Links & Contents I Liked 272

Hi all,

Welcome from Ottawa where I will be working remotely for the coming two months and hopefully be able to catch up with Canadian US East Coast friends and colleagues!

This week's review is really eclectic and diverse in the best meaning of the concept!

Development news: #AidToo & one very misleading statistic; open letter against Bridge Academies; Apple in the Congo; Saudi Arabia's humanitarian PR exercise in Yemen continues; Mongolia & Kyrgyzstan struggle with the IMF; China & its Africa stereotypes; UK media & #globaldev; things falling apart in Nigeria; the future of photo journalism; Escobar's farewell to development.

Our digital lives:
Making money on Untrue-Tube; Steven Pinker; impact investing: Rhetoric & realities.

Publications:
Disempowered women; conflict minerals in the Congo; using Twitter for research.

Academia: Race, class & the water crisis in Cape Town.

Enjoy!


Development news

Lies, Damned Lies, and One Very Misleading Statistic

Ms. Martin, who has advised the United Nations and other international aid organizations on gender-based violence, said she and her colleagues feared that Mr. MacLeod’s figures would provide exactly that kind of excuse, distracting from the less splashy but more reliable information that is already available.
“I have heard so many horrific stories from women that I don’t need false statistics waved around,” Ms. Martin said. “It discredits the very brave women and children who struggle to come forward and then do — usually to disbelief and disinterest.”
Amanda Taub for the NYT on the infamous Andrew MacLeod and his infamous 'statistic' on sexual violence in the UN system.

'A boys' club': UN agency accused over sexual harassment claims

Harper said the departure of high-profile officials did not exonerate the UN of responsibility, and that it had allowed a culture of sexual harassment to fester for years. She says she was repeatedly invited to drinks by Loures, who once told her she was “a very naughty girl” because she had declined an offer in South Africa to meet him one night in his hotel room. In addition, following a work conference, Loures assaulted her in a lift, she said. “We left the conference and shared a lift together and he attempted to kiss me. In the process of me moving away, he bruised my lip. On exiting the lift he tried to get me into his hotel room and ripped a button off my shirt.”
Rebecca Ratcliffe for The Guardian with more on #AidToo from inside the UN system.

Open letter – 88 organisations urge investors to cease support for Bridge International Academies

In an open letter published today, 88 civil society organisations have urged investors to cease their support for the multi-national for-profit chain of private schools Bridge International Academies (BIA), which runs over 500 schools in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India.
These organisations are calling investors’ attention to a series of concerning practices by BIA and the associated legal and reputational risks they incur. These practices include lack of transparency, poor labour conditions, and non-respect of the rule of law in host countries. Investors in BIA range from well-known private investors such as the Omidyar Network, the Zuckerberg Education Ventures, and Bill Gates to public State agencies from the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and the European Union.
According to the letter, BIA has been acting in defiance of the law and has a negative impact on the right to education of thousands of children in countries of Africa and other regions.
The Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights shares an open letter, creating more debate on the impact of Bridge academies and for-profit education inn Africa.

Apple wants to buy cobalt directly from the supplier, in a country where the middleman is in charge

If Apple is to go directly to the supplier, it will likely benefit the likes of Glencore, while cobalt profits do little to improve the country’s economy. Congolese policymakers are already considering increasing the royalties mining companies must pay to export cobalt. If that law takes effect, companies with a longstanding presence in the DRC will probably find a way to work around it. Thanks to a deal like the 2012 joint agreement with the DRC’s national electricity supplier, Société Nationale d’Électricité, Glencore “contributed” $389 million as a loan to improve the electricity grid, according to the results report. The state repays the loan through granting electricity discounts.
Lynsey Chutel for Quartz on value chains and global commodities; see also a new research article below on 'conflict minerals' and peacebuilding.

'A cynical PR exercise': critics round on $3.5bn plan to allay Yemen suffering

Catanzano said: “The Saudi-led coalition is offering to fund a response to address the impact of a crisis it helped to create. The acute crisis in Yemen needs more than what appears to be a logistical operations plan, with token gestures of humanitarian aid.
“A meaningful response to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis requires more access – not less. At best, this plan would shrink access and introduce new inefficiencies that would slow the response and keep aid from the neediest Yemenis, including the over 8 million on the brink of starvation.
“At worst, it would dangerously politicise humanitarian aid by placing far too much control over the response in the hands of an active party to the conflict.”
Peter Beaumont for The Guardian on humanitarian aid in an age of PR agencies...

Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan lose out in their struggle with the IMF over the targeting of child benefits

The widespread unpopularity of targeting in Mongolia will be a threat to the stability of the Government. As has happened in other countries, as a result of being forced to target the poor, the Government’s popularity will be hit. Indeed, it may lose the next election since any sensible opposition will campaign on the basis of reintroducing universality. It is also highly likely that, as with other poverty-targeted benefits, due to the unpopularity of the schemes, over time the budgets and value of the transfers will fall, thereby further harming those living in poverty.
(...)
It seems clear that the IMF and its partners are interfering in national policy discussions and using their power to influence decisions and subvert democracy. It is also worrying that the rest of the international community – including key UN agencies which purport to support inclusive social protection – appear to have remained silent despite the IMF’s actions clearly harming children and families in both countries. We should expect more from them, as should Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, both of which should be able to look to the UN to protect them from outside threats.
Stephen Kidd for Development Pathways with a reminder that the IFIs are still powerful institutions despite the debates about their future and mandate.

China’s media struggles to overcome stereotypes of Africa

This suggests that China needs to have a conversation about racial insensitivity, which is too common and too often dismissed as cultural specificity. The cultural specificity argument goes like this: while something might be considered offensive in the “West” (for example, blackface), it is not in China, and, therefore, there is no need to feel offended by it.
(...)
If China wants to be viewed as a responsible global actor, it needs to find appropriate ways to prevent controversies such as the one created by the offensive CCTV skit. It could, for example, seek out African specialists at Chinese universities to offer expert advise.
More importantly, when errors are made – and Chinese leaders need to accept that nobody is infallible – Beijing needs to be ready to acknowledge them.
Dani Madrid-Morales for The Conversation follows up on last week's debate around stereotypes during the big new year's gala.

UK media and the great aid debate
From the latest Oxfam sex abuse scandal, to the rise of private contractors, to the decision of the U.K. to leave the European Union, to the decision to spend more aid through other government departments, how is aid changing under the influence of the media? Is conservative media destroying public trust in aid? Are antiaid campaigns working, and how are nonprofit and for-profit communications strategies evolving as a result? What recourse do aid organizations have when negative press coverage turns political? Who speaks for aid?
Molly Anders for DevEx introduces an interesting new series on debating #globaldev in the media-I just wonder whether we inside the bubble overestimate the general interest in development topics and the power of 'the media'.


Things Fall Apart
A feat of elegant design wowed elite architects and promised to bring education to poor children in Nigeria. Then it collapsed.
(...)
This ending is unsatisfying, poetic, and true. Change is never linear, humans are ever contradictory, and answers are rarely easy. “The money is literally just sitting there,” Etomi told me. Meanwhile, in Makoko, school years pass; children grow.
Allyn Gaestel for Atavist Magazine. I literally posted the very beginning and end of this fantastic long-read-you need to promise me to read the stuff between those quotes!

The power of a single frame: photojournalism and global consciousness

Despite the importance of photojournalism, it is unclear what the future of the industry will be, and what role photojournalism can play in addressing some of today’s greatest challenges – environmental degradation, climate change, ecosystem collapse and their impact on humankind.
Today, more than half the world’s population has access to the Internet and billions of photos – real and fake – are shared online everyday. Audiences are more immune to the power of images, and less likely to trust images they know might have been manipulated.
The great photographs of the past were made in a time when newspapers provided the world’s news feed, when readers waited with bated breath for the morning and afternoon editions to hit the stands. They were made when crises were relatively contained in time and space, and when newspaper budgets were bursting. Today’s global challenges are increasingly complex, intertwined and multilayered; capturing those intricacies, providing actions to address them and maintaining the world’s attention at the same time is an increasingly difficult task.
Katie G. Nelson for the Global Challenges Foundation on the uncertain future of photo journalism.

Farewell to Development

About a year ago, I attended a meeting in Bogotá with the Minister of the Environment about the Pacific Coast, a rainforest region rich in biodiversity and populated largely by black and indigenous peoples. For thirty years, research and strategies to “develop” the area have centered on large-scale development interventions, such as the expansion of oil palm plantations, mining, and large port development. Against this backdrop, poverty, inequality, and violence have deepened. To say the problem facing the region—and other parts of Latin America—is lack of development is fundamentally flawed. At that meeting, I argued that we should dare to reverse the picture: to entertain the idea that the problem of this region, is not underdevelopment but, in fact, excessive development. Recognizing this opens possibilities for new thinking based on alternative notions of human and ecological well-being.
Arturo Escobar in an interview with The Great Transition Initiative. Great reading on his post-development thinking and how timely the concept still is.


