Links & Contents I Liked 143

Hi all,

Every link review has a different balance and this week has equally packed Development, Digital Lives & Academia parts!
Sending TOMS shoes to Africa is still a flawed project, more critical thinking on big data 4 development, critical reflections on humanitarian critique, the 'on behalf of' industry & Geneva as aid capital in decline (?); a range of new, free ebooks, reports and papers; Digital Lives with facebook's power & potential to censor, digital storytelling & the hype around incubators (spoiler alert: they are probably delivering less than assumed); finally in Academia we look at the decline of Masters degrees, post-colonial development thinker Frantz Fanon and predatory journals which are probably more of nuisance rather than a danger to scientific publishing!


New from aidnography
Are NGO & civil society regulations the development version of 20th century copyright laws?

Current developments in Canada, the UK, the USA and elsewhere suggest that something more serious is happening and that governments seem to rely on outdated, 20th century rules, legislation and understandings of ‘civil society’ that can have a serious impact on global development organizations and their capacities to embrace innovation and new global challenges.
Development news
“Give one”: What happens after you buy a pair of TOMS?

TOMS sells a story that sounds so simple. I buy a pair of shoes for myself, and they give a pair away. I can indulge my consumerism and help someone overseas at the same time. TOMS’ story suggests someone walking along a street, seeing a child without shoes and pulling a pair out of a backpack, which will of course be graciously received.
It’s told as a neat and easy solution. The reality is not; it’s messy, complicated and not terribly effective. Trying to reach so many children with shoes creates many holes and problems for communities. Some children receive shoes, some don’t. Some shoes get taken from children by adults or even sold. Local shoe vendors lose sales–why buy a pair when someone will give them to you? Perhaps it’s time for TOMS to rethink its model.
Like I wrote before in 2012, sending stuff/shoes to Africa has always been a bad idea and I'm glad that WhyDev reminds readers with a fresh story and critique of the TOMS model.

Big Questions for Big Data and what it can do for African Economic Development – By Morten Jerven

In the best of worlds counting and accounting are related, and through this process we may end up with actual accountability. But there is no guarantee of this chain of events. If you separate who counts and who is responsible then there is no one who can be held accountable. There is one view of the world that seems to think that there is objective data and true evidence out there and all we need to do is to collect it and we will know everything. I do not subscribe to this view. Data are social products, and Big Data, just as official statistics, is a fingerprint of the place we live in. Our knowledge of the world is structured by current patterns of power and poverty – both in ‘small’ and ‘big’ data.
Morten Jerven delivers yet another great piece on numbers, who is counting what and whom and the social power dynamics of 'data'!

New surveys reveal dynamism, challenges of open data-driven businesses in developing countries

Was there a class of entrepreneurs emerging to take advantage of the economic possibilities offered by open data, were investors keen to back such companies, were governments tuned to and responsive to the demands of such companies, and what were some of the key financing challenges and opportunities in emerging markets?
This is an interesting, but also a way too long and poorly edited post that comes with many good insights but is poorly presented given that this is still an official World Bank blog!

The critical role of humanitarian critique

As they have grown in size, humanitarian NGOs have redefined their notions of risk. Business models underpinned by brand value have intensified fear of reputational risk as a primary threat to organisational survival and this has created institutional barriers to critique. But underlying the brand marketing strategy of NGOs dwells a deep-rooted insecurity, fuelled by a neoliberal managerial culture and what LSE professor Michael Power refers to as the 'risk management of everything'. This has reinforced a tendency among humanitarian NGOs to ‘dumb down’ public communications and focus on the easy sell of ‘victims and saviours’.
A good overview over some current debates and resources around humanitarian reflections and critique.

Note from an aid worker to his HR manager

Can anyone check-in with me from HQ? Just to say "hi, how are you, how's life in the field?" Skype is ok too, though the connection here is on and off. It's just a thought, I know how busy you all are. But I'd really appreciate it because some days I'm just not sure what the heck I'm doing here. I know "you didn't send me to the field", it was my choice to take up the post, still...Everyone seem to have bigger problems than helping me settle in and figure out what my job is.
Alessandra Pigni's fictional message from 'the field' is an important reminder that besides the professionalization of the 'aid industry' there are still many managerial aspects that are quite under-developed...

