Links & Contents I Liked 48

Hello all,

Maybe I should rename this post to 'links I dislike', because there are really a few links I like for the fact that I can disagree with them, e.g. referring to Rio Tinto as a 'shared value' development partner, or doing research on failed project management in Africa. And Bono's 'humbling realizations' are not that humbling after all, but then again, he it the Bono-Man...enough with the ranting, though. Do check out an interesting piece on remittances, agree with Duncan Green on why conferences are so bad and indulge in some guilty-pleasure reading around humanitarian dating, plus there are funny academic-nerdy tumblrs, too!


New on aidnography
How do we help? (Book review)
Even less than great introductory texts on the 'aid industry' deserves a proper review...

How do I get started in a career in development?

I plan in the coming months to provide a series of interviews and discussions with development professionals from all sectors and points in their careers. We would also like to hear your stories, either through comments below or contacting me directly. Getting started in a career in development is tough, but hopefully this resource can make it that little bit easier.
All jokes, criticism and ranting about celebrities (just be patient, Bono is featured in this week's collection...) aside: When it comes to career advice and information, development blogging has really added a lot of value to the debates and connected young(er) enthusiasts around the globe.

Why projects are failing in Africa (part 1)

The August 2012 edition of Project Management Journal has a research paper in it about why international development projects are failing in Africa. The lessons could be useful to other projects in different environments too. Lavagnon A. Ika, a researcher from the University of Ottawa in Canada, picks out 4 reasons why projects fall into development traps and ultimately run the risk of failure. These are:
- One-size-fits-all
- Accountability for results
- Lack of project management capacity
- Cultural issues
I didn't have time to read the whole special issue on Managing Projects in Africa, but it's difficult not to think 'No sh%t, Sherlock!'...The question for me is: Has research on project management been stuck in a time-bubble since ca. 1983, or is project management really carried out in a way that defies reality and innovations?!

Of Haitian Puppet Shows: Why We Should All Strive to Communicate Better

There can be a tendency for marketers working on humanitarian aid and development, particularly those who’ve not spent a long time in the field, to write people’s stories before they’ve met them. Before, in fact, they know anything about the people, at all. Any communicator who has spent a decent amount of time in the field would have received an email like this, at some stage:
“Please get me a story about a 5-8 year old girl, living in [insert really bad situation]. The story should be about how she feels [insert various negative emotions] because of [reiterate really bad situation]. It should show need, and demonstrate her [insert ‘trauma’ or similar word]. Photos should not show the girl smiling, because she is in a hard situation. Thanks, look forward to reading it!”
When you’ve trained as a journalist, these kinds of requests can sometimes make you laugh. But generally, they are extremely worrying. Serious ethical issues arise when humanitarian agencies begin using vulnerable people as actors in their own pre-written narratives.
I agree with the commentators that the 'First World problems' video may not be the best example of using local voices as 'puppets' in your script. But the 'professionalisation' of development communication certainly raises interesting ethical questions.

Bono's 'Humbling' Realizations About Aid, Capitalism And Nerds

Bono has also had realizations about how useful the Internet can be for transparency. “The strongest and loudest voice with moral punch on the continent at the moment is a nerd,” Bono said, pointing to the tech company founders in the audience, many of whom were programmers. “He’s a tech innovator.”
Bono spoke of the “network effect” and a radical shakedown affecting hierarchical institutions, particularly among repressive regimes in regions like the Middle East. “It’s affecting everyone from the Tea Party to Occupy,” he said, adding that his organization and others like it needed “an ethical online activist army pressing buttons at the right time… The next wave will come online. There’s a lot of smart people with smart ideas. “
So much to critizise and yet so little time...quite frankly, I envy a celebrity like Bono for being able to speak his mind with little empirical data and based on a few interactions with various leaders around the world. Thank God for large bilateral donors, international organisations and other large aid entities that they are not based in 'repressive regimes' otherwise they may be swept away by activists pushing digital buttons...

Social Change’s Age of Enlightenment

— We’re recognizing that a key to social change is to turn great ideas into great institutions. And one way to do that is to begin by identifying and supporting talented entrepreneurs who are driven to build social change organizations (just like we do in business).
— We are beginning to finance social change more rationally, moving away from capricious, fragmented, short-term funding towards financing that is tied to success and, like in the private sector, allows top performers to grow rapidly.
— We are harnessing the power of everyone. Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems observed: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” Recognizing that fact, we are increasingly using open innovation models to identify powerful ideas wherever they may be found.
With all due respect for David Bornstein's vision and his enthusiasm about social change which is perhaps difficult to understand for someone like me who has spent most of his life in Europe, does he live in the US in 2012?! And what about his love for the private sector that apparently builds sustainable institutions so well? Many development-minded social entrepreneurs will embrace his ideas with enthusiasm but hopefully there will be space for alternative discussions.

