Links & Content I liked 13

Hello all,

I guess the tagline for this week's post could be 'pictures say more than a thousand words' and very often in the development context this is not a good quite a few links will lead you to stories where the picture says indeed more than a thousand words of warning and education.

Still, enjoy the links!
New on aidnography

A picture says more than...what development in Nepal looks like

I love the fact that it offers me fascinating anthropological encounters of the visual kind or, in short, with moments of clarity that are difficult to express with words alone. Last year I had a great 'what the UN looks like' moment and this week it's a picture from Gulariya, a few miles away from Nepalganj one of the hubs in central Nepal.


Footwear collection to makes its way abroad
To be clear, Warkentin’s collection of 40,000 sets of shoes does not belong to him; he has been collecting them for two years and will send them to Haiti and Africa.
“When I was in Africa, I noticed that a lot of people were walking around barefoot,” Warkentin said yesterday as a group of volunteers helped to empty two large storage units and put the shoes in a tractor trailer. Those countries are high-risk areas for HIV and a simple cut on a foot can lead to severe infections, amputations, and possibly even death.
Yes, there is a typo in the headline. Yes, it has been there since Monday and yes again that it's indicative of the quality of Metronews, a thinly-disguised advertisement outlet dressed as 'free newspaper'. You also have to excuse my brief capital letters rant that is going to follow: STOP SENDING STUFF TO AFRICA!!! THINK AND GOOGLE BEFORE YOU WASTE VOLUNTEER'S TIME, STORAGE SPACE AND SHIP THOUSANDS OF UNWANTED ITEMS TO 'AFRICA'. There is a reason why Saundra Schimmelpfenning called her blog 'Good Intentions Are Not Enough'-because in-kind donations, e.g. shoes or T-Shirts are problematic at least and there are better ways to deal with footwear issues. And if you like a good metaphor, there are indeed shoestrings attached to the idea. The whole idea is a waste of time and effort, unfortunately. Frankly, I find it more amazing that in a small place like Halifax and surrounding areas people actually donated 80,000 shoes which says more about North American consumerism than about the seemingly charitable effort...

2011 Photo Contest Winners

Les barracks de liberté VI—Intercultural Interactions Winner
As the University of Minnesota (and probably many other universities around the world...) prepares for another photo contest hosted by the Learning Abroad Center it's worthwhile to check out one the last year's winners...yes, it's the 'white student in sandals being surrounded by smiling black kids' shot. Students and staff should really pay more attention to these kind of contests, because it promotes a notion of voluntourism and paternalism that probably doesn't do justice to the experiences and learnings of most students. But let that be reflected by the pictures as well...

just do it (better)

Because whatever we’re doing, I bet you a hundred bucks to a bottle of Nile lager, that both our donors and our beneficiaries would love it if we just had our shit together a bit more. Didn’t arse about so much we delivered the tools and seeds a month after prime planting period and whined about how (all too predictably) the grant disbursement was late or (like it always is) recruitment was harrrd. Didn’t pat ourselves on the back when we finally got around to scaling up for the food crisis as it was plateauing or winding down, but attributing the credit where the marketers felt it was due. Didn’t blame the donors, the rains, the roads – though those can be real problems – but instead managed that risk and structurally addressed our utterly addressable internal halfarsedness.
Ok, this is the final contribution to the 'ranting I liked' section this week. But Cyan makes a great point in the end:
I’m blogging today because I want to show you the faces of the focused, diligent, and hard working people up here in Kotido, learning about project management. Because these are the real faces of professionalization of the sector, not more white westerners with slightly more relevant Masters degrees.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will attend the meeting London hopes will refocus and better coordinate the international response to Somalia.
One reason for the lack of political progress is that war and instability are lucrative. Somalia's power brokers, pirate kingpins and business tycoons are reluctant to give up the status quo.
Diplomats say many players in Somalia's turmoil find that by spoiling reform they can continue to reap the spoils of war. Talk of peace and reform unsettles bribe-seeking politicians, traders smuggling arms and contraband, militants making deals with pirates and aid contractors taking cuts.
I still think many policy-makers and aid workers underestimate the lucrativeness of instability, conflict and/or war. I always recommend Carolyn Nordstrom's book 'Shadows of war' (published in 2004) as one of the best anthropological studies on this topic to better understand the grey value-chains that go alongside of instability and conflict.

