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Duncan Green's blog

Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

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I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

How Can We Get Better at Promoting Active Citizenship? Lessons from Ten Case Studies

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Over the last few months I’ve been writing a series of ten case studies on Oxfam’s work in promoting active citizenship, and blogging the drafts for comments (thanks for those – really helpful). These will be published shortly, along with an overview paper on the patterns that emerged across the ten studies. Here are some highlights – the full paper is here, Active Citizenship synthesis consultation draft. Comments very welcome.
 

Lessons on Programme Design

The Right Partners are Indispensable: Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners, usually local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh); they often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power – crucial for brokering discussions with citizens’ groups. And they will remain working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

Starting with Power Analysis: Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their internal ‘power within’ – self confidence and assertiveness, especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building such ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organization that enable poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice in confronting and influencing those in power. Taking this ‘back to basics’ approach has led to some impressive progress in what are apparently the most unpropitious of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

A Seismic Shift in Improving the Behaviour of Large Companies? Guest Post from Phil Bloomer

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PhilBloomerMy former boss, Phil Bloomer is now running the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (check out its smart new multilingual website). Here he sees some signs of hope that the debate on corporate responsibility is moving beyond trench warfare over voluntary v regulatory approaches. Fingers crossed.



‘Mind the gap’ is a refrain that any visitor to London’s Underground trains will have had drilled into their brains. In development and human rights, one of the most controversial issues is how to deal with the dangerous governance gap that has opened up between the powerful globalising forces in our economies, often led by large companies, and the often weak capacity of societies to cope with the problems and damage these forces can create.

A fortnight ago came a seismic shift in this debate. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an international binding treaty for transnational corporations. This comes three years after the adoption, by consensus, of the more voluntary, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Most observers put this major tremor down to rising frustration at the apparent glacial pace of implementation of the Guiding Principles by governments (only the UK, Netherlands and Denmark have so far agreed National Action Plans), and few companies are stepping up. The age-old, and sometimes theological, divisions between opposing panaceas of state-regulation v voluntary codes may be returning.

What’s the Best Way to Measure Empowerment?

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Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

From ‘baby-making machines’ to Active Citizens: How Women are Getting Organized in Nepal (case study for comments)

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Next up in this series of case studies in Active Citizenship is some inspiring work on women’s empowerment in Nepal. I would welcome comments on the full study: Raising Her Voice Nepal final draft 4 July

‘I was just a baby making machine’; ‘Before the project, I only ever spoke to animals and children’

‘This is the first time I have been called by my own name.’
[Quotes from women interviewed by study tour, March 2011]

While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme on women’s empowerment is contributing to and reinforcing an ongoing long-term shift in gender norms, driven by a combination of urbanization, migration, rising literacy and access to media, all of which have combined to erode women’s traditional isolation.

During the past 20 years, Nepal has also undergone major political changes. It has moved from being an absolute monarchy to a republic, from having an authoritarian regime to a more participatory governance system, from a religious state to a secular one, and from a centralized system to a more decentralized one.
 

Strengthening Active Citizenship After a Traumatic Civil War: Dilemmas and Ideas in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.

Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.

I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).

Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:
 

Please Steal these Killer Facts: A Crib Sheet for Advocacy on Aid, Development, Inequality, etc.

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Regular FP2P readers will be (heartily sick of) used to me banging on about the importance of ‘killer facts‘ in NGO advocacy and general communications. Recently, I was asked to work with some of our finest policy wonks to put together some crib sheets for Oxfam’s big cheeses, who are more than happy for me to spread the love to you lot. So here are some highlights from 8 pages of KFs, with sources (full document here: Killer fact collection, June 2014).

Are We Measuring the Right Things? The Latest Multidimensional Poverty Index is Launched Today – What do You Think?

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I’m definitely not a stats geek, but every now and then, I get caught up in some of the nerdy excitement generated by measuring the state of the world. Take today’s launch (in London, but webstreamed) of a new ‘Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014’ for example – it’s fascinating.

This is the fourth MPI (the first came out in 2010), and is again produced by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), led by Sabina Alkire, a definite uber-geek on all things poverty related. The MPI brings together 10 indicators, with equal weighting for education, health and living standards (see table). If you tick a third or more of the boxes, you are counted as poor.

How 4 Million People Signed up to a Campaign to End Violence against Women: Case study for your comments

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Next up in the draft case studies on ‘active citizenship’ is the story of an amazing campaign from South Asia and beyond. Please comment on the draft paper [We Can consultation draft May 2014].

We Can End All Violence Against Women (henceforward We Can) is an extraordinary, viral campaign on violence against women (VAW) in South Asia, reaching millions of men and women across six countries and subsequently spreading to other countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas. What’s different about We Can (apart from its scale) is:

  • It is not primarily concerned with changing policies, laws, constitutions or lobbying the authorities. Instead, it aims to go to scale, by changing attitudes and beliefs about gender roles at community level. A special feature is the ‘Change Maker’ approach, which comes with a ritual in the form of the “We Can” pledge to reflect on one’s own practice, end VAW in one’s own life and to talk to 10 others about it.
  • It seeks to involve men as well as women, with remarkable success
  • Its origins lie in a South-South exchange: We Can’s methodology was developed from VAW community programmes in Uganda.

Launched in 2004, by 2011 We Can had signed up approximately 3.9 million women and men to be ‘Change Makers’ – advocating for an end to VAW in their homes and communities. Unexpectedly, about half the Change Makers were men. An external evaluation in 2011 conservatively estimated that ‘some 7.4 million women and men who participated in “We Can” and related activities, have started transforming their perceptions of gender roles and VAW, as well as their behaviour.’

The Case for Democracy- A New Study on India, South Africa and Brazil (shame it’s not much good – missed opportunity)

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The ODI is a 10 minute train ride from my home, so I’m easily tempted out of my lair for the occasional lunchtime meeting. Last week it was the launch of ‘Democracy Works: The Democratic Alternative from the South’, a paper on the three ‘rapidly developing democracies’ of Brazil, India and South Africa, co-authored by the Legatum Institute and South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise (not ODI, who merely hosted the launch). I was underwhelmed.

Which is a shame, because the topic is great – China’s rise and the West’s economic implosion are undermining arguments for democratic and open systems around the world. The report quotes Jacob Zuma: “the economic crisis facing countries in the West has put a question mark on the paradigm and approaches which a few years ago were celebrated as dogma to be worshipped.”
 

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