Links & Contents I Liked 77

Hello all,

Welcome to the final link review from Canada! We are getting ready for our move to Sweden next week and I just scheduled an interesting post for next Thursday to tie the link review over before it shall resume in two weeks' time again.
But this week is definitely a worthy collection before the short hiatus: Highlights include reflections from Uruguay on the rise of a new social movement in the shadow of unsustainable global mining and environmental practices, the problem of 'tourist funders' in the think tank industry, the challenges of local aid workers to build managerial careers in the industry and of international colleagues to engage in a meaningful way; impressions from Lebanon on a generation that doesn't know what 'peace' really means round off the development part of the review.
Plus, check out new research on the link between mobile phones and violence and the gender citation gap in IR!


DfID's aid spend on contractors comes under scrutiny

The watchdog said the arm's-length relationship between DfID's procurement unit and its contractors hinders real partnership and learning. "Other UK government departments have, however, found acceptable ways of achieving early engagement without compromising competitive integrity, and DfID should aim to follow suit," said Icai.
The watchdog expressed concern over the lack of programme management, exacerbated by gaps when people change jobs. All five case studies suffered from a lack of programme management. "DfID does not have plans to lengthen the period of programme manager appointments, to align them with programme durations," said Icai. "This is a major concern."
Icai faults DfID for lacking strategic guidance on the use of contractors and suggests that the department would benefit from setting out the circumstances in which contractors should be used and the volumes of work expected. "The reform of DfID's central procurement group has improved processes, but is too slow and lacks prioritisation," said Icai. "As a result, decisions to use contractors are not guided by a strategic plan to deploy the right contractors … to best effect."
Nothing really surprising in the report - but I just kept wondering why the review received a 'Green-Amber' light and what really bad/poorly managed and nonstrategic programs would look like...

Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe

The report, involving 25 authors from 11 countries, reveals the hidden scandal of how a few big private business entities have gained control of ever-greater areas of European land. It exposes how these land elites have been actively supported by a huge injection of public funds – at a time when all other public funding is being subjected to massive cuts. While some of these processes – in particular ever-increasing land concentration -- are not new, they have accelerated in recent decades in particular in Eastern Europe. They have also paved the way for a new sector of foreign and domestic actors to emerge on the European stage, many tied into increasingly global commodity chains, and all looking to profit from the increasingly speculative commodity of land.
Interesting nexus between 'development' issues and very similar issues in Europe as huge amounts of money are moving into countries like Romania buying up previously state-owned farms and land.

Uruguay: Birth of a Movement Against Mining and Extractivism

This event wouldn’t have had much significance if it were not for a movement that has grown in recent years against the installation of an Indian owned, open pit, iron mine called AratirĂ­. The movement has also been protesting the extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers that have polluted the soy crop and recently re-forested areas. In fact, environmental consciousness has grown widely due to a debate following the installation of a massive pulp mill on the Uruguay River.
Between 2000 and 2008 Uruguayan owners lost 1.8 million hectares that went to corporations that acquired a similar surface quantity.
There is a strong concentration of land owned by multinational corporations with one million hectares belonging to just 14 groups. Montes del Plata (Chilean-Swedish-Finnish) has 234,000 hectares followed by Forestal Oriental (Finnish) with 200,000 hectares. The U.S. company, Weyerheuser has 140,000 hectares and the Argentine owned El Tejar and Agronegocios de Plata (ADP) have 140,000 and 100,000 hectares respectively
The third is that the movement has thus far rejected being institutionalized. NGOs have their hands bound. Political parties are kept silent. But was is most interesting is that the movement hasn’t chosen the path of a national referendum, the modality that has been adopted by all the great Uruguayan movements since the restoration of democracy, beginning with human rights.
There are local collectives that gather signatures for departmental referendums, and after extensive discussions the choice to move to a national referendum has been avoided. The experience of over 20 years indicates that this path leads to the dismantling of the movement since it infringes upon the popular will.
This is the first social movement that was born under a progressive government. It directly questions the extractive model and the pollution of water only supports the movement’s arguments especially for gaining public support.
Coincidentally, this excellent piece from Uruguay also engages with international companies and their ownership and use of land - hopefully there will be a similar European movement soon!

RCTs Awesome, but Then What?

Despite how negative I sound on the topic, I actually like to consider myself a budding randomista fan girl. I think a lot of the randomized evaluations are brilliant, and offer incredible insights into the development world. RCTs are not the problem. The uptake is.
The argument deserves more critical attention, of course, but I agree in principle that no matter how good/bad RCTs are, they will only be a tool that does not tell decision-makers what they should do.

‘Tourist’ funders are unhelpful when supporting and evaluating think tanks

While foreign funders may not be ‘forcing’ think tanks to work on what they want them to work on (and, arguably, that is what happens in some contexts) I think it is safe to say that many organisations are busier engaging with global development discussions than with local political debates. This focus on processes happening outside their own political space limits their interactions with other local institutions and this has the effect of isolating them further (further than what think tanks already are by their own nature as elite organisations).
And because these foreign and detached funders cannot ‘just know’ who is influential in a country half-way across the world they resort to asking for proof (of the kind they may get from travel advice fora and rating agencies). And this proof translates into the kind of evaluation of impact that takes so much of our and of think tanks’ time.
I like the analogy between tourist travel (and voluntourism...) and 'tourist funding' for local think tanks that Enrique Mendizabal outlines in his post.

