By Doug Richardson
This column originally appeared in the AAG Newsletter (Volume 43, Number 2,
February 2008). The author is the Executive Director of the AAG.
In 2006, I posed the question, “Is it Time for an AAG Developing Regions Membership Program?” in this column (AAG Newsletter, December 2006). Since that time, with the concurrence and support of AAG officers and the Council, the AAG has worked hard to develop a conceptual approach and a workable process for how such a program might be structured, financed, and implemented. Today, I am pleased to be able to update that earlier column by transforming it from a speculative proposal to a concrete announcement of a new, subsidized AAG membership program for geographers from developing regions of the world who wish to join the AAG.
While the AAG has long advocated providing greater support to and increasing scholarly exchange with geographers from the poorest regions of the world, the lack of financial resources has limited our ability, as an association, to implement such initiatives broadly. However, the AAG’s financial foundation is now strong and growing, and as a result I believe we can afford to share some of our membership benefits with those around the world who do not currently have the resources to access our publications, meetings, research programs, and other membership benefits. A summary of the new program, which is in effect now, follows below.
Summary of the Program
Geographers from and living in developing regions, and with an income of less than $25,000 per year, are now eligible for AAG membership at the deeply discounted rate of $20 per year. The AAG developing regions membership category includes all regular AAG member benefits, except that publications are provided only in digital format. The membership benefits include, among others, the following:
- Online access to AAG publications, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, The Professional Geographer and AAG Newsletter
- Eligibility to participate in AAG research grants and awards programs
- Reduced registration fees (member rates) at the AAG Annual Meeting and other AAG-sponsored meetings
- Reduced rate on other third party geography journals offered by the AAG
- Reduced prices on AAG publications (according to normal individual membership benefits)
- Optional hard copy journals or newsletters, for small incremental fee to cover cost of shipping only
- Participation in AAG Specialty Groups and Listservs
Determining eligibility for participation in this new membership program, of course, requires a definition of which countries comprise “developing regions” and would therefore be eligible to participate. Several organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, generate economic data and national poverty rankings based on fairly widely accepted criteria, generally per capita income. These rankings form useful starting points, however imperfect, for beginning the program.
The AAG has used World Bank gross national income (GNI) per capita data to arrive at a broad classification of developing regions. A listing of eligible countries based on these criteria is available on page 8 of this Newsletter, and also on the AAG Website. While it is important that we consider this question of classification carefully, we should not let the impossibility of arriving at the perfect definition of developing regions prevent us from moving forward at all.
The AAG's Developing Region Membership Program will benefit not only those geographers from developing regions who wish to participate, but will also benefit our current membership. Greater international networking, information sharing, and interaction is becoming increasingly common—and necessary—in the work and lives of most geographers, both in so-called “developing regions” and in wealthier countries.
As the AAG membership and the attendance at our annual meetings have grown in recent years, international geographers’ participation in the activities of the AAG has grown at an even faster rate than that of domestic U.S.-based geographers. With over 6,000 attendees already registered for the AAG Annual Meeting to be held in Boston this April (2008), nearly 27% are from countries other than the U.S., up from approximately 20% a few years ago.
Yet most of our current international membership and participation is still from the wealthier countries in Europe, Asia and North America. The AAG developing world membership category recognizes the obvious: that vastly different financial resources are available in different parts of the world. This new category of membership, while recognizing the more extreme financial needs of geographers in the very lowest income countries, is not wholly inconsistent with the AAG’s current general membership fee approach for the U.S. and other wealthier countries, which also recognizes income level differences among individual members in establishing membership fees.
And, of course, enabling greater participation of geographers from the “developing regions” of the world in activities and networks of the AAG also enriches the experience, research, and scholarship of the AAG and its current members in myriad ways, providing both personal and professional benefits to us far exceeding the financial subsidies we might extend to our colleagues in some of the poorest regions of the world.
How You Can Help
The implementation of a new program of this scale is a large and complicated undertaking, involving the development of new AAG infrastructure for international outreach, materials creation and distribution, language translation, website development, and communications. The AAG has established a tax-deductable Developing Regions Membership Fund, to help fund the infrastructure and staff needed to support the new program and also to provide financial grants for memberships for those developing regions geographers for whom even $20 may not be affordable.
A contribution for infrastructure or memberships to this Fund can have a far-reaching impact. A donation of only $100, for example, would support five student members from Latin America for one year. A $1,000 contribution could support AAG membership for ten geography faculty members from Africa for five years. AAG members can also help by informing geographers in developing regions of the new program, and perhaps also by offering to sponsor memberships directly for colleagues, former students, research collaborators, and others who may be interested.
AAG Specialty Groups, especially those with a regional focus on a developing region, can play an important role in helping to get the word out about the new program, and also perhaps by sponsoring colleagues from your region of interest. The AAG already has developed brochures in four languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English) describing the Developing Regions Membership Program, and plans more of these in many other languages, including Chinese and Arabic, as funds become available. A Specialty Group may wish to support additional flyers in these or other languages, and also might help with the translations. Copies of these flyers are available from the AAG in hard copy or as a digital .pdf file for members who wish to distribute them to colleagues and friends in developing regions.