We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human. –Hannah Arendt
We all know that measuring poverty is critical to monitor progress and to tailor effective policy response. But what the numbers mask is the pain and suffering that people go through to make ends meet. Let’s take the case of South Sudan. The country has had a very tumultuous time, witnessing more than its share of a few crises between 2015 and 2016. The collapse of a fragile peace accord led to a renewed military confrontation while simultaneously international oil prices dropped, depriving South Sudan of its main source of foreign exchange. This triggered a severe fiscal and economic crisis, leading to sky rocketing prices as documented in our real time market price dashboard. Securing livelihoods has become more and more difficult with 66 percent of the population now living in poverty, a new peak.
The 66 percent number certainly summarizes the country’s poverty level, which is unquestionably useful for comparisons and analyses to inform policies and programs. However, what the number doesn’t reveal is the struggle that families go through daily. To capture this aspect and give a humane feel to an abstract poverty number, we have started collecting short video testimonials from people living in South Sudan as part of the High Frequency Survey:
There are innumerable obstacles to achieving the new education sustainable development goals. Thankfully, there are probably even more answers. How we finance education systems may offer one such solution.
Citizen Engagement (CE) mechanisms are most effective when the operating environment is conducive. A well-informed citizenry, an enabling regulatory framework, such as freedom of association, access to information, and petition rights, as well as institutional structures including well-organized media and a dynamic CSO-landscape rooted in communities all play an important role in making CE mechanisms function more effectively.
How about where such conditions are not available—like in fragile and conflict-affected situations? Are there any benefits in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in such situations? Can CE mechanisms still help citizens engage with the state constructively when the state clearly lacks the capacity to respond?
Task teams at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been grappling with these questions since launching a pilot initiative three years ago to strengthen citizen engagement throughout its operations, responding to an increased demand for voice and participation in the region. The new MENA strategy also put citizen engagement at the center of one of its main pillars, to renew the social contract. Citizen engagement was no longer an option—it had to be integrated across projects even in contexts where institutional capacities were extremely weak and state’s authority was often contested.
Despite the initial trepidation, the actual integration of citizen engagement in fragile situations defied all expectations. True, the absence of conducive environments did pose additional challenges in making public institutions more responsive and accountable. However, these deficiencies were easily compensated for. CE mechanisms filled crucial gaps of state institutions, whether they were non-existent, weak, or compromised, by delegating tasks such as monitoring and prioritization of needs to communities.
Citizen engagement also helped in some contexts to reinforce positive interactions between the state and citizens. There is emerging consensus among scholars that state legitimacy is enhanced not by service delivery per se but by the opportunities the process provides for citizens to interact with the state positively. And citizen engagement provides exactly that by getting citizens involved in identifying priority needs, registering complaints, voicing disagreements, and providing feedback etc.
In other words, MENA’s experience in integrating CE mechanisms in development programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations has highlighted the transformative potential of citizen engagement, not only in improving development results, but also in addressing issues at the heart of fragility and conflict. CE mechanisms tend to empower citizens by giving them the space and channels to hold the state accountable. It facilitates a gradual change in stakeholders’ mindset with citizens realizing that they can influence the quality of services and resource allocations—issues that are typically at the heart of societal tensions.
When citizens engage with government officials, the state becomes visible and citizens gain more knowledge about government processes as well as constraints that affect government performance. They also gain skills that help them better negotiate and communicate with the government in presenting their demands more coherently. Such interactions often tend to strengthen the vertical link between the state and society.
Furthermore, citizen engagement can also strengthen horizontal links in society by increasing face-to-face interaction among community members. This enhances social cohesion by promoting trust across community members and improving social cooperation. By promoting collective action, citizen engagement activities also engender a sense of community, generating consensus and a common understanding of problems as well as potential solutions. Such collaboration strengthens associational links and helps build social cohesion.
For instance under the Municipal Development Program in West Bank and Gaza, citizens in each targeted municipality participate in planning committees on Strategic Development and Investment Planning. This process allows citizens to voice their priorities, have insights into the budget making process and participate in decision making regarding how resources are allocated and used. While improving the quality of services this process has also increased inter-community collaboration.
October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
The plight of forcibly displaced people, who are fleeing conflict and violence, is best summed up by the lyrics of the plaintive 1970 classic by Argentine troubadour Facundo Cabral: "No soy de aquí ni soy de allá"("I'm not from here nor there").
Those lyrics convey both the sense of uprootedness felt by those displaced from their native lands and habitual routines, and the feeling of “otherness,” emotional detachment, and powerlessness when relocated to foreign surroundings and societies, which in some cases, are unwelcoming to outsiders.
Education in Yemen witnessed noticeable improvement during the pre-war period 1999–2013. School enrollment rates rose from 71.3% to 97.5% of children. In the academic year 2012/2013, Yemen’s Education Ministry put the number of school students at more than five million registered in about 17,000 schools that includes more than 136,000 classrooms.
Economic shocks can be painful and destructive, especially in fragile countries that can get trapped into a cycle of conflict and violence. Effective policy responses must be implemented quickly and based on evidence. This requires reliable and timely data, which are usually unavailable in such countries. This was particularly true for South Sudan, a country that has faced multiple shocks since its independence in 2011. Recognizing the need for such data in this fragile country to assess economic shocks, the team developed a real-time dashboard to track daily exchange rates and weekly market prices (click here for instructions how to use it).
Sunday was the day that all Colombians, in Colombia or abroad, voted in a referendum to ratify or not the peace agreement that was signed on September 26 between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group and the Colombian government.
As a Colombian living in Washington, D.C., I was serving as a voting monitor (Colombians citizens who volunteer to make sure the process runs smoothly and transparently) here all day, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Most of us were for the YES vote; so we were both saddened and surprised when we heard the news that the NO vote had narrowly won.
Though I was pessimistic at first, I thought about the great peacemakers of this world, and in particular Nelson Mandela who once said: "In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people." I have come to a different conclusion about this supposed "blow" to achieving peace in my country. I think this is a lesson in what the true meaning of peace is, especially for those of us who work on combatting conflict and often think that peace is a technocratic agreement.
It is true that society has been extremely polarized in recent months, and that although this is likely the most comprehensive and technically sound peace deal in this 50+-year-old conflict, the process was not very inclusive or transparent of society at large. Corruption scandals in the current government abound, and the fear that we might turn into another Venezuela if the FARC gain political power (which the agreement provides for to an extent) are not that far-fetched for many Colombians glancing over the border. The process divided Colombian families. There is not one person I have spoken to that has told me that they could easily breach the subject at dinner without a real fight breaking out.
The NO vote was a lesson to us Colombians that polarization and choosing sides here isn't the way, that listening to the other rather than just maintaining our position is what we need the most. If we are fighting, and if there is violence verbal or physical within our hearts and minds and at the most basic level of the family, how can we have a national peace when we aren't even at peace with ourselves let alone our family members or colleagues at work? Peace is the work of a united nation, a united effort.
President Santos has declared that the ceasefire still holds while democratically recognizing the NO vote. Former President Uribe has also emphasized his will for peace and for continued conversations with the FARC so that the opposition's views can be included in the agreements. Finally, the FARC has said they will not return to "the jungle" to fight ever again.
The whole point is that we had forgotten to look ourselves in the eye, each Colombian, and realize that we are both part of the problem and solution to peace...by finding it within ourselves.
Communities hosting refugees, more often than not, inhabit marginal areas which are characterized as underdeveloped, underserved, and environmentally fragile. In these areas, basic social services and economic infrastructures are either absent altogether or poorly developed. The dependence for fuel wood, construction timber, grazing and water (for both humans and animals) on already degraded natural resources by a significant population, both hosts and refugees in protracted displacement, often contributes to rapid environmental degradation thereby worsening the situation. In addition, with many of these areas being fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, protracted displacement further exacerbates the situation.
In preparing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa, which supports Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, consultations with local representatives brought out the critical need to help host communities cope and build resilience. An important challenge posed was how to develop activities that improve the productivity of both traditional and non-traditional livelihoods, including through diversification and income generation in these difficult locales.
While the team explored options for support, we were confronted with some realities. These included: (i) a high dependence on traditional and low productivity livelihoods, including agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism; (ii) degraded natural resources base due to greater susceptibility to climate related events especially flash floods and droughts; (iii) lack of or limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, including rural finance and market infrastructure; (iv) inadequate presence and/or limited capacity of the public sector; and (v) near absence of and/or non-vibrant private sector.
Based on experience with supporting traditional livelihoods and livelihood diversification in a range of settings, including fragile and conflict affected contexts, the team and partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti arrived at the following key considerations to promote livelihoods:
Ensuring a focus on women and youth for livelihoods support given they are among the most vulnerable both among host and refugee communities.
Putting in place an inclusive and participatory planning process for livelihoods promotion and diversification is necessary to ensure community ownership.
Establishing and/or strengthening community institutions focused on livelihoods is critical not only for training, capacity building, and livelihoods development; but also for promoting social cohesion and peace building between host and refugee communities thus creating an enabling environment for livelihoods promotion.
Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets could serve to be a good starting point for supporting livelihoods in target communities, although designing livelihood programs and promoting livelihoods diversification requires careful assessment.
Understanding existing streams of livelihoods and livelihood diversification options is essential to better explore (i) existing traditional forms of livelihoods - stabilizing, expanding, and making them productive and sustainable; (ii) alternative forms of livelihoods (livelihoods diversification), including self-employment - micro-enterprise development, targeting micro-entrepreneurs; (iii) skilled wage employment - opportunities for youth and women in growing sectors of the economy; and (iv) technical, behavioral, and market-performance assessment for determining viable options.
Access to finance should look at savings and credit groups and their saving mobilization and internal lending activities alongside the formal and non-formal financial institutions within and outside the target communities.
Collectives of producers would need to be built on small scale livelihoods undertaken by individuals, community groups or institutions. The aggregation and/or upscaling will require access to larger markets, infrastructure for storage, transport facilities and appropriate technology for value addition and value chains; and importantly partnerships with the private sector.
Leveraging on initiatives that are existing, innovative and working in target communities and then adding value, including scaling up is more helpful. Given the challenging circumstances, transplanting models from more stable and developed environments may have limited chances of taking root.
Capacities and strengths of implementing agencies, local governments and communities should determine the scope and scale of livelihood activities while also paying attention to addressing the skills deficit and building sustainable capacity for planning, implementation and management of livelihood programs at all levels.
Phasing and sequencing of livelihood interventions will help manage the trade-off of a short-term versus a long-term planning horizon innovatively. Piloting and scaling up based on experience is a useful strategy to pursue.
Linkages and partnerships for greater impact need to be actively explored and established. Regular coordination meetings help encourage collaboration and partnerships, and provide feedback on implementation, share key learning and discuss challenges.
I have been looking for possible sources of investment and possible markets that would help both Syrian refugees and their host communities, and, as someone who has worked on the subject of the private sector for two decades now, one of my first questions is—“what role can the diaspora play?”