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#2 from 2017: Doing good against all odds – remembering the forgotten

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on February 7, 2017.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.
 - Voltaire
 
Every November 1st, Poland observes All Saints Day or as some call it, the Day of the Deceased. In the middle of the Polish Golden Autumn there is a day when all Poles meet each other at the cemetery. Flowers and candles are lit to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. Most Polish cemeteries are very pristine and well cared for. For me this is a day of national truce and solidarity intertwined with the Roman-Catholic tradition. All Saints Day is celebrated in other countries, but the poignancy and mobility in Poland has no match. The day before and the day after, millions of Poles patiently travel for hours in never-ending traffic jams.
 
I am not always able to attend All Saints Day in my native Poland, but there are always flowers, wreaths, and candles, exceeding the number of my living distant relatives at the grave of my parents. And then there are the invisible friendly hands that clean my family's tomb a few weeks later, before the beginning of winter. The culmination of this holiday is an outdoor mass before dusk, which basically occurs at every cemetery. I must admit that for as long as I can remember; I have always tried to skip the mass service saturated with the presence of thousands of worshipers for the sake of long walks in the marvelous fall festival of lights a few hours later where the cemeteries are almost deserted. Imagine, walking in darkness on the fallen and golden dry leaves amongst the orange glow of thousands of lit candles that blend with a scent of burning wax and the array of thousands of flowers. Surrounded by people who act most courteously towards each other, and then there is the humbling moment of realizing again that death is a destiny for each of us. All of this is accompanied by solemn tranquility and feelings of nostalgia.
 

#3 from 2017: Bringing technology to the doorsteps of India’s smallholder farmers for climate resilience

Priti Kumar's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on September 7, 2017.

Photo by Nitish Kumar Singh“I walk through three farm plots of my fellow farmers every day to examine the crop growth and occurrences of pest attacks or crop failure. I send photo alerts via my smart phone to Cropin, which sends an advisory within a few minutes to remedy the problem, said Pratima Devi, a climate smart village resource professional in Manichak village in the Barachatti block of Gaya district in Bihar, India.
 
Cropin Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a private software and mobile apps company, has developed digital applications to advise farmers on ways to achieve optimal harvests, depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators. In less than a month, Pratima Devi completes a visit to all the farm plots in her village that are registered to get agro-advisories. “Women farmers appreciate my efforts and have started trusting my advice because they see a positive difference on their farms,” she adds.

Ramchandra Prasad Verma has the status of a master trainer of climate-smart village resource professionals in the same Barachatti block. He succinctly explains how data on weather parameters, such as rainfall, temperature and humidity, provided by the Automatic Weather Station (AWS), which was installed by another private Indian company, Skymet, helps farmers make smarter decisions in the village. “When the AWS shows temperatures of 35-40 degree Centigrade, farmers will wait for cooler temperatures before transplanting paddy mat nurseries into the field. Otherwise, there is a fear of losing crops in high temperatures”, said Verma. Earlier farmers relied on traditional wisdom alone, but now digital information can help them make faster and better decisions on the times of sowing and harvesting.

When Verma was a village resource professional, he had raised the maximum number of alerts in Bihar and received many advisories from Cropin on sowing, soil health, seed treatment, and weather forecasts that benefitted farmers. Over time, he developed skills to interpret technical advisories, train farmers to apply information on their fields, and interact with Cropin and Skymet professionals, which earned him the status of a master trainer.

#4 from 2017: Review of Doughnut Economics – a new book you will need to know about

Duncan Green's picture

https://flic.kr/p/9XqtbSOur Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on April 24, 2017.

My Exfam colleague Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics is launched today, and I think it’s going to be big. Not sure just how big, or whether I agree with George Monbiot’s superbly OTT plug comparing it to Keynes’s General Theory. It’s really hard to tell, as a non-economist, just how paradigm-changing it will be, but I loved it, and I want everyone to read it.

Down to business – what does it say? The subtitle, ‘Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’, sets out the intention: the book identifies 7 major flaws in traditional economic thinking, and a chapter on each on how to fix them. The starting point is drawings – working with Kate was fun, because whereas I think almost entirely in words, she has a highly visual imagination – she was always messing around with mind maps and doodles. And she’s onto something, because it’s the diagrams that act as visual frames, shaping the way we understand the world and absorb/reject new ideas and fresh evidence. Think of the way every economist you know starts drawing supply and demand curves at the slightest encouragement.Her main target is GDP (the standard measure of national economic output), and its assumptions – an open systems approach to economics that ignores planetary boundaries as it promotes economic growth. Her breakthrough moment while at Oxfam was coming up with ‘the doughnut’ – two concentric rings representing the planetary ceiling and minimum standards for all human beings. The ‘safe and just space’ between the two rings is where our species needs to be if it wants to make poverty history without destroying the planet.

