• Representing the “Other:” Notes on Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage

     By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    In terms of ethnographic film, many of the images presented in Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage are conventional. For instance, shots of naked women, babies, women working and food preparation. At the same time, however, Trinh subverts what is considered “traditional” ethnographic film. Trinh asks, “what can we expect from ethnology?” and destabilizes not only what we expect from Reassemblage, but also what we are offered. Trinh does this with sound, narrative voice, and the use of silences. Trinh’s image is dark, with a muted colour palette and a sort of sandy composition. Another way in which Trinh challenges the tradition of ethnographic film is through repetition of statements. Trinh’s use of repetition of phrases like “something else i’ve lost,” “a film about what,” “speak near by” and “first create needs, then help,” draws attention to the norms and expectations of conventional ethnographic filmmaking as an objective and neutral form of description or recording. Trinh stresses the impossibility of assigning and imposing meaning to signs and symbols, which is why the narration never quite matches up with the image. Since there isn’t much narration, and it appears in a fragmented way, Trinh is able to emphasis certain phrases and ideas throughout the use of repetition. For instance, by repeating that she does not intend to speak about, but “speak near by,” Trinh shows how the film is told through her eyes, through her lens, and that there is no such thing as objective truth, or “flat anthropological fact.” Trinh’s use of repetition, in a manner that evokes poetry, also itself subverts the presentation of the film. Certainly, Trinh herself is recuperating, collecting and preserving the phrases she chooses to repeat. It has to be that the possible power disparities between Trinh and her objects of study (which they were indeed presented as objects, not subjects) are raised. Furthermore, the irony in the film may not be fully discernible all viewers. This is very similar to the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit, curated by Jeanne Cannizzo, at the Royal Ontario Museum, which was meant to criticize how Canada (mostly, white Canada) views Africa and attack colonialism. However, the black community in Toronto was outraged and viewed this museum exhibit as overtly racism. Both Cannizzo and Trinh’s work draw attention to the powers (and impossibilities) of representation of an Other.

  • The art of unlearning

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    At the end of November, Business Fights Poverty wrote a post called “Unlearning to innovate: 7 steps entrepreneurs need to know when getting into inclusive business.” I’m not one for New Year resolutions, at least not anymore, but there certainly is something about a new year that brings change, well, at least a desire for change. And, despite my greatest fears, I’m always one for change. However small and also however overwhelming. Dr. Fernando Casado Cañeque, Director, Centre of Partnerships for Development outlined seven steps for unlearning when it comes to social business: “First step: The world is limited. There is only one earth; Second step: Population growth is the biggest challenge in our history; Third step: Profit is not revenue minus costs; Fourth Step: Organizations are obsolete; Fifth Step: The challenge is not to have ideas, but to implement them; Sixth Step: Talent evolves and migrates; Step Seven: Opportunities have moved.” Why is it important to unlearn? Can’t we jsut learn? Or relearn? Cañeque got into why unlearning is an important part of social innovation as a whole:

    It is typically in crisis situations when the absence of political leadership becomes most evident. In such situations, it is also when social innovation becomes most needed.

     However, as a concept, for innovation to be really social, it should challenge current thinking models and recognize that present decision-making parameters have not been adequate for solving global challenges. That is why it is now so necessary to start unlearning as a reflective method for critical inquiry, so we can fully analyze the limits of management promoting transition towards more inclusive and sustainable development.

     We need to unlearn in order to innovate. This proposal presents seven steps that will help the unlearning process towards social innovation, enabling entrepreneurs to generate new business models in times of crisis that are more inclusive and sustainable.

    When it comes to those dreaded “New Year’s resolutions,” they’re almost always individual. And of course, guided by the market, marketing and consumerism. I will go to the gym. I will be kinder. I will eat more local foods. The necessary “we” is almost always lost. But the “we” is what makes things complicated and heavy. A “we” is somewhat dependent on other people, on their actions and non-actions. Unlearning, when it comes to social business, has a communal aspect that requires for a creation and re-creation. There are countless — and I mean, countless — steps that could be added to Cañeque’s list. Some, perhaps, more necessary than others. At the same time, however, what is essential is a mind that is open to throwing certain ways of doing things out in the garbage.

  • How do we measure “progress”?

