Links & Contents I Liked 75

Hello all,

This week's review is another ode to the joy of being part of the great development blogosphere where many colleagues and friends contribute great insights to many debates:
Talesfromthehood's new book, critical reflections on the differences between fair trade in coffee and clothing, insights from the World Bank's work in Guatemala that evoke many dark shadows of the past, how a new Southern WTO director could boost legitimacy, an important discussion on bloggers and blogging in the UN, 6 reasons for a social media strategy and 7 strategies for women in development to speak truth to power feature many dear friends.
Finally, I am commenting in the academic section on a post with more advice on the 'perfect' application, wondering about the right balance between a response to a 'standard' job description and standing out from the crowd.


About *Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit*

Mary-Anne has moved on, grown since the disastrous and passionate days of the Haiti earthquake response.
Now, with a new organization in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia, she struggles to balance life, love, and career in the wake of ARRA’s decision to open a new refugee camp at Bur Amina.
Will this new opportunity stretch her to the breaking point? Or will she rise beyond the challenges? And what will become of Jean-Philippe? Will their prolonged separation cause their hearts to grow fonder? Or will she find comfort in the arms of the mysterious, brooding Robert Langstrom? Just how close will Mary-Anne come to crossing the lines from missionary to mercenary and from mystic to misfit?
Let's the start this week's link review with some good news! My review copy of talefromthehood's new book arrived in my Inbox yesterday and I am really looking forward to another humanitarian adventure of what some observers are already describing as the 'humanitarian romance novel version of Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold series' (Ok, that's my label-but you are welcome to share it!).

The Fashion Trap: Why Fairtrade Works in Coffee but not in Clothing

Therefore, unlike in coffee, in apparel there is no natural market for certified products. Thus, there will be no lasting consumer pressure on fashion labels to source responsibly. It seems that the only way that labor conditions in Bangladesh and other producing countries can be improved is through national and international regulation and a concerted effort of major consuming countries to enforce effective implementation. Whereas in coffee, demand-driven private regulation has gradually replaced the need for government regulation, in apparel the continuous failure of private regulation – as evidenced by the recent events in Bangladesh – should be a wake-up call.
Let’s face it: Fashion consumers (and retailers) might never change their behavior, but governments can and should. Helping producing countries to fight corruption, promote the formation of trade unions and enforce existing legislation might be a first step. Using development agencies as intermediaries might help as well. Getting fashion labels and retailers to apply additional pressure might have an effect – but only in conjunction with government efforts.
Amidst the rising death toll of the Bangladesh factory collapse and news about another fire that killed more garment workers, my colleague Stephan Manning reflects on broader development-related questions in connection with fair trade, global regulation and the role of aid organizations.

Development or Armed Robbery: World Bank Funding, SouthCom Militarization Displace Indigenous and Campesino Communities

As foreign investment in mines and dams throughout Guatemala and Honduras have indigenous communities under threat and violent attack,, the World Bank flagrantly violates international law. On April 10 it conducted a “consultation” relating to a revision of the Bank’s “Safeguard” Operational Policies that communities affected by the project were not invited to and that they considered a sham. Echoing the coupling of foreign investment with militarization, the Commander of the US Military Southern Command visited Guatemala at the same time as the World Bank’s ‘consultation.’ He attended the inauguration of a newly constructed military base, and confirmed over $25 million in assistance for that base.
Across Guatemala, indigenous communities under threat from mines and dams are holding community consultations, and rejecting the projects. These communities will not participate in the Bank’s ‘consultation’ on safeguards. But the Bank is required by law to respect the communities’ decisions. Multilateral lenders must be held responsible for gross human rights violations associated with projects they fund. As Central America is being militarized on the pretext of law enforcement, the World Bank must begin to respect the law.
In this long and detailed post, Annie Bird of Rights Action writes on militarization, corporate interests in Guatemala and Honduras and the involvement of the World Bank that invoke many bad memories for indigenous peoples and rural citizens who have been suffering from politics and elite collaboration with outside powers for a long, long time.

Resumption of Oil Production in South Sudan

Barely three months after the oil shutdown, the whole nation started to feel the resultant pinch of economic hardships. Salaries of civil servants were no longer coming regularly and the monthly allowances that used to cushion up the low salaries of the civil servants were discontinued. The dollar appreciated against the South Sudanese pounds and was in unprecedented shortage, forcing the market into an abrupt shock; prices rose; and the purchasing power weakened. As well, violent crimes increased, with armed robbery becoming the order of the day. News about common citizens and business people being shot dead injured, and/or robbed were making headlines on almost daily basis. In a sense, these consequences are attributable to the economic hardships facing the nation.
As - rightly - critical as development researchers are about natural resource income, the current situation in South Sudan is an interesting example of the broader positive socio-political impact that oil revenues can have-and what happens if the money is no longer stabilizing the economy...

