Links & Contents I Liked 378
It has been a busy week with quite a few bad news story from inside the #globaldev industry-ranging from WFP, to UNICEF UK, Amnesty & Tearfund-but on a brighter note there's a nice 'culture & development' section at the end of the first part that combines beauty with food for thought, eyes & ears.
My quotes of the week
Today, many NGOs have full-time proposal-production teams whose jobs depend on “win rates” - the number of successful bids they secure. They don’t need specialized technical expertise or experience because there’s the internet. Skilled writers read between the lines of each “Request for Proposals” to feed back winning language in a process some derisively characterize as “isomorphic mimicry.” That’s biological term for when a butterfly, for example, ends up looking like a moth so it doesn’t get eaten. You want gender? We do gender! You don’t want gender? Forget about it. As a gifted proposal writer once wrote to me about her work:“I find myself wondering about the balance between making subtle but important changes and towing the line. I might change ‘capacity building’ to ‘capacity strengthening’ and struggle to come up with an alternative term to ‘target population,’ but at the end of the day it just feels like a systematic overhaul is needed, and I wonder whether it can/will happen.”
(What’s killing us in international NGOs?)
There had been a well-established pattern of new expats arriving in country late at night on the weekend, being picked up by agency drivers, taken to a guesthouse and dropped off, key and phone in-hand. From that point, they were not being welcomed by any staff members, not even to get a brief or practical orientation that would enable them to get settled properly before the new week started. During the meeting, I raised this issue, suggesting that we designate one expat to meet and orient new arrivals, particularly if they come after hours/on the weekend. A senior expatriate challenged me saying that this was just normal, that this was how she arrived on the mission, and that people just needed to deal with it.
(An Open Letter to NGO Field Managers)
One constant has been Westlife. Lutalo swears he’s been flogging their songs since the early 1990s, even though the Irish band only formed in 1998. “They’re so famous, those boys,” he said, holding up a DVD called “West Life: Best Slows videoz”, with their faces emblazoned on the front and back. It sells for 2,000 Ugandan shillings, the equivalent of 47 cents.
(Westlife’s fans across Africa: ‘I listen to them every day’)
More than 50 women accuse aid workers of sex abuse in Congo Ebola crisis
Most women interviewed were unaware of hotlines and other ways to report abuse. A programme to protect against sexual abuse was put in place a year after the operation began, said David Gressly, the UN's former Ebola response coordinator.Robert Flummerfelt & Nellie Peyton for the New Humanitarian with this week's top #globaldev story.
Critics said this highlighted the failure of programmes to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian operations, which were underfunded, an afterthought, and male-dominated with few women in decision-making roles.
“It was very clear that women and children were deprioritised,” said Kapur, the CARE consultant. Even when allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation are reported, they are often found by investigators to be unsubstantiated.
The board of trustees said the allegations had come as a surprise and were the first formal complaints they had received on the issue. The publication Third Sector reports the allegations against Alexander include that he “repeatedly displayed aggressive language and behaviour, including shouting at staff”.Jessica Murray for the Guardian.
It also reports that Deshmukh raised concerns with the board in August that “about 10 staff had experienced similar patterns of aggressive and bullying behaviour” and that sources say the charity had limited the number of staff in contact with Alexander to avoid further complaints.
The board’s lack of action over the issue made Deshmukh’s position “untenable”, Third Sector reports.
Amnesty International criticised for using non-disclosure agreement in relation to alleged £800k payment
The Times newspaper reported that the charity had paid £800,000 in compensation to Mootoo’s family, which would avoid a court case.Andy Ricketts for Third Sector.
But it also said both sides had signed an NDA preventing either party from discussing the settlement with the press or on social media.
This led to criticism on social media, with people asking why an organisation such as Amnesty would condone the use of non-disclosure agreements.
Shaista Aziz, co-founder of the feminist advocacy group NGO Safe Space, questioned on Twitter why the “world’s leading human rights organisation” was employing the contracts.
