Links & Contents I Liked 282

Hi all,

Welcome to this week's link review!

Development news: Crack-down on war-zone child abuse; MSF & #AidToo; how can aid sector communicate ethical dilemmas? AI hacks humanitarian jargon; how development graduate education should change; value for money in UK aid; Germany's colonial past in Namibia; police, violence & vengeance in Africa; can aid organizations support social movements? Memory, violence & peacebuilding in Sri Lanka; the liminal space for foreigners in Vietnam.

Our digital lives: UK's growth of the 'digital compassionate industry'; clay jocks are a thing on Insta; digital PTSD is real.

The limits of participatory M&E; the limits of for-profit initiatives in the humanitarian sector; the limits of crowdsourcing accountability in Uganda.

Academia: Small ways to support your female colleagues.


New on aidnography

Of lofty ideals, dual careers & long-distance motherhood - guest post by Milasoa Chérel-Robson

I am very excited to host another great guest post!
Milasoa Chérel-Robson works for UNCTAD and her reflections on the challenges and trade-offs of combining her international career with family duties highlight many personal insights into bigger debates in gender and development.
This is a perfect long-read for the weekend after Mother's Day that spans a historical trajectory from Madagascar and the socialist aspirations of the 1970s to the limits of “leaning in” in Geneva and contemporary Rwanda where Africa is celebrating a bright economic future.
Development news
Aid sector urged to crack down on war zone child abusers

Sex offenders and paedophiles are travelling to the world’s conflict zones to prey on vulnerable children, the National Crime Agency has warned.
Robert Jones, deputy director of the NCA’s child exploitation and online protection command, said offenders were exploiting the chaos of war and areas hit by natural disaster. He urged the aid sector to help make it as difficult as possible for individuals to commit crimes abroad.
Mark Townsend for the Guardian about a new initiative to protect children in war zones from abuse. Somehow, I felt a bit uneasy about the framing of the article. UN peacekeepers, mostly soldiers, operate in a very different context than aid agencies. Any investigation into wrong-doings by soldiers has always been difficult. And while I absolutely don't doubt that disturbing crimes have been committed against children, I wonder what the evidence or examples are from, say, Haiti or the Philippines when predators arrive right after a natural disaster, let alone conflict zone. And lastly, I feel that the emphasize on 'aid sector' ignores important aspects, such as religious missionaries, ordinary criminals who are not linked to development or local institutional set-ups outside the influence of UN agencies or aid organizations. The aid sector can do better, of course, and should be a leader in protecting children and having best institutional policies and practices in place, but they are not the only actors on the ground. Addressing masculinity and the military, local structures to protect children and decent funding for peacekeeping all play an important part in making any development effort safer for children.

“Holier than thou” MSF needs its own #MeToo moment

All this led me to believe that I understood sexism and indifference, intimidation and abuse. And I thought that MSF with its storied Nobel Prize winning history of temoignage and speaking out on behalf of the least powerful in the world was the obvious choice for me to move forward in my fight to support vulnerable women and girls around the world.
I thought I knew about toxic cultures, but I did not.
Sarah Martin for Cassandra Complexity on MSF in the Netherlands and the #AidToo movement.

Aid agencies should be clearer about their ethical dilemmas

One contributing factor might be the fear that acknowledging our ethical problems might put off potential supporters.
But it’s time to change that. In my experience ethical guidance is most useful when it is explicit about the ethical risks, and when it recognises uncertainty and grey areas as well as red lines; when it encourages debate. After all, medical students don’t simply learn the Hippocratic Oath, they are taught why it matters in situations of unequal information and power, and how it has been applied. International aid organisations – from donors through to international NGOs and the consulting firms who deliver donors’ projects – all need make sure that every staff member carries out her work reflectively, with an appreciation of its ethical dimensions, and in the knowledge that she is expected to put any project on hold until any ethical question has been answered satisfactorily, even if this goes against the perceived short term interests of her employer. That seems at least as important as making sure she understands the procurement and whistleblowing policies, or knows which particular list of abstract nouns her organisation has decided to put on its website.
I agree with Phil Vernon very much, but the problem is people/taxpayers/donors hate nothing more than uncertainty-in pretty much any policy field...But as the example of MSF shows, why not give it a try? Why not be more open about 'grey areas' if you are an established global player, say, Oxfam, ICRC or Plan? Maybe some donors would be driven away, but this may be offset by gains in legitimacy, attracting great people to work for your organization etc.?

