Links & Contents I Liked 299

Hi all,

We had two long, but great days discussing blog project assignments with our Communication for Development students. I am also preparing for post link review #300 next week, but in the meantime...

Development news: The problem with microcredit; Saudi's UN PR efforts; China's appetite for fishmeal is felt across Africa; Canada's expensive zombie mines; informality & gig economy in Africa; that blasted white savior complex; the enablers of 'More Than Me'; ICRC goes crowd-funding; toys-in-soap are great! Humanitarian ethics; Bengal famine; Poland in 1987; not burning out after 25 years of medical aid in Uganda.

Our digital lives: Visa regimes & journalism; work is the problem of sex work; journalism while brown.

Publications: Questions about nudge theory; what's the impact of DfID's maternal health projects? ILO on air pollution & gender inequalities; World Bank's ComDev report; Fairtrade & the politics of metrics.

Academia: Rewiring Puerto Rico-decolonial-style!


Development news

Loan sharks are circling for poor Indian debtors failed by microfinance

But now there is a growing body of research suggesting that microfinance doesn’t work for some communities – apart from generating income for lenders. It may have worked well in Bangladesh in the 70s, but it has failed to keep up with the changing needs and behaviours of business owners. One reason, say critics, is that repayment terms are unrealistic and old-fashioned. Inflexible contracts fail to meet the investment needs of poor borrowers such as Rashmi, whose income fluctuates over the year: “It can be extremely busy around the festival, and, then afterwards, there are some weeks when I can’t sell a piece of barfi [traditional Indian cake],” she says.
Even though Rashmi’s income is irregular, the microfinance institution demands fixed weekly repayments starting immediately after the loan disbursement. This means she cannot use all the money to give her supplier a downpayment for her order of Diwali sweets. She needs to retain 15% to make sure she can meet the repayments before she generates income. “It will take weeks to sell enough sweets to make a profit – weeks in which I still have to make regular repayments on the loan. This adds to the borrowing costs,” she says.
Navjot Sangwan for the Guardian with some interesting food for thought about one of the darlings of the #globaldev industry.

Saudis demanded good publicity over Yemen aid, leaked UN document shows

The document also sets out how all agencies receiving Saudi aid must share a summary of their publicity around the funding. The agreement adds: “We consider it very important to ensure that our dear fellow Yemenis are all aware of our donations. More emphasis should be placed on strengthening the local visibility plan by engaging local media … so that donors get deserved recognition and not to be overshadowed by the recipient’s agencies’ visibility.”
The UN, the plan sets out, will convene events at UN headquarters focusing on the humanitarian response in Yemen, and the impact of all donor funding. These events will acknowledge the roles of all donors including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The agreement also requires agencies receiving the aid to document Saudi- and UAE-supported activities in photographs and video material in Yemen.
The document then sets out 48 specific steps UN agencies have agreed to take this year to publicise Saudi activity covering five different UN aid-linked agencies, including the UN Development Programme, Ocha, the World Health Organization and Unicef.
Patrick Wintour for the Guardian. The UN system can't be picky about its funding and somehow the Gulf states are really bad with their PR...

'Fish are vanishing' - Senegal's devastated coastline
This is a hungry industry, with 5kg (11lb) of fish required to produce just 1kg of fishmeal. There are already some 20 plants in Nouadhibou alone. But critics say this industry is creating very few jobs.
"The Senegalese were replaced with mainly Chinese and Turks who now catch the fish being processed by fishmeal plants, mostly owned by the Chinese and Russians," Alassane Samba, a former director of Senegal's oceanic research institute, tells me.
"Mauritania is protecting its waters not for its people, but for foreigners."
He adds that despite the lack of fish, there are around 15 fishmeal plants in Senegal also, including one in St Louis. Some are being built further down the West African coast as far away as The Gambia.
Ocean Shock: Fishmeal factories plunder Africa, take food from plates.
When times were good, the thousands of workers at this outdoor fish-drying facility – almost all of them women – could make more money than the fishermen many had married, saving enough to buy them new engines, or even boats.
Among them was Rokeya Diop, a matriarchal figure of good standing among the community that dries, smokes and salts fish for sale in local markets. These days, the acrid pall hanging over the near-deserted complex matched her mood.
BBC News with a shorter version and Matthew Green for Reuters with the long-read on yet another development-growth-climate change challenge that threatens the environment and people.