Others said it was “depressing”, while another person accused the charity of double standards.
Tearfund has spent hundreds of thousands on pay-offs to ex-staff
Meanwhile, documents seen by Civil Society News show that in one case, Tearfund’s trustees used an NDA in a financial settlement with an employee who was in the middle of bringing a grievance against the charity over alleged bullying.Russell Hargrave for Civil Society News.
The secret deal banned the member of staff from making “any adverse or derogatory comment” about Tearfund after they left their job. They were also required to destroy all communications relating to their role at the charity, and could not contradict the charity’s official account of why they left.
In return, they received a five-figure pay-off, and the charity paid for additional “arrangements” for the ex-employee including a therapeutic retreat.
The corporatization of the charity sector now includes NDAs, financial settlements and other features that civil society organization usually (and rightly!) criticize in the 'private sector'...accountability, transparency & learning should be key features of the 'third sector' and these development point exactly into the opposite direction...
How A Beloved Gemstone Became A Symbol Of Environmental Tragedy In Myanmar
In response to the July landslide, the environmental watchdog group Global Witness issued a statement condemning the government's failure to curb life-threatening mining practices in Kachin State. It called for the government to immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant, and ensure companies abusing environmental and safety standards are no longer able to operate.
The statement is one of many ongoing calls for reform, but change has been slow to come in an industry dominated by Myanmar's military, armed groups and companies linked to former generals, according to 2015 research conducted by Global Witness.
Chief among environmental concerns are the height of heaps of mining waste, known as tailings, consisting of discarded earth and stones. Companies often exceed government limits on tailing heap height, and heaps can reach several hundred feet, according to Htingnan Ja Naw, the joint deputy secretary of the Kachin National Social and Development Foundation, a group in Hpakant that advocates for land rights and human rights and provides social services for the local community and miners.
Companies also leave behind vast excavated mining pits at the end of their permit periods. The sites fill with rainwater and turn to lakes, which run up against mining waste heaps that are prone to collapse, causing landslides.
Emily Fishbein & Aung Myat Lamung for NPR Goats & Soda report from another environmental frontier-this time in Myanmar.
Nepali workers stuck in no-man’s land
More than 43,000 overseas migrant workers have returned to Nepal during the Coronavirus pandemic out of 125,000 who registered to be ‘rescued,’ according to Nepal’s Labour Ministry. The pace of the repatriation exercise has been painfully slow, and many workers who have lost their jobs or cannot bear to be so far away, are desperately trying to return home.The Nepali Times with an important project on migrant workers who have been stuck, usually in on eof the Gulf states.
Many stranded workers have spent any savings that they had, and are barely surviving with support from friends, co-workers or other Nepalis, including from the Non-resident Nepali Association (NRNA). Others still do not know how they will manage to buy a ticket if they ever get on a flight list. Here are some of their stories as part of the Nepal Photo Project.
Leadership of UN Missions: Halting Progress on the Road to Gender Parity
The rise of women who lead political and peacekeeping missions has been anything but even. The momentum of 2018 — when female appointments to SRSG and DSRSG surged 30 points, to 77 percent — stalled in 2019, with women representing only 29 percent of appointees, before jumping to 83 percent so far this year.Foteini Papagioti & Paul von Chamier for PassBlue with an update on gender parity in UN appointments-coincidentally one of the articles from my archive featured at the bottom of the post talked about the lack of progress under Ban Ki-Moon 5 years ago...
Our data also provide a more nuanced picture of how well the UN is addressing the complementary priority of regional diversity. Although over the past three years, appointments of men have been slightly more skewed toward the Western Europe and Others Group region (known as Weog), countries outside it nevertheless represent 57 percent in male appointees. These numbers are down slightly from 60 percent from 1996 to 2016, owing largely to appointments from African countries. The geographic distribution of women appointees, on the other hand, may have improved by 4 percent since 2017 (with non-Weog appointments increasing from 37 to 41 percent), but the share of women appointees from countries outside the Western Europe grouping is still below half, indicating that the UN has more work to do to diversify female mission leadership.
James Wasserstrom on being the first UN whistleblower
This week on podcast world-famous UN whistleblower James Wasserstrom. His case made the headlines around the world (see links in coverage). Brought in to investigate corruption in Kosovo, James soon received hints that some UN officials themselves were involved in corruption. Learn all about the retaliation against James, including death threats, illegal searches, and smear campaigns. James offers his views on how the UN reacted to the case and indicates whether, in hindsight, he would blow the whistle again. The interview continues on how James’ own experience as a whistleblower has inspired him to found the integrity sanctuary.KickBack, the Global Anticorruption Podcast, on UN whistleblowing.
Pantone launches new shade of red to end menstruation stigma
Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Color Institute, said: “An active and adventurous red hue, ‘period’ emboldens people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are. To own their period with self-assurance; to stand up and passionately celebrate the exciting and powerful life force they are born with; to urge everyone regardless of gender to feel comfortable to talk spontaneously and openly about this pure and natural bodily function.”Rebecca Smithers for the Guardian about a topic with interesting connections to the #globaldev community.
To highlight the new campaign, Intimina has made a donation to ActionAid, a charity working with women and girls living in poverty.
Peacebuilding programs are stronger when informed by evidence, despite the constraints of their environments
Where programs were not successful, sometimes it was because of a failure to adapt to local conditions, Sonnenfeld said.Paul Thissen for the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation; I'm looking forward to the paper mentioned in the post and yet, I'm a bit puzzled by some of the language...it's 2020, not 1992, and there are still programs that don't adapt to local conditions or don't undertake conflict assessments ??!!
“Very few of the studies undertook conflict assessments,” Sonnenfeld said. “There were many situations in which there were issues in identifying the appropriate bottleneck to intergroup social cohesion at a local level.”
That variation in local conditions can make the difference between success and failure, said Wale Osofisan, senior director of the International Rescue Committee’s Governance Technical Unit.
“What we also try to do is not just try to learn what works, but under what conditions, by what mechanisms do [programs] work,” Osofisan said. “An intervention might work in Northeast Uganda and it might fail in Northwest Uganda.”
No savings, just pain: School closures and “reform” in Puerto Rico
School closures had been an explicit part of the government’s agenda for a while, albeit in different designs and embedded in different narratives. Under governor Fortuño (who now works as a lobbyist), the emblematic education project involved consolidating schools into bigger, renovated or rebuilt buildings, a process that maximized the use of ARRA federal funds to hire outside companies to do, not only the work of reconstruction, but also that of maintenance, an agenda that often hinted at eventually implementing this same “public-private alliance” discourse to day-to-day school administration itself. This “public-private alliance” concept, another emblematic project of the Fortuño administration and sometimes described as a “hook for privatization”, was enshrined in a new law and a new public agency in 2009. More than “school closures”, the talk at the time revolved around the terms “modernization” and “school consolidations.”Rima Brusi for Alternautas shares some insights from their research on the different discourses surrounding school closures on Puerto Rico.
Closures kept occurring under governor Garcia Padilla (2012-2016,) who declared Puerto Rico’s debt “unpayable” in 2015. By then, the narrative had shifted to one that blamed closures on the economic crisis and reduced enrollment due to migration. Part of the strategy then was to put the closed school buildings up for sale, a policy that was renewed during Roselló’s administration but never had clear results. Between 2014 and 2015, 135 schools were closed, and bills proposing the creation of charter schools (then still deemed unconstitutional in Puerto Rico) were presented in the Puerto Rican house and senate floors.
