History of China in photos

IMG_0585One of the things I enjoy about London are the galleries and exhibitions, such as the one I visited yesterday. The Chinese Photobook at the Photographers Gallery explores aspects of China’s history from the Empire and Peoples Republic of China (1900 to 1949) to the present.

It’s beautifully laid out and worth the trip. Having said that I happily stumbled on it whilst visiting Oxford Street. The exhibition is open until 5th July this year. It was free entry when I went – a Saturday – but I don’t know whether there’s a charge for other days.

I personally enjoy looking at early period photographs and thinking about the development of the genre (film too. I miss the Museum of Moving Image).IMG_0581

Summer’s coming

I’m being a bit more mindful of my diet these days. No ‘fad’ diets – yet. It’s more about healthy eating.

I found this bottle of red wine in Sainsburys yesterday, reduced to £3.50. With 55 per cent reduced alcohol, and 35 per cent less calories, what’s not to like? Okay, granted there could be a lot not to like, but I reasoned that it’s from Australia so it can’t be that bad.

And actually I do like it. It’s like watered down wine, but very nice watered down wine, fruity and sweet.

I may be doing a lot of adding ice to my drinks this summer, including wines. Please don’t write back and tell me what a Philistine I am.

Nice light wine

A United Nations for these modern times – part two

From the C4D office, Sunamganj, BangladeshI don’t have children of my own, but I do have a delightful (usually!) nephew and niece, five and two respectively. As I age and watch others do so too, I increasingly realise that we have two legacy options (conscious or unconsciously): a devil may care attitude that says ‘I’m old and going to die anyway. I’ll just leave a trail of destruction behind, just as long as I’m alright.’ Or, to look at my own kids or those close to me and think: how can I leave this world a better place for you? The United Nations and its agencies do good work, often quietly away from the public eye. It’s up to people like me to communicate these to a sceptical public. The UN now strives to use new tech to tap into the world of young people: for example, UNAIDS use of crowdsourcing; the UNDP and Government’s, YouthConnekt in Rwanda. But good projects and PR can’t wallpaper over cracks, not for ever, anyway. And I fear the organisation as a whole will run itself into the ground unless it addresses some of its own potentially fatal car crash issues: heavy bureaucracy, lack of innovation, lack of transparency, misogynism and other prejudices, poor monitoring and evaluation of projects, too much obfuscation. Getting older doesn’t mean giving up a youthful spirit, or being closed to change, renewal and a dose of good sense and integrity. I’m not saying the UN doesn’t have these. It just needs a whole lot more. Innovating whilst continually referring back to core UN values (whilst refreshing those) is just one way to go.

National spending on aid and development

The UN's scope is wider than the Commonwealth countries. For example it reaches these Nigerien children.
The UN’s scope is wider than the Commonwealth countries. For example it reaches these Nigerien children.

0.7 % towards aid is nowhere near as high a portion of the UK national budget paid to defence or other areas. And I’m happy to pay my tax as long as the government(s) or receiving institutions use our money wisely. But, do they? The post-2015 vision of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Ms Clark and their colleagues at the UN will cost trillions, not billions, of dollars. Some of that long term development will be paid through the private sector and other avenues, not solely the public purse. Quite right. But for a sustainable future of greater peace and global stability, that money must still be put to good use. And the public made to understand that such is the case. In other words nonchalance isn’t an option. In the end much needed institutions like the UN and governments aren’t just impersonal systems. They are built and governed by people, for the people. People like you and me. So should we fail we can only blame ourselves.

Watch Helen Clark’s lecture here –


A United Nations for these modern times – part one

Helen Clark Commonwealth Lecture 2015Whilst waiting for my next assignment – wherever that may be – I’m making the most of home time in England. So on Thursday, 9th April, I attended Helen Clark’s Commonwealth lecture at the Guildhall in London. Ms Clark, UN Development Programme’s current chief and a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is tipped as a potential United Nations Secretary General. So her views could speak volumes about the future direction of the organisation. The theme of her talk was Youth, Innovation and Sustainable Development: the Commonwealth in a post-2015 world. Apt considering that “three in every five Commonwealth citizens are under the age of thirty” (her words). She continued:

“With youth comes energy, vibrancy and optimism – if there is a supportive environment and opportunity. That lays the ground for major positive contributions and a demographic dividend from the largest youth population the world has ever known. Yet a failure to invest in opportunity for youth can quickly lead to the opposite – to alienation and to energy turned to destructive rather than constructive directions. That is a future we invite at our peril. So, what kind of future is currently on offer for today’s children and young people…?”

She highlighted some global gains over the years, such as the halving of extreme income poverty, driven by progress in China. The (near) halving of children dying by age of five. And more women in parliaments around the world.

However, challenges remain. They include:

  • Gender inequality and gender based violence
  • Countries in conflict entrenched in poverty
  • Concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few
  • Political exclusion and lack of hope for young people leading to sectarian violence
  • Shocks of natural disasters, climate change and rapid urbanisation

Young people want jobs. Everyone, rightfully, wants fully functioning health and educational systems, as well as good governments. She also noted that development tends to be discussed separately from conflict at the United Nations. Not always helpfully I presume.

Moving forward

The United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggests that the post 2015 development agenda should comprise the following six elements:

  • Human dignity – fighting inequality of all kinds
  • Meeting the basic needs of people – jobs, social protection, etc.
  • Prosperity – economic growth
  • Planet – growth not at the cost of ecosystems
  • Partnerships – governments can’t build sustainable development alone. They need civil society, science, private sector…
  • Justice – peaceful and inclusive societies and institutions

There were some interesting Q&As. For example, a delegate suggested that micro financing is just as important as grand schemes. A point that particularly resonated with me, though, was one about the crisis in confidence towards institutions such as the UN, Commonwealth and European Union. And it’s not just the younger generation who are increasingly disillusioned and cynical about the effectiveness of these organisations. Will the sustainable development goals give space to addressing this deficit? ‘Someone has observed that we have more multi-polarity but not more multilateralism’ noted Ms Clark, who also posed the (rhetorical?) question: have too many been marginalised and excluded for too long?

As far as the post 2015 global agenda and environment is concerned, people often feel that the pace of multilateral institutions can be ‘glacial’, she said, with “the architecture of key multilateralism from the UN Security Council to the IMF being frozen in time.” The problem, she pointed out, is that we don’t have a whole lot of time.

Watch Helen Clark’s lecture here –