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January 2016

Does it help to complain?

Jan Mattsson's picture

Masai in KenyaIt is a year since I blogged about my early impressions of the Inspection Panel and specifically a complaint from a Maasai community that was resettled to accommodate a geothermal plant in Kenya.

Since then I have heard variants of the question: Do accountability mechanisms make a difference?  In this case, I believe the Inspection Panel has made a positive contribution. But the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the Bank process, of which the Panel is only one part, must be the redress of any harm caused. Signs are encouraging, and we shall see.

We submitted our investigation report in early July. The Board meeting in October resulted in a clear direction for the future (see press release). This was followed by the Panel’s debriefing of the community and other stakeholders in Kenya. 

As we analyzed the facts it became clear the Bank had failed to bring to bear its rich experience with resettlement and the full force of its safeguard policies. This had negative repercussions for many of the project-affected people, especially the poor and vulnerable.

In a nutshell, the requirement to engage resettlement expertise was not met, consultations were hampered by the absence of Maa language and by sidelining the traditional Maasai authority structure, and there was no effective monitoring against a comprehensive socio-economic baseline. We also highlighted many positive aspects, including the climate-neutral generation of electricity and the investment in new infrastructure for schools and dwellings in the resettlement area.

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 Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond
World Economic Forum
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

Media, discussion and attitudes in fragile contexts
BBC Media Action
Drawing primarily on quantitative data from nationally representative surveys collected for BBC Media Action programming in Kenya and Nigeria, the paper develops and tests the hypothesis that balanced and inclusive media-induced discussion can be a positive force in mitigating attitudes associated with conflict. The results reveal a rich but complicated picture.  We find relatively consistent evidence in both countries that our discussion-oriented media programmes are strongly linked to private discussion among family, friends and others. Evidence from Kenya also suggests that exposure to debate-style programming is potentially linked to public political discussion, but that this relationship is likely to be mediated through other variables such as private political discussion. Finally, in both cases, both private and public discussion is strongly associated with individual attitudes towards conflict. However, the relationship is a complex one and bears further examination.

Apply Today! Summer Institute 2016 - Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Those working on reforms- whether they involve energy subsidies or education stipends- know that implementing change can be difficult.  Government ministries often disagree on policy, the private sector may resist changes to their operating environment, and the public may be wary of any policy that increases their financial or social burden.  So how can leaders and strategists increase the likelihood they will be successful at achieving sustainable reforms?
 
Communication is usually at the center of any successful reform initiative. It rallies technical experts, builds support within government and the private sector, and educates the public on the importance and meaning of a reform.  Indeed, successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics. 

The 2016 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment was developed with this in mind.  During this 10-day program, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May from 23- June 3, 2016, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation.

We encourage interested applicants to apply today- the first early registration discount ends this Friday, January 29, 2016.

World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute

Media (R)evolutions: Digital companies don't need to 'own' anything when they can share

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.

Traditionally, those with the largest empire or who controlled the most resources were considered to be the most powerful and successful. However, recent developments in digital technology have spawned a new breed of enterprise that dominates their respective industries without actually “owning” tangible assets.

The world's largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, doesn't own real estate. Alibaba, the world's leading e-commerce company, doesn't have any inventory. Facebook, the most popular media owner worldwide, doesn't create its own content. And Uber, the largest taxi company in the world, does not own any vehicles.

Nowhere is the sharing economy more disruptive than in rental/leasing services. This graphic, from PricewaterhouseCoopers in the UK, illustrates the expected growth of various rental sectors within the sharing economy.  These sectors are likely to grow much quicker than traditional rental sectors, and "the least developed sectors today, such as P2P finance and online staffing, could grow the quickest of all."

