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 #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.”