Links & Contents I Liked 342

Hi all,

Busy week with a special section on the Nobel prize for Economics; #AidToo featuring Mercy Corps, Myanmar & WFP; childhood obesity; Bahamas; Haiti; Papua New Guinea; improving conferences & much more!

My quotes of the week

By the end, more than 75 people, some with tears running down their cheeks, formed a semi-circle around Humphrey.
They repeated that they believe her and that she has the support of Mercy Corps employees worldwide. Many thanked her for speaking publicly about her experience.“Thank you for standing here with me,” said Humphrey, looking at the impromptu crowd.

(Mercy Corps workers embrace, applaud sex abuse survivor: ‘You matter so much’)

But policies like cash transfers would have undermined the approach to aid in which rich countries simply prescribe “solutions” for poor ones, rather than allowing people to take their futures into their own hands. Little about the US’s foreign policy toward Haiti has changed since the 2010 earthquake. The US continues to send the country surplus crops through the Food for Peace programme to this day.
(Haiti and the failed promise of US aid)

Within that revolution, the human element of the welfare state is being diluted. Instead of talking to a caseworker who personally assesses your needs, you now are channeled online where predictive analytics will assign you a future risk score and an algorithm decide your fate. In the new world, inequality and discrimination can be entrenched.

(Digital dystopia: how algorithms punish the poor)


New from aidnography

Social Media and Peacebuilding (Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies)

This is a short entry from the forthcoming/evolving Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies.
The entry outlines four areas for social media and peacebuilding that roughly follow a historical trajectory: from initial “add Internet and stir” extensions of traditional peacebuilding approaches into the digital realm and the enthusiasm of social media “revolutions” and from a backlash from various powerful regimes and actors to a future where issues such as online privacy, data ownership, and the decolonization of tools have become new arenas for conflict prevention, building peace, and contributing to positive social change.
Development news
On the so-called Nobel prize for Economics

What does the 2019 Nobel mean for development economics?
Tavneet Suri & Nidhi Parek for VoxDev.

Impoverished economics? Unpacking the economics Nobel Prize
While the laureates’ approach to poverty research and policy may seem harmless, if not laudable, there are many reasons for concern. Both heterodox and mainstream economists as well as other social scientists have long provided thorough critique of the turn towards RCTs in economics, on philosophical, epistemological, political and methodological grounds. The concerns with the approach can be roughly grouped into questions of focus, theory, and methodology.
Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven for openDemocracy.

2019 Nobel* prize reveals the poverty of economics

But these behavioural interventions can be too small and overly simplistic, disempowering and paternalistic, and stray into victim-blaming. The behaviourist paradigm interprets low incomes and precarious lives as a function of individual misbehaviours and cognitive biases, rather than a product of larger structural injustices of the economic and political system. Yet poverty traps are not just a function of individual cognitive insufficiencies: rich people make mistakes too – more often with other people’s money – but for them the consequences are far smaller. As fifteen leading development economists said in an open letter last year, RCTs and behaviourist approaches are practically designed to miss the bigger picture.
Philip Mader, Richard Jolly, Maren Duvendack & Solene Morvant-Roux for IDS Sussex.

The poverty of poor economics

The second contradiction is more widely understood: despite the gushing headlines in the Western press, there is simply no evidence that policy based on randomized trials is better than alternatives. Countries that are now developed did not need foreign researchers running experiments on local poor people to grow their economies. There is ample historical evidence that growth, development and dramatic reductions in poverty can be achieved without randomised trials. Randomistas claim that their methods are the holy grail of development yet they have not presented any serious arguments to show why theirs is the appropriate response. Instead, the case that such methods are crucial for policy is largely taken for granted by them because they think they are doing “science.” But while they are certainly imitating what researchers in various scientific disciplines do, the claim that the results are as reliable and useful for economic and social questions is unsupported.
Grieve Chelwa & Seán Muller for Africa is a Country.

I selected a statement from Michael Kremer, one of the many congratulatory messages from an MIT colleague, critiques from heterodox economics and finally one from an author from the global South as well as some Twitter threads to provide some kind of balance of the discussion that has dominated my #globaldev Twitter this week!

Mercy Corps workers embrace, applaud sex abuse survivor: ‘You matter so much’

By the end, more than 75 people, some with tears running down their cheeks, formed a semi-circle around Humphrey.
They repeated that they believe her and that she has the support of Mercy Corps employees worldwide. Many thanked her for speaking publicly about her experience.
“Thank you for standing here with me,” said Humphrey, looking at the impromptu crowd.
Noelle Crombie for the Oregonian with a follow-up to last week's breaking story about Mercy Corps #AidToo scandal.

