Links & Contents I Liked 158

Hi all,

Let’s wrap up another week with some food for reading, sharing, discussing and thinking!

Did Saudi-Arabia bribe the UK for UN support with just 100K USD? More on SDGs, the UN system & the future of development; study confirms: white men disturb decision-making in Africa! Syrian refugees & the humanitarian caste system; tips on how to turn around an ailing nonprofit and how to make social movements more inclusive.
Great new readings on ‘interrogating internships’. Digital lives on how the ‘bottom billions’ can engage with big data & how mindfulness and hacking culture have been coopted by the capitalist system.
Finally, in Academia we are looking at the financial and reputational cost of predatory publishing beyond spam emails from India…

Enjoy!

New from aidnography
Apply to our MA in Communication for Development & Advances in C4D course!

Right now, applications are open for both our flagship online two-year, part-time MA in Communication for Development and our new, professional course Advances in Communication for Development: Social Action, Planning and Evaluation, both starting in January 2016.
There is plenty of information available on our official ComDev portal for both courses!
How not to write about humanitarian work
Under the headline “Violinist to volunteer: Medecins Sans Frontieres work in war-torn Africa life-changing for Adelaide nurse” Brett Williamson wrote a questionable piece of humanitarian journalism for Australia’s ABC News.
It is so bad it can almost serve as a template for journalism students on how not to write a piece on humanitarian aid and international development.
Let’s break down the article.
That's Brendan Rigby and me over at WhyDev!

From African stereotypes to resilient poor people, @bjrigby & @aidnography reflect on how not to report aid work. http://t.co/MYNFxHpGGx

— WhyDev (@WhyDev) October 1, 2015

Everyone teaching in int'l dev should read @aidnography and Esser's article on the risks of professionalization: https://t.co/UjCK6eIetG

— Malini Ranganathan (@maliniranga) September 30, 2015

"Media development needs to think digital every step of the way" http://t.co/wVGlxcldBJ via @dw_akademie from @aidnography #mediadev

— CaMP Anthropology (@CaMPanthros) September 30, 2015

Development news
UK and Saudi Arabia 'in secret deal' over human rights council place

Another cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. It was unclear where or how this money was spent.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told the Australian: “Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights.
When two regimes with questionable governance structures collaborate in UN politics, the results are usually that everybody loses...

Sustainable Development Goals Offer Something for Everyone--and Will Not Work

Under their current structure, the SDGs comprise 17 goals that will be measured through 169 targets, which are, in turn, meant to be measured through 304 indicators. Whereas the U.N. attempted to create an open, participatory process for identifying the SDGs, a real effort to set sustainable development goals requires difficult decisions. The SDGs currently eschew these politics, and the result is a laundry list of goals largely irrelevant to how we think about the actual work of development in an era of climate change.
Ed Carr on the depoliticized SDG process.

The SDGs Should Stand for Senseless, Dreamy, Garbled

For this generation of young idealists in rich countries, development should still be a cause worth fighting for. The many humanitarian programs that have been doing good things should continue, even if they are not quite the transformational things that the MDGs promised. But the decline and fall of the pretensions of foreign aid only tell us to not put our hopes in U.N. bureaucrats or Western experts. We can put our hopes instead in the poor people we support as dignified agents of their own destiny.
Bill Easterly critically reviews MGDs and SDGs all in one piece-but he remains slightly optimistic about the future, but is not convinced what role the UN system will play...

The Good Ones

For all of these, and a thousand more, we (and apparently journalists, academics, and amateur pundits, too) get that there’s something wrong. But if not the current state, what should it be? We can call out a piss-poor relief response. That’s a treasured pastime. But what does an excellent one look like? I genuinely want to know.
Tayles from The Hood reflects on the challenge of identifying good and excellent aid work; I largely agree. It is often easy to pledge funds, then don't deliver and finally point fingers at the development industry for not 'delivering', 'learning' or doing things bigger, better and brighter!

A Strange Study Involving the ‘White-Man Effect’ in Sierra Leone

All things being equal, the researchers found that the presence of a white experimenter did increase the amount the villagers gave away by about 19 percent — which the authors interpret as an attempt to impress someone who is quite visibly a foreigner. There’s an important but, though: In villages that had been known to receive a lot of foreign aid, and in which one of the experimenters was white, the villagers gave less. The researchers interpret that to mean that these villagers, seeing a white person, assumed the point of the experiment was to determine their worthiness of more aid — a source of funds they generally associate with the presence of white people. Overall, write the researchers, “These results suggest that players act based on their perceptions of the experimenter as a white foreigner.”
In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether these explanations are exactly right. What matters is that tweaking the racial composition of the team administering these experiments yielded a noticeable difference in how players played, which naturally raises all sorts of questions about prior research that’s been conducted in these sorts of settings. It’s tricky enough to make the leap from the game-results to real-world behaviors, in other words, but it’s even trickier when it turns out that players’ actions can be so easily manipulated.
To be honest, the study presented in this piece by Jesse Singal is not that 'strange'. It's something that anthropologists and social scientists could have told you from decades of international and intercultural research. It just sounds fancier if the study is published in an economic academic journal...

