This is a response to the AIESEC presentations that are going around classes at Victoria University this week. I challenged one of the presenters with an abbreviated version of this argument, to which she had no response and seemed rather upset by. I would take this opportunity to apologise, but frankly I'm not sorry. If you want to present your organisation in a good light, you had best be prepared to answer criticism of it.
You know who middle- to lower-class conservatives hate? Immigrants, who come into OUR country and steal OUR jobs. Growing up in Queenstown, with a remarkably high immigration rate (particularly from South-East Asia and Latin America), I've heard many criticisms of immigrants ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous. My absolute favourite was one published in local gossip rag The Mountain Scene, which read (to paraphrase): "immigrants get jobs easier because they don't mind working more for less pay, which isn't fair on locals." Immigrants, by working harder jobs for less money, are somehow cheating the system.
While this particular argument (even more so in context) just came off as almost comically xenophobic, there is a valid point to be made here. Immigration can be seen, in rather impersonal terms, as an import of cheap labour, which is wonderful for employers who can then pay less and profit more. However this is ultimately pretty bad for the local economy, as there is less money being paid overall to the working classes (due to reduced wages) and the working classes themselves are now considerably larger (as we have just added a large number of immigrants to the population).
What saves Queenstown's economy here is that A) high turnover from seasonal workers and B) the sheer quantity of low-income service and hospitality jobs mean that even with high rates of immigration unemployment is not that high, C) most of the immigrants who now have jobs (albeit ones with slightly lower wages than before) actually spend a fair chunk of their disposable income at Queenstown businesses, and D)any loss of spending from employees who now have less disposable income due to job competition is more than compensated for by tourist spending. Though immigration and job competition makes things slightly worse off for individual employees who now have to work for lower wages, overall the economy actually benefits from the influx of cheap labour.
Not so in developing economies. Unemployment is typically high, as employers lack the resources and expertise to improve infrastructure. This is where organisations like Finca come in, providing the basic resources needed to help developing economies, creating jobs, building jobs and improving standards of living. This is the micro-economic kickstart that developing economies need to grow from the ground up.
In direct contrast to this is AIESEC (link not provided because I don't like them). AIESEC belongs to an earlier school of development thought that inherits rather too much from the White Man's Burden. AIESEC aims to create "global leaders" by taking university students from developed nations like New Zealand, flying them overseas and having them "work with a local organisation to impact a community based on their needs."
I am such a student, and so today I and my classmates were targeted by an AIESEC presentation. I study International Relations and Religion. Almost at the end of my undergraduate, I am fairly knowledgeable about certain areas of both these fields, and if my knowledge were called upon to improve or enrich someone's life I hope that I would live up to the burden: that after all is the purpose of this blog.
However outside of these areas I am not an expert. I have no qualifications in "cultural education, HIV/AID’s [sic], education, community development, environmental awareness [or] social entrepreneurship." How am I supposed to "impact a community" in any of these fields? What privilege do I have that I deserve to be flown in from abroad to solve these problems, that could not be solved locally without me?
The classic example, brought up today by our AIESEC presenter, is building houses. Nothing is more quintessential of this school of development than that of the student volunteer building houses in areas that need houses built. However the reason that these houses need to be built is not a lack of willing unskilled workers. There are many workers living locally that are just as skilled in building houses, if not far more so, than university students from New Zealand. The issue is a lack of resources. AIESEC sending students to do unskilled labour for no pay is doing nothing but depriving unemployed locals of the chance for employment, when the cost of our flights and "cultural activities" could be used instead to provide resources, employment, and improvements in the standard of living for many.