In Myanmar, a Nonprofit Icon Enjoyed Foreign Funding Despite Allegations of Sexual Abuse

Similarly, in early 2015, Zinmin Thu’s colleague forwarded the same letter to a staffer at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) office in Myanmar, which began funding COM on behalf of another agency – the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – that year. But the staffer who received the report did not forward it to the Office of Audit and Investigation in New York, and it was not logged as a formal complaint. COM continued to receive funding from UNDP until 2017, when it was discontinued for unrelated reasons.
A UNDP spokesperson told VICE that the agency “didn’t receive any complaints regarding allegations in the concerned organization through the designated channels available at the time.”
Jacob Goldberg for Vice with another #AidToo story and the long road for survivors to find channels for their complaints in the shadow of #globaldev organizations and structures.

WFP needs ‘systemic overhaul’ to limit abusive behaviour: external review

The results on WFP’s leadership, WTW said, “closely align” with the UNICEF findings. Levels of reported sexual harassment at WFP were consistent, if not better, than surveys of other UN agencies and in other industries, the report stated.
In one result more specific to WFP, the external review found that the extensive use of short-term contracts contributed to abusive behaviour by discouraging whistleblowers and giving managers arbitrary influence.
About half of respondents were working under consultant or service contracts or agreements, which are subject to renewal and do not carry the job security or benefits of full UN employment.
Beasley’s email to staff said the organisation would “strengthen key HR processes” and establish a “true meritocracy”.
The report questioned the competency of the senior WFP management, pointing out that the top levels are staffed by people who came up through the ranks as “technical experts”. “Leadership,” the review added, “requires a completely different skill set than operational delivery”.
Ben Parker for the New Humanitarian is looking at the WFP staff survey that was also featured in last week's review.

Did children die because of 'white saviour' Renee Bach?

Despite the denials, Primah Kwagala, the executive director of Women’s Pro-bono Initiative, the Ugandan organisation representing the women, said she was anxious to see Bach in court in Uganda, primarily to underline the message that organisations such as SHC cannot come to the country and operate without proper checks and balances.
“I want Renee to know that she did something wrong and she needs to be held accountable,” said Kwagala. “It is for people to know that if they do what Renee has done, including Ugandans, they will have to pay.”
Alon Mwesigwa & Peter Beaumont for the Guardian follow-up on Renee Bach case.

Little Miracles, Huge Problems: The Bahamas A Month After Dorian
"I can report that there's no one starving, no one dying of thirst, no one walking around naked," Campbell said during a visit to Marsh Harbour.
The minister says people are surviving due to "an incredible outpouring of love and support" from people around the world. "Food and water is coming in. Those that are in need are being served. But there's a sense of urgency to get people into their homes or some form of housing that is airtight and watertight."
In the short term that housing may be in a tent city or mobile homes, he says, or some other temporary solution while homes are rebuilt.
On both Abaco and Grand Bahama, shantytowns were turned to fields of rubble. Concrete commercial buildings were flattened. Seaside restaurants where tourists used to drink Goombay Smash cocktails and Sands beer were flung inland. Nearly every building in Marsh Harbour was damaged or destroyed. Some disappeared entirely. Dorian left Abaco and parts of Grand Bahama with no electricity, no running water, no banks, no grocery stores or gas stations.
Jason Beaubien for NPR Goats & Soda with an update from the Bahamas-which may quickly become one of those 'forgotten' crises because reconstruction will take place slowly, but underlying issues will unlikely be addressed.

Haiti and the failed promise of US aid

In post-earthquake Haiti, there were all manner of things the US could have spent its money on. It could have spent that money to revitalise Haiti’s agricultural sector. In a country where only one in four people have access to basic sanitation facilities, the US could have invested in building things such as flush toilets, sewers and sewage treatment plants. In a country where 59% of the population lives on less than $2.41 per day, the US could have simply given Haitians the money. Studies have shown that such “unconditional cash transfers” can be a more effective way to increase income and access to education and housing than many types of traditional “project-based” aid. But policies like cash transfers would have undermined the approach to aid in which rich countries simply prescribe “solutions” for poor ones, rather than allowing people to take their futures into their own hands.
Little about the US’s foreign policy toward Haiti has changed since the 2010 earthquake. The US continues to send the country surplus crops through the Food for Peace programme to this day. Hillary Clinton stepped down as US secretary of state in 2013, but her successors have championed the same sort of private-sector-focused development. USAid continues to spend money to boost Haiti’s textile industry, and the US government continues to advertise Haiti as a business opportunity for US investors.
Jacob Kushner with a long-read for the Guardian and the limits of US-backed 'reconstruction' efforts...

Childhood Obesity Is Rising 'Shockingly Fast' — Even In Poor Countries

Lindsay Jaacks, a global nutrition researcher at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was not involved with the UNICEF report, says the rise of childhood obesity in developing countries is an ominous sign for those countries' health-care systems. Those countries may soon face a costly burden of Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular conditions and other obesity-related conditions, she says.
Tim McDonnell for NPR Goats & Soda on a new UNICEF report on childhood obesity.

