Links & Contents I Liked 442
An ethnography of bread in Jordan, co-designing algorithms, why UN staff accept precarious work conditions, Samir Amin, notes on a UNOPS scandal & expensive pre-Weddings in Zimbabwe-as always, an interesting mix of what 'development' means today awaits you this week!
we may also learn important lessons from Amin when it comes to strategy. He did not engage much with elite universities in the core. He was a pan-Africanist and a citizen of the developing world, and he focused his life on building up political and intellectual institutions in Africa. This contrasts with many initiatives from universities in the core that try to incorporate scholars from the periphery into their (often Eurocentric) institutions, rather than supporting Southern institutions and epistemologies. (Beyond Eurocentricsm)
New from aidnography
Are personal #globaldev blogs a thing of the past?
At the end of the day, the one-person personal blog project is pretty much a thing of the 2000-2010s. But development blogging as a practice to share, engage, collect, curate, promote “stuff” is still very much alive and has evolved just like the rest of the digital worldA new post on a topic close to the heart & soul of this blog.
Are personal #globaldev blogs a thing of the past? In my latest post I'm discussing substack-ification, podcasts, David Beasley, self-promotion, why blogs are dead & why good bloggable content is just a click away! Summary in 🧵below.— Tobias Denskus (@aidnography) April 20, 2022
The surge in incompetence and miserliness in London contrasts with increased generosity of the rest of the world – aid increased in 23 out of the 29 donors covered by the OECD figures, and global aid spending rose to USD 178.9 billion, 4.4% up on 2020 figures, despite all the competing domestic demands of the pandemic – really an astonishing achievement.Duncan Green for fp2p continues writing about the saga of one of the most spectacular declines of a #globaldev donor in recent history.
What went wrong with UNOPS’ ambitious impact-investing initiative?
Numerous former and current UNOPS staff, who spoke to Devex on the condition of anonymity, described the latitude of entrepreneurial senior managers at UNOPS to take advantage of loose checks and loopholes within the agency — and leverage their political clout — to direct funds at will. One former UNOPS official described the agency’s senior leadership team, of which Vanshelboim was part, as “thick as thieves” and “a corrupt cabal that is only interested in money.” Another said the team was “a mafia.”Ilya Gridneff for DevEx sheds more light on what could turn out to be the biggest UN scandal since the infamous Oil for Food program...
For Couples, an Increasingly Big Day Before the Big Day
Academics routinely use the term “sub-Saharan Africa”. Until recently, I also used it without really thinking much about it or questioning its use. But it’s problematic and should be avoided. Here are two excellent pieces explaining why:— Bethlehem Tekola (@BethTekola) April 7, 2022
The practice has preceded Zimbabwean weddings since pre-colonial times, but what was once a small family event has restyled itself for an age of reality TV and social media. Couples want to mimic what they see on their screens — no matter the cost. “Because they put it in the public domain, it has to look decent, it has to trend, it has to be fashionable,” says Sithabiso Mazibeli Marangwanda, the chief operating officer of Nematombo Group, an event-planning company in Harare, the capital.Gamuchirai Masiyiwa for Global Press Journal with a fascinating story from Zimbabwe where pre- & post-colonialism meet a glocalized + mediatized wedding-industrial complex.
Raising cash for water: why Somalis are bypassing aid agencies in drought crisis
“This led to what could be described as a culture of ‘humanitarian impunity’. Given how long those practices prevailed in Somalia and the weak coordination capacities of the newly reconstituted government, some of that culture still lingers on and at times makes it difficult to bring the humanitarian and development actors to work together along the nexus lines to achieve collective outcomes for the benefit of Somalis in need.”Amanda Sperber for the Guardian with an interesting case of 'the market' addressing a problem government + aid agencies can't/won't.
The Gedo drought relief committee (GDRC), a group that supports people in the west of Jubaland – in southern Somalia – has raised nearly $200,000 and funded nearly 600 water trucks, as well as distributing food, according to a member who requested anonymity for security reasons. The GDRC has been able to get the water to areas controlled by al-Shabaab, places where neither the government nor international groups can safely go.
José Ciro Martínez, States of Subsistence: The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan
Bread has undoubtedly been at the center of a wide array of contentious episodes in the Middle East. Yet in no instance was bread a passive symbol or facile evidence of anger, indignation, and rage. Insomuch as the hold that states have on us is shaped by our experience of particular governmental programs, the milieus within which citizens are formed will play a key role in determining how and when unrest forms. But to assume that hunger and deprivation, or the price of bread, are the straightforward drivers of dissent, obscures the complicated ways people encounter and respond to their historical emplacement.José Ciro Martínez talks to Jadaliyya about a fascinating ethnography from Jordan & a researcher who turned into a local baker to conduct his anthropological research.
