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 #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 #37

Here’s your Saturday morning reading featuring sustainable development goals, volunteering, South Sudan, thinking about development as a process not a project, and farming in Uganda…

1. Sustainable Development Goals

a) The 169 commandments | The Economist

“Developing countries seem to think that the more goals there are, the more aid money they will receive. They are wrong. The SDGs are unfeasibly expensive. Meeting them would cost $2 trillion-3 trillion a year of public and private money over 15 years. That is roughly 15% of annual global savings, or 4% of world GDP. At the moment, Western governments promise to provide 0.7% of GDP in aid, and in fact stump up only about a third of that. Planning to spend many times the amount that countries fail to give today is pure fantasy.”

b) SDG Targets: Here’s How to Make Them Stronger | Charles Kenny – Center For Global Development

CGD suggest many tweaks to the SDGs draft – increasing the poverty line, lowering the required rate of economic growth and more useful indicators.

More on poverty lines and health.

2. The professionalization of development volunteering – towards a new global precariat? | Tobias Denskus – Aidnography

Great to see a political economy angle on the volunteering debate.
“An ‘experience industry’ is now linked to the regular development industry that demands more qualifications and skills while at the same time contributing to precarious quasi-employment that often masks the challenges of over-supply of young professionals and shifting dynamics in global development engagement away from the traditional ‘North-South’ flow.

I will arrange my reflections around two key points: First, the paradox that rightly demands better educated aid professionals, but not necessarily links them to equally professional work and salaries.

And second, a growing ‘volunteering industry’ that usually brings together state, civil society and academia, but that is more likely to contribute to a depoliticized ‘employability’ discourse than meaningful political engagement over development policy and practice.”

“Well-meaning teachers, academics, policy-makers and NGO staff need to critically engage beyond the ‘any money for development is better than nothing ’ argument .”

3. South Sudan: war without end | Richard Dowden – African Arguments

Depressing. It’s difficult to see the way out.

“What, I kept thinking, have the Southern Sudanese learnt from the rest of Africa’s post-independence mistakes over the last 50 years? How could South Sudan avoid the coups and bitter personal enmities that rivals tribalised to make war on each other? Who was able to stop the gross theft of state funds? Why did so many African rulers live in paranoid secrecy and total security? Above all why did those rulers lack any interest in development for their own people? I had seen it in Idi Amin’s Uganda, in Moi’s Kenya, in Mobutu’s Congo, in Abacha’s Nigeria, in Houphouet-Boigny’s Cote d’Ivoire. And here, now, in 2015, in Africa’s newest country all those criminals are being mimicked by this scarcely literate clown in a black cowboy hat.”

4. Why it’s time to stop thinking of development as a project | Stephanie Buck – Until the Lions

“Projects have a start and a finish. They have goals and objectives to meet. There should be some sort of visible result at the end. They are designed in advance, often from a distance. Their design usually struggles to adapt to different or changing realities on the ground.
Processes are fluid. They adapt to their environments. They are not seen as ends in themselves. They adjust as needed and are part of long-term, systemic change.

We know that development is hard. We know it takes time. We know that it means something different in each context and culture.

Yet international development activities continue to be funded as isolated projects. If we’re lucky, it will be a series of projects meant to build on each other. But even these often don’t get to the root challenges. The lack of coordination, and lack of focus on processes and institutions remains troubling.”

5. #FreeTheSeed and the Romanticization of Uganda’s Hunger | Francisco Toro – Campaign for Boring Development

“The prevalence of undernourishment has actually risen in Uganda, from 27.1% of the population in 1991 to 30.1% in 2013.

Nobody who has actually sat down to look at the realities of farming and food security in Uganda in detail can miss the fact that without much better farming technology able to substantially increase yields, these trends are going to continue. Techniques like shifting cultivation that made some sense two generations ago are not viable in the vastly changed social circumstances of 2015.

Improved Seed – no need for scare-quotes here guys, they really are better – when used alongside better agronomic techniques and reasonable amounts of fertilizers, have been shown to multiply smallholder yields up to sevenfold within a single season.”

Saturday Morning Reading #34

Here’s your Saturday morning reading…

1. The poor within our ranks | Michael Keller – WhyDev
Having more aid workers from disadvantaged backgrounds could help reduce alienation ( through understanding what it’s like to come into contact with economic classes above your own), inject a healthy skepticism of external expertise, and increase understanding of beneficiary humiliation, the value of small sums of money and coping mechanisms.

2. Poverty’s Long Farewell | The Economist
Getting to zero absolute poverty by 2030 as suggested in the draft Sustainable Development Goals will be very tough. Progress since 1990 has been easier due to there being a large number of people on an income just below the threshold ($1.25) that are now above it. Those that are left are often marginalised within their countries and/or in fragile and conflict-afflicted states. Projections that show the world getting to zero poverty by 2030 rely on optimistic GDP growth forecasts. However, reducing within-country inequality and boosting growth for the bottom 40% could make this goal a reality. Therefore governments should prioritise spending that would help the poor the most such as rural infrastructure and healthcare.

3. Could women’s access to finance solve global poverty? | Alice Allan – Double X Economy
“It’s very exciting to see a draft gender goal [in the Sustainable Development Goals], which for the first time ever, really recognises the specific barriers women face in achieving economic empowerment.”
Alice Allan from CARE International UK looks at how we ensure the goal survives the realpolitik of the final negotiating stages and is optimistic due to links with access to finance, the fact that it is possible to create measurable targets and links to the private sector.
I would extend this from local NGOs to local governments…
“Donors have become very specific in their demands; they want every penny to be spent in the place they determine or approve. They refuse for the money that they dedicate for a project to be spent on anything other than the preapproved costs, too few of which are operational. […] What it has really done is make people more motivated to cheat and maneuver. It has only reduced funding opportunities to parties that are actually transparent in their spending.”