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Could Crowdsourcing Fund Activists as well as Goats and Hairdressers?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve often wondered if Oxfam or other large INGOs could include the option of sponsoring an activist, either as something to accompany the goats, toilets, chickens etc that people now routinely buy each other for Christmas, or instead of sponsoring a child. I had vague ideas about people signing up to sponsor an activist in Egypt or South Africa, and in return getting regular tweets or Facebook updates. Alas, I’ve never managed to persuade our fundraisers to give it a go.

Now it’s come a bit closer to home. My son, who is a community organizer for the wonderful London Citizens, is currently looking to raise funds to work with a bunch of institutions in Peckham, South London. I couldn’t help him much as I’m rubbish at fundraising, (sure I’m a huge disappointment to him) but it did start me wondering whether there is an activist equivalent to the kind of crowdsourcing sites that are all the rage for small businesses (Kiva, Kickstarter etc). So, inspired by the feedback to my Monty Python bleg, I tweeted a request for sites.

What emerged was a (for me) previously invisible ecosystem of crowdfunding options for radicals. Here’s the list of the links people sent it:

What is 'Leverage' (NGO-Speak Version) and Why Does it Matter?

Duncan Green's picture

A few weeks ago I attended the twice yearly gathering of Oxfam GB’s big cheeses – the regional directors, Oxford bosses and a smattering of more exotic cheeses from other Oxfam affiliates (Australia and US this time). We started off with a tour of the regions –  what’s on their minds? 3 common themes emerged: political upheaval (disenchantment with elected governments,  protest, the threat of civil war); religious conflict (fundamentalism) and rising inequality.

The topic of this meeting was a classic new fuzzword – ‘leverage’. And like all good fuzzwords, it was frustrating and helpful in equal measure. Frustrating in its hard-to-define slipperiness, helpful because it establishes a fuzzy-boundaried arena of conversation that allowed us to have an interesting exchange.

The overriding purpose of leverage is another bit of management jargon: ‘going to scale’. How to influence bigger players to reach many times more people than you would do by acting alone? The ambition is heroic, perhaps crushing on occasion – with your few thousand (or even million) quid, it’s not enough to just help a few hundred people, you have to think how this can transform lives en masse. I suspect it partly stems from frustration born from aiming too low; partly from the push for results.

Women's Leadership Groups in Pakistan – Some Good News and Inspiration

Duncan Green's picture

I normally try and keep Oxfam trumpet-blowing to a minimum on this blog, but am happy to make an exception for this piece from Jacky Repila (right) on a new report on our Raising Her Voice programme in Pakistan, a country that ranks 134th out of 135 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index (only Yemen is worse).

When Veeru Kohli stood as an independent candidate in Hyderabad’s provincial elections on 11th May, she made history.

Kohli is poor. Making the asset declaration required of candidates, Kohli listed just two beds, five mattresses, cooking pots and a bank account with life savings of 2,800 rupees, wages for labourers in Karachi are around 500 rupees a day.

She’s a member of a minority group – Hindus represent less than 6 per cent of the country’s total population. The vision of tolerance and inclusion of Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has sadly been eroded as we can see from the 500 Pakistani Hindus who recently fled to India to escape discrimination.

She’s uneducated and does not boast the political connections or patronage of most politicians. In fact she has ruffled feudal feathers, escaping captivity from her former landlord and fighting in the courts for the release of other bonded labourers.

And then of course, she’s a woman.  Only 3 per cent of all candidates contesting the general seats for the National Assembly were women.

And yet…. in spite of the inevitable establishment backlash seeking to devalue her credentials, on 11th May six thousand people voted for her. Although not enough to win the seat, the fact of Kohli’s standing is in itself a remarkable act.

Quote of the Week: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Sina Odugbemi's picture
“It has been said, and with good reason, that while society has entered the digital era politics has remained analog.  If democratic institutions used the new communication technologies as instruments of dialogue, and not for mere propaganda, they would breathe fresh air into their operations.  And that would more effectively bring them in tune with all parts of society.”

- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A Brazilian politican who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.
Quote from the New York Times, July 16, 2013. The Message of Brazil's Youth.
 

The Monty Python Guide to Aid and Development. Part One – Politics

Duncan Green's picture

Yesterday I idly tweeted a request for the Monty Python sketches most relevant to development. Great response, uncovering some forgotten gems – turns out Python fans are everywhere, (and they’re not even all men, well not 100% anyway). Too many for one post, so today we’ll do politics. Here are my favourites (with credits where due):

Good governance and accountability (aka anarcho sindicalist v monarchist discourses) [via Emily Barker and others]

Monty Python- The Annoying Peasant

Colonial legacy and institutions [aka what have the Romans ever done for us?, via Matt Collin]

What have the Romans ever done for us

10 Killer Facts on Democracy and Elections

Duncan Green's picture

Ok this is a bit weird, but I want to turn an infographic into a blogpost. The ODI, which just seems to get better and better, has just put out a 10 killer facts on elections and democracy infographic by Alina Rocha Menocal, and it’s great. Here’s a summary:

Campaigning and Complexity: How Do We Campaign on a Problem When We Don't Know the Solution?

