Links & Contents I Liked 142

Hi all,

Welcome back from the Easter break that most of you enjoyed in one way or another!

There are quite a lot of Development news items this week starting with Oxfam's relocation to Nairobi, locally embedded disaster preparedness in Vanuatu, over-paid & over-used consultants, Unilever as a philanthropic player, journalism about 'poor people', the almost impossible task of impactful volunteering with children and Canada's emerging fight against outdated NGO legislation.

Our digital lives uncovers why Stanford students turn down 150.000 Dollar jobs so they can look for meaningful engagements-so probably the development industry will be flooded by Ivy league graduates soon?!
In Academia, reflections on the 'gender carnival' in post-war Afghanistan, (not) visiting 'the field' & the latest academic outsourcing technologies courtesy of Warwick University.


New from aidnography

Honor Among Thieves (book review)

I find it difficult to judge whether the third novel is J’s ‘best’ so far. It is less aid romance and focused on Mary-Anne’s love and work life, but I find it the strongest contribution to the emerging and growing ‘learning about aid through literary representations’ genre-an important feature that other reviewers seem to share as well.
As with the previous installments, I can recommend J’s book highly to students, educators, ordinary citizens and aid experts alike. Honor Among Thieves offers plenty of food for thought and discussion – excellent aid edutainment for the 21st century!
Development news
Oxfam yet to decide on specific 'role' of new Nairobi headquarters

Oxfam International's relocation of its headquarters to Nairobi, Kenya, may be a done deal, but where exactly it will relocate, what role the main headquarters will serve, and what will happen to staff at its current Oxford, U.K. base all remain a work in progress.
I'm a bit surprised that I haven't read more about Oxfam's move yet. On the one hand, this is an important signal to relocate to a Southern country, but on the other hand Nairobi already feels very centered in expat and development discourses...but this will definitely be an interesting move to watch; the topic reminds me a bit of a post I wrote in November last year on The future of expats in a globalized development industry

Tropical Cyclone Pam: Why the Vanuatu death toll was so low

Around 75,000 people were left in need of emergency shelter, and 96 per cent of food crops were destroyed.
But remarkably, there were just 11 confirmed fatalities. Why so few? Many development experts agree it was due to a combination of traditional knowledge, improved communications technology and disaster preparedness.
The aftermath of the destructive cyclone that hit Vanuatu can tell us lot about good disaster preparedness to save lives.

Creating High-Value Data in a Low-Bandwidth Environment

Despite a history of antagonism with the Ministry of Education, the advocacy group was able to use the new, accurate, up-to-date dataset to engage government officials in a constructive way, increasing their voice in decisions about education spending. With support from Reboot (you can read a case study of our year-long engagement here), the organization synthesized their experiences in the field into valuable insights, offering compelling results to state decision-makers. For example, they were able to discuss not only whether the schools were built as planned, but whether trust in the government had shifted as a result.
Reboot's Adam Talsma shares some interesting reflections on how 'bottom-up', open data initiatives can engage government and bureaucracy.

Development Consultants: Over-paid, Over-rated, and Over-used

consultants typically don’t receive feedback on their work, nor opportunities for training and personal development. Over time, consultants tend to become sloppy and produce second-best work because they’ve learnt that it seldom gets challenged. There is an interesting analogy with locums, doctors who work short-term contracts in different hospitals. Locum work in the NHS is lucrative, but severely frowned upon. Without the training and support of the normal medical system, locums do not develop, and so will never be able to move onto more advanced jobs.
This is a growing problem for the sector. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have left their current full time work to become consultants, where they can get a lot more money and more flexible and exciting work. In some cases, staff leave their organisation and are contracted almost immediately back again, providing short-term inputs instead of long-term support. Organisations lose their effective full time staff, replacing them with ineffective consultants.
Aidleap's post was probably one of the most-shared in my network last week. The comments add important nuances to the discussion. The point I most agree with is that the development consultant business needs more transparency and public debates beyond 'too expensive' and 'inefficient'. I asked Should the voices of senior consultants feature more prominently in public debates on international development? in October 2014.

