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'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.

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

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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.

Social Entrepreneur -- With an Emphasis on 'Entrepreneur'

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We're hearing more and more about the "social entrepreneur" as the development community looks for new ways to achieve better results, especially with many developing countries struggling to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals and at the same time cope with destructive climate change.

Ashoka, itself a pioneer in social entrepreneurship, has a pretty good definition:

"Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change."

But maybe the definition should also emphasize a special breed of social entrepreneurs -- those who tackle major social issues by launching projects that seek to be profitable.

When Fast Company magazine in 2008 honored 45 nonprofit social entrepreneurs "who are changing the world," it also tipped its hat to 10 for-profit companies with social missions.

Trying to change the world with a project funded by development donors can be maddeningly frustrating.  Even with a successful pilot, a nonprofit company is likely to encounter repeated funding snags and gaps in its quest for sustainability and replication.

Joel Selanikio was a Marketplace 2003 winner with the innovative idea to collect health-care data with hand-held computers.   DataDyne, the company that pediatrician Selanikio and his partner, technologist Rose Donna, co-founded, is a not-for-profit limited liability corporation (LLC).  Its personal digital assistant -- EpiSurveyor -- was an immediate success in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.  But Selanikio had to keep making the rounds of donors for each step of his growth.  He was the model of the "ambitious and persistent" social entrepreneur -- but: "I got tired wearing out the knees of my trousers" making successive proposals to development donors, he said in an interview.

How 'Civic Hacking' Answered Haiti Disaster

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From the tragedy and wreckage of the Haitian earthquake come amazing lessons about how information technology and social media can bring help and hope to people trapped in catastrophic circumstances.

A good place to see how this is happening is the Social Entrepreneurship website.  Crisis camps of "civic hacking" throughout the U.S. and abroad are quickly producing base-layer maps that connect Haiti's thousands of orphans with potential adoption families, mobilizing speakers of Creole (photo), and delivering myriad other tech-driven emergency assistance with few layers of action-delaying bureaucracy.

The camps were set up by Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of tech professionals.  The first CrisisCamp was actually held well before the Haiti earthquake -- in July 2009, at the World Bank.  Participants (scroll down to "Attendee List") included a rich cross section of representatives -- public, private, nonprofit -- from the sometimes rivalrous world of development aid.  "Us" and "them" suddenly became "we."

Civic hacking's Haiti successs stories are producing a flexible template for how emergency assistance can be delivered in other disasters, including those where climate change is at least a secondary cause, like storms and flooding.  Civic hacking's lessons will surely be extended to development aid in general, especially in countries with weak capacity.  Information technology can deepen and broaden capacity, and fast, as the proliferation of cellphones in Sub-Sahran Africa, South Asia, and other developing regions has been proving for years.

Why Climate Adaptation Has to Begin at Home

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DM2009 finalists focused on community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change because the struggle against intensifying drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels in developing countries often must begin not in national ministries but at home.  Why that's so is summed up cogently in this slide show from CARE, the global  organization that focuses on helping the poorest individuals and households  The slide show was presented at the pre-Copenhagen U.N. climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, but it's as relevant today as it was then.  Maybe more so.

'Some Current Approaches to Climate Adaptation May Bypass Local Institutions'

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Carbon dioxide -- the chief cause of manmade global warming -- doesn't park itself only in the atmosphere over major emitting countries.  So, obviously, the response to climate change requires global action.  But drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels demand climate adaptation tailored to circumstances that will vary by region and even locality.  For example, farmers in one part of southern Zambia may have to respond with a hybrid maize seed that differs significantly from what needs to be planted in another part of that climate-besieged food bowl.  The issue in southern Zambia is not just more intense drought, but how it can, and does, vary in intensity even within one region.  Dry weather may be so severe in one area that farmers there may have to give up maize cultivation and plant an entirely different crop.

Such fine-tuned local adaptation can't come primarily out of ministries of the national governments of developing countries trying to cope with the mounting adverse impacts of climate change on people and resources.  It requires local institutions to meet the capacity gap.  But national governments aren't collaborating that closely with civil society at the community level.

