One day


One day,

The wind beneath the wings of a soaring bird
will be felt on his face.

The scent of a crashing wave
will touch his soul.

The freedom of a child at play
will melt his eyes.

And the choices made by a woman living a life free from inequalities
will stir inside of him such unequivocal calm that

he, too,

will soar in the skies,
move with the ocean,
embrace freedom,
and choose to be all these things,

Every day.

Boycott the red tops

In silencing those who have been complaining recently that the topic of sexual harassment is currently peppering news editorials the world over, many commentators have rightly couched that this particular metaphorical surface has only just been scratched.

With each new industry’s public acceptance (and condemnation) of the prevalence of sexual harassment, endemic across their own sectoral landscape, others trivialize the issue, committed it seems to end their days affixed to a depth of denial that even your average canary would shy away from examining…

The gods were indeed having their fun with us mortals to take away the life of Christopher Hitchens, while the caustic barbs of his brother, Peter, run free to propagate so vile a perspective on the topic as they did yesterday that even the Game of Thrones’ own Ramsey Bolton would have taken umbridge.

In his eloquently titled piece: ‘What will women gain from all this squawking about sex pests? A niqab‘  yesterday in The Mail on Sunday, Hitchens offered us this useful perspective:

“The welfare system is about to melt down. And you think the most important thing in your lives is a hunt for long-ago cases of wandering hands, or tellers of coarse jokes?”

And there it is, ladies and gentleman, served up on a plate, a steaming pudding of an indictment, reflecting far too many men’s dismissive attitudes when it comes to sexual harassment. Water under the bridge. Generations of despair and psychological trauma conveniently swept, like human dust particles, under society’s all forgiving moral carpet.

Even by Hitchens’ low-bar standard, yesterday’s article is tour de force material.

As if taking on the mind-set of a man whose lost his worldy possessions at a game of poker, and is being escorted out the door, our protagonist flails and raves at the page. Billions of women enduring lifetimes of objectification? I’ll see your bet, and raise you with a rant about what’s really important, which is that our country is “wobbling on the precipice of bankruptcy”.

Is this the same country who voted to leave the economic safety of Europe, and where corporations, politicians and the country’s own Monarch have spent decades mastering the art of tax avoidance, Peter? If so, maybe take your infantile vitriol out on them.

However, not content with a simple down-grading of sexual harassment in the face of economic meltdowns, our gambling stooge persists.

With one foot out of the casino, and a bouncer’s hand on his shoulder, he can’t resist: “In our post-marriage free-for-all, why should we expect either sex to be restrained? All that’s left is the police or the public pillory of Twitter.”

According to this veritable shitbag of a human being, ever since gender equality started making strides, and the sacred institution of marriage was questioned, society has nose dived.

466 words in, and I’m annoyed that this man has so riled me that I’ve written this (and I apologise for that to the three people who might actually read this blog).

So, let me make a simple recommendation. Boycott this red top propaganda. Boycott the likes of Hitchens, and his poisonous opinions. Boycott Paul Dacre’s lewd, bigoted and fearful curating of these toxic publications. Boycott them all.

Whatever it takes to ensure sexual harassment does not remain a topic analysed only at the surface level, and then filed under a “not that important” index, needs to be done. Those who have committed sexual harassment, whether 80 years ago, should face up to that and pay a penalty. In the public eye, or the private one.

And, all I know, is that there is not one single syllable to be found in yesterday’s vomit inducing Hitchens heckle that will ensure any positive or supportive progress is made in that direction.




Societal norms, the world over, since the dawn of time, have placed more undisputed power at the hands of men (and boys) than have been placed with women (and girls).

The narrative of the day reflecting this factual reality changes from context to context. In the UK, for example, we are currently questioning when it is we are going to feel able not to celebrate today’s International Women’s Day (#IWD2017) – when will UK society accept we don’t need a national day to keep reminding everybody about gender equality?

In contrast, here in Vietnam, the entrenchment of gender norms runs deeper. Educated, decent, working husbands and fathers in Vietnam may ‘feel’ a connection to the relatively new concept that women are equal to men (across any indicator) however there is still too strong a cultural leaning away from equality, which has been silently and often subconsciously drummed into that husband/father, for him to really feel 100% behind gender equality.

