What makes people happy and why it matters for development
Happiness economics is a new field that strives to find out what really makes people happy based on surveys asking citizens: "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" or "How happy are you?". Rather than letting experts define what makes for the good life from an armchair perspective, happiness economics allows us to identify the factors that matter for people's wellbeing as they themselves experience it. When the original millenium development goals (MDGs) were formulated, happiness economics barely existed. Before 2000, less than five scientific articles a year dealt with "subjective wellbeing", academic speak for happiness and life satisfaction. Over the course of the past decade, though, their number has risen enormously. A World Happiness Report launched last year at the United Nations summarises the evidence to date.
The problem with data journalism
The recent boom in “data-driven” journalism projects is exciting. It can elevate our knowledge, enliven statistics, and make us all more numerate. But I worry that data give commentary a false sense of authority since data analysis is inherently prone to bias. The author’s priors, what he believes or wants to be true before looking at the data, often taint results that might appear pure and scientific. Even data-backed journalism is opinion journalism. So as we embark on this new wave of journalism, we should be aware of what we are getting and what we should trust. Economics blogger James Schneider recently opined on how journalists highlight research, even if it’s not credible, that confirms their argument and ignores work that undermines it.
What makes people happy and why it matters for development
World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE
Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE
Browsing Facebook back in August, I was greeted with a stark photograph of a young man doing homework under the glow of a newly installed street light in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. I clicked on the next image: grinning children on a swing. Next: a policewoman shines out from her patrol on the Old Road; child soldiers hand in weapons in Tubmanburg; and the baby of a returning refugee is handed down from a truck. There were many more dramatic images on the slide show - shared on the social network by the United Nations Mission in Liberia. It was titled “10 years of Peace”. I “liked” it. It’s rare to see such images of peace. Each photograph illustrated a powerful back-story of recovery – and together they plotted a credible and inspiring path to peace. My knowledge of Liberia doubled in five minutes.
A month later on International Day of Peace those same images were the subject of discussion at The Centre of African Studies at Cambridge University. Now framed and hanging in the Centre, it was interesting to gauge people’s reactions. A small group had assembled and although many of them were African, they also confessed to having no prior knowledge of Liberia. One touching observation, “This shows Liberians path to peace by Liberians…it is African’s who have made peace here”. True - although the photographs had been taken by United Nations photographers, the presence of the UN was distinctly low key. We also had a discussion about images of so-called “peace” being used for propaganda purposes. As a self-confessed cynic, I fully sympathize, but these set of images felt far more than just PR for the United Nations.
During the 2011 World Bank Annual Meetings, we decided to give the highest visibility to the topic of gender equality in connection with the World Development Report 2012.
The report details the need of the world to close the big gender gaps that exist in order to pursue a path of true development for many countries. There is global progress, for example, in education.
But in other metrics, the data on gender equality is appalling:
Worldwide, women make up the majority of unpaid workers. And violence against women is still widespread.
As advanced by my colleague James a few days ago, here's a second slideshow on natural disasters in Vietnam, this time showing prevention and mitigation measures put in place across the country. Again, the photos are striking. And the actions, varied and ingenious.
Some of my colleagues in the Vietnam office of the World Bank, working with Sai Gon Tiep Thi newspapers, recently organized a photo contest and exhibition on the topic of natural disasters. I thought I’d share some of the finalist entries, which are remarkable in their composition and relevance. It’s important to note that these pictures are not related to the disasters that have hit several East Asian and Pacific countries in recent weeks. Nevertheless, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to click through the pictures below, which focus on the human toll of natural disasters in Vietnam. Check back in a couple days for more photos from the same contest.
Editor’s note: Photo blogger Erdene-Ochir Badarch works on rural and environmental issues for the World Bank in Mongolia. Earlier this summer, he and a team of 17 people spent 160 hours traveling 2,300 kilometers through Mongolia’s forests, mountains and steppe to visit sites and people receiving support from the second Sustainable Livelihoods Project. The project is part of a three-phase 12-year program, which works to enhance secure and sustain livelihoods in communities throughout Mongolia by providing support in rural areas for improved health and education facilities, pasture management and access to financial services. Erdene took the pictures (seen below) at the Zavhan and Bayanhongor aimags (provinces). Read more about the Mongolian Sustainable Livelihoods Project II project here. (Hover your mouse over "Notes" for photo information.)
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For most of us, when a disaster happens in a far away place, we only get brief glimpses of the immediate aftermath and subsequent recovery efforts – often only through news media or occasionally close-by bloggers. During four years of reconstruction after the devastating tsunami that hit the Indonesian province of Aceh in 2004, few have seen the rebuilding process like those who are part of the recovery efforts.
The Multi-Donor Fund (MDF), which is managed by the World Bank with contributions and guidance from 15 other international donor partners, continues to work on the ground in Aceh and Nias. The reconstruction has been extremely successful, with more than 100,000 new houses constructed, more than 90,000 hectares of agricultural land restored and 2,500 kilometers of road built. In late 2008, the MDF held a photo competition for people involved with projects or agencies related to reconstruction. The resulting pictures are not professionally created, but they give a beautifully close and comprehensive view of the rebuilding of Aceh.
(Hover your mouse over "Notes" to see information about each photo)
|More than 1,600 children from around the world participated in a photography project, designed in part to educate children about traffic safety.|