Tuesday, May 10, 2011

International Studies 302

This page features selected student essays written by students at the University of Regina for International Studies 302, Non-Governmental Organizations Crossing Borders, in Winter 2011. You can find the links to the left or below.

Course Description and Objectives
Do non-governmental organizations make a difference? How do they interact with and alter the international state system? This course examines the activities and influence of transnational non-governmental organizations. Non-governmental organizations are increasingly important internationally – they have not replaced states, but they must be considered alongside states as global actors. This course aims to build understanding of the international role of NGOs in a range of areas.

Instructor: David Webster
International Studies, University of Regina, Canada

Photo credits

Vlad Zavadskyi, Presbyterian Church & Taiwanese Identity

Presbyterian Church & Taiwanese Identity
By Vlad Zavadskyi

Our mother is Taiwan, and we are the masters of Taiwan. For hundreds of years, our mother’s tolerance and kindness persevered and nurtured every generation of Taiwanese. Therefore, every one of us needs to have courage today and openly and loudly shout it out, “I am Taiwanese!” -- Lee Teng-hui (Tsai, 2005, p. 1)

For the prosperous countries of the world, the question of Westphalia sovereignty was resolved decades ago. The proclamation of its own independence is the recognition of one’s uniqueness and maturity of self-determination. Taiwan, as a result of four centuries of colonialism has grown gradually, incorporating the ways of the foreigners and thus strengthening itself. The presence of other rules and religions contributed to Taiwan’s tolerant character, and enabled them to form a distinct identity. The whole country is located on the island which is situated on the trade crossroads of three ‘tiger’ civilizations: Chinese, Japanese and USA. It hasn’t been easy for Taiwanese in their history, since its independence is still “de facto” as they haven’t been recognized by their “brother country” – China.

Talitha Smadu, Volunteerism in Development: CUSO

Volunteerism in Development: Changing the Course of Development One Person at a Time

By Talitha Smadu

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played an increasingly integral role in the development of the global community in the past few decades. Many NGOS focus not only on development in the general sense, but also specifically on lessening the gap between the Global South and the Global North. More and more people of all ages are offering themselves up for voluntary services around the world through NGOs. Although the numbers of volunteers are impossible to precisely identify, they are increasing annually, and the type of volunteering varies as well. In order to sustain development in any given country, the engagement of the people in that country is necessary—not only as recipients but as actors as well. The United Nations (UN) contends that “inclusion, participation, ownership, solidarity and social cohesion leading to real capacity development and social capital” (“Volunteering for development”, 2004, para. 2) of individuals are all important to maintain development in a country. While some humanitarians volunteer for long periods of time and work in labour intensive capacities, like building houses and schools, others volunteer for short, intermittent spans and work in capacities that focus on human services development, like teaching and care-taking (Sherrard, Stringham, Sow, & McBride, 2006).
Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), founded in 1961, is a Canadian based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that focuses on sending volunteers abroad to address development and poverty alleviation, and provides a good example of how important volunteerism is in development. Volunteerism in the North, in fact, is seen to be invaluable; however, the importance of volunteerism, locally and internationally, is only beginning to catch on in the South (“Volunteering for development”, 2004). However, it is people working together—volunteers from other countries with local community members—that makes the difference in long-term capacity building and development. Looking at the work of a variety of NGOs, including CUSO, it is impossible to ignore that volunteers alone make a difference, but local volunteers working in tandum with volunteers from abroad is a powerful resource that less-developed countries cannot ignore (“Volunteering for development”, 2004).

Halena Seiferling, Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Human Rights Issues, Environmental Degradation, and NGO Intervention

By Halena Seiferling

Many people in the Western world today have never heard of a mineral called coltan. Most of us don’t know that this mineral is a crucial one in the production of electronics we commonly have in our houses, such as telephones and televisions. Moreover, many of us don’t know about the grave human rights and environmental abuses that occur in order for us to have these electronics, particularly those that occur in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When demand for this mineral grew with the technological boom of the late 1990s, the Democratic Republic of Congo –which, though approximations vary, contains anywhere from ten percent (Furniss, 2004) to more than eighty percent (Sharife, 2008) of the world’s coltan supply- became a major exporter of the mineral. While in theory this should have been extremely beneficial for the country’s economy, the preexisting political instability in the country has led to a far more bleak reality. On the human right side, militia gangs and rebel groups often take over coltan mines and kill, rape, and intimidate local communities in order to cash in on the massive profits to be made from coltan mining, and environmentally, natural landscapes and habitats for many animals are being eroded. To put it succintly, “[d]espite the country’s wealth of natural resources…the DRC now ranks 176th on the UNDP Human Development Index of 182 countries.” (Grespin, 2010) Since the early 2000’s, a wide variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been recognizing and working on the problems plaguing the DRC which are brought on by the coltan issue; they have been doing so through on-the-ground work, reports and information gathering, and consumer awareness movements. Though political and social challenges, as well as problems with worldwide certification of ‘conflict-free’ coltan, make this a very complex and difficult problem to address, some initiatives such as the Durban Process, taxation of coltan transactions, and NGO-led multi-actor programs have been suggested to counteract this problem.

