Dean Chahim is a student of Civil & Environmental Engineering and International Development & Social Change at the University of Washington. Chahim co-founded and facilitates the Critical Development Forum, which is having one of its informal forums later today on the issue of climate change.
This is a guest post and the views expressed here are Chahim’s, in case you needed to be told that.
There is the social and political movement of Occupy Wall Street. The Arab Spring. And then there is Seattle’s exploding ‘humanitarian’ community. These are all driven, in part or maybe largely, by the younger generation’s desire for change – for a better world.
At the University of Washington, it’s impossible to miss what’s happening. The youth movement for change operates under many banners and goes by many names: development, humanitarian, philanthropic, global health, global service, social entrepreneurship. Here on Humanosphere, this has been described as a key feature of my “Millennial” generation.
New student-run NGOs seem to start here every week. Information sessions pack in students by the dozen. Flyers litter campus for the latest two-week trip to empower African villagers, help with sustainable projects, and oh yes, see a few waterfalls. They seek to work miracles, changing communities forever “in just five days.”
There is no denying that some of the work they do has real benefits in the short-term for the poor and marginalized globally. But I would argue that many of these well-intentioned efforts don’t have much impact – and that they distract from the most powerful means to fight poverty and inequity, disease and suffering.
I’m concerned that the way we frame our discussion around these efforts is actually stunting my generation’s view of social change. We dream of helping “one village at a time” through service overseas when, arguably, we could help many millions more through political activism here at home. Continue reading