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Ted Halstead and Clifford Cobb address the need to measure “progress” in a way other than GNP. How are we to measure standards of living or something qualitative happiness? Surely, some things are unmeasurable. Furthermore, every measurement needs to be accompanied by the question “for what?” For whom and under what circumstances? As the Sustainable Business Forum noted earlier in December, “Standard Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only considers the sum of goods and services produced by a country. As a consequence, even expenditures associated with oil spills and the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes add to GDP growth, but cannot reasonably be said to increase societal welfare. However, GDP has become exactly that: a commonly used measurement for the progress of a state’s welfare.” Simultaneously, Mark Anielski imagines the consummate examples of what kind of individuals would be “good” and “bad” for GDP: “The ideal economic or GDP hero is a chain-smoking terminal cancer patient going through an expensive divorce whose car is totaled in a 20-car pileup, while munching on fast-take-out-food and chatting on a cell phone. All add to GDP growth. The GDP villain is non-smoking, eats home-cooked wholesome meals and cycles to work.” Halstead and Cobb bring light to our assumption that GDP equals progress. It’s important to also challenge the very notion of progress. We see technology as an indication of our progress yet we simultaneously use these technologies to participate in wars that have killed millions of lives. Along the same line, emotional work and kinship are undervalued in our society. In a “Development and Livelihood” class, i once studied an Inuit community in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Most of their transactions are money-free, and thus, would fall completely under the radar of measuring GDP. Moreover, this privileges the work of the dominant order and ignores female domestic labour. There’s a divide between the “economy,” those who work for it and the society at large. The so-called “corporate veil”  shields the poverty and inequality.

  • Rethinking CSR

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    I never went to business school, which is why, my first thought after reading Sandra Waddock’s “Hollow Men at the Helm” article was, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me. I studied international development student.” But it’s this kind of thinking that has left us all shifting the responsibility to others – either the government, business, social enterprises or NGOs. Although not a business student, I work with social businesses. A common definition of a social business is a company that follows business principles, but a company that is dedicated to working toward solving a social issue. All profits are put back into the company in order to create a sustainable business that doesn’t accept donations. While doing my B.A. at McGill, I spent learning not so much about “integrity” as Waddock refers to it, but more so about social and environmental awareness. Of course, I believed in similar things like equity (not simply equality) and social good long before I started my undergrad, but my ideas and beliefs have become not only stronger, but more my own. I’ve known many students who have studied management, business and/or commerce at school, but it’s safe to say that we have had a fundamentally different educational experience. While I’m a cynic about something like CSR, those who I have met who studied business in school are more optimistic about it. Published in the Globe and Mail, Konrad Yakabuski’s article, “The Kindness of Corporations,” really explored what I feel, for the most part, about CSR. I have been taught to see right through greenwashing and I am critical about many charities — international, domestic and local — not because I don’t care but because I know that most “aid” goes to paying for flights, salaries and the like. Most CSR is an attempt to sell more products by getting the consumer to think that the company is doing good – or even better, by getting the consumer to think that they themselves are doing good.

  • Race, women and subjectivity: who is at the center of your practice?