Coltan, which is the local name for tantalum, is so important in today’s technologically-charged world because it has an ability to hold high levels of electrical charge; this is a vital part of the capacitors of electrical appliances. (Furniss, 2004) Due to the huge demand for electrical appliances in today’s world, coltan mining is thus an important and lucrative industry. The commodity chain of coltan is not direct or easily traceable, and “extends from the eastern Congo, through Rwanda and other East African countries, and eventually out of the continent, through diverse intermediaries and processing facilities…until the product (tantalum sheet) reaches cell phones, laptops, and other digital services.” (Smith, 2011) Nokia is one major cell phone company whose production the 2008 documentary “Blood Coltan” traces back to conflict coltan mines in the DRC. Nokia states that they are “appalled by the reports from the conflict areas and strictly condemn all activities that fuel conflict or benefit militant groups, [and that they] require high ethical standards in [their] own operations and [their] supply chain and take continuous action to ensure that metals from the conflict areas do not enter [their] supply chain.” (Nokia website) However, they also say that there are typically “4-8 layers of suppliers between consumer electronics companies and any mining activity” (Nokia website) and that “[d]ue to the number of companies involved, the complexity in the way metals are produced and sold, and that ores from many different sources can be combined, …no company can give the exact origin of e.g. all the tin used in a particular product or its component[.]” (Nokia website)

Jasmine Owens, HIV/AIDS in Africa: NGOs in the Battle Against the Epidemic

HIV/AIDS in Africa: NGOs in the Battle Against the Epidemic

By Jasmine Owens

The beginning of what is now the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to emerge in the US during the early 1980s, with the first cases being reported among homosexual men. Almost simultaneously, cases appeared on a global scale in places such as Uganda, Tanzania, the Congo, and Rwanda (Barnett & Whiteside 28). Africa is the continent bearing the major burden of the disease. According to the UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic in 2010, of the 33.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2009, 22.5 million are living in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a further 460,000 in the Middle East and North Africa (22-23). No other region in the world even comes close to that number. Why is it that Africa is so severely affected by HIV/AIDS? This is a complex question that involves many factors. These may include the high levels of poverty throughout Africa, its ongoing history of conflict and political strife, and the stereotypes and perceptions associated with the disease.

Therefore, what is being done to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and who are the actors at the front lines? Many are international NGOs who partner or work closely with African community based organizations and governments. These include the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), the Canada Africa Partnership on AIDS (CAP AIDS), and AVERT. These are just a few of the countless organizations that are constantly engaging in the difficult battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa. The work of these NGOs is similar in that they emphasize the importance of local and community based initiatives regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic; however, they each portray distinct path towards that goal. Whether it be, forging partnerships, promoting gender equality, or advocating for education and cooperation, these organizations owe much of their success to their local, community, and grassroots strategies towards HIV/AIDS elimination.

Kay Niedermayer, Girls' Education in Afghanistan: Alternative NGO Approaches

Girls' Education in Afghanistan: Alternative NGO Approaches

By Kay Niedermayer

Afghanistan is a country left in shambles after decades of war and conflict. This has left many groups, communities, and organizations puzzled as to where to begin rebuilding a torn nation. Afghanistan's economy is dependent on foreign investment, especially on aid. However, some question the approach and effectiveness of such aid which sometimes lacks a focused intention. There are currently many NGOs working in Central Asia on relief aid campaigns, although many of these relief campaigns focus on short-term projects and not long-term development projects such as education. Investing in education and especially that of the female population has proven to be one of the most effective ways to increase the social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of a community and therefore a nation. The Central Asia Institute (CAI) and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) are two NGOs which aim at a more personal and direct approach to supporting an Afghan-led campaign for girls’ education in the region.