PWC Sharing Economy graphic

The Great Gatsby government discourse — carelessness and its consequences

Brian Levy's picture

This is a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post focuses on the importance of engaged democratic debate and the rhetorical traps that can derail political discussions.

morning dressI’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how we talk about government. So, spurred on in part by the truly appalling tone of discourse in the Republican Party’s nomination contest, I’ve decided to write a few United States-centric blog posts on the subject (though I’ll stay away entirely from chauvinistic slurs, or comments about ‘walls’ or ‘roads to serfdom’).

Somehow, in the area of governance, our usual ways of measuring (and honoring) human endeavor don’t seem to  apply. Ordinarily, working and playing in teams teaches us how to master the challenges of  co-operative, collective achievement — which can be way, way harder than striving alone. Governing is a quintessentially collective endeavor, especially in democracies.  Yet all too often  the discourse (and not only by nameless plutocrat presidential candidates…..)  is resonant  of   F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby:

“They were careless people…..  They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

In a series of complementary blog posts — on Washington’s Metro on Obamacare;, and on South Africa’s public sector — I explore some consequences of our carelessness in the way we speak about the public sector.  Here I focus on the underlying logic of the conversation. A good place to begin is with the analysis of institutions.

The great institutional economist, Douglass North, defined institutions formally as “humanly devised constraints which govern human interaction”. (‘Rules of the game’ is his classic, informal definition.) Another Nobel-prize-winning economist, Oliver Williamson, built on North’s definition. “Governance”, Williamson suggested, “is an effort to craft order, thereby to mitigate conflict and realize mutual gains”.   Crafting governance arrangements for the public sector is hard – much harder, Williamson emphasizes, than governing a private firm. Yet, somehow, seduced by high-sounding bromides, we  trivialize the challenge. We gloss over the complexities, imply that what is extraordinarily difficult should be straightforward, and end up fueling disappointment and despair. The result is the pervasive distrust of government evident across much of the industrialized world.

Do polls capture public opinion or manufacture it?

Jing Guo's picture

Proud Iraqi Women Vote in NasiriyahIn 2012, U.S. Gallup polls predicted that Mitt Romney would beat Obama in the presidential election with a slight edge in public support. More recently, in 2015, public opinion surveys in Turkey predicted only trivial gains in vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the country’s November general election.
 
In both cases, the polls missed the mark. President Obama blindsided Romney, winning a second term by five percentage points—a result even Romney’s own polling experts did not see coming. Turkey’s AKP won back its parliamentary majority with 49.5% of the vote and an unexpected 8.5% rise in public support, a rebound even the best polling companies in the country had barely foreseen.   
 
Inaccurate poll results are not rare nowadays. An increasing number of disproven poll predictions, particularly in the context of elections, fuels the growing scrutiny over political polls. Cliff Zukin, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Rutgers and past president of American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) said in his article for the New York Times, “election polling is in near crisis.”

Is polling facing some major challenges? And what are they?

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 Global Risks Report 2016
World Economic Forum
Now in its 11th edition, The Global Risks Report 2016 draws attention to ways that global risks could evolve and interact in the next decade. The Global Risks Report 2016 features perspectives from nearly 750 experts on the perceived impact and likelihood of 29 prevalent global risks over a 10-year timeframe. The risks are divided into five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological. The report also examines the interconnections among the risks, and through that analysis explores three areas where global risks have the greatest potential to impact society.

The Quest for Good Governance
Journal of Democracy
Once of interest mainly to specialists, the problem of explaining how institutions change is now a primary concern not only of economists, but of the international donor community as well. Many have come to believe that history’s main lesson in this regard is “politics first”—that political institutions are decisive in shaping economic institutions and, with them, the course of innovation and investment that leads to a developed society. Yet there has been much less discussion about the key institutional change needed to bring societies to the point where they are capable of controlling corruption and achieving good governance. This is the shift from patrimonialism to ethical universalism, a transformation that I first explored in these pages a decade ago and have further analyzed in my new book The Quest for Good Governance: How Societies Develop Control of Corruption. 