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Sara Suleri’s article “Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition” explores how marginal groups seek liberation in an arena of competing discourses. Suleri reimagines feminine and racial subjectivities and, at the same time, move away from the limiting binarisms of academia. Suleri dangerously questions the ways in which minority voices rely on race as an advantage in academia. How can women negotiate their personal identities and subjecthood? Who is allowed to speak about, and more importantly, for others? I found this piece to be helpful when it comes to either non-profits or social businesses that aim to support low-income women. As I’ve written elsewhere, intentions aren’t a good measure of outcomes (or anything else for that matter). Suleri seeks to upset the binaries by challenging the unspecificity of the term “postcolonial feminism.” She objects to the privileges given to voices of the “postcolonial Woman” and more generally, “racially encoded feminism.” Suleri goes as far to say that postcolonialism, in its feminist context, is “an almost obsolete signifier for the historicity of race.” Suleri refers to “the coloring of feminist discourse” to point to how understandings of postcoloniality, womanhood and race are blurred. In the way that Suleri suggests that feminist theory, language and discourse are not necessarily appropriate to apply to the racial subject, Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembène uses Africana womanism to specify the lived experiences of African women, namely, Faat Kiné, who negotiates masculine and Western ideologies in order to develop her own self-consciousness. The heroine in Faat Kiné undergoes a transformation in which she is not compelled to hold on to traditional African culture, but also does not need to replicate Western models of femininity and liberation in order to develop her own plural identity. In the same vein, Suleri disputes how feminist minority academics create divisive politics by regularly referring back to whiteness as the cradle of conceptual thought. It is important to know who is doing the work of social business, and more importantly, for what purpose. How do women of color fit into the predominately white world of social entrepreneurship? Suleri boldly claims that “feminist intellectuals like [bell] hooks misuse their status as minority voices by enacting strategies of belligerence that at this time are more divisive than informative.” By referring to “this time,” Suleri suggests that we are now over the issues that pit “us” versus “them” and that we must come together for a unified agenda. Moreover, Suleri speaks of a “political untouchability” that is granted to the Third World Woman grouping. Race allows for what Suleri calls a “claim to authenticity.” Certainly, racialized voices should not be posited as the “first narrative of what ethnically constructed woman is deemed to want,” as Suleri argues against. However, no one should claim to be the dominant speaker on behalf of others. Does Sembène’s Faat Kiné make him less “authentic” or credible because of his position as a male? While Suleri attempts to dismantle the way in which racial and postcolonial oppression is superficially celebrated, Sembène commemorates both Faat Kiné’s complex struggle and the everyday heroism of African women. Suleri argues that feminist academics like Trinh Minh-Ha and hooks use concepts framed within “North American academic terms.” But when literature about black and Third World Women is framed in those exact Western terms, how do you push against that? How can you deny the position and privilege? At the same time, we must not obsess over the racialized (or masculinized body in Sembène’s case) as the point of discourse, history and subjectivity. In many ways, the way in which Faat Kiné negotiates her identity between competing discourses, while not relying on whiteness or masculinity, is what Suleri is looking for in minority academics. Thus, the exploration of “what it means to articulate an ‘identity’ for a woman […] of color’” must be further explored. Both Suleri and Sembène’s critical analyses and disruptions of dichotomies are important in reimagining identities and subjectivities. With so many competing modes of thought, what is essential is that Third World Women seek progress on their own terms.

  • For us, buy us: women, consumerism and social change

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Due to the nature of my current projects for Social Business, I have been thinking quite a bit about women’s position and role in and round social entrepreneurship. This blog post more generally spans a greater trend, that is, women as consumers and creators of consumer products. Women shop. There have even countless studies about women and their viability as a marketing demographic.

     In North America, we are exposed to a plethora of images, ads, media and messaging. A lot of it is directed at women. Buy this lipstick. Buy these diapers for your baby. This cleaning product is safest for your family. Lose weight by incorporating probiotics and antioxidants into your diet. How, then, do social entrepreneurship and consumerism (and advertising for consumerism) fit into the picture? (I’ve written more thoroughly about “The problems with so-called ‘conscious consumerism'” in the past if you’re interested to read that.) Clayton Reeves for Gaebler Ventures writes more positively about of consumerism “as a movement” and offers the following advice for entrepreneurs: A holistic approach that can avoid any of the common pitfalls of unethical marketing can save your company the hassle of dealing with customer complaints. Also, having a happy customer base will only create more growth opportunities for the company.

    So, ignore trends in consumerism at your own peril. It’s a phenomenon that can impact your organization’s bottomline profits – for better or worse depending on your response.

     Of course, what I’m saying nothing new in the grand scheme of things. But what I’m interested in is how social business captures this kind of messaging. Do they? Does it work? What are the implications? Many social good products are targeted at women.

     In social entrepreneurship, there’s more to it than mere advertising and messaging. Gender is often built into the business model itself. And most often with those darn good intentions in mind. For Canadian social entrepreneur Barb Stegemann, her mission and means by which she seeks making it happen are explicit. Her aim through her social business The 7 Virtues is to harness North American women’s buying power in order to foster social change in less-industrialized countries. The idea for her business sprouted from her book, The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen. In the United Kingdom, “Social enterprises are a natural home for female entrepreneurs and have more women on their boards than FTSE 100 companies. A quarter of social enterprises are owned by women, almost double the number of those running small private businesses,” according to Social Enterprise UK. Here is what I’ve been hinting at all along when it comes to the proliferation of women-focused for-profit social good products: are women more giving? Or just better shoppers? And perhaps more interestingly, does it matter? Certainly probably not to the social businesses profiting (socially and financially). But it says something about the rest of us and the state of buying to give.

  • How random is kindness?

