Statements from some of the Founders
When I took Armen Gakavian's three day course on Social Action at UTS in May 2001, Armen asked us, thinking of the holocausts, Who are the 21st century Bystanders? I said, The 20% of us in the affluent world, who are consuming 80% of the Earth's water, energy and minerals on a daily basis. This caused the class to squirm a bit, some muttering, You're right. There was a terrible pause, and then we carried on regardless.
I took Armen's course because I'd been trying to figure out how I could do more and talk less during the rest of my life. I left Sydney determined to take a stand in my world, much of which (like freedom and democracy, and all the comforts, pleasures, satisfactions and challenges afforded by the First World) I would like to see there for all of humanity.
Back home in Adelaide I quantified the degree to which I was prepared to take a stand, and it added up to 184.108.40.206. I immediately felt lonely and ineffectual. Even if I tripled my resolve, what good would it do? I can't remember the moment the idea of FairShare International popped into my head, but I do know it seemed the only way to make an imperceptible commitment mean something. What if only 1% if the 1.2 billion rich people did this? Surely 12 million people could create a value revolution.
I acknowledge that 220.127.116.11 is not new to some people and would be a small step for others. But, as any philanthropic organisation will tell you, it represents a radical lifestyle change for most people. Thomas Jefferson (or was it his offspring?) woke up one day with the realisation that keeping slaves, no matter how humanely, was a very bad thing. I hope that we in the affluent world can collectively awake to the idea that excessive consumption or hoarding is greed, and as the bumper sticker exhorts us, just stop it.
I have had the good fortune to be paid for doing something I love since I joined the University of Adelaide in 1969 as the newest member of the Classics department, now amalgamated with three other departments into the School of European Studies and General Linguistics. Being able to study and teach about the world of ancient Greece and Rome brings home to one just how much attitudes and opportunities can change. The ancient world was one of slavery, life expectancy of about 25 years, people killing each other in arenas as a form of entertainment, and massive inequalities in wealth. Although various utopias were dreamed about there was little belief that real change and improvement were possible. The poor and disadvantaged would always be around and that was either tough luck or their just desserts.
FairShare International is one of the many current movements that uses resources not available to ancient Greeks and Romans, such as information on just how things stand in areas like comparative per capita income, energy consumption, crime rates and hours contributed by volunteers. History provides spectacular examples of how well greed and ruthless exploitation can work for a few in the short term but it also shows that prosperity, to be sustainable, requires much co-operative behaviour and the promotion of social capital. History, and its muse, Clio, is with FairShare International.
My great grandparents were victims of the Armenian Genocide during World War One. Being part of a family of genocide survivors has no doubt been critical in shaping my desire to build a better world. So has my Christian faith. For years I have grappled with the teachings of Jesus and sought to apply them to my everyday life. This has involved asking some hard questions: How can I, first of all, change myself? What empowers me, and what motivates me? What can I do to bring justice and healing to a broken world, and how can I mobilise and empower others towards this end?
In 1993, while completing my PhD in politics at the University of Sydney, I became involved in the Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. I was motivated by my desire to work in solidarity with other ethnic groups that have suffered the same fate as my forbears. I have also worked with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, have been involved in the Jubilee 2000 Campaign and local welfare activities, and have taught a course on Social Action at Macquarie University and UTS. And now I see in FSI an opportunity to grow in my personal commitment to justice and to help others do the same ...
In 2001 I moved to Armenia. My vision here is to raise up a generation of servant-leaders who are ethical, professional, dedicated, and who are informed by Armenia?s rich Christian heritage. I continue to teach and to work with NGOs and individuals in the hope of building a better future for this country.
I was raised in a German Lutheran family who taught me to avoid sin and save string. As I lived in the Western abundance of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, I found that conspicuous consumption was valued in my society much more than saving anything. Workmates would smile when I used both sides of the paper. My children would roll their eyes when I criticized unnecessary packaging and would reuse plastic bags. The attitude was, "If you have money, spend it." I did half and half, suspended between the world of my father and of my children, feeling uncomfortable with both. While I spent more money than ever before, I was painfully aware that indeed, it did not buy happiness. I watched as we became more isolated and less loving as we grew in dollars while destroying our environment.
A cancer episode 10 years ago focused my attention, and I cut back my work hours and my spending in order to add quality time to my suddenly more precious life. In the years since then I have pondered about what is a "good life". In fits and starts I have tried to move toward a "life well lived", only to fall back into old patterns influenced by the Western values of self-absorption and materialism which surround me.
