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Hi all,

Another good week for #globaldev debates!

Development news: Special section on the aid industry in contemporary America kicks of this review; sweatshops & industrialization in Ethiopia; Turkey’s crackdown on NGOs; Should World Bank staff visit the field? IKEA is upgrading its refugee shelters; Nepal earthquake anniversary; the complexities of social change in ‘mini-Indias’; local aid workers in the Philippines; the gig economy in the South; ICT4D for girls & women; bad schools may not always be bad ideas; can the UN system do innovation? #allmalepanel? There’s an app for/against it!

Our digital lives:
Facebook admits government exploitations; Silicon valley won’t be fixing health systems in the global South; rich charities are getting richer; thought leaders & plutocrats.

Blockchains for development.

New UnPaywall extension


New from aidnography

Electing Saudi-Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women is not a bad idea

There are many things you can and should be critical about when it comes to Saudi-Arabia – but electing them as a member to the Commission on the Status of Women is actually the right thing to do within the context of UN diplomacy.
Other members should put pressure on Saudi-Arabia-especially behind the scenes, but the UN is not the right scapegoat for messy international relations and hypocritical relationships that include money, oil and weapons…
Development news
I’ve worked in foreign aid for 50 years—Trump is right to end it, even if his reasons are wrong

If the aid industry were to listen to its critics, it would have to conclude that development aid ought to be less about money and more about collegial discourse, with “us” admitting that we really have very few answers. By far the most important conclusion to draw is that if the goal of development aid to poor countries is to be met, our agencies need to become smaller, not larger; we need to take a back seat and “do” less. Indeed someday soon, we need to prepare to go out of business. No industry wants to hear this, but aid is not like the auto industry. It was meant not to last.
Tom Dichter for Quartz.

It’s the end of foreign aid as we know it, and I feel fine

Less infusion of external expertise might make more way for people with embedded, grounded knowledge. Maybe less “expertise” could make way for leaders, organizations, and movements, led by people of color, who are not in the business of aid to build careers and income, but are heading the call of needed social transformation to save their own communities. They have been doing less with more for ages – literally.
Jennifer Lentfer for HowMatters.

Dismantling USAID

Advocates of a USAID merger make two basic arguments: that USAID is poorly managed and can’t be trusted to carry out U.S. foreign policy objectives, and that significant savings can be achieved by bureaucratic consolidation. Both are based on outdated information and faulty logic.
Dismantling USAID is the bad penny that keeps on turning up to distract attention from the real challenges to U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy. Those who want to see measurable progress in reducing global poverty and hunger and preventing conflict and crisis ought to stand up for the agency best placed to achieve it.
Diana Ohlbaum for LobeLog.
The debates around the aid industry, USAID and the purpose of international development have been discussed quite widely this week. I still would like to see more emphasis on the notion of development as a global solidarity project and movement to battle inequalities at various locations rather than focusing on organizational industry fatigue alone...

America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People

The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan. But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.
Lynn Parramore for the Institute of New Economic Thinking featuring Peter Temin's new book with more food for thought on 'third world America'.

Everything We Knew About Sweatshops Was Wrong

For poor countries to develop, we simply do not know of any alternative to industrialization. The sooner that happens, the sooner the world will end extreme poverty. As we look at our results, we are conflicted: We do not want to see workers exposed to hazardous risks, but we also worry that regulating or improving the jobs too much too quickly will keep that industrial boom from happening.
Chris Blattman and Stefan Dercon for the New York Times. For me, this paragraph is worth further discussion as Jeff Sachs has started to talk about 'sustainable development' again. I doubt that the world can industrialize itself out of 'poverty'; the environmental impact, resource use and the way manufacturing is bound to change (automation etc.) will make it more and more difficult to rely on this traditional concept; also; globalization is a fickle thing-once garment workers become "too expensive" in Viet Nam jobs move to Burma-and there will be a new Ethiopia around in a few years time. I wonder whether the underlying development model needs more radical re-thinking?

Turkey steps up crackdown on humanitarian aid groups

Aid groups still operating in Turkey were reluctant to comment openly on the matter for fear of their own licenses being revoked. But off-the-record interviews with IRIN suggest a shrinking operating space for international NGOs, many of which are based along the country’s southern border, providing cross-border relief to the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.
Diego Cupolo for IRIN with more bad news from Turkey.

Are World Bank staffers, and projects, suffering from too much screen time?
That means it is not sufficient for World Bank staffers to rely on computer models or second-hand reports about a bank-funded project’s efficacy, panel members said. Those responsible for ensuring a project does not cause undo harm to the environment where it functions can fall into a mode of accepting the reality described in project designs, instead of getting their boots muddy and examining it for themselves, said Fuggle.
Michael Igoe for DevEx reveals surprising news about the World Bank still not having anthropologists and better practices for field visits and finding out what is going on 'on the ground'...

