I have been battling with putting this post together and that battle with understanding my own feelings about throwing together about 500 people into a space with a hashtag #moneypowersex[1] has not been resolved - my first impression that it was at least a big step up from the more institutional gatherings like the CIVICUS World Assembly (and by no small measure, it blows the INGO heavy World Social Forum out of the water) in fact - #moneypowersex blew many things out of the water - so good thing it was not held near Bruma Lake  in Jozi Town - we can only guess at what would have landed on our heads if it was sited there...

For a start, the Poken devices we were given at registration were a great advertisement for Near Field Communication (NFC)[2] a welcome and timely change from the usual business card swopping that goes on at these gatherings of the well-fed discussing the poor in spaces they would most likely never stay in or spend their own money on - but that maybe is a blog for another day. Back to Poken and the fact that I did leave with about eleven business cards - nine of which I will dutifully place in the recycling bag, one I am going to use as a template for my own business card, some day in the future when I feel such a thing is critically necessary to my self worth and the last one I will use when I go to the paint shop, it is a rather spectacular combination of colours to paint a roof I think. But back to Poken and NFC - which is basically a way to do all sorts of interesting things like pay for your lunch, gain access to your corporate headquarters and check if anyone in the bar you are in is also using that dating site your 80-year old grandmother recommended to you…

So with people holding and rubbing their Pokens up and against each other to exchange details all day long and some well into the night - there was a distinct sense that this was at least a different space - here we were able to utilise NFC easily and be happy that we were part of a new way of exchanging and engaging with each other - which thankfully translated beyond the Poken and into the sessions with people and ideas. The choice to bring in people other than the usual suspects (yes, they were there too - it is after all part of the process and outcome of capital that dull, well past their sell by dates ex-revolutionary politicos, current politicos, I-am-too-politically-correct-for-my t-shirt NGO types, etc, have to be there!) there were clear and nuanced voices of writers, artists, musicians and just plain people too. The discussions were by and large robust, challenging to the panellists, listeners and participants - I laughed a lot, I learnt a lot, and I also managed to spend some time catching up on sleep when some of the duller people were speaking. The witty repartee between and among the thought leaders and participants was present in almost every session I attended - it made me look at and understand language, identity and the nature of the class struggle in much clearer ways - the passion with which people brought their thoughts and ideas to the table was inspiring - not just easy slogans - not just sound bites - not just cheap words - but a real sense of being human - having walked and blundered and made mistakes and having course corrected and being alive to possibility and ideas. Wow! It has been a long time since I felt or used Wow! in relation to what is essentially an NGO gathering (yes Raisa, with the exclamation mark). Just ask Sisonke Msimang to send you her opening presentation to get a sense of just how much creativity was present in thought and action at #moneypowersex.

That sense of being in a space with some truly Wow! people, their lived experience and what it would mean if they could influence the power around them to listen, remained with me for the duration of Open Forum 2012[3] - it was by all accounts a success - if you were lucky enough to go along just to listen and learn. If however you had the burden of carrying and furthering an out of touch and stodgy NGO position about some or other policy or issue, then maybe it was not so useful - and yes, some of these people were there too and their feedback to me was about how the dialogue seemed to be going everywhere and there was not a session to chart a way forward - OMG! - What will we do without a way forward session?

Well, I am sure those lovely people are still in shock and hopefully, they will remain there - I am glad there were no conference resolutions, no media statements, no march to claim Table Mountain as a site of struggle or attempts to occupy the Westin hotel as a protest against mass catering. On day two, I was pretty much in the same space of thinking that this is a great process but where to from here? I subsequently updated my status to pose this question, in the vain hope that I may find some ideas or at least solace from my online multiverse. Sadly, all I got was a friend of mine (who is an employee of some or other arm of the OSF multinational) telling me very clearly that the answer to the question was up to me.

As the day progressed and the process and people continued to surprise and engage me, I realised that for me, Open Forum 2012 was not about the outputs or the boxes we could tick on the LFA - it was about the fact that a space had been created for people to come together and talk, to listen, to engage with ideas and notions that are all too often delegated to the Committee for Ideology, and that was itself a remarkable thing to have done. All to often, the space to think, reflect and be exposed to a multitude of ideas is relegated to being luxuries for NGOs and the people who choose to work in them. I am glad that #moneypowersex brought some much needed process into an output driven space. So thank you Delme for throwing the question back to me, I am almost glad now that it was and is up to me - and not some development studies graduate with a fetish for LFAs…

So, if I got nothing else from moneypowersex, I am thrilled to have been part of a process (and yes, even an outcome) that illuminated the diverse and awesome people that are quietly going about being human, living the reality of their lives in impossible conditions but who remain focussed on doing what is right, for themselves and others.  I just wish I had met more of these Wow! people with passports from South Africa…

Rajesh Latchman

Is infatuated with NFC (among other things) and the idea of using it to bring people closer together.

He works for the NWF and is a volunteer with the GCAP-SA coalition.

Rajesh attended Open Forum 2012 as a guest of the OSF.

[1] https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23moneypowersex
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_field_communication
[3]  http://www.openforum.net.


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