Saturday Morning Reading #53

Here’s your Saturday Morning Reading…

1. Refugee influx a major opportunity for Germany, leading economist says | Kate Connolly – The Guardian

“The opportunity is for refugees to not only fill the gap, but as we know every person who finds a job and pays taxes makes a contribution to economic productivity and output. We will see that the benefits will outweigh the costs within five to 10 years. This is not me being an optimist, I’m just looking wider than this myopic, short-term perspective, that in the long run, refugees will be a net gain for the economy.”

2. ‘How can I avoid becoming cynical about aid work?’ | Global Development Professionals Network

According to the NGO agony aunts:
– Adopt a lifelong learning philosophy
– Know yourself, find mentors, and play to your strengths
– Remember the progress that has been made over the last 20 years

3. Industrialisation in Africa – More a marathon than a sprint | The Economist

“Factories are not creating nearly enough jobs for the millions of young people moving into cities each year. Most of them end up in part-time employment in low-productivity businesses such as groceries or restaurants, which are limited by the tiny domestic economy; Africa generates only 2% of the world’s demand. To grow fast, African countries need to shift workers into more productive industries. Their governments need to provide the infrastructure and the incentives for manufacturing firms to set up. Without determined action, they risk another lost decade as the commodity bust deepens.”

Saturday Morning Reading #52

Saturday Morning Reading #52

Here’s your [day-late-due-to-sand-boarding-fun] Saturday Morning Reading…


1. WorkDev #3: Climbing the career ladder | Maia Gedde – WhyDev

Great advice aimed at those who have worked a couple of years in development but need to think about what happens next.

Top tips:
– Adopt a life-long learning philosophy
– Get a mentor.
– Don’t be afraid of challenges. It’s good to change jobs regularly.
– Keep abreast of developments and share your work.
– Maintain a sense of balance and purpose


2. Friday Note: Do Less Research, Get More Impact | Ruth Levine – Hewlett Foundation

Communication of findings in an understandable and useful way is often overlooked in favour of fancy techniques. But then what’s the point of all that work in the first place?

“We also often see researchers reaching to explore ever more nuanced policy questions and applying sophisticated econometric and other abstruse techniques. It’s impressive, and may be just the ticket to get the resulting paper into a prestigious journal (or at least into a years-long cycle of revising-and-resubmitting). But more often than not the analyses that serve policy audiences are those that simply and compellingly bring to light facts about the conditions of people’s lives, the quality of public services, and the potential costs or savings from a particular government program. That is, the studies that present descriptive and basic analytic results in straightforward ways that connect to specific policy domains and decisions—the kind that a technocrat in the Ministry of Health, Education, Planning, or Finance might need to come up with a better program design and stronger budget request.”


3. DfID’s new Energy Africa campaign is right to look to off-grid solar power | Kevin Watkins – Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

In general, it’s a ‘second-best solution’ to a well-run grid system, but to say no to off-grid power is to deny many people electricity for a long time.

“Even the ‘ambitious’ power generation scenarios developed by McKinsey and the International Energy Agency would leave 500-600 million Africans without access to electricity in 2030. My colleague Andrew Scott estimates that around 60% of this population will have to be reached off-grid, through household-level systems or mini-grids serving communities.

That is why Energy Africa is right to look beyond the grid. Asking rural populations in Africa ‘do you want access to the grid’ strikes me as a loaded survey question. In a country like Tanzania, only 7% of the rural population are connected to the grid – and the country’s power utility (Tanesco) is a byword for inefficiency, corruption and disregard for the rural poor.”


4. Why you should never get a job at a charity | Alex Swallow – WhyDev

Don’t do it just to make yourself look like a better person, for an easy option or because you want to do things for people rather than with them.

My big plans for the next year

My big plans for the next year

I left Zanzibar last Friday after two years as an economist in the Zanzibar Planning Commission as part of the ODI Fellowship Scheme. Now everybody is asking me what comes next. The answer, for the next few months at least, is travelling, learning and communicating.

Let me explain…

I’m in the lucky (privileged) position to be able to choose what to do with myself in the next few months. I have freedom from paying bills for rent or a car, am not contracted to any organisation and don’t have kids. Once I realised the extent of my freedom, I began to think about what opportunities are available to me now but wouldn’t be in future once I have other commitments. I thought about what I’ve wanted to do in the last few years but haven’t – those perennial items at the end of my to do lists.

There were many.

Something that many of us fall prey to is to always do the urgent rather than the important. This happens daily as we respond to email after email, to get a step closer to clearing our inboxes so we can have a clean slate before starting on that project that actually matters. In life, this tendency manifests itself in grand plans left undone and ambitions left unfulfilled.

