Links & Contents I Liked 135

Hi all,

A new semester just started and by-way of welcoming our new students, I am sharing a fresh link list with a lot of food for thought relevant for our ComDev program.

Development news on how aid for Haiti only traveled to beltway bank accounts; a better model of how extractive industries can be involved in development; Tony Blair still lacks a moral compass; how to engage with fragile cities; selected listicles on 2015 debates; new excellent aid work(er) career advice;

Our digital lives with fantastic critiques on the Humans of New York hype, tech firms & teenagers and data-driven humanism. In Academia, a great review essay on ethnography, international courts and 'transitional justice' & reflections on how bibliometrics damage science publishing.


New from aidnography

Chasing Misery (book review)

Chasing Misery is a mature, well-written and –edited anthology that represents many of the aspects that make aid work(er) literature important and powerful.
Whether you add the book as a teaching resource, share it as an inspiration for students to reflect on their own professionalism or give it as a gift to aspiring aid workers or curious ‘civilians’, this is a book that should be shared widely.
Development news
Is USAID Helping Haiti to Recover, or US Contractors to Make Millions?

For every $1 that USAID has spent, less than one penny went directly to Haitian organizations, be it the Haitian government or in Haiti’s private sector. More than 50 cents went to Beltway firms—handling everything from housing construction, rubble removal, health services, security and more—located in DC, Maryland and Virginia. As a jobs creator back home, USAID’s Haiti reconstruction effort has been an astounding success. The single largest recipient of USAID funding in Haiti was a for-profit, DC-based firm, Chemonics International, through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. In an earlier contract with Chemonics released through Freedom of Information Act requests, USAID clearly explained: “While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities.”
Jake Johnston on how 5 years after the earthquake the same patterns emerge that we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere...'disaster capitalism' at its American best/worst...
Shared Value in Extractives and the Advantages of Local Procurement Initiatives over Traditional Community Investment

By contrast traditional community investment programs by extractive industry companies, which see corporations stray far from their core competencies by building schools and providing health services, raise many concerns for us in their ability to create sustainable value for either party.
The Shared Value Initiative paper points out that there is little correlation between community investment spending and good relationships with nearby communities, and that the number of conflicts across extractive projects globally has actually been increasing at the same time as spending on community investment across the industry.
Extractive industry companies (or international development charities for that matter)—should not replace the state. Instead, they should embrace their role as a development partner, maximizing their local procurement to increase income, taxes, skills and technology for the countries where they operate. These all help to attack the causes of underdevelopment and poverty in the first place.
Interesting food for thought from Jeff Geipel. As critical as one should be about CSR window-dressing and the negative impact that extractive companies have on local communities it is not all black and white. I agree that mining companies should rather focus on an area they have knowledge about rather than pretending that they want to 'do good' or now about community development.

Tony Blair’s Business/Philanthropy Mix Remains Troubling
Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison chronicles some of the deeper problems involved in the controversy by detailing the combinations and contradictions of Blair’s philanthropic endeavors and his consulting services to various autocrats. As our coverage of Blair has pointed out over the years, Blair has provided advice to such political leaders as Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, the emir of Kuwait, Egypt’s Mohamed al-Sisi, and Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani (apparently on Al Thani’s business dealings) and multinational corporations like JPMorgan Chase (at $3 million a year), the Zurich Insurance Group (at $750,000 annually), and the Abu Dhabi investment fund called Mubadala Development Company (at $1.5 million). Most recently, Blair signed on with a Saudi oil firm, PetroSaudi, founded by one of the Saudi ruling family members to broker deals between the company and China. Blair has quite the challenge of explaining how these business dealings fit his philanthropic persona
Tony Blair has no moral compass and he is neither the global statesmen nor philanthropist he thinks he is...i this day and age he may either be the 'perfect' person to work with a charity corporation like Save The Children or the worst...but I guess by sweeping the debate under the carpet STC ha already made clear how they see Blair's engagement.

