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Building State Capability: Review of an important (and practical) new book

Duncan Green's picture

Jetlag is a book reviewer’s best friend. In the bleary small hours in NZ and now Australia, I have been catching up on my reading. The latest was ‘Building State Capability’, by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock, which builds brilliantly on Matt’s 2013 book and the subsequent work of all 3 authors in trying to find practical ways to help reform state systems in dozens of developing countries (see the BSC website for more). Building State Capability is published by OUP, who agreed to make it available as an Open Access pdf, in part because of the good results with How Change Happens (so you all owe me….).

But jetlag was also poor preparation for the first half of this book, which after a promising start, rapidly gets bogged down in some extraordinarily dense academese. I nearly gave up during the particularly impenetrable chapter 4: sample ‘We are defining capability relative to normative objectives. This is not a reprisal of the “functionalist” approach, in which an organization’s capability would be defined relative to the function it actually served in the overall system.’ Try reading that on two hours’ sleep.

Luckily I stuck with it, because the second half of the book is an excellent (and much more accessible) manual on how to do Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – the approach to institutional reform that lies at the heart of the BSC programme.

Quote of the week: Theresa May

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Do I worry about people focusing on what I wear? No. There’s a story that might illustrate why. A few years ago I got into a lift in the House of Commons with a young woman who happened to be wearing a nice pair of shoes and I said: “oh, nice shoes.” And she said she liked my shoes as well. And then she looked at me and said: “Your shoes got me into politics.”

Theresa May – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since July, 2016.

Quoted in the Financial Times, December 10, 2016, “Women of the year” by George Parker and Lionel Barber.
 

The technocrat and the demagogue

Sina Odugbemi's picture

To recap and settle our terms, the populist demagogues now emerging as leaders of governments around the world have a peculiar way of operating. At the core of their practice is a truculent nationalism that defines a part of the political community as the ‘real’ people. They claim to govern in the name of ‘the people’, as defined. They use polarization deliberately, even when in government; they define enemies and rail against these unceasingly in colorful language. They demonize The Other/ the Outsider. They are crude propagandists without the slightest regard for truth or logic or the rules of polite discourse. They can be both boorish and ridiculous…and they rejoice in the fact.

Now, typical technocrats or policy wonks are highly educated persons, usually with advanced degrees from excellent universities. These are minds that have been tilled, ploughed and cultivated to a sophisticated degree. They understand ideas. They have been trained to handle evidence with care. They have been taught the basic rules of logic, the nature of fallacious or tendentious reasoning etc. They also know the importance of public debate and discussion, of making your case vigorously but fairly, of avoiding lies, obfuscation and downright dishonesty. Finally, whatever the ideological commitments of these technocrats or policy wonks, they are not usually people who go around spouting racist or misogynistic views in public …no matter what they privately believe.

Yet, look around the world today, and you will notice that quite a few supposedly polished technocrats are working for brute demagogues. You listen to them and you wonder: How have you sold this gig to yourself, comrade?

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Transnational Crime and the Developing World
Global Financial Integrity
This March 2017 report from Global Financial Integrity, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World,” finds that globally the business of transnational crime is valued at an average of $1.6 trillion to $2.2 trillion annually. The study evaluates the overall size of criminal markets in 11 categories: the trafficking of drugs, arms, humans, human organs, and cultural property; counterfeiting, illegal wildlife crime, illegal fishing, illegal logging, illegal mining, and crude oil theft. The combination of high profits and low risks for perpetrators of transnational crime and the support of a global shadow financial system perpetuate and drive these abuses. The report also emphasizes how transnational crime undermines economies, societies, and governments in developing countries. National and global policy efforts that focus on curtailing the money are needed to more successfully combat these crimes and the illicit networks perpetrating them.

The Climate Change-Human Trafficking Nexus
International Organization for Migration
Climate change increases the risk of natural disasters and places a strain on livelihoods. This may contribute to high-risk behaviours and other negative coping strategies among affected populations, such as resorting to unscrupulous recruitment agencies associated with human smuggling and trafficking. This IOM infosheet explores  the links between climate change, human trafficking and smuggling in the Asia-Pacific region. To address these challenges, the infosheet provides an overview of best practices from existing projects in the region.

10 reasons to apply for World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute

Roxanne Bauer's picture
 
How can professionals looking to lead reform initiatives find the best way forward?

They can start at the World Bank-Annenberg 
Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, from June 5 - June 16, 2017.

The course is designed for leaders, strategists and advisors who want to strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform initiatives in developing countries.  

If this sounds like you, but you need a little nudge, check out these 10 reasons why attending the Summer Institute is a good decision.

1. Strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform leaders in developing countries: The program was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics. 

2. Develop the skills necessary to bring about real change: Finding a way to push a reform forward can sometimes be elusive. Political or sectoral change is usually needed.  The course will develop your skills to analyze policy options and effectively mobilize support.


Campaign Art: Smartphone App fighting hunger one tap at a time

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

How can Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) help solve the world’s toughest humanitarian challenges? Increasingly, more and more humanitarian agencies are realizing the potential of ICTs in reaching their overall mission. Drones delivering food and water, robots, off-grid power, wearables, mobile applications and artificial intelligence, all offer an enormous potential for solving world’s pressing issues.  