Making money in Somaliland: meeting Abdirashid Duale, CEO, Dahabshiil

Dahabshiil is an example of how the entrepreneurial strata in Somali society has survived the country’s long-running upheaval. It combines diaspora expertise and money with a particularly strong desire to support communities back home, and in doing so to make a healthy profit in an underdeveloped business environment. Duale tells me that the diaspora are the biggest source of investment in Somalia where, particularly in the more stable regions, the housing and construction sectors are booming. Flights back to Hargeisa, and even to Mogadishu, are frequently booked out, as diasporans, and globe-trotting Somali businessmen fly in to visit extended families and check up on their investments – not the image we normally get of the country.
Literally a few hours after I stumbled across the Somalia article, a friend posted this interesting link about the diaspora business community of Somali/Somaliland and how they are investing in the country/countries-but as Magnus Taylor observes, such stories rarely make it into the mainstream news.

Why did Maji Matone fail? 3. Citizens' engagement, risk and apathy?

Perhaps we were too ambitious in trying to go straight to rural communities to create this culture of citizens' agency. After all, cultural change of any kind tends to be driven by urban society, with more conservative rural communities playing catch up. But that's not a satisfactory answer either, as it is in rural communities where the culture of apathy is strongest and in greatest need of being challenged.
Third post with reflections from rural Tanzania and why a programme failed.

Failure Reports

EWB believes that success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes. We also believe that it’s important to publicly celebrate these failures, which allows us to share the lessons more broadly and create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking. This is a culture we value within EWB, and also try to work with our partners in Africa to create in their organizations.
It's fair to say that Engineers Without Borders Canada has become a bit of a trend-setter with their annual 'failure reports'.
The Failure Report is about conversion, not about momentary defeat. It is about the story of human capacity. It is fueled by the desire to ignite change within the field of international development. The model EWB presents is the critical idea that success is only possible if we include a rigorous analysis of its seeming opposite.
And this message is still absolutely impossible to get through to 'the taxpayer' or 'the donor'? I find this more and more difficult to believe. If any large bilateral or multilateral agency would come forward with a simialr report it would receive a lot of praise and yes, the same right-leaning tabloid newspaper readers who are already hating foreign aid will still hate it-but that's a small group of taxpayers you could relatively easily ignore.

Benchlearning: jugling with figures for deeper learning
The goal of bench learning is creating a better government without making a judgment about what is right and wrong. In the case of bench learning we want to create a new vision, rather than a strategy in place. Benchlearning helps to discover: are we moving in the right direction? The traditional way of working with statistics and benchmarking worked like looking in a mirror. In benchlearning you do not you look back, but you monitor what is happening around you, with no hypothesis, and without predetermined indicators. Having predetermined indicators restricts your vision. In benchlearning you have a look at information available and arrange in in new ways, but without a set first hypothesis. You go looking for patterns. This leads to a deeper form of learning than through indicators or other means.
Talking about learning and changing sounds a bit like a nightmare for quantitative researchers and the opposite of RCTs, so in a word: fascinating and interesting ;)!

Civil society at a new frontier: new dynamics, challenges and opportunities

It was from this rather unpromising start that INTRAC was born. It was seen as a completely new sustainable venture geared to supporting and servicing the needs of development NGOs in the North and the South, but one which was not to be a charge or financial burden on the sector. The rationale on which INTRAC was based, and which a process of participative needs analysis confirmed, was that there was a need for such a support organisation because of the increased demands on NGOs arising from the rapid expansion of the scope of NGO development work through the 1980s.
I still receive INTRAC's newsletter by email which seems rather 'old-school' these days, but that shouldn't divert the attention from the contents. The 16-page document offers some interesting, although not exactly new or groundbreaking, insights into the future of development NGOs and is a good reference point for the current debates.

The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector

Many nonprofits continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion.
There is a specific Harvard business school-feel to the article that probably deserves more unpacking and discussions-especially in the context of international development.

The role of brand within nonprofit organizations is therefore cyclical and can be captured in a model we call the Role of Brand Cycle. In this model, brand is nested within organizational strategy, which in turn is nested within the mission and values of the organization. Brand plays a variety of roles that, when performed well, link together in a virtuous cycle. A well-aligned identity and image position the organization to build internal cohesion and trust with external constituents. Organizations can leverage these to strengthen internal capacity and achieve impact in the world. The resulting reputation then enhances the identity and image of the brand with which the cycle began.
The article also engages with WWF and its brand, although WWF's relationships with various extractive industries and take on 'social responsibility' probably deserve more attention-especially in the context of how much 'branding' and 'corporatisation' is desirable for the sector.

