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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.

Why democracy can’t be democratic all the way down – and why it matters
Washington Post
Recent debates over the meaning of “one person, one vote” and the lessons of ancient Greek democracy for the modern world highlight an important truth about democracy: it can’t be democratic all the way down. Lincoln famously said that democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But before “the people” can govern anything, someone has to decide who counts as a member of the people, what powers they have, and what rules they will vote under. And that someone usually turns out to be a small group of elites. Just as the world can’t be held up by “turtles all the way down,” so a political system can’t be democratic all the way down.
 
U.N. Marks Humanitarian Day Battling Its Worst Refugee Crisis
Inter Press Service
The United Nations is commemorating World Humanitarian Day with “inspiring” human interest stories of survival – even as the world body describes the current refugee crisis as the worst for almost a quarter of a century.  The campaign, mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is expected to flood social media feeds with stories of both resilience and hope from around the world, along with a musical concert in New York.  “It’s true we live in a moment in history where there’s never been a greater need for humanitarian aid since the United Nations was founded,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.  “And every day, I talk about people and I use numbers, and the numbers are numbing, right — 10,000, 50,000,” he laments.  But as U.N. statistics go, the numbers are even more alarming than meets the eye: more than 4.0 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (not including the hundreds who are dying in mid-ocean every week as they try to reach Europe and escape the horrors of war at home).
 

The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development: important new book

Duncan Green's picture

The results/value for money steamroller grinds on, with aid donors demanding more attention to measurement of impact. At first sight that’s a good thing – who could be against achieving results and knowing whether you’ve achieved them, right? Step forward Ros Eyben, Chris Roche, Irene Guijt and Cathy Shutt, who take a more sceptical look in a new book, The Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development, with a rather Delphic subtitle – ‘playing the game to change the rules?’

Politics of Results and Evidence in International Development book coverThe book develops the themes of the ‘Big Push Forward’ conference in April 2014, and the topics covered in one of the best debates ever on this blog – Ros and Chris in the sceptics corner took on two gung-ho DFID bigwigs, Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon.

The critics’ view is suggested by an opening poem, Counting Guts, by P Lalitha Kumari after she attended a meeting about results in Bangalore, which includes the line ‘We need to break free of the python grip of mechanical measures.’

The book has chapters from assorted aid workers about the many negative practical and political consequences of implementing the results agenda, including one particularly harrowing account from a Palestinian Disabled People’s Organization that ‘became a stranger in our own project’ due to the demands of donors (the author’s skype presentation was the highlight of the conference).

But what’s interesting is how the authors, and the book, have moved on from initial rejection to positive engagement. Maybe a snappier title would have been ‘Dancing with Pythons’. Irene Guijt’s concluding chapter sets out their thinking on "how those seeking to create or maintain space for transformational development can use the results and evidence agenda to better advantage, while minimising problematic consequences". Here’s how she summarizes the state of the debate:

"No one disputes the need to seek evidence and understand results. Everyone wants to see clear signs of less poverty, less inequity, less conflict and more sustainability, to understand what has made this possible. Development organizations increasingly seek to understand better what works for who and why – or why not. However, disputes arise around the power dynamics that determine who decides what gets measured, how and and why. The cases in this book bear witness to the experiences of development practitioners who have felt frustrated by the results and evidence protocols and practices that have constrained their ability to pursue transformational development. Such development seeks to change power relations and structures that create and reproduce inequality, injustice and the non-fulfillment of human rights.
 

Why is there no ‘Fundraisers Without Borders’? Big missing piece in development.

Duncan Green's picture

There are statisticians and musicians without borders- even clowns and elephants without borders. So why not "Fundraisers without Borders"? Duncan Green on how civil society organizations might benefit from an organization that could raise funds across borders and why better resource mobilization at the local level may be more important.

keep calm and fundraiseThere are an extraordinary number of ‘without borders’ organizations (see here, or an even longer list here) – every possible activity is catered for, from chemists to clowns (and that’s just the c’s). But one seems to be missing, and it may well be the most useful – why is there no ‘fundraisers without borders’?