Cash as a response to humanitarian distress

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Men thrashing grain in IndiaIn the context of the subsidies regime in India, there is an ongoing debate on the suitability of cash transfers. With the much talked about JAM trinity – the Jan Dhan zero-balance bank accounts, Aadhar and mobile phones, it certainly appears that the state-sponsored welfare system is set to see a significant shift. While this shift may well fall short of being transformative, we could still expect an improvement in how benefits are delivered with reduced leakages to recipients. The use of the JAM model to extend the welfare net and to improve its efficiency implies a decisive move towards cash transfers, and therefore, one may be closer to settling the debate, at least in terms of favoured government policy.

But the argument in favour of cash is not new. I recently came across a 1986 United Nations University WIDER paper by Amartya Sen where he elegantly outlines five arguments in favour of direct distribution of cash in times of food crises. In this paper Food, Economics and Entitlements, Sen tackles this question in the context of a famine. First, Sen demonstrates how even in contexts where aggregate food output is plentiful, the ability of the poor to acquire this food is a whole different matter. Localised food shortages and famine-like situations can arise due to various reasons – at times when the prices of staples rise sharply, or when the prices of products the poor sell fall sharply. However, this isn’t obvious to policymakers as long as they view food sufficiency through the lens of per-capita food production alone.

When famines manifest themselves, there could be multiple policy response options. Sen talks of direct food distribution as the favoured method in those times. Three decades down the line, food relief continues to be popular in times of distress, even as direct cash transfers (as described above) are gaining ground as a favoured instrument of social welfare policy. Policy responses in these times is meant to enhance the ability of those affected, to ‘acquire’ more food. Both market-based solutions that begin with greater availability of cash, and direct distribution are potential paths to this end.
 

Campaign art: Sounds of life in the forest

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Satellites have been sending us all images of planet earth for decades. For many, photographs of earth at night are particularly enchanting as the cameras can detect natural and man-made light, showing everything from the night-time glow of the Sahara Desert to the light of a single village on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Through these photos, the bright lights of cities shine through the night sky, revealing where life is vibrant and populations are dense… and where it is not.  

However, a new video from POL, an agency in Oslo Norway, and the Rainforest Foundation reminds us how wrong that view is: It is not cities that house the most life, but forests.

Forests are widely known as the world’s largest source of biodiversity.  They are complex ecosystems that affect almost every species on the planet.  More than two thirds of the world's plant species and more than half of the world's animals are found in the tropical rainforests, according to California Institute of Technology. Furthermore, as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated in the 2014 State of the World’s Forests report, forests also contribute significantly to food security and energy production for millions of people.  

Together, the Rainforest Foundation and POL went to the Amazon to document life there in terms of sound. They made continuous night-time recordings that 'illuminate' and show the life in the rainforest.
 

Sounds of life


From method to market: Some thoughts on the responses to "Tomayto tomahto"

Humanity Journal's picture

In this final post, Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott respond to comments by Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven, Alex de Waal, and Holly Porter.

Paktika Youth Shura Our paper, Tomayto Tomahto, is in essence an exhortation and an ethical question. The exhortation: treat and unpack fragility research (for we limit our observations to research conducted for policy-making about fragile and conflict-affected places) as an institution of global governance, a set of complex social processes and knowledge practices that produce evidence as part of policy-making. The ethical question: all institutions contain struggles over the language and rules by which they allocate responsibility between individual actors (ethics) and structural factors (politics) for their effects—this might be law, democratic process, religious dictate. In light of the trends of saturation and professionalization that we identify (and as Jerven astutely points out in his response, a profound intensification of research), is it still sufficient to allocate responsibility for the effects of fragility research using the language and rules of method?