(How) should scholars say what humanitarians can’t? by Roanne van Voorst and Isabelle Desportes

Four broad arguments can motivate scholars to engage in the humanitarianism-conflict debate. First, as independent researchers in the field, scholars have more freedom to speak up. Second, many will argue that ‘speaking the truth’ is a scholarly duty. Third, scholars’ voice might carry differently than that of human rights organisations or journalists, as scholars are supposed to adhere to rigorous scientific and ethical standards that grant their research some credibility. Last, academics increasingly vary their channels to seek ‘societal impact’. Newspaper articles, debate evenings, social media and blogs such as this one can help convey to a wider audience what would otherwise remain obscured.
Roanne van Voorst & Isabelle Desportes for blISS with an indirect response to Phil Vernon's post: Engage more with academics and discuss the 'grey areas'!

When Artificial Intelligence meets humanitarian jargon
IRIN rolled up its data science sleeves and deployed a bot on an important new challenge: making up names of aid agencies and aid job titles.
Humanitarian job titles invented by AI


Chief of Party (Sex)

Sneak Specialist

South Changes Manager

Chef of Finances and Grant & Manager

Regional Leader (Interant) Livelihood and Consultant

Multiple International Director

Nation demonic Manager
Ben Parker for IRIN on how AI will disrupt humanitarian job titles and more...

Opinion: Graduate education must adapt to solve the world's problems

In our classrooms, we must mimic the settings I encountered in my time at USAID: Opportunities to experience and negotiate the tensions — and confusion — that arise when people from different professional and intellectual backgrounds first work together toward a shared goal. We need more curricula that put environmental scientists, economists, anthropologists, and engineers in the same classroom, wrestling together with the same challenges.
There will be barriers to designing and executing such curricula, not least, the inherent difficulty of teaching transdisciplinary material to students with diverse intellectual backgrounds. It is not easy to walk a social scientist through ecological theories of resilience, or an environmental scientist through post-structural critiques of development.
Edward Carr for DevEx. Interesting food for thought. I'm not sure I fully agree with the transdisciplinary vision-or whether large aid organization are actually working on 'wicked problems' in the mundane bureaucratic realities of being large organization. I guess we should have a talk about it :) !

Value for money in UK aid: the good, the bad and the ugly

Within programmes, the value for money focus tends to be on economy and efficiency in delivery, with effectiveness analysis proving highly erratic. The only convincing story of a value for money argument increasing cost effectiveness cited by ICAI relates to a programme in Uganda, where DFID staff drew on global evidence and encouraged implementing partners to use cash transfers rather than food aid. Failing to focus on effectiveness across the board undercuts the promise of value for money: what’s the point of doing things cheaply and quickly without demonstrable evidence that they are having sustainable impacts?
What’s more, the value for money approach of DFID is a bit too Mystic Meg: that is, it assumes DFID can make financial and social predictions when it can’t; DFID often works in complicated contexts, on complex problems. But ICAI found few cases of programme managers or participants monitoring the costs and outcomes of ‘small bets’ with a view to evaluating and learning what worked best and then adapting their approach. Instead they found that what might best be described as DFID’s blueprint planning approach is in tension with its commitment to learning and adaptation, emphasised in the Smart Rules.
Cathy Shutt and Phil Valters for From Poverty to Power review a new report about DFID’s approach to value for money in programme and portfolio management. Didn't we have very similar debates 5, 7 or 11 years ago ?!?

Why The Herero Of Namibia Are Suing Germany For Reparations

The Herero want preferential access to the land that was taken from them. But their numbers — less than 10 percent of the population — are too low to give them sway in the Namibian government, Veii said.
The second is reparations. In recent years, Germany has started to take responsibility for colonial genocide and has offered development aid to Namibia. But many Herero and Nama have called for direct reparations, of the sort paid to Holocaust survivors after World War II. They say the descendants of victims, not the nation of Namibia, should lead negotiations with Germany.
"Development in the regions we live in is slow and almost nonexistent," Veii said. "This poverty is generational, and unless we break the chain through reparations from the German government, the status quo will remain."
That battle has moved to the U.S. thanks to a 2017 lawsuit. Under the Alien Tort Statute, an unusual law that has allowed foreigners to sue perpetrators of human rights violations, the Herero are challenging Germany in U.S. federal court.
The third issue might be described as truth and reconciliation. When apartheid ended in the early 1990s, South Africa empowered victims to publicly challenge their perpetrators. But Namibia did not.
Daniel A. Gross for NPR Goats & Soda with an important reminder and update about Germany's colonial past and current efforts to address the genocide in Namibia.

