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Where has the global movement against inequality got to, and what happens next?

Duncan Green's picture

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of Global External AffairsKaty Wright, Oxfam’s Head of Global External Affairs, stands back and assesses its campaign on inequality.

The most frequent of the Frequently Asked Questions I’ve heard in response to Even it Up, Oxfam’s inequality campaign is “how equal do you think we should be?”

It’s an interesting response to the news that just 80 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population put together, and the best answer was that given by Joe Stiglitz to a group of UN ambassadors: “I think we have a way to go before we worry about that.”

The Inequality BusSo how far do we have to go, exactly? The good news is that inequality is no longer just the concern of a small number of economists, trades unions and social justice campaigners. It’s now on the agenda for the international elite.

That partly reflects a growing realisation that inequality may be a problem for us all, not just those at the bottom. The Spirit Level  raised questions about the impact of inequality on societies, and the rise of Occupy pointed to a growing political concern.

More recently, research papers from the IMF have demonstrated extreme inequality is at odds with stable economic growth, and that redistribution is not bad for growth. Significantly, this shift in focus from the IMF has been driven by Christine Lagarde. To the outside world, the IMF now officially cares about inequality, as do Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, Donald Kaberuka (outgoing head of the African Development Bank), and Alicia Barcena of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, to name a few.

Quote of the Week: Matteo Renzi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Matteo Renzi"We’re a young team— we want to invest in the new generation— but we’re not simply a young team.  Youth is the man of whatever age who risks believing in the possibility of change.”

- Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy since February 2014. Previously, he was the President of Florence Province from 2004 to 2009 and the Mayor of Florence from 2009 to 2014. At the age of 39 years and 42 days, he is the youngest Italian Prime Minister since unification in 1861 (he was younger than Benito Mussolini when he took office in 1922 by 52 days).  He is also the first to be elected Prime Minister as a Mayor and the second youngest leader in the European Council.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Projecting progress: Reaching the SDGs by 2030
Overseas Development Institute
This month the United Nations launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan to spur action across the world on areas of critical importance to humanity. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end this year. The SDGs will significantly shape development efforts for the coming 15 years. But are they really achievable? And what can we do to improve our chances of success? Our SDG Scorecard 2030 is the first real attempt to project where the world will be in 2030 across the SDG agenda.

The Politics of Media Development: The Importance of Engaging Government and Civil Society
Center for International Media Assistance
In the field of media development, the public sector is often viewed as a barrier to the development of independent and sustainable media. Although governments do frequently pervert and capture media sectors in countries around the globe, the enabling conditions under which media can achieve and maintain independence are nevertheless reliant on institutions of government. Therefore the media development community must rethink its approaches to public sector engagement in efforts to improve the environment for media systems in emerging and fragile democracies. This paper outlines the key role of political support, the need for more nuanced understanding of political context, and how donors and implementers can more effectively engage drivers of change in the public sector to build support for media and media development work.

Managing public opinion in the epic migration crisis

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Refugees line up at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, LebanonIn all the affected countries, the ongoing migration crisis centering on both the Middle East and Europe is many things. But it is also a public opinion management challenge of impressive girth and height. This is one of those instances where wise leaders will not make policy first and only thereafter ask communication advisers to go and ‘sell’ it. They will have their sharpest communication/political advisers in the room while making policy, especially as the situation evolves in ever more dramatic directions. And those advisers will, one hopes, be monitoring public opinion, consulting panels of voters, talking to deeply experienced players in the political system… all as vital inputs into the policy process.

Why is this a particularly ticklish public opinion management problem? Here is why: the fundamental emotional and values drivers of public opinion at work here are powerful ones, and they clash clangorously. The temptation in host communities is to keep outsiders out, especially people who look different, speak different tongues, worship different gods, and have all kinds of fundamental commitments that host communities might be wary of.  People often think that these primordial sentiments come into play only when transnational movements of people in large numbers happen. But for people like me who grew up in geographically plural, multinational societies (where different ethnic groups live in distinct parts of the country) we know that moving to another part of what is supposed to be your own country to live permanently can be an ego-shredding challenge. As we used to say in Nigeria, the ‘sons of the soil’ might not accept you.

What are the drivers of change behind women’s empowerment at national level? The case of Colombia

Duncan Green's picture

Just read a new case study of women’s empowerment in Colombia, part of ODI’s Development Progress series (summary here, full paper here). What’s useful is the level of analysis – a focus on the national rather than global or a project case study enables them to consider the various drivers of change at work. Some excerpts:

Portrait of a Colombian womanSigns of Progress:

  • "Colombia is home to the longest armed conflict in Latin America. In this context, women have mobilised effectively to influence emerging law on transitional justice mechanisms and to ensure that understanding the gendered experiences of conflict informs policy and law.
  • Colombia has more women in relevant decision-making positions than ever before. In 2011, 32% of the cabinet were women, compared with 12% in 1998; in 2014, 19.9% of parliamentarians in the Lower House and 22% in the Senate were women, compared with 11.7% and 6.9% respectively in 1997.
  • Girls’ enrolment in secondary and tertiary education outperforms boys’, while women’s participation in the labour market has also seen sustained progress. Women constituted 29.9% of the labour force in 1990; by 2012 this had risen to 42.7%." (Summary, page 1)

Quote of the Week: Simon Schama

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Simon Schama"But populism is not the monopoly of the left. Its common thread is a loathing for politics as a corporate affair: relentlessly managed, image-calibrated, bankrolled and focus-tested."

