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Encyclical with a distinctive ‘edginess’

Photo: poster image taken from In Words and Deeds: 100 Years of Catholic Social Teaching – a poster pack (1991) Trócaire, The Irish Jesuits The National Conference of Priests in Ireland and the Catechetical Association of Ireland.

Photo: poster image from In Words and Deeds: 100 Years of Catholic Social Teaching – a poster pack (1991) Trócaire, The Irish Jesuits The National Conference of Priests in Ireland and the Catechetical Association of Ireland.

With his encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (available online as a long-form letter) Pope Francis has entered the fray not just on the environment and its future but also more broadly on the ethics and impact of dominant models of economic development and ‘extreme’ consumption.  His encyclical highlights the fact that our fossil-fuel based, ‘throwaway culture’ coupled with our ‘irrational confidence in progress and human abilities’ and a ‘blind confidence in technical solutions, is ‘actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, even more limited and grey’. 

In keeping with the vast bulk of scientific research and evidence, Encyclical_cover Francis argues that climate change is not just a ‘global problem with serious implications’ for people and planet, but is also based on substantial and growing international inequality whose impact is felt disproportionately by the world’s poorest people.  It is also rooted in a perverse logic that insists on short-term gain for some at the cost of long-term loss for all.

Contrary to much of western popular perception and (ill-informed) debate, he highlights the reality that the resources and wealth of poorer countries continue to fuel the development of richer countries at huge present and future cost.  He calls on the rich of the world to recognise the impact of their wealth and way of life and begin paying their ‘grave social debt’ to the poor by taking concrete steps on climate change and sustainable ways of living.

‘The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.’

Hats off to the SDGs – a brief analysis of the plan to change the world

Where does one even begin to unpack the new sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

When in doubt of what to think I always refer to the great Edward De Bono, thinking philosopher extraordinaire. De Bono created the ‘Six thinking hats’ tool to aid people to think fully and clearly about anything and everything. I use this tool today to begin my journey to understanding the SDGs.

1. The White Hat: the facts

The SDGs are a follow on from the millennium development goals. They are a set of universal goals for the world which will drive political and social action. They have yet to be finalised (end of September is the big day) but several drafts have been created. Currently there are 17 goals with 169 targets.

SDGsThe aim is to have the world reach these goals by 2030. Each target has indicators so that progress of the goal can be measured. For a breakdown of the draft goals and their targets see this helpful Guardian interactive.

2. The Red Hat: the feelings

SDG could just as well stand for Sad, Disturbed and Galled when one thinks about the problems of the world. I could go into facts and figures about topics such as hunger, child abuse and violence but they’re unfortunately aplenty in the web.

Sometimes we don’t even get shocked anymore by the sheer devastation in the world; we become so anesthetized to it all because let’s face it, it’s easier to forget the troubles of the world than carry them around.

There is another option. One can turn these feelings of distain into action. It is here that the SDGs can guide our actions. The idea of this social change brings feelings of hope, passion and determination into the hearts of the activists championing them. Eventually the SDGs may bring peace, security and happiness to those currently bullied by the world, and a sense of community and achievement for the entire human race.

3. The Yellow Hat: the benefits

The benefits of an equal, green and just world are endless. I have picked a target from the goals (target 17.39) at random to examine the benefit of 1/169th of the SDGS. Based on goal 17, this target reads:

“Establish and effectively implement a multilateral code of conduct for multinational corporations to secure social and environmental responsibility and accountability.”

An article by the Guardian in 2010 indicated that the combined environmental damage of the world’s top firms is over 2.2TRILLION dollars. This does not include social damage such as displaced workers/forced migration etc. Of course social and environmental damage is impossible to equate to numerical damage, but one can see from this attempt that the benefits of cutting these irresponsible actions is massive.

The old Buddhist saying rings true here ‘When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money.’ The impact of achieving this one target alone on the world is almost impossible to imagine, but it would definitely lead to a healthier greener world.

 4. The Blue Hat: the process

The United Nations conducted a massive consultation piece while drafting the SDGs. It is hoped that this process will help ‘buy in’ from around the world.

A major criticism of the MDGs was that they did not allow for good governance. One of the big ambitions of the SDGs will be to acutely track and monitor their development to ensure that all goals are being implemented by all stakeholders.

