Links & Contents I Liked 210

Hi all,

We are enjoying a busy semester and there are also a few things going on behind the blogging scene, but on Fridays you should enjoy your link review and reading suggestions for the weekend!

Development news: The global tech innovation hub hype; the gendered inequality of America’s low paid jobs; Australia’s ‘old aid’ approaches no longer work; on the West’s changing humanitarian foundations; cash transfers work; data science challenges; data is political and part of the surveillance economy; must-read: Essay on Afghanistan, mental health & so much more; don’t write to orphans; Card against humanity digs a giant hole.

Our digital lives:
‘I don’t belong in tech’; when start-ups become companies; Alphabet’s Jigsaw wants to change the world; why we need to rethink the centrality of work in human existence.

Publications: Sexual violence in the aid industry; Power, Poverty & Inequality revisited; Gilded Giving; conflict reporting in the smartphone era

Academia: Canadian researcher fights to keep control over her data.


Classics from aidnography

The news that Louise Linton's husband may become a core member of Trump's government encouraged me to share my book review again of one of aid memoirs biggest fails (so far); but to be honest, I still think Jane Bussman's book on her time in Uganda was the most painful one to review (so far)...

Development news

Today's Technology Innovation Hubs Are Simply An Evolved Way Of Privatizing And Cashing On Societal Failures
Having been at a lot of innovation hubs, both on the continent and beyond, it struck me just how similar most of them tend to be, transposed from one city, country to another. All with ‘inspirational’ messages all over the walls about discipline, believing in your dreams and platitudes about the need to maintain a positive outlook. It’s noticeable how these messages are all about the individual needing to do more or do something different for things to work out, subtly reinforcing the idea that all it takes to ‘make it’ is the individual ‘pulling themselves up by the bootstraps’.
Considering how the ‘innovation revolution’ became a global affair, it’s in some ways understandable how the physical structuring and organisational model of hubs looks so similar in different places. While it can be questioned whether the structures of hubs as currently done may just not be a right fit across contexts, it is their disjuncture with the social realities in which they are based that I find particularly concerning.
Koketso Moeti for iafrikan on the globalization and depolitization of 'innovation spaces'. From transformative idea to 'box-ticking affair'-ask development experts from the participation, gender or peacebuilding field how this always seems to be the way things move once a discourse is 'discovered' by the mainstream...

The real face of low-wage work in America is female
These jobs take a toll on women and their families. 43 percent (8.2 million) live in or near poverty. Many turn to social assistance programs just to get by. They may be compelled to work irregular and part-time hours. Their workplaces may pose dangers to their health and safety (e.g., manicurists exposed to chemicals).
So what can we do to make sure our economy rethinks how to value “women’s work”? There are no easy solutions, but we can take steps to pave the way toward reducing inequality, rewarding hard work, and restoring the ladder of economic mobility for everyone—men and women.
Oxfam America's post and new report is a good example of how traditional 'development' INGOs can build bridges into domestic politics-and 'inequality' seems to be a good entry point for global discussions on exploitation, neoliberalism and poverty.

Why 'old aid' doesn't work any more, and how it can be fixed
Large, policy-based, flagship programs should be co-operatively built to help address shared regional interests. These should be thrashed out with our neighbours but might include addressing: rising inequality, environmental degradation, regulation and protection of migrant labour, conflict prevention, and health security. This emphasis on shared interests and growth with equity would better connect Australian citizens with their neighbours.
The ways we think and work must change too.
Fifty-year-old aid templates reflect a state-owned enterprise more responsive to its rich country owners than the circumstances we now confront. Aid has been deliberately built to minimise risk and consequently is fragmented, slow, complex and bureaucratic. The development co-operation ideal of intense and equal collaboration between international bodies and local authorities is seldom practised. It is now essential.
Richard Moore for The Age. Usually 'doesn't work' and 'how to fix it' articles are not the greatest features for meaningful engagement, but Richard Moore summarizes some core debates that seemed to have never left the agenda since the arrived 30+ years ago...

