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Quote of the Week: Simon Schama

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Simon Schama"But populism is not the monopoly of the left. Its common thread is a loathing for politics as a corporate affair: relentlessly managed, image-calibrated, bankrolled and focus-tested."

-Simon Schama, an English historian specialising in art history, Dutch history, and French history. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, New York and a contributing editor to the Financial Times.

Quoted in the Financial Times on August 29, 2015, "Beware the passionate preachers of populism".

Do donors need more (and better) contract managers to deliver results?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Following up on his recent post, "Living with the ‘results agenda’, redux" Suvojit argues for the importance of contract managers at the frontline of development projects. 

Kitabi Tea Processing FacilityI frequently come across people who say that donors are under increasing pressure to spend more with fewer staff. This usually comes from friends and colleagues that work with donor agencies, or those that interact closely with them. This is supposed to be largely a consequence of pressure from domestic tax-payers, who have refused to continue to fund bloated aid bureaucracies.

This directly impacts how donors approach the ‘results agenda’. The ‘results agenda’ implies an expectation from donor agencies that they record and report results that their funds are able to achieve. The focus therefore is on outputs and outcomes, as well as the cost at which these were achieved, and on demonstrating how they compare against context-relevant benchmarks. For donors, this means selecting the right implementing partners, and holding them to account for the delivery of cost-effective results.

But this also means rethinking how donor agencies themselves are run. An important question that donors face is regarding the staff composition in their offices (especially the country offices). Should there be more Programme Managers or Contract Managers? The easy answer of course is to say, “we need both”. But what should be the balance of power between the two? In this post, I acknowledge this is a genuine dilemma, but deliberately argue for the latter.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

What Future For Emerging Markets?
Foreign Policy
Long before the current market debacle, I was confronted with a fundamental question about emerging markets. As I was finishing off my course at the Yale School of Management on “The Future of Global Finance” this past May, a student came up to me. “You have gone to great lengths to emphasize the role of emerging markets in a changing monetary system, “ he said, “ but everything I have been reading says that the era of the Brazils, the Indias, the Turkeys, the Indonesias as up-and-comers is history. Even China seems to have lost its luster. Have you been looking backwards and not forward?”

How Africa can benefit from the data revolution
The Guardian
The UN has estimated that across the world more people have access to mobile phones than to toilets. It is of course distressing to imagine what this means for many people’s exposure to disease and access to clean water, but the choice of mobile phone for the comparative statistic actually offers a great deal of hope. The mobile phone is part of a phenomenon where a new infrastructure is emerging, one that could bring the economic changes that enable those toilets to be built.  Our modern infrastructure is based on information. Since the 1950s, investment in data storage and distribution by companies and countries has been massive. Historically, data was centralised a single database. Perhaps one for representing the health of a nation, and another database for monitoring social security. However, the advent of the internet is showing that many of our existing data systems are no longer fit for purpose.

Napoleon’s last interview

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The extraordinary historical document transcribed below was recently found at the California State Library in Sacramento. It records an interview of Napoleon Bonaparte made by a reporter of the San Jose Weekly Visitor (today the San Jose Mercury) dated July 14th, 1865, which for unknown reasons (sic) was never published.

Napoléon Bonaparte abdicated in Fontainebleau by Paul DelarocheQuestion: Thank you for allowing us the time. Why breaking your silence with an interview now?
Answer: I am turning 96 next month and I know that my last days are fast approaching. It is important to set the record straight.

Q: Didn’t you die in Santa Helena in 1821?
A: During my trip to what was supposed to be my final exile, Talleyrand had secretly arranged for me to be transferred to the Schooner Casuarina, which after several weeks at sea finally took me to the port of Yerba Buena, today’s San Francisco. We arranged for one of my doubles who usually played the role of a decoy during battles, Chef d'Escadron Deschamps, to be imprisoned which is why he was seldom seen at Longwood. He died there and is now buried at Les Invalides in Paris. He is a real hero.