The Humanitarian Caste System?

“We call it the humanitarian caste system,” said one international NGO volunteer, who did not want to be named. “We see it in donations. We see it in volunteer interest. And we see it from the governments.”
The story of the two camps on Lesvos is a lesson in the creeping pro-Syrian favouritism that is now being felt throughout the European response to the refugee crisis. Moria, initially the island’s only processing centre, was overrun in the summer when arrivals hit 4,000 a day. The Greek authorities designated Kara Tepe as a temporary processing site for Syrians, who made up the bulk of the arrivals. Aid staff told IRIN that initially Kara Tepe was also filthy and overrun. But once the crisis, and specifically the plight of the Syrian refugees, became global news in the summer, more aid agencies began arriving and focussed largely on helping the Syrians. Moria, meanwhile, continued to grow but received nothing like the attention or the support.
The contrast is feeding the increasingly widespread belief among migrants that when it comes to asylum seekers in Europe, there is now one rule for Syrians and another for everyone else.
Imogen Wall on the new/old complexities of engaging and helping 'the other' and the paradoxes of humanitarian aid which is always in short supply and very often unevenly distributed...

From Anguish to Balance

Today, IDEX has secured the next seven years of general operating support, which provides a solid foundation from which it can grow and innovate. IDEX ended 2014 with a $1.8 million budget and has multi-year, unrestricted support from foundations, as well as funding from major donors and a healthy earned-income stream. So how did we do it? Here are some ideas, principles, and insights that have guided our organizations, our relationships with funders, and ourselves over the past five to seven years.
Akaya Windwood and Rajasvini Bhansali on how they turned around a struggling nonprofit. My favorite point is
Communicate with your individual donors like they are intelligent people. For a long time, IDEX relied on the traditional fundraising wisdom that says messaging needs to stay at a fourth-grade level—in other words, to reach a wide number of people, it had to be simple. A huge shift happened in IDEX’s resource mobilization when it was no longer afraid to tell the full, complicated story about its work (in particular, its Reimagining Wealth and Meet the Original Innovators campaigns) in a real, yet accessible and non-jargon-filled way.
9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible
Six years, two degrees, one gender transition, and a bunch of published Internet rants later, I’m able to see that my feelings about those early forays into social justice weren’t so much about my personal capacity or value as they were about exclusion and accessibility.
Social justice and feminist culture are incredible positive forces that can transform the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Without social justice and the activist communities that form around it, I literally wouldn’t be alive today. But sometimes those same activist cultures can be unnecessarily exclusive – and worse, inaccessible and elitist.
If you replace 'social justice movement' with 'development', 'academia' or most other 'industries', Kai Cheng Thom's suggestions would still be pretty much spot on...her piece says more about the dangers of 'professionalizing' many aspects of transformational work than social movements in particular.

Hot off the (digital) press

Lessons Learned: Social Media Monitoring during Humanitarian Crises

Part of ACAPS’ Nepal project included a social media monitoring pilot: the team produced fortnightly monitoring reports, with the aim of helping to identify needs, concerns, developing trends and emerging risks among the effected population; and conversations related to the quality and accessibility of aid.
Our lessons learned report draws key lessons from the pilot and provides recommendations for future social media monitoring
Interesting new report for digital humanitarians from Reliefweb!

Interrogating Internships: Unpaid Work, Creative Industries, and Higher Education

Opinions on internships may be split, but the gloss on this quasi-employment arrangement is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Today, internships are a site of contestation.
They are a target of student activism, a topic of policy deliberation among politicians, and a subject of media coverage. Two intern stories grabbed headlines as we completed this special issue. One was the announcement that some 40 interns filed a class-action lawsuit against Dualstar Entertainment Group, the US company owned by celebrity twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The suit alleges wage-theft, with reports that interns clocked 50-hour workweeks without receiving monetary payment or academic credit in exchange for their time and effort (McGrath 2015). The second story was of a young New Zealander, David Hyde, who took an unpaid internship with the United Nations (UN) at the cost of living in a tent in Geneva, a prohibitively expensive city teeming with interns. Hyde revealed that he had all along intended to leak the truth about his accommodations. The savvy intern leveraged the media interest as a chance to speak out: “I strongly believed that unpaid internships are unjust because they further perpetuate inequality” (cited in Brooks-Pollock 2015). As Hyde used the soapbox to call on interns globally to unite, the UN faced pressure to review its internship system. Internships, and the questions of social and economic justice that are intrinsic to them, are not confined to the ostensibly prestigious working worlds of media and politics. Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Foxconn was caught staffing its assembly lines in China with student interns, and Tesco Ireland has used the government welfare program JobBridge to advertise internships in shelf-stacking at its supermarkets.
(from the introduction)
Open access special issue of TripleC journal on the political economy around 'prosuming' internships.

