Links & Contents I Liked 23

Hello all,

Let's cut to the chase: My three top reads for this week include 'The Aid Bitchslap' (not, unlikely to be awarded 'gender-sensitive post of the year'...), a detailed critique of Foreign Policy's 'Sex' issue and, depending of whether you are more interested in development or academic stuff, a piece on how the Conservatives have changed foreign aid in Canada or the long and detailed story of how Sonoma State University in California came to represent a lot of the things that have gone wrong in US higher education finances.


New on aidnography
Only get an MBA if you are not interested in sustainable development
My response to Charles Kenny's post in Foreign Policy

Influencing policy, or: Why nobody in Germany will be reading this
My comment on a recent study on how policy-makers, 'influentials' and the general public engage with development-related information


NYC Department of Records announces on-line access to a gallery of over 870,000 images
I guess I filed it under 'development' because of the UN headquarters and many other development organisations and people that are based in NYC...but seriously, check out this fantastic archive of free pictures!

The lasting legacy of Liberia’s civil war

Photojournalist Glenna Gordon has been documenting the lasting impact of Taylor’s regime since her first trip to Liberia in early 2009. “This complicated and nuanced place is one I’ve tried to understand through visually exploring a world of family politics, broken promises and destroyed infrastructure,” she said.
A great way to look beyond Taylor and his trial.

Nepotism and the Sirleaf administration
Shelby Grossman highlights the extended family relations of the Sirleaf Clan in-which adds to the complicated picture of 'transition' in Liberia.

The Aid Bitchslap

Every now and then, I read something that hits me smack in the stomach. This cross-post is one of those. Originally on Quinn Zimmerman’s blog “These New Boots”, the post came over with an email commenting on ”that moment where you get the aid bitchslap… when you cross from idealism to realism… [a] strange and ugly and enlightening process.”
Just read Quinn's reflections from Haiti in its entirety...

Alanna Shaikh’s entertaining observations on UNCTAD

Day two began with the Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity. This is an inter-agency meeting that only takes place at UNCTAD. Like so many inter-agency meetings, it consisted almost entirely of agency representatives reading prewritten statements and ignoring each other
The title speaks for itself. Some of you may be following the unfolding story that UNCTAD may be under threat to be closed down, but regardless of the value of its research and contributions, reading about the conference rituals is just a reminder of how difficult the UN system sometimes makes it for itself to show its relevance and willingness to adopt to 'modern times'.

The Oda scandal that's not getting ink

If this sounds like Oda and her cabinet colleagues are showing favouritism based on Canada's self-interest, not on the real needs of profoundly poor people, then the minister might not even bother to deny it.
In an interview with my Post-media colleague Elizabeth Payne earlier this year, Oda candidly conceded that she didn't separate at all Canadian trade and foreign policy goals from our aid policy.
She also confirmed that CIDA, which has been moving away from its well-established, long-term partnerships with trusted and respected NGOs in the field, is moving more and more to partnerships with private sector partners in the mining and agricultural sectors.
The debate whether or not the minister should per her $16 dollar orange juice from a fancy hotel in London herself (which I actually don't find that ridiculousy overpriced given the circumstances...) is distracting from important shifts that are currently taking place in Canadian development policy.

"Seriously, Guys!": How (Not) to Write About Gender and Foreign Affairs

To be fair, despite all the criticism, Foreign Policy's "Sex Issue" got a few things right. For an all-too rare moment, it put gender - er, sex - er, sexuality* - on the foreign policy agenda. Somehow (could it be the nude photo on the cover?!) the editors managed to get people excited - gripped even - by "women's issues." (What were the chances?)
Charli Carpenter's constructive desconstruction of the current FP issue is well worth a read.

Founder stories don't really matter

A compelling founder story, such as Greg Mortenson’s, doesn’t mean that the nonprofit is successful or even moderately helpful. A boring founder story doesn’t mean that the nonprofit is floundering or failing. There is no correlation between the compellingness of a founder story and the competency of their nonprofit. And yet we keep focusing on them.
Important reminder from Saundra Schimmelpfennig to resist the temptations that compelling founder stories of NGOs have in term of generalising the organisation's performance.

Mission accomplished: Found convincing indicators to assess impact of networks #kmers

I am not a great indicator fan. I believe indicators detract attention from the bigger scope. They are very much like this faceless street artist. Nonetheless, the type of business I am in, requires that we measure our activities and show the impact we are making. And ever since when I've been trying to find convincing indicators for KM/KS related activities. So you can imagine my excitement while reading Collaboration by Morten T. Hansen to come across convincing indicators to measure impact of networks!!! Hansen's book is based on years of research. The book itself is a gem, especially the last chapter where he takes you on a personal journey and acting as coach shows you how to become a collaborative leader.
Great reflections + book review for those who are interested in the power of networks and assessing Knowledge Management work.