The five responses to our piece enthusiastically take up the exhortation. A series of positions are represented: the anthropologist (Porter), the applied development researcher (Denney and Domingo), the anthropologist/practitioner (DeWaal), the practitioner/sociologist (Woolcock), and the economist (Jerven). They unpack the profoundly socio-political nature of the relationship between research and policy from a number of different perspectives: Porter’s intimate view from the field, Jerven’s sympathetic ear in the statistics office, Woolcock and Denney and Domingo’s feel for the alchemic moments when research turns into policy at the global level, and de Waal’s distaste for the global laboratories in which those moments occur, preferring the local re-embedding of research. These all, of course, spatialize the research-policy nexus, just as we do; however, all then ask us to privilege one space over the others.

Quote of the Week: Jürgen Habermas

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Jurgen Habermas"Since the secularization of state authority, religion can no longer meet the requirement of legitimizing political rule. As a result, the burden of integrating citizens shifts from the level of social to the level of political integration, and this means: from religion to the fundamental norms of the constitutional state, which are rooted in a shared political culture. These constitutional norms, which secure the remainder of collective background consent, draw their persuasive power from the repeatedly renewed philosophical argumentation of the rational law tradition and political theory."

- Jürgen Habermas, a German sociologist and philosopher whose work focuses on the political domain and rationality. He is best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere.  Associated with the Frankfurt School, his work also focuses on the foundations of critical social theory, the analysis of advanced capitalistic societies and democracy, human freedom within modern society, the rule of law in a critical social-evolutionary context, and contemporary politics-- particularly German politics. 
 

Avoiding perversions of evidence-informed decision-making

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Emanuel Migo giving a presentation in Garantung village, Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.How to avoid “We saw the evidence and made a decision…and that decision was: since the evidence didn’t confirm our priors, to try to downplay the evidence”

Before we dig into that statement (based-on-a-true-story-involving-people-like-us), we start with a simpler, obvious one: many people are involved in evaluations. We use the word ‘involved’ rather broadly. Our central focus for this post is people who may block the honest presentation of evaluation results.

In any given evaluation, there are several groups of organizations and people with stake in an evaluation of a program or policy. Most obviously, there are researchers and implementers. There are also participants. And, for much of the global development ecosystem, there are funders of the program, who may be separate from the funders of the evaluation. Both of these may work through sub-contractors and consultants, bringing yet others on board.

Our contention is that not all of these actors are currently, explicitly acknowledged in the current transparency movement in social science evaluation, with implications for the later acceptance and use of the results. The current focus is often on a contract between researchers and evidence consumers as a sign that, in Ben Olken’s terms, researchers are not nefarious and power (statistically speaking) -hungry (2015). To achieve its objectives, the transparency movement requires more than committing to a core set of analyses ex ante (through pre-analysis or commitment to analysis plans) and study registration.

To make sure that research is conducted openly at all phases, transparency must include engaging all stakeholders — perhaps particularly those that can block the honest sharing of results. This is in line with, for example, EGAP’s third research principle on rights to review and publish results. We return to some ideas of how to encourage this at the end of the blog.

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.
 

Measuring the Information Society 2015
International Telecommunication Union
The Measuring the Information Society Report (MISR), which has been published annually since 2009, features key ICT data and benchmarking tools to measure the information society, including the ICT Development Index (IDI). The IDI 2015 captures the level of ICT developments in 167 economies worldwide and compares progress made since the year 2010. The MISR 2015 assesses IDI findings at the regional level and highlights countries that rank at the top of the IDI and those that have improved their position in the overall IDI rankings most dynamically since 2010. The report will feature a review and quantitative assessment of the global ITU goals and targets agreed upon at PP-14 and included in the Connect 2020 Agenda.

Prosperity Rising
Foreign Affairs
Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war—even with Syria and other conflicts—has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.  Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history.

Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Deliberation and Development book coverIf you’re interested in advancing sustainable development for the world’s poor, pause a moment to reflect on these two quotes:

“the very understanding of development has dramatically shifted, from a narrow focus on economic transformation (summarized by either growth rates or industrialization) to a more holistic view.” (pg. 4)

“Effective state structures have always depended on deliberative spaces that include both key actors within the state apparatus and powerful private interlocutors. In the 21st century, deliberation has become even more crucial, because the state faces a set of tasks that require bringing in deliberation in a way that goes well beyond established traditions.” (pg.51)

These ideas come from a new book, Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies, available in the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository. The book marries two fields that rarely intersect: deliberative democracy and development studies. The study of deliberation emerged as a critical area of study over the past two decades while the field of development has seen growing interest in community-led development and participation premised on the ability of groups to arrive at decisions and manage resources via a process of discussion and debate. Despite the growing interest in both fields, however, they have rarely engaged with one another– until now.

Patrick Heller and Vijayendra Rao edited the book, with essays from leading professors and economists working in the fields of international studies, sociology, and political science. 

Media (R)evolutions: Despite tremendous growth in mobile broadband, affordability remains an issue in least developed countries

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.

In recent years, as the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions surpassed 7.1 billion and mobile network population coverage approached close to 95%, growth in mobile subscriptions has greatly exceeded the growth in fixed connections, especially in developing countries. For many low-income groups, mobile devices are their only window to internet access.

The tremendous growth has not only contributed to greater access rates, but also to a fall in prices of mobile-cellular services around the world as providers seek to be competitive. Over the past year, the decrease in mobile-broadband prices worldwide made it, on average, 20 – 30% more affordable.  In least developed countries (LDCs), the mobile-cellular price basket continued to fall to 14% of GNI per capita by the end of 2014, compared with 29% in 2010.

Nevertheless, as the following graph from Measuring the Information Society Report 2015 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) illustrates, LDCs have a long way to go in order to achieve affordable mobile-broadband packages. The graph shows, the average prices for pre- and post-paid broadband connections on computers and mobile devices, as measured against monthly GNI per capita, in 2013 and 2014. 

Among the options, prepaid mobile-broadband is the most affordable. In this context, it will be important for broadband providers to offer more new services and packages for low-income groups, such as allowing users to buy data in small volumes.  

Mobile broadband prices

MOOC? Engaging citizens: A game changer for development?

Utpal Misra's picture

MOOC posterOften it is the simple things that make major impacts, and engaging citizens for better development results is a very simple concept. However, at a time when participatory approaches such as crowdsourcing, feedback, transparency and citizen engagement are increasingly popular and seemingly effective, we are bound to ask if engaging citizens does in fact improve development results.  As simple as the concept of citizen engagement is, designing and implementing successful citizen engagement approaches and interventions in practice is especially complex.

Is citizen engagement a game changer for development? The World Bank, in partnership with London School of Economics (LSE), Oversees Development Institute (ODI), Participedia and CIVICUS, explores this question in a free 5-week course on Citizen Engagement, hosted by the World Bank Group Open Learning Campus, envisioned as a single destination for development learning.  

The course provides a holistic overview of citizen engagement through interactive videos, resources, and activities. It explores underlying theories and concepts of citizen engagement, examines the role it can play in improving policymaking and public service delivery, and investigates the impact of new technologies, particularly in developing countries.

The things we do: The economic, social, and personal costs of optimism

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Construction worker for the Panama Canal expansion projectIt is now the second week of 2016 and many people are working (or struggling) to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. Whether they have decided to run a marathon, travel more, or save money, many people endeavor to create positive, new habits while shedding existing habits they think are less positive.  These resolutions, though, tend to last one or two months, fading into the backgrounds of their consciousness as spring arrives. 
 
It’s a typical combination of the planning fallacy, unrealistic optimism, and a bit of self-regulatory failure.
 
And this sort of challenge is not specific to New Year’s resolutions or even to issues pertaining to individuals.  City councils frequently draw up budgets that are too lean, road construction frequently lasts much longer than expected, and advances in technology often require much more investment than planners expect. So what’s at work here?  Why is it that people have a hard time judging the amount of time, energy, and resources that a project will take?

