community development maori

Rejoicing in who we are

Pita Tipene

Pita Tipene is of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi and has an educational background having taught in Tai Tokerau secondary schools and worked in a number of regional and national administrative roles in the education sector. His is the current chairman of the Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust and has a number of other governance roles amongst his people including Deputy Chair of Te Runanga o Ngāti Hine, is on the Waitangi National Trust, and the Federation of Maori Authorities.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, who’s not here tonight and me, Samuel Mann.  Shane is not here tonight because I’m in Northland, in Kawakawa in the offices of Pita Tipene of Ngāti Hine.


Sam: Ngāti Hine, that’s the Hapū isn’t it?


Pita: Ngāti Hine is the Iwi.  Ngāti Te Tarawa the people who live in the valley of Motatau and surrounding valleys. It’s where I was raised. It’s the Hapū and part of the greater confederation of Hapū of Ngāpuhi here in Tai Tokerau Northland.


Sam: It’s a very active group. I’m seeing forestry and health centres and things?


Pita: Yeah we like to think that we’re very active on a whole number of fronts. We’re being left with a legacy of hundreds or thousands of years that people like me need to keep up with. We’re always focused on kaupapa. What’s the word for kaupapa? The various aspects that our ancestors have left for us. We remain focused on them principally. Our vision statement which Maori is Mau Ngāti Hine ano Ngāti Hine ekororo, which if you were to ask me what it means in English, it’s all about self-determination and self-reliance.


Sam: At this point I normally ask people where they grew up, but you’ve just answered it. Let’s just check. You grew up here?


Pita: I did. I grew up in Motatau, which is a small in valley in the inland valleys. I was schooled here in Motatau primary school till I was 14.  Then I went away to boarding school in Auckland. From there I went to university, and then I became a teacher and taught in Northland schools at Whāngārei Boys High and Bay of Islands College. Then I went into working with schools in Northland and eventually it led me into doing more local education work with the hapū, with the tribe. It has since led to a more political role.


Sam: Let’s go more slowly through that shall we? What was it like growing up?


Pita: It was fantastic growing up. When I look back I can see clearly, but when I was growing up I couldn’t see it. In hindsight we had the most wonderful parents and extended family. We were raised on a dairy farm. My job was to help milk cows, make fences and do all the other things you would otherwise do on a farm. We always had lots of food. We may not have been well off as some people would view prosperity, but certainly looking back we were surrounded with love and everything that we needed in life. Particularly the values I think that have led us to being what we are now.


Sam: What are those values?


Pita: Particularly Māori values. Looking after other members in our family, looking after the land, working hard, being industrious, making sure that we’re working with the rest of the community, and honesty, truthfulness, all of those virtues that you beg were to surround the world, I think.


Sam: I imagine that the dairy farms then weren’t as intensive as dairy farms are now.


Pita: Certainly not. Every family, of which they would have been 50 families in our local community, had between 20 to maybe 80 cows. The milking sheds were very small. We produced cream not milk. We raised calves for the following years and pigs and every other kind of animal. That allowed our family to be self-sustainable, but it also allowed us to support other people in the community and particularly the marae, which was the focal point of the whole community where deaths were mourned and weddings, birthdays and every other celebration was held. We had to put our shoulder to the wheel by providing labour through everything else for the community good.


Sam: Does this still exist?


Pita: Yes it still very much does exist, although I think, and when I talked about legacy, our ancestor Kawiti who died in 1854, he was renowned here in Northland for leading the war against the English, the treaty of Waitangi having been signed in 1840. Five years later Kawiti and Hōne Heke led the war known … generally now it’s the Northern wars against the forces of the English. During those tumultuous times he made a number of prophesies. One of the lines he uttered was “kei poi pakeha koutou” which means you must not be assimilated in your ways into the English culture, which means retain your land as a basis for you to stand on. Retain your culture and your language and ensure that you stay together as a people and keep up your culture in order to sustain yourself over the long term.


Sam: Land, culture, language, how closely linked are those for you?


Pita: They are so closely intertwined. You can’t really divide them. Ngāti Hine is a tribe that is probably more well off than many others in that we retained most of our land. The land blocks if you go through places like Motatau and Matawaia which adjoin each other. All of that land is still owned by our families. That allows us to have a place to stand, to practice our culture. In 1975 a national research project was held about the state of Māori language in New Zealand. It was led by Dr. Richard Benton. The results of the survey said that there were only three places in New Zealand where today Māori was still spoken as an everyday language of conversation.


Those being Ngāti Hine, Tuhoe – that you would know – and Te Kawa in the very far north. When you look at what all those places have in common, they are a little bit more isolated than most places and it’s allowed the culture to be retained and to flourish.


Sam: You saw a pathway that led you out of those valleys. You wanted to be a teacher. What prompted that?


Pita: I didn’t want to be a teacher. I was led down that path. I could have taken a number of paths, but there were little things in life that lead you down a particular path. One of those being in about 1973, I was a 12 year old some trainee teachers came from Auckland to teach in our school. They carried out a few tests of the students. When they took me aside and looked at the results of my tests, they made it pretty clear that I was … what I thought they were saying was is that I was above average. They made it very clear that I needed to figure myself to go to university and follow that path of learning and it really made a difference in my life.


I felt, “Well, maybe I do have some ability!” I didn’t really think that I had. That encouraged me. Somewhat all of my family went to boarding school and there are 10 of us. I’m number eight out of 10. I was sent to St. Stephen School just south of Auckland. Spent five years there and got all of the qualifications that were then available.


Sam: I talked to Chris Sarra from the Stronger Smarter Institute in Australia. He talked about the impact on him, an event that he particularly remembered was a teacher that was handing back an exam and said, “Sarra got 75%, must have been an easy test.” Two things that that did to him is one: It stopped him trying any harder because 75% must be good, but second, it made him realize that what teachers do and say is as important as what they teach.  About the expectations, that we need to raise the expectations. Every teacher needs to believe in every kid. It’s a similar thing to what those trainee teachers did for you is believed in you.


Pita: That’s not to take away anything from the teachers who taught me every day. I think they all had their particular ways. They all seemed to care. Some used the care, some used the stick. It all came together and worked. I think they were all trying to get the same results, which were to get me to try harder. Those were some of the methods that used to channel me on to a more positive pathway.


Sam: You eventually trained yourself to be a teacher?


Pita: Yeah. I went to university. Did a degree that focused on Te reo Māori as a major and also geography. Eventually I became a Te Reo Māori language teacher and a geography teacher. When you get into those environments and the people around you are all dedicated to achieving their goals, you get swept along as well.


Sam: Why geography?


Pita: I think geography because my geography teacher at St. Stephens was a very good teacher. She really gave me some impetus with the subject particularly given that it’s about people and it’s about land. I think I’ve always had a passion for people and land in terms of a social approach. It was very much my cup of tea.


Sam: Then you went to teacher training?


Pita: I did.  At first I came back here to the township of Moerewa. By then my wife and I had had a child, so I needed some money. I worked in a local freezing works for two years. I worked on the mutton chain.   In those days we got paid some big money. That helped us get established before I went back to training … teacher training in Auckland. Then began teaching in earnest at schools.


Sam: You taught in a variety of schools?


Pita: Not really. I only taught in two, but then I became an advisor to schools for Māori language. I travelled the length and breadth of all of the schools north of Auckland.


Sam: Eventually you found your way moving from that to you said to more local education?


Pita: Yeah to local education for Ngāti Hine and working with the local schools in this particular area. I have a passion for our people of Ngāti Hine. I wanted to focus my work on our own people which led me to getting into more political aspects of what Ngāti Hine was trying to achieve, which as I’ve said earlier was self-determination and self-reliance.


Sam: Why?


Pita: My father who died in 1979, I was 18 and was still in my last year in secondary school, had said to me prior to dying, passing away that…


Haere ki te wharewananga, ka reira koe ka matau ai, engari me hoki mai koe ki te kainga, konei koe ka mohio.


…which when translated means go away to university for there you will find knowledge and you will also get some qualifications, but ensure that you come home because here you will acquire … how would I describe it? Wisdom and common sense. To answer your question …


Sam: Did you understand what that meant then?


Pita: Not really. I’m still not sure that I understand it now to be honest. Ngāti Hine, we have our own customs than most. He was saying don’t ever lose the essence of what we are as a people because otherwise we could be anybody in the world. You will stand as a person based on those very cultural aspects and most that we have here in our unique valleys of Ngāti Hine. I’m still searching.


Sam: Tell me about the work you were doing when you said you were trying to focus on the local education, focusing on the local people. What were you doing on a day to day basis? What does that mean?


Pita: At first it was getting an education strategy for Ngāti Hine, but it’s grown into much more than that which is an overall strategy for Ngāti Hine, using our whānau, our families, our marae our cultural centres and our hapū to be self-sustainable. Above all things one of the focal points for us is to ensure that Ngāti Hine retains its sovereignty. As far as we’re concerned, our Rangatira or chief who signed the treaty of Waitangi with Governor Hopson in 1840, he uttered some words at that time and they were taken down, which basically said, “When everyone else signed on February the sixth 1840, he refused to sign because he said his chiefly authority would be undermined and he would no longer be able to do the things that he wanted to do.”


Which meant his tribe would not be able to do the things that they wanted to do. He didn’t sign. Although he signed a little bit later on and that’s famous in itself because even though he signed a long time after everyone else, his name was recorded as the first one because he signed above everyone else. Then five years later it precipitated a full scale war where many, many people were killed in this area. The upshot was is that the Governor pardoned Kawiti, pardoned is the word, and Ngāti Hine retained all of its land and still retains it now.


Above all things we want to retain our land. In fact we want to get our land back into our hands as a basis for our people to stand and grow and sustain themselves which is why I put my name up for election on a Ngāti Hine forestry trust. I’m now the chairman after being a trustee on there for the last 12 years. I’m also the deputy chairman for Ngāti Hine Whānau which is a tribal authority. At the base of the tribal authority are all 13 of marae. Membership or representation on the runanga, the tribal council has its membership through each of the marae. When I talk about Sovereignty, we prosecuted a case to the Waitangi Tribunal.


An independent inquiry set up here through statute of New Zealand. We prosecuted a case against the government, against the crown in 2010 and 2011. We had not ceded our sovereignty to the New Zealand Government and that in fact they had … achieved sovereignty in an underhand way. We spent five weeks of giving evidence. In 2014 the Waitangi Tribunal came back and upheld our case and said, “Yes there is a strong case that the hapū, including Ngāti Hine, have not ceded sovereignty.” In 2016 and beyond, we’ve got to look at what that means for us as a tribe here in this area and how in fact we will get back the authority that was once ours in this area knowing full well that we only make up maybe 40% of the population in this area.


Sam: What would you like it to mean?


Pita: I think it means that, in my mind, that the lands of Ngāti Hine are back in our … under our administration and that we are administering governance as we see it. Sovereignty, when people talk about sovereignty, they invariably start talking about sovereignty in terms of political sovereignty. You get sovereignty that manifests itself through economic sovereignty, and when you look at some of the other tribes throughout New Zealand who’ve settled their treaty grievances against the government, say Ngāi Tahu in the South Island and Waikato Tainui, they got treaty settlement packages of 175 million in 1995.


Their books last year, they’d grown that well over a billion dollars. It comes down to having that economic muscle to do the things that you want to do in your area.


Sam: What do you want to do?


Pita: Ultimately we want to ensure that our people have the wellbeing and prosperity that they deserve. That is their right because every statistic at the moment will tell you that we are an impoverished people even though they have wealth in their own ways as I did when I was a child. We’ve got to work on improved wellbeing because our health statistics are terrible, and prosperity to have a high standard of living. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re cash rich. In terms of prosperity we want to have options in this world. We want our children to stand anywhere in the world with confidence and competence.