Mike Edwards argues that ‘we should focus as much attention as possible on strengthening the financial independence of voluntary associations, since dependence on government contracts, foundations or foreign aid is the Achilles’ heel of authentic civic action.’

That is true both because no-one in their right mind would prefer national organizations to be aid dependent, when they could raise funds from their own societies, but also because many of the increasing attacks on ‘civil society space’ are justified by governments on the grounds that CSOs are pawns of foreign funders.

It would be unrealistic (and probably disastrous) to just try and export today’s northern fundraising techniques to CSOs in developing countries. Like everything else, fundraising is highly context specific both in terms of culture and history, so helping people identify what works locally and encouraging south-south exchanges of ideas might be better. One such example is Zakat, which has massive potential in any country with a significant Muslim population. Fundraisers without Borders could help by collecting and publicising Zakat-compatible fundraising drives from around the world.
 

Will there be policy coherence between the FfD Action Agenda and the Post 2015 Development Agenda on migration, remittances and diaspora?

Sonia Plaza's picture

I attended the FfD Conference where the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) was adopted.  Migration and remittances were positively included in the outcome document. However, it will be important to ensure policy coherence and alignment on what have been adopted in Addis and what will be adopted in the SDGs. 

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.

How the pace of technological progress is redrawing the political map
PhysOrg
From power stations to factories, thermostats to smartphones, information to entertainment, the world is driven—and controlled—by digital technology. So it's no surprise that political and economic success, for businesses and nations, depends on how current they are with advances in technology. That's why Bhaskar Chakravorti and colleagues at the Fletcher School have created the Digital Evolution Index, a first-of-its-kind map of how, where and at what speed the use of digital technologies is spreading across the globe.

Global MPI 2015: Key findings
Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative
The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) provides a range of resources. The Global MPI was updated in June 2015 and now covers 101 countries in total, which are home to 75 per cent of the world’s population, or 5.2 billion people. Of this proportion, 30 per cent of people (1.6 billion) are identified as multidimensionally poor. In June 2015, our analysis of global multidimensional poverty span a number of topics, such as destitution, regional and sub-national variations in poverty, the composition of poverty.

How can big aid organizations become Fit for the Future? Summary of my new paper

Duncan Green's picture

My navel-gazing paper on the future of INGOs and other big aid beasts came out last week. Here’s a summary I wrote for the Guardian. Thanks to all those who fed in on earlier drafts. Oxfam’s Deputy CEO Penny Lawrence gives a semi-official response.

UK International Search and Rescue teamA miasma of existential doubt seems to hang over large chunks of the aid industry, even here in the UK, where I’ve argued before that a combination of government, NGOs, think tanks, academics, media, public opinion and history constitutes a particularly productive and resilient ‘development cluster’. The doubts materialize in serial bouts of navel-gazing, worrying away about our ‘value add’ and future role (if any).

So when asked to add to the growing pile of blue sky reports, I decided to approach the topic from a different angle: what does all the stuff I’ve been reading and writing about systems thinking, complexity, power and politics mean for how international NGOs and other big aid beasts function in the future?

The result, published this month by Oxfam, is a discussion paper, Fit For the Future? But if you can’t face its 20 pages, here are some highlights:

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.

In international aid, people should be seen as consumers not 'beneficiaries'
The Guardian
A poor widow in rural Bangladesh can choose from many competing mobile phone operators, weighing the best rates and customer service in order to reach her decision. Why should she not also have the right to choose, or at least be informed about, which NGO builds her flood-resistant home and be given the right to seek redress if it is washed away next flood season.  For the billions of the poorest people around the world who rely on philanthropic aid to meet even basic needs, as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But why shouldn’t philanthropic programmes abide by the same consumer rights rules expected of a traditional business selling soap or toothpaste? Both are delivering products or services to people, be they wealthy or impoverished: the only major difference is who is paying for it.

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone
Foreign Policy
Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of Foreign Policy to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.  There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent Foreign Policy piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.
 

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.
 

