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Social Development

How 'Big Data' Can Benefit the Public Good

Aleem Walji's picture

Patrick Svenburg, co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, tells "Developers for Development" audience: "There's no shortage of big ideas in the world.  It's the action part that's often lacking."


“Big Data” –- the billions upon trillions of bytes of digital information that are pumped into cyberspace every nanosecond –- has a single, secular mission: to keep growing. Now, software developers – the not-so-nerdy techies who keep Big Data growing at its feverish rate –- are striving to channel Big Data into the public good.

On Monday at the World Bank, developers came together with the development community -- in person and virtually through Skype video -- to figure out how to do that.

The entire "Developers for Development" can be seen on B-Span, the World Bank's webcasting service.

The afternoon event, which attracted an auditorium-ful of in-person visitors (many of them curious staffers from risk management and ICT at the World Bank) and many more via the live webcast that was offered in English, French, and Spanish, started with developers showing what's already been achieved since the first CrisisCamp about data and the public good was convened in Washington with CrisisCommons-World Bank co-sponsorship in June 2009.

The first demo was about the on-the-fly proliferation of CrisisCamps internationally in response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in February.

Reflections on the Chile Earthquake and Disaster Response

Isabel Guerrero's picture

So many feelings and thoughts as I watch and digest the earthquake in Chile…some of them very relevant to understanding the importance of disaster preparedness in South Asia, a region that is exposed to so many natural shocks.

Immediate feelings of admiration and pride. The incredible reaction from Michele Bachelet as the leader of the whole country: less than an hour after the earthquake at the center to manage disasters, gathering the facts, coming out to tell the people of Chile what was happening, and taking a helicopter to the worst affected areas. She was not dramatic. Quite knowledgeable, deferring to the experts on things she didn’t understand, and empathic throughout. Not looking down on people, not overly reassuring, but holding. One felt glad to have her as a President in this moment; sure she would do the right thing. No ego and the right tone.

Involving Afghans for Success

Nancy Dupree's picture

Current rehabilitation and development rhetoric calls for listening to the Afghans and giving them the lead. Sadly, actions too often defy these wise words. The challenge is to make way for genuine in depth Afghan involvement at a time when the problems inherent in a lackluster government beset with corruption are so complex, and, particularly, when the aid-dispensing agencies so often disregard coordination and cooperation.

Politics within the prevailing environment of conflict imposes a sense of great urgency, no doubt, but many basic development principles are being set aside when they are most needed. Plans that rest on massive projects designed by outsiders lavishing too much money and demanding instant implementation are bound to be ineffective. Quick fixes never have worked. Throwing around money indiscriminately just compounds problems and raises new dilemmas. Sustained development, as has been established for decades, requires patient on the ground interactions over time.

Water and Poor People: No More Charity

Tom Grubisich's picture

When Ned Breslin, CEO for the international social company Water for People, talks, the effect can be like a splash of cold water on your face.  Development-speak is not his style.

Take this snippet from his new "Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy" essay:

 

 

"Success will require less single-minded focus on the absolute number of people without access to water and sanitation facilities and more focus on the serious questions around long-term impact and sustainability. So that years after the cameras have left, the donor reports have been filed, and the press release circulated, the community is not forgotten."

"Sweat equity" from needy communities is not enough, Breslin argues.  "Up-front community contributions," he says, are essential to making new water -- and sanitation -- facilities sustainable.

Water for People won a US$200,000 Development Markektplace 2007 award for water facilities in Malawi, which Breslin, in this radio interview, says "has some of the worst water and sanitation problems in Africa."

Breslin's credo -- that water and sanitation in poor countries should not be viewed as a charity mission -- is being validated elsewhere.

Web4Dev and DataDyne's work in achieving the MDGs

Livia Barton's picture

The Web4Dev conference is celebrating its 6th year of existence by convening in Brasilia, Brazil, a prominent country office for UNESCO.  The conference opens up with frustrated attendees scrambling to get an internet connection at Brasilia’s Hotel Grand Bittar.  This is immediately followed by discussions highlighting the similar challenges faced by web programs in developing countries: sparse wireless networks, unreliable and low-bandwidth connectivity,

'Hot Spots,' 'Bright Spots,' and Hidden Strengths in Capacity

Tom Grubisich's picture

There is a laser-like focus on the capacity of developing countries to respond effectively to the steep challenges of their Millennium Development Goals and

Ethiopian farmer, with his children, shows newly irrigated crop to extension agent.

destructive climate change.  Capacity gaps are relentlessly pinpointed.  Sometimes national governments themselves provide the toughest evaluations, like this one from Bangladesh's Ministry of Environment and Forest on the country's climate adaptation action program:

"...institutional capacity including human resource quality [is] weak and poor and needs substantial improvement if the challenges of climate change are to be faced squarely....A lack of awareness, both of the potential gravity and the extent of the problem as well as possible actions that could be taken, is the foremost [barrier]. This lack of awareness exists at all levels from national level policy makers to sectoral and local level officials as well as amongst civil society and the most vulnerable communities themselves...."

There are, to be sure, capacity gaps in Bangladesh and other developing countries, and identifying what and where they are is the first step in closing them.  But there are also "bright spots" and, perhaps more important, underlying strengths, especially at the local level across all developing countries that can be masked by the emphasis on gaps.

Conflict and Development: Where is Conflict Concentrated in South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

After Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?

Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

Tom Grubisich's picture

Countries are rated how effective they are in human development, governance, and doing business.  What if they were rated by their capacity to achieve success in all key areas of their national mission?

Ratings would measure progress in such mission "how-to's" as knowledge sharing, stakeholder participation (especially at the local level), and program results vs. objectives.

The U.N. Development Programme has singled out what it calls major successes in capacity development in 19 nations that included the Least Developed Countries of Laos, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.  But there's no comprehensive capacity rating of all 49 LDCs, much less all 145 countries classified as developing.  Even the UNDP ratings of 19 countries are based only on selected initiatives in those countries.

Mapping capacity -- horizontally across countries all the way from the national to local levels -- would, no question, be a major undertaking.  But if public, private, and nonprofit development actors collaborated, especially by mobilizing advances in networking technology, the job would not seem to be insurmountable.  Perhaps it could begin with the LDCs and go forward from there.

Multi-layered, continually updated capacity maps could be an important new tool especially for the poorest countries and their development donors in closing stubborn gaps toward achievement of 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  The maps could also be a big help to all developing countries and donors in responding to locally diverse impacts of climate change.  And that's just for starters.

Financial Reform and Fiscal Discipline

Eliana Cardoso's picture

It was in 1714 that Bernard de Mandeville defended his view of the economic world in a long poem with pretensions to uncovering the moral basis of modern society – The Fable of the Bees: Private Vices, Public Benefits. According to him, industrialists, businessmen and politicians are like pimps, quacks, pickpockets and forgers: tireless professionals who, through their cunning, use the work of others for their own purposes. Mandeville claims that it matters little if every trade and place is tainted by trickery and every profession, by chicanery. What does matter is that everyone, whether saint or sinner, contributes to producing the comforts progress provides, by looking after their own interests.

But you and I believe that where people live off ill-gotten gains the community will suffer and, thus, we reject the poem’s cynical view of the world. Yet, the lesson of The Fable of the Bees (that civilization advances in the measure that individuals seek to satisfy their needs and desires) is still alive and kicking.


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