FairShare is like a breath of fresh air, providing structure and support for what I feel is right, and the way I would like to live. It is not just about money, but also about community. It invites me to think about my personal and social resources and how to use them well. And it provides a reckoning: it requires me to keep track of my actions, to count 5-10-5-10. Good intentions are not enough. FairShare is providing a clear set of values out in the public arena and a website I can visit and send my friends to when they wonder what I am on about or how they can put these values into action in their own lives. For me FairShare provides a beacon, lighting my way into a more equitable, connected and satisfying future.
For me FSI is a philosophical thing. I haven't lived a deprived life; I have enjoyed the good things of life and I believe that everyone should have the fundamentals - a fair go, clean air and water, health care, education, adequate food and shelter, freedom from discrimination, persecution and violence.
I also want to work towards a sustainable relationship between the man-made and the natural world.
It just makes sense to me to work with other people towards these goals - together I think we really can make a difference.
I am married to Tony and have twin sons, Kester and Jeremy who are seventeen. We live in the beautiful village of Forth in North West Tasmania. I earn the bread by working as a teacher at the local high school. Tony produces fruit and vegetables from our lovely big garden.
We seem continually to struggle to live within our income and 'can't afford' so many desired items: trips to the mainland, trips to Hobart, bought lunches, even shoes until the old ones are letting in the rain, to shop at the local butcher as compared to the supermarket. But the reality is, I know that we are like feudal kings and queens living in the castle while outside the walls the serfs don't have enough to eat, shelter, sanitation, clean water. Most people don't have the luxury of worrying about how they will afford university education for their children.
I know about the obscenely unequal distribution of the world's resources. Up to now I have done what I can. Is it enough? How will history judge me? I cannot plead ignorance. If I do not act, it is hard to feel good about myself and my life. The knowledge rests as a weight on my shoulders.
FairShare International provides a pathway, goals to reach for, people to travel with.
I am very challenged by 18.104.22.168. I wonder how I can achieve it. I have to start small and try to build on it incrementally. We will begin with 1% of my money, thinking about where it can come from. The next 10? Could I realistically ride my bike to Ulverstone to work? What would it mean? Can we install a system which re-cycles our household grey water onto the garden? How can we research this? The 5% of my leisure time is very challenging. My work is already full of people. I will be alert to possibilities as they present themselves. And lastly the ten actions. This is the only part that I think confidently that I can achieve this year. My first act is to write this piece for the web site. My next act will be to hold a dinner at my place during the Australia Day long weekend to tell my Quaker worshipping group about FairShare International."
A few years ago after becoming disillusioned with life in the materialist West, I left my job, packed my bags and set out on a journey across Asia. The first part of this journey, travelling overland by public transport from Australia to UK took 20 months, and wow did it open my eyes to a very different experience of life. I experienced to an extent the reality of poverty, from subsistence tribal villages in West Papua and Laos, to the mass poverty of Calcutta. I also saw signs of the cultural alienation and environmental degradation that the affluent West ultimately has had a hand in creating.
On arriving in the UK I was determined not to be seduced by the false comforts of materialism, but to live my life in a way that was meaningful to me, and expressed my sense of connectedness to the people and cultures I had just experienced so much of. I decided to make a commitment to give away 10% of all I earned to economically disadvantaged people in the UK and overseas. And after all, everything that I owned had come to me as a gift from the Universe.
Giving money turned out to be an easy way of expressing my sense of connectedness, and I felt I could do something more demanding, so I volunteered four hours a week at an Oxfam Fair Trade Shop. And I supported letter writing campaigns initiated by Oxfam and Amnesty International.
But giving wasn't enough either, I wanted to have a positive impact on the world in everything I did - or at least, to minimise any harm that I did in the process of living. I made a point of minimising my impact on the environment by using the bus, walking, not eating meat, buying local produce, and having fewer consumer goods. I bought Fair Trade products when they were available (easier to do in the UK!). And I looked for (and found) work with ethical organisations so I could live according to the Buddhist idea of right livelihood.
Having practised this for a year in the UK, I felt I'd developed a very practical model for living in a way which expressed my sense of connectedness with the Universe, and one that I could apply when I returned to Australia. I was delighted when, soon after returning to Adelaide, I came across the fledgling FairShare International which promotes the very model I was seeking to live by. Once again I find that as I live according to my principles, everything I need is provided for me. I therefore encourage others to accept the challenge of 22.214.171.124 and share with me in living a more connected life.