Links & Contents I Liked 271

Hi all,

Development news: Justin Forsyth, Save The Children & abuse; don't send stuff in humanitarian emergencies! 'Poor, but happy' in India; Chinese monkey suits; blockchain summit; brutally honest answers from non-profits; indigenous activism in Ecuador; art from Kenya; poor Louise Linton!

Our digital lives: Nnedi Okorafor short story; networked governance; how to read Steven Pinker.

Publications: The complex political economy of urban reconstruction in Syria.

Academia: African women in science; decolonizing ICT4D research; performing being a digital ethnographer.


New from aidnography
After #oxfamscandal: Tough trade-offs ahead for the aid industry

But the aid industry is operating in the same mediatized and socio-political environment where other #MeToo moments and movements have been happening. This environment demands quick, visible and clear-cut changes-and anything that has to do with development usually works at a different speed. For substantial and longer-term changes building up structures will require generous and patient donors, a nuanced media coverage and a general public willing to engage with complicated processes of social change. That’s a lot to ask for. Paying for experts, paying for capacity development, paying for time to get things right and paying for scaling up organizational structures is not what donors are keen to fund and Silicone Valley-type disruptors keep promising.
The risk is that for large organizations (e.g. UN organizations and large INGOs) it may become part of ‘bureaucratic capture’, of box-ticking and dodging hard decisions. For small organizations it could be expensive and time-consuming, possibly paralyzing their work.
But for each and every organization is will require more communication with the outside world and finding that perfect balance of ‘doing good’ with good people and empowering structural frameworks.
Oxfam, Haiti & the aid industry's #MeToo moment-a curated bibliography
Last update: 23 February 10:58 GMT; there are now close to 100 resources!

Development news
UNICEF deputy director Justin Forsyth resigns after 'mistakes'

In a statement, Forsyth said his decision to step down from UNICEF was not because of “the mistakes I made at Save the Children”.
“They were dealt with through a proper process many years ago,” his statement said.
“I apologised unreservedly at the time and face to face. I apologise again. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the coverage around me is not just to - rightly - hold me to account, but also to attempt to do serious damage to our cause and the case for aid.”
His decision to step down comes as charities in the aid sector pledge to overhaul their approach to dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment.
Reuters on Forsyth resignation from UNICEF.

Former Save the Children staffers speak out on abusive culture under Justin Forsyth

Speaking on Wednesday from northern Canada, O’Keefe, who no longer works in the international development sector, said her time at Save the Children was a “formative career experience,” which contributed to driving her out of the international sector. She and other women in her department were “groomed” by their manager to accept inappropriate workplace liaisons as normal she said.
Inappropriate but consensual relations between Cox and female staff in the department he headed were an “open secret,” O’Keefe said. Although behaviour at the office was generally professional, O’Keefe said she had witnessed “inappropriate behaviour” by Cox at after-hours gatherings, office parties and events.
Junior staff risked being sidelined and excluded from the more prestigious and important projects if they questioned Cox’s behavior, O’Keefe said. “I myself feel complicit,” she said, adding that she now regrets not speaking up. “We were afraid to speak to Justin… I was often afraid.”
Ben Parker for IRIN with insights from Save The Children under the leadership of Justin Forsyth.

One NGO's way to stop staff paying for sex? Hire fewer single men

“We pay for the home, we pay for the school for the children, so it kind of guarantees that there is more stability and you don’t have a bunch of guys with a lot of testerone living together in a compound,” the spokesperson said.
Vince Chadwick for DevEx. I was a bit worried that given that Caritas is a Catholic charity their model may also reflect their ideals about marriage and children and wonder how it allows for diversity outside heteronormative frameworks.

