Links & Contents I Liked 137

Hi all,

As I was complaining on facebook about all-male panels I have to admit that my virtual panel of development commentators is also highly imbalanced this week :(.
Nonetheless, there are some great pieces on the complexities of aid charities, the limitations of M&E as a learning tool, a concise debunk of voluntourism myths, an interesting case study on the limits of mainstream reporting when it comes to aid worker casualties and reflections on 'Europeople' that ring true for any expat worth their R&R!
Our digital lives looks at NFL 'brand building' 'sham' to tackle domestic violence, reflections on the quantified self, and a reminder that venture capitalists threaten the established contract between states, citizens and 'the market'.
Is there a good way for academic field trips? Why should you read more widely outside your academic bubble? Plus an author interview-cum-book review on Western health discourses in Nepal, round off the Academia part of this week's review!


New from aidnography
The visible lessons of Invisible Children- #globaldev critique in the viral age (in response to Paul Currion)

My response focuses on three areas: First, the moment Kony 2012 went viral, there was an almost equally viral wave of critical responses-mainly driven by online social media; second, Invisible Children/Kony 2012 have been driven by a North American philanthropic and cultural industry that certainly deserves more critical attention and, third, humanitarian organizations and their communication for development efforts are more than just intermediaries between global Northern donors and Southern recipients.
Development news
Does charity have an 'image problem'?

This is one of the major dilemmas faced by big NGOs today: They raise hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the public each year, and rely on fundraising appeals for much of their finances - but what brings in money is not necessarily what they want to show.
"It's very tempting to put pictures of starving African children on TV, because whether or not we like it, that is what gets people to respond at the moment," explained Paul Vanags, head of fundraising for Oxfam.
In recent years, NGOs' fundraising arms have become increasingly dominated by people from marketing backgrounds, or are outsourced to professional advertisers. Kirk believes that while this may increase donations, it may do so at the expense of longer-term goals.
"If you take a marketing mindset and if your only metric of success is income, the goal will be to tap into what people already think and reinforce that, because that's what people will respond to," he told Al Jazeera.
"But if we keep implying that global poverty is something to be solved with paternalistic charity, we can never move the public to understand that these are man-made systemic problems that need long-term systemic actions."
James Wan on the complexities and contradictions of charity fundraising and advocacy. This is bigger than simply using 'starving children' in your TV ads. We can already see in Canada and the UK that the political elites are using tools such as charity audits to quell critical NGO engagement around 'political' issues at home and abroad, especially around inequality and social (in)justice. But I also think that many big charities, especially those who work in the child rights or child sponsorship domain are quite comfortable to rake in donations and remain 'apolitical' or rock the boat very, very gently.

A Path Appears: can celebrities really help tackle humanity's biggest problems?

While viewers may wonder why celebrities were invited to lend their star power to these causes, Kristof – who admits to having been “worried that celebrities might cheapen the causes that we care very deeply about” – was ultimately grateful to have their help. “Celebrities are badgered, they get too much attention. Trafficked girls or low-income kids in West Virginia or Kenya don’t get enough attention,” said Kristof. “If celebrities can bring some of their spotlight and shed it on these kids in need, that can be very powerful. We hope people will pay attention and be drawn in due to their presence.”
Surprising for The Guardian, this article lacks any critical engagement as Nick Kristof and his friends repeat every celebrity engagement stereotype there is to promote the usual U.S. American consumer capitalistic approach to 'end poverty' by buying your way out of it. And for the millionth time: Kibera in Nairobi does not need more 'attention'-the stories of the 'worlds's largest slum' have been told time and again, Mia Farrow & son!

What are the implications of ‘doing development differently’ for NGO Campaigns and Advocacy?

Given complexity, systems thinking and the failure of top down approaches, what future, if any, is there for International NGOs
In complex systems, where organizations and ideas are constantly rising and falling, the best unit of analysis may not be the project, but the individual. Why don’t NGOs do more to support people not projects (scholarships, more investment in leadership)?
Duncan Green outlines many interesting areas for INGO work of the future. Great starting point for many contemporary debates!