When Kate came up with the doughnut in a highly influential 2012 paper for Oxfam, my non-visual mind failed to grasp its full value. After all, wasn’t this just a restatement of the idea of sustainable development? But it went viral, especially at the UN, because it allowed activists and policy makers to visualize both the threats and how they were trying to overcome them.

#5 from 2017: The role of social media in development

Rosie Parkyn's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on May 1, 2017.
 
Why should development organisations care about social media? Rosie Parkyn looks at social media’s potential to enhance development outcomes in the Global South and how this stacks up against the evidence.  
 
At BBC Media Action, we take our content to people wherever they are, be that a refugee reception centre in Lebanona homestead in rural Ethiopia or their Facebook feed. Our work as a media organisation makes the biggest difference when we succeed in getting people talking, whether face-to-face or across virtual networks. Social media enables such discussion, broadening it beyond geographically defined communities and existing editorial agendas, and at a scale hitherto unimaginable.
 
As a development organisation that predominantly produces mass media outputs, social platforms allow us to see how people respond to our content and debate the issues we raise in our programmes. We can observe and interact with audiences in a way that isn’t possible with legacy media like newspapers and TV.
 
It’s true that many of our most important audiences in the Global South are yet to gain access to social media. Nonetheless, its role and influence within the information ecosystems we work in will only grow and its ability to support positive development outcomes demands exploration.
 

#6 from 2017: What is a systems approach, anyway?

David Evans's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on February 27, 2017.

“It makes me a little crazy when you keep saying systems.” – Jowhor Ile, in And After Many Days

At home, we have a porchlight at the entrance to our house. If I flip the switch for that light, there is about a 50-50 chance it will turn on. The reason? There is another switch in the basement that controls the electricity flow to the porch, and the porchlight will only come on if both switches are on.

This – slightly adapted – analogy came from Justin Sandefur at the Center for Global Development, in an effort to explain what a systems approach is and how it can improve development programming.

If you’re like us, there is so much talk about systems that it can be easy to get lost. At a recent event, we asked a mixed group of operational teams and researchers, “How confident are you that you know what a systems approach is?” Nearly 40 percent had little to no idea.

How confident are you that you know what a systems approach is?

To take education as an example, a systems approach to education recognizes the following:

1. An education system is made up of different actors (students, teachers, administrators, political leaders), accountability relationships (management, politics), and design elements (financing, information) (see Pritchett or Scur).

2. Changes to one part of the system are moderated by other parts of the system. For example, the effectiveness of investments to get children to school will be limited (or enhanced) by the quality of the schooling.

3. A change to one part of the system leads to changes in other parts of the system: increased public provision of school supplies won’t increase learning if parents subsequently reduce their pre-existing investments in school supplies, as indicated by what happened in India and Zambia (Das et al.).

A systems approach seeks to explicitly take these separate components and their interlinking movements into account.

Three models demonstrate how a systems approach can apply at each point in the reform process: One identifies the current performance of each element of the system, one answers questions of what happens as elements of that system change, and one seeks to leverage this information to improve reforms.

#7 from 2017: Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Lower Food Miles

Vivek Prasad's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally published on May 2, 2017

Millions of urban dwellers cultivate vegetables and fruit trees in home gardens, both for their families and for sale. In Dakar, 7500 households “grow their own” in micro-gardens. In Malawi, 700 000 urban residents practice home gardening to meet their food needs and earn extra income. Low-income city gardeners in Zambia make US$230 a year from sales. In cities like Bamako, Accra and Kumasi, depending on crop and season, between 60 and 100 per cent of leafy vegetables consumed are produced within the respective cities with employment figures ranging from 1,000 to 15,000 jobs. Even megacities such as Shanghai, with about 15% population growth per year, one of the fastest growing cities on the planet, maintains its urban farming as an important part of its economic system.


Farm plots amidst apartment blocks in Chaozhou, China.
 

Around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population.    

Most cities in developing countries are facing challenges to create formal job opportunities. Urban agriculture can play an important role not only in enhancing food security but also in contributing to the eco-system - improved nutrition, poverty alleviation, local economic development and job creation as well as productive reuse of urban wastes.