The silencing of difficult women

These victims are not typical Mail and Telegraph readers and they understood that a story about a lack of accountability in an aid organization will likely be followed in those newspapers by calls for less foreign aid. None of the victims support that goal. What they want is aid plus accountability.
Almost all of the complainants went to the Guardian first. Different Guardian journalists were contacted, but all went quiet. One told me: “I just wanted to say I haven't forgotten about this. Unfortunately the decision to work on the story or not is above my station, so I'm just waiting for a decision either way…” Later, when I asked if they had heard back the same journalist said: “I haven’t unfortunately. It was passed onto powers that be. At the moment it’s looking like it’s not going to run... I presume after some weighing of pros and cons.”
Not only did the Guardian not run a piece about Cox and Forsyth, they actually ran a piece by Cox. This was three months ago. Still I and others kept pressing them. To those affected it looks like some senior media people protect those who are also their personal friends—both the BBC’s Andrew Marr and Sky’s Adam Boulton have publically spoken up for the two men. Perhaps they also think that they are protecting Save the Children, but you don’t protect charities by covering up the behavior of predatory men, only by helping them free themselves from them, and if you leave it to outlets like the Daily Mail then the story gets turned into another reason to cut support for charities.
Leslie Francis for Open Democracy includes important insights into UK's media networks and how reporting abuse is always a political issue among many other things.

Sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation in the aid sector

This paper uses the real stories of 29 aid workers from around the world to piece together the scale of the abuse within the sector. It also uses the authors own stories from her 10+ years in the sector.
This research finds that gender-based violence, perpetrated by humanitarian actors, is condoned, covered-up, and replicated throughout the entire aid sector. Abuse of power and privilege has become a daily reality for women working in the sector, and for the women and girls it serves.
Danielle Spencer shares her work on Cowboys & Conquering Kings.

High heels, skis, woollen blankets: what not to send to a tropical island when disaster strikes
A warehouse in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, holds 10 huge shipping containers filled to the brim with discarded goods and rotting food. This is what’s left of the massive piles of donations sent to the South Pacific nation in the aftermath of the most powerful storm to strike the remote island group, nearly three years ago.
Irwin Loy for IRIN. Repeat after me: Send money, not STUFF!!!

Donald Trump Jr. Is Impressed By The 'Smile On A Face' Of India's Poor

"And even if you have resources, sometimes you aren't empowered enough to use them," she says. For instance, she says, a mother may know that she needs to vaccinate her child, but as a daily wage earner, she may not have the opportunity to take off work to do so.
"While it might ease our conscience to think that poor people can and do smile and are content with their lot, the truth is that when you're poor, whether you smile or not, other people are always in control," says Rathnam. "It makes me wonder, just how many poor people did Mr. Trump Jr. actually see?"
Kamala Thiagarajan for NPR Goats & Soda on the latest instance of dismissing the 'poor, but happy' myth.

With Blackface and Monkey Suit, Chinese Gala on Africa Causes Uproar

The gala, televised by China’s state broadcaster, featured a well-known Chinese actress as an African woman with exaggerated buttocks, a large chest and a face painted black. Carrying a platter of fruit on her head, she was accompanied by an African man dressed as a monkey.
Many found the portrayals offensive.
Jane Perlez for the New York Times on how the Chinese government needs to work a bit harder to communicate their engagement in Africa properly...

How Indigenous Communities Are Using Data to ‘Reframe’ Their Narratives Through Digital Storytelling

Following this principle, we developed the first series of the Reframed Stories project in close collaboration with the indigenous community of Sarayaku and the Shuar nationality, both situated in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. These groups have been standing up to extraction projects in their territories for years and have taken their fight to the national and international level. As such, they have important insights to share about the media coverage of community resistance strategies.
Belen Febres-Cordero for Global Voices on how communities in Ecuador take charge of communicating their struggles.

Embracing Complexity: Preliminary Findings from the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

In addition to highlighting cutting-edge pilot initiatives, the Summit confirmed the importance of proceeding with caution while introducing an unregulated and emerging technology in humanitarian environments. In such contexts, when information is highly sensitive and populations are vulnerable to grave rights abuses, innovative projects must imperatively fall in line with humanitarian principles above all other motives.
Giulio Coppi & Angela Wells for the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. I wish someone paid me a cent for every 'embracing complexity' headline ;)!

In conversation: Pablo Yanguas and Diana Mitlin

Listen to Diana Mitlin interview Pablo Yanguas about his new book Why We Lie About Aid which is out now on Zed books. They discuss the aid sector, accountability and the Department for International Development.
The Global Development Institute Blog-book sits on my desk, ready to read & reviewed!

Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders

How will you evaluate this program? Because we have little funding for a formal process with an external evaluator, we will have Edward, our social work practicum student, design a self-report survey. At the beginning and end of the program, we’ll administer the survey. We’ll put in lots of numbers and percentages to make it look impressive. This is not very rigorous or valid, due to selection bias, self-report bias, confounding variables, and a host of other issues, but it should be enough to convince you that we have good evaluation data. Please send money so we can buy Edward a cake.
How will the community be transformed as a result of this grant? Hahahaha, that’s a good one! This grant is for $5,000! And people say funders don’t have a sense of humor! 5K will allow us to pay for six weeks of rent, which means we can stay open, and who knows what awesome stuff we’ll accomplish during those six weeks, am I right? Please add three zeroes if you really want to see transformation.
Vu Le for NonprofitAF. Many point also apply to academic research projects...

This is how you capture the rise of Kenya’s vibrant contemporary art scene

In the introduction to the book, Wakhungu-Githuku writes that she sees the pieces as “voiceless conversations that hopefully will demand countless encores.” Art in Kenya, she argues “is currently galloping and that despite strong influences here and there, in the absence of a truly dominant aesthetic, artists are exercising latitude, freely mixing genres, debunking traditional templates, eschewing predictable cages and experimenting with abandon.”
Abdi Latif Dahir for Quartz on a new book on contemporary Kenyan art.

Louise Linton Is Super-Duper Sorry

She had her first harrowing brush with notoriety for a memoir she published about her time in Zambia (titled In Congo’s Shadow: One Girl’s Perilous Journey to the Heart of Africa), in which she painted herself as a Mother Teresa figure bravely navigating the all-encompassing threats of Mother Africa. She wrote of being frightened of rebels targeting her, the “skinny white muzungu with long angel hair,” and of her “special comfort in my bond” with an orphan, a “smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.” The book—the type of thing that would have gone wholly unnoticed if it weren’t such a stark example of white upper-class privilege—was received so poorly that Linton took it out of print and issued a public apology. It also sparked a Twitter hashtag, #LintonLies, detailing its myriad inaccuracies (the Daily Telegraph, which had run an excerpt, eventually withdrew the article from its site and issued an apology). “My greatest sorrow is that the effect of my book was the exact opposite of what my intention was,” Linton says now.
Hampel kindly explains away the book’s tone-deafness by saying: “Louise was blessed and fortunate enough to be raised in a Scottish castle, and to not understand the reality of some human beings with a different background.”
Carrie Battan for Elle tries very, very hard to portrait Louise Linton as an ordinary woman. The portrait remains a feeble attempt...and I will hold on to my copy of her book that started her 'career'.

Our digital lives
“Mother of Invention”
Nnedi Okorafor with a new short story for Slate.

Digital nomads are hiring and firing their governments

That is the challenge of the narcissism of today’s digital nomad: it’s about freedom of movement, but not responsibility to engage. The loyalty of patriotism is replaced by a kind of brand loyalty, and there are dozens of other brands on the government shelf. There is a supposed mutualism between the digital nomad and the local population: the former brings prosperity and an innovative outlook, the latter provides for the quality amenities that attract the nomads. But ultimately, only one of these groups has the ability to leave.
Governments are competing better to get talent into their countries, but now they need to work with nomads and global talent, and vice versa. We need to move toward a more expansive view that people can have multiple nations, and nations can share a single person. We all need to engage deeper with the places we live globally, and realize that it is not someone else’s job to make our neighborhood right.
Danny Crichton for TechCrunch on networked governance and citizenship.

Unenlightened thinking: Steven Pinker’s embarrassing new book is a feeble sermon for rattled liberals

The purpose of Pinker’s laborious graphs and figures is to reassure his audience that they are on “the right side of history”. For many, no doubt, the exercise will be successful. But nagging questions will surely return. If an Enlightenment project survives, what reason is there for thinking it will be embodied in liberal democracy? What if the Enlightenment’s future is not in the liberal West, now almost ungovernable as a result of the culture wars in which it is mired, but Xi Jinping’s China, where an altogether tougher breed of rationalist is in charge? It is a prospect that Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham and other exponents of enlightened despotism would have heartily welcomed.
Judged as a contribution to thought, Enlightenment Now is embarrassingly feeble. With its primitive scientism and manga-style history of ideas, the book is a parody of Enlightenment thinking at its crudest.
John Gray for the New Statesman.
The Enlightenment of Steven Pinker