The CAI and CW4WAfghan approaches to education projects in the region are centered on building relationships and enabling the Afghan people to create sustainable community development projects. This means listening to the needs and voices of the Afghan people. There are many other similarities to these two NGO initiatives including the use of books as a way to promote their cause. However, there are many differences as well and these will be outlined in a comparative analysis. These NGOs are examples of some of the initiatives going on in the region and are not single-handedly responsible for the amazing progress of education in the region. This being said, after more than a decade of work in the region, they have proven to be both successful and valuable to the advancement of education and the empowerment of Afghan people through an approach focused on building relationships, partnerships, and sustainable community-oriented projects.

Naomi Moker, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Stolen Sisters

Placing awareness of missing and disappeared persons on an international and local agenda: Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina & the Stolen Sisters in Canada as displayed by Sisters in Spirit

By Naomi Moker

Ford Falcons without license plates slide through the streets like sharks. A fleet of them would park outside an apartment or a home while large groups of armed security forces dressed in plain clothes stormed inside, tying up families, breaking furniture and dishes, pillaging, and ultimately, dragging away a son or a daughter” -Marguerite Bouvard, “Revolutionizing Motherhood”, 1994.

No person should ever be subject to a period of terror and violence, fearing they will be tied up and handed over to government officials, suggests human rights activist, Marguerite Bouvard. However, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Las Madres or The Mothers) and the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) are two specific non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that examine one single and growing concern worldwide: the disappearances of persons. Las Madres is a group of women in Argentina who developed as a political organization that examines the brutality of abductions and disappearances, advocating for the right of the public to know the whereabouts of people that have disappeared as a result of the Dirty War in Argentina in the late 1970s. SIS is a Canadian national organization that looks at the violence experienced by Aboriginal women across various provinces in Canada, where violence has led to missing women or murdered women. Both groups are examples of two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have risen out of people’s protests against the government’s inaction towards violence, the countless disappeared persons and the right to knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones. Both groups have also been crossing borders advocating and lobbying their governments for change while raising public awareness worldwide. Specifically, the two NGOS operate and unite by using a common language, using the terms “suffrage”, “violence” and “disappearances” to frame and place the severity of this issue on the international and global agenda. Both groups also utilize Amnesty International as a leverage point to propel this situation to the global scale, and SIS even uses the guidance of the National Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), as well.

Jana Knezacek, Human Rights NGOS and the Fight for "Invisible Children"

Human Rights Non-Governmental Organizations & the Fight for the “Invisible Children”

By Jana Knezacek

In an increasingly globalized world, the quest for humanitarian intervention and human rights has become commonplace in countries around the globe. Organizations worldwide are creating networks, uniting concerned individuals and advocating for human rights. Whether from the heart of oppression or the seemingly free and democratic nations in the global north, these organizations are confronting injustice and undermining state sovereignty. So where did these organizations originate and how have they gained enough power to successfully challenge cultural norms and governments around the world? This paper attempts to not only identify the beginning of humanitarian non-governmental organization but to examine framing techniques utilized by these organizations. The subject will be examined by tracing the origins of human rights based NGOs, through its inception with the grandfather of human rights, Amnesty International. This knowledge will provide a foundation for the analysis of what is arguably one of the fastest growing human rights NGOs in recent times: Invisible Children.

Laura Husak, Women for Women International

Women for Women International: Raising Awareness and Support for Female Victims of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo

By Laura Husak

In 1994, a civil war began in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo 1). Beginning with the flood of millions of refugees trying to escape the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, the Congolese army and the Hutus militia have been fighting for power over the Congo ever since (Salbi 60). Guns, grenades, bombs, and an unconventional weapon: women are used to take down the enemy (Crisis in the Congo). Rape is used as a “weapon of war” (Crisis in the Congo).

In this paper I will discuss how Women for Women International (WfWI), a women’s rights and humanitarian organization, empowers women both locally in the Congo and internationally to raise awareness and support for female rape survivors in the Congo. I will begin by outlining WfWI as an organization, specifically looking at their mission and structure. Secondly, I will discuss why WfWI specifically work in the Congo, two of the main reasons being the use of rape as a “weapon of war” and the stigmatization attached to rape that leads many women to be abandoned by their families and communities (Crisis in the Congo). I will then go on to discuss how WfWI empowers Congolese women locally by providing vocational and business skills training, a space for dissent, and engaging both females and males in norm promotion. Lastly, I will discuss how WfWI involves women from the international community to support female rape victims in the Congo. WfWI does so by personalizing the issue, utilizing celebrity diplomacy, appealing to the interests of possible WfWI sponsors, and by providing the international community with specific initiatives for their involvement. In conclusion, I will discuss possible ways that WfWI can improve their work both in the Congo and internationally.