Cuba has a system of urban organic farms called Organopónicos, which provides a fresh supply of organic food to the community, neighborhood improvement, beautification of urban areas, as well as employment opportunities. Cuba has more than 7,000 organopónicos, with some 200 gardens in Havana alone, covering more than 35,000 hectares of land, which supply its citizens with 90% of their fruit and vegetables. In Havana, 117,000 jobs in Havana and income for 150,000 low income families were directly provided by urban and peri-urban agriculture.

 


 

#8 from 2017: Blockchain for Development: A Handy Bluffers’ Guide

Duncan Green's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally published on May 15, 2017.  

Top tip: if you’re in a meeting discussing anything to do with finance, at some point look wise and say ‘you do realize, blockchain is likely to change everything.’ Of course, there is always a terrifying chance that someone will ask what you actually mean. Worry not, because IDS has produced a handy bluffer’s guide to help you respond. Blockchain for Development – Hope or Hype?, by Kevin Hernandez, is the latest in IDS’ ‘Rapid Response Briefings’ series, (which itself is a nice example of how research institutions can work better around critical junctures/windows of opportunity). It’s only four pages, but in case even that is too onerous, here are some excerpts (aka a bluffer’s guide to the bluffer’s guide).

‘What is blockchain technology?

At its heart, the blockchain is a ledger. It is a digital ledger of transactions that is distributed, verified and monitored by multiple sources simultaneously. It may be difficult to think of something as basic as the way we keep and maintain records as a technology, but this is because record-keeping is so ingrained in daily life, albeit often invisibly. The ubiquity of ledgers is in part the reason why blockchains are held as having so much disruptive potential. Traditionally, ledgers have enabled and facilitated vital functions, with the help of trusted third parties such as financial institutions and governments. These include: ensuring us of who owns what; validating transactions; or verifying that a given piece of information is true.
 

#9 from 2017: Virtual Reality - The Future of Immersive Learning for Development

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally published on March 7, 2017.  

In the blink of an eye, virtual reality can take you from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan to a first responder’s mission in Nepal, from practicing surgery in NigeriaFormer Bougainvillean combatant, now cocoa farmer Timothy Konovai tries out VR for the first time (World Bank/Alana Holmberg to tracking storms from earth observation satellites across South America. Virtual reality adds a new dimension to the learning experience: presence, the feeling of actually being in another place.
 
Learning from this new generation technology is becoming available at your fingertips for a minimal cost. Although virtual reality is still in its infancy, its cutting-edge approach and storytelling is already impacting development education, where it can draw us closer to the many development challenges we face.
 
What Exactly is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality refers to technology that generates realistic images, sounds, and other sensory inputs that replicate an environment. A headset completely immerses the individual in the environment being generated. Immersion is a word you will hear quite a bit related to virtual reality: immersive learning, immersive simulations, or immersive applications. The most famous virtul reality tool now is probably Oculus Rift.

What Exactly is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality refers to technology that generates realistic images, sounds, and other sensory inputs that replicate an environment. A headset completely immerses the individual in the environment being generated. Immersion is a word you will hear quite a bit related to virtual reality: immersive learning, immersive simulations, or immersive applications. The most famous virtul reality tool now is probably Oculus Rift.

#10 from 2017: Campaign Art: Food Waste

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally published on January 18, 2017.  

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.
 
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), annually around the world 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted. In the world, where about one in nine people do not have enough food (that’s some 795 million people), food waste presents an enormous opportunity for tackling food insecurity.
 
In order to bring more attention to the issue of food loss and waste and promote food loss reduction, FAO is leading the Save Food global initiative, partnering with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and others in the private sector and civil society.
 
#NotWasting

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

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.

Is Life Better Now Than 50 Years Ago? The Answer May Depend On The Economy

National Public Radio, USA
The way people perceive their country's economic conditions plays a big role in whether they view their lives more positively now compared with the past, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Of the nearly 43,000 people surveyed in 38 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North and South America, Vietnam had the most positive self-assessment: Eighty-eight percent of respondents said life is better today in their country than it was a half-century ago.
 
The Conversation
Improved human well-being is one of the modern era’s greatest triumphs. The age of plenty has also led to an unexpected global health crisis: two billion people are either overweight or obese. Developed countries have been especially susceptible to unhealthy weight gain, a trend that could be considered the price of abundance. However, developing countries are now facing a similar crisis.
 

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