Links & Contents I Liked 256

Hi all,

Another full round-up of great readings this week!

Development news: The WHO-Mugabe communication #fail; How cash helps in Puerto Rico; the UN's ceremonial beehives; data risks & registering Rohingya; people keep sending too much stuff to Houston; emergency sexwork; women's cooperatives; micro insurance for migrants in Thailand; UN-reform; Jamaica's anti-queer violence & its colonial roots; working with UN bloggers, NIKE likes robots; Mozambique's forgotten East German history; 'purpose has become an empty slogan'.

Our digital lives: Working with Guardian's audience engagement; will Google/Alphabet take over Toronto? Big data from the South.

Publications: Communicating vaccines; state fragility; social media in Brazil; tech & migrants.

Academia: Reflections on Open Access Week.


New from aidnography
A few reflections on the new OECD flagship report on Data for Development

Almost right from the beginning of the report ‘data’ is presented as a fairly stable entity, something statisticians manage in a database on a computer hard drive. Data does not seem to be part of a digital ecosystem. Yes, data can be a digitized land record database, but data is also the fuel behind machine learning, algorithms, automation (a.k.a. robots), platform capitalism, social media, drones and so much more. I am certainly not arguing that OECD countries themselves have the infrastructure and regulations in place to understand everything from 3D printing to ‘the Internet of things’, but I was surprised of how isolated ‘data’ was often presented. Such an approach limits the discussions to traditional topics of capacity-building or enhanced cooperation and leaves out transformational aspects-both good and bad.
Development news
It’s not so surprising WHO’s new director tried to make Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador

In fact, it is impossible to know whether Tedros was a voice of moderation within his government or how much of an impact his experience as a leader of an authoritarian government shaped his thinking. Notwithstanding, his desire to honor one of the world leaders most universally at odds with the values of WHO with an ambassadorship, albeit as a diplomatic engagement tactic, raises more questions than answers.
Mohamed Keita for Quartz. No matter how you stand on some of the speculations around the appointment is was a huge communication disaster for the new director of WHO!

Need Help In Puerto Rico? Here's $100

"Just a little something to address immediate needs," says Jill Morehead, the head of Mercy Corps' relief efforts on the island. "Cash helps give people back dignity and choice for determining their most basic needs, in addition to supporting local markets and small businesses."
"It's more or less the same as welfare, which the U.S. has had for a long time," says Amanda Glassman, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. "But what makes this really interesting is that it's an NGO giving out the cash in lieu of the government."
Since Mercy Corps arrived four weeks ago, it has already distributed 290 MasterCard prepaid debit cards, in $150 to $200 increments, across the island. Funding comes from private and individual donors.
Malaka Gharib for NPR was embedded with Mercy Corps in Puerto Rico and reports on their approaches to cash-based aid.

A B-minus for UN conduct?

In that bizarre incident, a staff member said implementing the UN’s complex enterprise software had been so stressful that he stole ceremonial UN beehives. A disciplinary hearing report, published on 20 October, confirms the bizarre details. The Geneva staffer, who joined the UN in 1991, stole four beehives from the grounds of the historic Palais des Nations and hid them in his garage. He repainted them and threw away decorative plaques with noble inscriptions such as “peace” and “justice”. The hives were gifts of the Swiss government to the UN and produced small amounts of honey.
Samuel Oakford for IRIN. I certainly do not want to diminish some of the serious cases that are also mentioned in the report, but 'ceremonial beehive' is a pretty special term that I learned this week...

Irresponsible data? The risks of registering the Rohingya

Using biometric data as proof of identity might allow aid and services to be delivered to Rohingya refugees more effectively, but it’s a double-edged sword for several reasons:
Firstly, it can be used to drive repatriation (voluntary or otherwise). (...)
Secondly, it can digitally enable discrimination. (...). If the database of Rohingya people were to be leaked, hacked, or shared (for example, with the Myanmar government), it could make it easier to deny Rohingya access to basic services, or target them, or discriminate against them. For example, Bangladeshi mobile phone operators have been banned from selling SIM cards to Rohingya refugees. Biometric data could in theory be shared with mobile phone operators to enforce the ban.
Thirdly, errors and omissions can be harder to resolve.
Zara Rahman for IRIN with an important reminder that data & security are very political issues and should not be ignored even if there is pressure to collect data in an emergency situation.