If they’re to do that, they need a tool-box full of all the skills they can stand on good stead anywhere in the world. Above all things they must have their language and their culture that belongs to Ngāti Hine.


Sam: Pull all those things together you’re involved in several different aspects of it whether the trust, or however you’re managing it, in health and forest and education? They are all contributing to the same bigger picture?


Pita: They’re all contributing to the same aspiration, which is about self-reliance. I think key to that is education. I think that as much as you and I are both having a cup of tea, that’s an English Breakfast and it’s a manifestation of colonisation. That we have been well and truly colonised, and it’s what our ancestor Kawiti said in 1846 about being assimilated. I guess we … when I say education above all things, you can have skills like technological skills but we need to liberate our minds from our colonial past. At the same time, and this may sound very, very selfish, but just like any culture we want to take the best of what’s on offer while retaining all of the strengths that we have as a unique people.


Sam: What do you see as the future for this area? You haven’t mentioned tourism.  What’s the role of that in this area?


Pita: All of the economic areas that we have some strong resources, land, people, skills, the beauty of the Bay of Islands, all of those are attributes that would be foolish not to harness.  Tourism is one of those areas. I talk to people who administer the mini-cruise ships that are now coming into the Bay of Islands. If I put it this way in the 1820s and 30s, the Bay of Islands was full of ships that came in for wailing and what have you. When the sailors came to the Bay of Islands after several months at sea they wanted certain things. Our local chiefs used to provide them with all of the things that a sailor might want.


That’s no different in 2016 when large cruise ships with anything between 2,000 and 5,000 passengers come in. They’re all wanting something different and Ngāti Hine needs to pull its shoulder to the wheel to help provide opportunities for tourists to come inland and also make use of the money that they have in their wallets. Just like anything else we’re looking for prosperity in a number of ways and tourism is one of them.


Sam: We’re in Kawakawa, which is famous for two things:  Hundertwasser toilets and a train line down the middle of the road.  Maybe that’s why it’s so famous with my family.


Pita: What’s probably not known very much is we have the final Pā which is the defensive fort.  Ruapekapeka … the battle of Ruapekapeka 1845/46 it’s a place that people get a chill running up their spine when they go there because although the palisades, defences have been taken down, the ditches and the defensive ramparts are all still there and the  stories are still there. You’ve got the Waiomio caves. You’ve got a whole lot of marae. You can go anywhere in the world but the only place that you’re going to meet Māori, feel their customs and see their customs and experience those things are in places like Ngāti Hine.


Sam: What would you do for the money? Would you mine?


Pita: Mine minerals?


Sam: Yeah.


Pita: Depending we always look at things on a case by case basis. If there is any possibility of it being detrimental to the environment then the answer would be no. If they could be extracted in a way that’s safe for all concerned and we’ve got proof for that, yeah we’d consider it.


Sam: With any of those economic activities, there is a balance. The forestry will be having an impact on the water quality. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Do you have a world view about how those things are managed, those tensions are managed?


Pita: Certainly from a Ngāti Hine forestry trust I am the chairman. Our people as shareholders make it very, very clear that they’re not happy with the Pinus radiata  we have over our lands. We’ve therefore come up with a strategy of what we call a mosaic approach. We will return the land to its natural cover, natural vegetation, but there’ll be an intergenerational approach but we need to start now. We’re looking at manuka as a way of retaining some cash flow. We’re forced to re-plant pine again in some areas. In the mosaic approach means we’ll look at native trees allowing to regenerate on some blocks.


Actually planting some ourselves to ensure that we’re starting the mosaic approach. Eventually we don’t want to have Pinus radiata out there on our lands. Although I think we need a lot more science around the environmental questions that are posed. Much of it is perception. We need the science.


Sam: You’re encouraging people to go off to university to get science?


Pita: Yeah, certainly. We’re really, really keen to get our people involved in all aspects of the work that we’re doing. We haven’t got … We’re probably a little bit better off. I’m not being arrogant about this. We’re probably a little bit better off than some of the other Hapū and Iwi tribes in Northland, but still we’re nowhere near the capacity and capability. We need to achieve the vision in a quick way.


Sam: Still quite a lot of those logs getting shipped off to Korea or wherever it is.


Pita: Yeah. We’re not pleased with it which is why our forestry trust is providing some leadership for all similar sized trusts in Northland to come together because we know that critical mass is needed if we’re going to control the value chain. That’s what it’s all about really in the end. One thing is to understand the value chain because for far too long people like me have been passive managers of their own land. All of our block had been leased out to a foreign company. They had the stumpage rights so eventually although we got an annual lease, they took the logs, and had control over the logs. The majority of them would have been sent overseas.


Some would have supplied the domestic mills, which give our local people jobs. In the end we want greater value add. We haven’t got the capital to provide the startup for any value added mills. We just need to get into a position where we can collectively, and so far we’ve got over 50,000 hectares of trusts and other entities who have created a coalition on Northland of mighty land owners. We can now say to potential investors, “We can supply you with certainty over a long period because we have 50,000 hectares plus of Pinus radiata. If you’re willing to invest, we will enter into some partnership to ensure that everyone benefits, including our local communities,” because we don’t want to continually see logs being shipped off overseas and then returned as a table that you and I are now sitting around.


Sam: Not just paper mills, you’re trying to build the furniture?


Pita: Aye too, but boutique industries where small towns and communities can work together with a collective strategy.


Sam: You’re about to lose your railway?


Pita: By all accounts.


Sam: Not the steam one, the real one.


Pita: Yeah. They call it mothballing which is the same thing. The moment you mothball something it will deteriorate. We need a government that is going to invest in our local community and our region. I think they are but for political reasons that anything else.


Sam: As far as that is the … back to the geography in both of us being able to see the whole system as a system and as separate bits. Is probably what leads to things like closing railways because the railway is not paying for itself but we’re having to invest so much money on the road. Those two things don’t ever get on the same bit of paper.


Pita: I think there’s a bit of siloed thinking. One thing that I can commend the government for is that I think they bring a more holistic strategy to their approach. Different ministries and agencies within the government are really only interested in their own imperatives and the KPIs that each of the CEOs have on their contracts. That forces them to think in isolated ways.


Sam: I’m told you have grandchildren. When they have grandchildren how do you want them to be living how do you see them living?


Pita: It’s like when I said to you when we first started this interview, do you want me to speak in English? I want them to be able to speak in English because it’s a fantastic global language but I also want them to speak to their Māori or te reo Ngāti Hine. I want them to … I suppose I’m trying to articulate what our mission is all about which is to allow them to be strong Ngāti Hine people based on their own language and culture.  Stand anywhere in the world with all the other skills that they need to do that as well. I want them to be proud of who they are because I think in general subliminally that our people are … think of themselves as second class citizens. We’re slowly but truly breaking out of that mould.


Sam: For not knowing their background detail, I don’t think that anybody I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days is not proud of who they are. Maybe you think something different because you’re closer to it. You’ve seen behind the curtain.


Pita: I know quite a few Māori and Ngāti Hine who are not proud of who they are. I’m not necessarily talking as though, how can I say this? When I say that within themselves, they put themselves down because they see themselves as a second … that being Māori is not right so they purposely suppress themselves without even knowing it. Maybe subliminally there’s something in their makeup that’s telling them that they’re not up there and that anybody with white skin is. I go even further to say that many of the institutions that run this country and provide education, health and every other services institutionally racist towards Māori as well.


Sam: In expectation?


Pita: In expectation and in practice. I can give countless examples. All other things are changing for the good. There was a time not only women did not have the vote but Māori didn’t have the vote. That tells you what people were thinking of Māori and women. Things have obviously changed over time. There was also a time not long ago when Māori were led into more hands on subjects, practical things. They couldn’t do math and science. They had to go and do wood-turning and things like that. Although much has changed in our education system, there are still those subliminal aspects. You can hear it in people’s everyday language.


They say, “Oh I’ve got a lot of Māori in our harvesting group because they’re good at that work,” which tells you they are better for holding a chainsaw than being the manager.


Sam: Is there a short term effect for that or do we have to … is that long term? Is that getting the kids when they’re young believing that they can do it and taking them right through that chain? Can we be the ambulance of the ultimate cliff or do we have to …


Pita: Oh no the whole system needs change. When you look at it, our education system was brought over from where you come from, from England. Its very core is to retain power and authority in a certain class. Even in England the lower classes were suppressed and weren’t offered an education that would bring them up into and have abilities like the upper class would have. The system we have in New Zealand is still a carryover from that. Even though we’ve slowly but truly tried to change it.


Sam: You are changing it with things like the education trust?


Pita: Yes. Certainly. It’s why our grandchildren go to Kura Kaupapa where everything they’re taught is taught in Te Reo Māori. That’s really trying to break them out of the mould and unshackle them from colonial thinking.


Sam: This show is called “sustainable lens”. I don’t hear the term sustainable much around here and our mutual friend Philip Crawford describes that as because it’s more a way of living than a thing you do. You don’t do it anyway then green it. This is the way of being. What’s your take on sustainability and what you’re trying to achieve?


Pita: I think that sustainability is a term that’s thrown around a lot but understood. People don’t actually stop to think what it means, myself being one of those. I think it’s really akin to the word that I use that’s central to our vision statement which is self-reliance. We just need to sustain ourselves as people through the future. What that means is that as individuals, as families, as Māori, in our cultural sectors and as a tribe, we need to be able to rely on ourselves for food, and every other aspect that will ensure that we have well-being, that we’re healthy and that we have prosperity. I guess that manifests itself at the moment.


We would have the highest… some of the highest percentages or numbers of people that reliant to live everyday through benefits from the government. That’s really what we don’t want. Having real jobs, warm, safe, secure homes, really at the basis of sustaining ourselves, growing our own food to ensure that we are reliant on ourselves.


Sam: If and when you get a treaty settlement, if or when, how are you going to stop the calls for a big party? The ones that are for handing out cash? Because it sounds to me like you’re going to be wanting to invest in jobs and homes.


Pita: Yeah. The answer to your question will be when not if.  When it does come, we want to ensure that it’s being controlled by the people in each of the areas so that I’m not a great believer in the trickle-down theory.  While on one hand we need to keep some critical mass of funds that can be managed for the greater good. There really has to be some injection of real funds into the communities without breaking down the critical mass. It’s a fine balance between keeping generic pull to invest and distributing it amongst the people to get immediate change. Provide some impetus in the communities.


That’s going to be the trick as far as I’m concerned. I’m very, very conscious of the fact that treaty settlements are not the vision. There are already a number of initiatives that are happening in terms of economic and social improvement like Māori first re-collective like Te Matarau Education Trust that Phil Alexander Crawford is involved in.   We come in to give on a regional basis. To get our heads around the problems but more importantly to put in place the solutions of which the treaty settlement is all about.  If you can get millions of dollars them I would like it to be 1% of the general loss of land and other assets over the last couple of hundred years.


While that is always hugely frustrating, we need to use any cash settlement in any other part of the general settlement like the return of lands for the benefit of our people.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Pita: It’s a very good question. If you were … If I was to think of something tangible, it would be the sale of our forest within our general forests where we made a stumpage sale to foreign firm, foreign company. They paid cash up front, put it in the bank account. That’s something you can see easily its really tangible. There’s money in the bank. Our ancestors had grown trees for that very purpose and we managed it carefully. On another more general way I think it’s the ability of our people here in Ngāti Hine to come together on a regular basis and celebrate who we are because it’s the relationships that are more important and to celebrate success.


We hold festivals where our people come back from wherever they may live in the world mostly from Auckland. We celebrate who we are on our local marae. It’s over a couple of days and it’s just fantastic to see people on the stage and the food it’s cooked and everything else that are part of festivals. The people rejoice in who they are.  In a more intangible way there are some real success stories like that. In another couple of months for instance we’ve invited all of our people and their literally could be hundreds who kayak down our local river from the three bridges north of this town down to the Opua Wharf.


