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Sue Unsworth’s ‘upside down’ view

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Sue UnsworthSue Unsworth’s work provides us a wealth of knowledge on governance and institutional change, stemming largely from her ‘upside down’ view of the conventional reality of the aid world. Here is a quick peek into some of her work – particularly, insights into how donor-approaches should evolve to engage successfully with politics.

Sue’s work with David Booth – captured in this paper, Politically smart, locally led development – presents seven case studies of problem-driven approaches that provide important lessons to donors, as well as a clear message that merely using new terminology without actually changing the ‘ways of working will not yield results. The authors suggest that chasing ‘international best practices’ often lead to imagined solutions that do not address the problem at hand.

"…for politically smart, locally led approaches to become the norm, a more radical shift is needed in the way donors conceive development challenges and their role in addressing them. They need to abandon oversimplified concepts of ‘ownership’ and ‘partnership’, and unrealistic assumptions about the scope for outsiders to lead transformational change"

Does “Rational Ignorance” make working on transparency and accountability a waste of time?

Duncan Green's picture

Guest post from Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America (gosh, they do have august sounding job titles, don’t they?)

As the poorest half of the planet sees that just 62 people have more wealth than all of them, collective frustration at extreme inequality is increasing.  To rebalance power and wealth, many in our community are turning to transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion.  Interrogate that “development consensus,” however, and opinions are fractured over the benefits and costs of transferring power from the haves to the have-nots.

Social Media Information OverloadIn truth, our theories of change often diverge.  Most development organizations may agree on the need to advocate for more Investment, Innovation, Information, strong Institutions and Incentives, but some organizations are genuinely committed to only one of those “I’s”, and that can be problematic:  Oxfam often finds itself choosing and moving between the relentless positivity of politically benign theories of change (e.g. we just need more “investment” or “innovation”), the moderation of those who focus exclusively on transparent “information” with no clear pathway to ensure its political relevance, and the relentless negativity of activists that think the only way to transform “institutions” or realign the “incentives” of elites is to beat them up in public.

Oxfam’s challenge is to be both explicit in our theory of change and show sophistication and dexterity in working across that spectrum.  If Oxfam’s theory of change is based on a citizen-centered approach to tackling global systemic challenges like extreme inequality, then our opportunity may be engaging the “rational ignorance” of citizens and consumers.
 

Quote of the week: Alicia Garza

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Movements are destroyed by conflicts over money, power, and credit. We have to take seriously the impact of not being able to have principled disagreement, or we’re not going to be around very long.”

Alicia Garza, an African-American activist, a labor organizer, and writer who lives in Oakland, California. She is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and also works as the Director of Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She has organized around the issues of health, student services and rights, rights for domestic workers, ending police brutality, anti-racism, and violence against and gender non-conforming people of color.
 

Just give them the money: Why are cash transfers only 6% of humanitarian aid?

Duncan Green's picture

Paul Harvey, ODIGuest post from ODI’s Paul Harvey

Giving people cash in emergencies makes sense and more of it is starting to happen.  A recent high level panel report found that cash should radically disrupt the humanitarian system and that it’s use should grow dramatically from the current guesstimate of 6% of humanitarian spend.  And the Secretary General’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit calls for using ‘cash-based programming as the preferred and default method of support’.

European Commission’s Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) finances basic services for 100,000 Eritrean refugees in EthiopiaBut 6% is much less than it should be. Given the strong case for cash transfers, what’s the hold-up in getting to 30%, 50% or even 70%? The hold-up isn’t the strength of the evidence, which is increasingly clear and compelling. Cash transfers are among the most rigorously evaluated and researched humanitarian tools of the last decade. In most contexts, humanitarian cash transfers can be provided to people safely, efficiently and accountably. People spend cash sensibly: they are not likely to spend it anti-socially (for example, on alcohol) and cash is no more prone to diversion than in-kind assistance. Local markets from Somalia to the Philippines have responded to cash injections without causing inflation (a concern often raised by cash transfer sceptics). Cash supports livelihoods by enabling investment and builds markets through increasing demand for goods and services. And with the growth of digital payments systems, cash can be delivered in increasingly affordable, secure and transparent ways.

People usually prefer receiving cash because it gives them greater choice and control over how best to meet their own needs, and a greater sense of dignity. And if people receive in-kind aid that doesn’t reflect their priorities they often have to sell it to buy what they really need as, for example, 70% of Syrian refugees in Iraq have done. The difference in what they can sell food or other goods for and what it costs to provide is a pure waste of limited resources. Unsurprisingly people are better than aid agencies at deciding what they most need.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Do international NGOs still have the right to exist?
The Guardian
It’s highly unlikely that corporate bosses regularly ask themselves if their businesses have a right to exist. Their goal is to sell stuff and make a profit. But if your goal is to alleviate poverty and human suffering – in the face of statistics showing mixed outcomes – is this, in fact, the most important question an International NGO can ask of themselves? At the BOND conference last week, in a session entitled How can INGOs survive the future, Penny Lawrence, the deputy CEO of Oxfam stated bluntly: “we need to earn the right to survive the future.” It is like the sector’s very own Damascene moment.

Changing views of how to change the world
Brookings, Future Development blog
World leaders concluded three large agreements last year. Each represents a vision of how to change the world. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development agreed to move from “billions to trillions” of cross-border flows to developing countries. The agreement on universal sustainable development goals (SDGs) sets out priorities (albeit a long list) for what needs to change. The Paris Agreement on climate change endorses a shift to low-carbon (and ultimately zero carbon) economic growth trajectories. There is a common thread to these agreements. They each reflect a new theory of how to change the world that is not made explicit but has evolved as a matter of practice. Understanding this new theory is crucial to successful implementation strategies of the three agreements.
 