Turning Challenges to Opportunities

With the closing of the Global Health Council (GHC) reactions have included shock/surprise and sadness. As it evolved over its almost 40 years, it became an important convener for the global health community. The GHC announcement includes the following text: “Funding that once existed to promote a broad-based health agenda is now focused on specific health issues. The fundamental shifts in the health landscape have led the Board to revisit the relevance of the organization and determine that the Council’s current operating model is no longer sustainable.” The reasons given most likely only hint at the full picture.
As the external environment is challenging traditional structures it may be that the traditional NGO structure is no longer the best way to cover these information exchange and convening roles. Other ‘newer’ structures, for example the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) (founded in 2003) uses a widespread network. Global groups like the UN and national groups like USAID are increasingly encouraging public-private sector alliances. Online and offline interaction is going to be increasingly important and groups like WiserEarth are experimenting with this.
I largely agree with Bonnie Koenig that broad-based organisations whose core aim is to disseminate knowledge and do all sorts of 'networking' activities will find it more and more difficult to get funding. Commentators are pointing out the dangers of emerging 'silos' and even bigger organisations in health research and communication, but small organisations will contnue to struggle if they don't 'produce' additional outputs other than 'knowledge sharing'.

OGP Take Aways

In an attempt to use reflective blogging to capture thoughts from the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia I’ve jotted down ten key learning points, take-aways, or areas I’ve been musing on.
I found two points that Tim Davies' made particularly interesting:
4) We’ve not yet cracked culture change and capacity building
The shift to open government is not just a shift of policy, it also involves culture shift inside government (and to an extent in how civil society interfaces with government). I heard a few mentions of the need for culture change in National Action Plan sessions, but no clear examples of concerted government efforts to address ‘closed cultures’.

5) Ditto effective large scale public engagement
Many countries hadn’t consulted widely on their National Action Plans, and few action plans I heard details of included much substantive on public participation. In part this was explained because of the short lead time that many countries had to produce their action plans: but for me this seems to point to a number of significant challenges we need to work out how to address if open government is to be participative government. Working out more agile models of engagement, that still meet desirable criteria of being inclusive and accessible is a big challenge.
On Leadership
I remember someone asking me a few years ago about my Principle of Leadership. At the time, I stammered and mumbled and generally had no idea. But the question has stuck with me and now I know my answer: my strength as a leader is defined by my ability to leverage the strengths of my team. This is really the principle I rely on in all situations. I have some strengths, but I also have lots of weaknesses, and it is only be relying on my team that I am able to bring the best out of us as a whole.
I always like open, honest reflections from aidworkers in the field. Naturally, Erin Antcliffe's post has to be on my list this week!

Occupied Sonoma State University: No Billionaire Left Behind and the sordid tale of the financialization and corporatization of one California State University

The history of Sonoma State University (SSU) tells the remarkable story of one, tiny California public state university and the corporatization and transformation of this diminutive liberal arts college into a muscular mini-investment bank, now $300 million dollars in debt and hovering on the precipice of bankruptcy.
This may be a rather exceptional case, but it shows how messed up university funding in the US is right now.

Harvard University says it can't afford journal publishers' prices

The system is absurd, and it is inflicting terrible damage on libraries. One year's subscription to The Journal of Comparative Neurology costs the same as 300 monographs. We simply cannot go on paying the increase in subscription prices. In the long run, the answer will be open-access journal publishing, but we need concerted effort to reach that goal.
I'm not entirely sure whether poor Harvard University really can't 'afford' to pay for the journal, but many observers will look at this debate very closely to see whether open-access publishing will gain even more momentum.These are definitely rough time for the oligopolistic academic publishers and their revenue models...

Appropriating nature: green grabbing

A special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies, edited by James Fairhead, Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones has just been published on this theme. This collection draws new theorisation together with 17 cases from African, Asian and Latin American settings, and links critical studies of nature with critical agrarian studies, to ask: To what extent and in what ways do 'green grabs' constitute new forms of appropriation of nature? How and when do circulations of green capital become manifest in actual appropriations on the ground – through what political and discursive dynamics? What are the implications for ecologies, landscapes and livelihoods? And who is gaining and who is losing – how are agrarian social relations, rights and authority being restructured, and in whose interests?
Great free stuff to read on land and other grabbings.

Directory of Open Access Books

The Directory of Open Access Books is a service of OAPEN Foundation. The OAPEN Foundation is an international initiative dedicated to Open Access monograph publishing, based at the National Library in The Hague.
It's a bit difficult to find things at the moment, but there are some hidden gems in a variety of European languagesin this database- books for free are always worth investing some time for browsing and discovering!


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