Watchdogs Under Watch: Media in the Age of Cyber Surveillance
Center for International Media Assistance
The report looks at the implications that electronic surveillance–of e-mail communications, telephone calls, visits to websites, online shopping, and even the physical whereabouts of individuals–presents for privacy and for freedom of expression and association on the one hand and for national security and law enforcement on the other. Striking the right balance between these fundamental human rights and the need for governments to protect their citizens poses a daunting challenge for policy makers, civil society, news media, and, in the end, just about everybody.

Measuring what policymakers want from academics
Washington Post
An increasing number of unsupported, but plausible, claims assert a widening gap between the policy and academic communities in international relations. Certainly both IR scholars and IR practitioners perceive a growing gap between the academic and policy communities. But how would we know if there were an actual gap and whether it was growing or shrinking? Scholars have addressed this question by drawing upon personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Joe Nye and Steve Walt have argued that academic research is increasingly irrelevant and inaccessible to policy practitioners. Others, such as Peter Feaver and Mike Horowitz, offer a more qualified take but provide no systematic evidence. So we still need to do what Kate Weaver has suggested: “mind — and measure — the gap” between what scholars are researching and what policymakers are demanding.
 

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.

The surprising benefits of autocratic elections
Washington Post
After a bitterly contested election campaign and several controversial postponements, Muhammadu Buhari engineered an upset of Nigeria’s incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, the country’s first-ever case of electoral turnover. Legislative elections will follow on April 11, while two other African countries, Sudan and Togo, are also scheduled to hold elections over the next two weeks. Besides the coincidence in electoral timing, these countries share another surprising link—all three are generally recognized as autocracies. The marriage of autocracy with contested elections is, in fact, the norm nowadays. All but five autocracies have held a national election since 2000, with about three in four allowing multiparty competition. What makes these regimes autocratic is that the elections fail to meet democratic standards, typically with state power being used to favor the ruling party.
 
Cellphones for Women in Developing Nations Aid Ascent From Poverty
New York Times
Here is what life is like for a woman with no bank account in a developing country. She keeps her savings hidden — in pots, under mattresses, in fields. She constantly worries about thieves. She may even worry about her husband taking cash she has budgeted for their children’s needs. Sending money to a family member in another village is risky and can take days. Obtaining a loan in an emergency is often impossible. An unexpected expense can mean she has to pull a child out of school or sell a cow the family relies on for income. Or, worse, it can mean she must give birth at home without medical assistance because she doesn’t have the money for a ride to a clinic. In ways big and small, life without access to financial services is more difficult, expensive and dangerous. It constrains a woman’s ability to plan for her family’s future. At the community level, it traps households in cycles of poverty. More broadly, it limits the economic growth potential of developing countries.

What would persuade the aid business to ‘think and work politically’?

Duncan Green's picture

Women attend a community meeting in IndiaSome wonks from the ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) network discussed its influencing strategy last week.

There were some people with proper jobs there, who demanded Chatham House Rules, which happily means I don’t have to remember who said what (or credit anyone).

The discussion was interesting because it covered ground relevant to almost anyone trying to shift an internal consensus (in this case towards aid donors taking more account of politics, power, institutions etc in their work). Some highlights:

Who are your target groups? The ‘aid industry’ or ‘governments’ is far too wide. The best effort identified four: in the rich countries, professional advisers within donors and relevant academic networks; in the developing country, politicians and senior officials.

Within those target groups, there are ‘natural allies’, who entirely understand the importance of thinking in terms of locally specific politics, incentives, institutions etc rather than checklists of best practice. Interestingly, they may not be obvious – diplomats and foreign office types ‘get’ this much more easily than their more econo-technocratic aid ministry counterparts. Sectoral specialists in health and sanitation have done a lot of thinking on systems, but (reportedly) education and water engineers  less so.

The next question is ‘what persuades your targets?’ My bet would be that the most important factor is the messenger, not the message – if a senior politician hears about TWP thinking from their university professor, or a retired political heavyweight, they are far more likely to listen. So perhaps we should deliberately recruit a lot of ‘old men in a hurry’ – apologies for gender bias there, Mary Robinson and Graca Machel are great counterexamples – retired big cheeses keen to make a difference.


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