Ghana Think Tank: the world majority solves the first world's problems

Christopher sez,
The Ghana ThinkTank is solving the First World's problems, one by one.

Founded in 2006, the Ghana ThinkTank is a worldwide network of think tanks creating strategies to resolve local problems in the "developed" world. The network began with think tanks from Ghana, Cuba and El Salvador, and has since expanded to include Serbia, Mexico and Ethiopia. In their most recent project, they sent problems collected in Wales to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, Iran, and a group of incarcerated girls in the U.S. Prison system.

These think tanks analyze the problems and propose solutions, which they put into action back in the community where the problems originated -- whether those solutions seem impractical or brilliant.

By applying a typical process of community development against the grain, traditional power-roles are inverted, places are exchanged, and stereotypes clash with reality as disconnected cultures work together in detached but physical ways.

This project is an attempt to transpose parts of one culture into another, exploring the friction caused by solutions that are generated in one context and applied elsewhere, and revealing the hidden assumptions that govern cross-cultural interactions.

The Ghana ThinkTank (Thanks, Christopher!)


  1. I was totally with this until the last 2 paragraphs revealed it to be an obvious postmodern bullshit. I sometimes wonder whether Sociology degrees teach anything outside of “trolling the crap out of bleeding heart liberals 101” or whether it’s just that students stop listening.

    1. Wait, because the justifications for the project make the policy action itself problematic? Sounds like postmodern bullshit to me.

      Although, to be fair to postmodernism, I’m giving you too much credit; I suspect you are only objecting to the terminology they are using.

      That being said, I think this sounds like a genuinely great idea and I’m keeping my eye on it.

      1. Oh no, I’m not implying that practical value cannot be created through the project’s methods. I’m just objecting to the superfluous woo-woo that appears to be mandatory when talking about projects of this nature. I could go on, but it wouldn’t be good for anyone, so I’ll spare you.

        I believe that the Buddha commented on good deeds being rendered bad by the motives behind them. Can good deeds also be rendered bullshit?

    2. To be fair, this project is more than woo-woo language. Ghana Think Tank has been actively implementing our “Third World” Think Tanks’ solutions since 2006, in Westport, Providence, Wales, Liverpool, and this summer in New York City.

      It’s involved casting concrete, wood-working, gardening, gate-crashing, wheedling electricity from a pizza shop, collecting dirty stories from the elderly, PowerPoint destruction, hiring Immigrant Day Laborers to attend social functions, cooking with weeds, teaching drug addicts to build African instruments, renaming a dog love, initiating games of street chess between segregated neighbors, installing D.I.Y. bollards…

      Some of these actions have produced workable solutions, but others have created intensely awkward situations, as we play out different cultures’ assumptions about each other.

      Hence the “woo woo.”

      But if the woo-woo language is pushing people away from an idea they like, then it’s got to go. I have removed the woo-woo from the site:

      It’s good to get direct feedback!

      1. I have to say, I assumed that the project was totally in earnest until I read the last two paragraphs. I think that language does do a good job of explaining that the project has another important goal beyond “solving the first world’s problems”, which is making a point about the issues which develop when one culture sets out to solve another culture’s problems, and the fact that traditional problem solving between developed and undeveloped almost always flows the other direction.

        I don’t like jargon any more than the next man, but the points the jargon makes were important to understand the project, I think. Maybe just rework it into less academic language, if you’re really afraid of scaring people off.

        1. Good point ZikZak. The members of the Ghana Think Tank often disagree on this point: where the line can be drawn between enacting practical solutions and allowing for the social friction produced by cultural gaps and assumptions.

          It often leads to difficult circumstances (this project has definitely become a Frankenstein), but we are committed to enacting our think tanks’ solutions regardless of how we might initially judge them. After all, this is often how it works in the International Development Structure this project was created to explore, in which a “developing” community feels immense pressure to implement whatever projects the donor country has mainstreamed.

          Besides, quite often ideas we pre-judge turn out to work!

      2. Like I say, I think that the project itself sounds really interesting and valuable. I probably sounded a bit bitter and angry. I guess I am. Thanks for seeing through that!

        I’m glad that you found my feedback helpful. I’m interested in the idea but found the language a bit obstructive – not because I don’t understand it, but because the sort of language used (in the aforementioned last two paragraphs) is often in my experience used to disguise a lack of real meaning or intellectual rigour. Therefore I immediately mistrust sources that use that sort of language.