By unpacking the Jordanian bread subsidy, States of Subsistence dissects how welfare programs operate in relation to the hegemonic orders they frequently enshrine. A corollary of such an approach is to interrogate how the forces that govern us are produced and reproduced. And so the book explores: Are citizens implicated in that which they contest, rely on, or criticize? Does the state subsist by forming and fashioning the very mechanisms that underpin our agency? Resistance and revolution may indeed be possible. But for now we remain scrupulously situated within the state’s orbit, longing for its company and consolation, even as we decry its abuses and mistreatments. An escape may very well be required, but I wonder, do we have anywhere to go?
Ghana artist is melting its glass waste into wonders
Michael Tetteh, Ghana's only professional glassblower, clenched his teeth as he gripped a red-hot ball of molten glass, his burned and blistered hands bare against the steaming stack of wet newspaper he used to protect them.Cooper Inveen & Frances Kokoroko for Reuters with one of the odd stories that captures your attention & you are not quite sure why...
The Fortunes of MacKenzie Scott
Critics complained that she had retreated into less transparency rather than share more information, as nonprofit governance experts had called for. But something unusual happened. Ms. Scott, who follows no one on Twitter, and who has given no interviews about her philanthropy, responded to the discussion with another note including “a paragraph I wish I hadn’t cut from the essay,” about releasing more data in the year to come. She had meant to say that her team was building a website, the plans for which included a “searchable database of gifts.”Nicholas Kulish & Rebecca R. Ruiz for the New York Times with a long-read on the curious case of the philanthropy of MacKenzie Scott which is different, yet not without challenges...
She has built a philanthropic operation that is notable not just for the monumental size and speed of its gifts but also for its seemingly impenetrable secrecy. Unlike Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective or Ms. French Gates’s Pivotal Ventures, Ms. Scott avoided establishing a website or advertising any contact information.
We’re here to clear the air on what trust-based philanthropy is and what it isn’t
🧵Ok, I am about to go off on rich donors who fund media and how they kinda hide it and why you should know. For four years, I have been a lone voice in my circles asking if all the big tech money and politically motivated donors are really a good thing for journalism.— Heidi Legg (@heidilegg) April 15, 2022
Trust-based philanthropy includes much more than unrestricted funding. While MacKenzie Scott’s historic decision to give away billions in unrestricted grants has been commendable, unrestricted funding alone does not equate to trust-based philanthropy. In addition to advocating for flexible funding and streamlined paperwork, a trust-based approach centres relationship-building, mutual learning, and transparency between funders and nonprofits. In a trust-based context, funders see our role as partners, seeking to support rather than control nonprofit leaders who are more proximate to the issues we seek to address. It also invites funders to do their homework when considering prospective grantees – including exploring publicly available materials and having conversations with community stakeholders – while checking our own biases and assumptions that are often rooted in white-dominant norms.Carrie Avery, Pia Infante, Philip Li & Brenda Solorzano for Alliance Magazine continue the discussion around 'trust-based philanthropy' that was also featured in the last edition of Links I Liked.
UNtold Stories: Young UN workers accept job insecurity for the good cause
This shows that also at a time-honored organization such as the UN, the ideals and realities of our post-modern knowledge-driven economy are well established. Flexible project work and unsteady employment are considered to be “the new normal". And it reveals once again the UN as an elite project: Only those who can afford unpaid internships, as well as periods of flexible work with insecure futures, can get a job at the UN. Both should be of major concern to an organization that promotes moral goals such as equality and fairness as its core values.Linda Mülli for SIPA's Multilateralism blog presents some interesting findings from her anthropological research & recently published book on UN precarious work(ers).
Protest Movements Could Be More Effective Than the Best Charities
Given the growing body of evidence that protest movements can be a highly effective way to create positive social change, what should philanthropists and advocates do about this? Devoting a greater proportion of available resources seems clearly beneficial, since additional resources could have the ability to propel these movements to even greater heights: mobilising more people, shifting public opinion, changing dominant narratives, and influencing key policy. But since resources are limited, and we want to direct them towards the movements and organisations that will have the greatest positive impact, the question of choosing which protest movements to support must be addressed.James Ozden for the Stanford Social Innovation Review; I'm not entirely convinced by the positive assessment of social movements, but definitely interesting food for thought & discussion!
Given that movements are unpredictable, it can be hard to know which ones have the highest chances of success. Below, I outline various factors that philanthropists and advocates should look for in protest movements when deciding whether to support them.