An unelected Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB, known locally as “La Junta”) was imposed by the U.S. Congress shortly after Garcia Padilla’s announcement and charged with Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring and fiscal planning. It is unclear exactly how many schools were closed, and why, during each administration prior to the current one (2016-present,) but according to the FOMB, over 480 schools had already been closed between 1990 and 2016, mainly due to inadequate physical facilities and low levels of enrollment, and stood at 1332 in 2016. Active, operational public schools went from 1,515 schools in 2006 to 855 in 2018, partly due to lower enrollment numbers (from 544,138 to 306,652) related to out-migration, declining birth rates and other demographic factors.
What’s killing us in international NGOs?
Today, many NGOs have full-time proposal-production teams whose jobs depend on “win rates” - the number of successful bids they secure. They don’t need specialized technical expertise or experience because there’s the internet. Skilled writers read between the lines of each “Request for Proposals” to feed back winning language in a process some derisively characterize as “isomorphic mimicry.” That’s biological term for when a butterfly, for example, ends up looking like a moth so it doesn’t get eaten. You want gender? We do gender! You don’t want gender? Forget about it. As a gifted proposal writer once wrote to me about her work:Ann Hendrix-Jenkins for openDemocracy takes a hard look at corporate practices of INGOs...
“I find myself wondering about the balance between making subtle but important changes and towing the line. I might change ‘capacity building’ to ‘capacity strengthening’ and struggle to come up with an alternative term to ‘target population,’ but at the end of the day it just feels like a systematic overhaul is needed, and I wonder whether it can/will happen.”
Even more aggravatingly, some organizations won’t let those who are going to implement a successful bid actually read the winning proposal because it’s proprietary. How are people supposed to implement a project if they don’t know what it is? But no one in HQ is paying attention or cares (unless the donor complains.) The win has already been chalked up.
An Open Letter to NGO Field Managers
There had been a well-established pattern of new expats arriving in country late at night on the weekend, being picked up by agency drivers, taken to a guesthouse and dropped off, key and phone in-hand. From that point, they were not being welcomed by any staff members, not even to get a brief or practical orientation that would enable them to get settled properly before the new week started. During the meeting, I raised this issue, suggesting that we designate one expat to meet and orient new arrivals, particularly if they come after hours/on the weekend. A senior expatriate challenged me saying that this was just normal, that this was how she arrived on the mission, and that people just needed to deal with it. Since then, I’ve had similar experiences dealing with such people who are so committed to a Hobbesian portrait of life. They act as though interactions with humans (especially their colleagues) are akin to self-immolation. Yet ostensibly, they are totally committed to serving the most vulnerable. Not then, nor now, can I reconcile such a severe dichotomy and frankly, I’m not interested in doing so.Chris McIntosh also takes a good jard look at NGO working practices 'in the field'...
Race and representation in NGO storytelling: responses to 5 frequently asked questions
Amref Health Africa, as an example, has started to explore participatory photography and user-generated content, giving people more control over the way their stories are told. They’re also finding ways to “circle back” to contributors and give them the chance to see, and approve of, their photo in situ. Yes, there is inevitably an imbalance of power between the person taking the photo and the person being photographed: that makes it all the more important to approach it as a collaborative process grounded in a shared understanding of what we’re doing, and why. That requires time - because it takes time to build trust.Jess Crombie, Rachel Erskine, Ivy Lahon, Natalie Lartey, Janice Njoroge & Kate McCoy for BOND with key highlights from a recent webinar on that topic.
Six Lessons from Celebrating Ten Years in Tech
Write, write, write!Ronda Zelezny-Green reflects on her #ICT4D work.
Although this is a lesson I’m still learning to be consistent with in my own life, it is one that should be a constant reminder for people in tech who are underrepresented. Writing academic publications, writing and co-editing a newsletter, writing in my personal blog, for Panoply Digital, and on Twitter has opened opportunities for me to appear in the Guardian (twice!) and on the BBC (twice!) for tech-related features in the past decade. On all four occasions, the stated reason these opportunities came to me was because I was communicating new ideas in a sector that, despite all the trumpeting, rarely has them due – at least in part – to the relative uniformity in its workforce. You never know who will end up reading what you write, so just do it — and make it count! Your creativity needs to be heard and read.