How the Pentagon Lost Track of $45 Billion

Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction asked the military to account for all that spending. It couldn’t. According to a new report from SIGAR, the Pentagon only knows how it spent a third of its reconstruction budget.
It didn’t break any rules when it did this, and has since fixed the oversight that led to the underreporting, but it’s cold comfort for taxpayers who will probably never know how the U.S. military spent that money in Afghanistan.
Regular readers may have noticed that I share similar links quite often just to remind us of the scale of unaccountability when military/Pentagon money is involved and the demands for transparency when civilian/development money is spent. Next time you read about a stolen truck of WFP supplies or an organization hiring a family member as consultant think about the 4500000000 USD that can't be accounted for...

Interview: ‘Poor Teeth’ Writer Sarah Smarsh on Class and Journalism

When you’ve actually lived in those spaces, you can attest that there are plenty of beautiful and delightful things about being there. Blessings I wouldn’t trade for anything—freedom from expectation, the wildness of a childhood that wasn’t micromanaged, honesty and humor about one’s own dysfunctions where people with more to lose often spend time pretending to be perfect.
Most journalists, I’d wager, don’t have direct experience with poverty but are somewhat aware of their own privilege, and that translates to treating reporting of poverty preciously and yet at a distance—this pity tone, which is just an indirect outlet for their own fears and biases. Do you think you’re telling the untold story because you drove your own car into the ghetto to get some quotes and a few shots of shivering children for a 10-inch write-up on the cost of natural gas and a family who had their heat turned off? If you’d stuck around you might have seen that family build an electric-blanket fort in the middle of the living room, huddle over a game of Monopoly and crack up all night long about how screwed they are. You’re not qualified to pity anyone, and you’re not necessarily envied in the ways that matter most.
The interview with Sarah Smarsh is obviously relevant for development discussions; she makes an important, quasi-ethnographic point about 'sticking around' to learn more about people and spaces rather than parachuting into a situation for a quote, selfie-op and blog post from 'the field'.

Here Come The Philanthropreneurs

At the heart of philanthropreneurship is the idea that the same skills that enabled people to make their fortunes are often the ones required to solve seemingly intractable social problems. Philanthropreneurs leverage their creativity and leadership—and their money—to try to make life better for others.
If you ask Unilever’s Paul Polman what business he’s in, he’ll respond, "The business of doing good." Polman, who recently spoke at the Philanthropreneurship Forum hosted by London Business School, described Unilever as the biggest NGO of all, helping save millions of lives through soap.
Rajesh Chandy's article is not exactly a 'link I like', but it is an important reminder of how the philanthrocapitalist discourse is (re-)formulated. It always fascinates me how success in a sector outside of development almost automatically enables you to get involved with development stuff...and how big MNCs are trying to come off as 'the good guys'...

World Bank funding 'shrouded in darkness and riddled with abuse'

Natalie Bugalski, legal director of Inclusive Development International and a co-author of the report, said: “IFC’s lending to third parties is now so huge, its portfolio so shrouded in darkness and riddled with abuse, that it needs to completely overhaul this lending model.”
The opaque nature of the IFC’s lending has been compounded by a lack of communication, added Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam’s Washington DC office. “Because public information from the IFC is so meagre – whether by design or ignorance – we fear such projects are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. Citing projects funded by the IFC in Central America and Asia, the study described alleged rights abuses carried out by private firms using World Bank funds.
This report was also shared quite widely last week. Even though the IFC is not 'the World Bank' it is an important reminder that openness, access, open data and transparent engagement are still lacking in large parts of the international development finance world. Time for real transparency, transparency of processes and decision-making-not just of 'outputs' once money is disbursed.

Interview with Anna McKeon, Communication Consultant, Better Care Better Volunteering Network (Part I)

Many people ask for recommendations of “good orphanages” where they can volunteer. The reality is, that almost any orphanage accepting volunteers cannot be a “good” orphanage as they are accepting volunteers! In addition, any well-regulated orphanage that understands the best interests of the child, will be implementing transition programs in order to try and reintegrate children with their families, or find other care solutions outside of the orphanage setting.
If a volunteer has relevant skills – i.e. they are a social worker, psychologist, or teacher, then there may be cases where it is appropriate for them to volunteer at a residential care centre in order to build the capacity of the local staff, or transfer particular skills. It is still not appropriate for them to be volunteering directly with children: often an international volunteer will not speak the language, will not understand the cultural context. It is also much more sustainable for a teacher, for example, to train a local teacher to deliver fun, child-centred lessons, than it is for a teacher to do that themselves – only to leave after 4 weeks and the children go back to their usual lessons.
A very important interview with Anna McKeon who outlines the many problems associated with 'orphanage tourism'; mandatory reading for those who know someone who wants to embark on their mission to teach English to 'orphaned' children or a similar misguided endeavor.