It’s a 13k trip and we start the river will be hopefully wide enough to fit a kayak. What was once our state highway number one we went … we plied the river now there’s nobody who knows the river. By getting down in a kayak, we can see some of the environmental issues that we’re faced with. Spiritually we are very much part of the river and the river is very much part of us.  In terms of successes you can measure them in ways like that. Other things, I’m the chairman at our Motatau Marae. It took us five years to rebuild our dining room, kitchen, ablution block. It was a huge community to gather together I would say three million dollars fund raising and acquiring grounds.


In the end it’s a magnificent building. It serves our people well. More importantly the journey of collecting the money and building was absolutely fantastic.


Sam: That’s similar to that ‘rejoicing in who they are’ stuff, isn’t it?


Pita: It always is. That’s the best stuff. The money you can go and get that and put it in the bank and use it wisely but it’s the people relationships that are more important. It always comes down to the fact that we like to express ourselves as a people in our own unique ways.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes as if we’re writing it 20 years in the future looking back at the work that people are doing now, people such as yourself and whether or not you want to put yourself on that pedal stall and describe yourself as a hero, I’ll do that for you. What is your super power? What is it you’re bringing to this good fight?


Pita: Nothing special at all that I bring. Probably the only thing that I bring is perseverance. I have no real skills but I’ll always keep my shoulder to the wheel. It gets really challenging at times. Putting your head above the parapets means a lot of people want to have a go at you. Those people are in the minority. The majority of people I think appreciate the work that we’re all doing. I’m very much a people person. I’m part of a team.


Sam: Do describe yourself as an activist?


Pita: In my own funny little way. I’m not and out activist but I like to say things absolutely plainly. I like to be forthright so people don’t misunderstand me.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Pita: Both my past and my future. As I said we have a legacy of a number of people. My parents for a start, grandparents, our rangitira Kawiti and Sir James Henare and Tau Henare, you could name quite a few people. In the end it’s all of them together who have left messages for us to pursue a goal of self-reliance. I just want to be part of that journey and to provide any leadership that I can. At the same time it’s going to be lovely to have our grandchildren living nearby so I pretty much see them every day. If I can take them to the kura to their school every morning, that’s a bonus. The conversations I have with them and the values that I try to install in them is a real motivation in itself.


Sam: Is that in terms of motivation in terms pure in the goal of self-reliance is it? What’s the driver there? Is that an obligation?


Pita: It really is an obligation. One of the sayings of Sir James Henare who was my dad’s first cousin who said “ma to werawera o tou rae te mahi o to iwi ka tu tangata ai koe” which means by the sweat of your brow and working for your people will you find … only then you will find fulfilment. You will not find it in cash; you will not find it anywhere else. You will find it in working for your people.


Sam: You have to stick your head above the parapet as you said to achieve that.


Pita: Yeah, somebody has to. There’s a lot of reluctance by some to do that. They don’t want to be in that world but I realise that I have to amongst a number of others.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Pita: I’m looking forward to our tribe Ngāti Hine withdrawing from Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi. That’s provided for in legislation. We’re working through that we’re down to the last parts of the complaints which will allow Ngāti Hine to govern itself without any interference. Also to bring about a treaty settlement that’s a fair as possible because it’s never going to be fair. That’s got a whole lot of challenges in itself. About all things it’s about my own family. You can’t really look anywhere else and think you’re going to play a part if you can’t get your own house in order particularly around the grand children and making sure that they’re able to be raised in an environment that’s safe and secure.


Sam: How close have you managed to pull off the community-land-people connection that you had growing up for your family? Have you tried?


Pita: Yeah to a certain extent. I look back and I think I’ve got a few regrets in how we raised our own children. You get a second chance when your grandchildren are around. Most people try to learn from your mistakes. There was a lifestyle in my 20s and 30s that was pursuing other things. Seeing that I’m absolutely proud of our children and that they are great people doing really well.


Sam: They’ve got the same passion?


Pita: At this stage of life yes. Some of these things grow on you. I was on a totally different drive when I was a 20 and a 30 year old. As some of the leaders in our own small communities start to pass away and you start looking around and you realise that you really have to step up and fill the bridge. It grows on you. Like many of my relatives they say “wow learning about our genealogy is a fantastic thing. Now I know what our parents were trying to tell us”.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur when you wake up tomorrow morning, what would you like it to be?


Pita: It’s really to achieve the vision that our people in this area and I’m not just talking about Ngāti Hine, I’m talking about the surrounding tribes. The aspect that our ancestors were trying to achieve. I would like New Zealand to be a bilingual country. That you and I could speak Māori, speak te reo Māori as competently as we’re now speaking English. All of us like it’s just a normal way of life. That we’re not having to fight to have Māori as a way of living. I just think that little New Zealand doesn’t see that. What I see is a thing that we should be aspiring to. Certainly our politicians don’t either because they reflect middle New Zealand.


In a wider sense I want New Zealand to be a bi-cultural country. I mean bi-cultural not multi-cultural.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would make the biggest difference towards that?


Pita: For me it’s working with my own family getting my own house in order.


Sam: One question to end with then, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Pita: These really needs a lot more thought… I think that we’re all seeking to be a global community and to be truly global we need to both cultivate, strengthen and enhance the small villages that we have throughout the world. To retain that uniqueness and unity through diversity as a key. That’s what I believe in – as long as we can accept and understand the differences just looking what’s happening in other parts of the word that divergence of culture is leading to a lot of loss of life and some real anxieties in some parts of the world and we’re not … we’ve got obviously anxieties and challenges in our own community but be contrast we know some of the other things that are happening in other parts of the world.


Sam: Thank you very much for spending some time!


Pita: It’s my privilege. It’s really important that I reflect on some of the things that have happened in my life because I never get asked questions like these.


Sam: More than happy to oblige. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me Samuel Mann. We are broadcast on Otago Access Radio and podcast on On we’re building an archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens.


Tonight’s Sustainable Lens, he might not describe it that way, but let’s do that anyway was that of Pita Tipene from NgaÌ„ti Hine. You can follow our links on to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch and you can listen to Sustainable Lens on all poddy places as well. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show.




development education geography health Inequality

teaching social activism

Bob Huish

There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements…Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience?


Our guest tonight is Associate Professor Bob Huish from Dalhousie University. He’s part of the International Development Studies Department at Dalhousie, and a recipient of the 2015 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada.

His research explores ways in which social activism can lead to comprehensive development outcomes. He focuses on global health inequity and the role of activism in bringing about improved provision of healthcare and resource poor settings. Beyond community based health advocacy, he examines how medical education acts as a determinant of global health and equity, particularly with regards to Cuban Medical Internationalism.

It is well known that while many diseases favour the poor, the ability to treat and prevent illness tends to favour the affluent, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later. He pursues research about the pedagogies of activism and the organization of social resistance. He also explores the role of sport for development with special attention to Cuba and how this facilitates comprehensive development as well as organized forms of resistance.

At the moment, he’s currently working on following four areas, might be some more when he talks about it a little bit later on: Cuba sports internationalism solidarity, the pace of activism in the future of the university, global health assets, and human rights activism in North Korea.

He’s presenting a lecture entitled, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Bounds.” Dark connections between offshore capital sanctions and human rights abuses in North Korea, which sounds very exciting there. It’s on the 14th of September at 1:00 PM, it’s in St David St lecture theatre. You also have one on Tuesday, which we just found out about before the lecture at 5:00 PM on Tuesday. I’m going to talk to you about that in a second.

You’re also currently the Ron Lister fellow in the Department of Geography, the University of Otago, which is why you’re here. Welcome to our show. Welcome to New Zealand.

Bob: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here and loving being in Dunedin.

Shane: This all sounds really fascinating, but tell us what the lecture you’re giving on Tuesday.

Bob: Tuesday is the Ron Lister Visiting Fellow lecture. That’ll be at 5:15 on the campus. I believe it will be in room … I’ll find it for you.

Shane: You find it and get back to us. (Burns 2)

Bob: Yes, I’ll get back to you on that. It’s going to be talking about some of the research I’m doing involving North Korean human rights. As geographers, as the department of geography, we are all about going to places, experiencing that place, learning about the land, the life, the interactions. What I’m talking about on Tuesday is as a geographer, how do you research a place that you cannot go to, that is totally forbidden.

To go to North Korea, if you were there as a tourist, you would spend about €4000 for a week there, and you’d be given this veneer tourism. If you were to go in there illegally, you would risk your life. It’s very hard to get to see the realities of a place like that. Yet we know that this is an area that requires both scholarly and moral attention. How do we address it? That’s what I’ll be talking about on Tuesday night.

Shane: That sounds really exciting. Before we get into that, this is just absolutely fascinating stuff for me here. These are really, really interesting topics. We’ll go back and we’ll talk about, you grew up in Canada, I take it?

Bob: I did, yes. Six generations, Canadian, both sides, mother side and the father side.

Shane: Where in Canada were you brought up?

Bob: I was brought up in a place called Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Wasaga Beach’s claim to fame is that it is the longest freshwater beach in the world.

Shane: Wow. Was that mean that you spend lots of summer evenings down on the beach?

Bob: Absolutely. It’s a place where you have 18 kilometers of pristine beach. It’s inimitable. Then a couple of areas of the beach, we would let the tourists come over and take over and destroy the place, but we would maintain at least a good 16 kilometers for local activities. Now it’s a provincial park that’s protected for environmental sustainability as well. Lovely spot.

Shane: Is this what got your interested in geography? What made you become a geographer? Was that something that happened in school, or is it just something?

Bob: It was. I grew up wanting to travel and explore and take photos along the way. I remember telling the guidance counselors at the high school that I was going to either be a pilot or a National Geographic photographer. To be a National Geographic photographer, good luck. All the best to those to do it, but it’s a very competitive field. I figured a pilot would be a good way to see the world. When I went in for my medical test at the age of 16, the physician who did the test, you go through a few things, gets onto the eyes and he takes out the colour blindness book, and I’m seeing numbers that he doesn’t.

I remember him laughing out loud about how hilarious this was. I just saw, at the moment, my entire career and future just fading away. I went and talked to a high school teacher, Dave Knox, who had a radio show himself, avid rock and roll fantastic, but also very dedicated geographer. He pointed me in the direction in geography. It’s a field that will, pardon the pun, but it’ll take you places. I’ve stuck with it ever since.

Shane: Brilliant.

Sam: Shane’s always incredulous that people want to be geographers. We of course understand why you’d want to be a geographer.

Shane: It’s just that in school, it’s taught in the most boring way. Once you get to university, it resembles nothing compared to what you did in school. I’m always fascinated by this, physics is natural continuation but … Did you get frustrated with how high school teaches geography?

Bob: At the time, I was fortunate to have some really good high school teachers. Dave Knox was one, this other guy, Wayne Hunwicks, he was a fantastic teacher. I was really fortunate to have that growing up. Now looking back, to look at what a lot of geography is presented, in Canadian high school, I can speak to specifically, there is a disconnect. I think that when students come into university and they have an idea of what geography is in terms of making maps and capitals and mountains and ice and whatever else, to see the rich context that geographers, researchers and university professors bring to the table, it can be a very uphill battle for students in the first year or so.

Then once you realize how appreciated geographic research is in other disciplines, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Shane: Yeah, you always just think it’s like what you learned in school….boring, but it’s not, it’s just absolutely fascinating and really … You examine so many different areas of life. Let’s rush on. You obviously got interested in health.

Bob: Yes.

Shane: How did you get interested in health?