The Reform-Reality Gap in Colombia: A View from Magdalena Medio Region

The vulnerability of peasants, the labour movement and human right defenders not only reflects the legacy of the particularly deep paramilitary penetration of the Middle Magdalena region, but is also the outcome of a particular state-formation process which, as in other regions of the country, gave rise to a local state unable or unwilling to protect and advance the interests of its inhabitants. State forces and institutions were not absent, but rather paramilitaries thrived on the partial complicity of legal sectors with illegal forces. It is this privatised governance that now causes difficulties for the Santos reforms.
It's great that the analysts of the Crisis Group have started to blog in addition to releasing their excellent longer reports. The vignette from rural Colombia is another interesting/sad example of how instability and violence benefit certain elitist groups.

Human Trafficking - A Survivor's Story

Returning home to shame, alienation and insufficient legal support, female victims often find themselves living alone and in poverty, struggling within the margins of a society that emphasizes the collective and abandons the individual. With little possibility of reintegration and the almost impossible prospect of making it alone, many of them go back into trafficking, though this time not as victims but as perpetrators. UN statistics estimate that as many as 70% of traffickers are women and that the majority of these are former victims.

‘The reception of victims on their return into Vietnam is a major problem’ says Thuy.’ When girls come back to a family that rejects them and a society that judges them unclean it has both personal and practical consequences. They often lose faith in themselves and in need of money they fall into crime, most commonly trafficking.’
Even for those who don’t go into the trafficking industry, the social stigma they face normally stops them talking about their experience and raising the awareness that is so crucial in putting a stop to the trade. Without a victim there is no crime and until the wrongs that these people face are recognized the self perpetuating cycle will go on and the industry will continue to grow.
A very interesting story from the 'frontlines' of human trafficking in the context of Vietnam and China and the role that (foreign) organisations can play to assist and empower victims.

Spring uprisings calling spring academics: #bring books out to the streets!

This video entitled Three stories and a glass of milk [in Spanish] is an example of interconnected local places in the global soya system. Tekojoja (Paraguay) and Cantabria (Spain) are the local producing places in the suffering end and the harbour of Barcelona the localised, global space. Analysis can help find those globalised locals. And the glocal can help development analysis get more politicised and to the roots of things. And many other concepts waiting for us in the streets. As for each library book on the shelf, ten newer versions are awaiting outside!
It's great to see that the IDS PhD students have started their own blog! Maria-Josep Cascant's piece on street protests in Spain is a great example of how 'development' topics and concepts can be applied to the 'real world' of European post (?) financial crisis 'reforms'!


On Sort Of Keeping Up

As my inbox was recently filling up with alerts that I did not have time to look at right away, I realized I had not quantified my journal-reading in a while. Hence my questions:

How many journals do you read (look at) routinely?
How likely are you to find a paper that you want to (and do) read in one or more of them, each time there is a new issue? And some qualitative questions:

Do you enjoy reading the literature of your field? That is, do you feel a sense of happy anticipation when looking at new titles, or do you feel oppressed? Do you hope that there will be a paper of interest, or are you glad when there is not?
Female Science Professor asks really interesting questions...and I probably need another week to think about my own reading habits and feelings.

How Hopeful. How Naive.

In addition to my experiments with e-mail, I’m considering doing some tests with the real-time chat function on the Internet (known as IRC) or with any of the chat channels on the commercial servers (...). This chat capability enables you to conference and/or workshop with students and writers in virtually the same way as in class. By letting students know when I’m online, I can make myself available to them over a much wider space of time. Oftentimes we can’t all be in the same place, but if I’m at home or on my computer at school, and they are with their own hookup (either campus, work or home), we can connect and deal with whatever concerns need addressing. It’s a vast and convenient extension of office hours, making me far more accessible to my students than
I’ve ever been in ten years of teaching.
All of this is just an experiment for me right now, because I can’t assure that each of my students can have his/her own access. But once the school gets completely wired (like many colleges and universities nationwide), our students are going to have the most immediate access to professors possible. We have to be prepared for the exciting onslaught
of new challenges and new discoveries. I’m very excited about being a part of this new cyber-education. It can’t do anything but help.
A fascinating note from the days when electronic communication was about to change higher education (1993/1994). It's probably worthwhile to reflect on what this revolution has really changed in those 20 years and what promises haven't been delivered-or weren't taken up by students.

As a Freshman I Had No Car. Sophomore, a Ten Speed. Junior and Senior Year, a 1975 Dodge Dart.

Students at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. don't just complain about easy grades, they also drive cars so nice you'd think their campus was the parking lot of the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. In the photo composite above is about $1.2 million worth of automobiles allegedly belonging to college students.
Do your best not to hate them.
Just to round off the 'a picture says more than...' theme of this week!


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