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Social Development

There is no famine in South London today

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

Not a likely headline in today’s world, and yet this is among the most important news in recent history. Since Homo sapiens appeared on the planet, societies have experienced steady progress on all issues related to their wellbeing: access to food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom and equality. More importantly, progress in the last two centuries has accelerated to the point that the great majority of humans today live longer, better, healthier and richer lives than did their parents and grandparents.

“Progress” is indeed the title of the recently published book by Swedish author Johan Norberg. In it, and after building and analyzing a robust set of metadata compiled from the OECD, the World Bank, UN agencies and other reliable sources, he concludes categorically that “by almost any index, things are markedly better now that they have ever been for almost everyone alive.”

Some examples. Norberg points out that harvests failed frequently in Sweden in the 17th century, and a single famine between 1696 and 1697 killed one in 15 people. There were even some accounts of cannibalism. As economies in Europe grew, per capita consumption of calories increased from around 1,800 in the mid-18th century to 2,700 in 1850. Famines disappeared, and Sweden was declared free from hunger in the early 1900s. But progress is not circumscribed to Europe. Globally, undernourishment fell from 50 percent of the world’s population in 1945 to about 10 percent today. Similarly, access to water and sanitation has increased steadily in its coverage, going from 50 percent to 92 percent in terms of access to clean water, and from 25 percent to 68 percent in terms of sanitation in the last 50 years. The consequence is the removal of one of the main sources of death and disease.

#1 from 2016: The neglected universal force for peace and stability: LOVE?

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

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on January 8, 2016. 

“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.

Media, participation and social inclusion: what are the links?

BBC Media Action's picture

This blog was originally posted on the BBC Media Action Insight blog.

Reviewing the results of a survey of 23,000 people across seven countries, Chris Snow looks at the potential of media to engage even hard-to-reach groups in politics.


Around the world, people are disillusioned with their rulers. From South Africa to Brazil to South Korea, corruption scandals have helped fuel discontent with politicians. Young East Africans feel excluded from decision-making processes and blocked from having a say in how society is run. 61% of people in the Middle East are dissatisfied with how the political system works in their country.

Yet despite the global frustration with government, ordinary people persist in feeling they can make a difference and are still motivated to participate in politics. Seeking to understand how media affects participation, BBC Media Action surveyed over 23,000 people across seven African and Asian countries about their political activities, ranging from voting to protesting. We found that media, when rooted in a commitment to open and balanced discussion, can be an effective tool for engaging even hard-to-reach groups in politics.

Breaking Down the Silos: Reflection on the “Invisible Wounds” Meeting

Mike Wessells's picture

Speaking as a psychosocial practitioner-researcher, the World Bank's recent “Invisible Wounds” conference, which enabled a rich dialogue between psychologists and the Bank's economically-oriented staff, was a breath of fresh air. In most war zones, humanitarian efforts to provide mental health and psychosocial support and economic aid to vulnerable people have frequently been conducted in separate silos. Unfortunately, this division does not fit with the interacting psychosocial and economic needs seen in war zones, and it misses important opportunities for strengthening supports for vulnerable people.
 
A case in point comes from my work (together with Susan McKay, Angela Veale, and Miranda Worthen) on the reintegration of formerly recruited girl mothers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and northern Uganda. These girls had been powerfully impacted by their war experiences, which included displacement, capture, sexual violence, exposure to killing and deaths, and mothering, among others. After the ceasefire, they were badly stigmatized as “rebel girls” and were distressed over their inability to meet basic needs and to be good mothers. The provision of economic aid alone would likely have had limited effects since the girls believed that they were not fit for economic activity (many saw themselves as spiritually contaminated and as having “unsteady minds”), and they were so stigmatized that people would not do business with them. Similarly, the provision of psychosocial assistance alone likely would have had limited effects because the girls desperately needed livelihoods in order to reduce their economic distress and be good mothers.

Trauma and Psychosocial Well-being: Is it our Business?

Alys Willman's picture

Here is a situation that’s happened to me; maybe it’s happened to you, too. You’re on mission, finishing up a meeting.  You’re closing your notebook, your head’s in the next meeting already, and one of the people you’ve just met with asks if you have a second.

Before you can react, she’s telling you her story. It’s a very difficult story, full of experiences you can’t imagine living through yourself. She seems to have gone back into the story in her mind – her eyes are focused beyond you, her hands tremble, and her eyes water.

Assuming you are not a trained social worker, it’s likely you have few skills you can immediately draw on to help her. And you wonder how many others like her are facing similar circumstances. 

What does any of this have to do with our business? Our work brings us into contact with people and groups that have experienced extremely stressful events and situations – from grinding poverty, to forced displacement, war and natural disasters. We come into contact with some of the most wounded and most resilient people in the world. While that strength helps them survive in the face of huge challenges, these “invisible wounds” – if not addressed – take a huge toll on them and their loved ones.

How do we Develop a “Science of Delivery” for CDD in Fragile Contexts?

Janmejay Singh's picture

Imagine you are a development practitioner in a country just coming out of conflict and you have just been put in charge of designing a community driven development (CDD) operation there.

After decades of war, you are faced with a country that has crumbling infrastructure, extremely high unemployment rates, weak local governance systems, perhaps even a vast population internally displaced or worse still, exposed to violence. Where do you begin fixing the problem? What would you prioritize? Do you begin by rebuilding and providing public goods, and hope that it would eventually re-establish the broken trust between the state and its people? Or do you directly tackle trust building first? Or perhaps you could do them simultaneously, but how would you go about doing that?