Links & Contents I Liked 494

Hi all,

My favorite quotes from our alumni meeting last week were from a student who described our course far better organized than meetings she has experienced in the financial sector & another student who confessed that our Communication for Development program saved her from finishing her accounting degree ;).
So all in all we had a great day with alumni, students & friends!

After last Friday's break this week's review is a bit more extensive-Haiti, aid fraud, ESG scams, the end of NGOs, digital divides & often elusive quests for impact from conference diplomacy to rainfed agriculture. So lots to explore, ponder, agree & disagree with! Happy reading!

My quotes of the week
The current ESG focus at many companies, and among investors, may therefore prove insufficient to address negative environmental externalities, especially in the presence of weak public governance.
(Better state governance reduces local environmental footprints from oil drilling, “better” corporate governance has no impact)

Between violative sexualization and puritanical moral policing, the smartphone has become a battlefield for gender wars. In several village panchayats, local community decrees specifically forbid phone access for unmarried young women.
(...)
But the entrenched prejudice that seeks to control and contain women — whether their professional aspirations or their sexual discovery — means that distributing phones is only half the job done. Deep-seated sexism, often within families, will have to be called out simultaneously.
 (India’s persistent, gendered digital divide)

This article analyses the growing role of for-profit consultancies and contractors in British aid delivery, which has been driven by two key trends: first, the outsourcing of managerial, audit and knowledge-management functions as part of efforts to bring private sector approaches and skills into public spending on aid; and second, the reconfiguration of aid spending towards markets and the private sector, and away from locally embedded, state-focused aid programming. (...) The resulting entanglement means that the policies and practices of the UK government's aid agencies, and the interests and forms of for-profit service providers, are increasingly mutually constitutive.
(Outsourcing the Business of Development: The Rise of For-profit Consultancies in the UK Aid Sector)

Development news
The problem with the international force set for Haiti
The problem we have today in Haiti has to do with the lack of governance, the impunity, the absence of rights, and the complicity of state authorities and of the police hierarchy with the gangs. There is no chance to tackle insecurity in Haiti without solving the political crisis first. If a force arrives before that, the force’s interlocutor will be state authorities conniving with gangs. So, we are not against a massive support for the Haitian National Police (PNH) in training, equipment, even with specialised units who can come to help fight gangs, but it must be part of a package. Instead of pushing for a force to intervene, Haiti’s friends should help our country negotiate a political agreement first – one with a roadmap for a state of rights, governance, and [the end of] impunity. Unfortunately, the countries that want this force are trying to give us cosmetic solutions only.
Daniela Mohor talks to Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti (RNDDH) for the New Humanitarian about the UN decision to send Kenyan police forces to the island.

Can foreign intervention save Haiti from gang violence?
Kenya signed on to send 1,000 police officers, and Washington pledged $100m and logistical support. The Caribbean country has been gripped by spiraling gang violence, poverty and food shortages. And if international assistance does succeed in pushing back the gangs, there’s still a need to address Haiti’s lack of governance and political power vacuum.
Harold Isaac with a podcast for Al Jazeera.

Rape and violence: Struggles of Goma’s displaced women
Every day, the same group has to also deal with the precarious living conditions in the camps, in which access to food and other basic necessities is limited. That puts them at the risk of becoming exposed to sexual violence. Many of them say they went there fleeing sexual violence, only to be followed by the same nightmare.
Lisa Veran & Alexandre Marco who work for MSF report from DRC for the East African.

Sudan conflict ‘like planning for the apocalypse’, say aid workers
Intensified fighting in recent weeks has exacerbated shortages of food in neighbourhoods on the frontlines. The market in Ibrahim’s neighbourhood was selling only potatoes and meat before she left. It closed at 10am because of the risk of the shelling.
Zeinab Musa fled from the same district to Shendi City in River Nile state following an increase in shelling. “We never thought that the war would reach our area, but it is hopeless” she said. Musa said she was staying with relatives for free for now but at some point would need to find her own accommodation. Like others, she faces rapidly increasing rental prices in safer areas, driven by the displacement crisis.
On Tuesday, the World Food Programme issued an alert warning of a looming hunger emergency on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
Peter Beaumont & Zeinab Mohammed Salih for the Guardian with an update from Sudan.

