Links & Contents I Liked 65

Dear all,

Another week is coming to an end and some interesting readings have found there way into my Inbox...after a reminder that the debate on unpaid internships in development is far from over yet and an interesting article with background information on conflict & peace in Mali, the 'theme' for this week is about the future of the humanitarian system - complete with drones, civil-military cooperation and new non-Western donors. Reflections on the use of open development data, reflexivity and a new autobiography of a great woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate round off the development section. 'Designing for Stories' is a recommended read on how to make participatory exercises better designed and more engaging. Last not least, two essays on neoliberal reforms in higher education in Australia & the UK are featured in the academic section!


New on aidnography
Are journals hindering creative academic writing & engagement with research?
The focus on‘open access publishing’ and ‘better academic writing’ may be overrated when it comes to fostering creative writing, public engagement with research or finding cures to eradicate poverty because the commodity of academic journal articles has limited value outside a relatively narrow circle of academic insiders.
In addition to advocating for more open access publishing we should think outside the box of a particular written genre to ensure that the goals we envision to achieve are truly met in today’s digital world.
And sometimes not publishing another article at all can be the part of the solution, too...

Do Not Take Unpaid ICT4D Internships with Mercy Corps

And what would be their return on that $4,000 investment?
In Zimbabwe, the internship position descriptions says, “Due to visa restrictions this internship is limited to 30 days in Zimbabwe.” 30 days is too short to have any impact in Zimbabwe and certainly too short to have any impact on your resume. In-country experience only starts to count after 3 months, and really only after 6 months – before then you are too new to help and haven’t developed the cross-cultural skills a future employer would want.
As Wayan Vota rightly points out, Mercy Corps got several things very wrong with this unpaid internship and fosters a culture of short-term ‘volunteering’ that is absolutely not needed…But what I really don’t understand is why this internship is deemed only suitable for an international candidate- there isn’t anybody in Zimbabwe who can manage your social media accounts?! And if that is really the case, then bring a bright local kid on board and help them to become a community manager intern in your well-funded project!!

Post-Conflict Mali: Reprisal or Reconciliation?

Yet the difficulty in finding a resolution to problems of rebellion, development, militancy, and structural deficiencies in northern Mali make it all the more imperative that those involved undertake the hard work to craft and implement post-conflict planning that goes beyond short-term military goals. As one Songhai organiser and Gao resident told Think Africa Press in Bamako when asked about prospects for coexistence in Mali, “We have no choice. We are condemned to live together.”
Great piece of journalism from Mali-I particularly enjoyed the references to recent history to put the current situation and potential for peacebuilding into better perspective.

U.N. invokes diplomatic immunity on Haiti cholera epidemic

The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the claim on behalf of the families of 5,000 victims, and is preparing claims on behalf of thousands more. Brian Concannon, the director of the organization, told Turtle Bay that the U.N. should be held liable for "negligent failure" to screen peacekeepers from a country known to have cholera and for the "reckless disposal of waste into Haiti's largest water system."
Concannon said that while the United Nations has signed a status of forces agreement with Haiti that shields it from suits brought by Haitian courts, the global body has an obligation to provide "an alternative mechanism" for victims to seek redress. His group is now preparing to pursue a case in a national court -- either within Haiti, the United States, the Netherlands, or Belgium -- to persuade a judge not to enforce the immunity agreement on the grounds that the United Nations has not lived up to "its side of the bargain."
Not surprisingly, the UN responds to the cholera outbreak in Haiti with the same diplomatic and bureaucratic tools that have been around for 70 years...silence and the opposite of modern accountability...

UN Peacekeeping Deploys Unarmed Drones to Eastern Congo

There are still many unanswered questions about the deployment of UAVs in eastern Congo, not least those posed by the UNSC members opposed to the use of surveillance drones in the region; what will the information be used for, and where will it go? Is it for the use of real-time tactical support to ground operations, or for more strategic, long term information gathering in support of units such as the the mission’s Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC)?
Mr. Ladsous said at an International Peace Institute event on February 19 that the nature of peacekeeping operations is changing from a monitoring role in the context of ceasefires and peacebuilding, to one where missions are increasingly deployed into high-risk environments, creating a need to be adaptive and creative in support of their mandates. His eye is rightly on the future of peacekeeping operations, but it remains to be seen if unmanned aerial vehicles will provide that vision. As Mr. Ladsous himself concluded, “The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.”
Whether or not the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will contribute to peacekeeping/-building in DRC is still an open question-but this is a boost in legitimacy for 'drones' and more debates are urgently needed to engage with the question:
Drones for peace and development?

