Links & Contents I Liked 47

Hello all,

This has been a great week for picking up interesting stuff from around the blogosphere! Some insights from Nepal, Afghanistan and Cyprus first before a substantial section on reflections on the chances and limitations on social entrepreneurism,
(aid worker) well-being and transnational lifeworlds (great piece on the evolution of the baggage tag for travel nerds!); The 'Aid Prayer' from Nigeria is a must-read, but make sure to check out the academic section on how traditional writing skills prepare under-performing high schools for better results and why governments pretend to like social scientists with PhDs...


Outsourcing peace

With the integration of ex-Maoist combatants almost completed, the army is keen to improve its public relations and wants to project its role as an international peacekeeping force with a good record overseas. It is keen to diversify its activities at home as well as abroad, and although the UN has no such thing as permanent peacekeeping force, the Nepal Army feels it could fit the role if that force is ever set up.
Interesting background article on Nepal's military engagement in UN peacekeeping operations over the years. Apparently, a Nepali soldier receives about $1,000/month which makes their engagement (despite setbacks, e.g. in Haiti) super cost effective. Then again, there's a lot of 'homework' that the army needs to do in Nepal, but it's still interesting to think about a quasi-permanent peacekeeping force in the industrial-military complex of out times where billions are wasted in Afghanistan and on the 'war against terrorism'...

Canada’s $1.5B Afghanistan aid effort ‘divorced from reality,’ according to damning, previously unreleased documents
Nipa Banerjee, who headed the agency’s [CIDA] Afghanistan operation from 2003 to 2006, said some of the comments reflect what she knows about Canadian projects in Kandahar.
“All the projects have failed. None of them have been successful,” said Ms. Banerjee, now a professor in the University of Ottawa’s school of international development. “I think we went into Kandahar to increase our international profile … rather than thinking about the interests of the people of Kandahar. It was too much politicized and militarized and securitized, and as a result we ended up with failure.”
One of the reports notes that being innovative and flexible is “absolutely essential” to prevailing in a counterinsurgency operation. The author concludes in another document, though, that the Canadian effort fell “far short” of the creativity shown by other donor agencies working in Afghanistan.
“CIDA is not an innovative organization,” the report stated bluntly, adding that a culture of “this is the way we do things” was part of the “genetic code” of the Afghanistan task force, the broader Canadian government group that headed the development push.
As the Canadian government discusses CIDA funding and potential cuts, it may not be entirely a coincidence that reports from 2008 appear in a conservative newspaper...that said, it still doesn't explain some of the contents of previously unpublished reports about the shortcomings of Canadian aid in Afghanistan which is messy for any donor.

European aid: sleepy island in an aid cash row

“There are only so many catered receptions, paid for by aid money, that one can attend before starting to question why the taps have not been turned off for a peace process going nowhere, where there is no actual violence, and both sides are affluent,” said Dr Flynn.
“There’s a small group of the 'usual suspects,’ which is how they are often referred to in Cyprus, going back for project after project.
It’s a merry-go-round of people — you spend a week there and you know who all the main players are. All the same people apply and reapply.
There is a whole industry of these gatekeepers, project managers and funding recipients who know the rhetoric and can play the game.” The researchers concluded that “there is a stratum within Cypriot society within both communities that has become dependent on the division for its livelihood and status the sheer volume of uncoordinated aid gets in the way of progress or incentives to move forward.”
The Telegraph and Andrew Gilligan are usually very critical about (British) foreign aid and probably wouldn't mind if it was ended altogether. However, since I know Kate Flynn and her work it is an important topic that needs more public debate. I shall talk to Kate next week and hopefully when the next 'Links I Liked' appear there should be an interview with her where we explore broader questions of 'academics speaking out'. 

Breaking News! Aid Workers Burnout!

