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Money, Comfort and Grassroots Initiatives

This blog post is inspired by a conversation between Jonas from Gode Penge—an organisation fighting to give Denmark a democratic monetary system—and Andrew Bende from Civil Connections. The shared office at Globalhagen contains activists and NGO workers doing incredible work. Sharing a working space with like-minded professionals means that they can come together, discuss overlapping ideas and think of new ways to work, together or separately. The book Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman discusses the idea of a universal basic income, citing studies where direct monetary assistance has proven more effective than benefits programs that divide up services and subject the poor to means testing for access to cash. Bregman’s discusses a kind of mental bandwidth, unevenly divided among the population; while those with disposable income have a sense of calm because their situation isn’t precarious, others threatened by their economic strife make worse decisions, stressed by the lack of a basic level of comfort. One study the book points saw researchers ask farmers to do an IQ test before and after a harvest. Farmers scored far worse on the tests before the harvest and the stress of poverty corresponded to a 14 point loss of IQ. This relationship between comfort and performance is also highly relevant to grassroots development. Andrew, Director of Civil Connections, reflected on how when he receives job applications at Civil Connections, the trauma of having to sell oneself under duress comes through in applicants’ writing. “It’s traumatic trying to sell yourself from a position of weakness and limitation. One can lose a part of themselves when they experience difficulty. They are not relaxed enough to be themselves. If, however, you asked them to present a project and asked them to pitch it, you would be surprised between that application and their presentations”. Andrew reflected on his intention to focus on small actors at the grassroots level: “That’s the whole idea of civil connections. In Kampala, imagine going up to someone on the streets making chapatis, imagine if the development sector went in and gave them 50,000 and, instead of just being able to make enough a day to survive, they could take their business further. Instead of selling 30 a day, they could use the rest of the money to develop another stall, As an NGO, we have grants, but we can’t only rely on grants, there is also a place for giving people direct assistance on a small scale to make their ideas a reality”. Civil Connections’ mission is to build robust communities through grassroots initiatives and help develop knowledge around grassroots development work. Stay tuned for more conversations ideas from the NGO community working at Globalhagen!