A Development Policy for the 21st Century

Internationally, a 21st-century development policy means negotiating cooperative international frameworks on a wide range of issues, such as reducing tax avoidance by multinational corporations, protecting a fair and open trading system, controlling the proliferation of weapons and limiting climate change. It means building and sustaining effective international institutions.
And at home, the unintended consequences of our own policies do more to promote or inhibit development than all the aid we give. We affect development directly by creating tax havens, limits on student visas, money laundering rules which prevent remittances, drug prohibition which fosters organized crime, agricultural subsidies, intellectual property laws which prevent poor countries from benefitting from knowledge created elsewhere, and in a whole host of other ways.
Owen Barder's timely reminder that 'development' is more than 'aid' and that achieving development in the 21st century means that we need to tackle complex financial, political and corporate structures-not really a new insight, but important to be reminded once in a while that 'aid' is not the answer to inequality and injustice.

4 Things You Probably Know About Poverty That Bill and Melinda Gates Don’t

By relying on cherry-picked evidence, the Gates promote a rosy picture of recent progress in order to make the case for more of the same into the future. In other words, they want us to accept that more unregulated neoliberal capitalism is the answer. No need for better, more representative politics, more sustainable economic models, or constraints on corporate control of national and international governance.
Martin Kirk, Joe Brewer and Jason Hickel (wow...this piece really needed 3 men?!) offer a sharp rebuttal to the Gates' vision of 'development' that benefits everyone and hurts no one. Another good starting point for discussions on the future of aid, development and politics.

Why Don’t We Ever Learn?

Development charities are full of bright, enthusiastic, often very nice people, doing amazing things with limited resources. Why are they so slow to use monitoring data that could improve the effectiveness of their work? I spluttered a bit, then changed the topic and we spent the rest of the evening trying to balance a pint glass on a spoon.
Ultimately, good use of monitoring data comes down to strong leadership. Senior management needs to understand the importance of monitoring, and put resources and time into it accordingly. They need to resist organisational incentives to spend money, or to run projects badly, and actually care about what they’re doing. And they need to have a clear idea of what they can do, or inspire others to get a clear idea, and not be afraid to close down projects when necessary.
Aid Leap and the challenges of learning from M&E. I read my first 'organizational learning' articles in 2002 or so and it's scary how reflections in 2015 pretty much stress the same issues. But then again, a lot of good stuff has been done, so maybe over-thinking M&E is also not an answer?!

Debunking 4 common arguments in favour of voluntourism

Many argue that, through bad overseas volunteer experiences, young people come face to face with global inequality, returning home with their eyes opened. However, if this awakening is at the expense of real people with real lives, who may suffer real negative consequences, then you shouldn’t be interested. If you want a cultural experience, go travelling, build global friendships, and put money into local economies. You don’t have to feed into an industry making billions from exploitation to achieve this. And next time you find yourself in a voluntourism debate with someone making these arguments, remember that they’re easily debunked.
Thank you, Ruth Taylor! I will share her post widely and often as an entry point into the debates around volunteering abroad and voluntourism!

Kayla Mueller: Aid workers often lack security training

Unconfirmed claims that Jordanian airstrikes killed the 26-year-old Prescott woman, who had been taken hostage by Islamic extremists and held since 2013, have underscored the tremendous risks aid workers face in Syria.
And personal safety is sometimes sacrificed in the face of an urge to assist suffering people with crushing needs.
As a result, attacks on aid workers have mounted.
"There is a a certain amount of randomness to the violence so that if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and there is a military action by one side or another, you can be caught in the cross fire," he said.
If Kayla Mueller has been killed in the air strike I am very sorry to read about another dedicated aid work being killed. But Daniel Gonzalez's article is an interesting example of how non-expert 'mainstream' media report on international development. The article is not terrible, but pretty bad. First, the narrative of the article is ONLY about international aid workers and organizations. Among the 10s of thousands of people killed and the millions displaced, aid workers are a very small group. There is no agency of any Syrian person or organization in this article. Second, the article wants to push the 'aid workers get harmed because of inadequate security training' narrative and it has a hard time to do make such a claim, especially in the context of large, established organizations. Third, the article makes a causal link between the seemingly sacrifice of personal safety and increase in attacks. The growing kidnapping industry, violations of humanitarian standards by local groups or militarization of conflicts is not mentioned-and no amount of training can prevent them from happening. The article probably has good intentions, but is actually doing more harm than good to aid work debates.

