Links & Contents I Liked 89

Hello all,

This week's link review has turned into a compilation of really good critical material on how to challenge conventional development assumptions: Why awards do harm, why travel doesn't educate, why volunteering can be consumerist, why donating old shoes is *still* a bad idea, why giving a dollar for school fees is not ending dependency and why relying on traditional media for policy influence is not always, some reading suggestions and not-a-picture-of-a-Kony-handbag...


New on aidnography

What giant robotic mining trucks have to do with development
On development, robots, big technology & complexity - all in about 700 words ;)!


If you are a development-hammer many things will eventually look like nails ;)! But seriously, no one in your design team made the 'Kony' link?!

Analysis: What future for private sector involvement in humanitarianism?

But interest is growing from both sides: humanitarians are eager for diverse sources of funding and innovative approaches, skills and technologies; while companies are looking to improve their corporate image, motivate and retain employees, and break into new markets. Increasingly, rather than just wanting to look good, private companies also see investment in disaster risk reduction as essential for business continuity; and in many cases, it is the private sector - not the humanitarians - taking the first step.
The article is more detailed and includes some interesting examples, but I don't think Heba Aly is really aware of some of the key problems: improving your corporate image, motivate employees and break into new markets have 100% to do with your company and its bottom line and 0% to do with 'development'. One ultimate problem will always be that current models of companies' growth and profits will always have negative development side-effects and maybe higher taxes for example are a more effective 'development' tool than relying on good-will, donations and PR exercises?!

How Billionaire 'Philanthropy' Is Fueling Inequality and Helping To Destroy the Country
As Buffett suggests, this growth in elite largesse, totaling $316 billion in 2012, has done little to combat economic inequality. But the problem isn’t just one of ineffectiveness. A recent paper published in the Journal of Economic Inequality shows philanthropy hasn’t simply failed to meet its goals; it’s made the situation worse.
"Using measures of both absolute and relative inequality,” the study’s authors conclude, “we have shown that philanthropy may actually exacerbate inequality, instead of reducing it.”
It’s hard to believe that all the industrial titans and Wall Street tycoons shelling out billions on charitable projects don’t understand this. They spend their lives swimming in numbers. What, then, might their real goals be? A closer look at how the world’s wealthiest are choosing to give away their money provides clues. While pretending to fix inequality, contemporary philanthropy’s actual role has been to strengthen the arrangements that make gross inequality possible in the first place. It has become a weapon in the class warfare of the 1%, the carrot to win people over to their ideology complementing the stick of political spending to coerce them into the same.
I am not sure whether and how the argument applies to development charity, because as critical as one can and should be of Gates and the likes, I am not sure that they are 'fueling' inequality; but a critical eye on these developments obviously does not hurt...

Dump the Prizes
Too many of these things are winner-or-very-few-take-all, and too many focus on the usual suspects. In any case, the notion that even a smart selection jury can somehow discern which is best from a dozen stellar organizations is kind of silly. Too many juries are composed of unqualified people, and verdicts in this sector can be as capricious as those from an LA celebrity murder trial. There is also an obvious bandwagon effect: The more prizes you get, the more prizes you get. And while juries have their foibles, they are exponentially better than the Internet-based crowd-judging that is currently in vogue. That’s like having the passengers on a 747 vote on how to land the plane, and it has led to some remarkably dumb things rising to prominence.
A lot of people argue that innovation competitions, challenges, and X Prizes are a vital part of that market and that they drive important advances that wouldn’t happen otherwise. I doubt it. There’s no real evidence for it, and I suspect that they do little more than speed things up a bit. The innovators I know do so to solve problems, not to win prizes. The only in-depth analysis of social impact contests I’ve seen was a 2009 McKinsey report, which began with a contests-are-wonderful perspective and carried on for 100 pages in the same vein without even a whiff of skepticism. Like many discussions of prizes, it confused anecdote with evidence and correlation with causation. We need a real study. More to the point, we need a real market for impact. There may be a role for contests in it, but contests didn’t drive Silicon Valley—it was investors and entrepreneurs playing in a functioning market.
Kevin Starr on the the many limitation of prices and contests in the social and development sector...ranking are another of those tools that may do more harm than good...

Travel is not education
So if we’re valuing travel above education, we’re valuing a very Western experience that is unavailable to many. We’re also undervaluing our own formal education, something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I live in a country where the public education system is terrible.
Let me be clear: I like traveling. I’ve spent considerable time and money on travel because I think it is enriching and worthwhile. Given the often negative aspects of voluntourism, I often wish people would just visit the countries they’re interested in, and go see the Taj Mahal without bothering to build the school or visit the Amazon without running the day camps for kids.
But I’m not deluded enough to think that travel replaces education.
WhyDev's Alison Smith reflects on the often-repeated point that traveling per se expands your can actually become part of a new/different form of consumerism as Kate Otto highlights in the following post:

Is international service the new consumerism?
While I may practice the art of simplicity by living rurally and out of a backpack, am I not merely embracing the same “more, more” attitude, but with people and places instead of material goods?
When my obsession is not brand names, but culture, does that excuse the excess?
I must ask: at what point is my intention to immerse and connect exploitative, as I accumulate experiences without sustaining and investing in relationships?
With this, I think that if I do have the opportunity and decide to do a second year of TBB, the same itinerary might be just what I need. Perhaps my next trip should be to see some friends I’ve already made. Or maybe the next step I take will place me somewhere for longer than two years.
Kate Otto shares some important and powerful reflections on volunteering, travel and international experience as an endeavour that oftentimes follows a very consumerist logic!