    By Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    People participate in “acts of kindness” every day. Whether or not I see in while I’m on my daily grind, there are some things that do make me stop and think, wow. Just last week, during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I was walking in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, which was still without power at this time. It was Halloween, but it didn’t feel like it (despite that I feel too old and apathetic for Halloween). This family, however, was dressed up to the max. A young girl had a bucket of candy and was handing out to whoever. I smiled and thanked her and munched on a childhood-favorite candy of mine, red licorice. A small, thing, yes. It would have been a nice act regardless, but because the neighborhood was going through a power outage, the sense of community anxiety was high. The small things, right? They were not, of course, alone. The Huffington Post published a “Random Acts of Kindness After Hurricane Sandy” slideshow: “No power or water, fuel shortages and limited transportation has made life pretty darn difficult for the East Coast. But it’s usually in times of need that the best of mankind emerges. And so, we’ve been seeing wonderful examples of human kindness and generosity over the last few days — from free pizza in the beleaguered East Villageto a little girl setting up a charging station in Hoboken.” How are these small things, these brief smiles and sometimes anonymous acts, recognized, if at all? Should they be? Kindness in the media often acts as something relegated to a small, local news channel, akin sometimes to the high school “Athlete of the Week.” In a way, these  programs are an attempt to counter the amount of sensational violence, crime, war, etc. in the news media. Thanks to the proliferation of blogs — and the resulting proliferation of every single kind of blog imaginable — there are websites and Tumblrs galore that focus solely on the kind and generous things that everyday people do. I mean, it’s no surprise that Oprah has her 35 Little Acts of Kindness feature. These types of guides exist as if we don’t know how to be nice to other people. And perhaps niceness is an overstatement, a lot of the times, it’s simply the decent thing to do. There are organizations and social businesses that focus exclusively on giving recognition and appreciation to people who volunteer their time or do small things to make a moment for someone. I recently talked with a founder of a social business who said that a lot of volunteers don’t necessarily want public recognition or appreciation. Do people participate in acts of kindness for others? To gain recognition? To make themselves feel like better, more generous people? To feel part of a community? I’m sure there are many, many reasons why people do what they do and I’m not sure so-called “random” acts of kindness are that at all.

  • Shutting up and giving

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org Charity, especially when it comes to monetary donations, is often a one-way act. We give and therefore we can sleep at night. But not everyone puts in the work to see where their money goes? Who does it reach? Who does it exclude? Who is it hurting, if anyone? And how does it get there? The Founder and Chief Consultant of Cornerstone International, LLC, Chad Jordan, recently wrote a piece for Business Fights Poverty called “Shut Up & Give, In search of sustainable solutions to global poverty.” The article explores his hesitancy to see that business and development initiatives could not only work together, but work together well. More interestingly, however, Jordan questions the international development field in which he comes from. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which stems from a Cornerstone book called Shut Up and Give? Eradicating Global Poverty by Breaking the Cycle of Dependency We Created:

    My work has always focused on increasing local capacity in the underserved world, but learning what I did about business as a development tool changed my perspective.  I started asking a lot of questions about the approach I had long ago subscribed to, questions about the way the majority of the West relates to the underserved.  Will I simply shut up & give to the same projects, the same programs, and the same goals?  Or will I examine the results, question the outcomes, and shift my thinking?

    This was a pretty easy decision learning what I did from those who “got it.”  We need to question the way we’ve always done things in regard to poverty eradication.  Tradition doesn’t always translate into meaning the best way.  We don’t need to start over – we need to build on what has been done by adding some new elements.  We need to bring in business principles, financial leaders, and corporate accountability to our development programming.

    The truth is – although I was hesitant to jump aboard – business terminology does belong in our development conversations.  As long as profit doesn’t trump local empowerment and capacity building, there’s nothing wrong with making money while helping people.

    The traditional business focus on evaluating, as Jordan puts it, outcomes is crucial. Both fields need to focus more, I think, on affect — on how people feel and how people feel involved. Affect theory has a recent push in being infected with politics and I think the same could go for business and development, even though development (and social entrepreneurship) is typically seen as a people-focused realm. Jordan’s point, overall, is to be critical, no matter what profession you come from. Be critical of others and be critical of your own and the hybrids in between.