Each goal, however, can be adjusted to suit the ability of the country in question, meaning that each country’s ability is taken into account. This arguably strengthens the ‘how’ of the SDGs as it acknowledges that all countries are different, but they can all do something.

With regard to financing that will be decided in a large conference in July, but it is thought that public money, aid and monies from the private sector through taxation will fund the goals.

5. The Black Hat: cautions and criticisms

Photo: no critics no success by Celestine Chua (Oct 27, 2013). CC BY-2.0 license via Flickr.

Photo: no critics no success by Celestine Chua (Oct 27, 2013). CC BY-2.0 license via Flickr.

There are many logistical and economic questions to be raised on achieving the goals but there is one overarching philosophical and ethical cautioning that must be drawn attention to: Independence. Autonomy. Empowerment. Respect.

While the SDGs have done a better job than the millennium development goals (MDGs) to consult developing countries in their formation, it is of utmost importance that we avoid a situation of the West tells the rest.

While the balance between helping, leading and supporting is a tricky one, it is a balance that may not have yet been struck by the SDGs.

Furthermore the SDGs are supposedly universal. This means that even the most ‘developed’ countries have serious work to do (in particular with regard to consumption and the environment) and must follow the good example of other countries (for example did you know that Kenya scores better on the global green economy index than the United Kingdom?)

6. The Green Hat: creativity and new ideas

Photo: green ECOnomy not greed economy by Lily Rhoads (Oct 31, 2011). CC BY-2.0 license via Flickr.

Photo: green ECOnomy not greed economy by Lily Rhoads (Oct 31, 2011). CC BY-2.0 license via Flickr.

As I stated in my introduction, the SDGs have not been finalised yet. There is discussion that the goals will be shortened to 10, amalgamating goals that are similar. There is also many discussions to be had regarding financing strategies for these goals. There is scope for the United Nations to address current criticisms of the goals and invite an even wider range of stakeholders to be a part of this process.

As a friend of mine (who is 16years old and a young activist) said,

“they’re (SDGs) only do-able if everyone knows about them and everybody jumps on board and tries to do them.”

A wise statement! The SDGs will lead to a world of dignity, partnership, justice and prosperity for all people and the planet, if we all take them on together and acknowledge the responsibility we all have in their success.


For more…

Drowning in the Mediterranean: Tears are not enough

“Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.”
- Insensibility by Wilfred Owen (October 1917)

Wilfred Owen’s poem dwells on the insensibility of civilians to the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches of the First World War. He condemns those who fail to feel for those suffering the inhumanity of warfare and the particular horrors of trench warfare.

Sensibility to the suffering of other human beings is certainly an important component of our common humanity. It is a necessary precondition to act and to achieve change.  And yet it is important to move beyond tears.

I was recently reminded of this when visiting an accommodation centre for migrants with a group of students. All of us were naturally struck by what we saw and the stories we heard. Some were moved to tears.

But are tears enough when dealing with the stories of migrants and refugees? I argue that it is not.

Meeting face to face with stories of human suffering and also, let us not forget, human strength, is naturally a moving experience. Insensibility to such stories is inhumane. But what is required in the face of these experiences is action coupled with an understanding of the factual and legal realities.

Facts and Law

Poster: UKIP poster promoted during May 2014 European Elections.

Poster: controversial UKIP poster promoted during May 2014 European Elections in UK. via UKIP website.

The facts about migration are not being presented accurately or even fully. The impression that is prevalent in the European public consciousness is that Europe is being ‘invaded’ by migrants; specifically migrants from Africa and the Middle East. More…

What we’re watching: men considering the ‘other’ side; the danger of a single story; updating Marx

The danger of a single story

In an increasing environment where there appears to be insufficient time and intolerance in considering the ‘story’ of another, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk (with nearly 9 million views!!) is brilliant in alerting us to the ‘danger of a single story’ and warns that “if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

On the same theme, is an animated version utilising a Snail and a Caterpillar to illustrate the need to see life from the someone else’s perspective.

What if men experienced the ‘other’ side

To promote Menstrual Hygiene Day on the 28 May, WaterAid developed a series of videos that explored how differently the realities of menstruation would be ‘tackled’ if men were directly impacted. The daily challenges of menstruation impacts most severely on women and girls in developing countries.

