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 #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.

Saturday Morning Reading #41

Time for #41.

Here’s your Saturday morning reading, in which we learn how we can challenge the power of the few, make realistic promises, have nuanced stories that put the poor as the protagonists, make grand ethical theories about the shamefulness of barriers to migration and then get screwed over by Katie Hopkins.

1. How can we take on the power of the few? Three lessons from Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement in advancing a society that works for all | Ben Phillips – Global Dashboard

“Development is about power, and the biggest threat to development today is the excessive power of the few. But what can we do to take on this power? Perhaps we can learn three lessons from Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. First, we need to help make visible the hyper-concentration of power in the hands of a few, how this is impacting all that we all value in on our world, and how it doesn’t need to be this way. Second, we need the courage to set out a policy platform that really addresses the inequality of power and wealth. Third, we need an approach to how change happens that is commensurate with the scale of transformation required. 

The challenge of shifting wealth and power from the few to the many can seem so overwhelming that we can wonder if it can ever be won. But we’ve learnt from Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement that transformative campaigns can prevail, and it seems they’ve even set out for us three steps that we can take to help bring forward the time when we shall overcome.” 

P.S. It’s a mark of good writing when I can copy and paste the first line of each paragraph and it makes a coherent narrative!

2. Elephants aren’t the only ones who never forget broken promises | Maria May – 59 Minutes


(Real) honesty about what you know you can deliver can be less compelling at first, but pays dividends if you over-deliver later on.
“The leaders from Miruku told us that when they first approached communities and explained what they could offer, the farmers said that they weren’t interested in market information and cooperatives; they only wanted to do it if they would get cash or other benefits. Miruku refused, and the farmers were lukewarm during the early activities. But just a few years later, the farmers are telling us that Miruku is the best organization they work with! 

3. Protagonists and power: why the aid organization shouldn’t be at the center of the story | Stephanie Buck – Until the Lions


“Think about word choice, perspective, and the voices of the people you work with. Think about framing. Small changes can make a big difference.”
“If we see people as protagonists, we’ll include them from the beginning. And rather than trying to tack on ‘local ownership’ as an objective at the end, they’ll own the process as equal partners from the beginning. Because protagonists own their stories.”
Also from Stephanie Buck – some tools to help you tell stories that are respect integrity, retain nuance and avoid jargon.

4. Walling Ourselves Off | Jay-Ulfelder Dart-Throwing Chimp


On building walls (or keeping the sea dangerous) to keep out outsiders:
Physical or legal, these walls implicitly assign different values to the lives of the people on either side of them. According to liberalism—and to many other moral philosophies—this gradation of human life is wrong. We should not confuse the accident of our birth on the richer or safer side of those walls with a moral right to exclusively enjoy that relative wealth or safety. The intended and unintended consequences of policy change need to be considered alongside the desired end state, but they should at least be considered. The status quo is shameful.

 5. Why Katie Hopkins is so dangerous for development (journalism) | Tobias Denskus –  Aidnography

“We are stemming against a tide of opinions like Katie Hopkins’- just deny climate change, arms trade, bad corporate engagement in developing countries or continue with silly stereotypes about ‘Africa’ and post your ‘opinion’ about them. Forget about international law and the little bit of international governance that the UN system for example provides. And worst of all: Forget about empathy.
Katie Hopkins painfully reminded me of my own filter bubble – and how powerless we are when you are on a destructive mission and simply deny education, public debates, arguments and ‘evidence-based’ something with your opinion. You can find that in many other debates, but the development and humanitarian field is already quite small and under pressure to lose even the last rougher edges of civil society global social change engagement.
She has made the lives and work of development journalists, teachers, researchers and everybody who is interested in a civilized debate so much more difficult-right in time for the upcoming British general election and probably more debates about the ‘usefulness’ of development in its aftermath.” 

Saturday Morning Reading #40

Here’s your Saturday morning reading featuring development reformers, change on a biblical scale, sexual harassment in Bangladesh, engaging with Nigel Farage, a cartoon on plunder in South Sudan, empowering people to advocate for themselves and resettling Syrian refugees…

  1. The mistakes made by most development reformers | Chris Blattman

This, along with the interview with Dani Rodrik it links to, really resonates with me. A question for the ‘thinking and working politically’ and ‘doing development differently’ crowds – how can you get governments to think in terms of adaptation when there are all sorts of incentives and norms against that kind of thinking?

“To me the important question is not “what is the right policy?”, but “what is the process for generating good policies over time?”, and more importantly “how to get governments and aid organizations to adapt to the good and throw out the bad?”.

I don’t know a good answer. To me, this is what makes most development aid and planning not just fruitless but downright dangerous.”

  1. We need a new Jubilee campaign to achieve equality and sustainability | Alex Evans – The Guardian

Tearfund have released an interesting new report looking at how we can frame ideas of equality and sustainability in a biblical context to build deep movements for change.

“To resolve the problem, a transformation of our economy is needed. And given the formidable barriers to this happening – inertia, vested interests, institutions built for another age, public apathy – a new theory of influence is needed too.

As the report sets out, this is going to mean less time spent on insider lobbying and more on building a movement that lives the values of a restorative economy and mobilises to demand political change – exactly what we saw in the US civil rights struggle, the campaign to abolish slavery, and other movements that have overcome apparently impossible odds.”

Also read about it on Alex’s blog.

  1. React every which way | Rachel Kurzyp – WhyDev

A discussion of the everyday realities of sexual harassment for a white Australian female living overseas.

