Social change

International cooperation and global inequality

“Capitalism is an inherent source of inequality”, says Thomas Piketty. The reality is that our lives are shaped by a globalized capitalist system that perpetuates inequality on a global scale, configured by central countries – the developed and industrialized nations – that consume and exploit the resources of others, dependent on natural resources, that exist on their periphery (the so-called “developing” nations), thus giving rise to the economic, trade and geopolitical relationships that we see today.

As can be seen in the image below, the concentration of wealth is the clearest indicator of inequality. The current economic system undermines human rights, dismantles public services, prevents peripheral countries from developing, destroys the environment, and inevitably prioritizes capital over people.

The impact of this inequality is palpable in our city, both in global and local terms. In Barcelona, those in the richest neighbourhoods live up to 11 years longer than those in the poorest, according to a study by Intermón Oxfam.


International cooperation

For several decades now, a number of international organizations and rich countries have been promoting development cooperation in policy and citizens’ initiatives. Paradoxically, however, there has been a marked increase in inequality in the distribution of wealth and well-being on a global scale during this same period.

The problematic and obsolete concepts of “underdevelopment” or “the Third World” appeared after the Second World War, at the same time as the first steps towards decolonization began to take place. At the time, certain countries and societies (specifically the ex-colonies) were considered to be “lagging behind” Western nations in terms of the stages required to reach developed status. This development was understood in economic terms: “The pro-development ideas of the 1950s and 1960s, based on economic growth as a central goal, and on confidence in unlimited growth, rendered the collaborative development model dependent on economic strategies. The successive changes of emphasis in the conception of the development are key to understanding the types of cooperation that exist in practice “. (Diccionari Cooperació al Desenvolupament, d’HEGOA).

At this time, Western states introduced official aid agencies with the aim of achieving both “modernization” and development on these terms. It was a period in which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) held a humanitarian welfare focus based on covering basic needs without consideration of socio-political complexities, or of the role of the West itself in creating these problems. This lack of perspective resulted in superficial action, which did nothing to address or change systemic injustices and inequalities.



Human rights and gender-based approach (HRGBA)

The current approach to development cooperation, the human rights and gender-based approach (HRGBA), begins by identifying injustices and inequalities both between countries and extant within them. It seeks to promote access to and protection of the human rights of everyone, paying particular attention to the discrimination and power imbalances suffered by women and girls, as well as by other vulnerable groups. As such, we understand that cooperation must help in building a model of global justice, centered on meaningful and sustainable development for the entire population.

Today, millions of people are condemned to lifelong poverty, an obvious sign that the so-called aid from North to South represents a much less significant positive contribution

than the negative contributions flowing in the same direction. A large part of these negative contributions are the result of actions by large corporations and states focused on increasing profits and securing resources and markets.

It is clear, therefore, that the role of international cooperation in driving change within the current global system and its ways of working is very limited. Instead, it is the self-organization of the citizenry, focused on driving change in their everyday environment, which is they key to bringing about deep-rooted social change. One example from our part of the world is the creation of the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes, or street vendors’ union (for more information, see the activity “Rethinking Cooperation”).


Protest against Bolsonaro, 2019 / ANDRE COELHO

Sustainability and migration: environmental refugees

For decades, a growth-based development model has prevailed: the wealth of states is measured according to economic indicators such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the countries in the Global North and colonial powers continue to exploit the natural resources of the countries in the South, and cooperation policies are based on the export of Western economic and cultural criteria to countries which, though rich in natural resources, are economically impoverished.

The idea of an economic model based on unlimited growth in a world of finite resources inexorably leads us to a dead end, with the degradation of the habitat in which humanity lives and the spread of serious health problems and natural disasters. One example of this is the increase in forced population displacement for environmental reasons. According to UNHCR, between 20 and 25 million of the world’s current population have been displaced as a result of disasters and climate change, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. For the time being, these people have no legal basis for asylum. However, various international bodies are working to expand the Refugee Statute so as to include the concept of “climate refugees”.

In 2019, 1% of the world’s population was displaced. During the first half of 2019, 24.1 million people had to leave their home due to the effects of climate change. It is estimated that by 2050, one in seven people will have been displaced. In this context, it is imperative that we create alternative models that guarantee stable living conditions in harmony with the natural environment. This is why it is essential that specific actions of solidarity or political activism be accompanied by broad processes of transformation which initiate change in how we live and work day-to-day, both as individuals and as a community.



“Solidarity is the tenderness of the people" - Gioconda Belli