Bob: It was when I started doing work in Cuba. My Master’s project involve trips to Cuba to do work there. It was more in a historical, cultural geography framework. When I was in Cuba on the first day of arriving, this would’ve been April 30th. Still a bit chilly in Canada. You have a group of Canadian students who are coming down to the Caribbean for the first time, and we are exposed to this beautiful Caribbean sea. The first thing you want to do is jump into it.

No matter what culture you’re in, what language you speak, a red flag on the beach means what?

Sam: Danger.

Bob: Stay out of the water. Next thing you know, I’m the first guy in. It was this wave that came up, crashed over me, over my head, took me down and did one of those things where you’re corkscrewing. Smash, right into the rocks. I had my shoulder hanging open. I remember crawling out with one hand out of the beach and these two guys come in and they say, “we’ve got to take you to the hospital, man.” I thought, “I don’t want to go to a Cuban hospital, this isn’t what I want. It’s okay, I’ll walk it off.” You look over and the shoulder’s gaping.

They put me in the back of a ’53 Oldsmobile, picked up another guy who’d cut his foot open on a beer bottle, and we went straight to the hospital. We were both stitched up, cleaned up and out the door in 20 minutes. The next day, a nurse actually came by the hotel and said, “Hey, how’s that guy with the shoulder?” This was a time when some of the most wealthy and affluent countries were exercising extreme austerity on their healthcare systems. To me, being in a resource poor country that has many democratic and social problems, to extend that healthcare to a foreigner for no cost really resonated. I wanted to know why that was.

From there, it opens up a whole new area about what is healthcare, why does place matter to it, what can we bring to learn more about how this experience can be repeated.

Shane: Do you ever reflect on that one moment possibly changed your whole direction of your career?

Bob: It definitely did. What I did was I went back and started to do research in Cuba for a few years. After that moment, I started to look more about the health indicators. You see that in almost every category, Cuba, whose economy is not that great, especially then, it was in line with Mozambique and Vanuatu in terms of economic growth, but its health indicators were outperforming most European countries, certainly outperforming the US and Canada in many regards.

When you start looking at the data about what their health indicators are, their capacity to train physicians and nurses, their approach to health, not as a product of a physician’s craft, but as being produced from issues of community sustainability, that opened up the whole gates. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Shane: That’s quite a different fundamental point of view approach to healthcare and approach to community and approach to resource allocation. What have you learned from that? You’ve probably learned huge amounts, but what main teachings have you got from that?

Bob: When I offer my course on global health in Canada, the first question I ask my students is to define what is health, just to define. You’ll get a few answers that’ll come back. It could range from the absence of illness or to have good functionality as an organism. Some people will identify that it’s the broader conditions that maintain health and well being.

If any of your listeners have an iPhone or a dictionary on their tablet or computer right now, just punch in what’s the definition of health. It will probably come up in just a regular dictionary, the absence of illness. I find that very interesting because no other definition in the dictionary defines something for which it is not. You do not identify an apple as not being an orange.

We have structured so much of our attention on understanding what health is, as being the absence of illness. We really don’t understand what maintains and produces health in the first place. It goes far beyond bio medicine and it has a lot to do with social equity and justice, social movements and the ability for people to take care of each other. That’s a really important and under explored area for health and health studies.

Shane: Did the revolution in Cuba and the focus on community and … Do you think that produces that different philosophical framework?

Bob: Absolutely. When you look at what the Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, those guys, when they got into that, it was about agrarian reform, it was about land redistribution. That was their movement. There were other movements in Cuba. There was an urban movement, there was a student movement, there was a communist movement. They all had different goals.

With the Cuban revolution, the first thing was land reform, and then education, and then health. It wasn’t until 1962 that Cuba officially nationalized its healthcare system. Now, it’s one of the greatest drivers of its economy. It’s opened up doors around the world, even to warm up relationships with the United States. Initially, it wasn’t the focus. The focus was to try to get access to resources and education for the poor, and then from there, build health capacity.

Shane: On reflection, is that the right order to do it in? I think a lot of people keep saying, how do you best promote healthcare? I think your dad said this, Sam, was about having educate first, and then the health improvements go in. Remember that conversation we had? Is that something that you would agree with? Is that order right?

Bob: Yeah. The fact that if you look at how our health systems operate around the world, they’re usually there to make sure that there is good employment for health workers and that patients don’t go bankrupt in the process. Most well functioning healthcare systems follow that guideline to a degree. Very few of them really look at health promotion and disease prevention in the same close net, well organized sense.

When you look at a lot of health promotion material, it’ll often deal with individual behaviour change. Don’t smoke, try to drink less, exercise, et cetera. Just look at the smoking factor, for example. You walk into a doctor’s office, they’re going to ask you if you smoke, no matter what it is. If you have a cut on your toe, are you a smoker? That’ll come up. We know that in most societies, it’s the poor, the people who are the lowest income brackets, are also the most frequent and heavy smokers. Why do we look at something like that in terms of individual behaviour change and instead of seeing this as an issue of equity, of demographics, of income inequity, of social equity?

If you re-approach the question that way, you may be able to find strategies that are more effective than simply putting up bus ads to encourage people not to smoke.

Shane: It really is very much community based, equity. What can the west learn from this?

Bob: Let’s go back to Cuba for a minute. Some people call it the Cuban paradox, where you’ve got such a low income on a national level compared to wealthier nations, yet their health determinates right across the board are fantastic. One theory is that the levels of income aren’t that great in Cuba. The person who earns the top and the person who earns the least, there isn’t that great of a differential between the two. There’s some research on that that came out of the Whitehall Studies in the ’60s in the UK that tried to look at how income differences matter.

Then evolving from that, there’s another theory that says that really, it’s about social equity, it’s about class and hierarchy, and your position to have sense of responsibility, autonomy and control over your livelihood, that that matters a lot more to health than differences in dollars and sense.

Shane: This is the work the Spirit Level Address looked at. Of course, they’ve done more research since.

Bob: Exactly. In the Cuban case, there’s a lot of evidence to show that because it has that relative level of social equity, they’ve been able to produce these health outcomes in a way where people have a better sense of health, and hence their health services are not invested as much as other systems are in repairing people, as opposed to maintaining that health. Now, with increasing inequities arising in the country, this could be something that will be a challenge that they’re going to face.

Shane: I was looking at the … You’re talking about sports for development and how it’s being used as a way of, in Cuba, to promote social equity and development. I reflected on, that sounded really like the GAA (Gaelic football).  In the sport and revolutionary movement skills, it reminds me of the GAA in Ireland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when it was really a front for the … A way of getting people involved in the Gaelic revival movement, and then obviously involved in revolution, their war of independence.

That’s really interesting. What did you learn from that? How does Cuba use sport, and what sports do they play?

Bob: What’s really interesting about Cuban sport is that you look at the Olympic medal county, Cuba and New Zealand are right next to each other, where they ended for medal counts. They usually punch above their weight quite a bit when it comes to elite sport performance. The other factor is that about 95% of the Cuban population at some point in their lives, participate in organized sporting activities. This could be off to a gymnastics school or a baseball camp, something in that way, or if you’re ever in Havana and you’re up between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, you’ll see these, they call them grandmother circles, where you’ll have the seniors coming out and doing tai chi and yoga in the park on a daily basis.

The encouragement that people are active in sport is a very strong national value in Cuba. It’s done in a way where you want to encourage as much participation as possible. Community level stuff where it’s participatory. Then from there, begin to offer streams for advanced elite performance. That’s very different, how a lot of countries, Australia and Canada in particular, groom their elite athletes. It’s usually, you take a lot of money and you invest in a few athletes who are likely to perform at certain sports well, rather than actually trying to draw out elite performance from national participation.

The other thing is that when you retire, if you’re an elite athlete, you still have an occupation with the Cuban ministry of sport. You become a coach, you become a teacher, you’re not unemployed looking to do something different when it’s done. You are still part of the system. It’s a lifelong career to be I sport in Cuba.

Shane: Do you think those systems will fall apart as it opens up?

Bob: What I find very interesting is that there will be some changes, of course, to Cuba. Where they’ve put their attention and emphasis in their development stream is by investing heavily in education and healthcare. That includes sport, sport’s a part of that. In the 1990s when they lost 35% of their GDP, 87% of their exports in 1992, 35,000 people went blind due to the lack of vitamins, the average Cuban male lost 40 pounds, that’d be 20 kilos or so, in a year. They thought the whole show was going to end.

Where most countries that were faces economic crises at the time, where they created this austerity that went into health and education in particular, Cuba expanded schools, expanded hospitals and expanded seats for medical students, and they offered scholarships for foreigners to come in as well. Fast forward 15, 20 years, and now you have at the forefront of their economic growth is a provision of healthcare services to other countries. Now you’ve got 36,000 Cuban health workers working in 66 countries around the world. In some cases, when they do partnerships with the Gulf states, with South Africa, they get quite a good amount of remuneration for that. When they partner with Haiti, nothing. They do it for charity.

The country of the Gambia, I love this one, where the Gambia had a malaria crisis in the early 2000s, late 1990s. They said, “We need to get on this. Cuba, can you help?” “Sure, what would you like?” “We’d like doctors.” “We think you need a medical school, so we don’t have to keep sending you our doctors all the time.” 250 Cubans come in, they build a medical school, they provide community care, they address malaria in this way where you had 600,000 cases in 2001 down to 200,000 cases by 2006, and now it’s under 100,000 cases a year, which is an amazing decline.

When they start talking about what can you give us back for this work that we’re doing here, Gambia, who was quite broke at the time, said, “Do you like peanuts? We have a lot of peanuts. We export peanuts. We can give you preferential trade deal on peanuts.” Sold. Then later, third country partners like Taiwan and Norway came in to offer financial assistance with those projects.

Shane: Wow. That’s incredible.

Bob: It’s a shockingly different way of thinking about foreign aid, about what global health is, and about the importance of actually creating capacity within communities, as opposed to just always doling our or giving out extra resources in that way. Those doctors who worked in west Africa and Cuba carried on, other delegations have come in. If you go back to 2013, 2014 when Ebola was kicking off in west Africa, it was the Cuban doctors who were already there on the ground, and then another 600 showed up to go into the red zone to be the only medical work force to provide that number of physicians on the ground.

Sam: You’re talking next week about researching a place you can’t go to.

Bob: That’s right.

Sam: What gave you that idea?

Bob: Here’s the connection between health and what we’ll talk about in a minute about North Korea, is that on one sense, on doing work on Cuba, people would colloquially just compare Cuba to North Korea, and then I would grumble and get frustrated. That was always on my back radar. When you look at how these advances in health promotion or anything, really, foreign, it’s usually by people demanding it. Well organized, committed individuals who make these demands for program design and for such developments.

I wanted to offer a class on social movements, activism and social justice, and I did. It’s one where we have students actually going out, hitting the streets, and protesting for concerns that they have. The university in Canada, they were a little concerned about what topics would be fitting. I was trying to guide people on topics where there would be no moral opposition. I read a book about the story of a defector from North Korea. His story, I devoured it and I thought, students are going to love it. We turn it over to them, they did love it, and they wanted to start protesting about human rights in North Korea, figuring who in the world would object to that.

Once you start seeing how grim that reality is, away we go. We were out protesting, aiming at world leaders who were coming to our city of Halifax for a security meeting, and we just said, “By all means, have your meeting, but if you’re going to talk about security, don’t forget human security. Let’s talk about people who are in need now.” We’ve done that for four years, and in that time, North Korean defectors have reached out to us for support, for opportunities to tell their stories, to do research projects together, and it’s carried on since then.

That switch over to this world of social justice brings me to working with North Korean defectors. The very difficult part about that is that North Korea is a no go zone for research, as I’ll be talking about next Tuesday. The amount of published articles on North Korea are shockingly few. There’s no topic that is this understudied. It’s a topic where it’s just shrouded in mist and rumors and deceit and intentional mistakes, where defector testimony that comes out from North Korea is usually incorrect. The satellite imagery is not as accurate as we would like it to be. The politics of this place, we don’t fully understand. Everything is a black box.

