These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.
Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
2016 continues to witness a growing incidence of violent conflict around the world. These conflicts are particularly problematic in the group of 60 countries often referred to as Fragile States. Donor agencies pour billions of dollars annually, through policy advice and conditional loans to alleviate fragility and promote development. For the citizens living in these countries, change cannot come soon enough.
Development, however it is defined, involves economic, social and political transformation. Such a transformation is shaped by ideas, engages multiple interests, and proceeds within rules and norms set by political institutions. Since the structure of political institutions is influenced by human agency, leadership becomes an important factor in determining development trajectories. It is clear that leadership is crucial particularly in fragile states, where institutions are weak or have been destroyed by conflict. Leadership as an institution is paramount because it provides a transitioning society with the means to solve problems, make decisions, and craft policies. Leaders can help shape institutions that reduce uncertainty.
There is widespread agreement in the international community and among researchers that institutions matter for stable and secure states, economic growth, political democracy and inclusive social development. Policy makers and international financial institutions have been insisting on the adoption of ‘appropriate’ political, economic and social institutions in the belief that these would promote economic growth, accountability and responsiveness through good economic governance and political democracy. It takes effective leadership to achieve this.
In a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.
Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?
When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.
The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.
If you search on Amazon.com for the term ‘leadership’, 247,409 results turn up. James MacGregor Burns, the eminent American historian, political scientist, and authority on leadership studies once famously remarked, “Leadership is the most observed, yet least understood phenomenon on earth.” It is clear that leadership has the potential to build or destroy society and its institutions – we have seen this time and again over the course of history. And yet, when it comes to development, we tend to treat leadership as this soft and fuzzy part that often has to do with people, mindsets, and complex relationships – and hence is uncomfortable for many professionals. As I noted in my last post, when faced with uncertainty or lack of clarity, human beings tend to think reflexively and gravitate to the subject matter that they are most comfortable with. As a result, in the development context, we tend to address challenges through technical solutions instead of taking on the more complex people related issues, and end up with less than satisfactory results. Addressing these issues requires leadership.
Though there is general agreement that leadership plays an important role – there is still a healthy debate on what type of leadership interventions are needed and how to nurture such approaches. With the intention of enhancing the know-how around practical approaches to finding sustainable, inclusive solutions to complex development problems, the Global Partnership on Collaborative Leadership for Development convened the 2016 Global Leadership Forum from June 1-3, which brought together more than 300 development practitioners, leadership and change management experts, government clients, civil society organizations and academia. The premise was that along with technical knowledge and finance, leadership and coalition building are important ingredients in the generation of inclusive development solutions and thus play an important role in accelerating progress towards the achievement of results.
A brilliant analysis by Michael Jacobs of the success factors behind last year’s Paris Climate Agreement appeared in Juncture, IPPR’s quarterly journal recently. Jacobs unpacks the role of civil society (broadly defined) and political leadership. Alas, it’s over 4,000 words long, so as a service to my attention deficit colleagues in aid and development, here’s an abbreviated version (about a third the length, but if you have time, do please read the original).
The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement. It was also a remarkable display of the political power of civil society.
Following the failed Copenhagen conference in 2009, an informal global coalition of NGOs, businesses, academics and others came together to define an acceptable outcome to the Paris conference and then applied huge pressure on governments to agree to it. Civil society effectively identified the landing ground for the agreement, then encircled and squeezed the world’s governments until, by the end of the Paris conference, they were standing on it. Four key forces made up this effective alliance.
The scientific community: Five years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was in trouble. Relentless attacks from climate sceptics and a number of apparent scandals – the ‘climategate’ emails, dodgy data on melting Himalayan glaciers, allegations surrounding its chairman – had undermined its credibility. But the scientists fought back, subjecting their work to even more rigorous peer-review and hiring professional communications expertise for the first time. The result was the IPCC’s landmark Fifth Assessment Report, which contained two powerful central insights.
First, the IPCC report introduced the concept of a ‘carbon budget’: the total amount of carbon dioxide the earth’s atmosphere can absorb before the 2°C temperature goal is breached. At present emission rates, that would be used up in less than 30 years. So cutting emissions cannot wait.
The other insight was that these emissions have to be reduced until they reach zero. The IPCC’s models are clear: the physics of global warming means that to halt the world’s temperature rise, the world will have to stop producing greenhouse gas emissions altogether.
The economic community: But it was a second set of forces that really changed the argument. Since the financial crash in 2008–2009, cutting emissions had fallen down the priority lists of the world’s finance ministries. The old orthodoxy that environmental policy was an unaffordable cost to the economy reasserted itself. A new argument was required.
How can professionals looking to lead reform initiatives find the best way forward?
They can start at the World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May from 23- June 3, 2016.
The course is designed for leaders, strategists and advisors who want to strengthen the critical competencies necessary to support change agents and reform initiatives in developing countries.
If this sounds like you, but you need a little nudge, check out these 10 reasons why attending the Summer Institute is a good decision.
Instituting reforms can be tricky business. The push and pull of politics, the power of vested interests, varying degrees of institutional capacity for implementation, and contrary public opinion can all make the success of a reform agenda tenuous.
So how can leaders and strategists increase the likelihood they will be successful at achieving sustainable reforms? The 2016 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics; and communication, when done right, may be the key to converting reform objectives into achievements.
During the 10-day program, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May 23- June 3, 2016, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation. Participants will develop the skills required to bring about real change, leading to development results.
The global community faces an epic governance and accountability challenge: the big banks that we all use either directly or indirectly are out of control and nobody seems to know what to do about them. As we mark the fifth anniversary of the global financial crisis this month, it appears as if every new week brings news of a fresh banking scandal. The recent list:
Alex Knapp wrote a blog on Forbes earlier this month on how James T. Kirk of Star Trek embodied good leadership lessons. This got me wondering whether there was anything we could learn differently about leadership from Kathryn Janeway (fans of Star Trek will recall she was the captain of the USS Voyager).
So with a nod to Knapp and a bit of tongue in cheek, here’s my take on the five lessons of leadership from Jim and Kathryn:
Yesterday CommGAP started on a new endeavor: Yesterday we kicked off our Executive Course in Communication and Governance Reform. Over ten days we're working with our partners to build capacity in communication for governance in Africa and the Middle East. The goal is to enable senior communication experts to support governance reform in their home countries.
Together with our partners from the World Bank Institute, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania we have worked for more than a year to put together a cutting-edge program. In the first three days, we link communication and governance and talk about coalition building and political economy analysis. In seven days dedicated to communication our faculty will discuss strategic communication and how to utilize it for governance reform, media metrics and media research, social media, and organizational change.