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Hi all,

Another week is coming to its end and you are looking for Friday afternoon and weekend reading recommendations!

Development news features inherent contradictions of the SDGs in a capitalist world, inherent contradictions of CSR & companies paying for lobbying, inherent contradictions of global privatized disaster rescue, inherent contradictions of global volunteering organizations that want experts without paying them (properly)-and more. Digital lives takes a look at the bottom of the global data pyramid and summit where privileged tech people discuss Effective Altruism. And in Academia a ed-tech pioneer is tired of the disruptor narrative and if you are part of the increasing metrified academy you may want to read why academia is not like baseball!


New from aidnography
On Facebook’s false promises of a “poor man’s internet”
Guest post by Hani Morsi:

Beyond the praiseworthy premise of, it is no humanitarian mission. is Facebook's attempt to compartmentalize the Internet and dominate the online advertising market in developing countries for many years to come, all under the facade of techno-altruism. With this project, Facebook essentially constructs a walled garden of pseudo-access where it is the gatekeeper of networked services. And not only that, does not allow encrypted content in a time where the importance of encryption cannot be more apparent.
Ett frö till förändring eller mingel för eliten?
I talk to Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan about our TED research and article.

Development news

The Problem with Saving the World
Yet despite this growing realization, the core of the SDG program for development and poverty reduction relies precisely on the old model of industrial growth — ever-increasing levels of extraction, production, and consumption. And not just a little bit of growth: they want at least 7 percent annual GDP growth in least developed countries and higher levels of economic productivity across the board.
Basically, the SDGs want to reduce inequality by ratcheting the poor up, but while leaving the wealth and power of the global 1 percent intact. They want the best of both worlds. They fail to accept that mass impoverishment is the product of extreme wealth accumulation and overconsumption by a few, which entails processes of enclosure, extraction, and exploitation along the way. You can’t solve the problem of poverty without challenging the pathologies of accumulation.
Jason Hickel points out how the SDGs are caught between innovative ideas and a way forward in 'reducing poverty' and at the same time global capitalistic paradigms that will make it practically impossible to achieve sustainable development and social change and well-being.

Inside view: on the road with Voices from the Field

To me, the VftF programme has so many obvious benefits, such as language, relationship building, informed consent and effective use of funds, but what I hadn't thought about was the two-way communication and advocacy work that Ernest carries out each year.
At the ball he showed images of the toilets and access to clean water that have been installed, and more importantly the people who benefit, as a result of their fundraising efforts.
When he returns to the field, he is also able to tell beneficiaries about meeting the many people who have organised balls, raffles, cake sales, sponsored runs, all to help communities they are unlikely to ever visit nearly 10,000 km away.
David Girling writes on the two-way communication efforts that development organizations need to pursue more in the future.

Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets

Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.
This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.
“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”
The Inadequacy of Corporate Social-Responsibility Programs
In an ideal world, the paper says, governments would enact enough regulation to eliminate the labor abuses and environmental damage corporate programs are meant to mitigate. The prevalence of these programs is itself evidence that current regulations are too weak.
Why? Part of the problem is that the same companies that create and fund corporate responsibility programs also spend money lobbying against the very regulations that are needed. The paper cites a 2011 study that found that 95 percent of the largest 250 global companies had CSR programs, and nearly 30 percent of those firms also participate in lobbying, often for less regulation in the name of faster growth.
This two articles should be read together and put into the development context: It is companies like Coca Cola that are contributing to detrimental global health impacts and then fund scientists and/or launch CSR initiatives to deflect from their core problem that trying to sell as many sugary sodas as possible was and will never be a healthy idea-no matter how many schools you are building in India.
The Tricky Ethics of the Lucrative Disaster Rescue Business

In an age when travelers can land in Paris or Jakarta and book a ride with Uber before the plane reaches the gate, Global Rescue’s existence hardly seems remarkable. Why shouldn’t we be able to hire private armies to ensure our safe return home from vacation? Fast convenience has never been so valued, and Global Rescue represents a logical extension in the app era: security guaranteed with the click of a sat phone. That’s what the company sells, anyway—absolute control in situations that are by definition uncon­trollable. The truth is slightly more complicated. “It’s a bit like a swan in the water,” Fraser told me. “It looks graceful on the surface, but underneath, the legs are going crazy.”
The fact that well-heeled travelers can summon Green Berets and wilderness paramedics almost instantaneously can present an ethical conundrum. The places where Global Rescue operates are often poor and short on resources; the company’s business model is predicated on delivering goods and services to its clients first. It makes an effort to help locals when possible, but as Richards puts it, “We are not the Red Cross. We don’t have the ability to just deploy our services to people who haven’t paid a member­ship fee.”
Abe Streep delivers a very detailed and long-read piece for WIRED on the ethical challenges of privatized emergency and disaster rescue-another commercialized service for the 1%...'we are not the Red Cross...'

Building new responses

In my view the core problem faced by international development communications professionals is this: how do we succeed in ‘changing the record’ to present a more realistic view of international development, with more accurate language, whilst continuing to raise the millions?
Bombarded by a dependency theory of ‘aid’ promoted by the big TV appeals, it’s little wonder that for the UK taxpayer the majority of actual international development projects could be seen as unnecessary or wasteful. But unless the entire sector can agree to fundamentally change its approach, accepting the potential risks that would entail, I struggle to see how we can really alter the narrative.
Tim Sowula addresses some tough challenges for development & communication.

Misconceptions re: VSO, UNV & Peace Corps

The vision of Peace Corps, VSO and UNV, at least on paper, is that the people that are volunteers through their programs aren’t necessarily people who are career humanitarians; they are professionals or highly-skilled people willing to give up six months to two years of their careers and fully compensated work in such to, instead, work as a part of a humanitarian endeavor overseas. Why do these agencies want these people? On paper, they say it’s because these programs can involve people in humanitarian work who aren’t career humanitarians, bringing in much-needed talent and experience that career humanitarians might not have – a bakery owner who goes to Africa for six months to help train local people in food safety and modern baking techniques, for instance. Or a police officer who goes to Afghanistan for six months and trains local police on recognizing and appropriately responding to domestic violence. The reality? I’m sorry to say that, for many agencies, it’s a way to save money; contracts through UNV, VSO and PeaceCorp are far, far cheaper than hiring someone as an employee or consultant outright.
Jayne Craven's concise reminder about traditional development volunteering and how the concept has has turned into a subsidized scheme to pay aspiring or seasoned non-development professionals very little for a promise to 'save the world'...

Take Care

I can think of few things more damaging and detrimental to the relationship between ourselves and the publics who support what we do, then these embedded, mutually reinforcing concepts of low overhead and the importance of apparent personal sacrifice. I don’t think I can think of anything that sets us up for dysfunctional relationships with everyone—donors, beneficiaries, the public, The Media—than these notions that our organizations should do more with less, and that we, as individual people inside the system, also should experience an acceptable level of personal deprivation, because our level of personal deprivation is somehow linked to humanitarian outcomes. Our collective continued fixation on low overhead and aid worker personal life sacrifice forces us and our donors feel as if we must choose between white interns or brown babies. And only a really horrible person would ever choose the white interns.
Tayles from The Hood on overheads, overstretched aid workers and overly ambitious visions of how professional aid work should come on a budget.

Hot off the (digital) press
Digital Activism in Asia Reader

The digital turn might as well be marked as an Asian turn. From flash-mobs in Taiwan to feminist mobilisations in India, from hybrid media strategies of Syrian activists to cultural protests in Thailand, we see the emergence of political acts that transform the citizen from being a beneficiary of change to becoming an agent of change. In co-shaping these changes, what the digital shall be used for, and what its consequences will be, are both up for speculation and negotiation. Digital Activism in Asia marks a particular shift where these questions are no longer being refracted through the ICT4D logic, or the West’s attempts to save Asia from itself, but shaped by multiplicity, unevenness, and urgencies of digital sites and users in Asia. It is our great pleasure to present the Digital Activism in Asia Reader.
Interesting new open access ebook!

Our digital lives

Bottom of the data pyramid: Big data and the global South

To conclude, when looking at the bottom of the data pyramid, there is no doubt that this data deluge from the global South will have a major impact on the future of the internet. The question that remains is how to treat this rising populace as culturally diverse and yet refrain from exoticizing them; how to allow big data to be an empowering tool among emerging economies while simultaneously strengthening their institutions; and how to create alternative modes of inclusivity to the default neoliberal approach of the marketization of the poor.
Payal Arora's essay is only one of many great pieces on the Discovery Society platform. Bookmark for weekend reading!

I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried.

And you have to do meta-charity well — and the more EA grows obsessed with AI, the harder it is to do that. The movement has a very real demographic problem, which contributes to very real intellectual blinders of the kind that give rise to the AI obsession. And it's hard to imagine that yoking EA to one of the whitest and most male fields (tech) and academic subjects (computer science) will do much to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the fold.
The self-congratulatory tone of the event didn't help matters either. I physically recoiled during the introductory session when Kerry Vaughan, one of the event's organizers, declared, "I really do believe that effective altruism could be the last social movement we ever need." In the annals of sentences that could only be said with a straight face by white men, that one might take the cake.
Effective altruism is a useful framework for thinking through how to do good through one's career, or through political advocacy, or through charitable giving. It is not a replacement for movements through which marginalized peoples seek their own liberation. If EA is to have any hope of getting more buy-in from women and people of color, it has to at least acknowledge that.
The cringe-worthy picture of the millionaire and billionaire white men tech panel basically says it all: 'Effective altruism' is the latest buzzword in the history of charity and development buzzwords...


Pioneer of Ed-Tech Innovation Says He’s Frustrated by Disruptors’ Narrative

One of his biggest complaints is a narrative popular among leaders of education start-ups: that colleges are no different today than they were hundreds of years ago. You might have seen an image of a lecture from the 14th century that is used in slide presentations by many ed-tech disruptors, who then note that college courses are still taught in the same way.
“This is one of the most inaccurate pieces of @#%$ floating around in the ‘disrupt and transform’ learning crowd,” Mr. Siemens wrote. “Universities are exceptional at innovating and changing,” he argued. “Explore any campus today. It’s a new world on most campuses, never mind the online, competency, and related systems.”
Jeffrey R. Young on how George Siemens is fed up with notions that today's higher education institutions need to be 'disrupted' or will become obsolete.

Academia isn’t Baseball

Indeed, consider a well-rehearsed process that obtains when creating metrics for activities that involve difficult-to-measure and difficult-to-define outputs: given a choice between “intangibles” and “numbers,” people almost always choose numbers because they create the veneer of objectivity—of unbiased—measures. Of course, what undergirds those numbers often entails a host of less than “unbiased” forces. When it comes to citations and publication, such forces include so-called citation cartels and other aspects of disciplinary politics. Such factors are inevitable, of course, but metrics such as the h-index don’t really substitute for them so much as risk hiding their operation. Again, this would prove less of a concern in the absence of performativity dynamics. But these dynamics mean that the more that rely on them, the more they’ll function to allocate academic status and prestige in ways that render them real.
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson ads some reflections to the ongoing debate around metrified academia-the debate around the h-index may be a bit too nerdy for non-academics-just a small warning ;)!


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