On Friday last week I attended the final session of the United Nations Open Working Group – the body tasked with putting together global development priorities to replace the Millennium Development Goals. The session covered rule of law, along with peace and governance.
Almost everyone has heard of the annual International Women’s Day, but have you heard of the Arab Women’s Day? Although I grew up in Syria, I had not heard of it. When I mentioned this day to my family and friends living throughout the MENA region, most them responded with a confused: “You mean Mother’s Day?”
Governments (and donors alike) don’t like dealing with informality. It’s messy, dirty, essentially unmeasurable, and its character varies dramatically. From one industry to the next. From one city to the next. It’s also beset with fiendishly difficult problems – informal firms are often household enterprises (employing mainly family labour, and not hired labour). Thus, they have to make impossible trade-offs between production and consumption.
And yet – the size and the importance of the informal sector in most countries shows no signs of abating. On average the informal share of employment ranges from 24 per cent in transition economies, to 50 per cent in Latin America and over 70 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, employment within the informal sector is growing, while that in the formal sector remains stagnant. Yet - very little is known about the relationship, whether symbiotic or competitive, between the two sectors.
In a new paper, I notice that in India formal firms tend to cluster with informal firms – especially in industries like apparel, furniture and meal-making. The firms coagglomerate not only so that they can buy from and sell to one another – but importantly, also because formal firms tend to share equipment with and transfer technical knowledge to their informal counterparts. Such technical and production spillovers are found in clusters of domestic-foreign, exporter-non-exporter and high-tech-low-tech firms. It is no surprise then that formal and informal activity could be complementary. Informal can also be an outlet for entrepreneurial activity, especially in places with high levels of corruption, or where formal firms are often mired in complex regulations.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
World Press Freedom Index 2014 Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE
Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater Global Integrity
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE
At Indaba Mining, the annual gathering Feb. 3-5 in Cape Town of leaders of Africa’s mining sector—from government, corporations and civil society—the words “sustainability” and “stakeholder outreach” were ubiquitous. This focus on sustainability issues reflects impressive progress made in recent years around how mining can contribute to shared value.
After visiting a government office, residents in Punjab may be surprised to find a familiar voice on the phone – their Chief Minister. “You have recently registered property,” the voice of Shahbaz Sharif booms, “Did you face any difficulties? Did you have to pay abribe?” (Hear the robo-call here!)
It is an uncomfortable question – but one that tackles a stubborn social issue in Pakistan. In a country of 180 million, a culture of bribery and pretty corruption plagues public service delivery.
According to figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "Countries will need an extra 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and 3.3 million by 2030". The 2013/4 Global Monitoring Report provides a useful discussion of the consequences of this deficit, as well as some strategies for overcoming it. There are, unfortunately, no 'quick fix' solutions here. We didn't get ourselves into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight either. While longer term efforts tackle this challenge in multiple ways over time, recruiting new teachers and upgrading the skills of others, it is probably also useful to ask:
How do you teach children in places where there are no teachers?
Many proposed answers to this include some consideration of the use of information and communication technologies. Some groups have offered that it may be most efficacious to simply introduce technologies that help enable students to teach themselves, bypassing teachers altogether. That is certainly one approach, but one with, to date, a rather checkered history of success in many instances (although not all), and one that is consistent with a worry that teacher union officials have expressed to me many times over the years: that many of their members fear that they are being, or will be, replaced by new technologies. Rhetoric from certain politicians (I'll refrain from adding a link or three here, but a few minutes with your favorite search engine should help you locate a number of them yourself) and projections from some ministry of finance officials (informed, one suspects, in some cases by data from the marketing departments of certain technology firms) do little to alleviate such concerns. In some cases, the introduction of new technologies undeniably *does* replace certain specific functions or roles that teachers currently perform, or have performed in the past (especially related to what are essentially clerical or administrative functions -- this replacement is presumably not always such a bad thing). In my experience, introducing new technologies in schools actually makes the role and function of teachers more central and critical, but that is perhaps a topic for another blog post.
Faced with severe, in some cases quite extreme, deficits of qualified teachers, especially in remote communities and in subjects like mathematics, science and foreign languages, many countries are in engaged in long term efforts to recruit and train more teachers and upgrade the skills and content masteries of 'low-skilled' teachers already in their system. They are exploring how ICTs can be leveraged to help in these efforts. Where there are pressing needs *now* for teachers that can not be met through conventional approaches or according to the traditional timelines dictated by the capacity and effectiveness of their teacher training institutes, there are looking to see how technologies can help reach students today in schools without qualified teachers -- or in some cases, without any teachers at all.
On February 4, the World Bank’s International Trade Unit hosted Phil Levy, a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who has been following both negotiations closely. Levy spoke with World Bank staff about the potential implications for developing countries as negotiations move forward in what he calls “bargaining among behemoths.”
At this point in the negotiations, one thing is clear: there are still more questions than answers.
I am pleased to be able to return to blogging in this space after a rather extended stint in the land of higher education administration, and am welcoming a re-immersion in matters related to using communication to help facilitate development efforts. One such matter on my mind following the administrative assignment is the relative lack of contact between academics that study development and practitioners who actually do development work.
The gap is widely noted anecdotally, and a recent study confirms the anecdotes. The Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication recently reported a study, conducted for BBC Media Action, on the reach and impact of Media Action’s work globally. One of their findings is that the world of practitioners underutilizes help that is available from academia: “…practitioners are less likely than other development stakeholders to consult academic research on the media…,” and “the policy community involved in funding media programs makes only moderate use of available research and evidence.” Of course, it goes both ways. Promotion up the academic ladder tends to reward theoretical inquiry regardless of real world impact. And, thus, much research tends to be more useful theoretically than practically. Furthermore, for reasons there isn’t time to review here, the considerable number of communication research graduate programs that include development studies has atrophied in recent decades.
And, wearing the hat of a development worker, I know that with “equality of opportunity” I can always reach the heart of even the toughest policymaker: who can argue with giving children a fair start in life?