15 April 2021

A Right Sharing reunion

Right Sharing of World Resources newsletters 2021 and 1987. Sources: 1987 and 2021.

A month ago, the Quaker organization Right Sharing of World Resources gathered a group of former Right Sharing trustees for a reunion, inviting input on visions for the future of the organization. The following observations are mine alone, not approved by staff or trustees, and subject to comment and improvement by any of them!

As both a former staffer and a former trustee, I loved the idea of hearing first-hand what was going on in the world of Right Sharing, a program for which I cannot pretend to be objective. Although I've been a contributor for years, I was only vaguely aware of some of the developments since my time of direct involvement, and this March 2021 reunion-by-videoconference seemed like a great way for me to get caught up. Despite its obvious growth in scale and sophistication, was Right Sharing still the human-scale development aid and development education program, relying heavily on relationships, that I'd known and loved?

Link to excerpt on Right Sharing.
(Some background: Right Sharing emerged as a concern at the World Conference of Friends in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1967, where the words "right sharing of world resources" were first used as part of that gathering's concern to confront poverty and economic injustice. [See these pages from The Friend's coverage of that conference.] In the European yearly meetings, the implementation of this vision mostly devolved to the individual yearly meetings. In London Yearly Meeting, for example, a One Percent Fund was established, to be managed by a Sharing World Resources committee that carried the program on for the next twenty years.

(For the Friends World Committee for Consultation's American Section -- now Section of the Americas -- a One Percent More fund was set up in 1969, and a Right Sharing Committee was set up in 1974 to work alongside Right Sharing Committees in five USA yearly meetings and with interested Friends in other yearly meetings. Interestingly, the money generated by the Right Sharing vision started coming into FWCC before any Right Sharing program was established; the Section had to scramble to organize good stewardship for this burst of support. For this background, I've drawn on Herbert Hadley's history of FWCC, Quakers World Wide, as well as my own memories.

(I began as staff for Right Sharing in January 1986 -- following Sharli Powers Land, who also edited FWCC Section of the Americas publications -- and I left the staff in March 1993. The late Roland Kreager followed me as staff; during his tenure, Right Sharing of World Resources left the Friends World Committee umbrella and became a separate organization with its own trustees. I was very glad to serve on this group in those early years. In this interview, current general secretary Jackie Stillwell gives a very helpful summary of today's Right Sharing. In recent newsletters, you can see vivid examples of both similarities and differences between the "old" Right Sharing and today's program.)

In the last year of my service, Betsy Mathiot (known to many of us as Betsy Moen during her years of active involvement with Right Sharing) was guest editor for an issue of Hunger Notes, and asked me to write an article about my experiences with the program. In the resulting article, I tried to summarize what I'd learned over the seven years I served -- including a growing appreciation of the limits of development doctrine, the importance of relationship, the temptations to corruption that we ourselves can allow through ignorance, and the pitfalls of project-oriented management. 

One of the biggest differences between then and now, I feel, is that the lessons that I was barely able to put words to, have now become embodied in a thoughtful and well-balanced way. Relationships are still encouraged, but field representatives in each country now provide reliable links between the support community and the local groups whom we're privileged to encourage and learn from -- links that seem more conducive to stability, trust, and practical mentorship than our older reliance on almost random volunteers. Instead of spreading ourselves across ten or more countries, today's Right Sharing focuses on three -- India, Sierra Leone, and Kenya. 

Another important program focus is support for women's groups, which represents (to me) the conscious adoption of an insight that was just part of the gradual learning process in my time: aid to women supports the whole family, whereas, too often, resources acquired by men are spent by those men on themselves. The World Bank and others documented this reality already in the early 1970's (if not before), but an organization with limited resources and a human-scale vision does well to turn insight into program. Men are not shunned -- a couple of the the field representatives are men -- but the community-level participants and leaders are women.

There's also definite continuity with the Right Sharing of the 1980's and 1990's. Most of the groups in partnership with Right Sharing consist of women learning how to create and manage their own small businesses and getting loans for their businesses, which when repaid will in turn enable others in their communities to get similar loans. The majority of the groups we worked with did exactly the same -- and I'm sure met some of the same challenges, whether they were operating street food stands in Cairo, weaving in Dhaka, or tending water buffalo in Madurai District.

These are some of the things I learned during our Right Sharing videoconference last month. In small groups, we were also invited to contribute our own ideas of what Right Sharing might look like, what directions it might take, in the next twenty years. Surveying the results, among the important points raised in our small groups were these: (this list is edited by me alone, and I bear sole responsibility for the emphases and omissions!) 

  • Continue to acknowledge and encourage the shift in power that occurs when funding decisions are made in the field, by people in touch with local realities, rather than by a central North America-based structure composed of people who are often racially and culturally disconnected from the "beneficiaries." 
  • By emphasizing partnerships with women, we reflect the often-documented reality mentioned above, that when resources go to women, the whole family benefits….  However, as Betsy Moen said years ago in her Right Sharing talk at the University of the West Indies (mentioned somewhere in the middle of this blog post), where does that leave men? Betsy's question may lead to fruitful conversations and partnerships in the next generation, but, in our small group, we all agreed that we want such conversations to multiply, not divide, our strengths. They should not divert attention from our primary focus.
  • A huge benefit of transferring power to our locations of service: great sensitivity to local culture, and cultural appropriateness of our activities and ideas. One participant in our small group gave an example: she had thought it would be great for women in a program in Sierra Leone to have motorcycles but was cautioned by local partners that this would be incompatible with local expectations and patterns. However, this leads to another query: what do we do when local patterns support oppressive systems, as early Friends encountered in advocating the equality of women, and, later, in rejecting slavery? (Here's an example from 1985.) How do we have the courage, humility, and spiritual authenticity to raise these concerns without making things worse?
  • Two related concerns that were raised in small groups: let's work to increase the diversity of our own trustees and staff; and let's include domestic violence as one of the realities faced in our work.
  • As Right Sharing grows, do we go wider (partnerships in more countries) or do we go deeper where we already work? Everyone seemed to agree that, unless God gives us a specific leading to expand, confirmed by prayerful discernment, we ought to stay focused on our current locations and the networks we've built there; and in any case, we ought not to let those existing commitments be weakened for the sake of geographic diversity.
  • How should the climate crisis figure into strategic planning -- in both our organizational operations and our partnerships?

In sum, I found the whole videoconference encouraging and inspiring. May Right Sharing of World Resources continue to thrive, blessing participants at every point in this extraordinary international network of relationships.

(Link to part two.)

My article on Right Sharing of World Resources for the October 1989 issue of Quaker Life.

Right Sharing continues to be represented in the most recent Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Vorkuta. I find this photo almost unbearable.
From RFE/RL's Matthew Luxmoore: The costly history and sad decline of one of Russia's most remote Arctic cities, Vorkuta.

From a city I love (the city where my own sister died of a gunshot wound at age 14), another police-shooting horror story.

... as another horror story unfolds in Indianapolis.

Another story from Luxmoore: controversy around a priest's relatively mild defense of Aleksei Navalny.

Beth Woolsey tells us where all her words have gone.

"Come Go With Me" -- Mavis Staples. (No hatred will be tolerated.)


Unknown said...

Wonderful summary AND great additions based on your personal involvement with RSWR...Thank You!

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you for your kind words!