Duncan Green's picture

Had a thought-provoking discussion on ‘influencing’ with Exfamer (ex Oxfam Australia turned consultant) James Ensor a few days ago. The starting point was an apparent tension between the reading I’ve been doing on complex systems, and Oxfam’s traditional model of campaigning.

In my first days at Oxfam, I was told that the recipe for a successful campaign was ‘problem, villain, solution’ (heroes are apparently optional). And sure enough, if you look at good/bad campaigns, the presence or absence of all three ingredients seems pretty key.

But one of the characteristics of complex systems is that solutions are seldom obvious and often only emerge from trial and error. Elsewhere I’ve translated the offputting language of complexity theory into ‘how do you plan when you don’t know what’s going to happen?’ But in the case of advocacy and campaigns aimed at influencing government or international organizations’ policies, a better formulation would be ‘how do you campaign when you don’t have a solution?’

The first option is of course to pretend that you do anyway. Echoes of Yes Minister’s ‘we must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it!’. Not that Oxfam would ever stoop to such a thing, obviously.

Alternatively, stick to problems that are less complex, at least at first sight. Campaign to give people money, or bednets, or vaccines, or food (although any of these efforts in practice are unlikely to stay neat and linear for long).

But there are a number of other options:

Politically Smart Aid? Of Course! Political Aid? Not So Sure. Guest Post by Tom Carothers and Diane de Gramont

Duncan Green's picture

Thomas Carothers and Diane de Gramont summarize the arguments of their new book on aid and politics

How political is development assistance? How political should it be? These questions provoke divergent reactions within the aid community. For some, being political means using aid to advance geopolitical interests aside from development. Others emphasize the far-reaching political consequences aid can have on recipient countries, from bolstering dubious strongmen to undermining systems of domestic accountability. These two perspectives highlight how aid’s political motivations or side effects can limit its effectiveness in advancing developmental change.

Yet in recent years many development practitioners and scholars have been arguing that aid should become more, not less, political. What do they mean by this? They are not talking about political side effects or prioritizing geostrategic motives. Rather they are referring to efforts by development aid actors intentionally and openly to think and act politically for the purpose of making aid more effective in fostering development.

As we chronicle in our new book, Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution, donors have increasingly incorporated politics into their work in two major ways. First, they now pursue explicit political goals in developing countries, whether expressed as advancing democracy, democratic governance, or effective governance. Second, they are trying to adopt politically smart methods, moving away from the idea of aid as a narrowly technical input to considering it a facilitating agent of local processes of change, which requires aid providers to conduct political analyses, adapt programs to local political contexts, and reach a diverse range of socio-political actors within developing countries.

When/How Does Aid Help Africa’s Public Services Work Better?

Duncan Green's picture

I seem to be spending most of my life at the ODI at the moment, largely because it is producing an apparently endless stream of really useful research papers and seminars. Yesterday saw a combo of the two, as it launched Unblocking Results: using aid to address governance constraints in public service delivery (OK, maybe it still has a thing or two to learn about snappy titles…..).

The starting point for the work is that while there is a vast amount of research on the role of institutions in delivering (or failing to deliver) health, education, water etc, there is very little on the role of aid agencies when things go well. So ODI carried out a positive deviance exercise, identifying 4 success stories out of 60 initial candidates, and then delving into the reasons behind the success.

Will the Post-2015 Report Make a Difference? Depends What Happens Next

Duncan Green's picture

An edited version of this piece, written with Stephen Hale, appeared on the Guardian Poverty Matters site on Friday

Reading the report of the High Level Panel induces a sense of giddy optimism. It is a manifesto for a (much) better world, taking the best of the Millennium Development Goals, and adding what we have learned in the intervening years – the importance of social protection, sustainability, ending conflict, tackling the deepest pockets of poverty, even obesity (rapidly rising in many poor countries). It has a big idea (consigning absolute poverty to the history books) and is on occasion brave (in the Sir Humphrey sense) for example in its commitment to women’s rights, including ending child marriage and violence against women, and guaranteeing universal sexual and reproductive health rights.

The ambition and optimism is all the more welcome for its contrast with the daily grind of austerity, recession and international paralysis (Syria, Climate Change, the torments of the European Union). In response, the report is clearly designed for a no/low cost environment, downplaying the importance of aid, talking up access to data, and revenue raisers like cracking down on tax evasion.

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