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September 2017

Book review- The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success by Naomi Hossain

Duncan Green's picture

Over the summer I read a few absolutely brilliant books – hence the spate of book reviews. This week I will cover two new studies on development’s biggest recent success stories – China, but first Bangladesh.

How did Bangladesh go from being a ‘basket case’ (though ‘not necessarily our basket case’ – Henry Kissinger, 1971) to a development success story, claimed by numerous would-be fathers (aid donors, NGOs, feminists, microfinanciers, low cost solution finders)? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Naomi Hossain.

The success is undeniable. Per capita income is up to $2780 from $890 in 1991 (PPP terms). Today, that economic progess is built on 3 pillars: garments (80% of exports, 3m largely female jobs), migration (remittances = 7-10% GDP, about 9m workers overseas, mainly men) and microfinance (which has been used by about half of all households).

But perhaps even more interesting, social progress has outstripped economic growth. Infant mortality down from 258/1,000 in 1961 to 47 in 2011; women were having 7 kids in 1961 and are now having 2. In Hossain’s words (she writes well) ‘Bangladesh is the smiling, more often than not sweetly female, face of global capitalist development. Better yet – she often wears a headscarf as she goes about enjoying her new economic and political freedoms, signalling that moderate Islam can couple with global capitalism.’ (And yes, she does acknowledge that there is still a lot of hunger and deprivation).

The ‘how’ of Bangladesh’s transformation is reasonably well known. What interests Hossain is the ‘why’. It certainly isn’t down to good governance – ‘it has never been obvious why an elite known best for corruption and violent winner-takes-all politics should have committed its country to a progressive, inclusive development pathway.’

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 
The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data
The Economist
A NEW commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era. These titans—Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft—look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year. Such dominance has prompted calls for the tech giants to be broken up, as Standard Oil was in the early 20th century. This newspaper has argued against such drastic action in the past. Size alone is not a crime.
 
Pathways for Peace : Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflicts
World Bank/United Nations
The resurgence of violent conflict in recent years has caused immense human suffering, at enormous social and economic cost. Violent conflicts today have become complex and protracted, involving more non-state groups and regional and international actors, often linked to global challenges from climate change to transnational organized crime. It is increasingly recognized as an obstacle to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This has given impetus for policy makers at all levels – from local to global – to focus on preventing violent conflict more effectively. Grounded in a shared commitment to this agenda, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict is a joint United Nations and World Bank study that looks at how development processes can better interact with diplomacy and mediation, security and other tools to prevent conflict from becoming violent.

Campaign Art: Become a citizen of the Trash Isles

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

Many of us have seen the iconic photograph of a seahorse latched onto a cotton swab. It’s just one example of how prevalent plastic debris is in the ocean.

Every year, hundreds of tons of plastic trash enters the ocean, splintering into smaller and smaller pieces that are often eaten by marine animals and birds. The plastic trash is everywhere It’s in sediments at the bottom of the ocean, it floats at the surface, is washed up on remote islands, and is even frozen inside Arctic iceSome estimates say that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Now, there’s a gigantic mass of plastic waste the size of France floating in the Pacific Ocean. To call attention to it, the environmental charity Plastic Oceans Foundation paired up with news and entertainment publication LADBible and TV presenter Ross Kemp to campaign to have the giant mass of trash officially recognized by the UN as a country with its own citizens, currency, flag, passport and stamps.

LADBible has called this emerging nation The Trash Isles.

Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007, is now the nation's first honorary citizen, and the Isles submitted an application to the United Nations to be recognized as the world’s 196th country.

The campaign also has a call to action, issued as The Trash Isles Manifesto:
  • Develop biodegradable materials
  • Introduce the carbon tax
  • Create laws to increase recycling

You can join the more than 100,000 people who have already signed the petition to be granted citizenship become a Trash Isles citizen.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Researchers identify opportunities to improve quality, reduce cost of global food assistance delivery
MIT
Food assistance delivered to the right people at the right time and in the right place can save lives. In 2016 alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) delivered over 1.7 million metric tons of food assistance to over 30 million people in 50 countries around the world. However, USAID estimates that over $10 million of that food never made it to the plates of people in need due to spoilage and infestation. Proper food assistance packaging can be a major contributing factor toward preventing spoilage and infestation. The right kind of packaging can also reduce the need for costly fumigation — which also has the potential to harm human and environmental health if misapplied — and diversify the types of commodities that can be shipped to communities in need, improving recipient satisfaction and nutrition. MIT researchers have just released a new report detailing an experimental study examining how different packaging approaches and technologies can reduce cost and improve quality of food assistance procured in the United States and shipped abroad.
 