The crisis of multilateralism and the future of humanitarian action
The functions that “humanitarian” action performs in the international sphere will change, perhaps dramatically. Historically, humanitarian endeavour – in its discourse, norms and practice – has grown in parallel with the expansion of Western economic and cultural power. Humanitarian action’s multiple functions have included acting as a conveyor belt for Western values, lifestyles, and the promotion of the liberal agenda, while making countries safe for capital. If the West is now in retreat, other centres of humanitarian discourse and practice are bound to blossom and grow. Meanwhile, Western humanitarian action is already being press-ganged into the service of containment (Fortress Europe, for example). This process will likely intensify. If so, this will be a major reversal for humanitarianism as we know it. For decades, humanitarian action represented the smiley face of globalisation. It was one of the West’s ways of opening up to the rest of the world. Now, it is much more about closure, about containment, about shutting the door. It is about keeping the bulk of refugees and “survival migrants” away from the ring-fenced citadels of the North.
Antonio Donini for IRIN News with a broader view on changes in our understanding of 'the humanitarian system'. Btw: I reviewed his book 'The Golden Fleece' here on Aidnography.

Poor people don’t spend cash transfers on booze and cigarettes, studies show
In all cases, from India to Kenya to Peru, the average recipient spent as much or slightly less on alcohol and tobacco after getting the money. The major exception is Nicaragua where two studies observed significant decreases in spending on those goods.
“This absolutely puts the questions to bed. We find that almost without exception that there is no significant impact and even in some cases a significant negative impact of cash transfers on alcohol and tobacco. And that is striking,” said Evans.
Tom Murphy for Humanosphere with the latest study that dispels myth about cash transfers' negative impact (see also last week's neat visualization on that topic).

10 big data science challenges facing humanitarian organizations
However, the growth of the field is exponential, so if humanitarian organizations wait too long to put together their data savvy units, the field might become too expensive. There are many possible structures an organization can use, from a very small team of data translators and outsourced data operations, to a centralized data science team, to distributed data literate units across the organization.
UNICEF's Miguel Luengo-Oroz outlines some really interesting data challenges and provides good food for thought for the ICT4D community.

Refugees, migrants and data science: it’s not just research.
Together, these projects amount to a massive database on migration at a highly granular level, far beyond what authorities can produce on their own. What are the implications of this? Well, consider that intelligence agencies around the world have expressed their gratitude to all the people who post about their lives online, and the tech giants who collect, assemble and make that information easily searchable. Anyone doing ‘data for social good’ projects should be aware that they are becoming part of the surveillance economy, regardless of their often excellent motives. This does not suggest that data science cannot do social good, or that research teams should not be engaging with social problems. It does suggest, however, that if you are a data scientist engaging with a migration-related question, you should have an idea of what your theory of change is. You should be aware that your research is producing actionable data on highly vulnerable people, and there is no inherent reason why its use will be beneficial.
Linnet Taylor's post is almost an indirect response to the previous link and a powerful reminder that data is political and almost almost and very often deeply embedded in our contemporary neoliberal surveillance economy!

What went wrong with refugee advocacy?
Rather than acknowledging the challenges, advocates now admit they largely steered clear of discussing the burden and costs felt by local communities, focusing instead on the positive. Their reason for doing so was both clear and understandable: to avoid feeding the already growing frenzy of xenophobic speech.
Yet that fear of playing into the negative left other gaps, for example in acknowledging the real security challenge of screening individuals who are fleeing an active war zone. To avoid cementing a perception that all refugees are radicals, champions of migration declined to recognize that a few among them could be.
“The advocacy organizations are avoiding the reality,” said Koser. On security in particular, he said, “I blame academics and advocates here. Discussing the links between security and migrants is so sensitive, we’re so scared of feeding the media frenzy and public misperceptions that we don’t talk about it.”
Elizabeth Dickinson for DevEx talks to Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer. Another interesting article on how 'development' topics and organization get involved in domestic political debates.