IKEA refugee shelter to be redesigned following safety fears and design flaws

Refugee consultant Killian Kleinschmidt told Dezeen that colleagues had told him of further issues including lengthy assembly time, narrow doors with a raised sill that prevents wheelchair access, and draughtiness.
"It takes four hours to assemble, it doesn't have a groundsheet and it's not modular as it should be," he said. "There have been complaints about the wind going through. It doesn't take into consideration that people like to adjust the space themselves and that is part of their dignity."
Marcus Fairs for dezeen. It's great to see that IKEA seems to be listening and is willing to learn from feedback. It is also a reminder that any notion of 'company walks in and tells development industry how to innovate' should come with note of caution and longer-term strategies to engage with the complex realities on the ground.

Nepal quake survivors struggle to rebuild two years later

“The reconstruction slowed down because our government acted as if it was a routine period. This was a time of crisis,” said Kattel, who along with his wife, were recently named "People of the Year" by a local magazine.
“The role of the government should be to speed up the recovery, but there’s no coordination among the government ministries,” he said.
Deepak Adhikari for DPA International with one of many more reminders that two years after the earthquake reconstruction is often slow and flawed...

Unlocking the potential of technology

Ethnographer and photographer Laura de Reynal has been documenting the work of organisations, such as Mozilla and One Laptop per Child who are helping communities to get online for the first time.
BBC News features interesting pictures which reminded me of a piece that appeared in 2012 on this very blog: OLPC in Ethiopia: The thin line between digital innovation, cargo cult and peoples on parade

Why cookie cutter models don’t work in development

This is not just about national borders. A vast country like India is a collection of several mini-Indias. All with distinct contexts.
Supply side interventions such as making toilet construction easy, wouldn’t be enough to raise toilet coverage in Rajasthan. Demand generation efforts focused on the key need of the local population (which isn’t convenience, but may not be health either) will likely play an important role.
Jithamithra Thathachari and Rishi Agarwal for IDR Online on the complexities of scaling up, replicating and affecting behavior and social change in India.

Maybe local aid workers could do most expat roles better and more cost-effectively

So does my hypothesis – that local aid workers can do most expat roles better in the Philippines – prove true? TBC, needs further research! But I definitely think it’s high time to acknowledge the changing, increasingly stronger existing capacities in countries like the Philippines, and have a frank, honest and constructive discussion about the international development and humanitarian sector’s way of working in the future.
Arbie Barguios with some preliminary findings on aid worker voices from the Philippines which ad nicely to the debate around aid worker pay and expat privileges...

What do we know about ‘online gig work’ in developing countries?

The gig economy was supposed to ‘disintermediate’ – putting northern clients directly in touch with southern online workers, but that didn’t last long. Because of the heavy role that reputational feedback scores play in online gig work platforms, work tends to flow to intermediaries/middlemen who already have a high score. These intermediaries then re-outsource that work, keeping a part of the client’s fee for themselves.
Duncan Green presents a new report from Oxford Internet Institute on the gig economy in the global South.

6 Recommendations for Supporting Women and Girls’ Power, Voice and Influence Through Digital ICTs

It is important to take on board that women and girl’s empowerment, whether through use of digital ICTs or other resources, is multidimensional and non-linear. The use of digital ICTs may therefore empower women in some areas of their life while reducing their power in others –as when women have more public voice but are subjected to increased violence.
The digital divide also means digital ICTs may increase the power of some women while reducing the power of others. For programming to be better informed by learning on the conditions under which (different groups of) women and girls are able to use digital ICTs to increase their power, voice and influence, there is a need for more research grounded in established social and political theory, including development and gender studies.
A Guest Writer for ICTWorks presents 8 findings from a new ODI report in the context of ICT4D.

The World Needs More Bad Schools

We know that learning levels in poor countries are abysmally low. In an earlier post, I showed that in half of the fifty or so developing countries where we have data, fewer than 50 percent of women who left school after fifth grade could read a single sentence.
Sending kids to school has huge social returns, particularly for girls. Not only are the wage returns to a year of schooling generally estimated at around 10 percent per annum, but more educated women have fewer children and their children are less likely to die. This is somewhat puzzling if school isn't even teaching them to read.
Justin Sandefur for Center for Global Development with a cheeky headline for his post that comes with proper data and great insights on the paradoxes of funding education and schools.

Organizational change across the United Nations - Case study on innovation and change

Looking beyond UNHCR to WFP and UNICEF, among other UN agencies, it concludes that there is currently little evidence that the UN has fully embraced innovation as an essential part of efforts to reform the system and the entities within it, so that it can adapt to the new realities it faces. Neither is it clear that efforts to introduce innovation have spread far beyond the dedicated units that have been set up. The case study also suggests that the UN is not keeping up with the international public sector, which is increasingly recognising that it needs to find new ways of working if it is to cope with the rising demands being placed on it. At the moment there is a very real danger that, for the UN, innovation will remain something practiced by the few – typically, younger Programme staff – in ways that have limited potential for driving change within the UN.
Mads Svendsen shares some not exactly surprising findings about the innovation discourse and bureaucratic realities in the UN system.