Brazil in Tight Race with Mexico to Head WTO (Financial Times)

Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil and Herminio Blanco of Mexico are scrambling to secure last minute votes in a tight race to become the next head of the troubled World Trade Organisation.
The stakes are high. After stalled efforts to clinch a sweeping multilateral trade agreement in the decade-old Doha round, the WTO is seeking to revive its mission – and its relevancy – ahead of a big ministerial gathering in Bali in December.
The likely selection of a Southern/BRIC Director for the WTO will be an important PR stunt that is likely to improve the legitimacy of the WTO in similar ways than Jim Kim's appointment at the World Bank. I have very little faith in substantial organizational or policy changes that new directors could actually implement so this is likely to be some window dressing for an organization that may have the most scenic headquarters of all international organizations...

Viewpoint: Is gap year volunteering a bad thing?

We need to focus on learning first - not just encouraging jumping in. Like the legal intern delivering coffee and learning what it takes to be a good lawyer, their most significant impact in the role is not achieved in a short time, but rather in avoiding being too much of a distraction in the short-term and learning how to have a real impact in the long run.
We can encourage young people to move from serving, to learning how to serve. It's a small change in vocabulary, but it can have a big impact on our futures.
Daniela Papi continues to do some great public service to bring volunteering and voluntourism into mainstream debates and media, e.g. the BBC.

The Illusion of Information Campaigns: Just because people don’t know about your policy, it doesn’t mean that an information campaign is needed

The challenge in all three places was that despite recent simplification efforts along the lines of those suggested by Doing Business, most informal businesses remained informal. Moreover, business owners seemed misinformed about the process and cost of registering their businesses formally, with most overestimating both the time taken to go through the process and the cost of doing so.
For example, in Sri Lanka, only 17 percent of informal businesses knew the correct cost of registering, and only 2 percent knew what the income tax would be for a typical business. In Brazil, the mean (median) time firm owners think it takes to register once all documents are provided is 51 days (30 days), whereas in practice the average time taken is 7 to 9 days; they also estimate that the cost of registering is 6 times the true cost.
So here we have cases where the Governments had introduced a new policy, firms are misinformed about it, and so the hope is that giving these firms the correct information will cause them to respond to the new policy. But what happened in practice? Three very precise zero effects: in all three cases, when firms were given information about how to register, no more firms registered than in a control group where this information wasn’t given.
World Bank's David McKenzie on the limits of information campaigns and some of the reasons why informal businesses decide not to formalize. I guess this research could benefit from qualitative, anthropological insights.
My initial thought was that informal businesses simply don't trust 'the state', including its information. And somehow the ability to finally pay taxes may be also a bit of an impediment to take in information campaigns...

Why are there so few bloggers at the UN? A conversation with staff.

The UN staff seem to be in an even more extreme version of that defensive crouch, so worried about going wrong that they don’t even try. One person in a comms team even claimed that blogging is actually prohibited in the UN, only to be told that no, social media was an official priority (they’re doing better on twitter – UNICEF has 1.8m followers). And there’s plenty of would-be bloggers around – when I asked how many wrote private blogs, 4 out of 50 UNICEF people raised their hands.
Give them a face: anonymous institutional blogs don’t usually work. Blogs need a personality. If you haven’t got anyone as obsessive as me, try the Global Dashboard model – a stable of bloggers, with an option to sign up the ones you like. That takes the pressure off a bit.
Any more tips?
This should really matter to the UN, in my view. Good research and policy papers don’t disseminate themselves, and the blogosphere is an increasingly important way to get your messages out. By self-censoring in this way, the UN is reducing the impact of some really excellent work. Consider yourselves lobbied.
Why aren’t there more UN bloggers? – an insider’s view
Risk aversion – I’ve written before that the UN is quite risk averse as an organization and often for good reason. In addition to political sensitivities there is also concern about saying things that might upset donors (institutional, corporate and individual), or for “being wrong” about something or making a mistake which might also reflect badly on the organization’s reputation. Again this isn’t unique to the UN – but I think this is more acute in the UN (and probably in organizations like Oxfam that raise money from the public) than it is in the Bank or DFID where there is less perceived risk to funding from a bad blog post.

Duncan Green and Ian Thorpe reflect on the lack of UN blogging/bloggers.
One of the issues that deserves more attention is the nature of the work and the (research) products that organizations produce. The World Bank can count on the superiority of quantitative research. They have the data, the researchers and the discursive, authoritative power to publish research that has academic and policy impact. It's easy to blog about it as part of your communication strategy. The UN doesn't have that kind of research to support much of their work. I don't mean that the UN doesn't do good, important work - but it usually doesn't come with regressions, Excel sheets and an endorsement by an economics professor of a leading university.
The other aspect that Duncan and Ian point out is how the UN's ethos of 'impartiality' can be a powerful disincentive to blog. The UN is political, is not run by saints and is often used by member states for certain political goals. That's life - or, more precisely, the UN.
I think that external blogging on the UN, e.g. UN Dispatch or Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay, may actually more interesting than counting on official UN bloggers. In the meantime, topical blogs like Ian's may be a 'safe' middle ground', between what 'we' would like to read from inside the UN and what's culturally and historically deemed acceptable.
You Need a Social Media Strategy in International Development
So if social media has this great reach, how can we implement and manage a social media strategy in international development programs to effect real world actions and long-term behavioral change? That was the challenge we tackled at the Social Media Technology Salon in Washington, DC
Wayan Vota shares '6 Guidelines for Better Outcomes Using Social Media' based on a recent Tech Salon.