International organizations tip the scale towards integrity

Stephen Zimmermann's picture

Anti-corruption imageOver the last year, we have reached several noteworthy milestones in the global fight against corruption. In the arena of fighting corruption in international development, two important milestones stand out as having paved the way for significant progress and in setting us on a course for our continued success in reducing the impact of corruption on the poor.

It was ten years ago that the investigation into the UN’s Oil for Food corruption scandal came to an end. This was perhaps the biggest, most complex, corruption investigation to date involving an international organization. By virtue of its extraordinary status, the investigation was conducted under the leadership of an independent panel, including Paul Volcker (as Chair), Mark Pieth and Richard Goldstone, all of whom were and continue to be thought leaders for global integrity. The findings of the panel were sweeping and unflinching and, importantly, largely public.  An important consequence of the scandal and the ensuing investigation was in creating both the opportunity and a pressing mandate for international development agencies to take on corruption inside their own programs, and among their own staff.

As a result of this investigation, most UN agencies and other international financial institutions now have their own independent integrity office charged with rooting out fraud and corruption in their activities. While many are still small, under-resourced and looking for support from their leadership, individually and collectively they have the ability to make a difference. I am proud to say the World Bank Group has remained a leader in setting a high bar for integrity standards and in international development financing.  Within that framework, the 90 staff of the Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) dedicate themselves to investigating, sanctioning and ultimately preventing fraud and corruption in Bank Group-financed operations. 

The neglected universal force for peace and stability: LOVE?

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
2016 Summer Session students, Montgomery College

“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” – Albert Einstein
 
When I present lectures on sociological theories, I often see in my students’ bored facial expressions indicating a total lack of interest in the subject. But, when I move the lecture to issues related to education, social class, or global stratification, I can see a few faces turning into a full attention mode, but still not all the students are with me. However, there is one topic that will cause the entire class to lay down their e-devices and start to listen to every word: that is the topic of LOVE. Love strikes me as a neglected force that, once released, could bring about international stability and boost economic development.
 
Love emerges in my lectures for its role in interpersonal relations in socialization and development. I begin my lecture with a discussion about the role of family in social development and then move towards marriage and, more broadly, love. The topic family frequently triggers strong emotional reactions among students. As classroom discussions reveal many have experienced some family difficulty or problems. And then comes the topic of love: each time when I talk about love, I can see melting facial expressions in each of my students. The purpose of the lecture is not only focused on romantic teenage love based on hormones and erotic attraction. In the Bible, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 15:13 “The Greatest Social Worker Ever” says, “Greater love has no one than this – that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I always substantiate this quote with a compelling story about the Polish Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die by starvation in place of a stranger in the Nazis’ death camp of Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II declared him "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century." All of sudden, gender, complexion or ethnicity no longer matter. Neither does religion, age or sexual orientation. When I see students’ reaction to my lecture on love in everyday life, I get chills down my spine and goose bumps all over my body.
 
Watching the reactions of my students, I have become deeply convinced that love is not only a universal force for good, but one that also brings to the human heart hope and peace for a better tomorrow. When humans are in love, they can selflessly endure more- since love, like ray of hope, stimulates them to persevere. Hopefulness too, encourages us to explore, build, innovate and thrive, but it all starts with love. 
 

‘Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence’

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Not in God's Name book coverLiberal constitutionalists like me tend to dismiss religious fundamentalists of different stripes as a wild bunch better avoided than understood. The attitude also arises from intellectual confidence: that liberal constitutionalism solved the problem of religious differences by banishing religion to the private sphere, and by making the commitment required of citizens only one to a slender constitutional framework within which citizens of different persuasions can pursue their ideas of how life ought to be lived. Yet, in the world we live in today the untrammeled spread of hate and medieval violence in the name of a Deity is brain-freezing and, sadly, shows no sign of abating. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask: Why is this happening? What can be done about it?

