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Sina Odugbemi's blog

A blogger’s farewell

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May 03, 2010, the founding coalition of the World Bank- USC Summer Institute meets to discuss the program.

Back row from left to right: Michael X. Delli Carpini (Dean, UPenn Annenberg), USC Professor Patricia Riley, Sina Odugbemi, Ed Campos, Carola Weil, Helen Garcia, Saafir Rabb II, and Caby Verzosa.  Front row from left to right: Ernest James Wilson III (former Dean, USC Annenberg), Johanna Martinsson, and Anne-Katrin Arnold.

Because I depart the World Bank at the end of this month (June 2017) and will, thereafter, not be editing this blog or contributing to it, I want to seize the opportunity of this final blog post to do a number of things.

First, I want to thank all those who have contributed to the blog under my editorship since we started it in 2008. Though powerful pipes multiply in this digital age content remains king. Our contributors have provided rich, varied, and sometimes beguiling content over the years. I want to thank you, one and all. I particularly want to thank those whose contributions I had to have reworked because of the peculiar challenges of publishing on the blogging platform of an institution that is an intergovernmental cooperative. Some contributors were put off by the constraints but most understood and stayed. Many thanks.

Second, I want to thank our readers all over the world. When you start a blog in this age of volubility you never know what will happen. It is like a man in a bazaar starting a song that needs a chorus. Will anyone out there join in? Will voices and verses be added to the song? You never know. But I am happy to report that the response to the blog has been stellar. Readership has been wide and keen and argumentative. Contributions to the blog have turned up in several books, journal articles, and global publications in different languages. My attitude has been that so long as the source is acknowledged those who want to can make free use of the content. The blog has been one of the most successful ones on the World Bank blogging platform. Above all, it has been influential. And that is due to our readers. Again, many thanks.

Third, I want to thank the colleagues who have worked on the blog over the years. The initial idea was not mine at all but Johanna Martinson’s. Since then others have worked on the blog with great diligence and dedication. You can figure out their names by the intensity of their contributions. I want to thank them all. As you can imagine, a lot goes on behind the scenes if a blog is going to be successful. You have to try to post regularly. You have to promote it, for example, by tweeting the content regularly. You have to research and post interesting features, including videos. I have been fortunate to have worked with some truly brilliant colleagues who have done their best to create and nurture a People, Spaces, Deliberation community, and one that is truly global.

Finally, a closing reflection. When I joined the World Bank in 2006, it was to head a trust-funded program: The Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (COMMGAP). The blog was one of its initiatives that survived beyond the five-year duration of the Program. Another is the World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment. The executive course is now in its seventh (7th) year. It is going on as I write, and I have just returned from Los Angeles where I led four sessions in the first week of the course.

As with the entire COMMGAP Program, this blog has been dedicated to the proposition that it is important to explore the interaction among public opinion, governance and the public sphere, and that this interaction has implications for pro-poor social and political change. Through publications, events, operational interventions and argumentation, we have tried to show that an open and inclusive public sphere is an essential element of good and accountable governance. And that it is wise never to trust leaders who close public spaces even if they appear to be promoting economic growth that alleviates poverty in the short term. We have also tried to show that communication approaches and techniques are fundamental if you want to implement reforms and high risk projects successfully. We have argued that, in spite of the incentives and preferences of technocrats, development initiatives that are implemented without skillful and deliberate stakeholder engagement will likely run into all manner of trouble:  costly delays, truculent opposition, and, very often, failure. Intelligent project implementers in the private sector now accept this. They refer to the necessity of stakeholder alignment behind major projects as securing the social license to operate.

As I leave, the one development that I am most heartened by is that there is now a small but growing global community of practice studying and promoting “politically smart” implementation of reforms and complex development initiatives. That community acknowledges the peculiar incentives of bureaucrats in development agencies and seeks to support change agents in their own environments directly. I am, of course, extremely disheartened by the growing number of countries where public spaces are being constrained or closed.  Lesson: in so many contexts, including the most unexpected ones, there is a lot more work to be done.

Farewell then.

Quote of the week: David Edgerton

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“Our understanding of tech is dominated by those interested in futuristic nonsense and those moralizing about it. Techno hype is fundamentally about getting money out of governments or investors. We really need to grow up. We should stop gawping at the future like children and reflect on the world as we find it as adults.”  

David Edgerton – Historian, Professor at King’s College London

Quote of the week: Simon Armitage

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“If everybody’s reading poetry, it’s probably not doing its job. I don’t think it can or ever should be a frontline, popular art form. If it was, I wouldn’t be interested in it. The poetry I will always like sounds like a version of people talking, or singing, or praying. I’ve always thought of it as alternative, not a mainstream activity: a kind of refuge. It’s never been the new rock ‘n’ roll, or the new stand-up comedy or whatever else it’s supposed to have been. It’s still an art form of dissent – to the extent that it even refuses to get to the end of the page. It’s unbiddable!”

Simon Armitage is an English poet.

Do ‘media’ and civil society work together well to produce change? (Notes from a CIMA Seminar)

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In the untroubled, quotidian quietude of a cloudy morning in Washington DC on Tuesday this week, I walked from World Bank HQ on Pennsylvania Avenue to the offices of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) on F Street, hoping that the skies above would not open up uproariously and ruin the walk. Happily, they did not, and I made it to the plush offices of CIMA, a think tank within the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). I was there to attend a seminar on: Media and Civic Engagement: From Protests to Dialogue. I had been attracted by both the topic and the panelists: Naomi Hossain of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, England, Ivana Bajrovic of NED, Tara Susman-Pena of IREX, a major implementing agency in development, and the World Bank’s own Marco Larizza, one of the authors of the World Development Report 2017 on Governance and Law. The session was ably moderated by Nicholas Benequista of CIMA.

You will notice that I put the word media in quotation marks in the title of the piece.  That is because, as often happens in these events, the term at the center of the discussion turned out to be contested. What is media as a subject of intervention and support in international development? It became clear that as the discussion went on that there are those who still think of media in the sense of traditional print and broadcast entities. But there are those --and I am in that group --who think of media in terms of media systems, as in the media ecosystem in a particular country: the totality of the means of communication, how it is structured, owned and governed. There is a normative element here of course; you also want the media system to travel firmly in the direction of pluralism, independence and a capacity to serve as not only an inclusive public forum but as a truculent watchdog. Finally, at the seminar Susman-Pena of IREX was promoting the organization’s intriguing new formulation: Vibrant Information Systems.

Quote of the week: Svetlana Alexievich

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“I love how humans talk…I love the lone human voice. It is my greatest love and passion.”
Svetlana Alexievich, an investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award.

Quote of the week: Trevor Noah

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“I see most things in terms of finance and investment and marketing. In school, one of my favourite subjects was business economics. I had an amazing teacher who went beyond the syllabus. And so even now, in life, I read economics textbooks and I try to dabble in financial accounting, just to understand the world.”

Trevor Noah – South African comedian, television and radio host.

Quoted in Financial Times Weekend print edition December 17, 2016 "Life" by Michael Skapinker

Quote of the week: Zadie Smith

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“There is a line of Salman Rushdie’s, I think it’s an essay, where he says: our lives teach us who we are. And I think that’s the case. It’s not that you have a set identity, it’s that by your actions you find out what sort of person you are. And the news is not always…lovely.”  

- Zadie Smith - novelist, short story writer, essayist, and a tenured professor in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

Quoted in Financial Times Weekend print edition November 12, 2016 "Lunch with the FT Zadie Smith" by Jan Dalley