Americans Are Sending Too Much Stuff to Houston

Third, donated goods tend not to provide what communities need, when they need them. Rose City had been overwhelmed by secondhand clothing, for instance. There were piles of molding garments in church parking lots, and rack upon rack of them in warehouses and army surplus tents around the town. Local residents were grateful for other Americans’ generosity, but generally said that they did not want the used items, nor did they want to bother picking through them to find clean things that fit. “I’ll buy my own damn pants,” Richard Conner, a machinist whose home was severely water damaged, told me.
Annie Lowrey for The Atlantic with another, but well researched reminder that you should stop sending stuff after humanitarian disasters!

Emergency sexwork: should NGOs recognize transactional sex as livelihood strategy? by Dorothea Hilhorst
I have difficulty accepting – as the column suggests – that sexwork in the context of humanitarian crises must always be seen as sexual violence. To my mind, humanitarian actors should broaden their view of transactional sex beyond sexual violence and acknowledge that it is an important aspect of livelihoods.There are important reasons why the humanitarian world should be more explicitly concerned with transactional sex. Once it is recognized that transactional sex is often a livelihood strategy, this would also open the way for the provision of services and protection against some of the risks that come with the trade. 
Dorothea Hilhorst for the ISS blog with some challenging thoughts on the complexities of sexual encounters in emergency situations.

SEWA Gitanjali Cooperative: A Social Enterprise in the Making

A unique advantage of a collective model for poor women, especially in resource-constrained and socially conservative environments, is the added self-confidence or self-reliance that women obtain, contributing to their overall “empowerment,” in addition to increased voice, collective strength, and bargaining power with authorities and employers. A study of SEWA members showed that the presence of and social support from a peer raised women’s work aspirations, resulting in higher business income when they were trained in business skills alongside a friend; this was especially the case for women subject to conservative social norms
Mayra Buvinic, Tanvi Jaluka, and Megan O'Donnell for the Center for Global Development provide a measured overview over female employment, entrepreneurism and 'empowerment' issues in the context of India and Bangladesh.

Launching Private Non-Profit eHealth Micro Insurance for Migrants in Thailand

Among the main challenges foreseen as result of this study for the set-up and provision of this service were: a) obtaining the approval from the Thai authorities, b) dealing with the economic vulnerability of the target group, c) collecting the monthly premium fee in a rural context, d) addressing pre-existing conditions and chronic diseases, and e) financing initial set-up costs. Many of these challenges have been addressed – government support to operate the project and start-up funding have both been secured. The project formally started in Mae Sot on August 1st, 2017.
Olivier Alais for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs shares some reflections on setting up an micro-insurance scheme in rural Thailand.

‘Security Council reform is dead’

The UN’s approach to development is still stuck in the last century: there are too many offices duplicating each other, and a lot of UN work is now rendered frankly irrelevant by the rise of China as a major global funder. So Guterres has plans to slim down the UN’s development footprint worldwide, and also clarify lines of accountability back to him as the leader of the organization. He’s trying to cut through some of the bureaucracy.
Secondly he is prioritising management reform. We have a situation across the UN system where we have management rules that actively stop UN officials being flexible and creative in the field. Guterres says his personal priority is cutting away a lot of the management nonsense and empowering UN officials on the ground, such as peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, to help the needy.
Richard Gowan talks to International Politics & Society about UN management and reform.

You Can’t Understand Anti-Queer Violence In Jamaica Until You Understand Colonialism

The “culture of homophobia”, as so crudely written by Vogue, is not one solely of Jamaican creation, but a legacy of British colonialism. In recent years, activists and researchers began speaking openly about Britain’s creation of a homophobic and transphobic environment through their buggery laws, influencing not only Jamaica, but Nigeria, Botswana, India, and the remainder of territories confiscated by the English crown.
Queer people in Jamaica are not helped by sensationalist, click-bait stories about their experiences where they face danger from day-to-day — they are exploited for viral stories, falsely propped up by white savior complexes. By uplifting queer Afro-Caribbean activists groups on the island, such as RUDEBOI Society and TransWave instead, media can divest from the colonialist perception that only societies predominately white and Western can being able to “save” queer Black people from the rabid queerphobia that they face.
Shanna Collins with a powerful piece that once again sheds light on the entrenched legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean.