For myself, someone who’s publicly helped and supported North Korean defectors and spoken out against the regime, if I was to go there, that would be the end of me. It’s a place where you cannot go, but you know there’s something important to be studied and explored there. The question is, how do you do it?

Shane: that’s really interesting. You talked about how health is normally … Better health outcomes is demanded by the people, and North Korea is a communist country, and so is Cuba. You’ve already said … communist countries. First part of the question, did Cuba, was that focus on developing healthcare, was that done by the leadership or by the people, and the second question is, what is the primary difference between Cuba, which has done this amazing thing with its people, and North Korea, which seems to be doing terrible things to its people.

Bob: Absolutely. The first question is about where did Cuba’s medical system come up. The real foundations to it were in 1962 when they passed a bill to say that physicians could no longer bill patients directly for medical services. Mirroring exactly what happens in the UK and Canada and elsewhere, and even proposed by the Kennedy administration at the time in the states. It wasn’t too radical by any means. The physicians in Cuba took off. Of a workforce of 6000, they were suddenly down to just under 3000. You had 256 teaching faculty at the University of Havana in 1962, by 1965 you had 14.

That exodus of that medical expertise, because Havana was well known for medical expertise in the ’50s and ’40s, left this void, this vacuum, of a new generation of doctors and medical students that built the system up based on the values that you have today. It wasn’t ever put in the hands of the top leadership to say we have this miracle vision that we’re going to drive it. It was always about impact and feedback from both physicians and patients in communities to meet their needs. It’s been a very elaborate process.

This is where you see that to label something as just communist, may be accurate in terms of how their government’s organized, but there’s a lot of flavors of communism, from the mild version to the absolute toxic. With Cuba, you see that they’ve always had this ability to have feedback from communities to the representatives in government. Sometimes it’s slow, there’s a lot of inefficiencies within there, but there is that value of human security that comes out.

When you look at North Korea, a country that leadership in Cuba did not visit until 1995, “We don’t want anything to do with these guys, this is a different flavor.” It came up almost by accident, where you had a leader rise to power, Kim Il Sung, who read the Stalin Playbook, same thing that happened in the eastern states in Europe, where that form of governance was about trying to create a cult of personality, kill your enemies, kill your political opponents, and get orders top down.

You see it almost operate more as a feudal system, where you have this elite in Pyongyang that want for not. Below them, the loyal class who are pretty well taken care of. Then, they have a wavering class and a hostile class. That’s literally what it’s called. It’s called the Songbun system, it’s a feudal form of control where you have those three major classes derived in about 50 or so subgroups. The government there realizes that most of the people that are under its control resent it terribly, and there are these systems of control in place wherein if you speak out against the leader, it’d be considered a political crime, you will be going to a political prison camp. Your family will be going to a political prison camp. Any children you have will be going and any children they have will be going as well. Three generations of punishment.

Nothing that nuts has ever existed in Cuba, even in what they call the four gray years, the 1970s, where if you spoke out against communism, you maybe had long hair and listened to rock and roll, you’d have the moral authority police come over and give you a stern talking to. There is some determinant that also took place in Cuba in the ’60s and ’70s for people who deviated. Now, no. That’s about as far away as it can get. A lot of scholars in cube recognize how twisted the North Korea system is.

It’s a different world.

Sam: I’m going to change topics slightly. You talk about deviation. You teach a course, which is called Development and Audacity.

Bob: Yeah. Audacity development, development activism, yes.

Sam: How did you manage to convince the university to let you teach something with that title?

Bob: Yes. Just to be clear, we’re talking about my university back in Canada, Dalhousie. When you offer a course as a one off, nobody really pays attention to you. Special topics. Then if it gets popular, as this one did, and we took it not just from a one off topic, but to a calendar course and then a degree requirement. Then that sat before a committee called the Academic Development Committee where they had visions of students running riot in the streets and just losing it.

I got called in and the dean is there, and other members of this committee are they. They start asking questions about, “What happens if there’s a radical takeover of your class by a fundamentalist student?” I said, “I guess we call the police.” “What happens if a student wants to burn a police car?” I said, “Look, I don’t know how to do that, contact the chemistry department. They’re the experts.”

This banter went on back and forth and I said, “Look, you guys are missing the point. If you look at history and you look at the history of social movements, universities have always had a fundamental role in that.” When you had students in Tennessee and Mississippi taking over lunch counters, they were organized, they were taking seminars on nonviolent resistance. It was faculty who were leading that. You see this from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. There’s always been this association of higher learning to progressive social movements. The women’s suffragettes in the US in the early 1900s, all university students. The guys who kicked off Tahrir Square in Egypt, university students. The guys who overthrew Milosevic, university students.

Instead of saying that this is something that happens on the fringe of university culture, why can’t we make this a learning experience? Again, people dithered on it and they weren’t too sure, but ultimately, when you have a class of 35, then you have to expand the enrolment to 60, and then 75, and then 80, it becomes very financially attractive for the university to make sure that course stays on the books.

Shane: Did it end up being a degree requirement?

Bob: Yes, it is.

Shane: Can you require all students to be an activist?

Bob: Absolutely not. By no means is that course the minting process to be an activist. What it is is it gives students the opportunity to engage with it in real time, to look at what goes into the organization of a social movement, to create a scenario that we’re going to go out and make our demands known to people in government and try to get the attention of others in society. That doesn’t just happen by swinging a picket sign around on a crowded street. We have to plan about this, we have to think about it, then we have to reflect on how this is impacting our politics today.

Why are some social movements so quick to be recognized and embraced and others quickly dismissed? It gives students what we call experiential learning. The ability to witness, experience and engage in this process, and then form their own structured thoughts that connect the literature to that experience. That’s really it.

There’s been cases where we’ve had students from the military who are under Canadian military code cannot protest. They can’t do it. How do they get through? We set up roles for them as researchers if they want. Others who have objected to it. Students who come from South Korea who are on a working Visa and they say, “I don’t want anything to do with messing around with North Korea, man. This is too hard.”

There’s always accommodating at every turn. That myth that activism and social movements are somehow naturally organic, that they don’t require leadership, that they don’t require dealing with interpersonal skills at a community level, that’s a dangerous knowledge. If we realize, we really realize that if you have a small group of well organized people put together, and be they’re committed to it, you can intimidate a regime like North Korea, in places where other governments have failed. You can demand things like better equity, better social justice, better healthcare.

It’s a very, very powerful force, and most world leaders, governments, businesses, are quite intimidated by activism. In one sense, it can be a very powerful tool for change, it can also be something that can go right off the rails and lead to far worse consequences.

Sam: If you could have a whole degree in it, would you do it?

Bob: I think that idea would be fantastic, but we would need a big team of teachers and experts to get through that. We would need philosophers, ethicists, city planners, historians, the geographers would be in there somewhere, of course, to really understand how this process impacts our world.

The other thing that’s really challenging about activism is that in that moment, when something is conflicted, there’s a tendency to label activists as being the outlaws, the troublemakers. Then you look back at history, the heroes of the day now were the outlaws of the time then. That’s a very difficult thing for society to accept.

Sam: Given that most of the students I would suggest aren’t going into societal roles where they are carrying on being placard waving activists, and lots of them are going into various businesses or government. Do you talk to them about how they can carry on that role?

Bob: Absolutely. We’ve had students come out of that class and have run as members of parliament, they didn’t win but they did it. That was good. The practical skills that come from this course are quite strong. They get into issues of advertising, marketing, campaigning, all of that. There’s a lot nongovernmental organizations and political parties who find value in that practical skillset. We all know that university education is beyond just practical skills, it’s about opening your mind to alternative ideas.

The feedback I receive from students down the road, who graduated the course, maybe they’ve gone onto a higher education degree, maybe they’ve gone into corporate sectors, some people work for law firms. They’ll write me little anecdotes to say that there are moments in their professional careers where they disagree with something, they disagree with authority, they disagree with how something’s being run. Instead of just ranting or grumbling by the water cooler or voting with your feet and leaving, they’ve actually been able to strategize, to create small change, even within their own workplace.

Others have, I hope, learned some of the value in organizing at a community level with issues that might be impacting their world.

Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?

Bob: Sustainability, a go-to definition? I think in terms of social justice and activism, something that endures. In many ways, social justice movements can fall victim to having a lack of sustainability. At the same time, they can be very important in creating that sustainability. Endurance is really important. It’s often an uphill battle.

Sam: We are writing a book of these conversations, which we’re calling Tomorrows Heroes. We’re actually writing it, we’re not just talking about that, it’s actually happening.

Bob: Well done.

Sam What we’re trying to do is to look at the people’s superpowers and describing what is it that they’re doing, what are they bringing to this good fight. How would you describe your superpower? What is it you’re bringing to the team?

Bob: Oh my God. I don’t know if it’s a superpower, hope it’s not because it should be a contagious thing. I think that approaching these areas of study, what’s really important is to try to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. For example, next Tuesday we’re talking about creating change in North Korea, a place that you can’t even get to. That’s impossible, so let’s hold that thought of impossibility in the mind, and at the same time, be determined to make it otherwise.

That’s a big personal conflict, to see that things can be absolutely hopeless and yet still be determined to make change. It’s tough, you’ll lose sleep, but you’ll also have fun.

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

Bob: The biggest success. I think that making personal connections with the defectors in North Korea when they’ve needed help and helping them along in their way has been personally really, really important goal. There’s a lot of controversy that can shroud North Korean defectors if their testimony doesn’t match up or there’s errors in their details. There are still people fighting and have gone through a lot. To make that connection and form real friendships, I think has been one of the most rewarding factors that I’ve had.

Shane: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Bob: There’s just so much to do. The thing is that I love my job. I realize how precious of a statement that is. I’ll grumble over things like that committee that took me in that meeting, but at the end of the day, having the capability to get interested in a topic and pursue it and have fun doing it, is the most rewarding thing. I wouldn’t trade that in at all. You get paid along the way, fantastic, but if you love what you do, you’ve got it.

Sam: There’s so much to do. What’s next?

Bob: The next thing to do is to give those lectures next week. That’ll be great. After that, my plan is to turn to writing a couple books about the geopolitics in North Korea, and also about testimonies that have come from North Korean defectors. They’re fascinating testimonies and what I’m finding very fascinating is how sometimes if there’s a … Which ones are accepted by society and which ones are not. There’s a bigger political reflection in there.

What comes next is continuing to offer students the opportunity for education in social movements and activism. I also run a course in Cuba for two weeks a year that the students have the ability to come down, see the Cuban development model firsthand. We have a fantastic administrator back in Canada who puts it together, I’m just merely the academic component. We turn it over to Cuban faculty to do the rest of the teaching. It’s a grand experience.

Sam: What are you doing in New Zealand?

Bob: The Ron Lister Fellow in the  Department of Geography, I’m having the time of my life. It’s been great. It’s been fantastic to have the space to work on some of these issues. I’ve been focusing a lot on the North Korea research, looking at an expiration of the literature on North Korea, tracking the movements of marine traffic coming in and out of the regime and identifying shady suspects, to spend time connecting with defectors. All from the comfort of Dunedin, which has been fabulous. It’s been a great space to get some research done but also just to connect with such a great group of people in the department at the university more broadly.

I also have become quite a fan of the curling club down at the ice stadium. If anyone’s looking to go for a curling game, it’ll be next Monday at 7:00, happy to teach you the ropes.

Sam: How are you finding the students that you are having contact with? are they similar to the Canadian ones?