Westlife’s fans across Africa: ‘I listen to them every day’
One constant has been Westlife. Lutalo swears he’s been flogging their songs since the early 1990s, even though the Irish band only formed in 1998. “They’re so famous, those boys,” he said, holding up a DVD called “West Life: Best Slows videoz”, with their faces emblazoned on the front and back. It sells for 2,000 Ugandan shillings, the equivalent of 47 cents.Sally Hayden for the Irish Times kicks of the 'culture & #globaldev' section on a lighter note...
Netflix in Africa: How the global streaming superpower showed it was serious about telling African stories with local voices — and why others will follow
Netflix launched its "Made in Africa" collection in May, featuring hundreds of Netflix titles shot in Africa. It included Nigerian drama Lionheart, which Netflix won the right to distribute after its Toronto Film Festival premiere. In February, Netflix released its first African original, the South African crime series "Queen Sono." In May it followed this up with "Blood and Water," starring South African actress Ama Qamata. "Blood and Water" presents several perspectives of the dynamics of cultures found in one African country — including those around affluent areas in Cape Town, which deviates from the stereotyped, poverty-stricken depiction of the continent.Tina Charisma for Business Insider on the emerging markets for Netflix across Africa.
Artists from Gabon to Mozambique interrogate the meaning of ‘Global South’ in new online exhibition
More than 90 young artists and creatives from Gabon, Mozambique, the UK, the USA, along with refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants from Nigeria, Gambia, and Cameroon living in Italy, interrogate the concept of the “Global South” in a new, virtual exhibition called “Where is South?” that launches next month.Amanda Lichtenstein for Global Voices curates highlights of a forthcoming virtual exhibition.
'It’s like opening up a wound to let it heal': the sisters giving war refugees a voice
Their podcast is perceptive, poetic and deeply personal. For Surer and Saredo, it was “emotionally difficult” listening to their parents’ stories. Their parents had to move from country to country, with Surer born in Italy, and Saredo in Canada. They were constantly seeking to lay down roots. Their father, a former commercial pilot, features in the pilot episode; their mother is in the fifth and final entry of the season, entitled Hooyo, “Mother” in Somali.Remona Aly for the Guardian about two podcasting sisters.
Straddling multiple worlds grounded the podcast’s vision. Their honest search for reconciliation appears early in the first episode, when Surer tells the listener: “Many of us who have grown up in the aftermath of war have made whole lives out of fixing this, not as a passion but as an obsession.” Is this podcast their way of fixing it? Surer nods. “Yes, for sure! There’s a reason we keep orienting to these conversations like a moth around a flame, there’s a reason I’m doing a PhD around conflict studies. A lot of people come from fractured pasts, and this is our attempt to bring the suitcase to the middle of the table so we can all start to unpack.”
We Are Here: a showcase of black female photography
WhiteWash by Dominique NokNok has encountered various issues regarding her own skin tone. In one of the most concerning instances, she accidentally applied a skin whitening product when she picked up the moisturiser of a close family member. This made her realise from a young age that a darker complexion was not only perceived as ‘less’ by white Western society, but also by some of her own black community.The Guardian highlights great photography.
Our digital lives
Google is giving $1 billion to news publishers — to help convince governments not to take a whole lot more than that
They want the money to earn them happy headlines like “Google Pledges $1 Billion to News Publishers,” get the press off their backs, and ideally lower the heat on calls for government regulation or taxation.Joshua Benton for the Nieman Lab on Google's latest 'philanthropic' move.
