Links & Contents I Liked 25

Hello all!

The emphasis on this week's link edition is definitely on shoes-and more generally on the challenges of dealing with 'gifts in kind' in the context of developing countries. Not surprisingly, giving its persistently high quality, WhyDev's post on 'International volunteerism; who benefits most?' is highly recommended. Another piece I found noteworthy in the more eyebrow-raising way is BuildingsMarkets' post on how 'Big Aid' (not necessarily the often scolded 'Development industry') is lobbying the U.S. Congress to stop legislation that would probably mean less money for American consultancy companies and more money reaching recipient countries out of the USAID budget.

Lastly, a quick editorial note: I'm leaving for Germany today and there may not be weekly 'Links I Like' in the next 2 or even 3 weeks-however, there will be regular posts on interesting things that I'm sure will keep you entertained ;)!

Take care!

New on aidnography

Shoes for Souls, good intentions and the bumpy road of DIY aid learning

Critical follow-up reflections on a student-led DIY aid initiative to send shoes to Zambia.

Sierra Leone: Tackling youth unemployment


“You see this shoe here,” he continued, holding up one of his customers’ shoes. “I charge $1.20 to repair it; and these sandals I made, I charged $8 for each. My life has changed, I run my own workshop and I am even training other disabled and polio victims. Hopefully, I will get more support to expand my workshop into a factory that will produce more and train more young disabled people.”
I am aware that this is official UNDP marketing material, but it is also a very interesting example of what alternatives to 'sending shoes to Africa' can look like and to imagine the detrimental effect container-loads of free shoes could have on small shoemakers like Umaru.

Shopping for a Better World

The giving aspect of Toms occurs entirely through NGO partners. When a customer makes a purchase, a second pair of shoes is manufactured and shipped to the recipient country, where an NGO partner picks them up, transports them to their community and distributes them.“We want our shoes to somehow be an enabler, whether it’s to get kids in school, prevent [disease] or boost self-esteem,” said Katherine James Schuitemaker, a consultant who works with Toms. Its shoe-giving work in Debre Markos, Ethiopia, for instance, has been done in collaboration with medical groups and has helped raise awareness of podoconiosis, a disfiguring foot disease prevented by wearing shoes.

However, it is not clear that all of Toms’s handouts are “enablers.” On a recent trip to Ethiopia I met with Toms’s employees, who said that shoes promote education because children are often barred from entering schools barefoot. However, when I met one of their core Ethiopian giving partners, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, I learned that they distribute the shoes in schools — to children who, presumably, already own shoes. This situation is not unique. Some children in Toms’s promotional material are also wearing shoes, though they may be inappropriate for school or playground use.
A detailed and balanced look behind the 'buy one give model' that particularly TOMS shoes has become known, but also criticised for. As always, the bottom line that 'doing good' is a complex affair and that the real challenges begin once donations start to interact with local realities...  

Development

Why Britain's aid efforts could be a victim of Somalia's Spring


Senior government ministers in Mogadishu have expressed concern at the renewed international interest led by London. They believe the "projectification" of Somalia benefits mainly Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya, where NGO workers have earned a negative image because of a fondness for driving brand-new Land Cruisers and inflating property prices.
"They don't consult with us. It's like a doctor trying to prescribe medicine for a patient you haven't seen yet", says Abdullahi Goodah Barre, Somalia's Minister for Planning and International Cooperation.
(...)
Unless the ghost lords start listening, the anti-imperialist Somali Spring could derail attempts to stabilise this nation. Private investment in Somalia is risky, but dialogue would be a start.
Sigh, the year is 2012 and yet issues around coordination and consulting with local people seems to have changed little over the years...

Dead Africans on Page One (again)

I’ve been asked (most recently by Chanda Chisala of Lusaka, Zambia), Why do journalists seemingly evince a preference for African deaths over others?

Maybe out of habit.

Possibly journalists think such photos provoke sympathy. Or perhaps images of dead Africans sell.
Talking about learning deficits...mainstream reporting and the challenges of how Africans, Africa and the do-gooders are pictured is another constant battle against discursive media windmills (incidentally, my older post addresses white saviourism in Somalia)

Aid, ethics, photography and informed consent

There’s a great, ongoing discussion happening around aid and development and the ethics of using photographs and other media and stories about people INGOs and NGOs are working with (a.k.a beneficiaries, clients, participants). The discussions are organized by CORE Group in DC.
Interesting overview over the debate by Linda Raftree.

The Politics of Evidence: Values, Choices and Practices for Evaluating Transformative Development

Knowing what works for whom, how, when, why and in which contexts is crucial for all working in development, be it through the older institutions of international aid or the newer forms of partnership, South-South collaboration, and business-oriented efforts. Many organisations are testing and using more systematic and robust approaches to assess performance and to learn to be more effective. Discussions and protocols focus on ‘hard’ attributable evidence, rigorous data, conclusive proof, value for money, and evidence-based decision-making. These tantalising terms are often accompanied by statements that promise clarity once and for all about what works and what should be funded in international development.

Yet behind these terms lie a world of definitional tussles, values, priorities and worldviews. Certain ways of knowing about change have become more legitimate than others, reducing the space for multiple options thus raising concerns about how ‘fair’ assessment processes can be.
Great event for 2013 organised by IDS colleagues!

Thought for Europe Day 2012: Why can’t EU development policy address inequality?