Partly for this reason, the book will no doubt attract a large audience. It is not just Steven Pinker and a goodly proportion of beauty pageant contestants who want world peace, progress and material prosperity. At some level, and with variations, this is what we all want. To be told that these are permanently underwritten by a historical trajectory that springs from the Enlightenment will no doubt be reassuring to some, particularly if the cost of maintaining the trend is a relatively painless subscription to the ideals of reason, science, humanism and progress.
For those sceptical of Pinker's imagined history and unconvinced by his sanguine assessment of human nature, the future is somewhat less certain. Achieving his desiderata, if possible at all, is likely to be hard work. And if history is to serve as any kind of guide in our efforts, we need to try to get it right and resist the temptation to reconstruct it in our own image.
Peter Harrison for ABC Religion and Ethics provide some critical food for thought on how to read Steven Pinker.


Drivers of urban reconstruction in Syria: power, privilege and profit extraction

Avoid – or at least mitigate – the structural socioeconomic inequalities and unequal government spending that characterised urban housing policies before 2011, since these were major sources of poverty and conflict. This brief suggests that regime-led urban reconstruction may well replicate the
political-economic patterns that were at the heart of the mass mobilisations in 2011. By implication, mitigating this risk by focusing on marginalised groups or areas – from an urban housing perspective – may help reduce the longer-term risk of increasing urban poverty and renewed violence.
Samar Batrawi for Clingendael with a really interesting paper on thr political economy of urban reconstruction in Syria.


A personal journey sheds light on why there are so few black women in science

For those who remain in the system and look to pursue postgraduate degrees, the lack of mentorship and role models is another issue. When you don’t identify with people who are lecturing in terms of image, culture and background, it’s easy not to relate to the field or subject. Diversity in the lecture hall is a way to show black women students that they can also take ownership in a particular field.
It’s important for these young women to look beyond the academy for mentors, too. One of the women I admire is Getty Choenyana, who trained as a mechanical engineer, then founded Oamobu Naturals and uses her scientific skills and knowledge to successfully produce marketable products.
Family, marriage and culture also influence black women’s experiences as scientists. A number of African communities and cultures do not have a tradition of professional women. There is a strong expectation that women must conform to the traditional roles of wife and mother.
Ndoni Mcunu for The Conversation on the long and difficult road for black female scientists in Africa.

Positioning the University in the Global South – ICT4D Research

In my experience reviewing IS Journal and conference (locally and internationally), and examining thesis, it has been quite down heartening to have to see yet another Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) interpretation, or heavy reliance on Sen’s Capability approach. Don’t get me wrong – these theories have been quite powerful and insightful, however, at times they are insufficient to drive the interpretations of our contexts. To get a paper published in a mainstream IS journal, one is required to build their argument from popular theory – however, what does one do, if the theory does not explain the context. Are we forced to reverse engineer, and squeeze our empirical experiences into a particular theory just to get published? Or should we rather explore theory from a vast variety of disciplines (transdisciplinarity) to introduce new understanding of IS in developing countries. I choose the latter. Theory is important, because it shapes our understanding of phenomena from different angles. However, publishers, editors, academics should begin to recognise the emerging change in methodology and approach, when working in our unique contexts – this calls for the development and recognition of sensitised approaches to research in African and developing countries.
Caroline Khene for the IFIP 9.4 Newsletter on decolonizing ICT4D research.

Three Lies of Digital Ethnography

While I enjoy the flattering attributions of expertise over my research topic that these fabrications occasionally grant me, I often feel troubled by the way they blur my authorial role into the figure of the social media savvy or the computer geek, hiding how most of my ethnographic knowledge is actually grounded on a patchy process of discovery, a messy interaction between my puzzled inquiries and the kind help of patient friends who bear with my often clueless questions about the latest Internet meme or slang term.
Digital ethnographers are often closer to practical brokers, curious newcomers relying on the knowledgeability and interpretive guidance of what Holmes & Marcus call “paraethnographers” (2008). It is important to remember how the figure of the expert fabricator can become an enticing professional illusion that easily overrides the messy, processual and thickly social construction of local expertise.
Gabriele de Seta for Anthrodendum on how to be/pretend a digital/ethnographer.


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