Saturday Morning Reading #48

Here’s your Saturday Morning Reading…
1. Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
2. Violence against development | 59 minutes of development
4. If I ran the innovation zoo | Linda Raftree – Wait… What?

Saturday Morning Reading #47

Here’s your very belated (again) Saturday morning reading…
The summer volunteering season is here (judging by the number of people arriving in Zanzibar at least!)
Ken’s top advice: Be respectful, work with the grain, keep a diary and don’t share poverty porn on Facebook.
2. What can soccer tactics tell us about the limitations of planning? | Duncan Green – Global Development Professionals Network
“In football, as in politics, there will also be a huge amount of activity during a match that does not directly affect the progress towards a specific goal. Working out what activity is relevant will emerge only as the game progresses. At the start, it is impossible to identify how each of the 22 players will behave during 90 minutes. And yet the current application of logframes means that we are essentially being asked to predict the entire passage of the match – and the actions of both supporters and opponents.”
3. Cameron can assure a lasting legacy | Dr Camilla Toulmin – International Institute for Environment and Development
A challenge to David Cameron…
“Robust advocacy within the G7 from Cameron for a strong set of SDGs and an ambitious climate change deal would show that he is as serious and consistent in his commitment to tackling global poverty and climate change as he has been on the delivery of UKAid.”

Saturday Morning Reading #46

Here’s your very belated “Saturday morning” reading (due to an impromptu weekend in Nairobi)…
“Projects to increase an individual’s income in developing countries can help people get a better livelihood amongst those available in that country, but they probably aren’t going to change the overall set of opportunities facing people living in a country. If you want to earn yourself rich, you need to sell stuff to rich people – that means exporting goods or services to rich countries (trade), moving to a rich country to sell your labour (migration), or encouraging rich people to come visit your country (tourism).”
“Anti-poverty programs can’t solve poverty.”
2. Speaking truth to power in energy for all | Sasanka Thilakasiri – The Politics of Poverty
“Energy distribution is important, not just energy generation”
“The discussion around how to meet the needs of the energy-poor households is being dominated by a focus on scaling-up centralized, large scale generation capacity.  The latter is more helpful for industrial and commercial needs rather than for households and schools, primary health clinics, and small businesses. These needs are probably better served through decentralized off-grid, clean energy sources.”
Tackling three big myths in the public perception of development work:
1. “Communities must be so GRATEFUL to you!”
2. “So you build toilets, then?”
3. “Hearing about our silly ‘first-world problems’ must drive you crazy!”
“Development workers aren’t really saintly individuals who want to be placed on a pedestal–we just want to do something mildly useful for humanity without losing our minds in the process.”

Saturday Morning Reading #45

Here’s your Saturday morning reading on aidworker well-being, the Hippocratic Oath and technology leapfrogging in India…
Alessandra, an experienced humanitarian worker, clinical psychologist, and academic researcher studying aid workers’ mental health and well-being, answers your questions. She discusses how to shift an organisation’s culture to think about wellness, concrete steps to create a more supportive environment, how to handle burnout and more. A common theme is that there are no quick fixes.
“Before we can encounter the suffering of others, we need to meet it in ourselves. Then it becomes a mutual healing process–I’m helping others, and in that human exchange, they help me. We can pretend aid work is just a job that pays the bills and gets you around the world, but for most humanitarian professionals, it’s much more than that. It’s a kind of existential choice, a choice for which Kanaan paid with his life.”
“The most frustrating aspect was not the patients, but the international NGO (INGO) that deployed me. My direct supervisor and senior manager had no recent clinical experience, and therefore weren’t comfortable making medical related decisions. Protocols and guidelines were mostly written by non-medics. Decisions were made from behind laptops in air-conditioned offices miles away from the clinics.”
“Let us set aside the top down mindset that has gradually crept in to the medical practice. Let us please reconsider the importance of the Oath of Hippocrates, and use it as the start and end point of our medical aid projects, both in the western world and in low- and middle income countries. The patients will be grateful, and so will the donors eventually.”
3. Playing Leapfrog | A Special Report on India in The Economist
Some techno-optimism and exhortations for unleashing the power of the private sector from The Economist (of course!). They should many Indians could skip supermarkets and car and go straight to ordering online and smartphone-based taxi services. Perhaps more impressively, the Indian government has created the world’s biggest biometric database has so far created a reliable digital identity for 850m people (the target is one billion by the summer). In addition, there is an app that allows you to upload a geo-tagged photograph to alert city officials if you spot a pothole or a pile of rubbish in Bangalore.
I’d be interested to read more about this and hear about the downsides and the politics. See more of the special report.

