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Inside the black box of participatory democracy: leadership and inclusion in self-help groups: Guest Post by Miri Stryjan

This is the ninth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.

In developing countries a large fraction of public and financial services are provided by NGOs and mediated by community groups. These organizations are typically external rather than native to the communities where they operate and it is believed that increasing local ownership can improve legitimacy and sustainability of development programs. For this reason development organizations are increasingly turning to participatory decision-making practices. A notable example is the World Bank’s focus on ”Community Driven Development”-projects in the last decade (See Mansuri and Rao (2013) for a review). Previous studies that evaluate Community Driven Development projects point to several advantages of direct local participation compared to central decision making by an NGO or by representatives (see e.g. Olken (2010), Beath et al. (2012), Madajewicz et al. (2014)). Yet, so far we know very little about the relative benefits of different types of direct participation. For example: can we expect a secret ballot vote to be comparable to an open discussion in a village meeting?

The trillion dollar challenge

Abhishek Bhaskar's picture


According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), full implementation of countries’ submitted pledges for low-carbon development will require USD 13.5 trillion in investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies from 2015 to 2030.  That’s almost USD 1 trillion every year. This means all hands need to be on the deck if the global community is to address one of the biggest development challenges of our times.

Who in this household has the final say?

Markus Goldstein's picture
Who in the household has decision making power over various things (kids going to school, health seeking behavior of individual members) either alone or jointly with someone else in the household makes up a set of questions that often find their way into surveys (e.g. a version is included in most Demographic and Health Surveys).  An interesting new paper by Amber Peterman and coauthors takes a hard look at these questions and what they might, or might not, be telling us.    

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

How much does the gender gap really cost?

Rachel Coleman's picture

A new report entitled, “The Cost of the Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda” launched last week at a side-event of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) 42nd session calling for policymakers to prioritize closing the gender gap in agricultural productivity in Africa.  This report was jointly produced by the World Bank Africa Gender Innovation Lab, UN women and UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative to quantify the cost and specify the gain in closing the gender gap in agriculture.

This launch was positioned on the UN’s International Day of Rural Women – a day dedicated to recognizing that empowering rural women is key to achieving sustainable development. In Sub-Saharan Africa the reality is women form a large proportion of the agricultural labor force, yet gender-based inequalities in access to and control of productive and financial resources inhibit them from achieving the same level of agricultural productivity as men.  

The Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) has been working to generate evidence on how to close the gender gap in agricultural productivity through conducting rigorous impact evaluations. A 2014 GIL report entitled Levelling the Field identified areas to focus our attention in working to close the gap and offered promising policy solutions and emerging new ideas to test.   

The new report expands on  Levelling the Field, to illustrate why this gap matters, showing that closing the gap could result in gross gains to GDP of $100 million in Malawi, $105 million in Tanzania and $67 million in Uganda—along with other positive development outcomes such as reduced poverty, and greater food security.

Doing development differently: what does it mean in the roads sector?

David Booth's picture

There is no sign that the revival of interest in adaptive and entrepreneurial approaches to development work is going tail off soon.

That’s why the demand is growing for indications of how the broad principles, as summarised in the Doing Development Differently Manifesto, apply to the various sectors where interested practitioners are found.
Fred Golooba-Mutebi and I have just published an ODI working paper that begins to fill that gap for one particular economic infrastructure sector, road construction and maintenance. The country is Uganda. The purpose of the study was to revisit a 2009 paper on the political economy of reform in the sector, which was followed by the launching of a DFID-funded programme called CrossRoads.

Women traders in Africa’s Great Lakes

Cecile Fruman's picture

On the northern tip of Lake Kivu, where eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) meets Rwanda, the pedestrian border crossing connecting the lush town of Gisenyi, Rwanda and the frenetic city of Goma in the DRC is called ‘’Petite Barrière’’. The name is misleading: the ‘’barrière’’ is in fact large and crowded, and features one of the highest daily flows of traders in Africa; between 20,000 and 30,000 traders cross it every day. For them, as for many others in the region, cross-border trade is a critical source of income.

Can we shift waste to value through 3D printing in Tanzania?

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
A waste collection site in Dar es Salaam, 
Tanzania. Photo: Cecilia Paradi-Guilford
Plastic waste, in particular PET, which is typically found in soda bottles, is becoming abundant in African cities. In Dar es Salaam, one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities in Africa, BORDA found that about 400 tons of plastic waste per day remains uncollected or unrecycled.  Although about 98 percent of the solid waste generated per day can be recycled or composted, 90 percent is disposed in dumpsites.
At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. There are a few organizations that repurpose waste into arts and crafts, tools or apply it as a source of energy – such as WasteDar. However, the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.
Socially and environmentally, waste management is one of the biggest challenges for an increasingly urbanized world. Waste pickers can earn as little as US$1-2 a day in dangerous conditions with little opportunity for advancement. They make up some of the most disadvantaged communities living in deep poverty.

Through a new market for sorted waste materials, these communities may access higher income generation opportunities in a sustainable manner. This presents an opportunity to explore turning this waste into value more close to home.

The road not shared: Turning to the arts to help increase pedestrian safety

Patrick Kabanda's picture

The Creative Wealth of Nations is a series of blogs related to Patrick Kabanda's forthcoming book on the performing arts in development.

It was a scene I still can’t forget.
A few years ago on a busy Kampala intersection, cars zoomed by while pedestrians braced themselves to cross a road. They lurched back and forth, like a fence being blown hither and tither by heavy winds. In frustration, a voice of a woman with a baby tucked on her back cried out: senga no wabawo atusasira. “I wish someone would be kind to us.”

Are citizen-led assessments raising learning levels?

Marguerite Clarke's picture

Citizen-led assessments (CLAs) emerged in India in 2005 as a way to raise awareness and advocacy around low learning levels, and to act as a force for bottom-up accountability and action that would improve education quality and learning. Thousands of volunteers traveled to rural districts and administered simple reading and math tests to the children in households they visited. The dismal results, published in the 2005 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), helped stimulate debate and prioritize learning in national policy.