Pay Day Loans and Backroom Empire-South Sudan’s Political Economy since 2018
Despite repeated calls for the reform of the country’s oil sector, South Sudan’s oil revenue remains opaque and is controlled by Kiir’s regime through a series of off-the-book accounting mechanisms. South Sudan’s predatory political economy is dominated by the extraction of resources, including timber and gold. These operations are controlled by actors from within the country’s elite and are used to build up shadow economic empires outside the ambit of the formal state. The political–economic landscape of South Sudan is characterized by obfuscation: a narrow coterie of politicians and commanders close to Kiir employ multiple bank accounts to obscure the diversion of money from the South Sudanese state.
Joshua Craze with a new report for the Small Arms Survey on the state of the economy in South Sudan.

Aid theft in Somalia is not what you think
The main issue, then, is the lack of formal acknowledgement of this political economy – either by the aid community or donors. The fact is, the gatekeeper system is entrenched. Donors and implementing agencies need to recognise this and work with the city of Mogadishu to bring in much-needed reforms.
The lack of a willingness to face this reality is a lost opportunity. It leads to the continuation of an opaque system in which IDPs and the urban poor can be overtaxed by ISMs. A better approach would be to work with those willing to improve the system’s accountability.
Erik Bryld for the New Humanitarian adds nuance, political economic analysis & local insights to simplified narratives about 'stealing aid' in Somalia.

‘Everybody’s hiding their skeletons’: A gloves-off conversation on aid diversion and double standards
So it's a very, very weird ecosystem, but all I can say is that my lesson from this is: If you're doing something radical, as we are with direct cash transfer, or as the localisation agenda is doing, doing something that is challenging the system, you have to be that much more careful because people are gunning for you. They're going to jump on the first possible opportunity to say, “Oh well, that's why we should return to the old system.”
The danger of this conversation is we're talking about the intermediary organisations. In the end, the only question that matters, really, is what is in the best interest of recipients. And I believe strongly that local organisations are much more likely to deliver good, efficient outcomes for recipients. But that's the way in which they should be judged.
Irwin Loy for the New Humanitarian continues the discussion from the previous on a panel with a great range of voices & an 80-minute discussion.

The end of the NGO?
But he says western INGOs have three choices: die well, because they feel they have done what they needed to do and there are now enough local organisations to take over the work; die badly, because their credibility and resources fall out from underneath them; or transform into something that looks very different.
Jessica Abrahams for Prospect Magazine; the article focuses on Oxfam (GB) & with an generalist audience in mid. Many of Oxfam's challenges are not new & overall the organization has been addressing some of the issues throughout the last 5 years since the Oxfam scandal broke. I think speculations about the death of INGOs are a bit exaggerated & as often in life or #globaldev different approaches will continue to exist alongside each other for a while.

Bond – here’s to the next 30 years!
The period ahead could be the most important in Bond’s history. The role of UK INGOs is quite rightly being questioned and challenged, and the whole shape of global development is evolving. It is highly likely that we will go into the next General Election with neither of the two main parties committed to increasing aid spending – and this at a time when the need for funding is greater than it has ever been.
The backdrop means that UK INGOs need to be creative, learn from each other and be a powerful body for collective influence like never before. Only Bond can bring INGOs together to do this and provoke innovative futures by thinking and convene the development sector for collective influence. And maybe Bond could be even bolder – at the forefront of driving change and putting pressure on its own members to change, as well as galvanising more powerful collective action.
Richard Hawkes & Caroline Nursey reflect on 30 years of Bond.

Better state governance reduces local environmental footprints from oil drilling, “better” corporate governance has no impact
New empirical evidence on global deforestation casts doubts on Corporate Environmental Responsibility and ESG claims that they can replace state-led regulation as a mechanism to minimise negative environmental externalities in low government capacity settings
What matters more for managing negative environmental externalities? Corporate self-governance, or the state as rule-setter and regulation-enforcer? This is the question we seek to answer in our new research into the determinants of deforestation by oil companies around the world.
(...)
The current ESG focus at many companies, and among investors, may therefore prove insufficient to address negative environmental externalities, especially in the presence of weak public governance.
James Cust, Torfinn Harding, Hanna Krings & Alexis Rivera-Ballesteros for VoxDev with great new research on the limitations of ESG & CSR.