What did I learn from a day with the UN’s bloggers?

authors often panic at how little space they have to discuss something, so try and cram in lots of wisdom by using broad and often pretty obvious generalizations ‘advocacy is important to improve services’; ‘we must be more innovative’. More than a couple of those in a row, and your post is dead in the water, I reckon. Try nailing them down with a quick example, either real or hypothetical. ‘In Chile, a combined campaign by social movements and academics persuaded the government to do X’.
Duncan Green for fp2p with some practical advice on how get your development blogging house in order...

Nike’s focus on robotics threatens Asia’s low-cost workforce

For Nike, the shift to greater automation has two huge attractions. By driving down costs, it could lead to a dramatic improvement in profit margins. It would also allow the company to deliver new designs more quickly to fickle, fashion-conscious customers at a premium. A pair of Nike Roshe shoes costs $75 without Flyknit uppers, compared to as much as $130 with Flyknit. “Together, we are modernising the footwear industry,” Chris Collier, Flex chief financial officer, said earlier this year about the company’s relationship with Nike. “This is a long-term, multibillion-dollar relationship for us, and it is not measured in the scope of years but decades.”
Jennifer Bissell-Linsk for the Financial Times. Even if you may not be able to access the full article, this quote is already an important reminder of how disruptive automation/robots will likely be for low-skilled employment in the global South-and how little companies care about 'development' outside a bit of charity and CSR!

No More White Saviors: Let People Lead Their Own Movements

Men such as Darby, who take center stage in struggles they know nothing about, who are applauded for doing so, and who are excused for abusive behavior, don’t always turn into informants for the FBI. But the truth is that they don’t have to. To make this point, No More Heroes quotes scholar Courtney Desiree Morris’ essay “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants”: “Before or regardless of whether they are ever recruited by the state to disrupt a movement or destabilize an organization, they’ve likely become well versed in practices of disruptive behavior.”
Aura Bogado for Yes! Magazine reviews 'No More Heroes'.

Mozambique’s forgotten “East Germans” are still fighting for their communist payday

Yet for the magermans, history did not end, moving frictionlessly from a failed socialist past to a prosperous capitalist present. Rather, they are stuck in it. Jose is visited every year by Birgit, his enamorada from Dresden; others have half-Mozambican sons and daughters they cannot see for the lack of a visa; and they are all united by the dwindling hope that, one day, they will receive the life-changing amount they are rightfully owed. For now, admirably and without expectation, Jose and the rest will carry on their protest to a government and country that no longer seem to care
Sami Kent for Quartz. An interesting story that connects development and politics 'at home' (although I grew up in West Germany) with global issues.

Why it’s time to get uncomfortable about ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’

Once equipped with the near enemy lens, I could spot these clever confusions everywhere. In the global North’s aid to Niger. In Barclays’ glorious Banking on Change. In a range of social enterprises whose big purpose, at the end of the day, is rather hollow. In all those ways we express a disguised form of pity and paternalism toward people living in cultures different to our own, on soil exploited by us.
We all share a yearning for purpose, a desire to know we’re leaving this world in a better state than we found it. But looking around me, purpose has become a fashionable yet hollow slogan — a catchphrase for anything that isn’t primarily about making big bucks, and applies to anything that involves rolling up your sleeves somewhere south of the Equator.
My dear friend Agnes Otzelberger with important personal reflections on her 'development' journey and a great start into her blogging career ;)!

Our digital lives

13 things I learned from six years at the Guardian

Good journalism — especially good reportage — gives people something important for which there is no substitute. (So does good entertainment, of course.) Many people value it enormously and, if you’re known for providing it, they’ll come to expect it and trust you more as a result. There’s no law that says people will only read celebrity news or stuff you’ve nicked off the front page of Reddit.The vast majority of the Guardian’s most read pieces of all time are high quality journalism on serious topics.
Mary Hamilton with important lessons for anyone who is 'doing media'.

Google’s plan to revolutionise cities is a takeover in all but name

Aside from the institutional investors shopping for entire city blocks, Alphabet understands the real audience for its cities: the global rich. For them, the narratives of data-driven sustainability and algorithmically produced artisanal lifestyles – Sidewalk Labs even promises “a next-gen bazaar” replenished by local communities of makers – are just another way to justify rising values of their property portfolios.
That Alphabet’s “urbanism as a service” might not appeal to the residents of Toronto does not matter. As a real estate project, its chief goal is to impress its future missing residents –above all, millions of Chinese millionaires flocking to Canada’s housing markets. Doctoroff was not equivocating when he told the Globe and Mail that Alphabet’s Canadian venture “primarily is a real-estate play”.
Evgeny Morozov for The Guardian with yet another important reminder that the future of platform capitalism will be an ever sophisticated platform running entire cities...

