Links & Contents I Liked 33

Hello all!

Great week for lots of interesting material! Make sure you have a glimpse at the articles from and about Nepal and scroll down all to the end for some critical reflections on higher education, upcoming challenges on how Obama is linked to the 'Death by degrees'! There are also two new posts by yours truly and additional stuff on UN and its link to private security firms and the philosophy of aid blogging explained in neat charts by Aaron Ausland!


New on aidnography
The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics (Book review)
Clifford Bob’s ‘The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics’ is a well-researched, accessible introduction to the complex topic of how global civil society and governance are no longer the exclusive domain of left-leaning and progressive organisations. By looking at contested policy themes such as gay marriage or international and national gun control/access, Bob outlines an important new arena for research on international politics that enhances traditional understanding of the triangle of ‘civil society’, ‘state’ and ‘markets’. In short, his book ‘highlights the battle of networks, marked by exclusionary strategies, negative tactics, and dissuasive ideas’. 

How useful is the ‘Transparency in Corporate Reporting’ ranking for development debates?
From a ‘development perspective’ I have my doubts about some of the high-ranked companies and it would be interesting to have a broader debate of how rankings such as this can be enhanced by qualitative information and critical input that goes beyond official documents and statements. The report is an interesting starting point, but should be supplemented with field research and interviews in the next round – ideally with support of local and international watchdog NGOs.

Aid Blogging: A Cautionary Tale in Charts

This is an excellent post to explore relaunched webpage and also explore aid blogging graphs for though!

Where are development’s venture capitalists?

Aid agencies tend to be risk averse – no politician wants to see newspaper headlines about taxpayers’ money lost or ‘wasted’ on failed projects; NGOs like Oxfam are determined to make every hard-won penny count (and worried about what our supporters would say if it doesn’t). But there is increasing recognition that such caution comes at a cost – all too often, low risk is accompanied by a low return on investment. Compare this approach to a venture capitalist who perhaps unwittingly, adopts an evolutionary theory of change by backing 10 projects knowing that nine will fail (and on the tenth ‘fit’ one, he/she will make enough money to more than compensate for the other failures). Could such a high risk/high return approach work in development? I think the answer is an emphatic yes, not least because I’ve seen it in action on the ground in Tanzania. With DFID backing, Oxfam is running a programme explicitly modelled on evolutionary theory to improve the accountability of local authorities to their citizens.
Great post by Duncan Green that combines some of emerging discussions and concepts of new forms of financing development work, evolutionary approaches to projects and risk taking. I do agree that donors should be more open to these ideas, but I'm not sure I completely agree with the concept of 'venture capitalists'. VCs (not Vice Chancellors if you are familiar with the British university system ;) look for the Googles, facebooks, pinterests or GroupOns of this world while many start-ups fail. And even the remaining success stories may not be as successful, profitable and sustainable in the long short: Be open to risk-taking, but do not just look at the private for-profit sector for good practice!

PNG national elections: drums and drama of campaigning in the Highlands

I was there to witness the drama and hear the drums of the last election campaign. The sheer sum of money spent during the campaigns is mind boggling. With dozens of candidates contesting each of the 111 seats, the money spent during the few weeks of the election campaign amounts to billions of Kina.
At what price I wonder. Basic services remain inaccessible to many. The Highlands Highway, the aorta of the PNG economy, is in a deplorable state.
Disappointingly, those elected will have little incentive to fix the broken-down infrastructure or work towards improving delivery of basic services in this land of rich natural resources.
If we are to see better leadership then the incentives for our politicians need to be remedied.
Pork and coke, in the meantime, have the day – cheers!
A vivid, on-the-ground example of election campaigning in Papua New Guinea that among many other things highlights how democracy export comes with many of the problems 'we' are facing in the Global North and all too often fail to acknowledge when elaborated 'good governance' schemes are implemented.

AAN's first e-book: 'Snapshots of an Intervention. The Unlearned Lessons of Afghanistan’s Decade of Assistance (2001–11)'

The edited volume 'Snapshots of an Intervention' consists of 25 articles by analysts and practitioners with long histories in the country and who were closely involved in the programmes they describe. The contributions present a rare and detailed insight into the complexity of the intervention in Afghanistan – including the often complicated relations between donors and representatives of the Afghan government (with projects tending to be nominally Afghan-led, but clearly donor-driven), the difficulties in achieving greater coherence and leverage and, in many cases, the widely shared failure to learn the necessary lessons and to adapt to realities as they were encountered.
Download this ebook onto your mobile device!

UN 'reliant on private security firms'

[The report] adds that the use of security firms has increased what it calls the "bunkerisation" of UN compounds, cutting staff off from the broader population they are supposed to protect.
"UN security officials themselves cannot give an estimate of total security contracting within the UN system or a complete list of companies hired. This suggests a system that is unaccountable and out of control," the report says.
The report names Dyncorp, Saracen and G4S as private security firms employed by the UN.
Dyncorp, it says, had contracts totalling some $3m with the UN in 2010 and Saracen was hired in Uganda to provide security services to the Monusco peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, G4S and its subsidiaries, including Armor Group, had UN contracts worth almost $3m, the report says.
Let's see whether the Global Policy Forum's report sparks a broader debate on how the UN should use private security data anyone?!

There were quite a few interesting articles on Nepal this week and I selected the following four...or you can scroll down to the Anthropology or Academia sections if that's less interesting for you ;)!