Fixing Fragile Cities
But instead of locking up and stigmatizing young men, municipal officials should support them. Proven remedies include mediation to interrupt violence between rival gangs, targeted education and recreation projects for at-risk teenagers, and counseling and childcare support for single-parent households.
The most far-reaching and sustainable strategy for strengthening fragile cities involves purposeful investment in measures to boost social cohesion and mobility. City planners and private investors must avoid the temptation to reproduce segregation and social exclusion, and they must insist that the public good prevails over private interests. Investments in reliable public transportation, inclusive public spaces, and pro-poor social policies (such as conditional cash transfers) can go a long way toward improving safety.
Robert Muggah on the challenges of engaging with fragile cities in an era of rapid urbanization. Even if you can achieve a turnaround as the example of Medellin in Colombia demonstrates, I wonder whether the neoliberal logic will impose new threads to stable, thriving, 'sexy' cities: Will a gentrified Medellin still be inclusive-or exclusive in new, different ways that may not come with the weapons of gangs and unemployed men, but with the weapons of consumerist capitalism?

How To Ethically Use Drones in International Development?
The rapid increase in capabilities of low-cost drones, is going to quickly outpace the already minimal policies and regulations that exist in most developing countries. Thereby increasing pressure on organizations to use drones in disaster and conflict situations before substantive research is capable of analyzing possible outcomes.
In fact, while the UN policy brief cautioned about using drones in conflict situations until more research can been conducted, UN peacekeeping missions have already used drones in conflict settings to monitor rapid populations movements around conflict zones. As Helena Puig Larrauri and Patrick Meyer point out, using drones in peace building and conflict prevention is fraught with danger
Denise Phelphs reviews current debates around Unarmed Aerial Vehicles in development contexts. Technology develops quicker than policy and governance and I am sure we will hear about instances soon where governments, security services etc. will threaten UN organizations if they want access to sensitive data-a bit like U.S agencies and there engagement with E-Mail providers for example...

10 Stories That Will Drive the Global Agenda in 2015
These ten stories may be off the radar of the mainstream media, but for most of the planet these trends and events will have serious and lasting consequences for years to come. I give you UN Dispatch’s annual year in preview–a listicle for the discerning global set.
Mark Leon Goldberg and the team at UN Dispatch share interesting topics and countries to watch this year. Unfortunately, many of them have the potential to end up on a 'forgotten crises' list at the end of this year...

7 aspirations for ICT4D in 2015
Finally, an overall hope for more humility from the ICT4D and wider development and humanitarian sectors was voiced. We heard things like: Let’s not sashay in…. Let’s stop parachuting products and solutions in…. When local people have their act together and are moving ahead, let’s not try to co-opt, own or control it…. Let’s change the paradigm and stop using the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’…. Let’s learn to better support and ask people what they need and if/how we can help…. Let’s listen…. Let’s get out of the way…. Let’s take a closer look at our privilege and power…. Let’s call each other out when we see power and privilege being abused…. Let’s work together to change our sector.
Yes, let’s!
Linda Raftree shares some of her reflections on important ICT4D themes for this year.

Aid Industry Career Advice
Understand the Aid Industry: Over and above that master’s degree requirement, I’d recommend courses, reading, or self-education that familiarizes you with the Aid Industry, how it works, and what the issues are. The vast majority of the frustrated newbies I encounter in the workplace can hold forth for hours over obscure technical dilemmas (“OMG. Should we use a process indicator or a proxy indicator?!”) or the Easterly-Sachs debate, but they can’t explain what the inter-agency cluster system is, or how to engage with it.
Understanding local context is important, of course, but it is more and more disproportionately emphasized at the expense of understanding how the larger aid system works.
As always, J. shares important, hand-on advice. As conservative or counter-intuitive as it may sound in 2015, I believe that most people should work at least once in their early career for a big, bureaucratic and traditional organization just to understand how today's discourse of 'agility', 'disruption' and '2.0/3.0' is represented in large organizations-from UN organizations, to global NGOs, research institutions or universities. Get to know 'dinosaurs' because they won't be extinct soon!

