These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Focus on Migration: Rising migration is a myth
Hardly a week goes by without media coverage of the fears, in developed nations, that immigrants from poorer countries are overwhelming them. A recent story in the British newspaper The Telegraph — describing how open borders, the “ravages of globalisation”, and a welfare economy have given rise to social resentment — is just one example.  Such narratives tap into the popular myth that globalisation has led to a one-way, free flow of migrants from poorer countries — making migration a political issue almost everywhere in the industrialised world.
Facebook is more important to news distribution than you think, and journalists are freaked out
Facebook’s Liz Heron answered for a litany of perceived sins and slights last week during a conversation with The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and attendees at the Online News Association conference in Chicago. Journalists are anxious about being left out of the loop about how Facebook works, and they want answers. Does Facebook play favorites in the News Feed Algorithm? Nope, according to Heron, the company’s head of news partnerships. In other words: If you want to be successful on Facebook, don’t get caught up in the nuts and bolts of what it favors or disfavors about posts (and it won’t tell you much about those nuts and bolts anyway, so that works out).
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Postcards from the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia
From April 5th to 11th, in Medellin, the World Urban Forum (WUF) brought together a diverse group of urban thinkers and doers to discuss the world’s most urgent urban challenges. With participants meeting under the theme of “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life,” the overall atmosphere was one of cautious optimism. On the one hand, participants were highly aware of the vast challenges facing cities and their inhabitants. Cities remain home to shocking levels of inequality and highly pernicious forms of social and economic exclusion. In that respect, hosting the Forum in Medellin helped drive the point home—as UN-Habitat Executive Director Jon Clos observed before the event, “We want a realistic world urban forum, we want a forum in a real city that has real issues.” On the other, attendees were buoyed by the conviction that today’s rapid urbanization represents an unprecedented demographic and economic opportunity. Medellin itself has made astounding progress in recent years, focusing on improving transport and mobility, inclusive governance, and education.
Digital technology means development is now happening outside the system
I recently spent an evening at the University of Sussex talking to students interested in a career in the international development and non-profit sectors. That might not sound particularly interesting at first, except that I've never had a job in either. There's a general assumption – and not an unreasonable one – that if you want a career helping solve some of the bigger challenges facing people and the planet that you reach out and volunteer, intern and work at some of the largest institutions taking on those problems. But there is another way. A few decades ago, if you wanted a career in development you'd have to be a teacher, doctor or build dams. The spread of the internet and the march of the mobile phone have changed all that. Now, anyone with a computer and internet connection can build an app in their bedroom that helps to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, or develop an idea which goes viral. And I speak from experience, developing text messaging platform FrontlineSMS a few years ago with little funding or resources, which now is driving thousands of social change projects in more than 170 countries.
Studies Show: People Want Democracy to Deliver the Goods
Does the average person consider governance when they think about the things that affect their everyday lives? In a new Overseas Development Institute (ODI) paper that assesses views on governance based on survey data from around the world, we find that they do. But governance has many aspects, and there are some that are more important to people than others. In general, people seem to be concerned first and foremost about state performance and the ability of governments to deliver on key needs and expectations in areas including economic management, growth stimulation, job creation, health, education, or a more equitable distribution of goods and services. Corruption is a central part of this story, since it has such a big impact on people's satisfaction with their governments and their perceptions of its performance overall.
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on July 2, 2013
A critical element in India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) is the generation of productive and gainful employment on a sufficient scale. The aim of such planning is to systematically absorb the growing working population in the unorganized sector of an expanding economy. This sector contributes about sixty percent of the country’s GDP. Infact, it employs workers in micro enterprises, unpaid family work, casual labor and home based work on a mammoth scale. In addition, it also absorbs migrant laborers, farmers, artisans and more importantly out of school rural youth.
In the last decade, the Indian economy has witnessed a structural transformation from agricultural activities to manufacturing and services oriented activities. A distinct feature of this transition has been a substantial decline in the absolute number of people employed in agriculture. However, according to the Planning Commission, a crucial factor in the migration of the labor force from rural to urban areas is its temporary nature and occurrence only in lean agricultural seasons. Besides, this large chunk of labor force is not available to participate in the manufacturing or the services oriented activities due to severe lack of appropriate skill sets. According to the Commission, the latter reflects rural distress, driven by the fact, that more than eighty percent of India’s farming households are small and marginal, tilling only less than 2.5 acres of land.
Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction. Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature. Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story. Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.). However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention. People started to wonder if robots could replace humans. When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots. However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure. But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?
Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance). Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.
The initiation and countrywide implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) represents a milestone in social policy and employment creation with its right based approach and focus on livelihood security. The flagship program has benefitted millions of marginalized rural households by providing them unskilled work and led to prevention of stress migration from rural areas in lean agricultural seasons. A UNDP/Carnegie Endowment for Peace study points out that from the scheme’s first year of operation in 2006-2007 till 2010-2011, job creation accelerated from less than 1 billion workdays distributed amongst 20 million households to 2.5 billion workdays for 50 million households.
In the above context, the 2013 performance audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) should be a timely opportunity to analyze the immense management and convergence challenges that a program of MGNREGA’s size poses. This is especially relevant in view of CAG’s observation that undertaking of non permissible works, non completion of works and lack of creation of durable assets during the period 2007-2012 indicated that the poorest were not able to fully exercise their rights under the program.
One of the ‘bottom up’ features’ of the program is its reliance on rural local self government structures i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to reinvigorate community driven participation and decision making in service delivery. The first key institutional challenge, therefore, is to make MGNREGA’S program implementation effective by enforcing PRI ‘activity mapping’ (unbundling subjects into smaller units of work and assigning these units to different levels of government) that was set in motion after the historic 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1993. Herein, the Central Government and the States of the Union, have to jointly actualize the principle of subsidiarity- what can be best done at lower levels of government should not be centralized at higher levels. Empowering PRIs especially Gram Panchayats (last mile units in villages) with funds, functions and functionaries (3F’s) is a critical incentive to build their institutional capacity for service delivery. This, in turn, would provide them the teeth to carry out their core responsibilities under MGNREGA such as planning of works, registration of beneficiaries, allotting employment, executing works, making timely payments, maintaining records of measurement and muster rolls.
The Economist recently wrote about the "workforce in the cloud" and how the global mobile workforce is being tapped by online talent marketplaces like Elance.com and oDesk.com. This has allowed professionals worldwide to compete globally for work and has saved businesses money. Last year, the value for this online work topped $1 billion for the first time and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2018.
These exchanges are providing opportunities to build businesses without borders. The Guardian reported that a start-up firm, Boutique London Lets, which rents luxury apartments to international business travelers and tourists, has tripled turnover every year for the last three years. The firm used online talent marketplaces to help with recruitment, was able to expand to separate London and Manila offices, and used the “workforce in the cloud” to handle their communications. The owner can keep control of the business while traveling and visiting prospects and staff. The company also uses e-mail, video conferences, online groups, and instant messenger to train staff and is exploring how to create an internal social media network for sharing informal staff interactions.
At the Global Voices on Poverty discussion on ending poverty during the World Bank-Fund Spring Meetings, Muhammad Yunus talked about the pressing need to engage young people and leverage their creative capacity in order to end poverty. He noted that young people are a completely different force that could be engaged on larger social issues – e.g., reforesting a country like Haiti – and that this could be accomplished via social business funds.
Given the recent gloom on youth unemployment, could social entrepreneurship be a silver lining? Certainly the global challenges are many and large. But so are the youth populations in many countries. Instead of reaping the demographic dividends, many countries fear future instability owing to the very large youth bulge. The Economist, in a recent article “Youth unemployment: Generation jobless,” calculates that all told, almost 290,000,000 (almost a quarter of the planet’s youth) are neither working nor studying.
There is increasing convergence between the goals that human rights advocates aspire to, and the development work of the World Bank. This was the consensus reached at a panel discussion on Integrating Human Rights in PREM's work, organized as part of the Conference organized by the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) network on May 1 and 2, 2012. The panel included Otaviano Canuto, Vice President of the Network, and other experts at the Bank working on labor, justice, poverty, and governance issues from a rights-perspective. It was moderated by Linda van Gelder, Director of the Public Sector and Governance group.
The panel showcased innovative ways in which a human rights perspective is being integrated into the Bank's work. In Vietnam, the governance team has engaged the country in looking at how right to information can further transparency and how awareness of rights can make the state more responsive to citizens. A team in PREM is looking at the Human Opportunity Index as a means of assessing inequality of opportunity among children. The World Development Report on Jobs emphasizes the concept of ‘better jobs’ that improve societal welfare, not just ‘more jobs’. Several of these programs are supported through the Nordic Trust Fund that furthers a human rights approach to development issues.