Another generation and yet one more still, and the softening of these values will happen.
Continue reading “#IWD2017”

Lend Me Your Ears

Hoa Binh Province, rural Vietnam

Christmas is coming and there’s no stopping it. Even here in Saigon the Vietnamese have started to embrace what has become an indulgent festival of consumption, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

And, at this time every year, people like me pen blogs like this one, instigated to push a perspective your way. People like me who (you’ll soon enough not be surprised to read) have just spent half my week up in rural Vietnam, meeting local communities.

So, what’s the perspective I’m peddling ? Well, no doubt by the end of this post I will have worked it out…    Continue reading “Lend Me Your Ears”

True power lies within

The dizzying heights of Singapore’s most powerful

And so to Singapore last week, for CARE’s third successive experience of partnering the annual “Sharing Value Asia” Forum – this year attracting a 30% uplift in delegates since the 2013 event, and focusing on what is becoming a fast emerging consensus around how the “Power of Many” may yet be our best ticket to solving some of the region’s pressing social and environmental dilemmas.

I have written before about “cross-sector” collaboration and partnerships. About forging alliances with shared objectives where the private, public and NGO sectors can work together, realising mutually beneficial outcomes.

This flavour of narrative was once more in play in Singapore, and I welcome that. Continue reading “True power lies within”

It’s Inclusion, stupid

As so to Singapore, fleetingly, to speak yesterday at Diageo’s inaugural “Women in Hospitality and Tourism in Asia” Conference.

As an $80bn turnover corporation, Diageo were not satisfied with only launching a daytime event, comprising of a range of speeches and panel sessions looking at the women’s empowerment agenda within their own industry, no, they also pulled together the first ever women’s empowerment “Journalist Awards” the very same evening.

Hats off to them for a well organised – and at times, genuinely inspiring – watershed day for a company such as theirs, the largest alcohol beverage company in the world, who have spent the past 18 months recasting their aspirations in society around “empowering women through learning.”

CARE have been supporting these efforts, through skills training and micro-finance initiatives in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and we are also discussing how to use our own experiences over the past 10 years in Cambodia, where we have successfully lobbied the government and the private sector to implement a more responsible Code of Conduct for brewers and drinks companies who distribute their products at a local level, largely employing women as beer sellers. Continue reading “It’s Inclusion, stupid”

The Inequalities of Capitalism

cartoon credited to
cartoon credited to

“The growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it.  It demands first of all a transcendent vision of the person.”

One of those great quotes that you wish you’d said. But who uttered these words? Martin Luther King Jr, remembered this week on the federal holiday that marks his memory each year? Jeffrey Sachs, revered globally for his economics and humanitarian work?

No, it was the Pope. Yesterday, in Davos, where he addressed many of the world’s corporate elite at their annual meeting, with a narrative designed to make the room redden with a collective blush. The tenor of his point being that “modern business activity,” for all its virtues, often has led to “a widespread social exclusion.” Continue reading “The Inequalities of Capitalism”

Linguistic spaghetti

imageAs someone who has clocked up seven years working in the “aid industry,” I am full to the brim with jargon that I continue to fear means nowt (this is Yorkshire jargon for ‘nothing’ – ‘nil’ – ‘zilch’ – ‘sweet FA’) to anyone not in the know.

For much of the time anyway, those of us in the know, aren’t.

Sure, every business sector has its own nuanced vernacular, too.  The “triple bottom line”.  A “bear” market.  Acronyms galore, whether you are a Wall Street trader, a civil servant, or a quantity surveyor (whatever it is that they do again.)  We all wallow in our respective, tribal refrains.

I have given my best shot over the years to understand what half my mates back in London do working in “the city”.  From memory there are definitely lots of ‘fund management’ types in there.  Maybe some stuff linked to Risk as well.  I keep trying anyway, politely asking fact seeking questions and crossing my fingers that I can remember what it is Ernst and Young do.  I know they are called “E&Y”.  This much I am certain.

And, yes, their eyes glaze over when I talk about sustainable development (in fact I don’t even tend to use these two words given, as continues to be broadcast on development sites these days, it is quite clear no one really knows what sustainable development actually means.)

