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Hi all,

Development news: UN’s humanitarian balancing acts in Syria; Basra, a dystopian city; NIKE & the women in Vietnam; is paying workshop participants wrong?; how to develop organizational capacity beyond training; Rio’s favela journalism reloaded; Nepal’s roads and reconstruction-insights from a unaccountable country; challenging myths of women’s economic empowerment; Is the World Bank getting human rights in Zimbabwe wrong?

Our digital lives: Non-Profit well-being & a need for a changing work ethic; the de- and re-politication of Burning Man

Publication: Towards an alternative development management paradigm

Academia: Following motivational clichés will not get you through a PhD!


New from aidnography

Communicating development in a post-factual world: How to win against the Daily Mail

But in post-factual world we are clearly reminded that ‘we’ teachers, researchers, communicators or journalists need to do more and better. Winning against the ‘them’ of the Daily Mail seems almost impossible. Adopting their methods of omission, remixing facts and reinterpreting reality cannot be the answer.
So how do we convey our message of global cooperation, solidarity and support better? How do we find better ways of putting the relatively small sums that are invested in foreign aid into perspective?
Development news
UN pays tens of millions to Assad regime under Syria aid programme

The UN has awarded contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to people closely associated with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, as part of an aid programme that critics fear is increasingly at the whim of the government in Damascus, a Guardian investigation has found.
Businessmen whose companies are under US and EU sanctions have been paid substantial sums by the UN mission, as have government departments and charities – including one set up by the president’s wife, Asma al-Assad, and another by his closest associate, Rami Makhlouf.
The UN is impartial in Syria as it is elsewhere
However, your articles mischaracterise the UN-led humanitarian operation in Syria, fail to offer a balanced perspective on the challenges of operating in Syria and discredit the courageous work of national and international humanitarian aid workers who risk their lives on a daily basis to help millions of people in need in one of the world’s most vicious conflicts.
Inside Syria, as in other countries, UN agencies must work with key government departments to support the delivery of public services and humanitarian relief. Some governments, such as the one in Syria, insist that UN agencies work with a list of authorised implementing partners. However, we choose our partners from that list based on our own assessments of their capacity to deliver and following due diligence processes – not because we are forced to work with any particular organisation in order to stay and deliver in the country. In areas not controlled by the government, we work with local partners that may not be authorised by the government.
Stephen O’Brien, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator responds to The Guardian's reports on UN work in Syria; Bashing the UN is easy, because it is an imperfect system, but humanitarian work has become so nuanced with many shades of grey that I wouldn't want to blame them too easily-there is a need for a political solution and emergency aid needs to deliver in the meantime.

Basra, dystopian city

The economy is shifting rapidly from dependence on sectors that are already fairly doubtful – such as public funding (when salaries are actually paid and projects financed) and consumption of imported goods (especially cars) – towards the morbid reality of endemic corruption and trafficking in hydrocarbons and drugs. Meanwhile a continuing demographic explosion has led to uncontrolled urban development.
Peter Harling's repost of his article for Le Monde Diplomatique. Is this one of the 'futures' for urban spaces in the Middle East?!

Nike Boasts of Empowering Women Around the World

They told me that they would need to earn between three to four times their current salaries to offer their families a basic level of economic security. The average monthly wage for manufacturing in Vietnam was $200 in 2015. Their stories highlighted something the Girl Effect campaign is silent about: the importance of a living wage.
I also found evidence that Nike’s contract factories breach basic Girl Effect tenets of freedom from exploitation and harassment, security, safety, and Nike’s own Code of Conduct, put in place to prohibit, among other things, harassment, abuse, and nonconsensual overtime. Women who worked in different factories told remarkably similar stories of being subjected to arbitrary punishments—such as financial penalties and threats of dismissal for making manufacturing mistakes, not working quickly enough, or coming in late, along with intimidation and ongoing humiliation by managers.
Maria Hengeveld's long-read for Slate probably sounds very familiar to many of my regular visitors: Capitalistic global value chains are exploitative and at the very least we need to move from 'minimum wage' to 'living wage'; this is a theme that I highlighted in my critical analysis of a less investigative effort on sweatshops:Development tourism without adult supervision-Reflections on Aftenposten’s Sweatshop documentary
Some NGOs in Nairobi have to pay locals to attend meetings