-Simon Schama, an English historian specialising in art history, Dutch history, and French history. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, New York and a contributing editor to the Financial Times.

Quoted in the Financial Times on August 29, 2015, "Beware the passionate preachers of populism".

The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development: important new book

Duncan Green's picture

The results/value for money steamroller grinds on, with aid donors demanding more attention to measurement of impact. At first sight that’s a good thing – who could be against achieving results and knowing whether you’ve achieved them, right? Step forward Ros Eyben, Chris Roche, Irene Guijt and Cathy Shutt, who take a more sceptical look in a new book, The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development, with a rather Delphic subtitle – ‘playing the game to change the rules?’

Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development book coverThe book develops the themes of the ‘Big Push Forward’ conference in April 2014, and the topics covered in one of the best debates ever on this blog – Ros and Chris in the sceptics corner took on two gung-ho DFID bigwigs, Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon.

The critics’ view is suggested by an opening poem, Counting Guts, by P Lalitha Kumari after she attended a meeting about results in Bangalore, which includes the line ‘We need to break free of the python grip of mechanical measures.’

The book has chapters from assorted aid workers about the many negative practical and political consequences of implementing the results agenda, including one particularly harrowing account from a Palestinian Disabled People’s Organization that ‘became a stranger in our own project’ due to the demands of donors (the author’s skype presentation was the highlight of the conference).

But what’s interesting is how the authors, and the book, have moved on from initial rejection to positive engagement. Maybe a snappier title would have been ‘Dancing with Pythons’. Irene Guijt’s concluding chapter sets out their thinking on "how those seeking to create or maintain space for transformational development can use the results and evidence agenda to better advantage, while minimising problematic consequences". Here’s how she summarizes the state of the debate:

"No one disputes the need to seek evidence and understand results. Everyone wants to see clear signs of less poverty, less inequity, less conflict and more sustainability, to understand what has made this possible. Development organizations increasingly seek to understand better what works for who and why – or why not. However, disputes arise around the power dynamics that determine who decides what gets measured, how and and why. The cases in this book bear witness to the experiences of development practitioners who have felt frustrated by the results and evidence protocols and practices that have constrained their ability to pursue transformational development. Such development seeks to change power relations and structures that create and reproduce inequality, injustice and the non-fulfillment of human rights.

Geek Heresy, by Kentaro Toyama: a book review

Duncan Green's picture

Gawain KripkeGuest post by Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Director of Policy, on Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy.

Geek Heresy book coverI love my smart phone. It’s awesome and it makes me more awesome. I honestly think that my life is much better with it than without. It makes me a better worker – able to review documents, communicate with colleagues, keep projects moving smoothly even when I’m out of the office.   It makes me a better citizen – I”m able to read news and events, can report emergencies and contribute to public safety and knowledge by feeding in through networks.  I think I’m a better parent – or at least it makes parenting easier.  All the logistics of picking up kids and changing schedules are greatly assisted by having my mobile phone.  It’s not cool to say so, but I think my mobile phone is a fundamentally empowering technology that helps make me a better person and helps me live a better life.

So, why shouldn’t mobile phones do the same for other people, including poor ones?  In researching this idea, I came across Kentaro Toyama.  I called him up, and in a long conversation, he batted down my fumbling ideas effortlessly and gracefully.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Toyama has emerged as a leading skeptic of technology-led concepts of development.  He’s now published Geek Heresy, a book that is worth reading, both for proponents and skeptics of technology in development.

Quote of the Week: Niall Ferguson

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Niall Ferguson at a Chatham House event on 9 May 2011"Politically, most of the world has never been more boring. Instead of the alarms and excursions of the past, we now have technocrats versus populists. Any violence is verbal and the technocrats nearly always win."

Niall Ferguson, a British historian from Scotland, who specializes in international history; economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets; and British and American imperialism. Ferguson's books include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest. He is also the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford; a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; and visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities.

Quote of the Week: Matteo Renzi

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"I’m the scrapper. I’m cleaning up the swamp."

- Matteo Renzi, in response to political opponents who call him il rottamatore, the demolition man. Renzi was elected Prime Minister of Italy in February 2014 and was referring to the waste, bureaucracy, high unemployment (40% among Italy's youth), slow pace of the Italian judicial system, culture of cronyism, tax evasion, and other areas of reform that he is hoping to change.