Why there is no PTSD in Afghanistan.
One reason why PTSD isn’t more readily diagnosed is that some of its symptoms — hyper-arousal, vigilance, and anxiety — are not considered particularly abnormal here. PTSD is nowhere because it is everywhere.
Or perhaps PTSD isn’t considered problematic because it isn’t a priority. Poverty and joblessness are. As Jawed Nader, director of the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG), put it: “Mental health is part of a bigger challenge and with unemployment having spiked at 40 per cent, poverty is widespread, and so are the bitterness and self-loathing that accompany it”. At no point did interviewees speak of PTSD or ideology, though they had much to say about instability, insecurity, and joblessness, and more yet of the violence it breeds — not just on the outside but inside the family home.
Magda Rakita with a fascinating essay on Afghanistan, mental health and so much more! Your must-read for this week!

'Dear orphan, I'm sorry you are poor': the trouble with pen pals
I have people bring me stacks and stacks of letters all the time for our school. Expectations for communications often go unmet, which only ends up disheartening and frustrating the very people who are committing their time and energy to our organisation.
How do we encourage children to begin thinking critically about education and development in a way that doesn’t involve “writing to the poor” to ignite the conversation?
It’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and friends to be honest with our children (and ourselves) about non-profits’ priorities, especially when they may not align with our priorities or desires. We can redirect these good intentions into opportunities that build sustainable results.
Consider having your children or students spend some time learning about the challenges of global poverty, writing to their state representatives about issues that are affecting the world’s poor, sponsoring a student, doing a bake sale, or reading about global poverty and spreading awareness at their school.
Virginia Fresne for The Guardian addresses a variety of challenges on how to communicate and advocate for global engagement 'at home'.

Cards Against Humanity raises $100,000 to dig 'tremendous hole'
Cards Against Humanity, described as “a party game for horrible people”, marked Black Friday by digging a giant hole funded by donations.
“As long as money keeps coming in, we’ll keep digging,” read, a website dedicated to the hole set up by Cards Against Humanity. Viewers could watch a live feed of a backhoe digging on YouTube
Nicole Puglise for The Guardian. If I was cynical I would say 'this is the perfect metaphor for "development"'...

Our digital lives

I don’t belong in tech
That’s cute. But no matter how many conference talks you’ve tweeted about praising code as craft, open up your company’s production-level app right now and tell me how much of that has made its way to your product. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Because in the real world of death marches, limited runway, and just plain old pressure from the higher ups, quality and care are a dream: sweet, distant, and rarely realized.
But perhaps the biggest way that my brain is broken is less about code, and more about the tech industry as a whole. If you’re thinking to yourself, “But everyone uses tech so everything is the tech industry,” please sit tight while I take a moment to roll my eyes. … Ok, I’m back. For our purposes, let’s define “tech industry” as companies and professionals who view code as a core part of their business and their self-understanding, both internally and externally.
Saron Yitbarek for the Startup Grind on the differences between discourse and reality when it comes to tech, start-ups, innovation and coding...very applicable to development (but also (higher) education) and the struggle to link moral aspirations to industry realities.

Something weird happens to companies when they hit 150 people
At a startup, once the staff exceeds 150 people, employees are no longer the single, cohesive, culture-reinforcing unit they were during the company’s earliest days. Staffers become more specialized and entrenched with their teams, which are probably sprawled across an office, perhaps on multiple floors or in several locations.
Kevin Delaney for Quartz on Quartz and the limits of 'start-up culture' when companies grow.