Our digital lives

Untrue-Tube: Monetizing Misery and Disinformation
The only gaming here appears to be using tragic events for automated content monetization. The mass shootings in particular are especially troubling: the experiences of the least fortunate among us — including tragedy survivors, children, and their families— are being used to algorithmically profit from the most impressionable.
Jonathan Albright with an important long-read on how 'fake news' on YouTube are not just a nuisance, but are deeply embedded in all sorts of business models and monetization efforts-so don't trust Google/Alphabet when they talk about 'responsibility', let alone a few tweaks in the algorithms!

Steven Pinker Wants You to Know Humanity Is Doing Fine. Just Don’t Ask About Individual Humans.

There’s a noble kernel to Pinker’s project. He wants to discourage the kind of fatalism that leads people to think the only way forward is to tear everything down. But he seems surprisingly blind to how he fuels such fatalism by playing to the worst stereotype of the enlightened cosmopolitan: disdainful and condescending — sympathetic to humanity in the abstract but impervious to the suffering of actual human beings.
Jennifer Szalai reviews Steven Pinker's book for the NYT.

Wealth Inequality and The Fallacies of Impact Investing
And as philanthropies and their fund managers question whether their investment translates to capital additionality or displacement, innovators such as Tomás Durán, Aaron Tanaka, and Jessica Norwood — who drive innovations like worker ownership to preserve quality jobs in low-wealth communities, community-controlled capital, and investment vehicles that directly address the racial wealth gap — receive little to no investment at all: traditional, impact, or philanthropic. A significant delta exists between what mainstream impact investors deem as investable and the cash-strapped innovations coming from communities throughout the country.
The questions we ask today are too narrowly focused on technocratic concerns like “How do we get more deals done?” instead of “How do we foster equality, transfer power, and enable community wealth through our capital?”
Rodney Foxworth for Balle Views on the discourse and realities around 'impact investing'.

Publications

Poorly paid, backbreaking jobs on top of caring for families leave women drained not empowered

Most women in the study reported physically punishing working days that involved travelling significant distances between home and work, often carrying heavy loads, and incurring injuries. With no time to rest between work and caring for children and other family members their own health and wellbeing often comes last. However, women dig deep into personal and social reserves and carry on, because of the economic necessities they and their families face.
Deepta Chopra with a new IDS Working Paper.

Unintended consequences or ambivalent policy objectives? Conflict minerals and mining reform in the DR Congo
The study finds that the policies hinge on two seemingly commensurate objectives, varying between conflict-free sourcing and promoting peace. We find that, in reality, these objectives may not align. We also find that much reform practice is geared towards conflict-free sourcing, and is far less appropriate for promoting peace. This includes the tendency to implement the policies in conflict-free zones, their narrow scope, the reliance on the government and their indifference to the impact of the reforms for poor miners. The findings suggest that exercising due diligence has become a goal in itself. This raises the question of whether giving buyers a clear conscience and developing a traceable and conflict-free product has received more prominence than has contributing to improving the situation of the Congolese population.
Jose Diemel and Thea Hilhorst with a new open access article in the Development Policy Review.

Chapter 4 Using Twitter as a Data Source: An Overview of Ethical, Legal, and Methodological Challenges

This chapter provides an overview of the specific legal, ethical, and privacy issues that can arise when conducting research using Twitter data. Existing literature is reviewed to inform those who may be undertaking social media research. We also present a number of industry and academic case studies in order to highlight the challenges that may arise in research projects using social media data. Finally, the chapter provides an overview of the process that was followed to gain ethics approval for a Ph.D. project using Twitter as a primary source of data. By outlining a number of Twitter-specific research case studies, the chapter will be a valuable resource to those considering the ethical implications of their own research projects utilizing social media data. Moreover, the chapter outlines existing work looking at the ethical practicalities of social media data and relates their applicability to researching Twitter.
Wasim Ahmed with an open access book chapter.

Academia

Together in Crisis: the Politics of Day Zero in Cape Town
Water scarcity and inequality are on the rise globally. By putting these three vignettes into alignment, I wish to suggest that racial and economic inequality is not erased in the face of disaster, but potentially exacerbated, and that conservation and crisis planning must center marginalized voices in order to be effective. Any attempts to compel collective action in the face of water crisis will ring hollow without acknowledgement of, and accounting for, the differential impact of global climate change on the poor. While wealthier, whiter residents of Cape Town frantically adjust to tracking their water use, desperately hoping to avoid day zero, for many day zero arrived a long time ago. One suspects much of this urgency is motivated by a fear, rather than a belief, that we are really “all in this together”.
Melissa K. Wrapp for Platypus shares some important anthropological reflections on race, class & the water crisis in Cape Town.

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Links & Contents I Liked 279

Links & Contents I Liked 281