See also the blog about one man who committed his life to developing solutions for the women’s menstrual challenges in India.

If Marx were to update his findings – more than a century and a half later?

In less than 2 minutes, BBC Radio 4 summarises Karl Marx’s Theory of Alienation of the 1800s. Something to reflect on the next time you consider ‘un’fairly traded or unethical products/services.

Deadline tomorrow: Calling all 18-25 year olds! United Nations Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland



Photo: At the launch in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the first UN Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon were, left to right, Orla Barry, MC, Donncha O’Callaghan, UNICEF Ambassador, Ban KI-moon, Sean Sherlock, TD and Minister of State with special responsibility for ODA and Evanna Lynch, UNICEF Ambassador by Tommy Clancy (May 26, 2015) (via NYCI).

“This new programme will support young people to be agents of change, where they are empowered to be active global citizens contributing to building a world of justice, equity, and dignity.”

National Youth Council of Ireland, together with Irish Aid in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are delighted to announce the launch of the United Nations Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland in 2015 (UNYDP).

This new UN Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland will support two young people aged between 18-25 to represent Ireland’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations on behalf of the Irish government and people in Ireland.

The role of the youth delegates includes opportunities to attend two intergovernmental conferences: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit (End of September) and the United Nations General Assembly (in October.

The aims of United Nations Youth Delegate Programme – Ireland are:

  • To directly involve young people from Ireland in the international development policy
  • and decision-making agenda;
  • To hear and include the voice of young people on development issues at local,
  • national, and global levels;
  • To promote development and youth policies among young people in Ireland;
  • To familiarise young people in Ireland with global development issues and
  • opportunities for involvement they have in this regard;
  • To support activities and development initiatives in Ireland.

Criteria and a call for applications for this prestigious and amazing opportunity are available here: www.youth.ie/un_youth_delegate Don’t hesitate! Get your application in for tomorrow.

  • Closing date for receipt of applications is Friday, June 5th 2015.

‘Non-listening, non-seeing, non-feeling…’ – the migration crisis in the Mediterranean: information, discussion and debate

Photo: Cayuco approached by a spanish Salvamar vessel (June 25, 2008) by Noborder Network. CC-BY-2.0 (via Wikimedia).

Photo: Cayuco approached by a spanish Salvamar vessel (June 25, 2008) by Noborder Network. CC-BY-2.0 (via Wikimedia).

The Guardian newspaper captured the essence of the issue in its editorial of April 21st:

‘A proud father who is fleeing persecution, a mother who wants to give her family a chance – every migrant who risks their lives in the Mediterranean has a story that any European would recognise. In the blank faces of the stricken survivors being helped from the sea off Rhodes, or shuffling dazed down the gangway into a strange Sicilian port, they can only be imagined. They are easily dwarfed by the scale of the unfolding drama in the Mediterranean, but in any discussion of what should be done, that particularity is the most important single thing to remember.’

The horrific scenes in recent weeks in the Mediterranean as thousands of migrants risk their lives in search of something better for themselves and their families; according to the UN Refugee Agency over 20,000 have lost their lives attempting to reach Europe over the past two decades.

In 2014 alone, an estimated 207,000 people made the deadly journey with the loss of an estimated 3,419 lives. The totally inadequate response of European governments has placed primacy on securing borders rather than saving lives leading to Pope Francis describing the situation as the ‘globalisation of indifference’. More…

The world is watching as Ireland votes on marriage equality

Photo:  Poster Campaign For The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015- REF-103882 (May4, 2015) by  William Murphy/CC-BA-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Photo: Poster Campaign For The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015- REF-103882 (May4, 2015) by William Murphy/CC-BA-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Ireland is the first country in the world to put the question of same sex marriage to a public vote. Taking place tomorrow, the referendum presents voters with a choice whether the Constitution should be changed so as to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The proposed bill would insert a new subsection 4 to Article 41 of the Irish Constitution:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” More…

10 quotes that changed the way we look at the world

The Huffington Post recently included what it considers the Top 10 quotes Badge-Top-Tens-Small from various ‘leaders’ across the globe that “in some way changed how humanity looks at the world.”

This list includes quotes that commemorate historical moments/actions that impacted on the global landscape, through political reforms, scientific revolutionary discoveries, human rights, empowering the rights of women and girls, etc. Below is their list. There are many instances where “the power of worlds has been abundantly clear,” and where the subsequent action has not.

