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 #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 #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.

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 #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.”