Canada’s northern ‘zombie mines’ are a lingering multi-billion dollar problem

The arsenic trioxide dust, released from the rock as it was roasted to get the gold, was pumped underground during most of the mine’s life. Better there than in the air (in the early days of the mine, it was sending up to 7,400 kg of the dust out into the environment, sickening locals and even killing a Yellowknives Dene child) but it presents its own problems underground.
Dealing with the arsenic trioxide has been the central headache for the federal government since 2004, when it took over remediation of the mine from its bankrupt owner. The dust has meant that, barring an unforeseen technological breakthrough or unthinkable disaster, there will never be an end to the government’s role in keeping the site secure.
“This will never be a walk-away solution,” Brad Thompson, senior project manager for Public Works and Government Services Canada, told a group of reporters at the mine in mid-September.
He means that the government, and therefore taxpayers, will never walk away from Giant Mine — a feat that, for its owners, took just a flick of a pen. They mined $2.7 billion worth of gold, and then Canadians were left with the billion-dollar cleanup.
Jimmy Thomson for the Narwhal with investigative reporting from Northern Canada. Besides the fact that the Narwhal is probably Canada's best independent reporting project on mining-related issues, it is a reminder that no matter what the companies will tell the public they will capitalize on their profits and socialize the cost when they are done!

Let’s Be Real: The Informal Sector and the Gig Economy are the Future, and the Present, of Work in Africa

When we talk about job losses and gains in the developed world, we are generally thinking of formal sector jobs with regular hours, regular pay, various legal protections, and registered for income taxes. But in most of Africa the situation is completely different: almost all workers are in the informal sector, whether in agriculture or informal manufacturing and services. Those who can work, must, as the state social safety net barely exists.
At present we don’t have a good answer to how government should best ensure that platforms give a fair share of the profits to workers; rather the trends seem to be that platforms concentrate the returns to capital and intellectual property. But perhaps African governments will be able to lead the way in policy, starting with a realistic recognition of where the workers are: in the gig economy.
Amolo Ng’weno & David Porteous for the Center for Global Development with a really great post that looks behind the discourse of the 'gig economy' in Africa. I'm just a bit less optimistic that African countries will not just see an expansion of platform capitalism that we have been witnessing elsewhere.

What Can We Do About The White Savior Complex?

“Some of the biggest national development agencies around today were actually created before colonialism ended. They worked in places like Africa and Asia. Their initial work was actually under the governing structures of colonialism, right? So there is a deep history that’s connected to that, and what that means is that it permeates some of the cultural practices and even the discourse around international development in philanthropy that’s practiced today.” – Solome Lemma
Tiny Sparks podcast featuring Lydia Namubiru,
Angela Bruce Raeburn, Solome Lemma, Jennifer Lentfer and Teddy Ruge.

More Than Me: A tragic failure of philanthropy
Here’s the thing, though: Katie Meyler didn’t build More Than Me on her own. She had lots of help. She has been financed by foundations and U.S. government agencies that, arguably, should have known better, especially once the rapes came to light; she won a popularity contest funded by JPMorgan Chase that awarded More Than Me a $1m prize to build MTM Academy; she was repeatedly lauded by credulous reporters; and she benefited from the persistent appeal of what has been called the white savior complex, a mindset that regards people in Africa, especially children, as helpless victims awaiting rescued by western do-gooders.
Marc Gunther for Nonprofit Chronicles on how the More Than Me debacle should raise some red flags for part of the #globaldev and philanthropy industry.
Interview: Why the ICRC is Turning to Crowdfunding
Delegations approach us with their project that must ideally be small, concrete and easily implementable on the ground.
There is a list of criteria that helps our team to choose the type of projects we select:
Projects must improve the situation of people affected by armed conflict or other situations of violence very concretely. They need to help categories of people with specific vulnerabilities, such as, for instance, children, people with disabilities or the elderly. It should also be projects that are appealing to the public – something that will provide a compelling message or promote a very specific cause so that the audience can really connect to it. As mentioned, projects should be easily and quickly implemented, with simple and measurable outcomes. Finally, the final amount to be raised should be reasonable to guarantee the success of the project.
Timo Luege talk to Coline Rapneau for Social Media for Good. I am not entirely convinced that ICRC needs to enter the crowded crowd-funding marketplace. I am also not entirely convinced about whether this is an effective way for a global player like ICRC to run projects or whether it risks turning into PR and superficial communication for development...

Surprise (or not)! Toy-in-soap intervention increases handwashing among kids in emergency contexts

Watson, et al. show an intervention focused on motivations without health-based messaging in a non-school setting for older kids can be successful, even in an emergency context. That’s good news for a few reasons. Previous handwashing with soap research has shown that health is not an effective behavior change motivator. Additionally, the toy-in-soap intervention can be implemented by field staff without requiring additional formal training which can save time and money by avoiding time-intensive trainings. Response times are key during emergencies, and the authors provide evidence that an intervention could be scaled quickly and in a cost-effective way. Before reading this new article, I never thought that toys inside soap could make such a difference with increasing handwashing. It feels like common sense though, yes?
Corey White for Research for Evidence. N=40 is a bit of a smaller sample size, but an interesting update on hand washing campaigns, every C4Ds person's favorite social change project ;)!

Who wants to be a Volunteer? Book Review

firstly, there is almost no evidence cited from research on the actual impact of volunteering – just a string of anecdotes and reminiscences. There must be more than that out there, surely? What impact does sustained exposure to volunteering have on norms, community cohesion, social mobility and income? Would appreciate some links and references. Even more alarming is the almost total absence of the volunteered-upon – the families and communities who host those 10 million arrivals every year, with all the attendant disruption and mutual incomprehension. Hundreds of volunteers are quoted in the book, talking about how much they’ve learned, how na├»ve they were at first etc etc. But there is hardly anything from members of the ‘community’ they are trying to help, and precious few thoughts from local NGOs either. That just feels wrong.
Duncan Green for fp2p also reviews 'Learning Service' and adds some important aspects that probably require another book on that topic...

A new humanitarian ethics? Blog 1

This inequality represents a fundamental unasked question facing the humanitarian sector. Given its increasingly clear role in the conflict and suffering to which we respond, what is its role in the donations that pay for our salaries and services? In grim terms: To what extent is an enormous chunk of our support produced in the factories of inequality? As I set it down in a previous blog, perhaps Peter Buffett explains it better: Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.
Marc DuBois for Humanicontrarian on humanitarian ethics in an age of philanthrocapitalism.

Profit Inflation, Keynes and the Holocaust in Bengal, 1943–44
History is the only laboratory that the scholar of the social sciences has. The holocaust in Bengal holds important lessons for analysing the current situation. It tells us that large-scale resource extraction entailing economic genocide, is something that imperialist countries could get away with quite easily, attributing it to natural causes and abnormal external conditions. Owing to such misinformation, not a single demand was raised in India by patriotic political leaders or by any public intellectual, that the Allies should pay reparations for the lives wantonly lost owing to the extreme and inhumane measure of resource extraction from a population already greatly impoverished by preceding decades of tax-financed transfers and by the Depression. Barring individual exceptions, even the most intelligent persons in the country who actually lived through the famine period, could be conceptually quite blind as regards its real cause. Or, if they did know the real cause, as perhaps some of Keynes’s brightest Indian students did, they found it expedient to maintain silence.
It should not surprise us that there continues to be neo-imperialist resource extraction from the peasantry in India as indeed in other developing countries today, which is neither recognised nor analysed as such, imposing a prolonged toll on the lives of peasants and of petty producers generally. Demand management is a two-edged weapon: it can be “virtuous finance” when used to expand public spending judiciously and reduce unemployment. Equally, when particular dominant Northern imperialist interests require a compression of mass consumption in developing countries to release primary resources for their own benefit, then these dominant interests can and do push for the implementing of “vicious finance” by national governments, by peddling incorrect and self-serving theories.
Utsa Patnaik for the Economic & Political Weekly with historical long-read on the Bengal famine.

Stan wojenny: My memories of the (post) Martial Law

The Polish government and its agencies were totally technocratic. This was very different from Yugoslavia where its home-grown system of “socialist workers' management”, complete with complicated ideological “baggage”, made the government thoroughly ideological. In Poland, the communist ideology was dead--since 1968. Only the language of technocracy existed.
Branko Milanovic for globalinequality reflects on the days when he visited Poland as a World Bank staffer.

29 deaths in 28 days after 25 years: thoughts on burning out and smoldering on

Tomorrow will probably bring a 30th death for the month. It will probably bring some disappointment, some mistakes, something important we miss, some longing for those we love, some awareness of our weakness and temptation to hide or pretend. But we pray for ourselves and those we supervise that tomorrow will also bring eyes wide open to the deeper realities, curiosity to investigate and delve deep, connection with others, and a few laughs. And a rhythm that paces us into the next 25.
Scott & Jennifer Myhre for Paradox Uganda. Perhaps I thought about including this post for a bit too long. But in the end, despite my personal reservations about 'doing God's work' anywhere in the world I decided that it provides substantial food for thought when we think about 'resilience' and dealing with the stress of aid work.

Our digital lives

Why Visa Privilege is a Press Freedom Issue

Despite espousing a belief in freedom of expression and frequently criticizing other countries for their lack of press freedom, countries in the EU often present astounding barriers to journalists traveling here for professional reasons. From large, non-refundable fees, to invitation letter requirements, to pre-booked flights and random, unexplained rejections, the EU makes it hard — and sometimes impossible — for journalists from other countries to travel here for conferences, work and research.In order to bring journalists to Warsaw for less than a week for our conference, we had to navigate a breathtakingly arbitrary set of standards for each country that appeared chiefly designed to make the applicant give up on their desire to leave their country, even briefly.
Christina Lee for hostwriter with an important point about the power of Northern passports & Visa regimes in the context of journalism.

Sex Is Not the Problem with Sex Work

Just because a job is bad does not mean it is not a “real job.” When sex workers assert that sex work is work, we are saying that we need rights. We are not saying that work is good or fun, or even harmless, nor that it has fundamental value. Likewise, situating what we do within a workers’-rights framework does not constitute an unconditional endorsement of work itself. It is not an endorsement of capitalism or of a bigger, more profitable sex industry. “People think the point of our organization [the National Organization for the Emancipation of Women in a State of Prostitution] is [to] expand prostitution in Bolivia,” says activist Yuly Perez. “In fact, we want the opposite. Our ideal world is one free of the economic desperation that forces women into this business.”
Juno Mac & Molly Smith for the Boston Review with a very interesting excerpt from their latest book.

Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away
When a story or column does not adequately, if at all, understand or consider the perspectives of the nonwhite people it involves, what do you say? When a story involving people of colour is assigned with a colour-blind lens and a false sense of objectivity, what do you do? When you pitch projects on race and multiple times see the boss prefer a race-related project pitched by a person who is white, regardless of your read of the room, what is your recourse? When you ultimately stop pitching stories on race to preserve your own sanity, what good are you doing the very nonwhite people whose perspectives you deem yourself to be in the newsroom to share?
How many battles do you have in you?
I decided to leave The Globe and Mail because that final conversation inside the bureau chief’s office crystallized what I had felt: What I brought to the newsroom did not matter. And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.
Sunny Dhillon on why he left Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper.


Nudge Fudge Leaves Policy Makers in the Dark

By harnessing psychological research, governments across the world are trying to shape our behavior. While they are popular, our findings reveal that based on the OECD report, these psychological techniques are unreliable. The common argument in support of using them is that they are cost effective, but here also there is nothing in the report that helps the public assess if these psychological methods, when they work, are more cost effective compared to typical methods used by governments (e.g., taxes, bans, tariffs, mandates).
Magda Osman for Psychology Today on the limits of behavioral economics.

Assessing DFID’s results in improving Maternal Health

We were unable to confirm DFID’s global results claim on saving maternal lives, owing to shortcomings in the way it estimated the impacts of its programmes.
DFID’s policies prioritised reaching poor and young women but only a few programmes identified specific mechanisms or set targets for reaching these key groups. Furthermore, very few programmes disaggregated their results, making it impossible to determine the impact of DFID programming on poor, young or otherwise hard-to-reach women and girls.
DFID has been a strong advocate for women’s and girls’ rights internationally but could do more to reinforce this at community level in priority countries.
We found that DFID’s maternal health programming during the Results Framework period had a limited focus on the long-term development of health system infrastructure and institutions.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact takes a closer look at maternal health projects.

Information and Communications for Development 2018 : Data-Driven Development
The Information and Communications for Development report takes an in-depth look at how information and communication technologies (ICT) are impacting economic growth in developing countries. This new report, the fourth in the series, examines the topic of data-driven development, or how better information makes for better policies. The objective is to assist developing country firms and governments to unlock the value of the data they hold for better service delivery and decision making, and to empower individuals to take more control of their personal data. The chapters of the report explore different themes associated with the supply of data, the technology underlying it, and the demand for it.
The World Bank with a report that I will read more closely this time...

The Politics of Development Metrics and Measurement: Impact Evaluations in Fairtrade‐certified Plantation Agriculture
This article presents an analysis of impact evaluations in the case of Fairtrade International in order to track the political effects of metrics and measurement procedures in development practice today. Metrics or ‘indicators’ have long been understood to have the effect of transforming the political visions of socioeconomic change that shape development interventions into seemingly non‐contentious, technical models. (...)
The authors find, first, that debates over competing visions or definitions of development became concealed in technical debates over adequate metrics and measurements; and, second, that such debates over metrics and measurement consolidated the roles of experts and expert knowledge as mediators of what development can or should be.
Angus Lyall & Elizabeth Havice with a new article in Development & Change which is currently free to access. 

Rewiring Puerto Rico: Power and Empowerment after Hurricane Maria
Understanding what happened in Puerto Rico paints a picture of what could happen again elsewhere in the region. It is important to acknowledge, too, that more than its electrical grid is in disrepair. Similar problems of governance, financing, and equity are reproduced across various sectors as the island rebuilds, among them: housing, forestry, tourism, healthcare, education, water, coastal management, and more. Yet, the enduring spirit of Puerto Ricans is captured by a slogan that began to circulate not long after the storm subsided: Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico will rise. In this critical moment of rewiring comes an opportunity to bring ideas about innovative approaches for resilience into light.
Lily Bui for Alternautas with some anthropological reflections on 'rewiring' Puerto Rico physically and decolonially.


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