From field to HQ, staff’s psychological health is a popular discussion topic, but when it comes to providing psychological pre-deployment training and/or field support, it is never a priority. This in spite of the fact that the mental health of aid workers does have an impact on the quality of the humanitarian and development interventions that are implemented in the field (to put it bluntly ‘burnt-out staff’, often deliver ‘burnt-out projects’).
I’m happy to see that my tweets on the Antares scientific study are creating some debate among aid workers, but I wonder if once again it will only be a debate, or whether it will be taken beyond the sphere of discussion into some concrete action for better staff preparation and field support.
Raising awareness on this issue through dialogue and debate is essential, nevertheless I don’t think that this is the kind of ‘talking cure’ that humanitarian professionals need. It’s time to move from reflection to action, without making staff care into yet another soulless set of guidelines and bureaucratic practices.
Alessandra Pigni's reflection on the scientific study on aid workers and mental health I mentioned last week is well worth the read-even if you haven't time to check out the paper in question.

Wyclef, Madonna, Kanye...Oh My!

I believe that these celebrities have genuine passion for the causes they embrace. (I realize there are other people who think there is malice in these efforts---but I'd like to think that people are good and want to have an impact on the world.) However, running a foundation requires more than passion.
Wyclef, Madonna, and Kanye, I love your music. You guys are amazing performers, songwriters, brand builders. Out of respect and awe of your talent, I'd never imagine I could launch my own singing career. Instead, I'll buy your stuff. How bout you guys recognize that what we NGO leaders do is pretty awesome and just support us too.
Nancy Lublin comments on an interesting point that success in one area (it doesn't have to be music/media/Hollywood) often seems to automatically qualify you to 'do good' in development. Strange, how few NGO executives have decided to lead banks, start a career in music or start all over again in a different industry, but development is full of stories of professionals in these sectors who decided to help poor people abroad...
Social entrepreneurship and the millennial generation: all about altruism?

So when it comes to the Millennial obsession with social entrepreneurship, I can’t help but think that, to them, it represents just another notch on their belt of accomplishments, another step on the ladder to individual achievement and recognition.
Millennials have spent their entire lives in the spotlight, at the center of their parents’ and their own individual universes. For many, I think social entrepreneurship provides an opportunity to remain in the spotlight, rather than assume a supporting role.
As commentators on Jennifer Foth's post point out, the story is complicated and I find broad generational assessments not really helpful. Social entrepreneurship in international development is a unique subset and I tend to agree with Jennifer's analysis. 'Doing good' while traveling, exploring different countries and cultures while also escaping longer-term dynamics and responsibilities 'at home' is a very, very enticing mixture where altruism is only one of many factors.

Empathy: Making It Count

3. While still holding on to the inspiration of your emotions, ask yourself some questions:
What did I learn?
What did I NOT learn?
Who spoke? Who did NOT speak? What was missing?
What information have I gathered? Are there issues or pieces of information that I need to have a complete picture?

4. Turn your questions into key terms and search away. Remember some things may not have made it to the Internet. Be open to reaching out to and learning from others. Look for people who may know more about the subject matter than you do.

5. Process the new and additional information. Then ask more questions
Great piece from the recently launched 'Africans in the Diaspora' blog!

Guest post: Let your passion be your brand

I’ve certainly experienced the magic of ‘branding.’ The positives have been countless: through Twitter, I found a community of like-minded folks passionate about international development and feminism. I went to tweet-ups and made friends upon moving to a new city. When I traveled to Afghanistan, a connection from Twitter offered me a place to stay. I gained the opportunity to come to Bangladesh and research legal empowerment – all because someone liked my blogging style. Through heated Twitter debates, I’ve learned about best practices in development and human rights. Perhaps most of all, social media empowered me to believe in my voice; believe that I actually have something valuable to say, despite being a 20-something figuring out her way in life.
Akhila Kolisetty writes an indirect reply to WhyDev's post on social entrepreneurship and altruism. I think it's a very good example how learning, personal growth, social media and a 'good cause' come together without being overtaken by entrepreneurial mindsets or the urge to create something bigger than you actually can sustain and what people really want or need.