Peacebuilders: Militarization of Solutions (Podcast)

The militarization of policing and counterterrorism operations in East and West Africa has chiefly multiplied the numbers of people seeking vengeance against the state, contend regional experts Nanjala Nyabola and Obi Anyadike in the third episode of Peacebuilders, a Carnegie Corporation podcast series. Hosts Aaron Stanley and Scott Malcomson speak with experts from the region in this second episode of the Peacebuilders series.
I think part of the issue is that African security forces need to do their job. I'm not a complete pacifist. You need to have security forces that are professional and able to fulfill their functions. More importantly, you need to have a police service that is able to perform its basic functions. Which we don't have. Our police forces are underfunded, undermanned, understaffed. They don't have even the most basic of forensic skills. This is a policing issue before it's a military issue. It's a policing issue. You should be able to identify people early and not take them to a police station and torture them. Because as we've seen time and time again, that's just creating yet more radicalism. What we're seeing in Northeast Nigeria is a military that blunders around, burns down villages, rounds up young men and brutalizes them there and then or throws them into detention where they're kept for God knows how long. And there is no intelligence value whatsoever, but you are creating the conditions. Vengeance is a very powerful motivating force among young radical men and women.
Obi Anyadike & Nanjala Nyabola with an interesting discussion for the Carnegie Corporation.

This Ungoverned Haitian City Is Fighting to Stay Alive
“They may not have the academic skills to plan their neighborhood, but the Haitian people have a vision,” says Clement Belizaire, who heads Haiti’s government agency that’s theoretically responsible for overseeing the planning and development of Canaan but that hasn’t been allocated the funds to do so. “They want to have public spaces, they want to have the life of a normal family. So they try to plan on a very micro level.”
But if neither the central nor local governments invest in developing Canaan and it remains informal for too long, it may become impossible to turn this rapidly expanding city into a legal and fully functioning municipality, suggests Belizaire. “If you let the informal invade the area, you won’t have room for the formal. And it will be a very long process to rehabilitate and have a great Canaan,” he says.
There’s more at stake than just Canaan’s own future. If the city does become viable, it may offer lessons for other poorly governed cities beyond Haiti’s borders. After all, Canaan may be the world’s newest ungoverned city, but it isn’t the first.
Jacob Kushner & Allison Shelley for with a great feature on how to (un)plan cities and life after a natural disasters...lots of food for thought for discussions around temporary shelters, camps, informal settlements and decolonizing urban planning!

Opinion: Can aid organizations really be part of social movements?

The global development sector’s current policies, procedures, and day-to-day practices are actually in conflict with movements’ life cycles. Supporting movements means not determining goals or timetables, recognizing that these are ever-shifting within movements to meet the challenges and opportunities of the day.
If activists are already marginalized, extracted from, and demotivated by the aid sector’s paper pushing and internal navel gazing, how can we possibly presume to support entire movements?
Perhaps supporting movements is a sectoral trend that will fade away as many do. Or, we are approaching a dangerous precipice that could further damage people’s efforts to determine their futures.
Jennifer Lentfer for DevEx. The discussions reminds me a bit of issues that came up 20-25 years ago when 'civil society' turned into 'NGOs' and the 'professionalization' sometimes slowed down real social transformation.

The Insistence of Memory

In the aftermath of atrocities, the refusal to provide justice motivates the suppression of memory. Over time, the enforced forgetting becomes synonymous with injustice, until eventually, remembrance itself passes for justice.
And sometimes, justice passes for memory. In transitional contexts, trials and truth commissions are frequently seen as a means of forging collective memory, a shared narrative of the past on which to base a new political order. But as Rieff argues, an exhaustive reckoning with the past is beyond the scope of justice mechanisms. And rather than building consensus, the assignment of blame can sow the seeds for further discord. The vexed relationship between memory and justice is never clearer than in the presence of the disinterred victims of violence.
Kate Cronin-Furman for the LA Review of Books on Sri Lanka, war, peace, memory & so much more!

Expats, Tourists and “Matter out of Place”

The job that I held in Vietnam at that point was one that had been designated (in a different directive by a different ministry) as foreigner-only – so I knew I was not taking a Vietnamese person’s job. I paid my taxes (which were higher than for most Vietnamese nationals actually), took Vietnamese language and culture classes, participated in community events, and tried to be a good citizen, even though formal citizenship was something that was unavailable to me in Vietnam. But true assimilation, or even integration, was elusive. Most of my non-Vietnamese colleagues and I lived in a state of liminality; not unfamiliar in the country, but eternally “foreign” nonetheless. And I hadn’t really minded this, until the connotation of “foreign” changed, from being just “different” to being “unwelcome”. Tourists, on the other hand, seemed to be almost universally adored by the Vietnamese, even though they barely scratched the surface of Vietnamese culture.
Jodie-Lee Trembath for the Familiar Strange on the liminal spaces that foreigners occupy in Vietnam.

Our digital lives

UK 'leading world' in compassionate technology
The UK has more investments in compassionate technology companies than the rest of Europe put together, data from Public - which supports industry start-ups - suggests.
These companies are part of a sector estimated to be worth about £7bn, more than the financial tech sector - the new services such as current account apps disrupting traditional banking.
And the UK technology industry as a whole grew by 4.5% between 2016 and 2017, according to a Tech Nation report released today.
Rick Kelsey for BBC News. No mentioning of root causes, nothing on how austerity, neoliberalism, Brexit etc. paved the way for the compassion industry that promises to make money with techno-solutionism off people and groups that the UK state tends to create, stigmatize and leave alone. This article actually made me quite angry...