The Ugly Marriage of Moral Responsibility and National Security

What nobody said. Aid agencies are dead right to be critical of this public marriage of aid and national security interests / defence. We need to complain about this more forcefully. But in the real world — Why wouldn’t governments prioritize political interests and military objectives (e.g., winning hearts and minds in hostile territory) over the moral pursuit of foreign aid and development? NGOs, on the other hand, might be expected to conduct themselves differently. And yet the much-decried “blurring of the lines” (between aid and military) is not simply the work of governments/armies.
NGOs have accepted funding from governments to work in places like Afghanistan or Iraq, where those very governments have been a belligerent party in the war. Like a Pakistani NGO taking money from al Qaeda to run a clinic in Sussex. Doesn’t look good. Afghanistan also provides a textbook example of NGOs, even while not accepting funds directly from warring parties, simply and without sufficient questioning setting up their aid programs on only one side of war, delivering aid to areas within Western military or Afghan government control. This lopsided aid effort effectively supports the NATO/US/Karzai plan. It aims to build the legitimacy of the Afghan government and popular gratitude to the Western invaders. Bottom line: it doesn’t look like aid to the guys with the guns on the other side of the fence.
MSF UK's Marc DuBois, the Humanicontrarian, on the grim reality of 'civilian-military cooperation' on the policy and program level and indirectly in conflict zones like Afghanistan. I really like MSF's (self-)critical writing...

Humanitarianism is a Syndrome

To put Paul Currion’s premise in other parlance, our job is or will become more about evangelizing good aid. Talking, communicating about aid in ways that are both truthful and also engaging. If that’s true, then we’d better get a better grip on how we talk about it than we currently have. More to the point, if our core purpose is increasingly around talking about what we do and how and why to those who don’t know, whether they’re our donors, those who ‘like’ agency Facebook pages, or the self-proclaimed critics, then more of that talking will need to be done by professional practitioners, with less emphasis on branded filtration. In short, it’s time for more full, honest dialogue about aid effectiveness in the public space.
Another great contribution to this week's 'the future of humanitarianism' theme on the Aidspeak blog.

AlertNet AidWatch - Piggy banks and unequal partners: Non-Western powers in humanitarian action

Emerging powers are heavily involved in humanitarian operations, but often channel aid through intransparent mechanisms and only on occasion report their humanitarian donations to the UN. So far, most of these donors have been reluctant to commit to multilateral funding mechanisms and opted to act outside the Western-dominated humanitarian system.
To avoid making the same mistake twice, we need to seize their newly found lenience and restructure the humanitarian system with the inclusion of non-Western powers. But unlike before, these efforts need to be strategic. In lieu of dummy piggy banks, it’s time we consider non-Western donors as equal partners.
Interesting piece on how non-Western donors are entering the humanitarian system and how Syria may become a first (test) case to explore further cooperation between traditional Western organizations and these new actors.

Do transnational corporations have a place in fair trade?

Beyond appropriating the language, image and credibility of the Fair Trade movement, TNCs have used regulatory regimes to drive a wedge between Fair Trade producers and key governance bodies. Jaffee describes this as ‘regulatory capture’, whereby the regulatory function of certification and labelling organisations clashes with the economic interest in increasing demand. The financial dependence on high-volume licensees (TNCs) suggests that governance organisations lack the independence to ensure proper regulatory oversight. This leaves little room for small producers to participate in negotiation (or individual farmers to participate at all), which is evidenced by their nominal representation on certification boards.
As a market-oriented solution to development, Fair Trade must contend with the realities of economic globalisation, which include the presence of influential TNC networks. Driven by a dominant, neoliberal ideology, the TNC agenda gives primacy to the market and tends to overlook other organising principles of society. This exclusive focus on profitability is antithetical to the social objectives on which the fair trade movement was founded. It seems, therefore, that until a convincing business case can be made for development and poverty alleviation, social objectives are unlikely to be properly integrated into TNC management of the Fair Trade market.
Anna Bowen's piece is a comprehensive, albeit a bit long, piece that carefully explores the role of transnational corporations for 'Fair Trade 2.0' after the concept has been institutionalized and to some extent captured by the forces of global markets and products...