How sustainable is ecotourism?

throughout my travels I was struck by how many compromises (in my view) were being made for sustainability, be it the through taming of wildlife, prioritization of economic development at the expense of local customs, or many other examples.
Ecotourism is undoubtedly a more responsible and sustainable option that many other tourism choices. But, let us not overly romanticize positive impacts of such travel, nor grow complacent over the trade-offs, compromises, and potentially negative impacts that it may have.
Erin Leitheiser for the Centre for Business and Development Studies on the limited transformative power of 'ecotourism'.

Sacked Without Notice - The Plight Of PNG's Oil Palm Workers Thanks To Malaysian Companies

Dayak landowners of Sarawak will take no pleasure but experience little surprise in hearing how the people of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have related their ill-treatment by the logging and oil palm plantation conglomerates based in East Malaysia. These are companies who first robbed Sarawakians of their landrights before extending operations into virtually all the remaining timber reserves on the planet.
East Malaysia’s timber tycoons are a destructive force in the Congo, Amazon, Indonesia, The Solomon Islands, Tasmania, New Zealand, Siberia, PNG and beyond. Their practices rate amongst the worst in the world in terms of trashing the environment and the rights of indigenous people.
Now, as profits from the earlier palm oil boom have slumped, Sarawak Report has learned first-hand how these same Malaysian companies have been simply telling local workers in PNG that their jobs are finished and to find their way home, without compensation or support. All we spoke to were being paid illegally low salaries in the first place.
Sarawak Report with an important story where local problems meet the inherently exploitative structures of global consumer capitalism.

Interview with Lindsay Palmer, author of 'the Fixers'​

It seems that the most common issue was the lack of any kind of systematic set of policies on fixers' protection. Though individual journalists and documentarians do often care about this a lot, the organizations they work for usually don't have any concrete rules on offering fixers insurance, safety equipment, hazardous environment training, or emotional counseling. This matters more for fixers working in dangerous areas, but even in "safe" areas, there are a number of stressors that fixers endure. News organizations need to address this more systematically.
Mike Garrod talks to Lindsay Palmer whose new book is on my bedside table right now!

Visas: a regressive tax on LMICs

And as it is increasingly becoming recognised, people do get declined: people who are on the frontlines of global health and who best know ground realities; the very people who are needed to keep global health a valid enterprise. There is an inverse principle: those most able to fly to Geneva, New York and London to participate in premier global health events, are at times the least needed people there. The costs in terms of blocking the sharing and learning that are at the heart of effective research and policy have been listed by many.
So visas are, in effect, a tax applied to middle class LMIC applicants on behalf of wealthy governments. But the patterns are not uniform as shown by the spidergrams below contrasting the Welcoming Country Index with the Henley Passport Index, i.e. how many countries does a nation allow in without visas, or with visas on arrival or electronic visas vs. how many countries can a citizen travel to without prior visas. In general, many LMIC countries are much more welcoming of others while often being very limited in terms of where their citizens can travel freely, with the opposite often applies in Europe and other high income countries. But there are exceptions, and some LMIC countries are not especially welcoming to other nations and are also not welcome everywhere.
Asha George & Michelle de Jong for Health Systems Global continue the global visa (denial) debate: Very often those people who should be traveling are excluded & the visa regime is a time-, labor- and money-intensive process.

Why Working for Free for Nonprofits Hurts Photographer

While I appreciate the reference to “small” charities and not all charities, we – and by this I mean photographers, storytellers, videographers – are creating an unsustainable situation by working for free. In fact, we’ve set up the expectation that our work holds no monetary value and that we’re ok not getting paid for our photography if we think we are doing good with our pictures.
Here’s the thing, nonprofits are businesses, albeit, businesses that have to show zero profit at the end of the year. They generally pay the people who work for them for their time and services. Beyond that, I’d be willing to bet that most nonprofit organizations care about the ethical treatment of people. Guess what? Photographers are people. And most of the time we’re people who don’t have the luxury of not making an income. So why is it OK not to pay photographers?
Crystaline Randazzo with a reminder that freelance professionals should not be asked to work for free-whether they are photographers, mental health professionals or local researchers; if you ask someone to provide a professional service you have to pay for it!

Our digital lives

Digital dystopia: how algorithms punish the poor

The Guardian investigations illuminate the shared features of these new systems, whether in developing or developed countries, east or west. The most glaring similarity is that all this is happening at lightning speed, with hi-tech approaches sweeping through social services, work and pensions, disability and health, often with minimal public debate or accountability.
Within that revolution, the human element of the welfare state is being diluted. Instead of talking to a caseworker who personally assesses your needs, you now are channeled online where predictive analytics will assign you a future risk score and an algorithm decide your fate.
In the new world, inequality and discrimination can be entrenched. What happens if you are one of the five million adults in the UK without regular access to the internet and with little or no computer literacy? What if the algorithm merely bakes in existing distortions of race and class, making the gulf between rich and poor, white and black, college-educated and manual worker, even more pronounced?
Ed Pilkington for the Guardian kicks-off a must-read series of articles on our digital future-now...