Bob: There’s fewer of them. I tend to teach very big classes back in Canada. Sometimes, 200+. The ability to be in a class of 12, eight people is fabulous, because you get to know them. You get to know their interests and you can help feed them along, what their pursuits are about. It’s great, yeah. International, globally minded students that you get to know on a one on one basis. Love it.

Shane: Are they activists?

Bob: They’ll have to decide. Maybe not yet, maybe they don’t think they are, maybe they will be, but we’ll see.

Sam: We ask this question of everybody, and I suspect we can predict your answer. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Bob: I do. I certainly didn’t grow up in Wasaga Beach thinking that. That was pretty far flung. I don’t remember anything political in Wasaga Beach. It was a pretty calm place. Then moving into the university world, undergraduate mentorship with some good professors, students and friends along the way, yes, then it certainly grew. I think that’s an important aspect to identify, to carry those messages both into research and into teaching.

Sam: There’s lots of arguments for not being an activist.

Bob: But is it possible to not be an activist, is another way. By not having an opinion of something, doesn’t necessarily mean neutrality. It could mean actually supporting injustices in a quiet way, as an advocate.

Sam: Do you not lose objectivity?

Bob: In which way?

Sam: By being an activist.

Bob: That’s a tricky game. Activism involves emotion. Objectivity is supposed to be free of emotion. Again, to balance perspective with what you feel is your own personal conviction is a skill building exercise. That’s what I mean, that we should take time to reflect on what goes into it. If you’re going to engage in politics of the street, you can acknowledge that they’re incredibly powerful, but at the same time, there are rules to that game. There are certain things that work, others that don’t, and how you create that engagement matters a lot on how you balance your own personal conviction to objectivity of the subject.

Sam:  Is it perhaps easier being an activist about North Korea, because it is a place you can’t go to, there’s this thing over here and you’re objecting to it, but then you can go back to your normal work. Would it be harder to be activist against, I don’t know whatever your local major industry is, you have to deal with those people in the supermarket, it’s close to home?

Bob: Yeah, that really is. That’s the case. When you’re dealing with something that’s far away, even though you make real connections to those places, there’s that certain amount of anonymity that go to it. When you are dealing with something not in my backyard or you’re engaging something in real time, be it a labour dispute, be it a pollution issue, whatever it is, there will be people who are in your face a lot more that’ll try to wear you down.

It comes back to that issue of endurance. When you want to engage with North Korea as a researcher here in Otago, I can do that according to my schedule. If you’re an activist here in Otago and you’re taking on issues in Otago, you may not have that luxury. That’s absolutely a part of it.

Sam: Although if you’re doing something locally, you have the opportunity to bump into those people at the sports field and various other places, you can actually talk to them.

Bob: Very much.

Sam: Do you think that the university should be activist?

Bob: There’s always going to be activism on university campuses. That’s always going to be the case. In quiet ways and in loud ways. The real question is, how does the university deal with it? It is something that happens on the fringe? Is it something that can be brought into the classroom? Is it something that can be studied and analyzed? Is it something that even administrations can support and market?

It really depends about what that institution wants to do with that phenomena, because it does exist.

Sam: Should a university have a statement on North Korea, climate change?

Bob: It wouldn’t hurt. It really wouldn’t hurt because the pressure’s there. With climate change, there’s a lot of campaigns in Canada right now for universities to divest, get out of fossil fuels all together. That’s being pressed upon a lot of university administrations. There are universities around the world that do have memorandums of understanding with the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a place that’s been famous for producing internet hackers.

There are these academic exchanges and there needs to be some questions asked about how ethical those are. My university in Canada, two years after running the course, we actually put a proposal in to nominate Shin Dong Hyuk, who is the only person we know of who was born into a labor camp to have escaped for an honorary degree. To our knowledge, he’s the only North Korean defector who has an honorary doctorate from the university, which is a big political statement, considering that other institutions actually have cooperation agreements with the regime.

Sam: Shane’s about to close us down. Very quickly, two last questions.

Bob: Sure.

Sam: If you could have a miracle occur, what would it be?

Bob: One miracle? Health equity for all.

Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?

Bob: Whatever it is that you are charged up about, politically ticked off about, you’ve got the ability to engage it and to organize to make that change. Activism doesn’t come by accident.

Shane: Brilliant. Fantastic. You are listening to Sustainable Lens on Otaga Access Radio, 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 8th of September, 2016. Our guest was professor Bob Huish. Your hosts were professor Samuel Mann and me, Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on, or you can subscribe on iTunes.

We hope you enjoyed the show.

computing development

Technology amplifies underlying human forces

Kentaro Toyama

Technology amplifies underlying human forces.

Kentaro Toyama is W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information, a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

Talking points

I realised that with physics you are trying to understand the universe that is not going to change – it exists and the point is discovery – there’s lots of creativity associated with how you discover those things, but it’s convergent, you are ultimately trying to find one solution to a problem. Whereas with computing and engineering, the interesting thing is that it’s diversifying. You are trying to innovate and create things that have never existed, that people have never imagined and may not come into being unless its creators create it.

I became a bit tired of working on problems that were only going to help people who are already quite wealthy and can afford a lot of gadgets. So in 2004 I moved to India to help start a new research lab there, and changed research direction to look at how technologies can be used to address global poverty.

Initially I thought that we could do projects where some kind of new digital technology would make a substantial contribution to alleviating poverty, to increasing healthcare, to improving education, especially in India’s poorest communities – rural villages and urban slums. But as I did more and more of that work I began to see that it usually wasn’t the technology that made a difference, but who we worked with – our partners…that made a difference whether our outcomes were positive or not.

Curiosity driven research with desire to have social impact

Technology amplifies underlying human forces. Ironically what that means is that often in the very places we want the technology to have a positive impact it fails to gain a foothold because there is either a missing human intention or a missing capacity.

The “cult of technology” is the idea that increasingly we are living in a world where we believe that there are technological solutions to just about everything…classically “there’s an app for that”…meaning that there’s a mobile application for just about any problem that you might have in your life. Technology is certainly powerful, and amplification means that for people who have solid education, who have good social ties, who know how to use technology – they can make incredible use of it. But technology’s positive power isn’t embedded in the technology itself, it actually comes from the use that people make of it – which means that ultimately it’s the people who decide whether a technology is going to have a positive impact, a negative impact or no impact at all.

In the context of international development, what this means is that exactly in those places where human institutions are not functioning, technology is not likely to help either.

Efforts (eg in democracy) are not doomed, work to the extent that they amplifying existing forces towards democracy.

Democracy is inherently a political thing, it requires human beings to push for it, argue for it, …those things can be mediated through technology, but it’s never the technology that causes them.

Very difficult to find good ways to use technology in areas of abject poverty, not because it can’t be done, but because people are missing other things that they need in order to fully utilise the technology…good solid basic education, politically marginalised without strong social ties to people in power…those constraints make it difficult to use the technology to dramatically change their situation.

(On the promise of wikipedia etc)..content is the bare minimum…role of education is motivation

I’m not saying we should give up on technology…better technology better engine, still need a driver.

It is extremely tempting to look for technology solutions for sustainability, certainly there will be technologies that we will have to use to attain a more sustainable civilisation. But ultimately the decisions are very human in nature, and at large scale are political. We have to win those human political fights before the technology will actually have impact.

At some level we all know what we have to do to achieve sustainability – we have to consume less, we need to be more respectful of the environment, we need to make sure that the resources we use are being replenished – and while better technologies can help us do those things better, we’re not even taking the most elementary steps as a society to do the sustainability things we could be doing. Which suggests that even if we had great technology, we still might not use them towards a sustainable ends.

Again, technology amplifies underlying human forces – as soon as we as a global civilisation decide that sustainability is sufficiently important, I have no doubt that we will use the technology that we have, and invent new technologies that will help us achieve it, but until we make up our minds to chase that, it won’t make a difference if we have the best technologies in the world, we’ll still not use them for the right purposes.

I think of social change being primarily driven by a process of human maturation – in the sense of people becoming wiser and better and kinder human beings, we can debate exactly what that means, but most of us have a sense…that there’s a continuum…criminal drug lords…saintly, and there’s a sense of a spectrum of humanity, I think that as people our greatest challenge is trying to move up that escalator, being better versions of ourselves. I think the social change we want to seek is a world where all of us are better versions of ourselves. If we can achieve that, even by increments, then the technology will follow, we will use the technology in better and wiser ways.

(Success) Small internal incremental changes – spending more time on work that has social impact, being less concerned with achievements that have public recognition.

(Challenges) Trying to make the world a more equitable place. The two biggest challenges of our civilisation are inequality and sustainability. They’re both incredibly challenging problems that I’ll be happy if I can make even a small contribution.

Research – find forces that technology could amplify that we have overlooked…for example channelling powerful religious motivations

(Activist) Generally not, but because my impact is through other people, my students or partner organisations.

(Motivation) I think that all of life is basically a succession of moments of consciousness…and each one of those moments has the capacity to be either painful or happy, or somewhere in between. I think that our purpose from moment to moment is to try to make as many of the future moments of consciousness as happy as possible. Those might be my own, but also other people or other forms of life, or other animals to some extent. So to the extent that I can, I would like to ensure more happy moments of consciousness.

The questions of sustainability are whether future generations will have the same potential moments of happiness. Are we right now taking massive withdrawals from the potential for human civilisation to continue having happy moments of consciousness at the level those wealthy of us now are enjoying?

Technology will help as soon as we commit to sustainability as an issue that is important to us. Until then, it’s not a technological question.

(Challenges) I’m very conscious that most of my challenges are internal…I’m aware of a need for comfort, while not doing everything that I can for the goals that I have. I can expect anyone else to change if I can’t change myself in those ways.

(Miracle) Everyone to have increase in some percent wisdom.

Each one of us to pursue whatever we aspire to in a single minded way

(Advice) Follow your heart.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine in June 2015. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

agriculture coffee development Fair Trade food

Coffee that’s fair

Daniel Kinne

Producing coffee is intensive work…we want to be rewarded fairly at the end of the day.

Daniel Kinne is a coffee farmer from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. He is also a founding member and the chairman, of the Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative (HOAC) which includes 2600 farmers. Daniel has been in New Zealand to celebrate Fair Trade Fortnight, through Fairtrade New Zealand and to share his stories on the impact we have on communities like his when we buy Fair trade.

Talking points

We set up the cooperative to give a voice to the grower.

We wanted to group ourselves to get into a system of trade.

Transparency is the main standard in the Fair Trade system.

Everything is done transparently so we don’t feel as though we have been cheated in any way.

Producing coffee is intensive work…we want to be rewarded fairly at the end of the day.

The cooperative is an inverted pyramid, the growers, the general assembly make all the important decisions.

We get a guaranteed minimum price plus a social premium.

We had to meet a set of standards – child labour, environmental, governance.

There are standards of chemicals we are supposed to use, but for use, we are organic, so this is not an issue. But the Producer Support Team of New Zealand Australia Fair Trade helped us identify risk areas in own community – they helped us look at whether our water is at risk, is our forest at risk? What about the soil fertility? This really helped us to understand our environment and how best we could manage it. A buffer zone around a river for example.

For somethings we couldn’t really see where they were coming from…we’ve got huge forest, so many trees, if I cut this we’ve still got plenty of trees. Our country is really young, we have not really experienced that kind of impact – that human activity can have on the environment. But through awareness, and we see on television, newspapers, people are talking “if you are not really careful, all your forest will be gone, the wildlife will be gone, about the future” – so they are telling us about their experience – you see this country it was big rainforest, now all that rainforest is gone due to cattle ranching or logging. We are in our little nutshell, we need to really come out to understand. When people from outside come and tell us such a thing, that really opens our minds – we are unconsciously doing these kinds of things that would mean we would eventually end up where they have ended up – so it is good that they are reminding us, so we can reconsider our ways and how we interact with the environment.