Win a childcare experience. Really?

A competition being run by Student Universe and GVI with the prize being a two week opportunity to spend on one of their childcare projects. This might be working with orphans in Mexico, teaching English in Thailand or looking after children in Nepal.
So, what’s wrong with this? The prizes are worth a large amount of money (it costs over $2,000 before flights to work in an South African orphanage) and maybe the volunteer will do some good whilst there there right? Maybe they will but I have serious reservations about this kind of offer.
As David Coles points out, there are so many irresponsible players and schemes in the voluntourism and experience abroad industry...

Charities rebel against CRA targeting

The letter comes on the heels of controversy over the Harper administration's "targeting" of charities that criticize government policy. Charities that the federal government selected for Canada Revenue Agency audits included not only prominent environmental charities like Ecojustice and Environmental Defence, but also small groups like PEN Canada, with just two full-time staff, and Dying with Dignity.
Dying with Dignity recently lost its charitable status for its "political" activities, just weeks before a historic victory in Supreme Court supporting doctor-assisted dying in February.
According to existing legislation, charities are allowed to spend 10 per cent of their budget on political activities. Campbell said part of the problem was that leaves too much room for interpretation of what counts as 'political activity'.
He said the Harper government used this to intimidate charities that openly criticized its policies, while ignoring right-leaning think tanks such as the Fraser Institute, the Montreal Economic Institute, which are also charitable organizations that often weigh in on policy debates.
These developments in Canada show that a much broader debate is necessary about the future of NGOs and civil society; as long as 20th century laws and regulations can be used against critical organizations easily, we will see the demise of a sector and organizations with vast historical knowledge on development. We need to have a debate on what critical, political engagement should mean and how it should no longer limited to development education and the like in the domestic context!

The 1st Annual Primetime Devie Awards!

Do you want to show your appreciation for your peers and mentors within the development sector?
Now you can.
Together, let’s formally recognise the development practitioners who are doing development right.
WhyDev is proud to support 1st Annual Primetime Devie Awards.
WhyDev will be launching a brand new award for aid worker appreciation! Yeah!

Hot off the digital press
For Democratic Revival in Humanitarian Organizations

The governance of humanitarian organizations is frozen in ice, ensnared in statutes and internal regulations that maintain the status quo and make change difficult to bring about. As already mentioned, regulations provide for the political impotence of members of these organizations. Statutory frameworks must be overhauled, and dare I say, revolutionized. This is impossible as long as contributing members of these humanitarian organizations merely have the task, at best, of voting in their administrators. The base itself must rise to the challenge of organizing itself and use the few means at its disposal to exert its maximum leverage. Politicization of members—a process whereby they go from voter status to decider status, as "associative citizens" capable of both "governing" and being "governed"—is necessary. Ideally, the draft of a new constitution establishing a new governance and true democracy should not be left to the current holders of power in humanitarian organizations, but to volunteer members, who can, and why not, be drawn by lots.
Interesting new paper from IRIS in Paris-Bertrand Brequeville engages with a topic of growing importance: (How) do we need to adjust the rules, regulations and laws that 'NGOs' can fulfill their mandate in the 21st century?

The Future of Knowledge Sharing in a Digital Age: Exploring Impacts and Policy Implications for Development

Our research sets out with a 15-year horizon to look at the possible ways in which digital technologies might contribute to or damage development agendas, and how development practitioners and policymakers might best respond.
Interesting new paper from IDS/Sussex.

