Money is Power

CARE colleague at a project visit to a Women’s Centre in the West Bank

What do you think of when you read the words ‘money is power‘?

Rich tycoons? Celebrity spenders? Men?

Maybe, maybe not. However, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume (and I believe there are solid grounds for such an assumption) that rich, powerful men represent a compelling ‘logo’ for the concept of money being powerful.

This post is about reframing that.

Now, CARE’s work is mainly couched in the language of poverty and injustice. These are far reaching and often misused words. I’ve written before about the way in which the international development sector overuses jargon, and we are still at it.

Within the wide parameters that ‘poverty’ and ‘injustice’ house, CARE delivers humanitarian relief, and we pride ourselves on our long term development interventions. More recently, we have been describing how we build resilience for communities.

There are then a bunch of derivatives used about each of these terms, which I’ll let you research yourself (as I’ve no doubt you now will).

This latest trend towards resilience is, in some ways, an attempt to combine the two historically distinct and typically separate areas of our work – namely, humanitarian relief and longer-term development.     

To be clear, humanitarian relief describes work in the very aftermath of a disaster. The delivery of shelter, water, food, medicine.

Longer term development, instead, is to put in place structures and systems that ensure long lasting results. For example, one entity might raise money to build a school for a community that lacks adequate facilities. Another trains teachers. Another still (and more likely the flavor of what CARE focuses on) will work to influence that same community to encourage the equal participation in that school of girls, where culturally there might be a favouring of boys going to school, and girls playing a role at home.

In some cases, different agencies play different roles. For the CAREs of the world, we tend to work across each of these components.

So, wind forward through the various decades of adjusting our apertures for how to best “bring about change” (this is a favourite phrase in our sector, too) for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized, and we are now, within the current narrative around resilience, talking about linking relief and development work.

And, it is in making this link where I see a chance for a reframe of money and power.

Fishing port in Gaza.

A year ago this week colleagues and I visited some of CARE’s work in OPT, the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These territories comprise the West Bank and Gaza. This post is not to make any statements or references about the political dynamics within these places, but so I can use our visit there to highlight why I think this move towards linking relief and development work opens up the opportunity to change the frame around what, historically, can been a male dominated arena for money and power.

In the West Bank there are three distinct sub-areas of jurisdiction, with different governing dynamics between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. This makes movement around the West Bank complex.

Inside of this complexity, women are (and this is no new ‘thing’ in development terms) not given the same economic opportunities to earn a dignified living as men. An unequal aspect of society that I’ve also posted about in the past, and the main focus of CARE’s mission.

In Gaza, a self-governing Palestinian territory, with even heavier restrictions on movement and trade, the result ends up producing the most extreme definition of ‘complex’ that you can imagine.

Before, during and after the various conflicts that Gazans have experienced over many years, the things that others take for granted on a daily basis are in short supply.

The water available in Gaza, for example, is mostly salinated, which makes its usage hugely restrictive. Electricity “shedding” (where supplies are cut off) is such that households only have 4-5 hours a day of electricity to use in their homes and in their businesses. Trading outside of Gaza is restricted. Fishing outside of a 6-mile area from the coast is restricted.

All of which has created a confining economic reality, for Gazan women in particular, over many generations.

Given these realities, it simply doesn’t make sense to divide out the way in which “aid agencies” (to coin another colloquial phrase) operate in Gaza as well as in the West Bank. It is not short term relief, nor is it long term development, as two siloed areas.

Whilst heavy periods of conflict themselves will obviously increase the need for humanitarian relief assistance in a context such as Gaza, the longer-term (15 years and beyond) commitments that agencies are making to engage with communities, influencing the systems and structures in place are, in fact, inversely, then critical in terms of helping people’s own capacities to anticipate and absorb the shocks and disruptions that conflict creates.

As such, there are implicit links between interventions that are both long term and immediate.

Taken another way, the very nature of living (earning money, interaction within the community, raising children) from one week to another, as a Gazan, means living inside the vacuum of a crisis context.

And, as with many of the world’s refugee camps, some now decades old societal institutions, there are no signs this vacuum will change.

Land based fish farm project, Gaza.

In the face of such complex conditions, CARE is trying to create opportunities for Gazans to earn a dignified living – again, by smoothing the traditional transition phase between relief work and longer-term development work, and as a result we are seeing more durable solutions.

One example I saw last May was the establishment of land based fish farms. Restrictions for Palestinian fishermen hinder their ability to catch sufficient stocks of fish to earn a dignified living. CARE has helped enable their trade to be land based, and invested in specific training on how to re-invent their livelihoods as fishermen, using the enterprise of fish farms.

Another example is through the use of co-operatives. A concept where individual small-scale farmers and producers pool their products for a better price. I visited a date co-operative, set up for female producers, who were able to proudly tell me how their branded date products were now capturing 15% of the Gazan market.

CARE colleagues visiting date co-operative, Gaza.

The answer, then, to the “so what?” question (so why is this different to any other similarly described example of CARE’s work in less crisis prone contexts, and why the reframe around money and power?), is this: money and power may be inextricably linked, but the only power that will ever last over future generations, is not power wielded by those with the most money, but by those with the most dignity.

In my example, a Gazan mother of four, who’s ability, in spite of living in a vacuum of daily crisis, to earn a dignified living, to make decisions and choices about what to do with the money she earns, and to make investments in her life which prepare her better for future shocks and disruptions, that woman is the new emblem the world needs. And the world needs her in abundance.

The good news is that there is more than an abundance of women ready to seize that power and that opportunity.

It is, and will always be, that simple.

By linking CARE’s traditional approaches, by focusing in contexts where crisis conditions are the most extreme, by committing to changing the playing field for women and girls, and by working closely with others to do so, we can reframe what we mean by money is power. For good.

Gaza Strip.


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