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What a month it’s been. I was wrong; the polls were wrong; the pundits were wrong. There has been a maelstrom of emotion surrounding the recent US election, as you are no doubt aware.


The connection to the development sector is very clear. How might we claim to be anti-oppression, anti-poverty and champions for social justice when the world’s most powerful nation (and one of the biggest aid providers) has voted in a man who many have called a bullying racist who brags about being a sexual predator?


So needless to say, I was pretty bummed out by the election because the work I do — and millions of people like me around the world — causes us to ask: “What were we fighting for?” What is the point of educating girls or digging water wells or training new arrivals to our cities? These are development issues just as prevalent in the United States as they are in Vietnam. As the biggest supplier of foreign aid in the world, the US (US$23 billion in 2012) donates almost twice as much as the next largest donor, the UK.


This figure does not include financial programmes from entities such as World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. Last year the US sent Vietnam US$89 million in development assistance for things like disaster resilience, disability programming and disease control. This is a significant amount of money.




This victory for the right wing feels like a huge setback for progress and gives rise to real concerns about future aid and assistance flows. So while I am genuinely concerned and still have to shake off feeling dazed by events, I’ll leave it up to others to determine whether the election results are “business as usual” (for the wealthy elites) or an “anti-establishment backlash” (presumably for the rest of us). But I believe it is indeed time to get down to business — the continuation of our work to support and champion the marginalised and vulnerable.


We’ve had setbacks before (missing key targets in the Millennium Development Goals springs to mind, or failures in the green revolution and in eradicating tuberculosis). But nothing should be allowed to reverse decades of progress for the poor around the world. We must continue our business to defend one another.


While referring to egregious corporate practice, American criminal justice expert Christopher Stone notes that: “Nothing in society is a continuing problem because of itself, per se; something becomes and remains a problem because of shortcomings in the institutional arrangements we rely on to deal with it”. Stone’s observation just as readily applies to elections or development.


As this is the time of year when some take holidays and exchange gifts, there are many ways to stay hopeful and committed. Start or keep volunteering. Your brain and your community need your activism. What can you do and advocate for that delivers human, economic, social and cultural impact? Support immigrants (we’re all from somewhere else!), stand up to rape culture, and work for climate change. As more people become more engaged and active we increase not only networks, but friendships and empathy. Instead of gift-giving, why not donate to groups and organisations working to protect the vulnerable?


Cash is always gratefully received and allows the non-profits the ability to direct it where the need is greatest. A friend mentioned to me that powerful advocacy can be delivered by donating to or subscribing to the media sites that champion progressive and objective news. Quality journalism costs money; online rumour-mongering is free.


I believe in and will continue to support ideas and action that are essential to creating the reality that includes all humans.


Here’s to you and your holiday spirit; however you may celebrate or act on it.




Dana McNairn is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk youth

Dana McNairn

For the last ten years Dana McNairn has worked for NGOs on the frontline of human rights and gender-based violence, as well as INGOs such as the Canadian Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. She is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.