On Conference Diplomacy: The Elusive Impact of Bringing People Together
So, can conferences have a real impact?
For me the answer is a resounding YES, but with some caveats.
Yes, if they are intentionally designed to act as true learning spaces or trust and relationship-building spaces.
Yes, even more so, if they understand their role as that of facilitators of collaboration, which seems to be more and more the case.
We are seeing a shift in these dialogue forums from spaces for exchange towards platforms for collaboration. We see it with the initiatives supported by the Paris Peace Forum as well as within the Open European Dialogue itself (see our Policy Design Sprint for more details).
I believe that, in part, this can be a very welcome evolution.
There is a growing need for politically neutral spaces which can fulfil the function of bringing people together to facilitate a better-shared understanding and creative solution-building across political divides.
If political conferences would assume this role - that of honest brokers between political stakeholders with different views - their relevance and raison d'etre would be strengthened.
Chiara Rosselli for Apropos Group; some good reflections even though the author works for an organization that offers conference support as part of their portfolio; but, yes, to have any impact conferences need to be organized well, not just travel & photo-ops in front of large plastic banners...

Sowing like there’s no tomorrow
If rainfed farmers are among the region’s most vulnerable, they are also underserved by aid interventions. The latter have largely targeted irrigated agriculture, which is more likely to yield tangible success stories. “Our preferred beneficiaries are irrigated farmers,” said a manager with a large Western aid actor. “But the ones who need us the most are non-irrigated ones.” The same can be said of northeast Syria’s pastoralists: Hard-pressed to graze their flocks on dry, degraded rangelands, herders have seen little help. Another aid worker put it simply: “We’re not well-equipped for supporting people on the move.”
(...)
As a result, an organization working in water or agriculture may not know what other key players are doing—let alone have access to whatever information they might be gathering. “The only data we have is about our own projects,” said a manager with one aid outfit. “People don’t talk to each other. Even if there are formal coordination mechanisms in place, donors often restrict what kind of information their partners can share.” That disconnect is particularly worrying in a region where data is dangerously scarce to begin with.
Lyse Mauvais, Alex Simon & Solin Muhammed Amin for synaps on the challenges of Northeast Syria’s agricultural recovery.

India’s persistent, gendered digital divide
Between violative sexualization and puritanical moral policing, the smartphone has become a battlefield for gender wars. In several village panchayats, local community decrees specifically forbid phone access for unmarried young women.
Ironically, two years after the pandemic, as the state of Rajasthan heads into elections, a key poll promise of the incumbent government is to distribute free phones to women. In 2023, phones have become what bicycles once were for the aspirations of school-going girls in rural India.
But the entrenched prejudice that seeks to control and contain women — whether their professional aspirations or their sexual discovery — means that distributing phones is only half the job done. Deep-seated sexism, often within families, will have to be called out simultaneously.
Barkha Dutt for Rest of World & the myth of 'everyone in India has a phone'.

Small Businesses, Big Ideas: 17 Photos of Entrepreneurs Around The World


Jenath Pratheep places colorful chicken toys to attract customers in Mannar, Sri Lanka.

Reading corner

Outsourcing the Business of Development: The Rise of For-profit Consultancies in the UK Aid Sector
This article analyses the growing role of for-profit consultancies and contractors in British aid delivery, which has been driven by two key trends: first, the outsourcing of managerial, audit and knowledge-management functions as part of efforts to bring private sector approaches and skills into public spending on aid; and second, the reconfiguration of aid spending towards markets and the private sector, and away from locally embedded, state-focused aid programming. The authors argue that both trends were launched under New Labour in the early 2000s, and super-charged under successive Conservative governments. The resulting entanglement means that the policies and practices of the UK government's aid agencies, and the interests and forms of for-profit service providers, are increasingly mutually constitutive. Amongst other implications, this shift acts to displace traditional forms of contestation and accountability of aid delivery.
Brendan Whitty, Jessica Sklair, Paul Robert Gilbert, Emma Mawdsley, Jo-Anna Russon & Olivia Taylor with an open access article for Development and Change.