Don’t Send a Child to School: The Aid Dependency Cycle
When will they stop needing your $1 a day? (They won’t.) After considerable research, analysis, and soul-searching, we decided to stop directly paying children’s school fees. Understanding aid can create dependency; we now use evidence-based frameworks to partner with communities in developing local sustainable solutions to education challenges. By working with community based organizations through the process of finding lasting solutions to poverty in their community, philanthropy can improve situations while building up local communities
A great potential entry for the next development fail fare! Cudos to Firelight for discontinuing an easily marketable program and for adding for complexity and evidence to their work!

Jetstar Flying Start grant helps Shoes for Planet Earth to run further
Currently, donated running shoes are washed in a cement mixer called "Mona", named after marathon runner Steve Moneghetti. With the aid of the Flying Start funding grant, Shoes for Planet Earth will purchase an industrial washing machine to cut down the time and physical effort currently required to clean donated shoes.
The cost of delivering second hand shoes around the world is significant and Ms Kartsounis and Mr Drayton will put the flights towards delivering shoes to various Jetstar ports.
From a good friend on facebook:
It amazes me that a corporation the size of Jetstar Australia, with all the available resources that they have, can still make such poor choices around corporate social responsibility. By giving a grant to an organisation that dumps unwanted used running shoes in African countries, Jetstar is sending out the message that our unwanted trash is someone else's gold. The thought that this does anything other than assuage your own first world guilt is ludicrous.
There is so much evidence out there about the negative impact of used clothing donations in poor countries.
'Nuff said!

The art of blogging: Taking stock
No, this is a post sharing ideas and experiences from thought leaders who have seen the benefits of blogging, have enjoyed and analysed it well enough to share some gems. So hereby comes another stock-taking post which may help wannabe bloggers (...) as well as well as more seasoned bloggers always looking for inspiration…
Great compilation by Ewen Le Borgne (although he somehow forgot to put in yours truly blogging tips and research on development blogging ;).

Has Twitter killed the media star? (or How I stopped worrying and learned to love social media)
Am I heralding the death of traditional media and its usurpation by Twitter, Facebook and Google+?
Absolutely not, but this is still a watershed moment for me because it has provided such a blatant example of the primacy of social media in engaging relatively niche audiences with our research.
In this case Twitter was providing us with direct responses to HANCI from our target policymakers. This is exactly what we had set out to achieve. We want HANCI to be taken seriously by governments, and used in the advocacy of those that seek to hold them to account.
The news-room intern and the Today Programme night editor are no longer the only means of getting government ministers and NGOs to respond to our research. This is more than just the blurring of boundaries between traditional media and social media.If we can be innovative enough we can bypass traditional media altogether.
James Georgalakis, Head of Communications at IDS Sussex on how a targeted social media campaign lead to real engagement and public impact.

Five challenges think tanks face to influence international policy
As a result, knowledge prepared by international organizations or think tanks based in the north, tends to dominate the international debate. A fresh perspective based on the academic and practical knowledge of politics and policies in the developing countries could enrich the international debate.
But, what are some of the challenges think tanks face to accomplish this goal?
Andrea Ordónez over at on think tanks points out five strategic entry points for southern think tanks for influencing global politics.


Some Reading Suggestions and Lists (but not for the beach)
Recently a senior policymaker wrote to me asking for some recommendations of IDS publications they should read. I spent a couple of weeks on and off thinking about the most dazzling things to recommend, but then gave up on that and remembered the wealth of material in the IDS Working Papers.
Great way to catch up on some IDS readings!

Special issue on Elizabeth Dauphinee’s The Politics of Exile
Prompted by Elizabeth Dauphinee’s The Politics of Exile, the article explores the political potential of novel ways of writing in international relations. It begins by examining attempts to distinguish between narrative writing and academic writing, fiction and non-fiction, and to give an account of what narrative might be and how it might work. It argues that although distinctions between narrative writing and academic writing cannot hold, there are nevertheless ways of judging the practical political effects that writing can produce. It briefly examines feminist, postcolonial and other international relations scholars who collect other people’s stories or tell their own, and points to an instructive body of work in fiction and literary non-fiction beyond the discipline. It argues that writing that disrupts linear forms of temporality and instead inhabits ‘trauma time’ can open the possibility of an aesthetic political practice, and suggests that we foster such a creative practice in international relations.
The articles of this special issue are currently available as open access!

Course Blogging and Social Media – The Rudiments Just-in-Time
I read over student contributions and use them for lectures and discussion. I’ll call on students to ask them about what they wrote, and I usually put names directly into the notes section of my PowerPoint.
Indeed, one point I would emphasize is that a lot of these teaching techniques that are seen now as a magical formula have been around for a long time. Blogs are rather like the old discussion boards, and the new collaborative learning is rather like what people were doing with small-group discussion over thirty years ago. I used some of these techniques around 2000-2002, drifted away into more lecture and PowerPoint, and am now going back to groups and discussion boards.
Jason Antrosio provides a useful and balanced overview over how social media can become a meaningful part of teaching and learning.


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