Over the next year, I thus resolve to do the important instead of just the urgent.

The wider perspective is that I want to transform myself into someone who can change the world – to develop a set of skills and expertise that will set me up for personal and professional success in the next few decades.

Thus, I am not going straight into another job, despite the exciting opportunities out there. However, I do not see this as a retreat. Rather, I’m making a point of going out into the world to explore places, meet people, and develop and share my ideas.

There are three basic elements to my plans:

1. Travelling

One obvious thing I can do with my freedom is travelling. From now until Christmas I’m travelling around Southern Africa and Eastern Africa. My basic route is Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and back across to Zanzibar via the TAZARA railway.

At the beginning of 2016 I expect to visit the Netherlands, Denmark and maybe France. After that, I’ll (probably) be off again to South and South-East Asia (to help my budget last longer!).

I’ll be back in the UK for next July and August for my friends’ wedding and will probably be looking for some short-term consultancy work at this point (early notice klaxon!). I do have something lined up for after that but am open to all sorts of opportunities that may arise in the next year.

2. Learning

I want to concentrate on learning but I don’t want to go on a formal course (and have to pay for it). Therefore I’m creating my own scholarship programme with an adaptive curriculum – it’ll change as I go along.

I’m going to be learning from reading, chatting to people I meet and through practice. I’ll develop my photography skills and learning how to learn languages (starting with French) through a book called Fluent Forever. I’m aiming to develop my meta-skills of self-discipline and planning and so I’m starting out daily habits with an 8-week meditation course, coming up with ten ideas per day and practising some yoga (sources welcome).

3. Communicating

However, I don’t want to learn just for the sake of it with no output. With all of those ideas floating around in my head, I feel in a good position to be writing regularly – first of all on this blog but then for other websites and publications later. I will develop my ability to communicate through writing and maybe through other media such as videos or giving talks. I’ll be developing my own website (on its way) plus various social media outlets.

I want to start putting my ideas out there – not because I think I’m right, but because that’s the quickest way of getting feedback and developing my thinking further. And it’s good writing practice.


So there you have it: my plan. I’m very open to comments and suggestions for how to make the most of my time.

Thank you in advance for all the support I’ll get from my friends and family in this next big adventure. When I think of what’s really important (rather than urgent), I think of you.

Saturday Morning Reading #51

Hello from Namibia. After a long hiatus, here’s your Saturday Morning Reading!

“What will progress in the fight against inequality look like? It will look like people power.”

2. Dilemmas over the data movement | Duncan Green – From Poverty to Power

This post resonated with my experience in Zanzibar where often data is collected only to be put in a report mainly for donors (that few will read) rather than as a source of learning:
“Access to data and information alone doesn’t automatically lead to any changes in policy or behaviour. […] What emerged from this is a picture of an enormous, multi-billion dollar data machine that has so far been largely supply driven by data providers and lobbyists. […] International players often pre-suppose what is needed and offer solutions or systems that meet certain reporting requirements – but may not get used for much else.”

3. XKCD Marks the Spot | Bill Gates

The Gates Foundation commission a special XKCD in honour of World Polio Day that makes fun of the obsession over innovation.
“Let’s develop a mobile app that checks users for polio then uses a 3D printer to…”

4. Nine things we learned about the global goals | Global Development Professionals Network

Some choice quotations from NGO leaders about hypocrisy, ending the divide between development and humanitarianism, having civil society and business at the table and more.
Amnesty’s Salil Shetty: “You cannot claim to support sustainable development when you are reluctant to reduce the consumption of the rich or transfer technology. You cannot preach about human rights while practising mass surveillance. You cannot lecture about peace while being the world’s largest manufacturers of arms.”

Saturday Morning Reading #50

Here’s your (slightly cynical) Saturday Morning Reading…
1. Making International Development Research and Assistance Work | Ken Opalo – An Africanist Perspective
I had this thought just the other day – if governments had to actively say yes to any donor project, rather than not say no, national priorities would stand a better chance of being funded as opposed to half the government working to keep donors happy. People working for donors may be surprised by how much of some governments’ activity/attention is dictated by the international community.
“Imagine for a second how different IMF or World Bank interventions would be if all their agreements with developing countries (say above a prescribed dollar amount) were subject to ratification by host-country legislatures. The process would be messy, yes (looking at you, Greece*). But I’d argue that finance ministers would get much better deals for their people — in no small part on account of greater levels of intra-elite accountability in the management of aid resources.
The irony of development research and practice is that we talk a lot about the importance of institutions, but then turn around and come up with ideas to circumvent them (and their elite membership) at every opportunity.”
This is the best one so far. Development satire always welcome.
“None of us knows how to monitor what we’re doing or – even harder – evaluate if a project achieves anything. Usually we just count up how much money we’ve spent.

The M&E guy was supposed to do it, but then he said he had tonsillitis – an obvious lie to get out of working over the holidays. I mean, his doctor note said he needed to recover on Zanzibar. As if!

So I copy-pasted the M&E plan of that agriculture project you funded last year. Everywhere the plan said “chickpea” I changed that to “child”.”
“I know there are a lot of run-on sentences. That’s because the pedants in HQ think that grammar is kudzu. Their tracked changes, once merged, were blinding. Microsoft actually ran out of colours to express them all. Even worse were the comment boxes, wherein each reviewer argued – hysterically! – that her/his input was essential enough to make you, the donor, welcome a narrative that exceeds your page limit by a good 800%.”
3, The pope v the UN: who will save the world first? | Global Development Professionals Network
Speaking of committees and sprawling documents…
“The encyclical is visionary. It is bold, uncompromising and radical, where the SDGs are staid, timid and mired in a business-as-usual mentality.”
“The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues […] But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking. The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue.”
“The SDGs frame the problems of global poverty and inequality as things that just exist, as if they have no cause. “Every country is primarily responsible for its own development outcomes,” the document insists. Apparently colonialism, slavery, resource theft, debt, structural adjustment and financial crises don’t have anything to do with it. Poverty and ecological crisis don’t just exist, they are caused – by institutions with specific interests. Unlike the SDGs, the pope dares to cast blame.”
On David Miliband and Ravi Gurumurthy’s article in Foreign Affairs on how the aid system needs to change:
“It’s kind of amazing that “be more efficient”, “stop doing things that don’t work” and “do the things that do work” are all revolutionary statements in aid. Good for them for finally pushing this.
I will push back at Miliband and Gurumurthy in one place, though. It comes down to what I see as a humanitarian blind spot: the perverse incentives they help create, and the silence on the crimes that result.”

Saturday Morning Reading #49

Here’s your Saturday morning reading on Wiki Development, principles for doing development education differently, why microfinance isn’t dead, a special report on Nigeria and why Oskar Schindler was the greatest aid worker of all times.
Ever found yourself having to Google multiple sources in order to find out how to do your job in the sector? Wish there was a place to bring all this information together? The concept of WikiDevelopment is to create an online platform that serves as a hub for knowledge sharing in the international development sector, inspiring a more open industry that encourages more efficient and effective development and social impact worldwide. There is precedent to a certain extent – with websites like Eldis and others touching on what could be, but not realising the potential for a really useful innovation in the sector.
The team are currently doing market research and would love to hear some more feedback from those working in NGOs especially. The survey should only take 5-10 mins. It looks like its a project worth keeping tabs on so check out the survey and their website.
2. Teaching the next generation of development professionals | Dave Algoso and Cauam Ferreira Cardoso – Devex
Learn this stuff and you’ll be on the cutting edge of the profession!
Principles for doing development education differently:
1. Development work is multidisciplinary and multidimensional.
2. Exposure is a fundamental part of learning and — just as importantly — unlearning.
3. Understanding identity, privilege and personal biases matter.
4. Adaptive development takes adaptive management.
5. Development work demands individual self-care and personal resilience.
3. Taylor Swift, Zombies, and why Microfinance isn’t evil | Maria May – 59 minutes of development
Microfinance is dead. All hail microfinance.
Recent studies showed that micro-credit did not have a significant impact on well-being. However, while it does not lift people out of poverty,”it does afford people more freedom in their choices (e.g., of occupation) and the possibility of being more self-reliant” This is the same conclusion I came to with group from UCL when looking at rural cooperatives in Northern Ethiopia during my masters course field trip. In addition, the studies were looking at microcredit as opposed to the many other parts of the microfinance universe and other studies have found a significant impact in some circumstances.
4. Nigeria – Opportunity knocks | The Economist
In this week’s Special Report, the Economist suggests that, having consistently failed to live up to its huge potential, Nigeria now has a rare chance to turn itself round. It includes articles on the diaspora, the election, diversifying away from oil and keeping the peace.
“If you haven’t looked hard at the life of Oskar Schindler, then maybe you should. It will help next time your brain begins to freeze at a donor conference or when you wake up in the middle of the night and your cot is soaking with sweat and you think, this is totally impossible.”
I’m sold… The book he mentioned is now ready to read on my Kindle.