The idea of starting a grassroots women-to-women communication campaign dawned on me when I realized the power of aesthetic expressions in capturing the intangible impact of development interventions. The beneficiaries of the Women’s Empowerment Project in rural Nepal used oral lore to articulate their impressions and experiences of their participation in the program through songs, dance and poetry. And because the program interventions were rooted in basic literacy training, I helped translate the oral lore into written documents through the medium of a newsletter, where the program beneficiaries themselves became the suppliers and readers of the contents. The newsletter proceeded to serve as a powerful grassroots network that brought together two- hundred and forty local organizations partners of the program and their hundred and twenty thousand clients across the country for horizontal learning. The newsletter also proved to be an effective vertical medium for the program management to assess the impact of the program interventions beyond its set targets and indicators.
Their voice comes in minor or major key – as rap, folk or pop. Boy, they do have a voice, and they are raising it, as a citizen voice and as a singing voice. On voices-against-corruption.org music bands from around the world are making the pitch, in different languages and different sounds: Congolese and Philippine pop singers, Macedonian and Senegalese rappers, and beautiful Zimbabwean choruses are amongst the many bands that come together to support a global youth anti-corruption network and to help break the silence that still surrounds this pressing challenge in many of their home countries.
Two brilliant speakers visited the World Bank last Friday: Beth Noveck, the United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government and Head of President Obama's Open Government Initiative and Hans Rosling, Swedish Professor of International Health and famous for his bubble graphics of complex development statistics. They commented on the World Bank's recent Open Data initiative that brought 17 data sets with more than 2,000 indicators from World Bank data sources online and into the public domain.
"Government is itself an art, one of the subtlest of arts"
- Justice Felix Frankfurter
- Felix Frankfurter
A Canadian band had a line in a song, "all touch, and all touch and no contact" which echoes the way that organizations try to reach people with information about development and governance. Very adept at knowledge production, material such as studies, books, reports, power points, research documents, they are often very good at sharing these among ‘cocktail party’ colleagues. But what is being done about reaching the people who need to be convinced to take action with this knowledge?
The program was massive. It catered to a hundred and twenty thousand clients, scattered across the mountain and plain terrains of the country, along 21 districts, from the east-end to the west-end borders. It required working with two hundred and forty local organizations and four thousand community groups. And it entailed a multi-sectoral approach, combining basic literacy with business training and legal rights and advocacy campaigns. And the client themselves took charge in running these programs. The USAID-funded Women Empowerment Program in Nepal was the largest social development program during 1997-2001.
Yesterday, U.S. president Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires the U.S. State Department to specifically highlight press freedom issues in its annual review of countries' human rights. According to news reports, the annual human rights review will now explicitly identify whether countries participate in or condone press freedom violations.
What, if any, effect will this have on efforts to promote independent media around the world? Some would say that, at the nuts-and-bolts level, not much. Reforming and opening media sectors requires hard work, including coalition building, technical training, and sustained effort by multiple actors. Rhetoric and reports cannot on their own improve any individual country's press freedom environment.
Greeks and Greek-Americans in the U.S. Diaspora, like myself, have been watching the strikes, demonstrations and tragic deaths that have brought our country to a standstill with mixed emotions. The images of Athens burning, tear gas rising and riot police clashing with citizens sharply contrast with images of white sandy beaches, beautiful islands, historic landmarks and mouthwatering cuisine that usually come to mind. Despite feelings of shock, sadness and even anger, to those who know Greek public political culture in its entirety, it is not surprising to most that this day would eventually come. Greek citizens, immigrants and those with strong ties to the country, admit the role that societal norms, mainly tax evasion, nepotism, clientelism and bribery (all very persistent in Greek public political culture) are in part responsible for bringing the country to the brink of collapse. For the past decade, Greek citizens did not heed warning their culture of corruption and the shadow economy could not sustain the system.
“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
Attributed to Albert Einstein
At the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010 in Santiago last week, I was able to gather a wealth of information and ideas regarding the use of ICT for accountability. In a session on this topic I had the chance to discuss with people who actually implement citizen media projects on the ground and shared their experience and insights. A number of very interesting and useful ideas came up:
Accountability needs "bottom-up transparency". Many governments in developing countries do not have the capacity for gathering data that they could then publish for citizens to hold them accountable. Supporting government capacity may not be the only and not even the most efficient solution: Several participants of the session introduced projects where it is the citizens themselves that provide information about public services.