Links & Contents I Liked 321

Hi all,

Many readers will enjoy a long Easter weekend and I will contribute some food for thought with my latest link review!

Development news: Food crisis in Zimbabwe; the failure of development communication tropes; the conflict in Northern Nigeria is not 'empowering' victims; Charity Water hearts capitalism; US concerned over UNAIDS spending; the tragedy of contaminated water in Bangladesh; will AI kill growth in developing countries (and is it really a bad thing)? Expat vs. local aid worker: Somali UN staff edition; how UN consultants struggle in Geneva; pay transparency at Open Humanitarian Street Map; social media & emergencies; Melinda Gates likes taxes; 'solutions privilege'; new book project on Rwanda.

Our digital lives: 30 African communicators to follow.

Academia: Does #highered internationalization produce global taxi drivers? Is academia a Multi-Level Marketing scheme/scam?


New from aidnography

Development news
'I don't know how my children will survive': Zimbabwe in crisis

Adjacent to the food distribution point is Kawere primary school, where Brian and his two friends are playing on the football pitch. The three boys are visibly malnourished. Their families can only afford a single meal.
A local educational officer says school children often collapse from hunger.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is now giving cash assistance to villagers. They expect most Zimbabweans to require food aid until 2020.
“The most important livelihood opportunity is agriculture, but with the current situation it means there is nothing until next year. So there a strong possibility that we will need to support families until March next year,” says the WFP’s country coordinator, Eddie Rowe. The current food crisis in Zimbabwe has been exacerbated by the reliance on a single staple crop, maize, which is not suited to drought or warmer temperatures.
Nyasha Chingono for the Guardian reports from rural Zimbabwe and the front lines of climate change and 'natural' disasters.

On Message: How development tropes have failed us

She went on to explain what she sees as the core issue of development stories: an inauthentic understanding of storytelling. She illustrated how stories are often collected as “raw material” from the developing world and then shipped to the United Kingdom and other Western headquarters to be processed for Western donors and institutions. “We were the story factory. We were shaping the narrative to suit our own objectives,” she confessed, recalling her own challenges with storytelling while she was the executive director at a major philanthropic foundation.
Msimang offered some solutions that start with asking ourselves questions. She asks us to consider how stories are made and who we think the stories are intended to influence. With that, she says we might find some uncomfortable truths. For some organizations, it might mean restructuring key messaging or new storytellers altogether.
“Investing in storytellers and deemphasizing the key messages of your organizations [and] your storylines means complicating the narrative,” she said.
Carine Umuhumuza for DevEx summarizes Sisonke Msimang keynote speech at the Bond conference.

So-Called 'Empowering'​ Terms Don't Change the Realities of Conflict-Affected Persons

I deliberately use the word ‘victims’ because while we debate which terms are synonym of empowerment, the daily realities of these women, men, and children affected by this 10-year long conflict are about survival. There is nothing empowering about a family of 5 living in a makeshift shelter made up of plastic and bed sheets whose size is less than 5 square meters. There is nothing empowering about having to choose whether to eat in the morning or at night because there is only one meal day. There is nothing empowering about sending children to beg to buy something to eat. There is nothing empowering about living in a space where there is not a single toilet and that you have to walk several meters in the pitch-dark night to defecate or urinate in the open.
Hajer Naili works for the Norwegian Refugee Council and shares reflections from the conflict zone in Northeast Nigeria.

A Charity Accepts Uber Stock as Donations. Then Uses It to Pay Staff Bonuses. Is That O.K.?

It was a quandary that Mr. Harrison, who has forged close ties with the Silicon Valley elite over the years, had been mulling for some time. Now he is doing something about it. Under a new program, start-up founders will be able to share their wealth not just with impoverished families in the developing world but also with a rather more comfortable demographic — Charity: water employees.
Here’s how it works: Entrepreneurs who own sizable stakes in private companies can donate some of their equity to Charity: water. When their company goes public or is sold, some of the proceeds will be paid out as bonuses to Mr. Harrison’s staff.
David Gelles for the New York Times with a reminder that charity water's thirst for becoming part of the Silicon Valley-philanthrocapitalism-industrial complex is still far from being quenched...

US ‘concerned’ over misused funds allegations at UNAIDS
Confidential documents obtained by the AP show UNAIDS is grappling with previously unreported allegations that Brostrom and her former supervisor may have taken part in “fraudulent practices and misuse of travel funds.”
The ongoing turmoil is a damaging distraction for an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded U.N. efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.
“The U.S. highly values transparency and due diligence and in this context, supports the timely completion of all investigations,” said the U.S. spokesperson, who added that the government remains “committed” to a strong U.N. AIDS agency. The U.S. stopped short of saying whether any funding would be withheld.
Maria Cheng & Jamey Keaten for AP. Let's be clear: No, the US does not value transparency and due diligence highly otherwise they would have to shut down the the Pentagon ages ago...
As always it is difficult to separate fact from political games and UN bashing, travel expenses and bureaucratic structures provide plenty of food for political intrigues...