Rise of the Clay Jock

More than his pots or body, his lifestyle is what attracts. Eric travels to nice places, takes surfboard selfies and the type of pleasing, generic photos of landscapes found in tourism brochures. He appears to live a version of the four-hour workweek. Tortus implies that, with a bit of skill, practice, and an active Instagram account, we too could live a globe-trotting life of leisure. Like any number of TV shows such as Chef’s Table that emphasize the craftsman ideal, Tortus presents a highly exceptional case as an image of what we can aspire to in a world that does not support it. Instead of the daily resignation and despair felt by most people at their jobs, the brand presents a world in which you can “Do what you love, and never work a day in your life.”
Ben Koditschek for Jacobin with the latest iteration of how consumer capitalism wants us to be uncritically happy and live our lives for Insta success...

Digital PTSD is real

I was diagnosed with PTSD two days after I got back from Virginia. In the weeks and months that followed, I experienced flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, dissociation, chronic body pain, and severe depression and anxiety — symptoms that interfered with my work reporting on fascists, but that were triggered by it, too. Every time I looked up photos of protesters clashing with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, or videos of the car attack, it was like I was back on that street corner.
Speaking with The Outline, he recalled that going through the violent logs was stressful — even though, as a white man, he knew he wasn’t a target of these groups. “I think my ability to be cool and keep doing it is a level of privilege,” Schiano said. Still, he said that he avoided violent content of the night of the torch march, where he was concerned for his safety. “I’ve had to re-watch it at other points in my own work,” he said.
Erin Corbett for The Outline on how engaging with abusive content online can have a lasting impact on your mental health.

What's in a name? Unpacking “participatory” environmental monitoring

Our findings indicate that in most PEM projects published in scientific journals, participation is mostly functional in the sense that local peoples’ involvement is framed so that they contribute to the gathering of information in a cost-effective way, while their potential interests in shaping the purpose and format of the project and use of the data appear overlooked. Overall, the actual practice of most PEM projects analyzed appears to foster participation in a very limited sense of the word.
Nerea Turreira-García , Jens F. Lund , Pablo Domínguez, Elena Carrillo-Anglés, Mathias C. Brummer, Priya Duenn & Victoria Reyes-García with an open-access article in Ecology and Society on how participatory monitoring often comes down to 'add participation and stir' efforts.

Introducing 'for profit' initiatives and actors in humanitarian response

In sum, while the engagement with the private sector might offer a certain number of advantages, the mindset in which it occurs, however, is cause for concern. On one hand, it seems that humanitarian organisations, while recognising the need for
better capacity and diversified skills in the sector, tend to over-rely on the private sector as a solution. On the other hand, donors’ subcontracting and transfer of risk of humanitarian responses to the private sector play into the underlying dynamics that drive the gap in the emergency response by humanitarian organisations.
All of this feeds into an ever-growing vicious circle at the expense of increased capability and skills of the humanitarian sector for the emergency response, where the immediate needs of the most vulnerable populations are not being met: humanitarian organisations shy away from timely and effective responses and do
not invest sufficiently in technical capacities (thus giving way for the private sector to intervene). In addition, while the private sector gains legitimacy in a new field, this might carry the risk for humanitarian principles to be easily dismissed and considered dated and simplistic.
Elena Lucchi with a new report for MSF Spain.

Crowdsourcing Accountability: ICT for Service Delivery

We find suggestive evidence of a short-term
improvement in some education services, but these effects deteriorate by year two of the program, and we find little or no evidence of an effect on health and water services at any period. Despite relatively high levels of system uptake, enthusiasm of district officials, and anecdotal success stories, we find that relatively few messages from citizens provided specific, actionable information about service provision within the purview
and resource constraints of district officials, and users were often discouraged by officials’ responses. Our findings suggest that for crowd-sourced ICT programs to move from isolated success stories to long-term accountability enhancement, the quality and specific content of reports and responses provided by users and officials is centrally important.
Guy Grossman, Melina Platas & Jonathan Rodden with a new open-access paper.


#metoo in the Meantime

Folks often mistake my small-steps approach to big problems as naiveté or misplaced optimism. Do I for even a second think that doing these things alone will change the systemic barriers and obstacles that women in the academy face? No, I do not. But do I think that the accumulation of such things might improve the experience of women in the academy and be part of the leverage for systemic change? I absolutely do.
Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt for Inside HigherEd introduces some small, immediate steps to improve the work environment for female colleagues.


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