Resilience as an Excuse to Develop New Markets in Disaster Management: Private Foundations and Humanitarian Aid in Haiti
The line between public and private becomes increasingly ambiguous and tends to blur within the realm of private foundations. The discourse surrounding foundations aligns with the concept of resilience, which perceives disaster victims as agents of their own transformation. The notion of resilience may lead us to believe that non-state actors working on the ground, who have experienced a disaster, possess a desire to empower individuals in the face of such events. Exploring the relationship between private foundations, resilience, and the neoliberal system enables us to demonstrate how disasters are viewed as opportunities for development within a neoliberal society. Through our research, we aim to address the following question: to what extent does the implementation of resilience by private foundations contribute to changes in disaster management?
Gaélane Wolff with her new paper ends this week's review in the country we started...

What we were reading 5 years ago
(Link review 282, 18 May 2018)

Of lofty ideals, dual careers & long-distance motherhood - guest post by Milasoa Chérel-Robson
So no, I would reiterate. Women who choose Love are “not dropping the flag for the next generation”, nor are they dropping THE ball. They are simply temporarily dropping one ball out of MANY that they must juggle with every day.
These are women who will not suffer the burden of too great personal sacrifices so as to be symbols of power in a male defined world. Women who dance to the beat of their own songs and not only to those of manifestos. Women who chart their own course, unfazed at the sight of an opulent executive chair. Women who make different time preferences. Women who are aware of the ephemerality of life, of children who grow up too fast.
Milasoa Chérel-Robson worked for UNCTAD and her reflections on the challenges and trade-offs of combining her international career with family duties highlight many personal insights into bigger debates in gender and development.
This is a perfect long-read for the weekend after Mother's Day that spans a historical trajectory from Madagascar and the socialist aspirations of the 1970s to the limits of “leaning in” in Geneva and contemporary Rwanda where Africa is celebrating a bright economic future.

Aid agencies should be clearer about their ethical dilemmas
In my experience ethical guidance is most useful when it is explicit about the ethical risks, and when it recognises uncertainty and grey areas as well as red lines; when it encourages debate. After all, medical students don’t simply learn the Hippocratic Oath, they are taught why it matters in situations of unequal information and power, and how it has been applied. International aid organisations – from donors through to international NGOs and the consulting firms who deliver donors’ projects – all need make sure that every staff member carries out her work reflectively, with an appreciation of its ethical dimensions, and in the knowledge that she is expected to put any project on hold until any ethical question has been answered satisfactorily, even if this goes against the perceived short term interests of her employer. That seems at least as important as making sure she understands the procurement and whistleblowing policies, or knows which particular list of abstract nouns her organisation has decided to put on its website.
I agree with Phil Vernon very much, but the problem is people/taxpayers/donors hate nothing more than uncertainty-in pretty much any policy field...But why not give it a try? Why not be more open about 'grey areas' if you are an established global player, say, Oxfam, ICRC or Plan? Maybe some donors would be driven away, but this may be offset by gains in legitimacy, attracting great people to work for your organization etc.?

When Artificial Intelligence meets humanitarian jargon
Aid project titles produced by AI
Here are 12 favourites generated from studying a dataset of 4,500 IATI project titles:Support to South Savable Girls
Emergency Womens Affected Host Technocons
Support to complication against agriculture in The Rehabilitation
Tender Support to State Final Emergency II​
Emergency WASH project for Visibility
Develop Award Girls in Good Di Minion
Bossing Support​
Emergency WASH Election Response in South Sudan​
Mid-term Education Most Hard African States in Kosovo
Support to the GBV Livestock Strategy of Integrated Host Communities in IDPs in Laba​
Support to the poops in Emergency​
Transit come response for the improved EU Development of the Sudanian State​
Ben Parker for the New Humanitarian on how AI will disrupt humanitarian job titles and more...5 years before AI & ChatGPT threaten to take over #globaldev...

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