  • Three postcolonial concepts for social entrepreneurs


    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Prayer on the Housetops, Jean-Leon Gerome, 1865

    Orientalism Orientalism is one of those books that changed the world. And in my undergraduate education, probably around my third year in university in Montreal, I was exploring beyond my traditional International Development Studies courses, and found myself in both a Gender and Postcolonial Lit class and a Theories of Difference English course. It was then that Orientalism changed me, too. Orientalism is a concept developed by postcolonial theorist Edward Said and is also a book published in 1978 under the same name. For Said, orientalism is “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient.” It’s essential to think about when entrepreneurs talk for or even about marginalized subjects. Orientalism creates objects, especially, as we see in Gerome’s piece, in art. It’s the way we (read: The West) talk about, present, re-represent and imagine the Other. Hybridity Hybridity is a term typically attributed to being developed to the postcolonial intellectual Homi Bhabha in his 1996 book The Location of Culture. It can be, and it is to me, a little more optimistic than orientalism. Hybridity, as you can imagine, is an in-between state. Or rather, an in between process. “The borderline engagements of cultural difference may as often be consensual as conflictual; they may confound our definitions of tradition and modernity; realign the customary boundaries between the private and the public, high and low; and challenge normative expectations of development and progress,”  writes Bhabha. Hybridity can be creative, it can also be a site of resistance so think about productivity and creativity when you’re straddling two worlds, whatever those worlds are. Maybe it’s business and social good or maybe it’s the United States and Kenya. Subaltern Antonio Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony laid the grounds for the postcolonial concept of the subaltern as it is viewed today. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is maybe the poster woman for “subaltern” as a concept and she insists that

    subaltern is not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for [the] Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie. . . . In post-colonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern — a space of difference. Now, who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern. . . . Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus; they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’ . . . They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse, wanting a piece of the pie, and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

  • Don’t look to your social good job for fulfillment



    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Image of Tiffany Persons via Mindvalley

    Last week week iOnPoverty featured Tiffany Persons of the NGO Shine On Sierra Leone. Here’s a bit of what the email shared with its readers:

    When someone asks you why you’re interested in changing the world, is your answer something like: “Because it feels good to do good”? If so, Pathfinder Tiffany Persons, says be careful. “It’s an addiction and no one talks about this.” Her bottom line: filling an internal void with doing good is not okay – it will leave you unhappy in the end and it will negatively impact the people you seek to help. So examine your motives carefully.

    Pathfinder Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg said something similar when she noted: “The most useless people in the world are driven by guilt.”

    Jonathan Lewis continued on Huffington Post:

    If you think “doing good” is a recovery program for a deadend career, or a panacea for personal happiness, or a path towards building a personal brand, forget it. As Tiffany notes, “If you don’t find happiness where you are right now, you are going to be unhappy in the social sector.”

    As Levitt and Dubner summed up in SuperFreakonomics, “Most giving is… impure altruism or warm-glow altruism. You give not only because you want to help, but because it makes you look good, or feel good, or perhaps feel less bad.” The same can hold true for casual volunteerism and, all-too-often, for switching from a soulless industry to a mission-driven career.

    At first glance, perhaps, this kind of thinking could seem controversial. But I think that the social enterprise community becomes sanitized into this idea that good is good is good is good. In a lot of ways, it’s not about what you do necessarily but how you do it. Being in the social business or non-profit industry doesn’t necessarily make you a better person.

    I’ve encountered this in the flesh while I was completing my undergraduate degree in Montreal in International Development Studies. The very name of the program, i.e. the “development” part, suggests a sort of ownership about what development means and to whom. The main lens through which development is traditionally looked at is economic, even though many of my brilliant professors do make an effort to remind the students that there simply aren’t enough resources for every country to industrialize like the West has (which feeds into the “West versus the Rest” idea). The field also subscribes to a sense of nationalism that is problematic in many cases and ignores marginalized populations.

    But it was really the students, no, I can’t place blame on the students. Rather, it was (and is) the industry that really rubbed me the wrong way especially after a few years knee-deep in the program. It’s about the language, too, that “go volunteer in an Indian orphanage for four weeks and change lives” type of mentality. While I don’t find anything necessarily wrong with voluntourism, there’s a sense that it’s good no matter what. But like everything, including social good careers, it’ necessary to question the why.

    As always, this is something to think about. My posts on this blog are about being critical, living consciously and challenging the norm. And we all know that we can create micro-norms within our own fields, workplaces and minds.