Our digital lives

Why Design Matters: Designing a data platform to solve problems that matter

The average user of our mobile based data collection tool is someone like Promila. She’s a 7th class pass, Marathi speaking woman who lives in Raigadh. She never used a mobile phone before our partner nonprofit gave her a tablet to visit households, where she will collect data and disseminate healthcare information.
1 billion people in the world today access the internet, most of them in the developing world. Over the next decade, the next 6 billion will have their first interaction with technology, mostly via a mobile phone. Designing for Promila poses a challenge that will require building new design paradigms for the future.
Like most of the next 6 billion, Promila is semi-literate and fluent only in her local language. She’s excited by technology, though she’s a bit worried about breaking the expensive device she carries! She has never used a touch screen, which means that she’s going to take some time to get used to swiping interactions.
She is delighted by colours and images — green for “right answer” makes her smile with pleasure! She carries her device and uses our app to conduct surveys on field, sometimes in the scorching sun, which means that our app colours should be capable of a high contrast ratio. All this while working on a low memory device with a short battery life.
Sharing success stories from corporate blogs is always a double-edged sword. But Prukalpar from India-based Social Cops shares some interesting insights into their 'big data' work-and how to make data relevant.

How corporates co-opted the art of mindfulness to make us bear the unbearable

Take a look at the current marketing of corporate mindfulness. If you’re reading an endorsement for mindfulness from one of our Captains of Industry, Jeff Weiner, for instance, you’ll hear about how he credits the practice with enhancing his success. If you’re slightly lower on the food chain, you’ll read about how you can reduce your stress and be more productive with just a few daily minutes of meditation. And if you’re even lower down the social hierarchy, a pregnant woman perhaps, you’ll be told about how mindfulness can help you be a better carer for others.
I try to meditate every day. Even to brush my teeth mindfully. To sit on the train without my phone, to breathe consciously, to watch my thoughts go by. Most practice days I spend at least some time teaching people simple mindful practices that can help to reduce their in-the-moment anxiety, calm emotions that threaten to interfere with their ability to express them and to come into the present enough to speak clearly from their hearts and minds.
This is just part of the work of taking responsibility for our lives. Mindfulness is a way of living, not a substitute for taking action. If we truly become mindful of our existence then our recurrent anxieties become not just a wave we watch pass through our minds, not something to be mastered in order to be a better servant, but a call to take action in order to be more fully alive.
Zoe Krupka on how the concept of 'mindfulness' is being co-opted by 'the new prophets of capitalism' and how to take power back and make it a meaningful part of your live.

Selling Out and the Death of Hacker Culture

The framework is there. It is, believe it or not, possible to hack without corporate involvement. But running ethical hackathons is much harder and much less lucrative. As long as MLH pushes hackathons to go bigger and bigger so MLH can profit off students’ free labor; as long as individual organizers value throwing ~~the <adjective>est~~ hackathon over something that their community can enjoy — it won’t happen. We’ll continue selling out, burning out, and hacker culture will keep dying out.
MLH claims hackathons need to differentiate themselves, so that’s why they try to go bigger. But who are they differentiating themselves from? Other big hackathons? Don’t advertise to serial hackathon-goers, then. Focus on the community surrounding our schools, surrounding ourselves.
I know the hacker community can make the change. You can scale corporate contracts; you can’t scale culture. But we do things that don’t scale. It’s in our blood.
Rodney Folz' reflections on the political economy of hacker culture and hackathons that are entering/have entered our capitalistic well-being space with the risk of losing its critical and political edge.

Academia

Predatory publishers earned $75 million last year, study finds

"The breadth and growth of predatory journals are astonishing and concerning," says Jocalyn Clark, a public health researcher at the University of Toronto in Canada, and a veteran of scientific training and publishing in the developing world. "I remain convinced that the market for these fake journals is endless."
But dismissing this as a problem limited to the developing world is missing the point, she notes. "What is a nuisance for rich-country researchers (constant emails) is a major corruption for developing-country science—a corruption of the legitimate and vital open-access publishing model and a corruption of the vast funds, much of which are public, invested in global health research. That institutions and especially donors are not doing more to ensure their scientists' work is not lost to predatory journals is, to me, a scandal."
As difficult as it is to come up with a near-exact figure for predatory publishing, the article is an important reminder that it's more than just 'spam' and causes financial and reputational damage particularly in developing countries.

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