One of the examples of utilizing technology for humanitarian assistance is the introduction of the innovative smartphone app called SharetheMeal, that fights hunger one meal at a time. Introduced in 2015 by the World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger, ShareTheMeal is a free smartphone app that allows iOS and Android users to donate $0.50 cents, enough to provide a child with vital nutrition for a day. This is a quick and easy way to help whenever you like. So far over 12 million meals have been shared.
 
How can you change the world with just US $ 0.50?

Source: ShareTheMeal.org

Can overhauling ‘teaching’ reform schools in Kenya?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Kenyan schools are not doing well. About a 120 of them were set alight in arson attacks last year alone which were largely blamed on fears arising from a government crackdown on cheating in national exams. Amid national schooling reforms, many pupils and parents continue to be unhappy about the changes. Where do the teachers figure within this period of heavy reform?

Both the best and worst performers in East Africa are in Kenya
Although school enrolment has gone up steadily, over a million children are still out of school. In terms of learning outcomes, Kenya performs relatively better than its neighbours, but results from internationally recognised competency test, Uwezo, shows that learning levels are poor, and have stagnated over time. For instance, in the 2014 Uwezo assessment, 39% of children aged 7-13 years passed a test that required them to demonstrate competence of Standard 2 level numeracy and literacy. This was not significantly different from the performance in previous years: 40% in 2011, 37% in 2012 and 41% in 2013. Looking at student learning levels, both the best and worst performing districts in East Africa are in Kenya. The extremities in quality within Kenyan education are huge. For instance, according to the same Uwezo data, “a child in the Central region is over seven times more likely to have attained a Standard 2 level of literacy and numeracy than a child in the North Eastern region”.

Fixing the education system in Kenya is an onerous task. The Government of Kenya has time and time again, reiterated its commitment to improving the state of education, and has outlined its vision in the National Education Sector Plan 2013- 2018. Alongside, a host of national and international development agencies in Kenya have over the years, financed numerous programmes, targeting various components of the education sector. These efforts have yielded a wealth of evidence. One should consider such evidence, while attempting to answer the question – how can we improve the quality of schooling in Kenya?

A masterclass on cash transfers and how to use High Level Panels to influence Policy

Duncan Green's picture

One of the things I do in my day-a-week role at LSE is bring in guest lecturers from different aid and development organizations to add a whiff of real life to the student diet of theory and academia. One of the best is Owen Barder, who recently delivered a mesmerizing talk on cash transfers and the theory of change used by his organization, the Center for Global Development, which is one of the most effective think tanks around (although I don’t always share its politics….). Here’s the summary (and here are his powerpoint slides, if you want to nick them).

Owen chaired a recent high level panel on humanitarian cash transfers and presented its work in his talk. The traditional aid response is ‘people are hungry due to drought, flood, conflict etc → there isn’t enough food → we need to ship in loads of food’. Both arrows are wrong: Amartya Sen showed that the problem in famine is not lack of food, but lack of purchasing power among the affected populations – in nearly all of Ethiopia’s famines, the country has produced enough food to feed its people. The second arrow is wrong because giving people cash is usually a much more effective response than shipping food over from the US or wherever: the food often arrives too late, just when local farmers are recovering, and a flood of free food promptly destroys local markets. The evidence is now substantial:

  • Cash transfers are 25-30% cheaper than in kind aid (so more food per dollar)
  • When people are given in kind aid, they typically sell 30-50% of it to get the cash they need, at roughly 30% of the actual cost of the aid – a massive level of waste
  • When you ask refugees, they invariably say cash is better than stuff (eg 80% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon)

Plus it’s good politics – cash stimulates the local economy, so local people are less resentful of the influx of refugees, and is more respectful – refugees don’t all want the same thing; cash respects their right to make decisions about their lives.

Quote of the week:Janan Ganesh

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Perception and humour are the same thing. A joke is only funny if it gets at a truth. Prose that makes us laugh contain an observation that had always half-occurred to us but which we could never put into so many words.”

- 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.

Quoted in the Financial Times, March 25, 2017, "The unbearable sadness of bookshelves. " by Janan Ganesh

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

A Year After Panama Papers, Is Enough Being Done to Stop Illicit Finance?
Transparency International
One year ago today a group of more than 300 journalists in 79 countries sent a powerful message to the corrupt: you can no longer hide. The publication of the Panama Papers on 3 April 2016 was a shot heard around the world against corruption. Suddenly one of the most closely held secrets of the biggest criminals was revealed – where and how they hide their money. The Panama Papers showed how a Panamanian law firm helped set up 214,000 secret shell companies, many of them used by corrupt politicians, criminals and tax abusers around the world. The law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was just one of hundreds of law firms around the world that provide services that can be used to enable corruption, illicit financial flows, drug-dealing, terrorism, tax evasion and the surge in economic inequality. The Panama Papers showed how secretly owned companies are an important vehicle for corruption that allows secret movements of money and other activity away from the eyes of law enforcement, tax collectors, regulators and others.

Human Development Report 2016
UNDP
The report finds that although average human development improved significantly across all regions from 1990 to 2015, one in three people worldwide continue to live in low levels of human development, as measured by the Human Development Index. This is a concern in developed countries too, where poverty and exclusion are also a challenge, with over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – living in relative poverty. The report shows that in almost every country, several groups face disadvantages that often overlap and reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability, widening the progress gap across generations, and making it harder to catch up as the world moves on.

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