What do stock trading and conflict early warning systems have in common? Interestingly, both rely heavily on mathematical patterns of recognition. According to Joseph Bock, Director of Graduate Studies at the Eck Institute of Global Health at the University of Notre Dame, scholars such as Phil Schrodt have been applying the mathematics of stock trading to detect and identify conflict before it happens. This pattern recognition is part of a process that enables local citizens, NGOs, and humanitarian workers to use cell phones, radio, and online forums to help detect and prevent religious, ethnic, and politically motivated violence. A few weeks ago, Prof. Bock came to the World Bank to talk about his new book, The Technology of Nonviolence, where he discussed the use of social media and other forms of technology to both detect and respond to outbreaks of deadly conflict.
Education is fine example of the strengths and weaknesses of judicial activism in India. The Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in 2009, arising out of constitutional amendment in 1999 that redefined the right to life as including education (!). Private schools challenged the act, especially its requirement that they reserve 25% of places for lower castes, but the Supreme Court upheld it.
To see what all this means on the ground, I duck out of my boring conference and head for Madanpur, a colony for slum dwellers ‘rehabilitated’ in 2000 – i.e. their previous homes were steamrollered and they were shunted to the margins of Delhi. Its current population of 145,000 earns income from construction, domestic work etc – almost entirely in the informal economy.
Oxfam India’s partner, the slightly ungrammatical EFRAH (Empowerment for Rehabilitation, Academic and Health) is an RTE activist NGO working with schools to implement the Act – part support, part watchdog (‘they like us, and they are afraid of us’). There is plenty to work on, as the gap between the Act and reality is great: it mandates school management committees with equal teacher/parent representation, but there are none to be seen in Madanpur.
On my recent trip to India, I discovered some talented bloggers – here’s Bipasha Majumder, Oxfam India’s Communications Officer in Mumbai, writing in a purely personal capacity on the Great Middle Class Debate. She also writes a personal blog.
I have had discussions and I have had heated discussions. Sometimes I have just let the question float in the air, sat back and observed what others had to say.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing is very clear. The great Indian rising middle class is just not bothered. They are largely happy and keen to contribute to the ‘growing’ economy. But when it comes to any kind of contribution to a cause, especially those related to poverty, there is a big wall of apathy around them.
One of the topics that kept coming up during my recent trip with Oxfam India was the role of the rising middle classes. We had a great debate with Aseem Prakash from Jindal University, who is in the middle of a paper on this (I’ll link when it’s published). According to Aseem, different definitions yield numbers for India’s middle classes ranging from 5 million ($10-$20 per day) to 214 million ($2-$4 a day). What’s not disputed, however, is that the numbers are rising rapidly as India’s economy continues to boom.
Behind the numbers are some increasingly complex dynamics, as a new commercial middle class, including rising numbers of so-called ‘lower caste’ entrepreneurs, joins the post-independence middle class of mainly dominant-caste government technocrats who placed their faith in the power of the state to lead India’s rise.
I spent last week trying to understand an intriguing experiment. About five years ago, Oxfam GB’s 'white men in shorts' left India, along with all the other Oxfam affiliates, and a new, completely Indian-run Oxfam India took over. All part of ‘Bricification’ within the Oxfam family (there’s an Oxfam Brazil in the pipeline too).
So what’s changed? After a period of reflection Oxfam India has opted for a strategy combining programming with increased levels of advocacy in areas such as smallholder agriculture & climate change, natural resource management, right to education and health, violence against women and women’s empowerment, along with a hefty dose of emergencies work and disaster risk reduction. Its two ‘emerging themes’ are urban poverty and ‘India and the World’ – for example the impact of Indian investment in Africa, or India’s role in the G20.
But it hasn’t been easy. The apparently unanswerable political logic of ‘Indianizing Oxfam’ has faced some pretty steep challenges, as I found out in a consultation with partners from Indian civil society. These come in two broad areas: political and financial.
“For the Indian media, it is unquestionably the best of times and it is also, unfortunately, the worst of times.”
--TN Ninan, chairman and editorial director of BSL group
“Given its size, India presents the greatest challenge to the view that diverse and often critical media will hold power to account.”
-- John Lloyd , FT contributing editor and director of journalism at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute
As quoted in the Financial Times, October 19, 2012. A week inside India's media boom, by John Lloyd
Got back from a fascinating week visiting Oxfam India last week, so the next few days’ post will be on India, sadly the world leader in poverty (by a long way). One of the areas that Oxfam is keen to develop there is its work on urban poverty, where it already works with migrant labourers, waste pickers, domestic workers, and on issues such as housing and access to identity papers. So I spent a couple of days visiting programmes and talking to partners in the slums of Delhi and Lucknow. (I prepped by reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers – wonderful book)
I know they’re grim to live in, but I have to confess to really enjoying visits to urban ‘informal settlements’, especially at dusk, with that particular sense of intimacy as cooking smells and firesmoke drift through the air and domestic workers, rickshaw pullers and street vendors return at the end of another hardscrabble day to grab an hour or two to socialize and relax.
But today, we’re encroaching on that precious leisure time, chatting to an animated group of slum leaders, mainly women, on the edge of Lucknow (see pic). Here, an Oxfam partner, the Vigyan Foundation, is promoting community organization to demand identity papers, water and sanitation, and access to health and education.
Last week I attended a seminar in Bangkok on ‘active citizenship’ in Asia, part of an ‘Asia Development Dialogue’ organized by Oxfam, Chulalongkorn University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. It brought together a diverse group of local mayors, human rights activists and academics, and discussed a series of case studies. Two in particular caught my eye.
In India, Samadhan, an internet-based platform for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements under national and state government schemes, is being piloted in two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The pilot is supported by the UN Millennium Campaign and implemented by the VSO India Trust. Here’s the blurb from the case study:
Unlike the 1984 movie “Blame it on Rio”, which attributed a bawdy affair between a middle-aged man (played by Michael Cain) and a teenager on the tropical vibes of the stunningly beautiful city, the recent hosting of the Rio +20 Conference served to showcase a different face of the Rio ambience -- its global environmental leadership role. The city not only maintains the world’s two largest urban forests, Pedra Branca and Tijuca (see photo), but has just completed a state of the art waste treatment center which will allow for a 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and are installing 300 kilometers of bicycle lanes. For the World Bank, the city has been the setting for the improbable significant improvement in relations between the Bank and environmental CSOs over the past 20 years.
When Rio hosted the original UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the Bank participated with a small staff delegation and its modest publications booth at the parallel NGO “Global Forum” held on Flamengo Beach was set on fire by environmental activists. They were protesting the Bank’s financing of the Narmada Dam project in India, which threatened to displace hundreds of thousands of small farmers without a fair and sustainable resettlement plan in place. Some were expressing disapproval of the Polonoroeste project funded by the Bank in Brazil where the paving of a highway linking two Amazonian state capitals led to widespread deforestation in the 1980s.
Over the last couple of years, the International Budget Partnership has published a set of fascinating case studies of campaigns on issues of government accountability, budget transparency and access to information. I finally sat down and read them all recently (the summer lull is a wonderful thing). What conclusions do they draw (see end of post for links to the case studies)?
As always, good case studies endorse some of your thinking, but also add some new ideas and insights (at least for me). The common ground is that multi-pronged approaches and alliances have more impact. Successful campaigns often work across multiple layers of government (village, district, state, federal), using multiple strategies (research and insider advocacy, street protest, media). The most effective alliances often bring together unusual suspects (eg radical grassroots CSOs and nerdy thinktanks in the Mexico subsidies campaign).