NGOs partnering with business to accelerate shared value

Increasingly, NGOs recognise that the people they are trying to serve are also companies' customers and suppliers or live in the communities where businesses operate. This mutual interest, fueled by the private sector's assets, skills, and investment potential (Rio Tinto spends $85m on training local construction workers in Mongolia, making them a huge investor in education in that country), can help scale NGO impact in sustainable ways.
So Rio Tinto is now a partner for 'shared value development'

Redefining Remittances

There is a growing discussion on the amount of money Diaspora Africans send home and it has largely focused on the monetary size of the investments. We don’t discuss enough what these investments say about us, the global African Diaspora. Yes, it is true that our remittances are done quite informally, and aren’t institutionalized. It is also true that we seldom speak about them openly, let alone think about the meanings and implications of how we give, to whom, and why. But when we reduce our contributions to one single, and vague category–“remittances,” we deny them the full expression of what they are, do, and can be. And in doing so, we deny our roles as givers, shapers, and investors.
The $40 billion we send each year is a powerful reflection and indicator of our collective impact in Africa. Its size and reach propels us to the same space as aid, development, financial, and philanthropic institutions. Let us then start owning and claiming our rightful place among them in Africa discussions, decisions, and developments. That begins with a shift in the language we use and the stories we tell.
Interesting food for thought from 'Africans in the diaspora' to wrap up the entrepreneuship part of the links...

Why are international conferences so bad, and what can be done about it?

A few ‘keynote speakers’, bleary with jetlag, stumble through their papers (Joe Stiglitz and several politicians whose names escape me), or give a speech on their current interest, completely ignoring the subject of the conference (Jeff Sachs). Dry-as-dust panels of disconnected presentations – chairing is feeble in keeping to time and/or panels are over-stuffed with speakers, so there is never enough time for questions or interaction between the speakers.
As the days pass, fewer people turn up (and interestingly, start to abandon smart clothing – everything gets more casual). Even if they do, most people are on their phones doing their emails or tweeting about the meeting (guilty as charged).
Often, the only really useful activity is the networking on the margins (and in the bars, quite memorably so in Delhi, but that’s another story), but conferences take no account of this in their design, except to allow lots of coffee breaks (when those survive encroachment by over-running panels).
In case your immediate reaction was 'somebody should do some research on this' assured that my PhD project engaged to some extent with conferencing rituals...

AID POLICY: Fifty shades of aid – love in the field

Everybody expects that they will meet somebody amazing like the French MSF doctor.
Wow, so that's still the development-dating goal in 2012 ;)?!
Cudos to IRIN for finding a way to link '50 shades' to development in an eye-catching, yet totally distracting way ;)! On a more serious, I wonder why they didn't link to AidSource as a platform for discussion about expat life, love and development passion?!

Loving Anthropology and Living Anthropologically

As bad, disappointing, and as in need of the auto-critique as anthropology can be, on the whole has gone further than any academic discipline to question, listen, and understand.
This was originally posted in 2011, but I really liked the facebook comment that introduced a post that is still very readable.

Peer review, impact, and intellectual policing?

I wonder how many of the “resubmissions” were rejected not because of insufficient quality, but because they were doing interesting work that threatened one or more reviewers, leading to rejection. This makes sense, as new and edgier work will eventually get cited more than middle-of-the-road replication of old results – at least, that has been my experience. So perhaps Calgano has given us empirical evidence for the intellectual policing function of peer review.
Interesting reflections by Ed Carr that resonate well with everybody who has engaged with peer review(ers) before...

'Academic Men Explain Things To Me' Tumblr Goes Viral

Are you a woman? Have you ever been an expert in something? Then you are probably familiar with the concept of mansplaining, even if you're not aware of that term currently used to describe the phenomenon.
That's where Academic Men Explain Things To Me comes in. The Tumblr blog recounts the travails of female academics and experts who are constantly being subjected to men explaining their own field to them.
Research in Progress

Things about the research in progress.
Two must-check-out tumblrs for those in academia or those who like to make fun about people in academia!


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