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Quote of the Week: Michael Ignatieff

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Separatist politicians, desiring to be presidents or prime ministers of little countries, force their fellow citizens to make choices that they should not have to make between identities that they have combined, each in their own unique way, and now watch being ripped apart – one portion of themselves flung on one side of a border, a damaged remnant on the other."

- Michael Ignatieff, writing about a possible secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. On September 18, 2014 Scots will vote on independence in a referendum.  Ignatieff is a Canadian author, academic, and former politician. In addition to leading the Liberal Party and the Official Opposition of Canada from 2008 until 2011, he has held senior academic posts at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Toronto.

Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

Promising uses of technology in education in poor, rural and isolated communities around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
don’t worry: your solutions -- and possibly your salvation – have finally arrived!
don’t worry: your solution (salvation?)
has finally arrived!

One persistent challenge for educational policymakers and planners related to the potential use of informational and communication technologies (ICTs) in remote, low income communities around the world is that most products, services, usage models, expertise, and research related to ICT use in education come from high-income contexts and environments.

One consequence is that technology-enabled 'solutions' are imported and 'made to fit' into what are often much more challenging environments. When they don't work, or where they are too expensive to be replicated at any scale, this is taken as 'evidence' that ICT use in education in such places is irrelevant -- and possibly irresponsible.

That said, lessons are being learned as a result of emerging practices, both good and bad, in the use of ICTs in education in low resource, poor, rural and isolated communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific that may be useful to help guide the planning and implementation of educational technology initiatives in such environments. (It may even turn out that the technological innovations that emerge from such places many have a wider relevance …. but that is a topic for another discussion.)

Products like the BRCK (a connectivity device designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya by many of the people behind Ushahidi to better address user needs in places where electricity and internet connections are, for lack of a better word, ‘problematic’) and MobiStation (a solar-powered 'classroom in a suitcase' which features a projector and lots of off-line educational content developed by UNICEF Uganda) remain notable exceptions to the lamentable reality that, for the most part, ‘solutions’ touted for use in schools in e.g. rural Africa, or in isolated communities in the Andes, are designed elsewhere, with little understanding of the practical day-to-day realities and contexts in which such technologies are to be used. Many people who have lived and worked in such environments are quite familiar with well-meaning but comparatively high cost efforts often informed more by the marketing imperatives embedded in many corporate social responsibility efforts than by notions of cost-effectiveness and sustainability over time or the results of user-centered design exercises.

Understanding the Nature of Power: The Force Field that Shapes Development

Duncan Green's picture

I wrote this post for ODI’s Development Progress blog. It went up last week, closing a series of posts on the theme of Political Voice.

Women’s empowerment is one of the greatest areas of progress in the last century, so what better theme for a post on ‘voice’ than gender rights?

Globally, the gradual empowerment of women is one of the standout features of the past century. The transformation in terms of access to justice and education, to literacy, sexual and reproductive rights and political representation is striking.

That progress has been driven by a combination of factors: the spread of effective states that are able to turn ‘rights thinking’ into actual practice, and broader normative shifts; new technologies that have freed up women’s time and enabled them to control their own fertility; the vast expansion of primary education – particularly for girls – and improved health facilities.

Politics and power have been central to many, if not all, of these advances. At a global political level, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) appears to be one of those pieces of international law that exerts genuine traction at a national level, as it is ratified and codified in domestic legislation.

Let the lights shine, hopefully for 24 hours a day (as needed)

Antoine Jaoude's picture

Growing up in war-torn Beirut, I experienced the Lebanese Civil War from a childlike perspective. I was in middle school at the time when a power outage lingered for months on end. Reviewing textbooks and doing homework at night was no easy task. The flickers of candlelight reflecting on the glossy pages of my textbook made reading very laborious—not to mention how it compromised my safety and shrank my attention span. I was 12 years old at the time. Today, I am 34. It has been 23 years since the war ended and power shortage in Lebanon remains.  
 
In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a national consensus to privatize and decentralize the power sector in Lebanon. Decentralization would shift control from the ministerial level to distinct municipalities across the country. Privatization in particular would help the power grid expand to meet the growing demands of population increase. Both moves would involve inflows of foreign direct investment, and open up competition, and create more jobs. However, political disagreements erupted around the intricacies of privatization policies and decrees and any further attempt to privatize or decentralize has floundered.
 
Today, Electricite du Liban (EDL), a state-owned enterprise run by the Ministry of Energy and Water controls 90 percent of power generators, transmission, and distribution services in the country. A surge of demand after the civil war has pushed EDL to further expand the power grid.
 

