January 14, 2011

2011: A New Year, a New GHLI Initiative

Vibrant as her round, blue signature glasses, Dr. Jane Aronson, executive director of World Wide Orphans, may have been the perfect selection for the launch of the GHLI Exchange on Friday. I’ll try not to spend time glorifying her after she quipped in her introduction, “I’m not a humanitarian. I’m Jewish,” but you can read the depth of her work here.

In the spirit of the Exchange, Aronson forewent the presentation slides (apologies, the accompanying photo of a stiff professor is misleading). She largely advocated a “New World” attitude in international development work, wary of the “rescue mentality” and viewing the on-the-ground community as the “most important unit” of consideration. Aronson vacillated between cautionary and boldly critical on the high number of NGOs and inspired individual start-ups, which we usually find praised in the press or in the dreams of students. It seems to me that at this point, her insight is not novel, but that every NGO or development worker believes that they are not that NGO. I’d be interested to hear how those with international development work or projects touted under the “social innovation” movement take this into consideration. Maybe the next innovation to come around will help facilitate international collaboration?
As the Exchange advertised itself as a forum to collectively explore organizational challenges, donor education and public communications made a salient emergence in the discussion. I saw an exasperated Aronson on the fixation on short-term disaster relief as a panacea for Haiti.  “We get on a private jet with other fixers, do some fixing, leave, come back and do some more fixing, and that’s great,” but it’s “unpopular to talk about not being successful” in the big picture when, as a faculty member from the audience added, “the problem [in Haiti] took a long time to create.” The New York Times editorial board seems to agree. Aronson’s op-ed might cite more concern for mental health, the environment, food security, and transparency.

For the approximately 20 attendees - undergraduates, MPHs, international workers, and faculty – the new Exchange forum proved to be more than a free-food-on-Friday lecture series with a flashy name. I’m no seasoned global health expert (just a student in the College) but I’d encourage both those who are and those who are not to look out for the next Exchange or email ghli.exchange@yale.edu with interest.

Connie Cho, GHLI Intern

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