The complexity of being an aid worker in a brave new post-2015 world
- No more heroes. We don’t need people who want to save the world, but want to understand it through critical and complex lenses and then work with communities to design programs accordingly.
- More innovators, not just program managers and technical experts who treat the world as a simple, predictable place. We need those who can combine the best of a generalist and specialist. Devex’s Kate Warren calls them integrators.
- Demonstrated interpersonal skills. Everyone says they have them in the interview, but rarely do they exhibit these skills in day-to-day work. Most of the time, we are generally poor at connecting, handling conflict, and working together effectively.
- More networked people. No we don’t need you to name drop or brag about the time you met Jeff Sachs or Paul Farmer. We need people who know what it means to work across networked systems – people who see the connections, dependencies, and incentives and make them work.
- Nuanced communicators, or, the ability to communicate all this to a broad range of stakeholders: government, public, private, communities, individuals. Messaging is still very simple and unproblematic, but we need people focused on how we can communicate complexity.
- Willingness to fail. If you are willing to fail and can do it with learning and adjustment always as the goal, you can persuade others of the need to do it too. Success is most often hard won.
Brendan Rigby's list is worth sharing, printing out, laminating and putting on your cubicle wall!

Hot off the (digital) press

Is this the best paper yet on Doing Development Differently/Thinking and Working Politically?
Entrepreneurial logic involves making a series of small bets instead of seeking large all-or-nothing opportunities. Decisions at each stage depend on educated guesses, drawing on an equal combination of science, the results gained with small bets and imagination. This involves embracing error as a vital source of learning and the willingness and ability to adjust to new information in a dynamic environment.
Part of the attraction of the DE concept is that it builds on a lot of research and experience in the private sector. Jaime and David summarize ‘five principles of entrepreneurship’, each of which raises important challenges for NGOs (summarized in the square brackets)
If you Google 'Mike Tyson Development' this post and paper probably comes up-and for this achievement along Duncan Green and the authors of the paper should be thanked ;)!

2015 Third Sector Digital Resource Guide
We’re happy to release our 2015 Third Sector Digital Resource Guide today. The guide is intended as a brief introduction to some of the many great digital resources available to non-profits, charities and NGOs. We’ve by no means attempted to be exhaustive in our round-ups (that would be a huge effort in an ever changing landscape!) but we’ve tried to highlight key options available that will get you off to a good start.
Good introduction and overview over key topics.

Our digital lives
An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media
I’m a researcher. I’ve been studying American teens’ engagement with social media for over a decade. I wrote a book on the topic. I don’t speak on behalf of teens, but I do amplify their voices and try to make sense of the diversity of experiences teens have. I work hard to account for the biases in whose voices I have access to because I’m painfully aware that it’s hard to generalize about a population that’s roughly 16 million people strong. They are very diverse and, yet, journalists and entrepreneurs want to label them under one category and describe them as one thing.
Andrew is very visible about where he stands. He’s very clear about his passion for technology (and his love of blogging on Medium should be a big ole hint to anyone who missed his byline). He’s also a college student and talks about his peers as being obviously on path to college. But as readers, let’s not forget that only about half of US 19-year-olds are in college. He talks about WhatsApp being interesting when you go abroad, the practice of “going abroad” is itself privileged, with less than 1/3 of US citizens even holding passports. Furthermore, this renders invisible the ways in which many US-based youth use WhatsApp to communicate with family and friends who live outside of the US. Immigration isn’t part of his narrative.
danah boyd's brilliant analysis on how one teen's amplified voice about 'the Internet' says more about the biases, filter bubbles and blind spots of the tech industry than about teenagers. Tech discourses are elite-driven-which is not surprising, but needs to be pointed out by us academics regularly!

Among the Disrupted
Meanwhile the discussion of culture is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of business. There are “metrics” for phenomena that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers. Economic concepts go rampaging through noneconomic realms: Economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be. Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data-generating capabilities of the new technology. The distinction between knowledge and information is a thing of the past, and there is no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past. Beyond its impact upon culture, the new technology penetrates even deeper levels of identity and experience, to cognition and to consciousness. Such transformations embolden certain high priests in the church of tech to espouse the doctrine of “transhumanism” and to suggest, without any recollection of the bankruptcy of utopia, without any consideration of the cost to human dignity, that our computational ability will carry us magnificently beyond our humanity and “allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains.
A beautiful long-read from Leon Wieseltier.