Moving Around Without Losing Your Roots

"These are my people," one told me recently, pointing to her classmates. "I feel more at home with them than I do where I was born." I hear that sentiment often, in those oases and breeding grounds for nomadic professionals that business schools have become. It comes with the realization that for all their transience and diversity, people who find their way there have much in common.
They are as eager to broaden their personal horizons as they are to expand their professional prospects. They do not expect or desire to spend their career in the same organization or country. They enjoy mobility and view it as necessary to gather the experience, ability, connections and credibility that will turn them from nomadic professionals into global leaders.
I think of them as a peculiar tribe. A tribe for people unfit for tribalism.
It's unlikely that I would agree with business school professor on the Harvard Business Review blog. But I guess he really believes that business school graduates are 'people unfit for tribalism' rather than an absolute global elite of transnational professionals who believe their mostly corporate engagements turn them into 'global leaders'...but, enough with the finger pointing. The global development industry has also become in many ways part of that transnational elite which includes development academic as well, of course!

The Beauty of the Airline Baggage Tag

The modern tag is known as an automated baggage tag, and was first tried by many airlines in the early 1990s. Perhaps the earliest airline to implement ABTs system-wide was United, in 1992, according to Jon Barrere, a spokesperson for Print-O-Tape, a tag manufacturer and United’s partner on the project. Let’s examine in detail the myriad improvements offered by the ABT, which symbolize as perfectly as anything air travel’s transition from a rare luxury for the ultra-rich to safe, effective transport for a shrinking planet.
Inspired by the picture from the previous post (woman with carry-on suitcase rushing through airport terminal) I wanted to share this slightly nerdy article on baggage tags for all those global nomads out there ;)!

A question of accountability

That technology alone cannot improve outcomes without institutional reform is common sense, but common sense can be distressingly uncommon in management information systems initiatives. Accountability Initiative’s report on Uttar Pradesh’s mobile phone based mid-day meal monitoring system suggests false reporting is a major problem, data collection relies only on the account of school headmasters and does not involve third-party validation by students or parents. Unless technology is used to change the nature of accounting and the power structure of who has to account to whom, it is likely to be another fad.
Traditional systems cannot be changed with technology alone and much of the 'open development' debate has not engaged with the question of accountability enough.

How to give foreign aid

It is important to be pragmatic when designing development projects. We all know how lacking in skills Nigerians are. If your well-meaning projects must work, you need to fly in consultants from Europe or America to oversee the technical aspects of it. Some people, wicked people, will say that a lot of the money goes back out of the country. However, you must ignore them; you and I know you can’t trust Nigerians with these technical things. The foreign consultants need to be kept happy. They need to be able to afford to live in the best houses in town with chauffeurs and cooks and stewards and gardeners and lush lawns and swimming pools. Especially swimming pools. Nothing relieves Nigerian stress like swimming. That or alomo. And you don’t expect the expensive British consultant to do alomo.
It is important to channel funds into local NGOs. These are the foot soldiers on the ground. Don’t demand much from them. After funding, demand only photos, or videos, year-end reports, and budget retirements. With these you should get a clear picture of all the good that your money is doing in Africa.
The 'Aid Prayer' at the end of the post is currently 'trending' in my filter bubble-but definitely make sure to read the rest of the article as well!

The virtues of charging for publications

All of this work is valuable, but none of it is free. The press is very smart about outsourcing publishing to companies in Singapore and India (PNG doesn’t have a publishing industry to print their stuff), balancing their list to include textbooks (which sell) and rarer works (which don’t), making their works available on Amazon. But there’s no way around that fact that, for them, for-profit is the only way to go. They simply don’t have the resources to go open access.
Sometimes people like to pummel a straw man version of open access which holds that any attempt to ever make money is an evil obsession with filthy lucre. Clearly, few actual people take such an uncompromising stance. There are many situations when the right business model is to charge money to keep your head above water.
Why charging for books is not always evil ;)! Interesting insights from Papua New Guinea.

