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Accidental agents of change

Nicholas van Praag's picture

In places where conditions are ripe for political change, actually unseating tyrannical regimes requires a spark to light the tinder of revolution. But where does that spark come from?

    In the vanguard

The upcoming World Development Report argues that there is no one push factor. Rather, it shows how a wide range of domestic and international stresses—including economic inequality, political oppression and corruption—can eventually bring a country to its knees if its institutions are unable to mediate tensions and overcome stresses.

But, absent an institutional set-up capable of heading off the pressures before they boil over, when does enough become too much?

Many people are wary and their natural reticence may win out.

I was reading last weekend that most people in the UK pay parking fines—even when they are given erroneously—rather than go through the hassle of complaining.

If that is the case in the UK, what does it take to ignite direct action in places where the dissuasive powers of the authorities are used to scare people into submission?

WDR 2011 launches new website!

Nicholas van Praag's picture

New WDR 2011 Website

We are pleased this week to unveil our newly revamped WDR 2011 website. Designed to be more user friendly and to make the World Development Report 2011 accessible to a wider audience, we hope the new website will be a boon to anyone interested in finding out more about conflict and development.

We are especially excited to introduce our Data Visualizer comprising our Conflict Database. Previously, information about conflict was dispersed.  The WDR team has brought it together in a single database covering civil war, homicides, terrorism, and trafficking, as well as socio-economic, demographic and political data – more than 300 variables in one place available online through the Bank’s open data initiative.

Among our other new features are Faces of Conflict, a series of video interviews with experts and people affected by conflict. We will be collecting footage through the WDR Flip Challenge in which 10 Flip cameras have been distributed to World Bank staff around the world to document their experiences with conflict and community efforts to reduce it. We will be putting up videos as we receive them, so be sure to check back for updates.

 

Our new interactive map allows users to acquaint themselves with the consultations around the world guiding the WDR and its thinking. Flags in the map indicate meeting locations with summaries of the consultation sessions with national and regional organizations, policymakers, experts and civil society just a click away.  

 

Addressing violent conflict, one innovation at a time

Nicholas van Praag's picture

The best thing about my job is the amazing people I meetand last week was better than most.  I was in Cape Town for a meeting of social entrepreneurs and peace-builders.  They were gathered under the banner of the World Bank Institute’s Innovation Fair to surface new ways of addressing conflict and delivering services to poor people in fragile states.

Cell phones are ubiquitous in many developing countries (with 70% penetration in Africa) and the internet offers those with access the chance to turbo-charge the change process.  So it was no surprise that new communications technologies were a leitmotiv that ran through many of the projects showcased in Cape Town.

But I guess my key take-away from the meeting is that innovation is not about technology.  Rather, it is the way the revolution in communications is bringing people together into new kinds of communities.  As one participant said, "innovation is most likely when kindred spirits unite." 

Here’s my pick of innovative projects that struck me as relevant to some of the ideas we are exploring in the World Development Report.

Moving beyond conflict

Natalia Cieslik's picture

Right now in Cape Town, the Development Marketplace is holding the first of a new generation of DM activitiesan Innovation Fair on Moving Beyond Conflict tied to the WDR 2011 and drawing on a pool of innovative solutions discovered during an on-line competition last month.  It registered 2,000 users, producing 223 projects from 40 countriesmany of them focusing on the use of new technologies for preventing or overcoming conflict.

You can follow the action and join the event virtually through this website: http://innovationfair.ning.com/

  Moving beyond conflictonline and offline.

Remember the basics

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Earlier I wrote about ‘connect technologies’ like Twitter and YouTube, and how they are changing the way the world perceives and acts on conflict. Examples are the so-called Twitter Revolution in Moldova and, more recently, the use of YouTube to get the story out of post-electoral Iran.

The potential of these technologies is not in doubt. The challenge is to harness them to make a difference. This is of particular interest to the WDR team because we are looking at communication in relation to the causes and dynamics of conflict, as well as expectations and legitimacy of institutions after violence.

The peace campaigners and political activists I met at of the London meeting of the Alliance for Youth Movements have built their success on new media but they have never lost sight of these tested principles of political advocacy:

    The best storyteller wins.  Photo © Donatella L. Lorch.

Tell your story: If you want to break through the noise in our cacophonic world, you need to find ways to grab your audience’s attention and make them ‘feel’ your cause. Once a human face, voice and a compelling narrative are in place, people are more likely to engage and take action. Remember, the best storyteller wins

Focus on the long-term. Measure your progress against clear benchmarks. Beware of an over-simplistic drive for the endgame and recognize that the activist’s job is seldom done, even when you think you’ve got there.

Think laterally. The best route is rarely a straight line between two points. Esra’a Al Shafei, who runs the digital network MideastYouth.com, spoke about her fight for the rights of Ba’hais and Kurds as a way of addressing, tangentially, other entrenched forms of injustice in the Middle East and North Africa—including discrimination against women.

How to change the world

Nicholas van Praag's picture

     Violence reporting tool

Can new communications technologies change the way we change the world? That’s the big question.  Last week I got some clues from an international crowd of peace campaigners and social activists who have used digital communications to great effect. 

They were meeting in London under the banner of the Alliance for Youth Movements, a US NGO umbrella group. The focus was on new media as a game-changer in dealing with today’s morphing, metastasizing forms of conflict.

This is a trend we are tracking in the World Development Report 2011 which looks at conflict, violence and development.  I was in London with Carol Pineau, the curator of Conflict Convo—an initiative we are launching to revolutionize the feedback loop from people living in conflict zones.

After two-days of fascinating conversations, this is my checklist of what a would-be world changer needs to remember about new media: