A F.A.C.T. Approach to Citizen Diplomacy
Worldwide, families are looking for ways to make a living. But often, this means working for employers, foreign or domestic, who dictate harsh terms of employment (i.e., where, when and how you will work and for how much pay) and care more about profits than their employees and the families and communities their workers support.
Further, globalization is enriching a relative few who make and shape international relations through businesses, governments or nonprofit organizations they own or direct. In the globalization process, people and their communities are, for better or worse, becoming more like each other as millions of individuals across the world become the employees and consumers of major transnational companies like Walmart, Apple, Toyota, ExxonMobil and McDonalds. Transnational companies are not going away, but people and their communities do not have to, nor should they, lose what makes them unique.
What if there were ways for people to provide for themselves, nurture local ownership, and build the unique assets of their families and communities?
The F.A.C.T. Nexus:
People can and do often pursue food, art, community and tourism (FACT) separately. However, they can form a complementary nexus for people to provide for themselves, nurture local ownership, and build family and community assets.
Everyone needs to eat every day, and many if not most people enjoy eating. Moreover, growing, processing and serving food constitute major sources of jobs in communities worldwide. In many places, food sector workers work for chain restaurants controlled by large domestic or transnational companies. But they could, alternatively or in tandem, work for themselves, offering residents and visitors a unique taste of their family, region and country’s culinary traditions at home, in restaurants, or community spaces and events.
Art in all its forms — paintings, photography, video, dance, music, jewelry, makeup, clothes, etc. — is a way to nurture creativity, expression and dialogue, and a way to make homes and communities more meaningful and attractive. Art can also be displayed and sold to residents and visitors to help families earn a living and nurture community economies.
Every community has stories about its past, present and future. These local stories often connect with national and international stories that can make local stories interesting to residents and visitors alike. Examples include a local person who became famous, a product made locally yet widely known, the local imprints of a national or international war, remarkable local events that connect with universal human experiences. Families and communities can record and tell these stories in unique, engaging ways, using manifold media — photos, audio, video, painting, music, dance, etc. — to create temporary and permanent community exhibits and events that can attract local to global viewers.
Tourism can be top-down or bottom-up. In many places tourism is top-down: controlled to varying extents by large foreign or domestic hotel and entertainment chains that create profitable, packaged experiences. Perhaps the most problematic are deluxe resorts that fly vacationers in and out of their all-inclusive enclaves, with no need for their clients to experience let alone connect with the (often poor) communities that surround and serve the resort.
However, tourism can be and sometimes is bottom-up or grassroots: owned by local businesses, employing local people, and devoted to building the assets of their people (e.g., experiences, knowledge, skills, products) and communities (e.g., art exhibits, museums, memorials, murals, monuments, gardens, parks, farms, restaurants, cafes, markets).
A F.A.C.T. Approach:
Organizations devoted to international exchange can help nurture children, families and communities in developing countries through food, arts, community and tourism projects. Working long-term with individuals, families or local groups in the developing world, they can provide training and other resources to turn localities’ food, arts, community and/or tourism into income. They can also connect those localities to audiences eager to learn from them. Further, they can create collaborative, cross-national FACT events and products, like comparative photo or video displays that can add an eye-catching international component to local art or community exhibits and installations. Simpler projects can lead to more ambitious for-profit and non-profit international collaborations for mutual benefit.
The FACT approach is not the big-donor project that withers or dies when the funding dries up or moves on, and that can thus accentuate the chasm between rich and poor communities. This is grassroots development that strengthens communities, if its collaborators commit long-term.
Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life