Defecting from the Establishment

My defection from the establishment involved a transition of several years. I left my assignment with the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in 1988. A few months later, I wrote an invited paper for a conference of Asian NGOs on the Asian development experience that focused on the inherent dysfunction of foreign aid and spelled out the inherent dependency creating consequence of funding development with foreign exchange. I had not been able to see this dynamic until I left AID. I frequently recall this experience as a stunning example of how what we are able to see depends on where we sit.

For several years, I focused my attention on strengthening the roles and strategies of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in development work. I believed at the time that they were the potential key to deeper system change—until I realized that they were unable to criticize or change in any consequential way the system on which their own funding depended. Gradually, the realization dawned that change would have to come from outside the establishment through broadly based citizen movements, as demonstrated by the civil rights, women's, and environmental movements.

I began to develop a circle of colleagues scattered around the world who were asking similar questions, mostly with a sense of deep isolation. A few of us joined together to form the People-Centered Development Forum as a mutual support network. 

In January 2004, I was invited to participate in what turned out to be the founding meeting of the International Forum on Globalization. The participants were all from nongovernmental or nonprofit organizations, but with a difference. All were from nonprofits in the business of challenging the establishment. Many were involved in large-scale popular mobilization. It was a turning point. From that time I have focused my energy on working with organizations engaged in movement building.

Back in the United States Fran and I developed a friendship with Vicki Robin, co-author with her partner Joe Dominguez, of Your Money or Your Life and a leader of the voluntary simplicity movement taught people how to achieve the freedom of financial independence through moderating their material desires and being smart in how they spent their money. Somewhere around 1994, I declared my financial independence --- some would call it taking earlier retirement, but it has hardly been a conventional retirement. This declaration  gave me the freedom to follow truth wherever it might lead without concern for the impact on my own funding. I began to find my public voice beyond the confines of the relatively small circle of activists challenging conventional development wisdom. The publication of When Corporations Rule the World followed in late 1995 and secured my position in the then emerging global resistance against corporate globalization now known as global civil society or the Movement of Movements  

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