The impact of remittances on Madhesh

Remittances have both advantages and disadvantages. While it is boosting household’s income and expenditure capacity, it is bringing changes to social behavior (like increase in nuclear families, shortage of workers for agriculture and forestry related works, and dependency syndrome right at the household level, among others). Meanwhile, it has created a shortage of labor in industrial sector, displacement of domestic manufacturing by imported goods, widened trade deficit, and made policymakers complacent in enacting real policy reforms that would help boost domestic production and channel remittances for productive purposes.
Great insights from my favourite Nepali blogger Chandan Sapkota on the impact of overseas remittances.

Remittances are not the only reason young Nepalese decide to migrate

But many young migrants are excited not only by the prospect of hard cash, but of seeing new parts of the world, even if they know that conditions will be hard and sometimes dangerous. Many also see migration as a chance to escape a life in agriculture, which they see as backward. The cook came back from Afghanistan with a CV that will make further international opportunities eminently possible, transforming not only his family's financial prospects, but also his chances of living a more cosmopolitan life, if that is what he wants.
Interesting coincidence (?) that the Guardian is also reporting from Nepal and on remittances.

Zoe Williams: how contraception is rocking Nepalese society

When girls of 13 and 14 get pregnant, the results are often brutal. Their own health is dicey throughout pregnancy, and the babies are often painfully small. It was not unusual to meet girls who'd had babies weighing two or three pounds, at full term. Stillbirths and maternal deaths in labour are common. The mothers can get uterine prolapse or fistula later on. It clearly caused some soul-searching for a charity called Save the Children to get involved in an initiative that prevented, rather than saved, any fresh children, but it's a signal of how important this is; children don't win from a cultural norm that results in ill babies – nobody wins. Plus, the mothers are children, too.
More on Nepal-this time focussing more on girls and women.

Monsoon of the megalomaniacs

We may soon have a new prime minister and a new cabinet, but the problems will be the same old ones that have haunted this nation for the last four years. Nepal's traditional politicians haven't learnt from history, and are therefore doomed to repeat it. The megalomaniacs in the ruling circles are dragging this country back to the pre-27 May deadlock. Tuesday's all-party meeting made it clear that this bunch of men is impervious to reality and simply incapable of learning anything at all. Baburam Bhattarai and his coalition partners in government may pat each other's backs but they don't seem to have anything new to offer either. They have been busy with populist agendas while under their watch, corruption and mismanagement in the government have broken all previous records. Inflation and shortage of essential goods has hit people hard.
But let's not forget about the political charades that are continuing in Kathmandu...

In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012

Michel-Rolph Trouillot–brilliant anthropologist, historian, inspiring thinker–passed away 5 July 2012. Devastating loss for anthropology, history, Haiti, all of us.
You should pay $ for open access. Help the AAA figure out how.
AnthroNews at the AAA has a post about the challenges facing it’s publications program. It doesn’t suck. Here are five things to think about
The American Anthropological Association is discussing a move towards open-access publishing-interesting debate that hopefully other associations will have soon, too.


Just Over the Horizon

Recently I was asked about what I thought the big upcoming challenges – beyond the regular budget stuff – were for universities and colleges. From the shortest-term to the longest-term, my answer was:
Not Getting Ahead of the Metrics Game. Internationalization Backfires. The Switch from Jobs to Productivity. The Research Model Breaks.
Short, concise, thought-provoking...simply great higher-education blogging!

Death by Degrees

No administration has embodied credentialism as thoroughly as the current one. Of Obama’s first thirty-five cabinet appointments, twenty-two had a degree from an Ivy League university, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Oxford, or Cambridge. No one would advocate staffing the country’s ministries with wealthy imbeciles, as was the custom under George W. Bush; but the President — a meritocrat himself — has succumbed to what might be called the “complexity complex,” which leads us to assume that public policy is so complicated that you need a stack of degrees to figure it out. But major political questions are rarely complex in that sense. They are much more likely to be complicated, in the Avril Lavigne sense, meaning that they involve reconciling disagreements among competing stakeholders — or, as the situation may demand, ratcheting them up.
Quadrupling the supply of gold stickers is one way to devalue the credential; getting rid of the sticker system altogether is another. In our pay-to-play society, many of those toward the bottom of the educational pyramid are getting fleeced; others, though, are getting a leg up. Because it’s callous and unreasonable to ask the disadvantaged to decline opportunities to advance, subverting credentialism must start at the top. What would happen to the price of a bachelor’s degree if the 42,000 high school valedictorians graduating this spring banded together and refused to go to college? And is it too much to ask the Democratic Party to refrain from running any candidate for national office who holds a degree from an Ivy League school?
The 'long essay of the week' that deserves proper time and engagement but is intellectually very rewarding!

Auburn Students Become Small-Town Citizens for the Summer

That kind of unstructured curiosity makes Living Democracy different from service-learning programs that have been popular among college students for years, says Mark Wilson, director of civic-learning initiatives at Auburn.
"Usually it's about the students," he says. "It's about them doing something good for the world, which is great. But what happens is students who have episodic experiences leave without knowing much about the communities they've worked in, and leave having more pity than respect for the people."
If students approach an experience with an attitude of discovery, he says—"Hey, what can I learn from local people?"—they are likely to gain more.
Interesting post that made me think about volunteering and bridging local-global issues. Linden, Alabama may not be as 'exotic' than your average developing country stint, but it's probably cheaper and you learn as much as spending money on voluntourism...


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