Links & Contents I Liked 124

Hello all,

The new semester is round the corner and one of the many ways to welcome our new students is to encourage them to get immersed in and (slightly) overwhelmed by the debates featured in the link review!

From the global remittance transfer cartel to the astonishing finding that 'research is no panacea for development', from the question of whether war reporting is worth the dangers to challenges of post-war capitalism in Nepal this is a jam-packed review! A social entrepreneur evangelist pinches her filter bubble and we learn all about bad aid. And what about hashtaggism and that water-pouring meme?
This week's must-read is Evgeny Morozov's essay on the data-driven delusion of disruption and more sobering thoughts on digital ethics, crowd-funding and states disguising as 'democracies'. Finally, some anthropological reflections on the crisis in Liberia and a glimpse into the world's best Communication for Development program ;)!

Enjoy!

New from aidnography
There always needs to be a product: 'Self-reflection', volunteering & the emerging development entertainment industrial complex
‘Why is it always former volunteers who now write about their so-called discoveries after yet another bad experience in a so-called orphanage?’, a friend asked on facebook a few weeks ago.
(...)
In an era of neoliberal self-optimization it is easy to rant and back-write with your own ‘product’. Deep down we prefer, or at least do not mind, the extroverted manifestations of critical engagement with ‘development’. ‘Learning by doing’ sounds great-but it is not the same as ‘reflecting on learning by repeating mistakes’.

Development news

Global remittance industry choking billions out of developing world

A handful of firms are exerting a stranglehold over the global remittance industry by charging huge fees on money sent from friends and family abroad, choking an annual half a trillion dollar lifeline for countries that face sweeping economic challenges.
From U.S. payday loans to international wire transfers-poor and vulnerable people always pay a premium for financial services.

Red Cross Reverses Stance on Sandy Spending “Trade Secrets”

The charity has now reversed itself, concluding that "with all of the disasters the American Red Cross responds to and the peak of hurricane season fast approaching, it simply isn't worth our time and resources to continue these efforts over a year-old letter," Red Cross spokeswoman Anne Marie Borrego said.
In a world full of corporate PR speak, even the Red Cross can no longer say "we made a mistake"...

Research is ‘no panacea’ for development, finds DFID

Evidence does not back commonly held assumptions about how research leads to change, for example by directly benefiting economic growth and the quality of higher education, the report says.
The lack of impact may be due to a poor interface between science and policy, and weak technology transfer environments needed to convert knowledge into useful products, it says.
But it does add that funding research may lead to improvement of the skill base necessary for development and, to an extent, design of pro-poor technologies.
Interesting, how it's always the researchers fault when research doesn't lead to 'development'...organizations like DfID pushed cautious researchers who talked about 'complexity' etc. into an 'evidence-based' corner. In many cases, it is difficult to provide clear evidence-and when there is evidence policy-makers more often than not choose to ignore it if it doesn't fit current policy. So researchers have to do better again-or their funding will be cut...

Why I Decided War Reporting Was No Longer Worth the Risk

Covering wars for a polarized nation has destroyed the civic mission I once found in journalism. Why risk it all to get the facts for people who increasingly seem only to seek out the information they want and brand the stories and facts that don’t conform to their opinions as biased or inaccurate?
And without a higher purpose, what is a career as a reporter? It may count among the so-called “glamor jobs” sought after by recent graduates, but one careers website has listed newspaper reporting as the second worst job in America, based on factors such as stress, pay, and employment uncertainty; toiling as a janitor, dishwasher, or garbage collector all scored better. Even if you love the work, it’s hard not to get worn down by a job that sometimes requires you to risk life and limb for readers who wonder if maybe you suffer all the downsides and hazards just to support some hidden agenda.
Tom Peter's reflections on war journalism resonate with some of the challenges of aid work in the 'forgotten' crises like Central African Republic, South Sudan etc. -those who believe that aid 'fails' will not change their opinion when a new famine warning from the Horn of Africa arrives...food for thought for us in development communication...