Meant to send these tweets for some time, but never got around to doing it. But it’s now or never: I’ll be moderating a panel (https://t.co/HPRFf4zL1y) at the Creative Bureaucracy Festival on 9/29 on why it always seems to take a crisis to get German bureaucracy to modernise. pic.twitter.com/clGkEHQc6Y— Ludwig Siegele (@EconoScribe) September 28, 2020
Whose feminism(s)? Overseas partner organizations’ perceptions of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy
In this article, we examine the interpretations of feminism(s) and a feminist foreign policy from the perspective of NGO staff members in East and Southern Africa. The research involved interviews with 45 Global South partner country NGO staff members in three countries (Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi). We consider the partner organization reflections on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy using a transnational feminist lens. Our findings provide insights into future considerations for Canada’s feminist foreign policy priorities, consultations, and programme design.Sheila Rao & Rebecca Tiessen with an open access article in the International Journal.
The Crying Child On Colonial Archives, Digitization, and Ethics of Care in the Cultural Commons
Working with affect and haunting as research material, the inquiry questions how museums and other cultural heritage institutions are caretaking historical violations, identifying themselves as hosting agents, and navigating issues of trust and accountability as they make their colonial collections available online. Speculating about what an ethics of care in representation could look like, the article draws on reparatory artistic engagements with such imagery and proposes how metadata could be rethought as a cataloging space with the potential to alter historical imbalances of power.My colleague Temi Odumosu with a great new free article in Current Anthropology.
The Wealth Defence Industry: A Large-scale Study on Accountancy Firms as Profit Shifting Facilitators
We aim to open up this dichotomy between states and corporations and argue that a wealth defence industry of professional service firms plays a crucial role as facilitators. We investigate the subsidiary structure of 27,000 MNCs and show that clients of the Big Four accountancy firms show systematically higher levels of aggressive tax planning strategies than clients of smaller accountancy firms. We specify this effect for three distinct strategies and also uncover marked differences across countries. As such we provide empirical evidence for the systematic involvement of auditors as facilitators in corporate wealth defence.Lena Ajdacic, Eelke M. Heemskerk & Javier Garcia-Bernardo with a new open access article in New P
Updated Resource: Collection of Papers
Refugee Reflections: Commentary and Analysis 2013-2020Forced Migration Current Awareness highlights a lot of great publications by Jeff Crisp on migration & refugees.
What we were reading 5 years ago
(Link review 167, 19 December 2015)
State Crime on the Margins of the Empire (book review)
In the end, State Crime on the Margins of the Empire, is a powerful reminder of how valuable qualitative research is in understanding the dynamics of conflict, war and its broader political economy. Lasslett reminds us once again about ‘devils in the detail’ and encourages us to immerse ourselves in the complexities of institutions and structures that enable violent conflict.I really enjoyed Kristian Lasslett's book about Papua New Guinea!
Last not least, the book is an important reminder that classic Marxist development theory about centers, peripheries and rentier states should be more actively (re-)discovered in the 21st century!
The U.N. Official Who Blew the Lid off Central African Republic Sex Scandal Vindicated
In the end, the panel concluded that Kompass’s decision to inform the French had a “significant and positive effect,” prompting French authorities to take “strong and immediate action to investigate the allegations.”Colum Lynch with an #AidToo story & UN whistleblowing.
“The response stands in stark contrast to the apparent failure of French authorities to react after [a U.N. human rights officer] advised senior Sangaris officers of the allegations” in May 2014, according to the panel.
The Lost Agenda: Gender Parity in Senior UN Appointments
The biggest lesson of 2015 is how quickly gains turn to losses, without the dedicated attention of a gender-sensitive UN leadership – and how untroubled the UN and member states appear to be. The level of structural non-compliance facing the gender parity agenda won't be fixed simply by choosing a female Secretary-General. Years of General Assembly resolutions mean that this task is already in the job description of the next office-holder. Ending the gender disparity in top appointments would be a good place to start.Interesting to compare Karin Landgren's post with the developments outlined above in the PassBlue article.