Joshua Filion, It's Just Business: Origins and Expansion of the Russian Mafia

It’s Just Business: Origins and Expansion of the Russian Mafia

By Joshua Filion

In modern history, one of the greatest threats to both state sovereignty and security is that of organized crime. Organized crime thrives in both legitimate and illegitimate markets and, as a consequence, produces individuals who are wealthy, influential and, above all, ruthless in their pursuit of affluence. When one examines the various groups who partake in organized crime, it is obvious that no organization is more ruthless and more successful than the Russian mafia. This paper shall seek to demonstrate that the Russian mafia is a) an NGO with extensive international reach and b) that the decentralized structure of certain gangs is crucial to this success.

It will begin with an overview of Soviet era crime and how that culture contributed to the rise of organized crime in post-Soviet Russia. It will then examine how the Russian mafia built on this history of crime and stepped into the power vacuum left by the collapse of the oppressive Soviet system. Finally, the specific case of Semion Mogilevich will be used to demonstrate the global influence of the Russian mafia as an economic force.

Anna Dipple, Microfinance, BRAC, and Issues of Women's Empowerment

Microfinance, BRAC, and Issues of Women’s Empowerment

By Anna Dipple

Microfinance is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that has taken the development world by storm. It has, in various instances, been touted as the cure-all for development issues in third world countries. The premise is that by giving impoverished populations access to microfinance services, such as small-scale loans, that they would not normally have access to, it will enable these populations to lift themselves out of poverty through entrepreneurship or good investment. Microfinance is especially marketed as a way to empower women and give them the resources to equalize the gender gap. Women are seen as prime loan receivers because of the high payback rates that have been recorded from women, as well as the assumed empowerment it will bring them. There are many organizations practicing many different methods of microfinance, including the common theme used by organizations such as BRAC (Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assessment Committee), where a small amount of money is lent to a group of women in the community, with relatively low interest rates. Although these organizations can often have some positive impacts on society, they are not cure-alls, and are often band-aid solutions as opposed to long-term poverty-alleviation practices. Issues such as the lack of women’s empowerment, the high risk of high debt rates in clients, as well as many others make microfinance a less-than-optimum solution for addressing development issues. Although microfinance can have a positive impact on the lives of women and the ultra-poor, it cannot be treated as a one-ticket solution for poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment in the developing world.

The idea of micro-credit is not a new one, but it is one that has recently been reestablished, and brought back into the limelight, in the 1970s by (most recognizably) the formation of the Grameen Bank. The Grameen bank was founded by Muhammad Yunus, the head of the Rural Economics program at the University of Chittagong, India, and came out of an action-research project based on developing a money lending system for the impoverished (Hulme, pg. 290). The Grameen Bank, as it is known today, originally started in Bangladesh and developed out of Yunus’s action project and into a full-blown microcredit organization that has over 2,565 branches throughout the world. Its focus is on giving out small-scale loans ($20-$40) to impoverished clients, especially women (women make up 97% of borrowers) who have unequal access to financial assistance, such as loans (grameenbank.com, 5 March 2011).

Shayla Dietrich, The Uganda Village Project

The Uganda Village Project: A Successful Western based NGO in Africa

By Shayla Dietrich

The Uganda Village Project (UVP) is an international nongovernment organization (NGO) founded in 2003 with its main base of operations in the United States. UVP carries out a number of development projects overseas in Uganda, Africa. In the most specific sense UVP is an “organization that works in rural Uganda on public health and development projects” (Annual Report, 2009). The work of UVP can be indicative of international NGO work in Africa on a grander scheme. The organization’s activities can reflect the work done by NGOs that is specifically geared towards facilitating development on the continent. It is also an expression of a participatory, community-based approach to development. With this representation in mind one can use analysis of NGOs’ work on these alternative forms of development as a basis for analysis of UVP’s work. Essentially, analysis of UVP and its activities in Uganda cannot be fully detached from development work of this nature in entirety. UVP’s work can be questioned and criticised just as the entire practice itself is.

This paper will aim to assess the claims made by the Uganda Village Project and examine the work the organization does. First, a short discussion of the particular region that UVP works and clarification on the less mainstream form of development they represent will provide a strong and much needed knowledge base. Understanding these two aspects of the issue will allow for a clearer analysis and discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of this organization and this type of international NGO work in general. It will become clear that while UVP does have limitations, the organization is attempting to address the variety of concerns related to this particular form of participatory development work. On the whole, the organization facilitates development in Africa in a rather just and successful manner. While the project is still in its formative years, at this stage it appears UVP does more good in the district than harm. This is quite the accomplishment as such a scenario is not always the case for Western based NGOs working on development in Africa.