This from the new book Social Dimensions of Climate Change (World Bank, 2010):

"It is unfortunate that some current approaches to adaptation planning and financing may bypass local institutions.  The current push to formulate national adaptation plans of action [NAPAs] seems to have missed the opportunity to propose adaptation projects for community- and local-level public, private, or civic institutions."

Apply Now for Tech Awards

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The Tech Awards, a signature program of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to address humanity’s most urgent challenges.

In partnership with Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, 15 Laureates are selected annually and $50,000 is awarded to one Laureate in each category: Environment, Economic Development, Education, Equality, and Health.

Individuals as well as nonprofit and commercial organizations are eligible. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are accepted and encouraged.

Deadline for nominations is March 31. Deadline for final applications is May 5.

This year’s Laureates will be honored during a week of activities in Silicon Valley leading up to The Tech Awards Tenth Annual Gala on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010.

DM2009 Finalists Build Strong Presence on Blog

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DM2009 finalists have been major participants in this blog.  Since the site re-launched on Oct. 27, 2009, 33 finalists from 25 countries have contributed 12 articles, been interviewed 14 times, quoted 18 times, and commented twice.  Here's a breakdown of finalist contributions by country.  The linked names will take you to the finalists' projects, and the linked titles to the finalists' contributions.

 

Bangladesh

 

Belize

 

Ecuador

 

El Salvador

 

Ghana

 

India

 

Indonesia

 

Kenya

 

Laos

 

Maldives

 

Mali

 

Mexico

 

Mozambique

 

Nepal

 

Nicaragua

 

Nigeria

 

Peru

 

Philippines

 

Russia

 

Samoa

 

Serbia

 

Tanzania

 

Vanuatu

 

Venezuela

 

Vietnam

 

All finalists also contributed videos to the DM Channel on YouTube (featured on the upper-right-hand side of this page), and some participated in video interviews that are also included in the Channel.

 

How to Help Least Developed Countries in Climate Crisis

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Least Developed Countries, we know, will be heavily impacted by climate change.  Indeed, drought, storm-caused flooding, rising sea levels, and heat waves are already taking their tolls in those 50-some nations.  But LDCs don't have enough resources to adapt adequately to adverse weather that regularly devastates communities and their ecosystems, reinforcing poverty.   The International Institute for Environment and Development details this mounting problem on its website.  It's not just the costs of adaptation for LDCs, but also a shortage of human resources, which, as the Institute says, are needed for "pressing and clearly definable issues such as health, employment, housing and education."

One way out of this bind is what the Institute is doing through its climate-change initiative -- "supporting, increasing and utilising the capacity of development practitioners, government agencies, NGOs and community-based organisations to enhance resilience to climate change."

DM2009 and its finalists are a perfect fit.

The IIED was founded in 1971 by economist Barbara Ward, a pioneer in promoting sustainable development, who frequently wrote about the disparities she saw in global wealth distribution.

The above graphic -- from the IIED -- lists LDCs, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.

'I Explained It to My Daughter, and She Understood'

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If Sergio Margulis didn't grow up to be an environmental economist, he could have, no doubt, become an equally successful stand-up comic.  Who else could get some laughs when trying to explain the econometrics of climate-change adaptation?

The occasion was the recent World Bank-sponsored panel discussion on the draft report "The Costs to Developing Countries of Adapting to Climate Change," of which Margulis was co-author.  Of course, Margulis' primary intention wasn't to get his audience to laugh, but to understand a complex but increasingly important issue that's going to occupy global attention for perhaps the rest of the century as developing and developed countries try to put a ceiling on more global warming.

Margulis, Lead Environmental Economist with the World Bank's Environment Department, was joined at the panel by report co-author Urvashi Narain, Senior Environmental Economist at the World Bank; Otaviano Canuto, Vice President and Head of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) Network at the World Bank, and Warren Evans, Director of the World Bank's Environment Department, who moderated the standing-room-only event.

Here's the video of the discussion.  (Sorry we couldn't embed it.)

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