Warning people off tainted drinking water may have killed children

Yes, there was arsenic in Bangladesh’s wells, and it may have posed a health threat. But in areas where people were encouraged to switch away from the wells, child mortality jumped by a horrifying 45 percent — and adult mortality increased too. It turns out that the alternatives to the wells, for most people in Bangladesh, were all worse — surface water contaminated with waterborne diseases, or extended storage of water in the home, which is also a major disease risk.
Is that worse than well water laced with low levels of arsenic? The paper reviews the complex, often contradictory literature around the effects of chronic low-level arsenic exposure and finds that it does increase your risk of cancer in old age. The authors conclude that risks seem to accumulate with more exposure, but the effects are still small next to the effects of unclean drinking water.
That means that, in encouraging people to switch away from the wells, development agencies swapped out a fairly limited risk for a much larger risk — and people died as a result.
“We worry about scary things like arsenic,” Rachel Glennerster, chief economist at the UK’s Department for International Development and one of the researchers who wrote the paper, told me. “But some of the everyday costs of things that seem not so scary, like diarrhea, are actually huge.”
Kelsey Piper for Vox summarizes Nina Buchmann, Erica M. Field, Rachel Glennerster & Reshmaan N. Hussam latest paper 'Throwing the Baby out with the Drinking Water' (still not a fan of 'witty' paper titles...) with plenty of food for thought about research ethics, behaviour change & doing #globaldev.

Will AI kill developing world growth?

But I am becoming increasingly concerned that AI will, in fact, block the traditional growth path by replacing low-wage jobs with robots.
Ian Goldin for BBC News. A good overview over the AI debate with a focus on Africa. As we talk about climate change, degrowth etc. I wonder whether disrupting 'traditional growth path' is also an opportunity for re-thinking economic growth and sustainability?

'We're excluded from the table': Somali UN staff say they struggle in 'two-tier' aid sector

“It is difficult to access these international organisations,” says Scotou general secretary, Ahmed Hassan. “They are based inside Mogadishu airport, which is heavily guarded; there is nothing much we can do to advocate for the rights of local workers. Somali staff members, especially casual workers who report to the base every day, are not even allowed to use their mobile phones at work for security reasons, which means they cannot call their family members even in an emergency. This is unacceptable.”
“There is always an international staff assigned to supervise Somali nationals regardless of their capacity, position, experience or level of education,” she says. “They assume that we are not competent enough to execute our duties and the fact that we are Somalis we are bound to make mistakes therefore, there is always that white or non-Somali looking after you, watching and correcting your mistakes.”
Moulid Hujale for the Guardian shares some really interesting insights into the 'expat-local staff' debate and how challenging it is for the UN/#globaldev system to break old habits.

UN Consultant conditions: still a long way to go

At the top of our demands is equal pay for equal work – which means consultants should be remunerated at a living level, and receive equivalent benefits and support to those working for a Swiss employer. All organizations should provide comprehensive and accessible information to current and future consultants about their fiscal and administrative obligations. We also believe that the CCB can provide effective input into collective efforts to ensure fee rates and benefits are more transparent and consistent across Geneva, and that institutions like UNOG, the cantonal authorities and Swiss Permanent Mission can do more to help. There is still scope for organizations to help consultants who have to bear high, potentially ruinous, retrospective obligations.
The Committee of the Consultants Coordination Board (no, me neither...) for UN Special about working conditions for UN consultants in Geneva/Switzerland and a reminder that inequalities happen on many levels in the #globaldev system...

HOT’s Journey through Salary Transparency

To address this, we decided to aim for complete salary transparency across all projects and all locations. ‘Salary’ and ‘transparency’ are two words you don’t often see together. This was unfamiliar territory - and definitely scary. For some, it conjured up thoughts of: Will I be forced to reveal my salary publicly? What if I’m paid too much? Too little? Will I be given a raise? Could my salary decrease? After talking with organizations who had implemented some form of salary standards (thanks, colleagues at Ushahidi) and reading about others, it became clear that there were many forms of transparency. Some organizations were transparent internally (among staff) while others went public (e.g. Buffer). Some published a raw number without explanation due to legal requirements (e.g. government employers like the State of New York) while others published a formula (again, Buffer). For HOT, we felt like the best solution was one that emphasized transparency and equity during the process, rather than being overly focused on the end result without any explanation of how it was determined. Our management team felt we needed a solution which accomplished the following
Tyler Radford for Humanitarian Open Street Map shares some interesting reflections on the organization's quest for more salary transparency.

