Tag Archives: Dan smith

The ‘great’ British potential in development and aid

This is a guest post by Dan Smith. Dan is an Engineer working with sanitation companies in frontier markets. He is also a good friend who blogs here. You can follow Dan on twitter at @dpksmith.

Burma
Everything about this image is ridiculous. From the fact that the British Embassy in Myanmar feels it’s necessary to persuade people how ‘great’ Britain is, to the idea that using posters resplendent with outdated nationalistic iconography is a good one.

All of it smacks of desperation.

A friend of mine recently sent me the picture from Yangon. My friend asked if this was how the British Government treated all of the countries we’d previously undermined. Looking at it historically and considering that my friend is Austrian; this comment is somewhat ironic but shows how our colonial history still pervades today.

The Austrians and Germans don’t cling to the dying embers of Empire, so why do we?

The simple fact is that the British Empire was an immoral occurrence over a generation ago, yet 60 years on it is still acceptable to promote the UK using imagery and terminology from that period alluding to the fact that we’ve changed. Whilst our pernicious foreign policy and the actions of British companies ensure that we’re still acting in a similar manner. Why can’t we move on from our history and start leading by example?

Our Government advertises the UK with outdated iconography whilst telling expats to go home. Our society bickers amongst itself about how best to manage our own sustainability whilst our international companies continue to steal resources from other countries as they always have done. All off this is white washed with propaganda about how great we are and as such our entrepreneurs come up with solutions for luxury abandon.

Perhaps this should change?

The Africa Progress Report 2013 paints a damning picture of powerful companies influencing kleptocratic governments in order to procure the rights to extract resources from their countries. The sharp end of the wedge highlighted in the criticism of the recent WTO Trade Agreement that this promotes the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals, poor or otherwise. All of which suggests that companies from rich countries are still operating in a similar fashion to the way various Royal Charter companies did back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is proof that British companies are complicit in such actions, such as the Vedanta Mining Corporation that wants to mine a culturally significant area of India or the shooting of 34 miners at the Marikana mine in South Africa owned by Lonmin. Closer to home there has been a devastating yet largely overlooked case where the British police have colluded with large construction firms to blacklist 3,200 people viewed as “leftwing or troublesome”.

Staying at home, shallow arguments such as this and this by the George Monbiot (a journalist that at least has his ‘heart in the right place’) demonstrates the divide between the middle class left, who paint themselves as the proletariat, and who the left perceive as the evil land owning bourgeoisie farmers. Yet most of our home grown challenges, such as sustainable energy security, are smothered by Government backed jingoistic promotions (such as some woman marrying a posh bloke and having a baby) to persuade everybody that we’re ‘great’.

If you do a quick search for people making change in the world you’ll find a plethora of young entrepreneurs in Africa developing businesses to fix many of the problems they see in front of them. Yet if you look for young British ones, more established ones, or look to entrepreneurial promotion such as Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, you find people providing low cost throw away consumables, luxury goods, weaponry and food for students; as if there aren’t more pressing issues than creating maximum profit. Why are we still promoting profit over environmental and social performance?

In the UK we are a knowledge economy. We hold some of the best universities in the world; we have world leading research institutes; and some of the most respected consulting agencies. Why can’t we use this potential to lead the way in sustainable development rather than clinging to outdated dogma?

If the government really wants to increase foreign trade then perhaps it should start by regulating and prosecuting companies that are acting immorally and often illegally in other people’s countries rather than putting up posters. That would be a large step forward in changing the image of Britain. Whilst it’s doing that it could remove all of the Empiresque imagery from our foreign policy documentation and create strategies that work with people of other countries rather than against them.

Admittedly, social enterprise is supported in the UK through the creation of Big Society Capital and Social Enterprise UK. But why does this have to be at the loss to Government public sector? We could do both by going after the financial sector with the Tobin Tax – which is being pursued across Europe. Yet our government lacks both the teeth and the will to go after either the banks or international corporations.

