community and allies drawing on the same three key questions:

  1. How Is Poverty Created?

Where do poverty and inequality come from? What is the detailed history of past actions and policies that contributed to their rapid ascent in the modern era? When were these patterns accelerated and by whom?

  1. Who’s Developing Whom?

The story of development is often assumed or unstated. What is the role of colonialism in the early stages of Western development? How did the geographic distribution of wealth inequality come into being? What are the functional roles of foreign aid, trade agreements, debt service, and tax evasion in the process of development? And most importantly, who gains and who loses along the way?

  1. Why Is Growth The Only Answer?

The mantra that “growth is good” has been repeated so often that it has the feel of common sense. Yet we know that GDP rises every time a bomb drops or disaster strikes. Growth, as defined up till now, is more nuanced and complex than this mantra would have us believe. Why must the sole measure of progress be growth (measured in monetary terms)? Who benefits from this story? What alternative stories might be told?

So where are we now?

It’s no surprise that this has been another campaign of twists and turns and a great deal of learning, de-learning and relearning for all of us; support, solidarity, relief, resistance, denial and anger have all played a part along the way.

However, with friends and allies our questions about the story of poverty have been told and heard. With relatively limited financial resources compared to those telling the dominant ‘good news’ story, we’ve mobilised those both within and outside of the global development ‘system’ to be the mosquito that agitates the elephant.

We’ve seen these questions popping up all over the place, in The Guardian, FastCo, Daily Nation, Vice Motherboard, Jacobin, The Nation, African Arguments, Pambazuka NewsTruthout, The Conversation, Humanosphere, Occupy and many more. Our open letter to the United Nations appeared in the Huffington Post signed by Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler, Medha Patkar, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges and many others.

Our measure for success was the extent to which other people are asking the same questions and coming to similar conclusions. We also hoped that they would uncover new insights and find better ways to move forward than we could have done on our own.

The fact that the animations have been watched nearly 200,000 times and that the campaign reached more than 2.8 million people on social media is exciting. The hundreds of emails, comments and conversations we’ve with people around the world, including those directly involved in the SDG process and those who are opposed to our campaign, have been transformational and inspiring. Who knows how far this small ripples might spread.

Here’s just a flavour of what’s been said:

“Seriously. Why do you want to piss everyone off. I’m trying to pitch new biz in the London development sector and they keep asking me if I know you ;)”

“A million LIKES for all that you are posting! Having worked on the MDG’s and now having been a bit involved with the SDG’s (my focus is on HOW will they actually be implemented and monitored) these posts are like water to a dry plant! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for doing all of this great work!!!!”

“This really makes me want to question situations more of why’s this this way or that way.”

“The negativity of your campaign and lack of solution is so detrimental to people like me who are doing their best within the current confines (and finding new ones) to see equality, opportunity and access for all.”

“Thank you. This is great. Agree! I will use it in class with my Political Sociology 2nd year sociology students.”

The SDGs have seemingly set the agenda for global development for the next fifteen years, but our work has only just begun. We’ll continue to ask questions, we’ll continue to listen and feel our way into new ways of challenging narratives and reframe ‘business as usual’ when it’s only working for the few.

We also reaffirm the commitment we made at the very outset of the ‘Poverty is Created’ campaign:

We know that we don’t know the best way to transform our civilization in the next few decades. We also know that a small group like /TheRules can make impacts much larger than our size by holding tight to the spiritual integrity of humble inquiry for the truth. As we role-model this behaviour in our own actions, we just might be of service to others as they make their own inquiries on these, the most important issues of our time.”


5 thoughts on “Global Goals – The party’s over”

  1. Saiful Alam says:

    There has been very little opposition in the strategies for development in the recent past. The blogs are definitely eye opener and hopefully would help the planners to look into the real outcome of the investments instead of so called growth, which does not always reflect the real development in the society at veru local level.

  2. Luther Lee says:

    Outstanding. Thanks for your vital work Alnoor, Joe, Martin, Jason and everyone else on theRules team!

  3. “This is the winter of our discontent….”
    Good work, dear ones.

  4. Jean Kern says:

    What I had figuered out already for some years has now been confirmed by your work. Thank you very much for telling the world.
    I am telling this story to as much people as possible. Especially young people, who’s future is at stake, should learn how the system works. I spent most of my time on Borneo, between the Dayaks, and in Nepal. I am afraid that most young people in Holland, my country of origin, don’t know what is going on or even are not interested.

  5. Howard Switzer says:

    I really like much of what is written on this site but is woefully lacking on the issue of money. For instance, it is the use of credit for money, debt-money, that is the problem and it is what creates poverty as it concentrates wealth on the other end of the economic continuum. It is the boom and bust pump capitalists use to extract wealth as one privilege of their power. We have a society in which people take pride in creating losers I just read what I thought was a pretty good description of how the system works, how could you miss that? The system itself encourages bad behavior, as it creates a predatory competition and the need for endless growth. Its the sin of usury, which is the abuse of monetary authority for personal gain. The enormous bad psychological consequences of usury on the population can be reversed with a public money system. The private money system, money issued as debt for personal gain, creates an economics of greed while a public money system, issuing money as an asset for the general welfare of society, creates an economics of care. This would have enormous positive psychological consequences for society. Which makes it an exciting political goal.

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Trump: Join us in connecting the dots

The election of Donald Trump has left millions, maybe even billions of us in shock. Although we may be looking with bewilderment at the US today, we should remember that he is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a symptom of a sickness that is raging all around the world. People are hurting, disillusioned with mainstream politics and increasingly angry at a neoliberal economic system that is destroying lives and the planet with increasing ferocity. And in their desperation they are willing to consider extreme measures to make themselves heard.

Demagogues thrive amid fear and insecurity, which is why they paint the world in such dark terms. It’s a strategy that has put right-wing populist leaders in power in an Axis of Egos: from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines to Russia, authoritarian strongmen like Trump are on the rise. Meanwhile, many centrist liberals, like the Democratic Party in the US, have been so intent on rejecting left-wing populist solutions, and so sure of their ability to beat anyone running on a white supremacy platform with its misogyny and homophobia, that they opened the door for Mr. Trump to walk straight through. Their preference is always to maintain the status quo that has served them so well.

As dangerous as the election of Trump is for the world, we can also see in this moment the truth that we simply cannot rely on the electoral political system to save us, because it is designed to prevent the fundamental change we need. Its own survival is at stake and it will marshal all its champions and resources to defend itself and stop the emergence of a new system. But when we work, or continue working for change from the ground up; when we build or keep on building new ways of living and being with each other where we live; when we construct or keep constructing the future we know is possible with our own hands, rather than hoping distant leaders will build it for us, we find our true power. Finally, when we combine that with the unbending hope that has powered change through the ages, we know our power has meaning.

A 400-year-old economic system is dying and another is struggling to be born. Change on this scale is not going to be smooth or easy. We should not be surprised, then, that moments like this — where the establishment is dealt a body blow — become more and more common. We can despair when that blow comes in the form of right-wing extremists, or we can step-up. We are the ones we are looking for, who can and must grasp the opportunities in these crises that are undoubtedly there.

So it’s time to come together, taking time to remember the earth. Remember all the successful struggles for justice that came before us, and imagine all those to come. Remember that social movements are growing all over the world and realising the common struggle. Remember life. Then, organise. Find each other and help midwife the inevitable transition that brings forth from the ashes of neoliberal capitalism a system that works for the good of all life on Mother Earth. This is not just activism; this is our responsibility as human beings alive as this all unfolds.

This is why we are here.