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 after I received my last paycheck from AID. I frequently recall this experience as a stunning example of how what we are able to see depends on who pays our bills.
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 personal isolation. A few of us joined together to form the People-Centered Development Forum as a mutual support network. In the midst of developing this network, Fran and I made another life changing decision to return to the United States, a separate, but related story.
In January 2004, I was invited to participate in the founding meeting of what became the International Forum on Globalization. The participants were all from nongovernmental or nonprofit organizations, but with a difference. All were from nonprofits with a mission to challenge the establishment. Many were involved in large-scale popular mobilization. It was a turning point. From that time forward, I have focused my energy on working with organizations engaged in social movement building to challenge and ultimately displace an inherently corrupt system.
Back in the United States Fran and I developed a friendship with Vicki Robin co-author, with her since deceased partner Joe Dominguez, of Your Money or Your Life. A leader of the voluntary simplicity movement, Vicki was supporting people in achieving the freedom of financial independence through moderating their material desires and being smart in how they spent their money.
Inspired by Vicki, somewhere around 1994 I declared my financial independence. Some would call it taking early retirement—but hardly a conventional retirement. It was a new mindset that gave me the freedom to follow truth wherever it might lead without concern for the impact on our ability to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. I began to find my public voice beyond the confines of the relatively small circle of activists challenging the foreign aid establishment and 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.
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