Saturday Morning Reading #44

Here’s your (Satur)Sunday morning reading on the Gates Foundation and the SDGs, complexity and development and how to shift the debate on taking care of ourselves as aid workers…
1. Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs | Alex Evans – Global Dashboard
The SDGs were reportedly repeatedly ridiculed at a recent Gates Foundation meeting. Alex Evans suggests that this could be due to the Foundation’s focus on apolitical service delivery, which fits well into the MDGs narrow remit. However, the SDGs are necessarily political and complex; if objections come in the form of #1 below rather than #2 this could set the Foundation against the inclusiveness of the process.
“SDG objection # 1 is that you may disagree with their breadth – in other words with the range of issues that are included (for example whether the framework should, unlike the MDGs, include climate change, inequality, or peaceful societies as headline Goals), and wish that they were focused on a smaller set of issues to do with absolute poverty.
SDG objection # 2, on the other hand, agrees with what’s included in the framework, but disagrees with how it’s communicated – either because of the verbosity of a 17 Goal, 169 target framework, or because so many of the targets are manifestly inconsistent with SMART criteria (i.e. being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).”
2. Complexity
Do you keep hearing about complexity and development and wonder what it means? Here are a couple of blog posts that may help.
a) A flowering of approaches to complexity and development? | Ian Thorpe – KM on a dollar a day
A whole range of initiatives and approaches are emerging that could be loosely grouped under the umbrella of “complexity” i.e. the idea that development is a complex adaptive process and thus top down long-term planning doesn’t really work – instead we need to be more nimble and iterative in how we respond to circumstances and push the system in the right direction rather than developing a detailed master plan for a perfectly designed future.”
These include: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), Doing Development Differently (DDD), human centred design, Cynefin approach for knowledge management, UNICEF innovation principles. These can also be traced back the Bill Easterly’s idea of searchers rather than planners. Having a number of approaches like this makes sense from a complexity viewpoint – diverse approaches for diverse situations.
What complexity doesn’t mean: 1) We’re not condemned to to fatalism, 2) We cannot solve problems through better analysis alone, 3) We cannot progress by simply  identifying ‘missing ingredients’, 4) we should avoid creating protected incumbents that become obstacles to change, 5) the problem is not ‘lack of capacity’.
So what does it imply? Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot of what the Center for Global Development in Europe already pushes as part of the ‘beyond aid’ agenda; it’s about creating systemic change in transparency, trade, migration, media, tax, innovation and connecting ideas.
“Sustainability has been elusive in practice because the aid industry thinks too much about gaps and too little about systems. Interventions that accelerate the evolution of a successful economic and social system can be catalytic; interventions that ignore the complexity of the system and only try to fill the gaps that it leaves or imitate its consequences will work only for as long as the intervention continues.”

3. Take Care | J. – AidSpeak
“It’s interesting to note the emergence of two strands of discussion in the public space around humanitarian aid and development. One is the issue of chronic and/or traumatic stress and accompanying PTSD among humanitarian workers. […] The other is the issue of fair/ethical payment for NGO staff, most specifically entry-level staff, interns, etc.”
So what is the way forward?
“We need to assertively remove every shred of overhead from how we discuss our work, whether internally or externally. Efficiency matters, for sure. But low overhead and efficient delivery of humanitarian outcomes are not only not the same things, but they’re not even related. We have to take references to “how much of your dollar goes to beneficiaries” out of our marketing, off of our websites, and out of our conversations.”
“We need to assertively remove any doubt about the legitimacy of our own needs as humanitarian aid and development workers. As Alessandra Pigni puts it, this is not a contest to see who can suffer the most. Lots of embedded issues, here: This is a job, like any other, that we do to make a living. We are professional people with specific, identifiable skills which we employ in the course of doing our humanitarian work. Aid work is work, for which we absolutely deserve to be compensated fairly. To suggest otherwise erodes the argument that we deserve anything more than treasure in Heaven in exchange for our service.”