“Sexual harassment is only a symptom of a much larger and complex issue of gender inequality as we all know but for those of us who don’t have to experience every day it’s hard to imagine just how unavoidable the issue is and more importantly the right way to react. After six months of the violating stares and leering comments I still don’t know what to do.”

  1. Nigel Farage is wrong on the aid budget – but it’s an argument that’s worth having | David Hudson  Global Development Professionals Network

“We can’t just dismiss Ukip and more general concerns about the aid budget and DfID as wrong and bigoted. That won’t achieve anything. Instead we need to make the public case for development in a way that makes sense, simple but honest. This – winning the argument and allowing people to engage – is a political and emotional task, not an intellectual or moral one.”

  1. South Sudan: Who Got What? | Alex de Waal & Victor Ndula

A comic written by Alex de Waal, who many consider to be one of the world’s leading experts on South Sudan, and drawn by Victor Ndula, one of Africa’s leading comic artists as well as editorial cartoonist for the Nairobi Star. In 8 pages it explains how South Sudan was bankrupt and at war within just three years after independence.

  1. Going from “On Behalf of” to the Whole Story | Ruth Levine – Hewlett Foundation

There is something crucial missing—it’s the voice of people who should be setting the agenda for their own better futures, and telling their own story to educate and persuade. To me, the active participation of people who are directly affected by bad policies is essential to the most powerful and sustained kind of advocacy, the kind that will demand the right responses. And it’s just not there often enough.”

  1. UK Election Notes: Foreign Policy Opportunities – Resettling Syrian Refugees | Dr Neil Quilliam – Chatham House

An opportunity for the next UK government with wins all round.

“A change in policy on resettlement and humanitarian admission would not only be a symbolic act of moral leadership, but would also serve the government’s policy of supporting stability in the Middle East and offer long-term benefits for British national life, foreign policy and security.”

Saturday Morning Reading #39

Here’s your Saturday morning reading in which we learn from religion, work with politicians, save the world with businesses, ask big questions about big data, not the absence of migration in the SDGs and defend the proposed development goals.
What the climate movement must learn from religion | George Marshall | Comment is free | The Guardian
11 ways NGOs can work with politicians | Global Development Professionals Network | The Guardian
Letters | The Economist

Saturday Morning Reading #38

Do it right then quickly
Get it right then do it fast. Image from Matt Andrews.

Here’s your Saturday morning reading featuring development consultants, learning from the bad guys and from mistakes, distortions in humanitarian assistance and doing things right before you try to do them quickly.

1. Development Consultants: Over-paid, Over-rated, and Over-used | AID LEAP

“Funders also often allow organisations to count consultants as a programme cost, while full time staff count as administrative costs. If you hire a staff member with expertise in child protection, you look inefficient and bureaucratic. If you hire a consultant at twice the cost you look dynamic and action orientated.

In the short term, I would love to see a TripAdvisor equivalent for consultants. Something where clients could rate consultants and provide feedback in an open forum. Think of it as
In the long run, however, there’s only one thing which will really make a difference. Development organisations need to stop relying on consultants and invest in their own staff.”

2. Advocacy and Lobbying: What Can We Learn from the Bad Guys? | Duncan Green – From Poverty to Power

The list: Control the ground, spin the media, engineer a following, buy in credibility, sponsor a think tank, consult your critics, neutralise the opposition, control the web, open the door and offer jobs. NGOs can’t/shouldn’t use all of these tactics but there are some that could be adapted.

3. Glorious failure: the joy of learning from your mistakes | Scott Macmillan – Global Development Professionals Network

“Despite the vogue for failure, it’s not often that nonprofits admit to it. For one thing, people are not clay pots. We need to be careful about blithely celebrating failure when their lives and wellbeing are at stake, especially when it results from programmes that were poorly designed to begin with.”

Scott discusses early failures by BRAC and how the organisation learned from these to grow in scale and success.

4. The way we give disaster aid to poor countries makes no sense | Tim Kovach – Vox

Media coverage and distance play a big role in how much assistance is given to victims of disasters.

“In the weeks after the floods, Pakistan received just $16.36 per person affected. That pales beside the $388.33 per person affected for Pakistan’s earthquake, or $1,249.80 per person affected for the Indian Ocean tsunami.”

“”To have the same chance of receiving relief, a country at the other side of the earth must have 160 times as many fatalities as a country at zero distance.” This type of neighborhood bias has clear ramifications for countries in the developing world. Compared with disasters in Europe, those occurring in Asia-Pacific and Africa garner 36 percent and 21 percent less relief aid, respectively.”

5. Political Patience, part 3 | Matt Andrews – The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development

I find this making a lot of sense in my own context in Zanzibar.

“I often find new political leadership speaking about introducing reforms that will generate something like the Malaysian ‘Big Fast Results.’ This seems to assume that they have small, slow results and the management challenge is one of scale and speed. But what if the management challenge is more severe, and the government is not producing anything at all–or the government produces things that are of poor quality (regulations that are not enforced, roads that do not last, police services that are corrupt, schools that produce poor teacher quality, clinics that fail to dispense proper health care, etc.)?”

“Political patience, on the other hand, supports a management and reform process that builds quality before it forces speed and scale (as in the figure below). This is essentially what PDIA aims to do–gradually address the problems with organizational failure, working at a rational (but fast-as-possible) pace to establish the wherewithal for an organization to function successfully. Political patience helps to support and protect this kind of process. This patience is usually built on clear and prioritized views of ‘what is important’ (where the list is not very long) and is maintained through adherence to a structured process of ‘building’ with constant feedback and learning. It is not clean or easy but it is structured.”