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'Bricifying' International NGOs is Hard Work: The Challenges Facing Oxfam India

Duncan Green's picture

I spent last week trying to understand an intriguing experiment. About five years ago, Oxfam GB’s 'white men in shorts' left India, along with all the other Oxfam affiliates, and a new, completely Indian-run Oxfam India took over. All part of ‘Bricification’ within the Oxfam family (there’s an Oxfam Brazil in the pipeline too).

So what’s changed? After a period of reflection Oxfam India has opted for a strategy combining programming with increased levels of advocacy in areas such as smallholder agriculture & climate change, natural resource management, right to education and health, violence against women and women’s empowerment, along with a hefty dose of emergencies work and disaster risk reduction. Its two ‘emerging themes’ are urban poverty and ‘India and the World’ – for example the impact of Indian investment in Africa, or India’s role in the G20.

But it hasn’t been easy. The apparently unanswerable political logic of ‘Indianizing Oxfam’ has faced some pretty steep challenges, as I found out in a consultation with partners from Indian civil society. These come in two broad areas: political and financial.

India's Slums: How Change Happens and the Challenge of Urban Programming

Duncan Green's picture

Got back from a fascinating week visiting Oxfam India last week, so the next few days’ post will be on India, sadly the world leader in poverty (by a long way). One of the areas that Oxfam is keen to develop there is its work on urban poverty, where it already works with migrant labourers, waste pickers, domestic workers, and on issues such as housing and access to identity papers. So I spent a couple of days visiting programmes and talking to partners in the slums of Delhi and Lucknow. (I prepped by reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers – wonderful book)

I know they’re grim to live in, but I have to confess to really enjoying visits to urban ‘informal settlements’, especially at dusk, with that particular sense of intimacy as cooking smells and firesmoke drift through the air and domestic workers, rickshaw pullers and street vendors return at the end of another hardscrabble day to grab an hour or two to socialize and relax.

But today, we’re encroaching on that precious leisure time, chatting to an animated group of slum leaders, mainly women, on the edge of Lucknow (see pic). Here, an Oxfam partner, the Vigyan Foundation, is promoting community organization to demand identity papers, water and sanitation, and access to health and education.

Quote of the Week: Norman Davies

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“All political institutions will end sooner or later.  The question is when and how.  It’s our vanity that makes us think that what forms part of our world today must be stable and secure.”

Norman Davies. As quoted in the Financial Times, October 19, 2012. Lunch with the FT: Norman Davies, by Tony Barber.

How Can a Post-2015 Agreement Drive Real Change? Please Read and Comment on this Draft Paper

Duncan Green's picture

The post-2015 discussion on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is picking up steam, with barely a day going by without some new paper, consultation or high level meeting. So I, along with Stephen Hale and Matthew Lockwood, have decided to add to the growing slush-pile with a new discussion paper. We want you to read the draft (see right) and help us improve it. Contributions by 5 November please, either as comments on the blog, or emailed to research[at]oxfam.org.uk.

The paper argues that there’s an urgent need to bring power and politics into the centre of the post-2015 discussion. To have impact, any post-2015 arrangement has to take into account the lessons of over a decade of implementing the existing MDGs, and be shaped by the profound global change since the MDGs were debated over the course of the 1990s and early noughties.  We’re hoping that this will be at the centre of this week’s discussions in London linked to the High Level Panel and in Berlin at the Berlin Civil Society Center on Development post 2015.

Election Time: Be Careful around Men

Sina Odugbemi's picture

If there is an election campaign going on where you are, chances are that passions are galloping like unruly horses.  Everywhere, it seems, self-command is under threat.  The very air is thick with the clang of contention. The airwaves are clogged with clashing adverts and points of view. Supporters of rival political parties and candidates move from despair to euphoria and back again. Nerves are wrought; blood pressure levels rise; panic attacks spread like viruses.  Suddenly, everybody is an interpreter of opinion polls, of likely voters, registered voters, swing voters, independents, firm partisans, and all the subtle distinctions foisted on us by political communication experts for whom elections have become seasons to fatten up.

Reducing the Risk of Disasters; Reducing Inequality – What’s the Link?

Duncan Green's picture

Another day, another, errm Day. Ahead of tomorrow’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (hold the front page….), Debbie Hillier, Oxfam’s Humanitarian PolicyAdviser (right), explores the links between DRR and inequality

I have never understood why disaster risk reduction (DRR) gets so little attention – from governments, donors and the aid system in general.  Be honest, how many of you know what the Hyogo Framework for Action is, or know what UNISDR stands for? This is despite the proven effectiveness and – the holy grail - value for money of disaster risk reduction.  Frankly speaking, it’s a no-brainer.

We all seem to understand the imperative for prevention when it comes to vaccinations and insurance, but somehow this falls apart when it comes to reducing the impacts of disasters.  For national governments, I suppose that time delays between public investment in risk reduction and benefits when hazards are infrequent, and the political invisibility of successful risk reduction can be pressures for a NIMTOF (Not in My Term of Office) attitude that leads to inaction.  And donors prefer the Superman of high profile disaster response to the Clark Kent of disaster risk reduction.

Celebrities, Politics, and Development: Is it a Good Mix?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

The use of celebrities to promote causes and political campaigns has been around for some time. It’s nothing new, yet it's a fascinating topic. With the U.S. election just around the corner, celebrities seem to be popping up everywhere endorsing their preferred candidate, speaking out on issues they deem important, and raising money, lots of money, for the campaigns. As Sina mentioned in a previous post, there is not a doubt that celebrities are effective in attracting attention to issues, but as he said “noise is not the same thing as impact.” The level of influence celebrities have on policy-making and affecting change on the ground has long been debated.

Building Active Citizenship and Accountability in Asia: Case Studies from Vietnam and India

Duncan Green's picture

Last week I attended a seminar in Bangkok on ‘active citizenship’ in Asia, part of an ‘Asia Development Dialogue’ organized by Oxfam, Chulalongkorn University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. It brought together a diverse group of local mayors, human rights activists and academics, and discussed a series of case studies. Two in particular caught my eye.

In India, Samadhan, an internet-based platform for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements under national and state government schemes, is being piloted in two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The pilot is supported by the UN Millennium Campaign and implemented by the VSO India Trust. Here’s the blurb from the case study:

Development Theory v Practice: Visiting Oxfam’s Work in Mindanao

Duncan Green's picture

For me, one of the most fruitful aspects of ‘field trips’ such as last week’s visit to see Oxfam’s work in the Philippines is the exchange it sets up in my head between the academic literature and debates I’ve been ploughing through in the UK, and the reality of our work on the ground. A good trip confirms, improves or adds to your thinking, and occasionally shows you that you have got it all wrong. This was particularly true on this occasion as our staff and partners in the Philippines are both real thinkers (one guy passed a long car ride by listening to a lecture on Hegel on his laptop ‘for fun’) and activists (more on that tomorrow). The quality of discussions in a Manila seminar on active citizenship and food justice was truly impressive – nuanced and open minded, with no sign of the dogmatic, fissiparous Left I saw on my last visit in 1998 (when I had to give the same lecture twice because different fractions refused to sit in the same room). First some (relatively minor) new insights from all these interactions:

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