I have just read a deeply wise and elegantly written contribution to the search for understanding. It is Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks is a British religious leader of global renown both for his teachings and his erudition. In what follows I discuss the core ideas in the book, at least the ones that spoke to me.

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.
 

Fourth most deadly year on record for journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
In 2015, 71 journalists were killed in direct relation to their work, making it the fourth deadliest year since the Committee to Protect Journalists began keeping records in 1992, the organization said today.  Thirty of the journalists killed, or 42 percent, died at the hands of extremist groups such as Islamic State. Those killings came as more than half of the 199 journalists imprisoned in 2015 were jailed on anti-state charges, showing how the press is caught between perpetrators of terrorism and governments purporting to fight terrorists.  CPJ reported in December that 69 journalists were killed around the world from January 1 through December 23, 2015.

What next for poor countries fighting to trade in an unfair world?
Guardian
The setting was a lakeside in Geneva and the cast was as international as it gets, but the Doha round of world trade talks was scripted straight out of EastEnders, the UK’s long-running television soap opera: an endless recycling of worn-out story lines, interminable plots, and theatrical moments of hope punctured by comically predictable tragic outcomes. In case you missed the episode last week, the main character was bumped off in the corridors of a Nairobi conference centre by European and American trade diplomats. Launched in 2001 and intended to deliver a bold new world trade order, the Doha talks have stumbled from one deadlock to another. Last weekend, the World Trade Organisation’s 164 members ended their ministerial meeting in Nairobi with a communique that “declined to reaffirm” the Doha round – trade-speak for a death certificate.

#1 from 2015: Cycling is everyone’s business

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on February 4, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for February 2015.

This post is also available in Français and Español.

“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.” 
- F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief

  
The rainbow jersey, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, or Vuelta a Espana—that’s what usually comes to mind when we think of cycling. However, elite cycling is only one small spoke of a much larger wheel.
 
By some estimates, there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it’s 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It’s known as the “City of Cyclists,” where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.
 
Due to the size of China’s population, and the need for bicycle transportation, statistics on the country’s bikeshare program are staggering. In a database maintained by Russell Neddin and Paul DeMaio, more than 400,000 bikeshare bikes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland, and the vast majority of those bikes have been in operation since 2012.  There are an estimated 822,000 bikeshare bikes in operation around the world. China, therefore, has more bikeshare bikes than all other countries combined. The country with the next-highest number of bikes is France, which has just 45,000.
 

Campaign Art: A secret message in the open

Davinia Levy's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Child abuse is a very serious and widespread problem globally. According to UNICEF, 6 in 10 children in the world are subject to physical punishment, and particularly, 4 out of 5 children are subjected to some kind of violent discipline at home.

In 2013, the Spanish ANAR Foundation (Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk) launched a campaign using street posters with lenticular printing. The posters included a secret message that could only be seen from a child’s eye level. The idea behind this genuine form of advertisement was to encourage abused children to reach for help by calling the number that was only displayed to them.

It is unclear how many posters actually reached the streets of Spain, or how many children ended up calling ANAR’s helpline after seeing the posters. Interestingly, what became a huge social media success was the video explaining how these posters worked.
 
"Only for Children"

The alchemy of relationships and the production of evidence

Humanity Journal's picture

This post is by Holly Porter, a visiting fellow at the Department of International Development of the London School for Economics and Political Science and lead researcher for northern Uganda for the Justice and Security Research Programme.  It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven, and Alex de Waal.

People eat at a restaurant in KampalaThe piece is a welcome provocation to discussion, even if ultimately I am left with the thought: there is a rather fundamental difference between tomatoes on a supply chain and the pursuit of understanding human experience. I show that here, intentionally choosing to write from a personal perspective, rather than in more academic prose.

Two main responses spring to mind in light of my own (anthropological) work:

1) Knowledge is not an “alienable” commodity.
2) The complexity of human relationships in the research process are not best captured with reference to market forces.