We’ve employed a person to help us write environmental farm plans.

Looking after the environment gives us a sense of satisfaction – we come from the rural area, the environment is very important to us – building materials, health services

Our life is very connected to the forest.

When an environmental officer comes and says have respect for the environment, we have it already so it reinforces us and gives us that broader sense that every one of us should be looking after the environment.

We sell our coffee to a Fair Trade exporter who sells in turn to a Fair Trade certified importer. Everyone in the supply chain of our coffee is certified and audited as Fair Trade.

It is a different relationship, we are working closely with the exporter. Transparency means we know how when he can get the maximum price so we work hard to meet those shipments. The market is there for us to see, so we operate transport and logistics…every day

Fair Trade means we can look at it as a relationship – trust and respect.

It is fair…because get the contract documents from overseas – the importer next down the supply chain. It is transparently available to us. We work out the price breakdown in a transparent manner, made possible by the Fair Trade system.

We get the price, plus a social premium. The General Assembly decides how to spend that social premium – social projects, water quality, roading, schools.

It was great to see our coffee on the shelf – a real sense of satisfaction.

For the consumer they know from the Fair Trade logo that they are empowering rural people in developing countries, but when it comes to the exporter, importer and the roaster – they are looking out for quality, so when the quality comes with a message, there is a market, and everything fits together really well.

If I could have brought my farmers here, they would be really amazed at what you have done here – the farms, the cities, the roads. From one extreme of life to the other extreme. They would say “wow, look at this, look how they have got everything organised, how they keep their place clean…how they live together in a clean and respectful environment”. Then later they would like to meet the consumers and hear about how they enjoy their coffee – this reminds them of the kind of work they are doing over there, and how this is appreciated by the consumer on this side. It connects these two and gives great satisfaction.

Everyone that visits our Fair Trade system has been really moved by the work we are doing.

(Could we do more to connect the producers to the consumers?) That is why I am here – telling our story.

(Activist?) Yes. I see myself as someone who is very strong in trying to bring development to our community, and trying to do it properly so that everyone is happy and we see change in our community. I could consider myself as an agent for change.

(Motivation?) When I wake up early in the morning I think about “alright, let’s move the coffee, let’s help the farmers sell the coffee for a good price, getting the money to the farmer and getting the coffee out while it is still fresh”.

(Challenges?) Developing our own export system.

(Miracle?) If the road system could be upgraded we could work day and night to get the coffee out, supplies in, and really build our community. Roads are the key to the health system, police, education. Our people are hard working, give them a chance and they’ll do it.

We have put some of the social premium in to roads because then we can transport our coffee to the market point – and get a better premium.

The empowerment is coming from the Fair Trade premium, we can move the coffee and still get a good price.

(Advice?) Thank you to the good consumers who are buying Fair Trade produce – you are so wonderful. When we hear of cities like Wellington and Dunedin who are Fair Trade cities, this is really empowering us. We are really grateful. Thank you very much everyone for choosing Fair Trade, it gives us hope and meaning and purpose in the struggling rural outbacks.

development geography

Gendered inequality

Nina Laurie

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

Nina Laurie is Professor of Development and the Environment at University of Newcastle. Her roles include the founding director of the Developing Research Network and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Newcastle University. In 2015 she is Ron Lister Visiting Fellow in the Geography Department of Otago University.

Talking points

I’m interested in how inequality in the world is gendered in particular ways. How poverty affects men and women, boys and girls, differently. And different types of men and women, boys and girls.

Now I’m focused on different visions of development, how particular understandings of development are produced, and who gets marginalised in that process.

I’ve been working with returned trafficked women in Nepal – and I have to say is the most challenging work I’ve ever done…there is very little support for these women.

And (because they can’t get citizenship without a male family sponsor)…many of them are stateless in their own land

Now there are going to be very real issues in Nepal (post earthquake) of access to water and housing, and how the need will be not lose sight of the long term important agendas such as the issue of who has citizenship in the context of the very real everyday needs of suffering people.

Understandably meeting those basic needs take over, but the new constitution is needing to be ratified – that framework of rights for all is fundamental.

International development came post Second World War, the reconstruction of Europe. The Marshal Plan…if you give people money you are going to stop them becoming communist.

A lot of our understandings of international development are framed still through that old Cold War mentality of Eastern Europe contaminating the rest of the world. Cuba…Latin America.

Stopping poverty to stop the domino effect from Cuba.

We’ve gone through all sorts of different approaches to development: the big projects of the 1960s – dams and infrastructure; to a focus on grassroots, self-help; then the focus on governance issues in the 80s and 90s – particularly in Latin America return to democracy in countries like Chile and post civil war situations.

Now we have a different world. It’s not just a bi-polar world, not even north and south… and all of this has thrown uout what development means for me. I am happy to use the term Development Geographer, but I don’t see it in the same way as I used to.

I’ve been teaching a course Changing Development: Changing Actors…and what that is about is to think through the context in which development is not what it has been and who are the new actors who are shaping development.

Indigenous people…new actors in development. But we also have to recognise that some of the new actors that are getting power are some the very old actors, like, for example, the military. (Much of…) the UK aid money that has gone into Afghanistan under the development budget is in the control of the military…the reconstruction scenarios mean that the military are having a big role in development.

Development in the form of reconstruction has become a career path for ex-military…many areas are post-conflict zones, so you need that level of understanding, they bring a sense of logistics, of managing big movements of people or materials. Yet that reduces us to a very narrow understanding of development is about things, and not about people or ideas or different ways of doing things.

That other form of development is what I’ve been looking at in the Andes in the context of what they call buen vivir or good living – which isn’t always about accumulation and excess.

But you have to careful not romanticise indigenous development, it’s almost as if we’re looking for a hero and a perfect answer. Development is multiple, it’s always contested. We need to get away from the notion of development is always progress, and that’s where the tension is.

I think our understandings of development are broken, and maybe even the term. But what we replace it with is what I’m trying to work through at the moment.

The big institutions have been propping up a very particular understanding of development in which people get excluded from having a voice.

Good living could be in all sorts of directions, it could be about staying still.

Because racism is so strong, the assumption was that in order to progress socially, you needed to become socially whiter – you needed your children to be professionals.

When we say development is broken, that isn’t just about development, you need to understand long legacies of racism, the realities of post-colonial Bolivia, where modernisation is dream that was never completed but is still there and draws people to it – everybody wants their own big water project, their own infrastructure but it has never been completed. But they have these aspirations.

(Is a desire for growth an inevitable response to desires and aspirations?) I think that is a spiritual question. There are alternative models to that. But I don’t have an answer to that at the individual or community level. At a national level, what we have now is alsmot as if neoliberalism became inevitable – you couldn’t question it.

In Peru we’re seeing the inevitability of the extractive model… it is booming on the back of a mining concession boom. It is a complete return to an extractive model of development.

There are other models. We need to hear other voices about the other national development imaginaries that we can have. Where there alternatives to the modernisation through extraction agenda, or where people have said “no we don’t want that”.

Geographers are born not made.

Geography is the appreciation of the relationship between the physical and social environment.

I can’t go somewhere without wanting to know about it.

Increasing recognition of the big challenges – like climate change, water scarcity, broken understandings of development – geography has a core place for trying to come up with some of the ways for understanding what’s going on and maybe some of the pathways out of some of those things.

(On Peruvian fishermen/farmers making the best of a bad situation) Yes, but it is really interesting not just that we make the best of it in the here and now, but it becomes the foundation narrative, about their community, their story, their history. The narrative is constantly linked back to the collective memory about how we were and who we were, and how we came together and how what we did to that environment – how we interacted with it is as important as what everybody else has done.

Sustainability for me used to be about the physical environment…now it’s a lot broader, it’s about knowledge production – forms of producing knowledge where everybody gets a say.

Network of relationships between people and having access to voice and seeing things and making connections, verbalising one’s desires and hopes.

Those binoculars where a window in on the two parts of development, the shrinking snows, but also this woman that sees them (the glaciers) daily, but through the binoculars she saw them in a different way…the everyday life that goes on underneath that informs the dreams and the hopes and the aspirations that those communities have.

(Is sustainability a luxury?) It is contingent on time and place. I don’t think any of us have the luxury of not thinking about the long term future.

Sustainability is about using those binoculars to turn a lens on both the physical and the social as intertwined at any moment.

(Activist?) Activist academic. That is where my gifts lay. I go out on protests and things like that, but my gifts are in ensuring that the research projects that I do engage in ways that provide space for marginalised people to have voices.

(Does being an activist academic conflict with notions of objectivity?) Absolutely, but then I don’t think that research or science is objective.

(Motivation?) Passion. Passion for hearing voices that otherwise aren’t heard.

Not having voices heard is my take on injustice.

(Challenges?) Having had opportunity of fellowship, having reflected on contribution and where I’m going, I want the next stage f my life to not be something I sleep walk into.

(Miracle?) Pre-earthquake Nepal. It’s heartbreaking.

(Advice?)Take stock and think and listen before we speak.

community democracy development

Empowering communities


If you believe you can make a difference then you can make a difference.

Steve Clare is Deputy Chief Executive of Locality. Locality is the UK’s leading network of development trusts, community enterprises, settlements and social action centres. Steve describes how community asset ownership is a route to sustainability.

Talking points

Community organisations making a difference

Board drawn exclusively from an area of social housing runs successfully with a turn-over of £8-10M, assets of £30-40M.

Really entrepreneurial and yet they are community owned, community run, open to everybody within the community. It’s about having more say, more control about what happens, in their community.

Enterprise and community asset ownership is a route to transforming communities, and a route to sustainability.

We would argue that transferring assets to community ownership is a better long term bet in terms of the future prosperity of the community – rather than just selling them off for a quick buck.

The world is moving to a sharing economy.

The very local and the global are more than ever, two sides of the same coin.

The next door community doesn’t have to be physically next door.

We’re seeing a fundamental change in the economic paradigm

…based on a model of an ever growing economy, an ever expanding tax income, and an ever increasing spend on public services…that’s changed, the economic crisis has led Europe to austerity policies…some people think ‘oh well, eventually it will get back, get better, the economy will grow and we’ll get back to the way it was’, I think that’s a mistake – it’s never going back to the way it was.

The post-war model of ever increasing economy, ever increasing tax income, ever increasing spend on public services – it’s broken, much as we might regret it, it’s broken. That has led to fundamental questions being asked about the relationship between state and citizen, state and communities, and who does what, and who is responsible for what.

People taking control of their lives.

Local people understand local problems, local challenges and local opportunities better than some faceless bureaucrat no matter how well meaning they may be.

Dis-economies of scale

People aren’t widgets.

Local solutions are best driven, best decided upon at a local level.

A cross in a box every five years in an election is not democracy. Local ownership, local control starts to ask questions about whether there are other things we should be making decisions about locally.

The options and opportunities that digital technology brings, I think there is scope for a different sort of politics.

We have a 21st Century society, we have a 21st Century population, we have a 21st Century economy, but we still have a 19th Century political system which is no longer fit for purpose.

People will mobilise in response to closing a hospital or library, the challenge is to then get people to start asking deeper questions.

Libraries are being decimated by public spending cuts…that’s caused a lot of controversy. Some people have responded ‘we”l take over the library and run it as a volunteer service’, well meaning but personally I would query how sustainable that is. The other approach…is saying many libraries as they are at the moment, are 19th Century institutions that are no longer fit for purpose. What we need to do is reinvent the library as a 21st Century – it isn’t about a place where you store large lumps of paper ie books, it isn’t a place where you deal with ebooks either that’s a dead end… what you can make a library into is a real community hub, a store of local knowledge, a place of empowerment, a place where people can learn, share, swap ideas and skills, linking to technology, linking to the maker-hacker movement for example. The 21st Century library for me can, and should be a vibrant essential part of any community.