Jessica Brown, The Role of Religion in Development: A Case Study of World Vision

The Role of Religion in Development: A Case Study of World Vision
By Jessica Brown

The relationship between religion and development is complex and dynamic, originally manifested in the form of colonial missionary work, and evolving into modern faith based development organizations (FBDO). Religion’s role as accomplice and oftentimes fundamental driver of imperial ambitions has resulted in a highly polarized public opinion on its place in development. Consequently, many FBDOs, and the churches that they spring from, have transformed their role overseas from missionary work to development work. However, despite this attempt to accommodate civil society’s transformed world views, criticism continues to be laid against these FBDOs. Non-religious donors remain skeptical of their agenda in developing countries, while religious donors criticize what they see as waning Christian content in development dialogue1. World Vision is one of the most recognizable FBDOs working from the northern hemisphere, and has maintained the evangelical traditions of its missionary roots, which has limited the efficacy of its development projects. To be truly successful as a development organization in the 21st century, World Vision must divorce itself from its evangelical ambitions, but not necessarily from its religious motivations.

Camila Apablaza, Living in War: A Look at Child Soldiers

Living in war: a look at child soldiers
By Camila Apablaza

[He] handed me the AK with two hands. I hesitated for a bit, but he pushed the gun against my chest. With trembling hands I took the gun, saluted him, and ran to the back of the line, still holding the gun but afraid to look at it. I had never held a gun that long before and it frightened me. The closest thing to it had been a toy gun made out of bamboo when I was seven.” i

Ishmael Beah, acclaimed author, is known for sharing his story as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier received praise and admiration from the international community as Beah’s story was shared with the world. Ishmael Beah’s life changed dramatically at the age of 12 when his village in Sierra Leone was invaded; after months of wandering his war-torn country he was recruited as a child soldier. By age of sixteen, he had escaped the life of combat, had undergone rehabilitation at a center filled with children like him, and had been asked to speak at a United Nations conference in New York City. At the UN conference Beah represented the voices of children in Sierra Leone and spoke of the effects of war on his country.ii Since graduating with a political science degree in 2004, Beah has become a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee. While Ishmael Beah’s story is known by many, the issue of child soldiers still has not received an appropriate level of attention. It wasn’t until the late 1970s conflict in Mozambique that the use of child soldiers was first brought to the attention of the international community, thus it remains relatively new to NGOs as do most human rights issues.iii To argue that NGOs have failed to adopt this issue into their agendas is irrelevant as numerous organizations advocate for the abolition of child soldiers; progress made by the international community can be contested however. In addition, the gendered aspect of girls being forced into war has been disproportionately studied.
"War violates every right of a child -- the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to development of personality and the right to be nurtured and protected."iv Recruitment of children into war is not a human rights issue; it is one which destroys the utmost important foundations known to humanity—youth. The objective behind recruiting children into war is two dimensional, first to break the link between the abducted child and his or her family and also to initiate the child into rebel forces.v Breaking this familial link not only impedes the child’s development but also breaks down societal ties. The abduction of children into warfare is systematically destroying communities and their structure, thus affecting the core of society both on the short term and long term basis. In addition, by restricting a child’s essential development, both socially and physically, their human capital is being jeopardized as well as all rights of the child are being violated.

Amy Antonini, The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood: A Global Islamist Movement Trapped by the Nation-State

By Amy Antonini

Throughout the 20th and 21st century the rising power of Islamism has been affecting the global sphere. Now more than ever, some members of the Muslim community are aiming to create a world caliphate and have more and more political authority. Within the Islamist movement, one of the most powerful groups is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB has branches all over the world and considers the movement as fighting for Islamism. However, although it is considered a global movement, the question of if the group really transcends borders is present. This essay will first look at the beginnings of the MB, with its foundation in Egypt and the evolution of the Egyptian MB. It will then look at the global Islamist movement as a whole. From there it will turn to the MB as a transnational movement and what defines and shapes the movements in certain nation-states. This essay will look at two case studies of the MB in Palestine and Syria. Finally it will consider two definitions of transnational organizations to prove that the MB does not transcend transnational borders. The MB should be considered a part of the global Islamist movement, however as an organization, its functions and branches do not work transnationally.