The piece raises an underlying question about the production of “knowledge:” is knowledge a kind of raw material –- is it an “alienable commodity”? The idea that data is a commodity implies that it is something; that it is a thing which exists independently and apart from the intentionality of human relationships. Perhaps some information is similar to a raw material that can be extracted in crude form but the kind of “knowledge” which interests me is born of shared experiences and long-term relationships. Knowledge appears to me less of a raw material to be processed and packed, and more the stuff of human interaction.

#2 from 2015: The things we do: Nudging people to give

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on April 7, 2015.
 

Man delivers gas cylinders in IndiaIn an appeal to civic duty, the Government of India is asking citizens to forgo a gas subsidy they receive so that gas cylinders can be transferred to the less fortunate. To encourage Indians to "Give It Up," the government called on business leaders to set an example and made the procedure extremely easy.

India recently launched an ambitious cash transfer program to help small businesses and households buy fuel.  Under the plan, consumers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly referred to as propane or butane, receive a cash subsidy in their bank accounts to buy gas cylinders at market price.

Once joining the scheme, the subsidy, which is equal to the difference between the current subsidized rate and the market price, is transferred to the consumer’s bank account when he/she orders a cylinder.  Another transfer is then provided at the time of delivery of the cylinder. 

Last November, the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme for LPG was rolled out across 54 districts, with the rest of the country participating by January 1 of this year. 

The scheme was launched by India’s previous UPA government in June 2013, but it was abruptly stopped earlier this year following court orders.  It has since been modified to exclude the requirement of providing a unique identification number (Aadhaar) to avail the cash subsidy.

The idea behind the direct benefit transfer is that it can ensure that the subsidy meant for the genuine domestic customer reaches them directly and is not diverted. The Government of India hoped to save millions each year by curbing diversions and leakages in the system but also to ensure efficient delivery of subsidies to the target beneficiaries— the consumers.

#3 from 2015: Have the MDGs affected developing country policies and spending? Findings of new 50 country study.

Duncan Green's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on August 20, 2015.

Portrait of childrenOne of the many baffling aspects of the post-2015/Sustainable Development Goal process is how little research there has been on the impact of their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. That may sound odd, given how often we hear ‘the MDGs are on/off track’ on poverty, health, education etc, but saying ‘the MDG for poverty reduction has been achieved five years ahead of schedule’ is not at all the same as saying ‘the MDGs caused that poverty reduction’ – a classic case of confusing correlation with causation.

So I gave heartfelt thanks when Columbia University’s Elham Seyedsayamdost got in touch after a previous whinge on this topic, and sent me her draft paper for UNDP which, as far as I know, is the first systematic attempt to look at the impact of the MDGs on national government policy. Here’s the abstract, with my commentary in brackets/italics. The full paper is here: MDG Assessment_ES, and Elham would welcome any feedback (es548[at]columbia[dot]edu):

"This study reviews post‐2005 national development strategies of fifty countries from diverse income groups, geographical locations, human development tiers, and ODA (official aid) levels to assess the extent to which national plans have tailored the Millennium Development Goals to their local contexts. Reviewing PRSPs and non‐PRSP national strategies, it presents a mixed picture." [so it’s about plans and policies, rather than what actually happened in terms of implementation, but it’s still way ahead of anything else I’ve seen]

"The encouraging finding is that thirty-two of the development plans under review have either adopted the MDGs as planning and monitoring tools or “localized” them in a meaningful way, using diverse adaptation strategies from changing the target date to setting additional goals, targets and indicators, all the way to integrating MDGs into subnational planning." [OK, so the MDGs have been reflected in national planning documents. That’s a start.]

Quote of the Week: Svetlana Alexievich

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Svetlana Alexievich“People always speak beautifully when they are in love or close to death.”

Svetlana Alexievich, an investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award.