Saving lives with social media: The power of the crowd in emergencies

One thing is clear: Social media is changing how people communicate during emergencies. Instant communication and real time data helps humanitarian organizations and survivors to respond and recover faster and more safely. At the same time, misinformation and disinformation can increase insecurity for vulnerable communities. Institutional disaster responders need to learn how to proactively deal with these challenges, while media and information literacy programs in disaster prone countries can play an important role in helping journalists, community leaders and survivors access vital information and identify misinformation. Better informed communities can make more informed decisions about their future. In the aftermath of an emergency, that can be the difference between life and death, between recovery and deterioration.
Timo Luege for Deutsche Welle with an excellent overview over the discussions around social media in post-disaster situations.

Melinda Gates on tech innovation, global health and her own privilege

One of the recurring criticisms of large-scale philanthropists is that they aren’t interested in any redress of the economic systems that create inequality. But in order to rectify inequalities, doesn’t a radical rethinking need to happen? Bill and I are both on the record saying that we believe in more progressive taxes. We believe in an estate tax. We don’t believe in enormous inherited wealth
David Marchese talks to Melinda Gates for the New York Times; not many new insights regarding the her and the foundation's work, but I really like that she mentions the best 'charitable' act philanthrocapitalists can do: Pay taxes in the US!

Solutions Privilege: How privilege shapes the expectations of solutions, and why it’s bad for our work addressing systemic injustice

The hyper-focus on “solutions” is also a way to avoid acknowledging systemic injustice. It happens often when we talk about uncomfortable things like racism and white privilege, or sexism and male privilege, or colonization and wealth. Going directly to solutions makes us feel productive while allowing us to avoid feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness that often accompany these conversations. But these impulsive solutions are often ineffective because they are not grounded deeply in courageous acknowledgement of the root causes of problems.
Solutions Privilege helps maintain the status quo and keeps systemic injustice in place. In order to address injustice, those who benefit most from it have to be able to see it, understand our roles in perpetuating it, accept that it’s our responsibility to address it, spend enough time to really grasp it, examine our conscious and unconscious biases that might prevent us from registering certain solutions to it, accept that solutions to entrenched problems are complex, and trust that the people most affected by injustice would have the most effective solutions and support them to implement these solutions.
Vu Le for Nonprofit AF speaking truth to 'solutions'.

The Triumph of Evil

The mixed medium book (part narrative and part graphic novel) is based on real life events. It uses eyewitness accounts to reconstruct the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 850,000 people were massacred in one hundred days. It follows the main protagonist through repeated attempts to hold to account a UN colleague accused of being intimately implicated in that atrocity. And in doing so, it takes the readers through an account of the major international crises - from Sudan to the Congo, from Gaza to Myanmar - of the past 30 years.
Charles Petrie & Spike Zephaniah Stephenson for Unbound. I don't often share crowd-funding projects, but this comes highly recommended & promises to be an interesting project that communicates development differently & artistically.

Our digital lives

Top 30 Africa Communications Professionals to Follow
Africa Communications Week with a few tips to diversify your social media feeds!

Academic taxi drivers in a global marketplace

In many countries there appears to be a considerable number of well-educated taxi drivers of foreign origin. Their number seems to have increased over the past 25 years. This observation, of course, leads to the question, why are they driving taxis and why don’t they have jobs corresponding to their level of education?
Although these rankings are often subject to critical questioning, at the end of the day they are taken seriously, leading to the perception that there is a global market for education. As argued above, this idea is up for debate since the majority of higher education is national, or even local, with graduates going into national, or even local, labour markets.
The implication appears to be that leaders of academic institutions – maybe with the exception of those 200 so-called world-class universities – should care much more about their home markets than about global markets and they should reflect much more about their internationalisation strategies.
This is particularly the case in countries with nationals who speak a language of restricted global use. That has led to increased academic teaching in English in such countries, a change that is open to questioning. For there is no evidence that teachers communicate better in a language that is not their mother tongue. Neither is there any evidence that students understand things better in a foreign language.
Lars Engwall for University World News with some refreshingly critical thoughts on the 'internationalization' mantra in higher education.

is everything an MLM
When I tweeted out the piece, a fellow academic responded: “This sounds….familiar: ‘CorePower churns out thousands more “certified” teachers than the company offers to employ.’”
She’s referring to the overproduction of PhDs: too many people coming through grad school, and too few sustainable academic jobs. And as anyone in any field understands, when there’s way more qualified applicants than jobs, the existing jobs can demand more of applicants (more qualifications, less money) while applicants lower their own expectations (for compensation, for benefits, for job security, for course load and service, for location). So why don’t academic departments just decrease the number of PhD students they accept? Because those students have become an integral cog in the contemporary university.
Anne Helen Petersen on whether higher education has turned into a Multi-Level Marketing scheme/scam.


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