On Sentimentality: A Critique of Humans of New York
One of the most glaring threats that HONY makes to humanity lies in its pretension of representing all of its diversity through the lens of a single individual. While claiming to define the population of New York, it presents a whitewashed image of an earnest, vibrant city that takes place predominantly in Manhattan, during the day. The individuals featured are only those Stanton feels comfortable approaching, those he deems interesting enough to photograph, who do not take offense to an intrusive white man’s request to commodify their images.
HONY aggressively promotes a wholly sentimentalized experience of New York City through a real-time disbursal of its faces, espousing an idea of inclusivity through a project of enforced uniformity. While the blog purposes to embrace diversity and celebrate each individual’s unique qualities, its effect is not to expand the rhetorical human category or challenge notions of conformity, but to accumulate and contain a more colorful array faces, neatly framed, within its restrictive scope. Beyond the exclusion inherent in a selective determination of what it takes to be counted among the “humans” of New York, the language of sameness it promotes carries a very alarming import.
I am thankful to Melissa Smyth for providing critical food for thought on the Humans in New York 'phenomenon'; I think that HONY essentially follows an Oprah- or Nick Kristof-model whereby individual stories deflect structural issues and inequalities and leave struggle, misfortune and 'success' the the individual-the sentimental 'American Dream' reloaded.


Rescuing (cosmopolitan) locals at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
While my ethnographic research at the ICTR has sought to remedy this omission, the question remains why there is such apparent resistance to incorporating daily conditions, tasks and routines into scholarly accounts of these institutions?
Critical literature on transitional justice has been concerned with how the supposedly universal mechanisms of ‘transitional justice’ are ‘localised’ (see Shaw et al. 2010). This has had an unintended effect. Just as development scholarship has tended to be interested in the complexity of ‘developees’ and ignore the similar complexity of ‘developers’ (Hindman and Fechter 2011: 12), so in emphasising the complexity and diversity of the ‘locals’, there has been a tendency in transitional justice literature to homogenise the ‘internationals’. By portraying ‘transitional justice’ as a disembodied, unified set of discourses and practices, this approach has obscured another locality with its own complexity and variations, the interstitial locality of the transitional justice institution and its community of (cosmopolitan) ‘locals’.
Nigel Eltringham reviews the ethnographic and anthropological side of international tribunals and 'transitional justice'-Allegra blogging at its best :)!

Five steps to achieving impact with research
Engaged Excellence hinges on our belief that effective research uptake and knowledge mobilisation strategies rely on the production of rigorous, methodologically sound evidence of the highest quality that links to and involves those who are at the heart of the change we wish to see. This is about challenging the perception that there somehow needs to be a trade-off between research excellence and effective engagement. Instead we see these as mutually reinforcing values that together hold the key to achieving impact.
It is easy to agree with James Georgalakis even though 'Engaged Excellence' sounds a bit like it needs a critical discursive analysis. But time and again, I doubt that the powerful, the big organizations, the politicians etc. are really interested in these approaches. Who really wants to 'strengthen a civil society movement'-other than academics ?!

The focus on bibliometrics makes papers less useful
As the tyranny of bibliometrics tightens its grip, it is having a disastrous effect on the model of science presented to young researchers. For example, a master’s student of mine moved to a renowned research institute for his PhD. Like many institutes, this one boasts of its performance in terms of publications in high-impact journals. So my student was told: “If you cannot write up your research in a form suitable for Nature or Science or Physical Review Letters, don’t bother to even do it.” Such advice, driven by the appeal of metrics to funders, is common but horribly misguided.
Reinhard Werner on how bibliometrics have changed science publishing and the quest for a high impact factor is replacing the quest for knowledge and research that does not easily 'tick boxes'.


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