Inside Alphabet’s Jigsaw, the powerful tech incubator that could reshape geopolitics
Unlike, say, the Gates Foundation, none of Jigsaw’s interventions address positive liberty issues like stamping out poverty and disease. Jigsaw’s representative broadly agreed with my “classical liberal” characterization, but added that their focus has been shaped both by their philosophical inclination and their comparative advantage. Google (now Alphabet) is an internet company, after all—they are arguably better positioned to solve problems of electronic information flows than carbon emissions or disease transmission. At first glance, Jigsaw’s work on corruption and violent extremism are a little more quixotic. Those initiatives are not about de-bugging the internet so much as they are an attempt to use technology to fix the kinds of real-world problems governments still struggle to address. But in another sense, it does fit with a classical liberal outlook—one which envisions governments protecting individuals’ liberties through a strictly limited set of functions, like the provision of law and order.
Lucy Wark for Quartz with a critical review of the latest iteration of philanthrocapitalism and Silicon Valley culture exploring real-world challenges.

F%?k work
Because work means everything to us inhabitants of modern market societies – regardless of whether it still produces solid character and allocates incomes rationally, and quite apart from the need to make a living. It’s been the medium of most of our thinking about the good life since Plato correlated craftsmanship and the possibility of ideas as such. It’s been our way of defying death, by making and repairing the durable things, the significant things we know will last beyond our allotted time on earth because they teach us, as we make or repair them, that the world beyond us – the world before and after us – has its own reality principles.
James Livingston for Aeon with a very good long-read on the past, present, future and dominance of 'work' in our lives...

Hot off the digital press

Study points to widespread sexual harassment and abuse of woman in aid sector
According to a study by the Humanitarian Women’s Network (HWN), a grassroots network of professional development workers, many women working within the aid sector are affected by abusive behavior from male colleagues.
Humanitarian Women’s Network contributes to the emerging debate around sexual violence in the aid sector.

Power, Poverty and Inequality
Ten years on from the landmark 2006 edition of the IDS Bulletin that brought us the ‘powercube’ – a practical approach to power analysis that offered a way of confronting its complexity – we return to the question of how to analyse and act on power in development. This issue focuses on the ways in which invisible power can perpetuate injustice and widen inequalities. Articles call for ways to denaturalise norms and structures of social, political and economic inequality – tackling injustice, misrecognition, poverty, disenfranchisement – so that the universal aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals may have a chance of success.
The new open access IDS Bulletin revisits some core theme of the institute's mission.

Gilded Giving: Top-Heavy Philanthropy in an Age of Extreme Inequality
Meanwhile, charities are receiving shrinking amounts of revenue from the vast population of donors at lower and middle-income levels. This trend mirrors the increasing concentration of wealth in our larger society.
These dynamics have significant implications for the practice of fundraising, the role of the independent nonprofit sector, and the health of our larger democratic civil society. The increasing power of a small number of donors also increases the potential for mission distortion.
This new Institute for Policy Studies report tracks significant changes in philanthropic giving in recent years, traces the implications of these changes, and offers an array of short- and long-term solutions.

New KAS book on conflict reporting
The book "Conflict reporting in the smartphone era – from budget constraints to information warfare" not only presents existing recommendations of international organisations, but also new trends of reporting. Moreover, the authors like Susanne Glass, Christian Mihr, Aidan White und Ruslan Trad give advice on safe, professional and ethical reporting from conflict zones. The publication hence addresses journalists who report under difficult working conditions in the field.
Germany's Konrad Adenauer foundation with a new open access book.


Canadian researcher in legal battle to keep her interviews confidential
The issue has exposed the fact that "academic privilege"—special rights granted to researchers—and researcher-participant confidentiality are little more than conventions without a legal basis.
In a letter published in the Le Devoir newspaper earlier this month, more than 200 Quebec scientists expressed fear that the case will stifle participation in research. MaillĂ© frets that it will tempt more corporations to use the legal system to deter researchers from testifying or undermine their credibility. “Every time someone will want to get rid of a scientist in a lawsuit, they will just try to get the data, and some researchers will probably give up the data,” she says.
Wayne Kondro for Science. In a post-factual and post-truth world 'data' are probably more contested (and at the same time more valuable) than ever, leading corporations and those opposed to data-driven work to take control over research processes.

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