Let’s assume that these semantic idiosyncrasies are set to stay.  I see no practical reason to deny them to any business, sector, industry, rugby team, local community, or even any NGO, such as CARE.  Just to clarify: an NGO is a Non-Governmental Organisation, although speaking as a CARE employee I can confirm we have also been described as a humanitarian organization, an international development organization, a non-profit, a not-for-profit, a charity, a social development organization…you see where I’m going with this…

So, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, makes the Guardian development pages at the moment promoting the case for increased ODA (Overseas Development Assistance.)

“Well, he would do that, wouldn’t he?” might be a valid retort to such a promotion…

However, in doing so, he lays out the cornerstone themes that will underpin successful (and sustainable) development for the world – “decent employment, inclusive growth, good wages” – each to be supported by “renewed global partnerships, grounded on the values of equity, solidarity and human rights.”

As someone promoting the role of business in the international development agenda, its encouraging to note the intrinsic links made between what the Sec Gen is proposing, and the helpful way in which a vast chunk of these are reliant on responsible business development – which makes me feel good that CARE is so focused on leveraging business.

However, the main voice in my head just wonders what a fund manager, a risk analyst, a teacher, a tinker, tailor, soldier, spy (you see where I’m going with this…) would make of such statements?

How can we break down some of the silos here?  And then, how to prioritise, in round terms, what comes first?  Where should all this ODA money go and how should it be spent for maximum impact?  Is it good enough to just create jobs, without addressing the ethnic diversity and conflict rife in a particular place?  Do we need: more schools; better trained teachers; more accessible medical services; more women “leaders”; better water and sanitation in urban slums; better mobile coverage in rural areas; environmentally friendly products?

Well, we need all these things.  Easy answer.  And “development” has come a long way in a short (ish) time period, and helped us understand the natural connections between the list above.  The need for a more holistic approach to tackle big problems.

So, to be clear, this is not a “does Aid work?” post.

But, if our baby steps over the past 60+ years have walked us down the front drive, then we still have a long way (at least to the service station on the corner, several blocks away) before equilibrium is reached – across all things.  And I think it is a level playing field concept I most warm to, as I continue to describe and (try to) articulate some of these themes and considerations.

It has to be about equity, and better access.  Access to money, to a livelihood.  Access to information, access to a voice in society that can be heard, and to which there will be a response.  All of such things help society push for accountable and compliant government, business, and the rest.  It is about closing the gap, between rich and poor, male and female – and so on – but also between each other.  Individuals.

And it starts with communication.  Finding the best way to communicate, and the better words to touch someone else’s thoughts and feelings and actions.

Equity, access, but also – intuitively and refreshingly – it has to be about love, tolerance, and understanding.  Whilst we might never become brilliant piano players, sporting greats, or Nobel Peace candidates, every one of us has each of these three characteristics sat waiting to be set free.

If you have found this site via Freshly Pressed, then thanks so much for making it this far down my musings on ‘jargon’ – for anyone interested in what life is like living in Saigon, Vietnam, and traveling around this wonderful region of the world, then check out my other blog and, in the meantime, good luck to all the fantastic writers out there.  It was great to connect with you.

Fifty Shades of Gay (iO Tillet Wright TEDTalk)

Sure, who has 18 minutes in their day to watch a TED Talk?

Let me use my first post of this new project to encourage you to find the time.  This is a seminal piece of public speaking, which will leave you inspired.

The artist iO Tillet Wright makes a pitch perfect address to her audience about topics such as prejudice, human rights, sexuality, and the pursuit of human well being.

Her platform, for me, hammers home possibly the one affirming life statement I have always felt is a good enough one to use each and every day: “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself”.

I’ve written in the past about “international development” issues, the subtler aspects of which I will continue to pay attention to and try to understand (for this is, after all, what I am paid to do) however, in my view, this TED Talk presents such a compelling narrative about who we are, and how we behave, that it should be obligatory viewing for any development-ista, or those interested in the finer subtleties of the development themes of our time: inequality, social justice, gender equity, political freedom, and ultimately, global citizenship in all its potential glory. Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Gay (iO Tillet Wright TEDTalk)”