In an age of snappy slogans, it can be good to remind ourselves that the thrill of words should come from their meaning and not from their sound-bite superficiality.
This was brought home to me last month when I was in Delhi, India, as a volunteer organiser and speaker at The Resource Alliance’s International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation. What a privilege! And what a fabulous group of delegates! People who wore their desire for social justice on the sleeve; people who soaked up every morsel of insight one shared; people who were mobilising every bit of resource they could, and who still had the energy for Punjabi techno dance moves of an evening.
I have to confess — and I do this with apologies to my many Resource Alliance friends — that I used to think the IWRM was a terribly clunky name. But that was before I saw what resource mobilisation really means.
One person mobilising resources is Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj. I’d met Anshu at IFC 2016, where he delivered a provocative closing plenary challenging the way fundraisers often portray ‘beneficiaries’ (see, I even have to put that word in quotes now…). The sign at the entrance to his office highlights the Goonj philosophy.
The resources Goonj mobilises are discarded clothing and people. A thriving workshop upcycles old materials into clothing, backpacks, and all kinds of stuff that can be sold for profit or donated to those who need it. One workshop is dedicated to making sanitary protection for women who otherwise may have no more than a single piece of cloth, sometime shared in a family. This tackling of taboo, often unspoken, issues was also the focus of the IWRM’s closing plenary.
Through his organisation, Safai Karmachari Andolan, Bezwada Wilson works on behalf of what is sometimes still referred to as the untouchable caste. For many of this caste, the only work they can find is cleaning up human faeces. His presentation switched between Hindi and English, but I didn’t have to understand every word to know what he was saying. He challenged the audience hugely. How could we be trying to make the world a better place in so many ways, when we turn a blind eye and tolerate an entire group of people condemned to cleaning shit for their livelihood? The audience wept. And I was reminded that some of the most precious resources we can ever mobilise are our compassion, our openness to being challenged, and our strength to right what is wrong.