Analysis: Helping local aid workers build meaningful careers

Despite ample learning opportunities, a Senegalese aid worker told IRIN many nationals feel stuck: “Lots of national staff are very frustrated. Some have been in their posts for 28 years. I think national staff should have possibilities to move on. So many promises have been made but things don’t change.”
The problem for many is there is nowhere to rise up to, to flex their new leadership muscles.
Lumsdon says much more emphasis is needed on helping mid-level managers to navigate a meaningful career path: much of the current emphasis is on senior managers.
An interesting post related to humanitarian and development HR and the challenges of how to create meaningful careers for local staff members.

I just came from Haiti too…

Everywhere I go these days, I’m interacting with a growing cadre of skilled professionals that openly, bravely, and constructively question “business as usual” in the aid industry. If I had written a personal narrative essay for the New York Times this week, I guess it would have read a little more optimistic and it would have included more about assuming our personal responsibilities in supporting those who are bringing about progress and development in Haiti and elsewhere.
Jennifer Lentfer's contribution to the discussion about the aid industry and Haiti that was started with a letter in the NYT that I featured in last week's review.

What’s wrong with development volunteering rating systems?

We can’t skip the step of doing the research ourselves. Yes, it would be easier if someone else did it for us, but that is outsourcing a key part in the learning process, and the learning process itself is essential to successfully giving your time or money to something you believe in. As my friend John in Cambodia would often say, “What gives you the right to think you can leave your money in this country?”
As the development volunteering/voluntourism industry is growing, calls for industry standards and rating systems seem almost inevitable and there we will see more rankings in the future that claim to tell young people where to go (it worked for the billion dollar college/university industry...).

In Lebanon, searching for peace and "the enemy"

“Do Lebanese want peace?” The response was one of the most poignant things I have ever heard. One student said, “We want peace, but we don’t know what peace is.” The other students applauded this response while I stood, mouth agape, not knowing what to say.
As wonderful as the participants were, my first Lebanese peace journalism seminar left me with more questions than answers. If we can’t move beyond discussions about labels, how can we ever enter into a deeper and more constructive dialogue?
Steven Youngblood's blog is a hidden gem that deserves more readers!

‘I could not recall the last time I had no money or food’

Rs 148. This is all a labourer will earn, after toiling in the sun all day. After a hard day’s work, walking to get some water to drink seemed like a Herculean task. Why does anyone do this, I asked myself, although I knew the answer: to eat and survive. I had heard these words often enough, but to feel the workers’ burden on my body added an unknown dimension to my perception of the world. My experiences of working in rural India have added to the empathy for the poor and reinforced the logic of social policy and welfare that we are working to build in Bhim.
I now know the answer to what I was first curious about. Moving 37 bags of cement, that grow heavier with every step, over 40 metres equals Rs 148. Multiply that with a lifetime of backbreaking labour, add to it a gnawing hunger, I’m left with another question that I can’t answer: “What is the price that one has to pay for basic human dignity?”
This wonderful and sad reflection speaks for itself of why, despite all cynical industry developments, it is important to work for a just world...

Does cellphone coverage make violence more likely in Africa?

Nonetheless, this piece does draw some interesting and potentially important connections between the diffusion of communication technology and ‘real world’ outcomes. As the authors note, we have seen a number of pieces over the last couple of years asserting that new communication technologies have helped e.g. foster the spread of the Arab Spring revolutions. However, we’ve seen precious little work that really tries to demonstrate systematic linkages rather than assert them.
The article is definitely on my reading list!

The Gender Citation Gap

A recent very systematic study has documented a gender citation gap. The finding is that women are more likely to cite women, but combined with the reality that men’s articles are cited more than articles by female authors, and there are more men than women in international relations (and political science), it becomes for women hard to escape the systematic cumulative effects of bias. The authors find that controlling for many factors that may matter (paradigms, venues, subject matter, methodology), women’s articles should be cited 4.7 times more than they actually are cited. With fewer controls, the finding is that single authored articles by women receive roughly 73% the citations of articles written by men or articles with a male coauthor.
Another new fascinating piece of research on said reading list...

Are the Costs of 'Free' Too High in Online Education?

Stanford, MIT, Harvard et al. have already opened a kind of Pandora's box, and there may be no easy way to go back and charge students even a moderately high tuition rate for open online courses. Free learning via the Internet seems here to stay. It is probably most valuable in moderation and as a complement to traditional university education and degrees, not as a substitute. It also will probably force educational institutions to bring down the rising costs of education, as well as the rising prices of tuition. This seems positive but may lead to potentially negative effects and unintended consequences: Elite universities need to ensure the true costs of their MOOCs do not become too high for society as a whole by destroying the economic foundations of less-prominent educational institutions—or of themselves.
Interesting article that tries to engage with the pros and cons of what 'free courses' may mean for the future of higher education.
Plus, there will be a new post on MOOCs and academic socialization on this blog next Thursday!


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