If you were to suggest a Top 10 list of famous quotes from (in)famous actions that impacted on the world, what would that list look like?

Malala Yousafzai (Nobel Laureate, activist for girls and women’s rights to education)

Photo: Malala Yousafzai is a campaigner who in 2012 was shot for her activist work. As part of WOW 2014, she talks about the systemic nature of gender inequality and bringing about change (March 8, 2014) by Southbank Centre/CC-BY-2.0 (via Wikimedia).

Photo: Malala Yousafzai is a campaigner who in 2012 was shot for her activist work. As part of WOW 2014, she talks about the systemic nature of gender inequality and bringing about change (March 8, 2014) by Southbank Centre/CC-BY-2.0 (via Wikimedia).

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

After being shot in the head on her way to school by Taliban forces, Malala Yousafzai has become one of the world’s most prominent voices for the right to education, in particular for girls. In a speech at the United Nations on July 12, 2013, she gave a stirring call for global education, as well as the fight against terrorism. At the time she was just 16 years old, and in years since has continued on her campaign and received a Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

Learn more about Malala and her campaign. See also the learning site teachingkidsnews on Malala with further links and curriculum connections.

Anne Frank (young diarist and writer. One of the most discussed victims of the Jewish Holocaust, killed in 1943 at the age of 16 years)

Photo: Anne Frank (March 13, 2015) by RV1864/CC BY-ND-2.0 (via Flickr).

Photo: Anne Frank (March 13, 2015) by RV1864/CC BY-ND-2.0 (via Flickr).

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Written in her diary on July 15, 1944, Anne Frank’s words reflect her inspiring outlook during one of the worst events in human history. Upon its publishing in 1947, the diary would become an incredibly important and celebrated account of the Holocaust. Frank’s words offer a glimpse into the horrors of the Nazis, and stand as a reminder to never forget the tragedy that befell her and an estimated 6 million other Jews during World War II.

Learn more about Anne Frank.

Nelson Mandela (President of the Republic of South Africa 1994-1999, ANC leader and freedom fighter)

Photo: This is the official photo of Mandela casting his vote in the 1994 elections. It was the first time Mandela had voted in his life. It was taken at Ohlange School, Inanda, Durban (April 1, 1994) by Paul Weinberg/CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia).

Photo: This is the official photo of Mandela casting his vote in the 1994 elections. It was the first time Mandela had voted in his life. It was taken at Ohlange School, Inanda, Durban (April 1, 1994) by Paul Weinberg/CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia).

 ”I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The closing lines of Nelson Mandela’s defense statement at his 1964 trial are a testament to his dedication, as well as his rhetorical skill. An unrelenting activist against the brutally racist South African apartheid regime, Mandela was convicted on four counts of sabotage in the trial and sent to jail on a life sentence. He was released after 27 years in prison, most of them spent at Robben Island, and in 1994 went on to win South Africa’s first free elections.

Learn more about Mandela and a series of quotes he made on development and international justice.

See the BBC timeline learn more about Mandela. See also 10 life lessons from Mandela. For young people see enchantedlearning and the comprehensive site theschoolrun. More…

Review of Irish Aid DE Programme: 6 arguments for strengthening development education in Ireland


The 6 arguments were prepared by developmenteducation.ie as a discussion document toward the review of the Irish Aid Development Education Programme being conducted by GENE (Global Education Network Europe) taking place in 2015 and was circulated at the consultation event at Farmleigh House (Dublin) on 29th April. The review process is contributing towards Irish Aid’s new development education strategy set for publication in 2016.


1. Development education needs to firmly remain an integral part of the Development Cooperation movement

The primary concern of development education (DE) remains human development in all its dimensions and is linked directly to the broad ‘aid’ and related agendas; it has a specific and distinct pedigree and it is one that the public relate to readily even when in disagreement.  If we lose this focus in favour of something more amorphous and vague, then we weaken our trade and its agenda and we betray our mandate.

DE needs to firmly remain a part of the development cooperation agenda (from which it obtains its relevance and focus) and that of Irish Aid (and Foreign Affairs) or it is in danger of losing its relevance and visibility.  If the intrinsic link with development cooperation is weakened or lost (or if responsibility is moved to other (domestically focused Departments), it will be only a matter of time before the specific budget line is also lost.  Without development education, development cooperation will also be weakened.

