26. Oktober 2013

Now more than ever!

Let’s question our endeavor: There are times when it seems particularly difficult to engage with a certain topic or work in a specific region. One aspect of the Mercator Fellowship is that young professionals choose their work stations based on their overall theme they picked for their fellowship year. The fellows are relatively free in their decision on where to go and what to work on in particular. Some of us have chosen challenging topics and/or locations – it is common that these fellows are asked why they made a decision for such a place and/or work field. A location might be extremely dangerous; an approach could currently be very controversial; a receiving institution may be in a critical situation regarding internal conflicts; a project could struggle for continued financing; …the given situation might seem just too bad to seek challenges there.

But if we would go for easy challenges, we probably would have not applied for this fellowship. It is the time of ‘crisis’ when one should engage with a topic and/or work in a particular location. Without any doubt, the situation in Nairobi has changed after the recent terrorist attacks. Working on peace and reconciliation has in the past been more promising in Arab countries in comparison to the current deterioration from Libya to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen. Focusing on alternative energies, the role of culture in politics, or new models of social entrepreneurship could have an easier stand if the economic crisis would not continue to strangle politics and everyday life in so many countries. This list could be continued…

…But it should be clear that these crises situations are not only challenging and depressing, all-encompassing and destructive. These crises situations put actors, who are willing to engage, into a position from which many things can be moved, because they are fluid. If one really wants to address pressing problems in the policy fields of security, energy, climate change, health, poverty, democratization, etc., one should go for the seemingly desperate place (locational as well as thematic). This is not about taking risks irresponsibly. This is about assessing what one can contribute to address a current situation – a status quo that is unsatisfying, unjust, inhuman, inacceptable…you name it. If one is sufficiently concerned about the status quo, one needs to get up and strive for positive change.

Are we encountering difficult situations? Are we making bad experiences? Are we suffering setbacks? For sure. But besides a great learning effect from this reiterative process, we are developing a perspective for incremental changes – these might be harder to communicate to friends and relatives who want to understand why we are so committed to these topics and places. However, we can be assured that these are the changes that are likely to stand the test of time.