The 2016 Gates Letter is all about power

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Solar energy is used to light village shop, Sri LankaThe Gates have now made an annual tradition of publishing their development manifestos – they are in the form of letters that they write early in the calendar year. These letters contain not only their personal vision, but presumably, that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Broadly, my reaction to the letters in 2014 and 2015 were that they reflected an inordinate focus on technology-driven solutions. By those standards, I was in for a surprise this year as I read the 2016 Gates Letter.

In his section, Bill Gates outlined his dream of an “energy miracle”. This is easily one of the most important priorities for the globe. Experts are united that clean energy is the way forward. Falling oil prices might just present a serious challenge to this push, but hopefully this is a temporary glitch that will not derail investments in research and development in the search for clean energy. This search also ties in with the Gates’ traditional areas of strength, which are science and technology-driven, looking to extend the frontiers of knowledge in an effort to improve human welfare.

As critical as advances in science and technology are, Gates does well to remind us of the power that governments have and thereby, points to the importance of generating a political consensus:
 

“Governments have a big role to play in sparking new advances, as they have for other scientific research. U.S. government funding was behind breakthrough cancer treatments and the moon landing. If you’re reading this online, you have the government to thank for that too. Research paid for by the U.S. government helped create the Internet.”

Media (R)evolutions: Convergence around mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Globally, all regions of the world are gaining access to the internet and mobile phones, with mobile phones driving a great deal of the gains. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 60% of individuals now have access to a mobile phone. Convergence around mobile phones is occurring in two simultaneous and reinforcing ways: mobile phones are superseding or preceding other communication methods as the technology of choice for individuals looking for greater interconnectedness, and they are also incorporating (rather than replacing) other mediums in the provision of content.

Mobile phones are cheap, easy to use, provide many benefits, and do not require much literacy or numeracy for basic use. They can be shared, prepaid, billed in prices per second, depending on the needs and abilities of the owner(s).  In Cameroon, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, more than four in five mobile phone owners have simple phones, not capable of browsing the internet.  

Mobile phones are also capable of providing a diversity of interactive activities. Mobile apps, text messaging, calling, and internet browsing are all possible from these small devices. In African countries, social networking, sending and receiving e-mails, instant messaging, and checking facts and definitions are the most common uses of the internet. The consumption of games, online newspapers, books, radio, and video also signals that rather than replacing these traditional mediums, the internet incorporates their digital versions.

Uses of internet, mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa

The things we do: Why thought suppression doesn’t work

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Don't Think sign, LondonA colleague of mine recently told me a story about a friend of hers with a very long beard who was asked one day, “How do you sleep with all that hair?”  The man, who had never given it much thought, shrugged at the question. However, he later confessed to my colleague that since the question was posed he was losing a lot of sleep.
 
This man has fallen into a common mental trap: once a thought occurs to you, it’s very difficult to suppress it, and trying to suppress it may make the thought stronger.
 
This mental trap has a long-running history in our social consciousness.  Leo Tolstoy once said he tried to play a game in which he would, “get into a corner and endeavor, but could not possibly manage, not to think of the white bear.”  This was later echoed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky who lamented that “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute. So how is it to be done?  There is no way it can be done…"
 
These observations would later inspire social psychologist Daniel Wegner, PhD at Harvard University. Wegner is considered to be the founding father of thought suppression research, and was inspired to look into thought suppression after reading Dostoyevsky's quote more than 25 years ago.

Quote of the week: Michael Buerk

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Michael Buerk, British Museum, London, 2012“As a superannuated war reporter myself I’m a little sniffy about celebs pratting around among the world’s victims. I hate it when feather-bedded thesps pay flying visits to the desperate to parade their bleeding hearts and trumpet their infantile ideas on what ‘must be done’.”


- Michael Buerk, on “infantile” celebrities who lecture the public on world issues. He wrote this statement in a Radio Times interview he conducted with former soap star turned war reporter Ross Kemp. Buerk is an English journalist and newsreader, whose reporting of the Ethiopian famine on 23 October 1984 inspired the Band Aid charity record and, subsequently, the Live Aid concert.  He later anchored the BBC Nine O'Clock News and BBC News at Ten throughout the 1990s and has hosted BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze since 1990.

Doing Problem Driven Work, great new guide for governance reformers and activists

Duncan Green's picture

One of the criticisms of the big picture discussion on governance that’s been going on in networks such as Doing Development Differently and Thinking and Working Politically is that it’s all very helicopter-ish. ‘What do I do differently on Monday morning?’, comes the frustrated cry of the practitioner. Now some really useful answers are starting to come onstream, and I’ll review a few of them.

First up is ‘Doing Problem Driven Work’, a paper by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock. It turns previous work on PDIA – ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’ – into a toolkit, aimed primarily at those involved in reforming governance from the inside, whether government reformers, or big bilateral and World Bank donors with access to the corridors of power. However, there are clear parallels with and lessons for the work of more ‘outsider’ NGOs and campaigners.

It starts by noting that while many reform projects have failed in the past, those that succeeded often involved a ‘problem focus’. Problems ‘force policymakers and would-be reformers to ask questions about the incumbent ways of doing things’ and ‘provide a rallying point for coordinating distributed agents who might otherwise clash in the change process’. ‘Good’ problems are urgent and can be easily addressed by those in the room. They often spring from crises or other ‘critical junctures’.

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