The Writing Revolution

Some writing experts caution that championing expository and analytic writing at the expense of creative expression is shortsighted. “The secret weapon of our economy is that we foster creativity,” says Kelly Gallagher, a high-school writing teacher who has written several books on adolescent literacy. And formulaic instruction will cause some students to tune out, cautions Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. While she welcomes a bigger dose of expository writing in schools, she says lockstep instruction won’t accelerate learning. “Kids need to see their work reach other readers … They need to have choices in the questions they write about, and a way to find their voice.”
In a profoundly hopeful irony, New Dorp’s re­emergence as a viable institution has hinged not on a radical new innovation but on an old idea done better. The school’s success suggests that perhaps certain instructional fundamentals—fundamentals that schools have devalued or forgotten—need to be rediscovered, updated, and reintroduced. And if that can be done correctly, traditional instruction delivered by the teachers already in classrooms may turn out to be the most powerful lever we have for improving school performance after all.
As with many things in life, there's always something to connect issues to 'development' challenges-this time it's about writing in high schools. And it resonates with two development issues: First, how can aid workers write better, more interesting and potentially more relevant documents that go beyond formulaic 'reports'? Second, many teaching fundamentals are low-tech, depend on good teachers and have been tried out before-so technological 'fixes' are unlikely to really revolutionize teaching and learning-neither in developing countries nor 'at home'.

How and when social scientists in Government contribute to policy
The good news for anyone with a PhD or studying for a PhD is that having a doctoral degree equips social scientists in Government with both greater confidence and ability to apply a whole range of methods and solutions to real world problems. In addition to this “expert” effect, having a PhD did also enhance the credibility of the holder in interactions with policy colleagues as well as with external academics. The fact that social scientists with a Masters or a PhD also had higher positions within the Civil Service (controlling for age, gender and years in service) suggests that higher qualifications, and the skills associated with these, are valued by Government employers.
According to policy clients in Government, another key success factor for maximising policy contributions is to sharpen presentational and communication skills. There remains a tendency for many social scientists with PhDs to get entangled in the detail thereby risking opportunities to influence policy. The ability to write succinctly for policy-makers was noted as a necessary skill and significant factor for facilitating contributions to policy. Hence, PhDs would do well in trying to develop an understanding of what it is like to work in a policy environment; having realistic expectations about the practical application of methods in a policy environment would allow PhDs not just to adapt more quickly but enhance their policy contributions as well.
This is an interesting study that certainly deserves more attention and discussion. Getting 'entangled in details' and writing long, often the opposite of 'succinct', documents has become the norm rather than the exception for a social science PhD and its various outputs. So is there a way to reconcile policy and academic needs? 

PhD students: Advice for academic job market applications
I am sitting on my first search committee, and some advice begs to be offered.
Chris Blattman offers good advice-which is not really surprising. However, after reading this there was also a feeling deep down in my gut about the 'holy grail' of applying for academic jobs and a quest for perfection that is a bit worrisome. Don't get me wrong: You should always submit the best application you can and be careful to tailor it to the advertisement etc.-but at the end of the day you are also applying for a job and Chris' post reminded me how tenured academic jobs seem to have become something for uber-human academic performers?!

ICT for Development: solutions seeking problems?
This paper investigates information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) projects from around the world. It finds that computer and Internet promotion schemes usually fail despite active support, but mobile penetration in even the poorest countries is deepening organically. It argues that mobiles have emotional appeal because talking is a universal psycho-sociological propensity while the other two are principally utilitarian technologies that have to generate returns on investment. The search for killer apps is likely to be fruitless because technological adoption is conditional upon need and absorptive capacity. The paper raises questions about the continuing support for ICT4D among proponents.
Great paper which is unfortunately behind a pay-wall...


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