Admitting it’s not good enough

But when it comes to project implementation I think that too often we are too ready to accept this half-baked mediocrity, write up our ‘success’ reports and move on. Unfortunately short term papering over of the cracks can lead to long term failure, although by that point usually the main protagonists have long since moved on. Many times this takes the form of an initially successful project that has been poorly scaled up into a programme that grinds on for years based on its initial fanfare, before eventually donors get tired off the lack of progress and pull the plug, often one at a time so it limps on for quite a while with ever-diminishing financial support. My guess is that this kind of failure rarely even gets noticed as anything other than a sense of regret amongst those who were involved that so much early promise should amount to so little in the end.
I like Bottom Up Thinking's latest post, because it seems much closer to the reality than much of the publicized stories at 'fail fares'.

NGO Aid Map: The Tricky Question of Use

Other uses we've learned of: For organizations new to a country or area, the site provides a quick way to get the “lay of the land.” Organizations have referred donors to the site, to provide information about their organization’s own work and to show donors how their funding contributes to an overall aid effort. Some organizations, including a USAID Mission and the agriculture ministry of a host country government, reported using the site to cross-check data they have collected on aid activities. One U.S. government agency mentioned that the site could be useful for identifying which organizations should be consulted during the development of country or sectoral strategies.
To us, stories like these demonstrate the great potential of NGO Aid Map. Yet we need more evidence.
For several years, the main focus of transparency advocates has been increasing the availability of aid data. The success of efforts like the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) [...] means that there is now a considerable amount of data out there. Recognizing that use or demand has not kept up with supply, attention is now turning to what needs to be done to make aid data truly accessible and useful to different groups of people [...]. With this in mind, we will be thinking harder about what we can do to ensure that the publication of this data actually leads to better results.
Yes, at the end of the day, someone needs to use the data and as Laia Grino points out, there's still not a lot of evidence about the 'who' and 'how'...

Six aspects of reflexivity

I am in the middle of writing a book about international aid and reflexive practice. Six inter-related aspects of reflexivity seem important to me in that regard. I am interested in how others see it.
We understand our lived experience as a whole wherein we recognise that our values, emotions, knowledge and relationships in one part of our life influence the other elements of our life. This is especially so for international development practitioners living, possibly with family, in an aid-recipient country because of how inter-twined are their personal and professional lives. What are the implications for aid practice and relationships with the people of the country?
Rosalind Eyben from IDS' Participation, Power and Social Team explores some core meanings of 'reflexivity' for transnational development work.

My Name Is Jody Williams
A Vermont Girl's Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize

From her modest beginnings to becoming the tenth woman—and third American woman—to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Jody Williams takes the reader through the ups and downs of her tumultuous and remarkable life. In a voice that is at once candid, straightforward, and intimate, Williams describes her Catholic roots, her first step on a long road to standing up to bullies with the defense of her deaf brother Stephen, her transformation from good girl to college hippie at the University of Vermont, and her protest of the war in Vietnam. She relates how, in 1981, she began her lifelong dedication to global activism as she battled to stop the U.S.-backed war in El Salvador.
This book made the peace researcher in me very excited and I hope that I will be able to review the book properly soon!


The National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre (NMPDC)

The NMPDC uses the concept of freedom of access to information as a tool to facilitate dialogue and coexistence among communities, support national reconciliation through the preservation and dissemination of national records and memory, and benefit posterity through history education.
With initial funding from the United States Agency for Development (USAID) and support from the Northern Uganda Transitional Initiative (NUTI), the NMPDC was created from transforming a building that had been built by the U.S.A military into a multifunctional state-of-the-art facility. The space now serves multiple purposes; it is a memorial to the victims and survivors of Uganda's civil conflicts, a space to revive, promote and celebrate Uganda's art and cultural heritage, and a research and educational facility.
The autoethnography/biography (in the right corner)
"In the Service of the Lord's Army"; memoirs of a boy soldier from northern Uganda.
is a great piece of writing that I recently have begun to explore.

Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights

We explored this question as part of our work with Jovenes, Inc., a center for homeless youth in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles. Our goal was to provide an opportunity for youth to tell their personal stories and experiences. These stories would assist the organization in learning more about its constituency and support applications for additional funding to improve its programming and services. We worked in the vein of Participatory Action Research, by Alice McIntyre, taking a collaborative approach to the design and storytelling process, ensuring that both the youths’ untapped creative abilities and our expertise and research were consistently utilized throughout the experience.
Another challenge that emerged for us as designers was how could keep encouraging the youth to develop their stories past the point where the felt “done”. This led to us building a comment structure that allowed both youth and viewers to add critical feedback in an emotionally safe context on the different stories. These comments covered potential media strategies alongside opportunities for story development, especially as we started to investigate how to represent the stories to an outside audience.
The format addressed the usual problem of a blank piece of paper and opened the door for collaboration. We found that as they composed their story in different pieces, they’d be engaged in deep thought while also open to working with us as we helped them develop details and think about media strategies. The unfamiliar design also helped break the mold of the relationship many youth have with outsiders, which can often take the form of telling a story they’ve had to tell multiple times.
Great example of participatory youth work in L.A. that reminded me that many participatory exercises in development could do with better eye for communicative design...

On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet

Today anthropology is facing a crisis of place, representation, and legitimacy similar to what journalism experienced a decade ago. Like journalists at the turn of the millennium, anthropologists have dealt with the challenges posed by the internet by ignoring them, downplaying the importance of the medium, and discounting its impact on the lives of the people they study. Despite the importance of the internet to people all over the world, there are few ethnographic studies of internet use conducted by anthropologists, and the anthropologists who do conduct this kind of research are marginalized and dismissed.
In anthropology of the internet, there is no clear sense of a field site or of “time spent in the field”. (The researcher is either always in the field, or, naysayers claim, never in the field). The boundaries of the field site tend to be determined by the researcher, and its demarcations are often not clear even to the people he or she studies. Subject anonymity, another standard practice of anthropological research, is difficult to maintain with so much data public and traceable – and so much information fraudulent and fabricated. Anthropologists are left both fearful of exposing people and of having nothing “real” to expose.
This post resonated well with my own research on social media and development and is probably interesting if you are into digital communication research.

Neoliberalism and Higher Education: The Australian Case

Higher education was increasingly seen by government as an export service industry in which Australia could find comparative advantage, the cultural equivalent of iron ore. High fees for overseas students monetised this idea, replacing an earlier regime where Australian universities offered modest development aid to South-east Asia for free. De-regulation is currently being deepened to include domestic students.
At the same time, universities have been re-shaped on the model of corporations. Traditional hierarchy (remember the God-Professor?) had been partly broken down from the 1960s to the 1980s. Ironically this opened a space, in new conditions, for growth in managerial power, with Vice-Chancellors and Deans increasingly understood as entrepreneurs, being paid like corporate managers, and – together with their officers – actually having more autonomy. The price is greater social distance, and often distrust, between university managers and academic staff. Corporate techniques of personnel management along fractal lines (performance management, auditing regimes) have been introduced. Older forms of collective deliberation, such as the departmental meeting, have declined, and no new ones are created; hence we see a Vice-Chancellor addressing his staff, on a grave issue, by sending them a video.
The U.K.’s radical tuition experiment
Claire Callender, professor of higher education at the University of London, said at a recent conference in Toronto that “English higher education should start worrying big time.” In a presentation to the “Academia in the Age of Austerity” conference organized by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, she concluded that the U.K. reforms “herald a retreat from the state’s financial responsibility” for higher education and questioned whether they will perpetuate existing inequalities and social class divisions. The title of her talk, “Austerity in England: Dramatic impact, uncertain future,” summed up her views.
Two very interesting essays from Australia and on the UK higher education system-neat summaries about some of the broader changes there in the context of neoliberal 'reforms'...

The rituals of writing: How I write, with help from Zadie Smith

My writing sometimes feels like chanting, full of repetition and rhythmical run-ons. Precision is important to me and, in that sense, I embrace Zadie Smith's treatment of writing as a craft. And yet, in non-academic writing, I also embrace what Microsoft Word would tell me is a fragment worthy of a squiggly green line underneath it. I write in hyphens and commas, in mirrored sentence structures and recurring words. I write in the way life unfolds: in motifs, patterns, in dances of regularity and surprise interruptions.
Roxanne Krystalli's latest reflections bring this week's review to an end...and right back to its beginning when we think about different forms and styles of writing in academia and beyond...


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