Friday Note: Going from “On Behalf of” to the Whole Story

But there is something crucial missing—it’s the voice of people who should be setting the agenda for their own better futures, and telling their own story to educate and persuade. To me, the active participation of people who are directly affected by bad policies is essential to the most powerful and sustained kind of advocacy, the kind that will demand the right responses. And it’s just not there often enough.
I do know, though, that it’s worth figuring out how established advocacy organizations can do more to let people tell their own stories. Even more importantly, it’s worth finding ways to support groups of people who are working on solving problems that affect them, and who have a desire and capacity to acquire the skills of advocacy. I’d love to hear how others have done this—we have a lot to learn.
Ruth Levine reminds us that we often tend to work in a 'speaking on behalf of' industry than for real social change that is driven by those most affected. Great post!

What future for the humanitarian capital of the world?

Most won’t call it a cut-back, let alone a withdrawal. Instead they use words like ‘restructuring’, ‘rationalising’, or even ‘stabilisation’. But whatever you call it, a spike in the value of the Swiss franc in January has escalated discussions among humanitarian and human rights agencies in Geneva about scaling down operations in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
With an unprecedented number of crises around the world already stretching the budgets of many aid agencies, and funding struggling to keep pace with rising needs, some agencies are quietly concluding it may be time to move some of their operations out of the city known as “the humanitarian capital of the world”.
The centers and hubs of the development industry seem to be changing slowly-last week it was the news that Oxfam moves its headquarters to Nairobi and in November I wrote about The future of expats in a globalized development industry

How to get a job in development: the definitive (368 page) guide

The book provides a brief history of the aid business and explores some of the aspects that attract people to the sector (as well as the common concerns). Then it gets into the nitty gritty – how to ‘break into the sector’ (routes, qualifications, volunteering, job searches and interviews); career development; working as a consultant or starting your own NGO, ‘returning home’. Then a monumental typology of 54 different thematic areas, job functions or areas of expertise (impressed yet?), each with advice on the nature of the work, the main employers in the sector and what they will be looking for.
Duncan Green on a new book on how to get work in the aid industry-it's on my reading list, although Routledge really seems to be keen on cashing in on the growing interest for development work and advice on how to get 'in'...

Hot off the digital press

Digitally Connected: Global Perspectives on Youth and Digital Media

“Digitally Connected: Global Perspectives on Youth and Digital Media,” is a first-of-its kind collection of essays that offers reflections from diverse perspectives on youth experiences with digital media and with focus on the Global South. It creatively combines adult voices with written and visual contributions by young people from around the world.
The ebook is available for download at no cost
In this unique ebook, more than 30 academics, practitioners, government officials, tech industry representatives and activists team up with 25 youth contributors to share their views and opinions about digital technologies and the impact the Internet has on young people’s lives. Collectively, the contributors address a series of big questions related to youth and digital media by exploring key topics such as safety and wellbeing; identity, privacy and reputation; skills, literacies, and cultures of learning; creativity; innovation and entrepreneurship; participation and civic engagement; and youth participation and policy.
New ebook from the Berkman Center.

Development as Freedom in a Digital Age : Experiences from the Rural Poor in Bolivia

Under what conditions can new technologies enhance the well-being of poor communities? The study designs an alternative evaluation framework (AEF) that applies Amartya Sen’s capability approach to the study of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in order to place people’s well-being, rather than technology, at the center of the study. (...)
Based on empirical evidence from indigenous communities’ use of new technologies in rural Bolivia, the study concludes that enhancing poor people’s informational capabilities is the most critical factor determining the impact of ICTs on their well-being.
A new World Bank publication by Björn Sören Gigler.

Global political ethnography: A methodological approach to studying global policy regimes

The paper focuses on the role of ethnography in global policy studies. Ethnography is apt for studying meanings and effects of
policies among people ‘on the ground’ but may also be used to ‘study up’ (Nader 1972); that is to study policies among their makers, translators (Latour 1986), and unmakers, and to understand how assemblages of knowledge, policy, practice and technology come together, transform, and fall apart. Closely associated with the study of context and contextualization, ethnography can help to show how the encompassing, abstract and mobile templates of global policies are articulated in a contingent, unstable, and messy interrelationships that make up the ‘lives’ of policies
Not exactly light reading, but great food for thought for the ethnographically-minded crowd who likes theory, assemblages & long reads ;)!

