The Relationship Between the Global North and South

Another theme present in many chapters is the relationship between the global North and South. One area of possible concern is the use of national statistics to draw comparisons between countries of the global North and global South, as the authors of some chapters argue that the media uses such comparisons to portray the global North as more generous overall (Verduzco). The authors of these chapters do not give specific examples of this, and it would be interesting to do a content analysis study of these types of comparisons to see whether these perceptions are supported by the evidence. One area of explicit comparison is the Charities Aid Foundation’s report, using data from the Gallup World Poll, which ranks nations in their level of formal volunteering, informal volunteering (helping a stranger), and charitable giving. While developed countries tend to top the list in formal volunteering, less developed countries are ranked high on informal volunteering and charitable giving, so that neither region seems more generous. The Charities Aid Foundation web site stresses that “existing wealth is no guarantee of a high level of giving” and points out that “only 5 of the top 20 countries are G20” (Charities Aid Foundation, 2015).

The chapter authors are correct to argue against making simplistic rankings of the “generosity” of different countries based on a few survey questions. In our view, it is valid to compare countries on different specific behaviors, such as formal volunteering; after all, quantification, comparison, and searching for causes is common in much social science. It is not valid to extrapolate from flawed, specific measures to general statements about countries’ generosity, but there seem to be few social scientists who do so. We scholars have no control over how the media spins stories taken from the Charities Aid Foundation reports, but we do have control over whether we play the same game. Unfortunately, some of the authors of the chapters in this book enter into the same type of ranking debate, engaging in different levels of inquiry to argue against what they perceive as a preexisting bias against less developed countries. Verduzco, for example, argues that Mexico has a higher rate of formal and informal volunteering than most countries of the global North based on the results of the National Survey on Solidarity and Voluntary Activity, where acts of solidarity are also considered volunteering since they fit the UNV definition. This survey shows that 73 % of respondents engage in some form of informal active solidarity and formal volunteer work, be it on a regular basis or in a sporadic fashion, and volunteer an average of 283 h per year. However, the survey that reports this information includes an initial prompt that sets the context for the respondent and includes more types of volunteering than any survey used in the global North. Scholars could compare participation in specific categories of volunteering crossnationally, assuming that the surveys in developing countries use questions that are similar or identical to those in the global North. We cannot, however, construct an aggregate measure of volunteering using markedly different sets of survey questions and claim that it makes any sort of valid comparison.

Another area in which there are power differences between North and South is “voluntourism,” in which people from wealthy countries do short-term volunteering in poor ones as part of a trip aimed more at the benefit and learning of the volunteer than any substantive benefit to the organizations or clients. As Mati notes, many North-South volunteer programs have been criticized as a type of “imperialist, paternalistic charity, volunteer tourism, or a self-serving quest for career and personal development on the part of well-off Westerners, marred with hierarchical relationships and supply driven volunteer placement that undermines potential for reciprocity and mutual benefit.” Many of the articles about voluntourism criticize it, but ironically even critical articles tend to privilege the phenomenon of voluntour- ism by paying attention to it. In editing this volume, we chose to ignore voluntour- ism and focus primarily on the much more common phenomena of volunteering within a Southern country by citizens of that country. As mentioned above, we look at how development assistance from the global North can create a “stipend culture” which leads volunteers to expect a stipend and undermines unstipended traditional practices. However, the chapters do provide two examples of successful North- South volunteer programs that do not reproduce the power inequalities found in other programs: the spread of corporate volunteering in Latin America (Allen and Galiano) and the spread of global solidarity through North-South exchanges with community groups in Peru (Appe et al.).

In Latin America, extensive contacts between local businesses and their partners in Spain and the United States made it possible for Latin American businesses to absorb a culture of corporate volunteering, learn about models of successful programs, and learn how to create an infrastructure that would support it (Allen and Galiano). Latin American business leaders did not merely imitate the models from Spain and the United States, but adapted them to develop volunteer programs appropriate to their own cultural context. Corporate volunteering did not, therefore, represent an imperialistic takeover, but a voluntary adaptation of Northern ideas by Southern leaders. The rapid expansion of corporate volunteering in Latin America provides an example for other regions on how countries in the global South can adapt practices from the global North while maintaining autonomy and control.

Another positive example, again from Latin America, is a partnership between international volunteers from the North with local women’s groups in Peru (Appe, Rubaii, and Stamp). This partnership was established specifically to avoid the top- down power dynamic of many North-South relationships and instead embody global solidarity. The program sends volunteers from the United States to participate in local soup kitchens that operate according to an ethic of “Andean solidarity,” or mutual self-help. Instead of undermining a traditional voluntary practice, the international contacts strengthen this traditional practice by bringing in people from overseas to participate in the practice and learn from it, not to change it or improve it by bringing supposedly superior Northern models. The program also addressed power differences between the North and South by making these an explicit focus of the discussion that took place during the interaction of the Northern and Southern volunteers.

 
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