The GA Tally Is Ready for Conference Season. Are You?
All this to say, counting is powerful. Time and again we’ve seen organizers shocked to find that their own panels or organizations have failed to include women in any substantial way, all because they never actually took the time to count. Often, just pointing out the numbers can lead to real change. So what are you fighting for in your own communities? What are you counting? Let the GA Tally app connect you to an entire community that is just as passionate as you are about promoting women’s voices and that will continue to have your back and make some noise until we see results.
Soraya Membreno introduces Gender Avenger's new app to count and visualize the #allmalepanel.

Our digital lives
Facebook admits: governments exploited us to spread propaganda

In a white paper authored by the company’s security team and published on Thursday, the company detailed well-funded and subtle techniques used by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals. These efforts go well beyond “fake news”, the company said, and include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts that are used to amplify one particular view, sow distrust in political institutions and spread confusion.
Olivia Solon for The Guardian. As long as facebook doesn't open up its data vault and algorithms we will see more unaccountable manipulation with long-term devastating political outcomes...

Silicon Valley Needs to Stop Pimping Out Patients to Alleviate White Guilt

This new model for healthcare financing could be revolutionary. But rolling out an untested, unproven, and currently unsustainable model in low-income countries that will have a hard time saying no to externally-funded solutions could do more harm than good for patients.
Jennifer Foth for the Development Set with yet another reminder that 'Silicon Valley' will not automatically be part of any solution and can equally likely be part of more money, more problems.

Rich charities keep getting richer. That means your money isn’t doing as much good as it could.

You can think of this as the nonprofit sector’s inequality problem. The rich get richer: Well-established, brand-name organizations see spikes in donations, especially during crises. Smaller groups, including those that are deemed to be more effective than their better-known peers, and especially those serving the extreme poor, are left to muddle along.
That said, we can’t let donors off the hook for the inefficiencies of the nonprofit sector. While most individual donors say they care about nonprofit performance, nearly two-thirds do no research at all before making a donation. Nor do they demand evidence of effectiveness from charities. Until that changes, we can be certain that some nonprofits do great work and others do little or no good at all. But wouldn’t it be nice to know which was which?
Marc Gunther for Vox revisits the charity effectiveness and impact debate-and reminds us that rising inequalities are a problem in the sector just like everywhere else.

I signed up to 100 charity email lists. Here’s what I learned

Looking at the content of the emails, I did not have the impression that many organisations were trying to build a relationship or have a dialogue with me. One of the reasons that telephone and face-to-face fundraising have worked so well for charities over the years is because a representative of the charity has a conversation with a supporter or potential supporter, and builds and establishes a rapport.
The emails I received were heavily skewed towards being donation asks. Over a third of all emails I received were donation asks, and in fact I only ever received emails with donation asks from 6 charities.
The organisations with the best and most engaging content took the principle of having a dialogue with me as a potential donor – but adapted it to email and the longer timeframe needed compared with face-to-face or phone conversation. I was sent surveys, quizzes, case studies, and made to feel like I was part of the organisation. And only then was I sent a donation ask. Fewer than 10 charities adopted this approach from the 98 I signed up to.
Glyn Thomas for Just Giving with insights into the art of newslettering...

 ‘Thought Leaders’ and the Plutocrats Who Love Them

The primary talent demonstrated by the “thought leaders” who rise to the top of this stew—people like Thomas Friedman, Niall Ferguson, and the heavyweight champion, according to Drezner’s own poll (in which I participated), Henry Kissinger—is to somehow flatter great wealth even as they pretend to challenge it. Should they pull it off, they get to feel good about themselves as enormously well-remunerated and highly respected public servants. The truth, however, is that by comforting the comfortable, they end up further afflicting the afflicted.
Eric Alterman for The Nation reviews Dan Drezner's book which is also on my reading list...

Hot off the digital press

Blockchain for Development – Hope or Hype?

Some argue that within 20 years, blockchain will disrupt society more profoundly than the internet has disrupted communication and media. With the reported potential to replace powerful financial institutions with a new form of cheap and secure banking globally, could it also transform development? It has the potential to offer new ways to track aid and tackle corruption, facilitate smart-aid contracts and cut costs for international payments, but experience suggests it is through adding value to existing development processes that it could have the most benefit.
Kevin Hernandez with a short IDS briefing note on blockchain's potential for development.


Read paywalled research papers for free.
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This looks like a neat tool-and is yet another reminder to share research papers in formats other than the paywalled journal article!


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