Rapidly urbanising Nepal and youth unemployment present challenges to security provision

Nepal is both rapidly urbanising and emerging from a long drawn-out civil conflict. In the Kathmandu Valley and Terai regions, this presents some unique challenges around:
rural migration (and the ensuing disconnectedness from families and communities)
youth vocational training and employment (and crime prevention)
policing and the justice system's capacity to deal with mitigating violence and criminal actions
Researchers with the IDS Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme interviewed both offenders and police offers to get to the bottom of complex interconnectedness between these three areas. Our research shows that being responsive to young people's needs will require a multipronged strategy, effective community-based partnerships and strengthened policy capacity.
This requires more research than this link review can offer, but it is a very similar challenge in many post-conflict societies: The promises of liberal peace, democracy and capitalism are very difficult to keep and young people/men are often the ones who will benefit least from the change-globalization meets Nepal...

Why social entrepreneurship has become a distraction: it’s mainstream capitalism that needs to change

Why is it that the only system-changing approach that has managed to go to scale is microfinance? Yet we forget that it took 30 years and an estimated US$20 billion in subsidies from major foundations and individual philanthropists to transform microfinance from an undefined effort sitting between philanthropy, aid and the market, to something much closer to mainstream investing.
(...)
The key to sustainable capitalism is reasonable profits as opposed to maximizing profits. In the current system, a segment of society is trying to maximize profits without concern for the impact on the well being of the society as a whole, while another segment of social organizations have to deal with the fall out. The system is not working.
I don't want to sound disrespectful, but Pamela Hartigan's reflections are hardly new or surprising. Outside the Silicon Valley, entrepreneurial innovation, 30-people-between 31-34-who-will-transform-the-planet filter bubble we have been suspecting this all along...

Oh, hashtags.

Does engaging in serial online hashtagging along the lines of #bringbackourgirls make an individual more prone to taking on meaningful action at some point? Or does the hashtag engagement need to relate to something more locally addressable (eg., something the individual could directly impact) in order for it to lead to meaningful action? As we note in our article, some research has found that when it comes to global causes, people have very short attention spans and they move on to a new topic once the complexity of the situation is apparent and they understand their individual inability to make any real difference.
Linda Raftree on important questions around the current meme where people are pouring water over their heads...

Could we create an Ice Bucket Challenge for global development? Should we?

I hear often among my nonprofit friends and colleagues the impassioned rants about what really “goes on in the world” and “how real change occurs” and how clicktivist campaigns arise without the necessary nuance, context, or self-awareness. Lina Srivastava, a social change narratives strategist, argues that many of the issues we work on in the development sector are “unhashtagable.”
While it’s hard to tackle such complex issues such as poverty on social media, we have also seen that campaigns like #YesAllWomen and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown can touch off powerful and memorable public dialogues when they touch some genuine concern or frustration within people. In my work I see that more than ever before, globally-engaged citizens in rich nations are looking for effective ways to affect change in the developing world. Can the international development sector’s communications transform the desire to be of service into well-thought out actions that sustainably challenge the global injustice of poverty?

I was skeptical about sharing anything even remotely related to the cold water bucket meme, but Jennifer Lentfer's detailed, well-referenced and nuanced post deserves a read-even though I still struggle to answer her questions at the moment...

A Taxonomy of Arguments in Favor of Bad Aid
As promised, what began as a compendium of arguments in favor of bad aid, but is now more of a taxonomy with non-exhaustive illustrative examples and discussion under each category.
(...)
Wide-eyed wonder is possibly one of the toughest arguments in favor of bad aid to counter inter-personally because those who use it are typically really nice people. You want to like them, you hate to hurt their feelings. In real life Wide-eyed wonder is the bright, friendly college sophomore on the plane next to you who has just spent a year doing unsupervised work with street children in Peru. It is the sweet lady at the supermarket who collected gently used socks for survivors of the Japan tsunami. Be nice, but don’t back down.
J. gives us the 'best' bad aid arguments on AidSpeak and how you can try to engage with them.

Our digital lives
Ethics and the Age of Digital Assumption

Nonprofits often talk about trust and integrity as being central to their work. If so, do we want (expect) nonprofits to act differently with our data then we expect Facebook to act? Do we want (expect) nonprofits to communicate more clearly to us about what they do with our data? Do we want (expect) to be able to access civil society organizations and their services without compromising our own data (or the digital whereabouts of all the folks whose addresses and phone numbers are stored on our phone address book?)
Similarly, do we want (expect) nonprofits to access and use remote digital data in different ways than other enterprises?
As digital and data discussions gain more prominence, questions about (new) digital ethics will be asked more as well-and how different organizational philosophies will engage with them.

Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?

Silicon Valley, always quick to capitalise on counterculture, appropriated the communal gift-oriented rhetoric of earlier efforts to transcend the neoliberal agenda, presenting start-ups like Uber and Airbnb as part of the “sharing economy” — the utopian future beloved by anarchists and libertarians, where individuals can deal with each other directly, bypassing large intermediaries. What we are witnessing, however, is the replacement of service intermediaries, like taxi companies, with information intermediaries like Uber — which is backed by those admirers of anarchy, Goldman Sachs.
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This is the future that Silicon Valley expects us to embrace: given enough sensors and net connections, our entire life becomes a giant ATM. Those refusing this would have only themselves to blame. Opting out from the “sharing economy” would come to be seen as economic sabotage and wasteful squandering of precious resources that could accelerate growth. Eventually, the refusal to “share” becomes tinged with as much guilt as the refusal to save or work or pay debts, with a veneer of morality covering up — once again — exploitation.
A brilliant, brilliant essay by Evgeny Morozov-must read of the week!

Crowdfunding is doomed – there are too many fingers in too many apple pies

The problem is that the myriad individual decisions are resolutely crap ones. Why? Because there is a suppressed premise in all of this. True, apple pie is yummy; most moms are great; moms do indeed deserve to have apple pies made for them by penurious offspring. However, the offspring do not deserve to have their donor pie in effect made for them many times over simply because they have access to the web. To begin with, such $49,000 apple pies will be the outliers of crowdfunding appeals, but in time – due to the underlying dynamics – they will increase in number, until the total crowdfunding pie will be divided up between a few such specious enterprises; then the whole thing will collapse in a puff of pixels.
Will Self predicts the downfall of crowd-funding efforts, probably because they have become depoliticized forms of hashtaggism...

Can Democracy Survive?

Let’s call them Dismocracies, for now. For many of today’s regimes pretend to appear Democracies. To gain access to the world markets, to gain legitimacy in the world’s eyes, to gain favorable terms of trade. But they are precisely the negation of Constitutional Democracy. They are sophisticated social machines which funnel prosperity from the bottom, to the top.
(...)
The state does not truly govern—it merely manages society like a kind of giant investment fund. It is a kind of praetorship, which funnels funds to the private sector—from people. What, in turn, does the private sector “invest” in? Mechanisms of human repression. Private prisons, militaries, schools, hospitals, energy, information.
Governmentality in the digital post-post-democratic age...

Academia & Anthropology

The Complexity of Ebola & Its Misrepresentation in the West, by Theresa Ammann

The ebola crisis has highlighted the GoL’s inefficiency and much understandable resulting public distrust, but some might even argue that Liberia outed itself as a failed state. In this sense, Liberia’s health insecurity has consequently pointed out aspects of severe political and economic insecurity, and a general state of human insecurity. As Leymah Gbowee already pointed out, ebola might threaten the achievements of the last peaceful decade.
Theresa Ammann provides a very good overview over the impact in Liberia-and how 'development', 'failed states' and 'good governance' are having a comeback amid the emerging discourse of 'Africa rising'.

The Hi-Tech Mess of Higher Education

But so are many other things in life: having children, founding a company or a charity, tending one’s garden. There is a pressure and a demand for human continuity beyond the dreams of standardized tests, cost-benefit readouts, and human resources questionnaires. “How shall a generation know its story/If it will know no other?” Edgar Bowers said it like that in his wonderful poem “For Louis Pasteur,” and the question may serve as a reminder of an elusive value that Ivory Tower conveys through other words and images. Universities exist not to answer the question but to register and reiterate its force.
David Bromwich review of the new documentary The Ivory Tower is an excellent summary/introduction of/to the current debates in higher education and a great primer for further discussions!

Course Reviews: Communication for Development at Malmö University

The programme runs part-time over two years and is conducted online with the opportunity of attending two or three weekend seminars in person. During their first year, our students receive a comprehensive overview of globalisation and an introduction to the field of Communication for Development. During their second year, the students are introduced to the use of new media and ICT in a development context and receive a thorough introduction to research methodologies in order to prepare them for their final thesis.
As the new semester is about to start and to wrap this week's review up, a little self-promotion for one of the best C4D MA programs ;)!

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