Big Data from the South: The beginning of a conversation we must have

That said, we would like to encourage our colleagues to embrace more explicitly a political economy perspective, which can help us to take a critical look at the multiple forms of domination that reproduce and perpetuate inequality, discrimination and injustice at all levels. We also advocate for historical approaches able to trace the current unfolding of datafication back to its roots in colonial practices, when applicable (see Arora 2016). We suggest engaging with feminist critiques and ideas around the decolonization of technology. Finally, we like to think of this type of inquiry as inherently ‘engaged’: while adopting the gold standards of solid scientific research, ‘engaged research’ might take sides and, most importantly, is designed to make a difference to the communities we come close to.
Stefania Milan & Emiliano Treré outline a framework to engage with ICT4D and data differently and embrace local Southern realities much stronger.

Communicating science-based messages on vaccines

“We are not trying to change the minds of a tiny group of entrenched anti-vaccination people,” Schmid says. “These workshops prepare public health officials to communicate with a much larger group of people – mainly parents who are hesitating about whether or when to get their children vaccinated – to show them how to process the myths and messages of fear.”
“Most hesitant parents do not oppose the scientific evidence, but the appeals and messages of vaccine deniers make them feel afraid and uncertain,” says Schmid. “Public health authorities need to continuously build confidence and educate the public, so that people are better prepared to make vaccination decisions when they are faced with them”.
Tatum Anderson for the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. This discussion is not limited to vaccinations. In an age of 'fake news' many areas of society will have to engage differently with citizens to challenge myths, sideline radical opponents and remind people of facts and science.

Fragility, Aid, and State-building

Aid to fragile states is a major topic for international development. This article explores how unpacking fragility and studying its dimensions and forms can help to develop policy-relevant understandings of how states become more resilient and the role of aid therein. It highlights the particular challenges for donors in dealing with chronically fragile states and those with weak legitimacy, as well as how unpacking fragility can provide traction on how to take ‘local context’ into account. It draws in particular on the contributions to this special issue to provide examples from new analysis of particular fragile state transitions and cross-national perspectives.
Rachel Gisselquist's edited open access book on state fragility.

Social Media in Emergent Brazil

Based on 15 months of ethnographic research, this book aims to understand why low-income Brazilians have invested so much of their time and money in learning about social media. Juliano Spyer explores this question from a number of perspectives, including education, relationships, work and politics. He argues that the use of social media reflects contradictory values. Low-income Brazilians embrace social media to display literacy and upward mobility, but the same technology also strengthens traditional networks of support that conflict with individualism.
Juliano Spyer with a new open access book from the UCL series on global insights into social media use and the Why We Post project.

Digitalisation and flight: how can donors leverage digital technologies to support refugees?

Donors must avoid the problem of “technology looking for a problem to solve”; knowing how refugee communities already use digital tools is the best way to avoid this. Generally, refugees themselves will have found innovative ways to meet their information needs, and donors can provide financial and technical assistance to support access to the existing technologies
Charles Martin-Shields for the German Development Institute with a short reminder of how donors can avoid some of the usual ICT4D pitfalls.


The digital economy is not weightless. In order to organise something open access, you still need material resources, especially working time for organisation, copyediting, proofreading, design, technical work, management, etc. Open access book publishing is more resource-intensive than open access journal publishing. Proofreading and copyediting books is very work-intensive. Leaving this work to the authors would result in many ugly books full of mistakes. Doing proofreading and copyediting unpaid out of political idealism is also not a feasible solution. So one needs professional knowledge workers involved in open access. Using book processing charges in order to fund that knowledge work plus profits tends to create high charges that are unaffordable for all but the richest universities and luckiest researchers who have access to large grants and private or semi-private open access funds. The outcome of such models are new inequalities. And politically this brings you back to the questions: What university do we want? What academic system do we want? What should the role of academia be in society? Public support and funding is necessary for sustainable and fair open access.
Andrew Lockett talks to Christian Fuchs for Open Access Week.


Popular posts from this blog

Links & Contents I Liked 500

The visible lessons of Invisible Children- #globaldev critique in the viral age (in response to Paul Currion)

Happy retirement Duncan Green!

Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?

Dear white middle class British women: Please don't send used bras (or anything, really) to Africa