Q: Why the West coast of America?
A: The weather is great. I purchased an old olive grove near San Jose and have farmed it ever seen, just like my family did for generations in Corsica. I have developed two new varieties of olives and invented a more efficient press for making olive oil.

Q: History sees you as a war-monger…
A: Nothing farther from the truth. I was always attacked by coalitions defending the old monarchies, but I know that I was on the right side of history. My main objective was always to consolidate the Revolution, and its principles of fraternity, liberty, and equality.

Q: By equality do you mean the abolition of classes recently postulated by German philosopher Karl Marx?
A: What I mean is equality of opportunities, under the principle that we are all born free and equal under the law. Trying to equalize people within a society leads to dictatorship and abuse of power. Civil and economic freedom is the essence of a true democratic society and lasting peace.

Campaign Art: End illiteracy and inter-generational poverty

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

International Literacy Day is observed globally on 8 September as a way to celebrate how literacy skills can transform lives and also to bring attention to the millions of people who lack access to basic education or literacy programs.  This year's theme is "literacy and sustainable societies".

UNESCO’s 2015 Education For All Global Monitoring Report found that neither the Millennium Development Goal pertaining to universal education nor the Education for All goals, established in 2000 at the World Education Forum, have been met. By the 2015 deadline, one in six children in low and middle income countries – or almost 100 million – have not completed primary school, and there are still 781 million adults who lack basic literacy skills.

Not only is illiteracy a problem for current children who hope to achieve great things in life, it is also a problem for their children.  Not being able to read or write prevents individuals from certain jobs, accessing information on health care and other services, and from learning. This can lead to unemployment or under payment, further exacerbating poverty.  In turn, the children of the poor are more prone to ill heath, exploitation and being illiterate themselves.

Fortunately, literacy programs could actually break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. The Education for All research team estimated in 2014, “If all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12 percent cut in world poverty.”

Do Not Read This is an initiative of Destination Literacy, Room to Read's campaign to reach 10 million children by the end of 2015. The following video demonstrates how integral literacy is to our daily lives and urges viewers to help give the gift of literacy to others who may otherwise never have the chance to learn.
VIDEO: Do Not Read This

The things we do: The logic behind instant gratification

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Learning to give preference to long-term goals over more immediate ones is known as deferred gratification or patience and considered a virtue in many cultures.  However, there is logic behind asking for rewards immediately, and those who live in poverty know this all too well.

A woman tries to decideThe comedian Jerry Seinfeld, once joked “I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night because I’m ‘night guy’. ‘Night guy’ wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘Oh, that’s morning guy’s problem. That’s not my problem—I’m night guy! I stay up as late as I want.’

Such decisions are described by the theory of intertemporal choice, the idea that decisions have consequences that come at different points in time. People weigh the relative trade-offs of getting what they want in the immediate future with the trouble associated with waiting but potentially getting something better.

We all face these kinds of decisions in our day-to-day lives, from deciding to work now or later or save or spend money, to whether or not we should stay up late to enjoy the night or go to bed early to feel better the next day. In each of these cases, a decision maker needs to assess the utility (or value) of one outcome that is will occur sooner with another one that is more distant in the future. 

Quote of the week: Amanda Foreman

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Amanda Foreman"In the feminist arena I have come across two sorts of activists: the ones who work every day on behalf of the truly disadvantaged to bring them healthcare, education, protection from violence, and political rights; and the grandstanders, the faux-Joan of Arcs ready for martyrdom as long as it’s in front of the cameras. They disgust me."

- Amanda Foreman, author of the prize-winning best sellers, ‘Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire', and 'A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided'. She is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times, and The Smithsonian Magazine. Her latest work is the BBC documentary series, 'The Ascent of Woman'. Her book on the history of women, 'The World Made by Women', will be published in 2016.

If climate change is a human story, men are telling it.