The majority of NGOs came to Kibera in the last decade, following post-election violence and the AIDS epidemic. But as Okoth tells it, many of these groups don't have much to offer. "There’s only 50 times you can teach somebody how to wash their hands. So we have NGOs calling people saying, 'Come, we’ll teach you the importance of hand-washing.' So if I’m broke and bored I’ll come to listen to you,” Okoth said.
Dan Bobkoff's story was definitely one of the 'trending' stories in my network this week. I am a bit surprised how shocked some people were: It's actually a win-win situation where NGOs exchange money for photo- and story-ops and local residents get paid to be reminded about hand-washing (or a similar harmless topic). But I understand that the growing NGO sector in countries like Kenya is a concern and indicates how far some organizations have moved away from civil society ideals.


Training institutions can continue to have a core repertoire of fairly standardised training courses. But overall they get much better at tailoring their role and input to the needs of particular clients, and much of their training takes place on or near location. Some form of blended learning can help: Necessary information and knowledge can be shared through e-learning. This is then followed by face-to-face facilitated learning with an emphasis on practice and fit-for-context. Structurally, we probably need less providers of isolated training courses, and more institutions that are able to offer or facilitate a longer-term ‘learning and development’ accompaniment, in a more mentoring style.
Koenraad Van Brabant on how to move from traditional training and capacity building to a flexible, learning organizational environment.

The Tiny NGO That Changed Reporting on Rio’s Favelas During the Olympics

“We are driving up against one of the strongest social stigmas in the world today,” Williamson said. “There is also the judgment that comes from outsiders who assume that money equals happiness, or money equals development.”
But judging from the more than 200 articles that CatComm has actively informed, the organization has been successful at getting favela perspectives and voices in the media. That doesn’t include reporters who read RioOnWatch but didn’t contact the organization. Coverage has even increased compensation packages for displaced favela residents and stopped demolitions in some areas, Williamson said.
Katia Savchuck for the Development Set. As much as I appreciate the work of CatComm, at the end of the day and the Olympics a lot of stereotypical mainstream news reporting set the tone for global journalism.

Cartelling of carnage

Contractors bribe officials to build substandard roads, obsolete and badly-maintained buses are allowed to carry double their capacity, drivers are often inexperienced or have fake licences — and all this is made possible because bus syndicates enjoy generous political protection.
It has been 20 years since the last local elections, leading to a lack of accountability at the VDC, DDC and municipality levels. Unelected bureaucrats work with politically connected contractors to build pointless roads that go from nowhere to nowhere. Local politicians own excavators that gouge out the mountains, scarring farm terraces with landslides. Only 17 per cent of Nepal’s highways are black-topped, and even if tarmacked they lack basic road furniture that would ensure safety.
Highway fatalities rank fourth in the cause of death among Nepalis, whereas internationally it is considered only the tenth most common cause of death. Tracing the ownership patterns, emergence of private operators, lack of regulation, and inadequate implementation of safety directives, one sees a critical and shocking failure of the government to fulfil its primary role: to protect its citizens’ lives.
The Nepali Times on how road accidents are linked to years, sometimes decades of unaccountable politics in the country.

Nepal quake victims made to play reconstruction “lottery"

Before disbursing funds to people who have submitted the forms, the NRA will need to check their homes to confirm damage. It’s unclear how long this process will take, but considering that it has taken Nepal about 15 months to start disbursing reconstruction grants to those who were surveyed, the prospects are not encouraging.
Kapil Bisht reporting for IRIN. His article from rural Nepal continuous the theme of a weak Nepali state, unwilling and unable to work with and for its citizens.

Five myths about women's economic empowerment

Some serious rocket fuel is needed if governments are to deliver on their SDG promise to achieve women’s economic empowerment by 2030.
But as this agenda has moved out of the ‘gender ghetto’ and into mainstream development practice, several myths have emerged. Here are five of the most common.
ODI's Abigail Hunt with a concise summary of their latest report and excellent food for discussions on how to 'empower' women.

