Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Can We Afford to Be 'America First'?

Written by: Roma Parikh
Program Intern, World Affairs Council
Student, University of Georgia
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States of America has been the unequivocal world leader. As a nation, rightly so, we have pursued policies that put America first for even longer. However, the consequences (intended or otherwise) of those policies on other nations and their citizens was never taken into consideration, never needed to be taken into consideration. Perhaps one of the best examples of how ‘America First’ policies have had disastrous effects on other countries and America itself is the trade war propagated by protectionist policies and the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff in the 1930s. What Congressmen in their day felt were policies meant to help policies to help Americans, the quickly globalizing nature of the world showed how much they could hurt.
So, yes, I want American citizens to thrive. I want my mom’s small business, a daycare center in Dallas, GA, to be successful.  I want to reduce how many American lives that are lost in war, in conflict, and in protecting my freedom. But do America first policies really deliver on what they promise?
 From debates ranging from whether or not the $20 billion spent annually on agricultural subsidies is a worthwhile investment to whether or not the drone program (expanded and championed by the Obama administration) is the most cost-effective and successful method, the answer seems to be: America first policies aren’t quite cutting it.
During the Great Depression, agricultural subsidies were vital to our nation’s food security; drone technology did not even exist then. As times change, the world becomes global, and technology evolves, so should America first policies. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on foreign trade reflects one aspect of this. Canada is our top trading partner clocking in 266 million in exports and 277 million in imports in 2016 alone. Likewise, Mexico in a close second was 229 million in exports and 292 million in imports. The U.S. economy does not exist without trade between us and Canada and Mexico.
President Trump announced negotiations on NAFTA – an attempt to rewrite the trade agreement to favor American businesses, such as the auto industry, which was hard-hit by the outdated and unfair terms of NAFTA. While the negotiations may level the playing field and update this important free trade agreement in light of technological changes, the heart of this policy is to put America first by promoting protectionist policies at the expense of U.S consumers and the economy: a decrease in quality of the produce and products we have come to expect while the cost of these items soars drastically.
While economics and trade relations are complex subjects that shouldn’t and often can’t be reduced to this policy is good and that one is bad, the scenario with NAFTA is just one instance of how America first policies and those who champion them fail to envision the whole picture and therefore do not anticipate the damage it can cause. For too long, America first policies have been America only policies – with a mentality of empathy and investment, we lay seeds to reap the benefits when harvest comes.

            So, I ask again, can we afford to be ‘America First’?  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Geographic Information Systems: Mapping Tomorrow's Future

Written By: John Teems
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: 7/20/2017
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is described by Esri, one of the world’s premier GIS providers, as a system that “lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.” Often, this involves the creation or manipulation of maps by collecting geographic data, such as longitude, latitude, and elevation, and non-geographic data, which could be anything from the type of disease a person has to the average GDP per capita in an area. Essentially, GIS is a tool used to manipulate, manage, and present geospatial data on a map. GIS is mostly utilized for city planning, natural resource development and conservation, and large-scale building projects. However, based on personal experience, it seems to be underutilized in day-to-day work in international development organizations. Here, I believe maps have the potential to enhance work in areas such as fundraising, project planning, and project evaluation.

When you examine many leading university programs, or look at job descriptions, you may notice a common theme: a gap exists between international development and GIS. After working and studying with countless development professionals, and attending meetups with members of the GIS community, I have rarely found someone possessing both skills. GIS academic programs rarely include development theory, and vice versa. On the non-profit side, most project workers have rarely, if ever, used GIS tools. Each side is specialized in its respective field, yet there’s the potential to increase productivity and impact through integration.

At a recent social event, I spoke with a GIS professional in Atlanta about his current project which maps local community gardens, including information on which produce is being grown at which garden. However, the idea stopped there. When I asked who this project is trying to reach and what methods he intends to use to reach this audience, I was met with silence. He admitted he hadn’t thought about this and planned on making the maps available only online, reaching a limited audience. I advised him to think about different mediums of communication in order to reach the Atlantans most in need of a community garden. Only after collaboration between both of us could this project not only be complete, but useful.

At a recent internship, I helped produce a report on trade in Asia. As with many reports, the purpose was to create knowledge and prove a point. Since the report contained hundreds of statistics on trade in different countries and sectors, the reader could easily get lost with the numbers alone. Explaining these facts and findings would require much more writing, but a map could do so instantly. Similarly, fundraising efforts would be more efficient if backed by simple maps correlating money raised by which donors and in what regions. Event planning becomes more effective when a map can show a location central to all attendees. Even something like a grant proposal is made more persuasive to the reader when a map is used to show the need for a specific program in a particular area, rather than the proposition merely being communicated through thousands of words. This isn’t a call for GIS tools to replace traditional methods of development work. This is merely a call to add something more to international development professional’s repertoire.