Virtual conferences: not in the future, but now

We used Scribble Live, also used by a number of news agencies, including Reuters, CNN and the Press Association, to report live from the conference.
Once up and running, it allowed participants (both those at the conference and also ‘virtual’ online ones) to:
- read curated content on the live blog, including comments and social media postings that participants had published on social media accounts and which were then pulled through onto the live blog page
- live ‘report’ from the event (through comments and social media content)
- leave comments – for instance, by watching the live web cast and then asking questions online.
Given the number of comments we received, we were under-resourced to respond to all the virtual participants in a timely and meaningful way. Many comments were quite technical in nature, and required responses from researchers. We will need to think this through in more detail before the next ‘virtual’ event.
A major obstacle that we faced in Bangladesh was connectivity. It often dropped out in the main conference hall, which meant that at times the live web cast stopped working for virtual participants and that we couldn’t live report on the conference. Many of the hotel conference rooms, where side events were being held, didn’t have wifi.
Some reflections from IIED's Suzanne Fisher on planning and implementing a virtual conference. It would be interesting to learn more about the 'fringe' benefits (or challenges), e.g. savings on travel expenses and accommodation or whether such an event is actually more or less staff/time-intensive than a regular conference.

7 things every woman needs to speak truth to power

There are times in our aid careers when playing nice is no longer in our best interests. Telling a donor or a boss to go fly a kite is an intimidating experience, but there is a point when we have to speak up, no matter how uncomfortable we may be or how much power someone else has.
And unfortunately the aid world is still a boy’s game. While we’re represented among the workforce in proportional numbers, this is not the case among the leadership. We are going by their rules.
Oh wait, their rules don’t work for us? Guess we have to stand up for ourselves and change those rules. This will not happen by letting power go unchecked or unchallenged, on a personal or a sectoral level.
Jennifer Lentfer's great contribution to Women Working in Aid and Development. I think that the reality for everybody working in the industry is finding the (impossible?) right balance between her 7 strategies.

The Déjà Vu of Today's Application Files

The positions were standard assistant professorships at a land-grant university with the typical teaching, research, and service requirements.
As an academic job seeker, you should realize that your competition is reading the same self-help books and Web sites as you are on how to produce a strong package. What that meant for our search: indistinguishable files, all of them promoting "brilliant" candidates who were "perfect" fits for the position, but that all seemed to include versions of the same sample documents from the same self-help book. What was often missing was some original thought or insight on the position or the contributions the candidate might make to our program. The self-help Web sites do not get specific, and neither did most of the candidates.
Although there are some good pieces of advice on how to pitch your academic application in this post, I found an interesting lack of self-reflection: If you advertise a 'typical position' you may receive 'typical' applications in return. I have come across many advertisements that are really general or leave it to the candidate to figure out what the department really does and what they really like. So how important are research, teaching and service really?!
I'm fully aware of the current academic job market and disregarding essential formalities is not acceptable (no cover letter, disorganized file). However, there's always a fine line between demanding the perfect application and the realities of actually compiling many of them. Maybe the candidate didn't have time for another 5-? hours of application work or maybe s/he has sent out 20 packages recently and, God forbid, copy-pasted a pdf file with the wrong order of documents. Blaming it on the wrong or general external advice is a bit unfair-especially if you only received 28 applications...

Deep Impact: Unintended consequences of journal rank

In this review, we present the most recent and pertinent data on the consequences of our current scholarly communication system with respect to various measures of scientific quality (such as utility/citations, methodological soundness, expert ratings or retractions). These data corroborate previous hypotheses: using journal rank as an assessment tool is bad scientific practice. Moreover, the data lead us to argue that any journal rank (not only the currently-favored Impact Factor) would have this negative impact. Therefore, we suggest that abandoning journals altogether, in favor of a library-based scholarly communication system, will ultimately be necessary. This new system will use modern information technology to vastly improve the filter, sort and discovery functions of the current journal system.
The final link is for academic insiders nerds only. New research that, not unsurprisingly, suggests that current impact measuring is flawed. But as long as universities and higher education systems agree that they are important and powerful the fact that nobody really knows how an 'impact factor' is really measured does only count for academic arguments. Still an interesting paper.


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