While recent European Commission policy statements have recognised that inequality is a major development challenge, few concrete measures are in place for tackling it.
(...)
The real reason why it is hard for EU development policy to address inequality head on is because it implies strengthening the redistributive role of the state, an objective that few current decision-makers are prepared to fight for. The ongoing Euro crisis is also impacting on the EU’s potential to help fight inequality in developing countries. Fiscal pressures are starting to squeeze the aid budgets of several EU member states. It is also difficult for the EU to promote policies to reduce inequality in developing countries while fiscal austerity within Europe is working against inclusive growth, weakening the welfare-state model, and thus significantly increasing socio-economic inequality at home.
An interesting piece by researchers from the German Development Institute-talking about 'evidence' and how not to address problems that even the hard facts suggest need tackling.

The worst way to judge a charity

Don't get me wrong. Low administrative costs could indicate prudence and sound judgment at a charity, but they could just as easily indicate inadequate staffing, insufficient salaries or, shall we say, fudging. Moreover, administrative costs aren't the primary measurement of for-profit excellence.
Great to see a comment on the issue of administrative cost of charities in mainstream news media! Do check out Saundra Schimmelpfennig's book 'Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices' and my review.

International Volunteerism: who benefits most?

Short-term international volunteerism is not sustainable for community members. In a twisted way I take pleasure in watching volunteers realize this – it’s practically a wasted experience if they don’t learn this lesson. I do believe these community members are positively affected by the volunteers’ interest in them and their communities, which is arguably equally important as creating sustainable change. Both parties enjoy the personal exchange, be it a specific skill, hope, enlightenment or ambition.
If a volunteer is motivated and has easily transferable skills, it is possible to “Make A Difference” by practicing capacity building and developing or improving organizational aspects of a grassroots nonprofit. The question is, will the work achieved be/remain sustainable? To ensure sustainability, the progress made by the volunteer will need monitoring. Is long-term monitoring feasible for such projects? Due to lack of funds, among other factors, it’s usually not.
 Excellent reflections by Michaela Brown.

Banditry in the US Congress? USAID vs. Contractors


The “bandits” have made billions of dollars off the US taxpayer in the last decade, and frankly not much value has been achieved. Easy dosh in Iraq is drying up, and to be cynical – the Kabul party is coming to an end. Most importantly, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has announced a change in policy. Simply put he recently stated “This agency is no longer satisfied with writing big checks to big contractors and calling it development“.
(...)
We need to:

1. fund local governments so they can do things,
2. fund local civil society so they can hold their governments accountable,
3. and use local business to implement projects so they they can create wealth, jobs and build private sector capacity. By doing so the West will actually create new markets, and new opportunities.
How 'Big Aid' is lobbying Congress not to change their profit model.

Lessons for the field


Start writing - field reports, if nothing else; doesn't matter if noone is reading. Do it for yourself
Don't obssess about 'influencing policy' - focus on 'good change' instead.
On a more positive note, my friend Suvojit has some great, concise advise on how to make 'fieldwork' meaningful, reflective and a great learning experience.

Trainings

ReliefWeb has a great database on trainings and academic courses related to humanitarian and development work...in case you want to return to/stay in university in the fall ;)...


Academia

Ban College Football

All true: It serves no purpose. Yet the question to ask about New Mexico State and other bad schools with expensive football teams is: What purpose does anything serve on that university campus? Wouldn’t eliminating football do away with the only game, as it were, in town? If you banned football, and Auburn and Clemson couldn’t play it anymore, what would be left? People forget that the very scandals schools like these generate are part of their lore, part of the excitement of being a student there. It’s hard to imagine anyone applying to a football school that’s become a shell of its former self. Banning football would ultimately mean closing down dozens of American universities.
Margaret Soltan raises some interesting questions about the value of college football and its contribution to academic endeavours...

Willetts turns to Wikipedia founder for advice on open access

“We want to harness new technologies to enable people to comment and rate published papers in ways that were not possible before, and we want to develop new online channels that enable researchers from around the world to collaborate and share data and build new research partnerships,” Mr Willetts writes. The announcements, which Mr Willetts is also outlining in a speech to the Publishers’ Association today, come a day after the release of a report suggesting that a move to universal open access could save UK public sector organisations £135 million a year.
Arguing for more open access is a noble effort, but when British Tory politicians get involved one needs to curb the enthusiasm I think...yes, there are financial implications because for-profit publishers, well, are in it for profit, but my feeling is that it's not impossible to see university/library funding being cut, because of a governmental urge to save money and push open-access for short-term benefits. As I wrote before (quite a few cross-links this week...), open access is one part of a bigger puzzle of promotion, hiring practices and funding allocation that need to be revised, too, rather than just stating 'dear researchers, go and publish in open-access journals'. But long-term. systemic changes and short-sighted Tory policies usually don't go together well :(.

Got a Computer? Get a Degree.

Last week, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a new nonprofit partnership to offer free online courses. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit.
Should Harvard and M.I.T. offer credit for these courses and even allow students to obtain their degrees online? Indeed, doesn’t it make more sense for elite colleges and universities to do this?
This is a great compilation of op-eds that address the issue from a variety of viewpoints. Well done, NYT!

Chief editors invited

Enough with the serious stuff for this week: An Indian publisher is looking for 97 (!!) new editors for 97 (!!) new academic science journals that will most definitely contribute to the advancement of knowledge.
I'm tempted to apply for research purposes...at least they have a more serious-looking website than some competitors :)

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