We are inspired by this series of mixed media art created by Decolonise MSF organiser, Natascia Silverio. Each piece contains testimonies that were published in the Dignity at MSF report. pic.twitter.com/56tEiWOunz— Decolonise MSF (@DecoloniseMsf) April 12, 2022
“The sweetest songs”—Ethical framing in fundraising through the agency of service users/contributors to tell their own stories
Much of the discussion on the ethics of the framing of service users in fundraising and marketing materials focuses on the ethical dilemma of whether the means of using negative framing and negatively-framed images—which it is argued are more effective at raising money—justify that end if they cause harm by stereotyping and “othering” the people so framed, rob them of their dignity, and fail to engage people in long-term solutions. Attempts to find the right balance between these two ethical poles have proved elusive. This paper posits a new ethical solution by removing these two poles from the equation and making the ethicality of fundraising frames contingent on the voice and agency of service users/contributors to tell their own stories and contribute to their own framingIan MacQuillin, Jess Crombie & Ruth Smyth with a new open access paper for the Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing.
Co-designing algorithms for governance: Ensuring responsible and accountable algorithmic management of refugee camp supplies
This paper argues that co-design of algorithms with relevant stakeholders from government and society is another means to achieve responsible and accountable algorithms that is largely overlooked in the literature. We present a case study of the development of an algorithmic tool to estimate the populations of refugee camps to manage the delivery of emergency supplies. This case study demonstrates how in different stages of development of the tool—data selection and pre-processing, training of the algorithm and post-processing and adoption—inclusion of knowledge from the field led to changes to the algorithm. Co-design supported responsibility of the algorithm in the selection of big data sources and in preventing reinforcement of biases.Rianne Dekker, Paul Koot, S. Ilker Birbil & Mark van Embden Andres with a new open access paper for Big Data & Society.
Amin can help us see the ideological foundations of mainstream economics, as well as social science theorising at large. In this, he gives us the necessary starting point to challenge a field that remains Eurocentric. Third, we may also learn important lessons from Amin when it comes to strategy. He did not engage much with elite universities in the core. He was a pan-Africanist and a citizen of the developing world, and he focused his life on building up political and intellectual institutions in Africa. This contrasts with many initiatives from universities in the core that try to incorporate scholars from the periphery into their (often Eurocentric) institutions, rather than supporting Southern institutions and epistemologies.Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven with a great essay on Samir Amin for Aeon.
Finally, Amin always tied his work to real material struggles – the need to oppose Eurocentric social science was important because it would expose the colonial dimension of the global economic system.
Whose ideas count? Participatory Methodologies and the Professionalisation of Development Knowledge
But the idea that there is some pure, alternative, authentic worldview untouched by notions of development or modernity, or intersectional concerns such as gender, race, class or sexuality, is not a reflection of reality. So when, for instance, we seek out ‘local’ voices, these are not more ‘authentic’; these do not exist separately from the ‘mainstream’ or represent separate lifeworlds. Rather, how and through what mechanisms or codes we ‘know’ the world is shaped by interconnected lifeworlds, outwardly interacting, creating continuities and discontinuities and new forms of knowledge.Lata Narayanaswamy for Convivial Thinking pushes our decolonial thinking further-as always...
A key concern is that we don’t talk enough about power – what kind of life do people want? Whose ideas about ‘sustainable development’ count? Who gets to decide what ‘progress’ or ‘empowerment’ looks like?
Do Men Really Publish More than Women?
It's surprising to see so many people retweet this approvingly/uncritically.— Benjamin Thomas White (@rain_later) April 18, 2022
If you're writing a thesis or dissertation and you see this checklist: STOP!
Ask yourself a few questions before you adopt it.
Thread (for reflection - not intended as a dunk on original poster).
We found that this distribution alone explained most of the gender gap in productivity (the volume of publications produced each year) because publication practices vary both by scientific field and academic position. In other words, when we stopped comparing all men to all women, but rather compared, for example, female professors with male professors, and female sociologists with male sociologists, most of the productivity differences between men and women disappeared.Lynn P. Nygaard, Dag W. Aksnes & Fredrik Piro for PRIO on the complexities & nuances around academic publishing inequalities.
What we were reading 5 years ago
(Link review 232, 12 May 2017)
Outcry Over Photo Showing The Face Of A Girl Allegedly Being Raped
In the case of child slaves in Sonagachi, Godden says, the problem has been well known to activists and governmental officials for years.Michaeleen Doucleff for NPR Goats & Soda with an interesting post that should encourage to think what has & what hasn't changed in the diginified (re)presentation of 'the other'...
"Human rights activists have been working on this issue for decades," he says. "Awareness is not the problem, in my opinion. Now it's about technical support to these girls and countering corruption in those country. It's not about shocking photos."
Stop Celebrating Entrepreneurship In Africa
Why did Uganda “win the top entrepreneurial spot”? Because Ugandans have no other option. The high rate of entrepreneurship in the developing world should not be celebrated or encouraged but lamented. Self-employment is a response to the environment in poor countries. Not their golden path out of it.James Crawford's post also lends itself to question how the entrepreneurial discourse has & hasn't changed over the years...