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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid

Blog: Power to the positive people

For the first time in ten years, the Netherlands counts more optimists than pessimists. The percentage of positive people recently went up from 35% to 49%, with economic growth as the main driver. Especially among the higher educated working class in the Netherlands, the number of ‘Shiny and Happy People’ increased due to economic growth. Interestingly, these positive folks also became more confident in local politics and the justice system.

This blog is written by Remco van der Veen, Cordaid’s Director International Offices. 

I hit my professional rock bottom last week when in South Sudan an employee from another aid organization was shot in one of our vehicles. According to the UN, almost 100 relief workers have been killed in South Sudan since its independence in 2011. In total, tens of thousands have lost their lives in the conflict. But even so, we keep looking for hopeful signs and we plant our flags of positivism on top of our successes, to sell a message of hope to the taxpayers of the donors that support us. And to ourselves, in moments of despair.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek.

Positive framing

We do not only sell positivism, we also tell it. Positive framing in development aid is gaining ground, not only in South Sudan but all over the world. Aid became ‘development cooperation’ and ‘becoming more ambitious’ is framed as ‘addressing the root causes’. The old Third World is not part of this globe anymore. We now have ‘The South’ and for the super-optimists among us: the ‘Emerging Markets’.

When a country is not emerging in a straight line upwards but has deep pockets of despair, we remain positive. Change will not come if we just wait for the ‘other’ to step in or if we keep waiting for better times. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek.

The sad thing is: we are denying that the boat has already sunk and that we are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.

I must acknowledge we miss you, Obama. But after you had to leave us, we developed our own language of hope. We will no longer focus on the challenges, but we will concentrate on the ‘Pockets of Peace’ and ‘Hubs of Hope’, to show you that even in South Sudan development and positivism is possible. We do not just keep people alive or develop them, but the new trend is that we are building their resilience.

Positive framing is a strong tool, to keep the hopes up in difficult times. When you work in difficult countries for too long, negative framing and cynicism can take over. An American diplomat once described the state of another emerging market in Asia, just before her departure. She told me the international community is joint together on a boat and we are all trying to keep the country floating, while there is a big hole in the bottom. The sad thing is: we are denying that the boat has already sunk and that we are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.

Let’s choose positivism over negativism and see the future as something we control and shape with collective efforts.

A big resilient boat

The only solution for boats on the bottom of the ocean is to build a dam upstream and stop the water from flowing into the river. For the moment, no dams will be built in the Nile in South Sudan and the boat has already sunk. The upside is that South Sudan is a big resilient boat. Stuck in the riverbank but with some dry pockets of hope. You can even visit it on the banks of the Blue Nile, near the center of the capital city of Juba.

Let’s choose positivism over negativism and see the future as something we control and shape with collective efforts. We just need to convince the other 50% first.