Jing Guo's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

harvesting wheatFrom extreme weather events to water shortages, reduced harvests, and increased spread of infectious diseases, climate change can affect human life in countless ways.  Climate change is not simply an environmental challenge. It is a human story, fundamentally about people.
However, climate change does not affect us equally. Compared to men, women are more vulnerable to its impacts, as women constitute 70% of the world’s impoverished population and are more dependent for their survival and livelihood on natural resources increasingly strained by climate change. 
Given these disproportionate effects on women, one would expect them to have an equal, if not greater, say in public discussions on climate change. Yet, in fact, their side of these stories have been mostly ignored.

The silenced crowd

Who was quoted on climate change?

In media coverage of climate change issues, women are often a neglected group. A recent report published by Media Matters unearthed a stark imbalance between men’s and women’s likelihood of being quoted in media coverage of the U.N. climate reports in 2014. The findings suggest that less than 15% of those quoted or interviewed in major print, broadcast, and cable outlets in the United States were female.

The gender gap in media reporting on climate change is perhaps more striking in developing countries. A new article (Frontline farmers, backline sources) in this month’s Feminist Media Studies shows that in Uganda, where 56% of women are farmers, both female sources and bylines are completely left out of page one, two, or three of the prominent newspapers when covering climate change topics.

Another unpleasant truth is that female sources are not only far less preferable than male sources (61%), but even less utilized than anonymous sources (20%).

What happens when women actually speak? Well, they are hardly considered the experts. 

Living with the ‘results agenda’, redux

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

What is the 'results agenda' and how does it relate to transformational change within development? The recent publication of a report from The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which scrutinizes UK aid spending, has brought these questions to life once again.  Here are some takeaways on the report and the need for systems thinking, accountability, and flexibility from Suvojit Chattopadhyay.

ash transfer payments to women in Freetown, Sierra LeoneCraig Valters’ Devex post, based on yet another newsworthy ICAI report, seems to have somewhat revived the debate over the ‘results agenda'. The criticism is sharper, castigating DFID for the “unintended effect of focusing attention on quantity of results over their quality” – but also one that clearly implies that the ‘results agenda’ is not well-understood or widely shared within donors like DFID. Focusing on ‘results’ cannot mean a divorce from long-term outcomes. What ICAI describes sounds more like an outputs agenda that is transactional (what your money can buy) rather than transformative (the good change).

The consequence of this bean-counting is that complex problems risk being ignored: donors and the partners they fund will tend to focus on projects, rather than systems. Also, genuine accountability along the aid-chain takes a hit due to a general break-down of trust between the different actors. So what can we do about this?

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Exporting corruption: Progress report 2015: Assessing enforcement of OECD Anti-bribery Convention
Transparency International
Transparency International’s 2015 Progress Report is an independent assessment of the enforcement of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Anti-Bribery Convention. The Convention is a key instrument for curbing global corruption because the 41 signatory countries are responsible for approximately two-thirds of world exports and almost 90 per cent of total foreign direct investment outflows. This is the 11th annual report. It has been prepared by Transparency International’s International Secretariat working with our national chapters and experts in the 41 OECD Convention countries. This report shows that there is Active Enforcement in four countries, Moderate Enforcement in six countries, Limited Enforcement in nine countries, and Little or No Enforcement in 20 countries. (Two countries were not classified.)

The Science of Inequality- What the numbers tell us
Special issue of Science Magazine
This special issue uses these fresh waves of data to explore the origins, impact, and future of inequality around the world. Archaeological and ethnographic data are revealing how inequality got its start in our ancestors. New surveys of emerging economies offer more reliable estimates of people's incomes and how they change as countries develop. And in the past decade in developed capitalist nations, intensive effort and interdisciplinary collaborations have produced large data sets, including the compilation of a century of income data and two centuries of wealth data into the World Top Incomes Database.  It is only a slight exaggeration to liken the potential usefulness of this and other big data sets to the enormous benefits of the Human Genome Project. Researchers now have larger sample sizes and more parameters to work with, and they are also better able to detect patterns in the flood of data.