Saturday Morning Reading #43

Here’s your Saturday morning reading (because you need to read something that isn’t about the election). This week’s edition features the future of (beyond) aid, the data revolution, an attack on advocacy, shock tactics in NGO messaging, how to make it easier to give effectively and some answers to why the number of poor people in Africa seems to be growing despite economic growth.

1. Aid 2030 | Owen Barder – Owen abroad

What is going to happen to development cooperation up to 2030?
Group members may be especially interested in the third implication on what new skills and mind-sets are going to be needed.

“There are three big global trends which will shape the future of international development cooperation:
1. The concentration of poverty in fragile states
2. Inequality in middle income countries
3. Global and transboundary problems

And there are four implications for development policy:
1. Aid still has an important role to play.
2. If we are to meet to SDGs, we need to focus much more on the beyond aid agenda, notably the question of how we bring about effective international action to tackle shared problems.
3. We are going to need new mind-sets, new institutions, new skills, and new approaches.
4. And we are going to have to build a consensus that sees this as a shared enterprise rather than a competition.”


2. Data for Development | Project Syndicate – Jeffrey D. Sachs

Even within a developing country government, it’s currently supper difficult to get any kind of reliable data (trust me, I’ve tried many times!). Therefore, while data availability can be transformative, it has to align with the domestic political economy; It’s important that the ‘data revolution’ is not just another agenda pushed by donors without enthusiasm from governments who would rather not measure how well (or not) they are doing. At the moment, we barely know the progress of many countries against the MDGs let alone have baselines for the 169 targets that could be part of the SDGs. [rant over]

In this article, Jeff Sachs points out four main purposes for data:
1. Data for service delivery
2. Data for public management
3. Data for accountability of governments and businesses.
4. The data revolution should enable the public to know whether or not a global goal or target has actually been achieved.


3. Book Review of ‘Advocacy in Conflict’ – a big attack on politics and impact of global campaigns | Duncan Green – From Poverty to Power

From Duncan: “Advocacy in Conflict brilliantly explores the contradictory pressures on transnational advocacy: northern campaigners’ need to simplify, grab headlines and declare victory v the messy reality of achieving long term structural change in the complex social and political environments of countries wracked by conflict.”

From the book: “Our central argument is that the development of these specific forms of activism, in which advocates have shaped strategies to fit the requirements of marketing their cause to Western publics, and adapted them to score tactical successes with Western governments (especially that of the USA) has led to the weakening or even abandonment of key principles, including receptivity to the perspectives of affected people and their diverse narratives and attention to deeper, underlying causes and therefore a focus on strategic change rather than superficial victories.”


4. Up yours! Why charities keep giving us the finger | Kirsty Marrins – Guardian Voluntary Sector Network

Poverty porn is being replaced by profanity. Is this the best way to get the public’s attention or does it oversimplify too much? Could it backfire? What is the logical end point? Will UNICEF end up plastering posters with the C-word all over billboards?

“Disruptive messages won’t be for everyone but in this ever competitive market charities need to take calculated risks in order to get cut through. And it certainly seems to be working.”


5. Proponents of strategic philanthropy should provide practical help for donors | Caroline Fiennes – Stanford Social Innovation Review

We have to make it easier to make good choices about where to give money. This means producing and sharing evidence in order to nudge foundations and wealthy donors to make better decisions. Should the same approach apply to fundraising more widely?

“Our fundamental challenge is this: that social change is hard and calls for slow thinking, but most donors will only think fast. It therefore falls to us to do the work that Thaler describes: get the evidence, and make it easy.”


6. Why is the number of poor people in Africa increasing when Africa’s economies are growing? | Laurence Chandy – Brookings Institution

In summary: 1) Rapid population growth; 2) depth of poverty; 3) inequality already high (absolute increases in income at the bottom are small); 4) a mismatch between where growth is happening and where the poor are; and 5) data quality is poor so we don’t have an accurate and put to date sense of progress.