Death of Kayla Mueller, ISIS Hostage, Confirmed by Family and White House
Ms. Mueller, who had been working in Turkey for several aid organizations dedicated to helping refugees from Syria's civil war, drove into Syria on Aug. 3, 2013, and was abducted a day later.
She appears to have driven in with a Syrian man, who has been described as her boyfriend and who had been hired as a contractor to repair an Internet connection at the Doctors Without Borders compound in the war-struck city of Aleppo.
Employees of Doctors Without Borders, an international medical charity, said they had been surprised to see Ms. Mueller arrive alongside the contractor. At the time, Western employees of international aid groups were restricting their travel into Syria because of the heightened risks of kidnapping.
I'm adding this piece to the link review, because it sheds a very different light on the previous story about the lack of security training. From this New York Times piece it appears that no amount of security training can prevent people from making dangerous decisions.

Platforms, not products, are the way to bring financial services to the poor
But most of these systems are hobbled by a lack of interoperability. Mobile money from one provider can rarely be transferred to another network, let alone to another country in a different currency.
A new wave of financial services are focusing on overcoming these obstacles. They are setting themselves up as platforms, rather than individual products.
You should probably be cautious about articles that use the term 'the poor' in their headline...but Leo Mirani's makes an interesting point about the future of financial services that they need to cooperate better and bridge providers rather than writing about the 'everybody in Kenya uses mPesa' discourse.

Recap from UN Social Media Day

Thanks to everyone who took part in Social Media Day! The global response was amazing. So far, more than 9,000 tweets have used the #SocialUN hashtag.
You can see more tweets, photos and videos from the day in this Storify compilation.
You can now watch the five sessions online here.
I didn't have time to catch up yet, but will do this week...


I’m worried that these rootless cosmopolitans who appear to make up the vast majority of the Brussels bubble – and I reluctantly count myself as one of them after over 20 years in Europe’s wannabe capital - are not at all representative of the people they are writing about, legislating for and supposedly lobbying on behalf of.
Most Europeans have spent all their lives in one country, speak one language – and maybe smatterings of another – are proud of being French, Lithuanian or Greek and probably have little idea of what being European involves.
Most Europeans have not done Erasmus, don’t know the difference between the European Council and the Council of Europe and don’t spend their weekends flitting around European capitals.
And unlike EU officials, most Europeans don’t have well-paid, low-taxed, jobs-for-life; special, taxpayer-funded schools for their kids and cushy pensions and living allowances.
And here’s the rub. If you have lived abroad for a long time or are the offspring of parents from different countries – like my kids are – you are likely to find the idea of tribal nationalism bizarre and the attractions of Europe obvious.
This matters, because a EU policy elite with massively different lifestyles, backgrounds and ideas about Europe from the people it is meant to represent is likely to produce policies that fail to meet the needs and expectations of the vast majority outside the ‘Belgeway’.
Gareth Harding shares a balanced commentary about the achievements of the European Union, but also the risks of insular cosmopolitanism in and around Brussels-very relevant debate for the expat aid circle!

Our digital lives
No More, The NFL's Domestic Violence Partner, Is A Sham

These logos are an embodiment of magical thinking, promising that you can do good without having to actually do anything. They're shams, basically. Now, we've got another one.
It was unveiled in 2012, but because this was something created by and for brands, who by definition love public relations, there was also an official public launch in March 2013. So, from start to finish, it took about five years (and the doubtless valuable work of a number of marketing professionals) for the brands to give domestic violence and sexual assault a brand so that we could support the fight against them better.
Diana Moskovitz's excellent piece confirms what we basically knew all the time: When companies or 'the provate sector' take on a complex social issues as a 'product' or 'brand' the last thing that will happen is social change...

How We Come to Know Ourselves In the Age of the Quantified Self

Data becomes part of a process of telling oneself stories about one's progress in life. Lupton argues that self-tracking is narrative and performative, a practice that produces and reflects upon who we are becoming: ''I walk fourteen thousand steps each day; ergo, I am a walker.''
I see something more here: an algorithmic body emerging from this ongoing project of building oneself up through data. The algorithmic body is established as the object of surveillance and monitoring for the purpose of intervention and it is the object of intervention as much as our physical bodies, and perhaps even more so someday. It is instructive that relating to, reflecting upon, and producing oneself today is performed through data. Data is the idiom of the biotechnological age and, increasingly, now the language of the self.
Yeesheen Yang reflects on the quantified self-not exactly a long-read, but an essay that requires time to read and digest (so you probably need to switch off your phone and take off your smart watch...).