If nothing else changes, changing ownership is not going to work.

A service or building that isn’t working, is still not going to work if all you change is who owns it.

Getting local people involved

Government policy tends to be focussed on deprivation – what’s wrong with a community – a deficit gap model. I think we need to turn that around to asset based community development (ABCD). The starting point has got to be what are the assets within the community – the people, the skills, the networks.

In my experience, every community, no matter how challenged or deprived, always has a huge rich seam of potential and creativity. If you keep telling people that they’re a waste of space, if you keep telling people that they have nothing to offer, if you keep telling people that they’re a failure it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Once people start recognising that they can do something about their lives, that they do have choices, that you always have choices, sometimes the transformation is remarkable, you can almost see someone growing like a flower bursting into bloom. I think the same thing applies to communities.

If people think don’t think can do something then they won’t try. If people think they can do something then they will.

Many of our members are extraordinary people, but they were ordinary people until they became extraordinary by doing something, by taking action. By refusing to accept no as an answer.

It’s about working together, genuine partnerships…I don’t think any one sector has the answer. But what I do think is that the paternalistic, top down, system drive, scale approach that the public sector has is no longer fit for purpose.

Creating situations where people can do things for themselves, then stepping back and letting people get on with it.

People don’t want to live in a place that’s the same as everywhere else.

(Motivation) I hate with a vengeance oppression, inequality, seeing human lives wasted. I love with a passion seeing what people can become, the changes that they can make to their own lives, their children’s lives, to their communities.

The perception that people are fundamentally selfish is completely wrong. Anyone who understands history understands the role of the commons, of sharing, the fact that as a species we’ve moved forward through cooperation.

The idea that we act as rational economic beings is demonstrably nonsense, that we’re driven by indviduals needs is demonstrably nonsense, that you get jobs growth through increased productivity is demonstrably nonsense, – much of the current science of economics belongs in Harry Potter.

The established political system is the problem not the solution.

(Activist?) Yes. My work is my life. I don’t go on demos as much nowadays, but I hope I work in different ways.

I’m much more cynical nowadays days about gesture politics. If you’re going to do something, as far as I’m concerned, you damn well do it properly, you do not give up. I’m less keen about people who say “we want this, we’ll go out and fight for this, oh, it’s hard, we’ll give up”.

The collaborative economy is a game changer.

I saw a great quote the other day: “Social entrepreneurship used to be an oxymoron, now it’s a tautology”.

(Advice) I like Ford’s quote: “If you believe you can, or you believe you can, you’re probably right”, I think that’s such a powerful thing

If you believe you can make a difference then you can make a difference.

Opening people’s eyes to the possible, to the wonderful things happening out there by people just like them.

community development

Thinking small for big change


(on Regional development chasing big business) That’s very prestigious for an economic development officer. The idea of working with a couple of loonies out the back of a real community somewhere, who can’t even articulate what they want, and they’ve got no money – no one wants to do that, but that’s where it’s all at, that’s where the seed is, and when you realise how much there is, and if you’ve got a way of sorting that seed out, you regenerate your community.

Bob Neville founded Community Regeneration. Bob has extensive experience in Regional and Community/Economic/Social Development with Local Government and Community Development Organisations, with a focus on and passion for small rural communities. He is the author of author of Think BIG…focus SMALL – an introduction to the Natural Science of Small Community Regeneration.

Talking points

Communities are just like gardens.

We’ve become very government dependent, but they don’t have the resources needed

If you are consistently regenerating your backyard garden, it’s going to give back to you. But if you just sit and look at it, it’s going to die – well communities are exactly the same. They are a multiplicity of different people, and services and infrastructure, and when they are established – just like the garden, they need to be continually regenerated at every level.

If the community waits for government to do the regeneration, it won’t happen and as a result the community will start to decline.

Communities are defined by the people that live there – parochial boundaries.

The objective we get a core of people who are interested in and concerned – before it reaches the frog in the saucepan syndrome – people who love their community and want to see it sustained.

There’s a big difference between regeneration and development, we’re not talking about development, we’re talking about sustainable regeneration.

Do you want a way to progress the things you want to do?

Community regeneration is the bridge across the canyon.

Every individual community is totally different – no two are the same.

A process is needed to get past the challenges of community groups.

Of 100 community groups, about five or six were really functioning effectively. The rest were groups by name.

The pace at which you move is determined by the collective capacity of that group.

Ideas are the seed that established every community

Business ideas…exist in a stable community at about a rate of 20 per 1000 population per year…and a similar number for community development projects…but most of those ideas go nowhere – those seeds are not taken seriously and they don’t have a process to take them forward.

The number of ideas is determined by the degree of social challenge already existing in the community.

The one thing that surprises me the most, is not so much the idea, as individuals’ conviction that their idea is unique and uniquely able to work, even if all the evidence points the other way. But as a facilitator you can’t tell them that, they have to see it themselves.

You have to respect people’s ideas and let the mirror try and tell them. They have to make the decision.

Most struggling small communities don’t have the capacity for capacity building.

Fly-by night gurus come in with a cocaine-like fix, they all goes out on a high, but then a couple of days later they’re thinking ‘how the hell are we going to do that?’. Once the fix wears off the community is back where they started. They were made to feel good for a while, but they have no process, no capacity, to make it happen.

Building an inclusive community.

Top down of community is not really thinking of what future will hold.

Debt is OK, but I’m anti continual economic development fuelled by debt

The idea of continual economic development founded on debt is economic disaster.

There has to be a way of doing a business that works

Natural Science of Small Community Regeneration.

It is difficult to get communities to see below the radar – to value micro enterprise.

(on Regional development chasing big business) That’s very prestigious for an economic development officer. The idea of working with a couple of loonies out the back of a real community somewhere, who can’t even articulate what they want, and they’ve got no money – no one wants to do that, but that’s where it’s all at, that’s where the seed is, and when you realise how much there is, and if you’ve got a way of sorting that seed out, you regenerate your community.

We’re only at the beginning of this industry. Those communities that capture this vision and come on board now, will become pioneers in this industry.

(Motivation?) I’ve got a passion for what I’m doing, that developed into a obsession, now it’s tempered back to a passionate obsession.

(Activist?) No, I’m a thinker and a doer.

(Challenges?) People accepting new ideas.

(Miracle?) For individuals to realise that they are responsible for destiny of their own lives, their own families, and their own community. And they need to be regenerating their patch, whatever it is.

Identify what piece of the puzzle you can fill.

(Advice?) Remember New Zealand and Australia are the best countries in the world.

Life is not about what you can get, life isn’t about accumulating things and wealth, it’s about fulfilling that seed that’s inside you that is trying to get out.

Find that seed that is within you and let it grow.

computing democracy development

Democracy = sustainability?

Somya Joshi

There is a sense of double standards, sustainability should be a global concept, it shouldn’t be hypocritical in the sense that you have one set of standards that apply to the developed world and another to the developing.

Dr. Somya Joshi is with the eGovernance Lab within the Department of Computer Science at the University of Stockholm. She specialises in technological innovation, particularly in how it translates into transparency in governance, education, & environmental conservation within the developing world. She has worked extensively in the field where policy making and citizen participation intersect. She is currently working on analyzing the impact of new social media tools that enable citizens to participate in democratic processes, both in Africa in Europe.

Some terms you might not be familiar with: HCI Human Computer Interaction, ICT4D Information and Communication Technology for Developement, ICT4S ICT for Sustainability.

We ask if does openness = democracy? and does democracy = sustainable? and what is the role of information technology in this?

Talking points

Quite early on I was fascinated by how our own relationships with our world are changing, and changing because of technology mediation.

Is sustainability part of the philosophy of people (in India)? I would argue that it used to be, up to a time when everything got scaled up. Now with enormous populations, Sustainability always takes a back seat. The rhetoric of development is all about economic progress, and environmental sustainability is just such a low priority

A fear of being left behind. Having a lifestyle your parents or grandparents couldn’t. Why should we make a sacrifice when people in the West haven’t? It feels patronising getting told about sustainability from a European or North American who haven’t followed what they are preaching now.

It’s a short term perspective versus a long term, in the short term sustainability doesn’t feature anywhere because its all about how quickly you can enjoy a lifestyle which others are. But in the long term perspective, countries like India are actually hurting themselves…they are depleting their own resources at rate that is unprecedented.

But on an individual, family level, why shouldn’t we have car when that is not even questioned in the US?

The economy is based on certain resources that are taken for granted now, but your children will not have time to enjoy them.

When I think of Sustainability and education in a place like India, it’s not just about environmental sustainability, it’s also social sustainability, where certain very basic things need to be taught about equality.

We often see technology as a one stop solution. We get technology physically to children but there is often no real though about what happens next – about behavioural change.

The lack of political will to change the power dynamic – you’ll find in Europe as much as in Africa. The difference is Europe has a longer tradition politicians needing to make decisions transparent – up to a point of course.

Greater transparency does not always equal greater accountability.

To be on equal footing with politicians and hold them accountable, citizens need the capability to participate in the dialogue. To come into the space as an equal…

Participation can become quite tokenistic, ticking a box ‘we consulted people’. You have to have a plan…bring everybody to as much the same capability as you can…

The first stage is building capability, so that people can participate in a meaningful way

Technology should be able to give meaningful choices to people, not restrict choices

In the developing world there is a feeling that sustainability is an elitist concept, that people who can afford to talk about sustainability are the ones with their bellies full.

There is a sense of double standards, sustainability should be a global concept, it shouldn’t be hypocritical in the sense that you have one set of standards that apply to the developed world and another to the developing.

A focus on human behavioural change will have the most impact in bring about any long term meaningful change

We’ve seen innovative ways of using technical solutions – they are great and a must – but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to thoats say “right, our consumption is going to carry on the way it is” and we won’t ever put ourselves out of comfort zone, we’ll just find a technical solution to fix it.

Sustainability should be about getting out of your comfort zone, chnaging your own patterns and behaviour to put less pressure on the planet. (which is hard if you’re not in the comfort zone). Exactly, and the first world has been in that comfort zone a long time, and they’re in no mood to let go of that.

The best initiatives leapfrog barriers.

Collaborative technologies…the arduino revolution

The focus is always how to design a technology then how to find a problem to fit around it. There’s a lot less critical discussion on how behavioural practices can be changed. Technical parameters are easy to define, human ones not so much.

Sustainability has to have meaning for that audience, it is not something imposed from above. If it is participative, if it has meaning for that community, then it has greater impact and outcome.

Voluntourism is OK if there to engage, and not paternalistic.

Motivation: nature not exotic thing, it is part of our everyday lives, we are totally dependent on it.

Activist: Yes, extreme (my colleagues think I’m), willing to get off plane of theoretical understanding and applying it in your everyday life, and being consistent with that. We have so many inconsistencies, we can be strongly motivated by sustainability, but our everyday life choices decisions and life practices don’t support that. It becomes about practicing that and supporting that at every level of your life. It is inconvenient, it is about getting out our your comfort zone, but we’re at a stage where we can’t not do that.

Challenges: making more political, why people have differential access.

A lot of the disrespect that exists today for nature and ecological factors is that people are so removed from it. There is a lot of taking for granted, overuse and abuse of the environment because people are so removed and disconnected from it.

We talk about the work of Dr Andy Williamson (previous interview), and John Mann’s work in Cambodia (previous interview,

SustainableLens apologises for the concrete mixer that appeared outside the window near the start of this interview. It goes away after a few minutes although returns right at the end.

development music

Sustainability of Are are music

Sean Linton talks us through his PhD research “The Music of ‘Are’are: acoustemology, environmental influences and sustainability”.

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Images from Sean of the Manawai harbour and the weekly/fortnightly supply boat Dragon:

Sean’s ‘Are’are recordings: SoundCloud