Our digital lives

Will Politics Keep Peacekeepers from Harnessing Satellite Imagery?
Despite its promise, satellite imagery will not “revolutionize” conflict prevention, as a recent headline claimed. Many of the reasons are technical in nature. The lag time it takes to process and analyze satellite imagery—typically ranging from a few hours to a few weeks—can be at odds with the time-sensitive nature of peacekeeping operations. This makes it unfit for situations where action often hinges on the swift acquisition of information, such as when peacekeepers are required to intervene to protect civilians.
However, the real test of the UN’s geospatial capabilities will, unsurprisingly, come down to politics. Satellites are less visible to the local population than onsite inspections and, from a legal standpoint, they operate beyond a state’s territorial airspace and do not require authorization (unlike other surveillance technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones). But this does not mean that host countries have welcomed satellite monitoring with open arms, especially when it is used against their objectives or when they have reason to disagree with the results. Some states have expressed concerns that this technology might be used for spying on the location of military installations or points of vulnerability on their territory.
Elodie Convergne and Michael Snyder present cautionary reflections on 'satellite images for peace'-especially as it involves tricky political questions that are more difficult to overcome than some of the technical aspects.

Why Stanford Students Turn Down $150,000 Entry-Level Salaries
So if it isn’t money, what do Stanford students care about?
Here’s what they told us:
They want to make an impact.
They want to do good.
They want a mission
They want to learn and grow
They want to work with interesting people.
They want freedom
They want to be nurtured.
They don’t want to be coddled.
They want to be allowed to take initiative.
They want to work on interesting problems.
Ah, the good students at Stanford-not just simply after the high-paying job, nope, they also want the full experience package...


“Gender policies in Afghanistan are part of the post 9/11 humanitarian carnival” – Julie Billaud discusses her book with Heath Cabot

The idea I am trying to articulate with the ‘carnival’ metaphor is that the current agenda for the ‘empowerment of women’ is part of a broader humanitarian theater that serves to promote an impression of normalization for Western audiences while hiding the continuity of violence and injustice at the local level. Indeed, the reconstruction of Afghanistan has been presented as a return to normality after long years of war and authoritarian rule. This discourse has fed the illusion of an absolute reversal from an old order characterised by brutality to a new one characterised by ‘democracy’, ‘the rule of law’ and ‘gender justice’. However, a closer look at the inconsistencies, paradoxes, and ambiguities that have accompanied the ‘reconstruction’, especially in the sensitive arena of gender, reveals that this rhetoric of reversals is anchored in a long history of foreign-led ‘modernization’ programs disconnected from the social reality of the people who are supposed to benefit from it. Indeed, the ethnographic material I present in my book demonstrates that the international community’s concern with the visibility of women in public has ultimately created tensions and constrained women’s capacity to find a culturally legitimate voice.
My friend and former colleague Julie Billaud talks about her new book-a fascinating ethnography from the inside of the post-war reconstruction industry in Afghanistan!

Why I’m not doing “fieldwork”

The problem I see here is that using “the field” like this essentializes low-income countries (and particularly rural or conflict-affected areas within them) as places that are fundamentally different to anywhere else. They’re not places where people live or work or go on holiday like any other; they’re sites of research and development programming, because they’re poor and they have all these problems that need to be fixed.
Rachel Strohm was kind enough to include a link to one of my posts about 'the field' in her reflections; in all fairness, I also think that ideas around the 'field' have been shifting, first, through more and better development anthropology that unveiled the chains between 'North' and 'South' and provided organizational insights on various parts of the aid chain and second, through more digital research that also includes insights and research from 'remote' or 'dangerous' spaces. I should probably write a proper post and share some readings and links...

Warwick Uni to outsource hourly paid academics to subsidiary

Teach Higher is a company which will effectively outsource hourly paid academic staff, whereby they will no longer be employed directly by the university but by a separate employer: ‘Teach Higher’. Teach Higher has been set up by Warwick University-owned ‘Warwick Employment Group’, and is about to be piloted at Warwick University.
(In this sense it is very similar to Uni Temps, which mainly employed, catering, cleaning and security staff at universities. We don’t know why Warwick decided to set up a separate company for outsourced academic staff, except that they possibly felt the need for ‘re-branding’ because it slightly more difficult to impose hyper-casualised positions on a previously more prestigious type of work such as academia.)
I am actually surprised that it has taken the British system so long before the outsourcing industry finally arrived at casual academic staff...another freighting development indeed.


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