Go digital by all means, but don't bring the venture capitalists in to do it

When Siemens or another big company comes along to digitise our investments, they are the VCs putting in late-stage capital after we’ve borne all the risks, sometimes for centuries. If our management team – led by David Cameron, the self-styled MD of UK plc – offers these investor-come-latelies the lion’s share of the equity (that is, access to those treasures) for their paltry, late-stage capital, then he is in gross dereliction of his duty to us, the shareholders.
We have private archives, private schools, private healthcare, and private libraries. They cream off the easiest, most profitable, least onerous part of the public service remit. As austerity tightens and market logic crushes our institutions, many have become private/public hybrids, charging for some of their services, or selling off some of their treasures, or forcing the public to fit within the metrics demanded by the zealots of UK plc.
Cory Doctorow on why venture capitalists are bad for the social contract between state, citizens and the traditional notion of a 'market'.

CONFESSION: I Stink at Making Graphics. These Tools Make Me Look Like a Genius

But I need visuals to communicate, to tell the story I need to tell, to motivate donors and advocates to act. I know words alone will not move the world, and that the right combination of visuals and words are more powerful than either alone.
So, I use tools. Remarkably EASY, FREE and CHEAP tools.
Do they replace a graphic designer? No.
Do they empower you to create social media graphics and blog graphics and data visualizations for reports? You bet.
Kivi Leroux-Miller shares some great, free online resources that help you to create your own viral meme (sort of...)

Read More, Write Less

But reading ethnography alone isn’t enough to make us better writers. Our genre is a latecomer to the literary tradition, so it is necessarily a blurred genre that borrows from many other forms of writing.
We need to read poetry to understand silences and pauses. To challenge the oppression of punctuation. To learn how to make words sing. To liberate ourselves from chunky paragraphs.
We need to read fiction to learn how to tell a story with conflict, drama, and suspense. To learn how to tell a story that leaves us breathless.
We need to read memoir to learn how to write meaningfully about our own experiences.
Children’s books should be on our shelves, to keep our souls full of wonder.
Carole McGranahan reminds us once again that reading widely should be part of any good research and academic endeavor.

Fieldtripping: The ethics and practicalities of student fieldtrips

All of the above are very good tips but I still hear of university ‘fieldtrips’ of forty or fifty students traipsing around conflict-affected countries. It is important that students and researchers can have access to conflict-affected areas but it seems to me that we have to go much further in making these trips sensitive. We also have to be realistic. While we can have good intentions and use the word ‘ethnographic’ as much as we want, a fieldtrip (or whatever we call it) is still a time-limited exercise: we come in and leave. We also have to realize that many of us are curious about conflict-affected societies and that it is difficult to get beyond the sight-seeing mentality.
But, if we are organising a fieldtrip, there are guidelines that we can set down in the hope of maximising both sensitivity and the pedagogic value of any trip. Let me restrict myself to five points.
We cannot overcome many of the structural aspects that dominate the relationship between the researched and the researcher. We cannot stop the curiosity of humans to travel and see the condition of others. But if we are going to organise fieldtrips, we can try to be more sensitive.
Roger MacGinty on how to plan (more) meaningful field trips for students. As with everything in academia: If done well, they will be expensive (in terms of resources used), so just sending 1-2 staff members on a 'tour' with the full student group to tick a box in the curriculum will not do the trick.

Ian Harper’s Development and Public Health in the Himalaya

Yes, I think that is true. It had been there for a very long time. I mean the history of the mission hospital in Palpa District is interesting. It certainly had a very fragile political history and tenuous support. It was a form that introduced antibiotics and introduced diagnostic capabilities that had never been seen before. So people got better, for example, from infections. And its reputation increased, and the reputation of foreign doctors, as a particular kind of force, a magical force, if you like, became very powerful, which drew people from far and wide to come and seek out its services. One of the interesting things about the mission hospital was that within the mission hospital…this was an area where there was a lot of witchcraft, you know, lots of people who don’t necessarily know each other coming into contact and so on. So there was also a lot of alternative and other healers hanging around outside the wards, and sneaking in and chanting, and doing other things. And it makes it a particularly interesting site, I think, for attempts to understand these particular stabilisations.
Alice Street talks to Ian Harper about his research in Nepal and how the biomedical discourse entered the Himalayas...


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