Briefs on Methodological, Ethical and Epistemological Issues

Research with and about vulnerable populations, including refugees and migrants, raises several methodological concerns. Due to their experiences, potential respondents might mistrust the motives and independence of researchers and how the information they share might be used. The necessity felt to keep a low profile leads to challenges for researchers to access relevant population groups and difficulties in establishing trust to share information. This article gives examples from across the globe, including Jordan, Turkey and Kenya, on how quantitative researchers try to access these populations and what approaches are used to establish trust, including the involvement of local ‘gatekeepers’, non-governmental organizations, community leaders, and the employment of refugee enumerators. Furthermore, conducting quantitative panel surveys with refugee populations that feature a high rate of mobility comes with another set of challenges for researchers. These challenges often evolve around finding the right balance between personal data collection and the protection of personal data. This article illustrates these challenges with examples of panel surveys conducted in Jordan and Turkey
Jana Kuhnt, Charles Martin-Shields, Ruben Wedel for CrossMigration with a new brief on researching with an about refugees.


7 steps to improving Conference Presentations

Plenaries where world-renowned speakers seem astonished when told they have only 5 minutes left, having spent large parts of the previous 25 introducing the topic, saying nice things about their fellow researchers etc etc. They then abruptly change gear and whizz through the substance of their talk in a series of ‘I’d like to talk about X, but I don’t have time’.
Duncan Green with much needed criticism of academic conferences and the limited value that panel presentations have, but yet are seen as the default set-up at academic meetings.
My reflections on academic conferences:

If you want more diverse conferences & panels, make technology part of your diversity strategy (2015), How to avoid awful panel discussions? Organize and attend fewer events! (2016) and my book review of Academic conferences as neoliberal commodities (2017)

New — It’s Adjunct Barbie™!

Girls can take part in all of Adjunct Barbie’s™ academic adventures. Pack her bags as she jet-sets off to Glassboro, New Jersey, Prescott, Arizona, or even Augusta, Georgia, for job interviews that never quite pan out. Leaf through The Chronicle of Higher Education and guess which positions have already been promised to internal candidates. Help her review the honor code with Plagiarism Daisy™. Then after a long day, she’s ready to kick back in the studio apartment she shares with her ex-boyfriend, Freelance Ken™. They’re staying out of each other’s way until the lease runs out! Or maybe she just drives around for a while, thinking about her life choices.
Katie Burgess with a suggestion for another female academic, well, role-model :( ??!!

What we were reading 5 years ago

(Link review 131, 20 November 2014)
Celebrities – the trolls of (virtual) global development?

You write about the bad job many celebrities do (e.g. Victoria Beckham), happy to receive a bit of traffic, some Likes and sharing, but deep down you and I know that this is not going to change celebrities’ behavior.
Some have started to educate themselves, but at the end of the day for every thoughtful intervention there are going to be five or so stereotyped pre-Christmas fundraisers, ill-prepared field trips to Africa and that nagging feeling that once, just once, the celebrity, PR person, friend, NGO etc. would have spent an hour to think it through, read up on basic stuff and ask one of the many, many experts some simple questions: ‘Is this a good idea? Should I be doing this?’
Me on the dreaded topic of pointing out misguided celebrity #globaldev efforts.

Casting off the White Savior Complex

I entered Peru with arrogant attitudes about what I could bring to the table as an outsider without any special skill set. Over several months, I learned that Peruvians are some of the hardest working people I know. I realized that I will never understand the intricacies of a country and a culture as well as someone who grew up there. I learned how hard it is for NGOs in developing countries to do good work when they remain subject to the whims of donor politics. I learned that I can’t save anyone, but that I can humble myself, listen, roll up my sleeves, and get to work alongside these leaders. In other words, I learned to cast off the white savior complex I didn’t even know I was wearing.
Stephanie Buck with reflections from the early days of digital 'white savior' discussions.

Why Do We Need to Have So Many Meetings?

We might complain about being invited to meetings, but on some level we actually love it. Being invited means that you're valued; it means that your participation counts, even if you aren't being productive. But this hurts us as individuals—professional objectives aside, being over-scheduled takes a toll on a personal level. On an organizational level, we can take steps to reduce the spectators in meetings and enable the participants to complete the deliverables they're tasked with by making sure they have clear paths to decision-making. Meetings are not going away, but they don't have to be painful.
Have your meetings become less painful since Krystal D'Costa's piece?


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