2. DE is a public entitlement and a public agenda and as such needs to be visible

Ensuring development issues remain a part of public debate and public judgement is fundamental in discussing Ireland’s role in the world.  Irish people have a right to be engaged in this conversation (they also have a corresponding duty) and therefore the agenda, issues and stories need to be ‘visible’ publicly – they should not be simply hidden in policy documents, syllabi, assessments etc.

DC and DE require a robust programme of public education and debate – it is a key part of the agenda on transparency, accountability and public ownership.

3. The current ‘map’ of DE in Ireland needs re-balancing

While DE in the formal sector has been the priority focus for Irish Aid in recent years, it cannot and should not be the sole focus.  There has been a tendency to neglect and significantly under-resource DE in other sectors e.g. youthwork, adult and community education and public education.  While continuing to support and extend formal sector DE work, there is a need to re-balance DE to similarly address other sectors of public education.  DE cannot be allowed to become primarily a schools or formal education agenda.

4. DE needs to build on past experiences and successes in developing and delivering strategies and priorities

With each review process, there is a tendency to ‘forget or ignore’ history (especially that of previous Irish Aid strategies and their successes/failures and impact) and that the story of DE in Ireland has many experiences and successes upon which to build for the future.  Some of the successes are obvious – for example, DE in CSPE, the adoption of the DE agenda by many structures and institutions (NYCI, colleges, networks of schools, the trade union movement, Aontas etc.); others less obvious (for example, DE through popular campaigning – anti-Apartheid, Fairtrade, Baby-milk Campaign etc.). There are many lessons to share and they need to be taken into account in the review.

The history of DE in Ireland does not begin with this review – it needs to build upon the past.

5. DE needs to be appropriately resourced if it is to continue to succeed

There are many viewpoints on what the phrase ‘appropriate’ resourcing might mean – a percentage of current ODA; a specific figure per head of population, sufficient to resource a demographically audited network of key providers regionally etc.  What is clear at present is that the ‘visible’ delivery of DE in Ireland is in danger of disappearing given the inadequate levels of funding available (and not just from Irish Aid).

The review should make it clear that any realistic Irish Aid DE strategic plan for the years ahead must facilitate strategic planning by those tasked with delivery.  Such planning must inevitably include financial planning in order to ensure quality, impact and, crucially the retention of key experienced personnel.  Currently there are many difficulties for DE groups around Irish Aid DE funding (scale, multi-year, contracts, grant calls etc.) which undermine the work – these need to be addressed.

6. Demographics matter - DE planning needs to reflect changing population trends and concentrations

Since the publication of the last Irish Aid strategy the national census was completed and published – another censes is scheduled for 2016. Many assumptions are made about the geographical spread of DE (such the myth of Dublin saturation) without reference to data. DE strategic planning should be actively analysing and responding to demographic changes and trends in terms of provision, adaptation and changing engagement opportunities. Investing in the geography of potential DE is crucial if we are to maximise impact.

There are many issues that a national DE strategy should be analysing, including the rise in population; percentage changes in the population of urban electoral divisions (such as north-west and west Dublin); the rise of new towns; socio-economic household composition; the rise in pre-school and primary age; age profiling of a younger and older population etc.

The review should make it clear that strategic planning for the years ahead should be informed by census-based strategic planning as part of a broader quality, impact and outcomes agenda.


This blog is part of our series Exploring Development Education reflecting on the history, ideas and practices of development education in Ireland.

The quality of teaching must be central to global education provision targets

“Progress towards the post-2015 education SDG will be stymied if the quality and effectiveness of teaching are not front and centre in the main list of targets.”

Where do the proposed education targets fall short? Policy paper no.16 (1 Feb, 2015) Education for All Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO.

As an educator for over 40 years, this point is obvious to me. As someone who has volunteered with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and most recently in Mozambique to improve the quality of teaching and learning, the global education movement needs to grasp this idea.

When I started off with VSO in Sierra Leone in 1970, I was sent to a remote outpost to teach English. I didn’t have a teaching qualification nor did I have any teaching experience.

Thankfully, the world has moved on, and so has VSO. More…