Is the World Bank Excusing Mugabe’s Human Rights Abuses? Read For Yourself.

For the World Bank to move ahead with funding for Zimbabwe based on this naïve and deeply flawed analysis would be a colossal mistake. Doing so in the hope that human rights violations “level off” is an affront to the very reason the World Bank exists. It’s also entirely counter to the Bank’s new safeguards, launched less than a month ago, which are supposed to increase the focus on human rights.
But it’s not too late. President Jim Kim must squash this immediately. Barring clear action from Bank management, the shareholders like the US and UK must do the right thing and block this nonsense before it goes any further. Bankrolling Mugabe on the delusional premise that it would benefit ordinary people and encourage reform is harmful to millions of suffering Zimbabweans—and would cause irreparable damage to the credibility of the World Bank and its shareholders.
CGD's Todd Moss with another reminder how (parts of) the World Bank still struggle with human rights and political realities of autocratic regimes.

Our digital lives
How Nonprofit New Media Managers Can Manage Mobile and Social Media Burnout

Finally, mobile and social media burnout is compounded when compensation does not reflect your new media manager’s skill set and time investment. Too many nonprofits are losing their most valuable staff because resentment is growing over low pay and overwhelming job descriptions. When polled on Twitter, less than 20 percent of nonprofit communications and fundraising staff have mobile and social media officially recognized in their job descriptions even though they spend hours daily on mobile and social media.
An excerpt from an interesting book on how staff well-being is not just an issue for 'the field', but can also affect seemingly harmless environments such as social media and communication. In short: Treat NGO work professionally, pay professionally and creat professional work environments (see the next link!)?

Why the Nonprofit Work Ethic Is Outdated and Needs to Change

On the one hand, it keeps them going no matter what adversity they face - long hours, low pay, etc. But it can be a recipe for burnout and what we describe in the book as passion-fatigue. The people who do most of the work and put in the hours need self-care strategies, but nonprofits need to stop this culture of abuse and shift to a culture of well being.
Beth Kanter continues the seem of non-profit well-being-and I am very much looking forward to her new book!

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

It might seem silly to quibble over the lack of democracy in the “governance” of Black Rock City. After all, why should we care whether Jeff Bezos has commissioned a giant metal unicorn or a giant metal pirate ship, or whether Tananbaum wants to spend $2 million on an air-conditioned camp? But the principles of these tech scions — that societies are created through charity, and that the true “world-builders” are the rich and privileged — don’t just play out in the Burning Man fantasy world. They carry over into the real world, often with less-than-positive results.
Keith A. Spencer for Jacobin writes a new, interesting iteration on the familiar theme of how 'Silicon Valley' is buying up-and changing public events, institutions and discourses.

Hot off the digital press
Towards an Alternative Development Management Paradigm?

Cathy Shutt, at the University of Sussex, scrutinizes the recent critical debate about results based management, and the main arguments and motives behind the criticism. She shows that the debate is not only a matter of obsessive measurement and reporting of meaningless numbers for political accountability, but also a matter of problematic assumptions and how we think about development, evidence and learning.
You should explore my dear friend Cathy's work and thinking around development management discourses in her new comprehensive paper!

The dangers of motivational cliches

The next time someone urges you to “keep trying” or to “stick with it” bear in mind that this advice is not always realistic. Motivational clichés do not account for the context of your own situation – particularly if you can strongly identify with the, unhealthy, but all too often regular, scene I set out at the top of the article.
If you are spending all of your days, and most of your nights, working on your PhD – with no end in sight and a constant feeling of worry underlying it all – then it might be time to investigate the possibility of pausing it, stepping back, and making sure you are on the right path in your life. At the very least pausing might just about allow you to experience what it is like to be happy again.
The Thesis Whisperer shares another story of PhD writing struggles-and a reminder that those motivational blurbs you keep seeing in your newsfeed where almost never written by PhD students and academics...


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