If we could develop Triple Bottom Line businesses out of old neo-colonial corporations and promote “sustainability entrepreneurs” and “intrapreneurs” to meet our own challenges and set high sustainability standards in the UK. Then the rest of the world would look to us as leaders in sustainable development.

With external trade based on global sustainability rather than individual profiteering we wouldn’t need to tell anybody how “great” we still are.

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Filed under Economics, History

Dan Smith on Britain and languages: “The world is laughing at us”

Blogger and good friend Dan Smith recently wrote a reply piece to my article “Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?”. Here is an edited version of his blog. To read the full article click here.

For a start, I implore you, the British public, to get out of our wonderful rainy little island and explore the rest of the world.

So in this respect I couldn’t agree more. I deeply regret not taking the opportunity to study abroad whether on a free Erasmus scheme as part of my degree or by taking a full degree over the puddle. Europe has excellent Universities and you can learn a second language while you’re at it.

You could even take up the opportunity to do an apprenticeship in another country like the two thousand or so young Brits apprenticing in Germany with Siemens and earn while you learn.

But to counter this, if you’re studying an employable post graduate degree in the UK there are plenty of funding opportunities. The Panasonic Trust with the Royal Academy of Engineering, for instance, provide opportunity for £8,000 of funding for sustainable engineering MSc courses.

If you put engineering/science, environment and sustainability in a funding application then people fall over themselves to hand you cash.

Then there’s working in Europe. This is where it becomes trickier. I’ve done it and know plenty of other linguistically challenged people working in certain hubs of Europe. I was in Geneva where there are many businesses and international NGOs all working in English. The same can be said for Brussels and I’ve been assured that many of the large international corporation’s lingua franca is English too.

But that’s where it ends.

The simple fact is that if you want to live and work in a European country you will eventually need to speak a different European language. And we’re terrible at it! I’ve been relentlessly ridiculed by my European friends about this, most of whom could speak 3 languages but often multiple. These aren’t linguists or teachers, they’re everyday run of the mill people, like me and you. And it’s a similar story on every other continent in the world.

Britain, we suck at speaking other languages!

So if I, Steve, you, or any other British person truly wants to go work in Europe I’d suggest we take a long hard look at our linguistic capabilities first.

Steve also suggested we go work in Germany because they’ve got terrific employment rates. They’ve also got a terrific education system and primarily operate in German – but they are nice about speaking English. It’s certainly not impossible, I have good friends doing just that, but it’s not as easy as he portrays.

Or how about we all emigrate to the colonies for the good life of cheap beer and endless sunshine?

Well, first of all, Britain tried this a while back and it didn’t really go according to plan. Secondly, just like Germany, to work (or indeed get a work visa) in many of these countries you need a productive skill set. Fortunately for me Engineering is on the list for most visa fast track systems.

Uganda, like many African countries, has a skills shortage and a huge unemployment problem. Unlike Germany it has an education system that is not meeting the needs of the populace.

Furthermore the economy, although growing, isn’t big enough to provide jobs for all of the young people that do have skills and education. So unless you, dear British comrade, have useful skills to offer or can produce employment opportunities for the thousands of unemployed Ugandans, the government doesn’t really want you.

And so it shouldn’t.

Just because you’ve got a sociology degree from the University of Hull and a burning desire to help poor Africans (or perhaps just to live the good life in a sunny country) this doesn’t mean you should come to do a job that you wouldn’t be qualified for in the UK.

Britain does produce many highly qualified and useful people. I passionately believe that we could be leading the way in socially beneficial business, engineering and research. As a country we really do have the experience to do that and as a global population we need more people doing it.

But if you want to export your skills to another country, whether in the EU or the rest of the world, you need just that – skills.

Apart from that we all need to learn some languages.

Britain, the world is laughing at us.

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Filed under Economics, EU politics, Uganda