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Quote of the Week: Janan Ganesh

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Flags fly in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York City"All zones of public discourse have their excesses and irrationalities, but none like foreign policy. In our golden age of data, this is one area that remains resiliently unmeasurable. So anyone can say anything as long as they say it sonorously and use the word “strategy” a lot."
 
- Janan Ganesh, a political columnist for the Financial Times. Previously, he was a political correspondent for The Economist. He appears weekly on BBC1's Sunday Politics television show and wrote a biography of George Osborne, the UK chancellor.
 

What would persuade the aid business to ‘think and work politically’?

Duncan Green's picture

Women attend a community meeting in IndiaSome wonks from the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) network discussed its influencing strategy last week.

There were some people with proper jobs there, who demanded Chatham House Rules, which happily means I don’t have to remember who said what (or credit anyone).

The discussion was interesting because it covered ground relevant to almost anyone trying to shift an internal consensus (in this case towards aid donors taking more account of politics, power, institutions etc in their work). Some highlights:

Who are your target groups? The ‘aid industry’ or ‘governments’ is far too wide. The best effort identified four: in the rich countries, professional advisers within donors and relevant academic networks; in the developing country, politicians and senior officials.

Within those target groups, there are ‘natural allies’, who entirely understand the importance of thinking in terms of locally specific politics, incentives, institutions etc rather than checklists of best practice. Interestingly, they may not be obvious – diplomats and foreign office types ‘get’ this much more easily than their more econo-technocratic aid ministry counterparts. Sectoral specialists in health and sanitation have done a lot of thinking on systems, but (reportedly) education and water engineers  less so.

The next question is ‘what persuades your targets?’ My bet would be that the most important factor is the messenger, not the message – if a senior politician hears about TWP thinking from their university professor, or a retired political heavyweight, they are far more likely to listen. So perhaps we should deliberately recruit a lot of ‘old men in a hurry’ – apologies for gender bias there, Mary Robinson and Graca Machel are great counterexamples – retired big cheeses keen to make a difference.

Quote of the Week: Jonathan Powell

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Jonathan Powell, British diplomatThe public does not want unprofessional politicians any more than unprofessional dentists. But we do need to find a more civilized from of discourse in which politicians are able to admit they have got things wrong and reverse track without fearing for their careers.”
 
- Jonathan Powell, a British diplomat who served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff, under British Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1995 to 2007. In the early years of the Blair Government, one of Powell's most crucial jobs was his role in the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

 

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.

Tomorrow’s world: seven development megatrends challenging NGOs
The Guardian
As we move into 2015, many UK-based NGOs are wondering how to meet the challenges of a crucial year. What is the unique and distinct value that each organisation, and the UK sector as a whole, brings to international development, and how might this change in future? To help the sector get on the front foot we have identified seven “megatrends” and posed a few questions to highlight some of the key choices NGOs might need to make. At the end of next week we’ll be concluding a consultation with DfID on the future of the sector – all your thoughts are welcome.

Why emerging markets need smart internet policies
Gigaom
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has released its latest study into, well, the affordability of internet access. The study shows how big the challenge is on that front in emerging markets – for over two billion people there, fixed-line broadband costs on average 40 percent of their monthly income, and mobile broadband costs on average 10 percent of their monthly income. The United Nations’ “affordability target” for internet access is five percent of monthly income, so there’s clearly a ways to go in many developing countries. Almost 60 percent of global households are still unconnected and, unsurprisingly, those who can’t afford to get online tend to be poor, in rural communities and/or women.

Building evidence-informed policy networks in Africa

Paromita Mukhopadhyay's picture

Evidence-informed policymaking is gaining importance in several African countries. Networks of researchers and policymakers in Malawi, Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Benin and Zimbabwe are working assiduously to ensure credible evidence reaches government officials in time and are also building the capacity of policymakers to use the evidence effectively. The Africa Evidence Network (AEN) is one such body working with governments in South Africa and Malawi. It held its first colloquium in November 2014 in Johannesburg.  



Africa Evidence Network, the beginning

A network of over 300 policymakers, researchers and practitioners, AEN is now emerging as a regional body in its own right. The network began in December 2012 with a meeting of 20 African representatives at 3ie’s Dhaka Colloquium of Systematic Reviews in International Development.

How can research help promote empowerment and accountability?

Duncan Green's picture

In the development business, DFID is a research juggernaut (180 dedicated staff, £345m annual budget, according to the ad for a new boss for its Research and Evidence Division). So it’s good news that they are consulting researchers, NGOs, etc. tomorrow on their next round of funding for research on empowerment and accountability (E&A). Unfortunately, I can’t make it, but I had an interesting exchange with Oxfam’s Emily Brown, who will be there, on some of the ideas we think they should be looking at. Here’s a sample:

What do we need to know?

On E&A, we really need to nail down the thorny topic of measurement – how do you measure say, women’s empowerment, in a manner that satisfies the ‘gold standard’ demands of the results/value for money people? And just to complicate matters, shouldn’t a true measure of empowerment be determined by the people concerned in each given context, rather than outside funders? We’ve made some progress on such ‘hard to measure benefits’, but there’s still a long way to go.

Campaign Art: Obama uses a selfie stick to encourage health care enrollment

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

What’s the best way to advertise healthcare options to young people in the United States?  Have the President make fun of himself for a BuzzFeed video, of course.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s flagship initiative, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), increases the quality and affordability of health insurance by expanding public and private insurance coverage.  Each year, the insurance market is opened up for a few months so people can sign up for coverage or change the coverage selections they previously made.  With time running out in this year’s enrollment period, Obama turned to BuzzFeed to help spread the word.

The result was a 2-minute video titled “Things Everyone Does But Doesn’t Talk About,” in which the President uses a selfie stick in the White House library, makes funny faces in the mirror, and practices lines from a speech. “February 15th. February 15th,” he repeats, adding, “in many cases you can get health insurance for less than $100 a month. Just go to Healthcare.gov.”
 
VIDEO: Things Everybody Does But Doesn't Talk About

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.
 
World Press Freedom Index 2015: decline on all fronts
Reporters Without Borders
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.  The 2015 World Press Freedom Index highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information in 2014. Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.
 
Discontent with Politics Common in Many Emerging and Developing Nations
Pew Global Research Center
People in emerging and developing countries around the world are on balance unhappy with the way their political systems are working. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that, across 31 emerging and developing nations, a median of 52% are dissatisfied with their political system, while 44% are satisfied. Discontent is particularly widespread in the Middle East and Latin America, where about six-in-ten say their system is not working well. The opposite is true, however, in Asia – a median of 60% are either very or somewhat satisfied with their political system.

14 Ways for Aid Agencies to Better Promote Active Citizenship

Duncan Green's picture

As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.

Programme design

1. The right partners are indispensable

Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means 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 and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

2. Start with the ‘power within’

Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their 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 this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

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