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What happens when historians and campaigners spend a day together discussing how change happens?

Duncan Green's picture

woman offers a flower as a symbol of peace to a Military Police OfficerDuncan Green provides a series of lightbulb moments from a recent conference bringing together historians and campaigners.

Part of the feedback on last month’s post calling for a ‘lessons of history’ programme was, inevitably, that someone is already doing it. So last week I headed off to Kings College, London for a mind expanding conference on ‘Why Change Happens: What we Can Learn from the Past’. The organizers were the History and Policy network and Friends of the Earth, as part of its excellent ‘Big Ideas’ project (why haven’t the development NGOs got anything similar?) About 70 people, a mix of historians and campaigners. Great idea.

The agenda (12 UK-focussed historical case studies on everything from resistance to the industrialization of farming post World War 2 to municipal activism in Victorian Britain to why England (though not Scotland and Ireland) hasn’t had a famine since the 16th Century) was great, as was the format (panels, followed by table discussions, no Q&A).

With the grain or against the grain: A media perspective on the governance question of our time

James Deane's picture

James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning at BBC Media Action, reflects on Brian Levy's recent book, Working With the Grain, and the interaction of governance and media development goals.

Radio technician, GhanaI was prompted to write this post by Brian Levy, the rightly respected governance guru of the World Bank, now Senior Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Brian is the author of Working With the Grain: integrating governance and growth in development strategies, one of the most influential books on governance right now. We met at the OECD DAC Governance Network last week, which is where donors get together to share their insights into how to better support improved governance in their development strategies. I was asked to respond to a presentation Brian made on his book.

Against the Grain

My initial reaction when I first heard of Against the Grain was, I confess, a kind of resigned frustration. I thought, “Here we go again. Another academic apologia telling us how it didn’t really matter how horrible, authoritarian or power-hungry a government was. As long as they ‘got the job done’ (in terms of reducing poverty), it was fine by the donors who supported them.”

That reaction was partly prompted by the title of Brian’s book. By coincidence, I have on my shelves at home the memoir of a hero to many in the media world, Geoffrey Nyarota, the renowned editor of Zimbabwe’s Daily News, among other newspapers. The blurb for that memoir says this: “The newspapers [Nyarota] edited were often the lone voice of dissent against a government that had betrayed its people. They chronicled the decline of the country under the Mugabe regime, and how the freedom achieved in the war of liberation was replaced by wholesale government corruption and oppression”.

Nyarota entitled his book, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Zimbabwean newsman.

Quote of the Week: Yuval Noah Harari

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Everybody since the ‘60s has been saying the nation is a fiction, the nation is an imaginary unity, but people didn’t connect the dots and say all human endeavors sprang from the same principle.” 

- Yuval Noah Harari, author of the international bestseller Sapiens. He is a professor and lectures at the Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

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

Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish
Foreign Policy
Is there anyone out there who doesn't think small business is the lifeblood of any economy? From Washington to Warsaw, politicians and pundits just can't speak highly enough of plucky entrepreneurs. Even in poor countries, entrepreneurship is one of the most important forces underpinning economic growth, but the best way to raise living standards and reduce poverty is not necessarily to make everyone an entrepreneur. So why do so many costly development programs apparently ignore this fact? Once upon a time, people who wanted to fight poverty believed in direct approaches that solved identifiable problems one by one. If you wanted to make farmers more productive, you gave them fertilizer. If you wanted to boost manufacturing, you set up factories. To help both of these sectors grow and export goods, you built roads and ports. These kinds of investments quelled hunger and raised incomes in many countries. But recently, an indirect approach arose with promises of still greater benefits.

Where Next for Aid? The Post-2015 Opportunity
ODI/UNDP
This joint ODI-UNDP paper looks at whether development aid will remain important in the post-2015 era, and asks how the old aid model should change in response to a dramatically new world and new sustainable development challenges. The paper suggests that the label “international public finance for sustainable development” – or IPF4SD – is a more accurate description of the types of interventions that need to be funded in the post-2015 era. This finance will also be needed over the long-term. The authors suggest ways in which these funds could reliably be raised over the long-term, as well as how the architecture which mediates IPF4SD could be improved.

Quote of the Week: Ian Morris

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things. And they rarely know what they're doing."

Ian Morris, Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor in Classics and Professor in History at Stanford University

Quoted from Why the West Rules—For Now

How Do You Measure History?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Over and over again, and then again, and then some more, we get asked about evidence for the role of public opinion for development. Where's the impact? How do we know that the public really plays a role? What's the evidence, and is the effect size significant? Go turn on the television. Go open your newspaper. Go to any news website. Do tell me how we're supposed to put that in numbers.

Here's a thought: maybe the role of public opinion in development is just too big to be measured in those economic units that we mostly use in development? How do you squeeze history into a regression model? Let's have a little fun with this question. Let's assume that
y = b0 + b1x1 + b2x2 + b3x3 + b4x4 + b5x5 + b6x6 + b7x7 + b8(x1x4) + b9(x3x4) + e