Our digital lives

The most concerning element of Facebook’s potential new power

What this discussion has missed is perhaps the most crucial element of Facebook’s new power: the right to chose between the free expression of ideas or to instead impose censorship when it deems content unworthy. That should worry the public, because when given that power in the past, Facebook has ruled with an iron fist.
News organizations have always been at risk of bending to the will of their advertisers - and history is replete of examples of them doing just that. But the changing dynamics around Facebook are of a different order. Standard Oil or Pfizer or General Motors never had the power to ensure millions of New York Times subscribers would not get their paper the next day. Yet with one click, Facebook could pull off the modern-day equivalent.
Trevor Timm on the latest hype that news organizations are increasingly publishing entire articles on facebook rather than just links or teasers. Very important debate with very obvious relations to development!

Telling the story of the Syrian conflict; digital storytelling methods

Here are a few examples I've come across of interesting campaigns and stories around the Syrian conflict, all of which evoked strong emotions for me.
Zara Rahman shares some interesting, powerful and digitally-rooted examples of storytelling around the conflict in Syria.

Research Questions Whether Or Not Incubators Help Startups

“The research hasn’t proven that businesses are more successful if they come out of an incubator,” says Fetsch.
Incubators promise a lot of resources to startups, like office space, printers, paper, events, networking, assistance connecting startup founders to funders, help with presentations and many other services, says Fetsch. “But the average incubator actually has less than two full-time staff and 25 businesses. That’s a lot of service to provide for two people. So are they really providing all the services they say? It seems unlikely,” she says.
She cautions that one paper isn’t enough to determine whether or not incubators work, but she’s also concerned that so many entrepreneurs, policymakers and incubator providers believe incubators are a boon for startups. “There’s no evidence of that yet,” says Fetsch.
No even Forbes reports that yet another digital hype gets scrutinized and is unlikely to fulfill the expectations...

Are master’s degrees on their way out? Alternatives grow as enrollment fades

But GW and thousands of other college and universities are mistaken if they think that any downward trend in graduate enrollment is a temporary blip caused by an improving economy. Rather, what is happening now is a permanent shift in how today’s working adults acquire education throughout their lifetimes.
These emerging providers know that today’s economy demands education throughout our careers rather than just at the beginning, so they offer short spurts of content (from a few hours to a few weeks) when students need it instead of giving them a full helping of a degree.
Jeffrey Selingo on the coming disruption of the graduate degree market-definitely a topic I will comment on properly shortly, because I disagree with quite a few assumptions and the time frames behind key developments.

How much harm is done by predatory journals?

Let’s say that someone pays and publishes a paper in a predatory journal. Who is harmed, how much are they harmed, and what recourse is there to address the harm?
You want to complain about scientific publishing? Let’s talk about the regular, routine obstruction to reading the scientific literature that occurs even a professional working scientist at an expanding university with ever increasing research expectations. That affects routinely me, in a way predatory journals never have.
Open access is a new business model. Who benefits from constantly crying wolf on “predatory” journals? Established journals from established publishers, whose business model includes, in part, in asking over US$30 to read an editorial.
Zen Faulkes questions whether the journal spam that regularly ends up in every academics Inbox really does harm-and whether out energy should focus on the weaknesses of the accepted mainstream model of academic publishing.

Notes on Frantz Fanon

So Fanon’s preferred economic formula would have also failed, and indeed it failed, not only in Yugoslavia, but also elsewhere it was tried: in Zambia, Tanzania and Algeria. It could be even argued that countries that kept state ownership like Vietnam and China did better. Fanon perhaps did not know the comment attributed to Bela Kun during the 1919 Hungarian Soviet revolution that “workers will die for the revolution, but will not work for it.”
Fanon is ferocious in his critique of inability of the local Third World bourgeoisies to save, innovate, create any value, and go beyond their role of “cocktail party organizers for the Western bourgeoisie”.
Thus, melancholically, I have to conclude that Fanon was often wrong on all three (important) topics. But being wrong is not a good reason for not being read. Fanon remains, I think, one of the best sources for the period of decolonization.
Branko Milanovic reads and reflects upon Frantz Fanon and his work published in the 1960s-it's probably more for the nerdy development theory crowd-that's why I filed it under 'Academia'...


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