        Furthermore it’s disenfranchising. Liberal arts speak about equality and championing those who have not had the same opportunities as the middle class or the developed world, whilst at the same time utilising a set vocabulary as a shibboleth to ensure that individuals fit to be enfranchised subscribe to the appropriate ideology. This stifles alternative voices.

        So I hope that gives you a bit of background to my objection – rather than the original whinge!

        Anyway, regarding the project, I think it’s really worthy and interesting to not only give people the opportunity to seek ideas for sources with really different perspectives, but also to explore where those ideas clash or gell, and investigate why.

    3. Ah, the internet. Where people who don’t understand complex language come to mock those who do. Perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to get back at the bullies who called you egghead when you were in grade school.

      1. At the risk of getting recursive, you’re a real one for ad hominem, you know that? What happened to make you such a defensive priss?

        You honestly think I don’t understand this language? You have no idea how much time
        I spent writing on ‘the role of the rural in popular consciousness vs the reality of the countryside’ for my forestry degree. A: far too much. My dissection of ‘Lesbian Lands and the Mythopoetic Men’s movement’ was too fun to let go easily.

        Also, I didn’t go to grade school. Try thinking outside of your societally-inculcated norms, you insensitive jerk! *sniff*

      1. From the first reading of the site’s contents i got the impression that there was serious hoodwinking afoot. But i have encountered this phenomenon before, genuinly concerned artists coming over like phrase-spouting marketing goons. I cannot fathom who learned the lingo from whom, but it is disconcerting.

        About the woo: I tried rephrasing your site, and discovered that it either came off like a sound introduction to a social psychology/applied linguistics paper with the most abysmal methods-part ever, or exactly like the kind of talk i would dismiss as woo. I guess thats just art.
        Good Luck with your project!

  2. I really like the project, both as a way of solving problems and as a way of exploring the way we interact with each other. I would like even more, if there were clear, front-page links to individual projects, an overview of the Ghana Think Tank, and suggestions for getting involved. it’s a pretty site, but I didn’t learn much until I fled to the blog.

  3. @PalookaJoe : Thanks! We have plans for a much better site, with each project getting its own thumbnail link, and organized along Problem – Solution – Action – Reaction.

    Been really busy with this project but have a major website GTT revamp scheduled for September. Appreciate any other advice. Thank you!

  4. The woo went, because of feedback? THAT is awesome in itself. I abhor the pretentiousness of such language, and I think Greg Egan described it best in Teranesia, but I’m sort of exiled in the wrong country so don’t have my copy to quote from.

    That woo-speakers can actually *understand* that it’s a huge turn off for most of mankind, makes me want to support this project in some way. In another thread here, the woo-speakers were blind to their own woo!

    I think the idea of using prisoners is a great idea: giving people at their lowest ebb the ability to make a positive difference for other people is a great idea. To use a woo word, it must be very empowering to them :)

    There are still a few wootastic terms on the linked pages (“dominant paradigm”, “We are all integrated into structures of participation”) but the pages aren’t too off-putting.

    Shame about the sexist thing of only letting girls help. Sort of casts girls as “socially responsible victims of the state” and boys as “irredeemable thugs who’s ideas and opinions aren’t worth soliciting”. But maybe that was just a trial and it’ll be rolled out more widely. I do hope so :)

  5. Y’alls ignorance of pomo, or discomfort with it, snarkiness about it, (spurious) feelings of superiority to it, etc., does not “woo woo” make. If a phrase like dominant paradigm is opaque to you, or unusable, or ludicrous, certainly it’s not the fault of Foucault, de Certeau et al.

    1. Do a global search and replace of “woo” with “academic jargon”, and that removes the snark, but the fact remains: jargon outside the appropriate context makes people outside your specialty uncomfortable and detracts from the point you want to make.

  6. I’m reasonably multilingual in jargon, and have never had much difficulty to anything but social sciences jargon. Unlike the jargons of, say, law, physics, or computer science, it strikes me as I guess, serving ideology rather than efficiency of communication. Put another way, much of it strikes me as the sort of writing that a reading of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” ought to cure. Maybe the style has subtleties and efficiently conveys concepts not apparent to the general reader. If that’s the case, though, writers should avoid it outside of journal articles; it impedes communication with nonspecialist readers.

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