An ad-supported internet isn’t going to be sustainable in emerging markets
Quartz
Can you imagine an internet without advertisements? It’s difficult. Since the web’s genesis, advertising has been the reigning business model. The vast majority of online content and services — from entertainment and journalism to search engines and email — are supported by banners, displays, and leaderboards. Today, two of the world’s largest companies—Google and Facebook—earn the bulk of their revenue through advertising. Put simply: The phrase “ad-supported internet” can seem redundant. But as the internet expands into emerging economies like Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda, this may no longer be the case. As billions more digital citizens connect this decade, a critical question arises: Does the internet’s current business model work in newly-connected regions?

Bringing technology to the doorsteps of India’s smallholder farmers for climate resilience

Priti Kumar's picture

Photo by Nitish Kumar Singh“I walk through three farm plots of my fellow farmers every day to examine the crop growth and occurrences of pest attacks or crop failure. I send photo alerts via my smart phone to Cropin, which sends an advisory within a few minutes to remedy the problem, said Pratima Devi, a climate smart village resource professional in Manichak village in the Barachatti block of Gaya district in Bihar, India.
 
Cropin Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a private software and mobile apps company, has developed digital applications to advise farmers on ways to achieve optimal harvests, depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators. In less than a month, Pratima Devi completes a visit to all the farm plots in her village that are registered to get agro-advisories. “Women farmers appreciate my efforts and have started trusting my advice because they see a positive difference on their farms,” she adds.

Ramchandra Prasad Verma has the status of a master trainer of climate-smart village resource professionals in the same Barachatti block. He succinctly explains how data on weather parameters, such as rainfall, temperature and humidity, provided by the Automatic Weather Station (AWS), which was installed by another private Indian company, Skymet, helps farmers make smarter decisions in the village. “When the AWS shows temperatures of 35-40 degree Centigrade, farmers will wait for cooler temperatures before transplanting paddy mat nurseries into the field. Otherwise, there is a fear of losing crops in high temperatures”, said Verma. Earlier farmers relied on traditional wisdom alone, but now digital information can help them make faster and better decisions on the times of sowing and harvesting.

When Verma was a village resource professional, he had raised the maximum number of alerts in Bihar and received many advisories from Cropin on sowing, soil health, seed treatment, and weather forecasts that benefitted farmers. Over time, he developed skills to interpret technical advisories, train farmers to apply information on their fields, and interact with Cropin and Skymet professionals, which earned him the status of a master trainer.

Developing resilience in agriculture to regular weather shocks in the short-term and to climate change in the medium- to long-term is one of the biggest challenges facing Indian farmers today. Large-scale pilots are being implemented in four districts of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to test the effectiveness of digital apps to generate climate resilient solutions for farming needs. This was made possible through a public-private partnership between the State Rural Livelihood Missions in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh with  Cropin Technology and Skymet. These pioneering digital tools are being developed and utilized as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC) Project associated with  the Government of India’s National Rural Livelihoods Project (NRLP).

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Fast-forward progress: Leveraging tech to achieve the global goals
ITU
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted in 2015 invite global action by 2030 in three overarching areas: end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality. Today we see ICT as a powerful enabler for each of the 17 goals, and an essential catalyst in driving rapid transformation of nearly every aspect of our lives.
 
The Commitment to Development Index 2017
Center for Global Development
The Commitment to Development Index ranks 27 of the world's richest countries on policies that affect more than five billion people living in poorer nations. Because development is about more than foreign aid, the Index covers seven distinct policy areas: Aid, Finance, Technology, Environment, Trade, Security, Migration. Why does Commitment to Development matter? In our integrated world, decisions made by rich countries about their own policies and behaviour have repercussions for people in developing nations. At the same time, greater prosperity and security in poorer countries benefit the whole world. They create new economic opportunities, increase innovation, and help reduce risks posed by public health, security, and economic crises. The Commitment to Development Index (CDI) celebrates countries whose policies benefit not only themselves, but also the development of others, and promote our common good.