Thinking and Working Politically: An Exciting New Aid Initiative

Duncan Green's picture

Gosh I love my job. Last week I attended a workshop in Delhi to discuss ‘thinking and working politically’. A bunch of donors, academics, NGOs and others (Chatham House rules, alas, so no names or institutions) taking stock on how they can move from talk to walk in applying more politically informed thinking to their work.

That means both trying to do the normal stuff better (eg understanding the politics that determines whether your water or education programme gets anywhere) and in more transformational work trying to shift power from haves to have nots.

The meeting was convened by some very practical (‘what do I do on Monday Morning’) aid people keen to move on from what they see as the overly academic (‘needs more research’) character  of discussions on governance, institutions, state-building and all its obfuscatory language (‘What we don’t need is lots of people talking about isomorphic mimicry, rules of the game and political settlements’).

The purpose of this discussion was to take the growing body of research from the Development Leadership Programme, Tom Carothers, ODI, Matt Andrews, ESID etc and turn it into programme ideas that can be tested on the ground. A giant ‘do tank’ exercise, in fact. Alarmingly, I can’t think of other examples of such an explicit research →hypothesis→test process on governance (unlike drugs research, say).

Some impressions:

What is a Theory of Change and How Do We Use It?

Duncan Green's picture

I’m planning to write a paper on this, but thought I’d kick off with a blog and pick your brains for references, suggestions etc. Everyone these days (funders, bosses etc) seems to be demanding a Theory of Change (ToC), although when challenged, many have only the haziest notion of what they mean by it. It’s a great opportunity, but also a risk, if ToCs become so debased that they are no more than logframes on steroids. So in internal conversations, blogs etc I’m gradually fleshing out a description of a ToC. When I ran this past some practical evaluation Oxfamers, they helpfully added a reality check – how to have a ToC conversation with an already existing programme, rather than a blank sheet of paper?

But first the blank sheet of paper. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll probably recognize some of this, because it builds on the kinds of questions I ask when trying to understand past change episodes, but throws them forward. Once you’ve decided roughly what you want to work on (and that involves a whole separate piece of analysis), I reckon it’s handy to break down a ToC into four phases, captured in the diagram.

Powering Up Developing Countries through Integration?

Emmanuelle Auriol's picture

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 1.3 billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in developing Asia, are without access to electricity. According to the IEA, an estimated $48 billion per year is needed to finance the volume of investment required to provide universal access to electricity by the year 2030. And this is a huge challenge, especially for the world's poorest nations.

President Obama on his recent Africa trip has hence announced a 7-billion project to increase electrical infrastructure. This is a much needed move as ,with scarce public resources, little assistance from the private sector, and limited aid, most of the developing these countries attempt to address their investment needs by creating regional power markets. Integrated power pools allow for the better use of existing infrastructures and realization of projects that would otherwise be oversized for an isolated country. For instance, the hydro potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone is estimated to be sufficient to provide three times the much power currently consumed in Africa. Large hydroelectric projects, such as the Grand Inga in the region of the Congo River and the projects for the Senegal River basin, could benefit all countries in the region. The challenging question, however, is how to finance and manage these projects.

Being Average is Your Superpower

Sandra Moscoso's picture

Last week, on my way home from work, I met a young man raising funds for a charity. He stood outside of a subway station and as part of his pitch, he asked, "if you could have any superpower, what would it be?" I offered the same answer I have been giving my children for years. "I have a superpower. It's reading." I suspect this both annoys and inspires my children. Given that annoying and inspiring are among my favorite parental duties, I rather like this answer.
Since then, a few things have happened that are making me want to revise my response to that young man.

Where is India's economy heading?

Ulrich Bartsch's picture

The India Economic Update 2012 will be discussed online.Ulrich Bartsch, the World Bank's outgoing senior country economist for India, will lead a 24-hour live chat on the World Bank India Facebook page. He and other experts will be discussing the Bank's latest India Economic Update. The chat will begin Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 4:30 p.m. India Standard Time (7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the United States). Here, he provides a sneak preview.

India’s economic growth has slowed to a pace not seen since the beginning of the 2000s. At the same time, the current account deficit has reached a record high. We project growth in the current fiscal year to reach around 6%, a slowdown from the already low 6.5% growth in the previous year. This growth projection is predicated on an improving domestic and external environment, but the risks for a worse outcome are high.


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