10 March 2015

Come out to MIT for a panel on innovation and development I am moderating

I am dusting off the blog to promote an event I am moderating this week at MIT. It should be an interesting conversation about efforts to actually evaluate innovations and see how well they work. Details below and sign up here.

Finding What Works in Global Development

Where: The Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation at MIT - E14-674, Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 75 Amherst Street - Cambridge, MA 02139
When: Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM (EDT)
Description: When a person lives on less than $2 a day — as some 2.7 billion people around the world do — there isn’t room for a product like a solar lantern or a water filter to fail.

It’s a challenge development agencies, NGOs, and consumers themselves face every day: With so many products on the market, how do you choose the right one?

Join us for a panel on the growing need for product evaluation in global development. Panelists will share insights from their work with MIT’s Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), which released its first-ever report evaluating solar lanterns this spring.

Refreshments will be served.

The Panel

David Ferguson, Director of the Center for Development Innovation at USAID
Jarrod Goentzel, CITE Scalability Research Lead & Director of the MIT Humanitarian Response Lab
Jennifer Green, CITE Sustainability Research Lead & Research Scientist at the MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center
Dan Frey, CITE Suitability Research Lead and Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Amit Gandhi, CITE Research Assistant and MIT Doctoral Candidate in Mechanical Engineering

Introductions: Bishwapriya Sanyal, CITE Director & MIT Professor of Urban Development and Planning

Special Moderator: Tom Murphy, Global Development Reporter at Humanosphere & Founder of A View from the Cave

22 December 2014

Map of the day: the rise of military spending in Africa

Global military spending is on the decline (largely thanks to the massive US budget falling). While spending in Europe flat-lined and the US goes down, the rest of the world is spending more each year. The map from the Economist shows changes in spending in African countries over the past decade.

I will allow smarter people than I to analyze what is happening and what it means. There are a few unexpected countries that are dark, at least to me.

19 December 2014

Should I still support/watch the NFL?

Andrew Forbes explains why he gave up on the NFL this year. This essay captures a lot of my feelings about the state of NFL and football as a sport. I have not forsaken it quite yet, but draw closer.
It’s a small, unimportant thing, the game of football, but for a long, long time, it was a large part of my life. Which inherently means that this exercise has been an inquiry into self, too; an effort to eliminate something dear from my life and gauge the results of its absence. Piecemeal self-negation, if you will. A slow removal of certain Jenga blocks in order to see how many can be taken away before I topple altogether.

But maybe it’s even more than that. Maybe I’m asking the question: Is it right for me to watch the NFL? Maybe it’s just reassuring to know that it’s okay to ask such questions.

There is no clear answer here, and that doesn’t much concern me; some things can’t or shouldn’t be clear, or definite. I can’t adequately define love, but I couldn’t live in a universe devoid of it. Perhaps the point of such self-inquiry is to silently arrive at greater awareness, and then to assimilate that knowledge without proselytizing to our fellow citizens. For each of us to arrive at these things independently, in our own private darknesses. I guess that’s possible. If so, I have to accept the possibility that by broadcasting my journey into self-discovery here, you might deem my inquiry to have been a futile one.

And that’s fine by me.

15 December 2014

Weigh in: UNICEF's South Sudan campaign and videogamers

UNICEF has a new campaign video showing it presenting a "game" about a South Sudanese refugee girl at a big gamer conference. People get upset, some walk out and new people learn about the hardship faced by people displaced due to conflict. It is an interesting idea, but does it work? My feelings are mixed, but take a look and tweet at me (@viewfromthecave) with your thoughts.

Provocative visuals touch on the humanitarian sector

A series of rather provocative images by Spanish artist Luis Quiles were recently featured on Elite Daily (a new site to me, too). They offer various social commentary, with a fair bit of sexuality in many of the prints. Two of the ones highlighted stood out for crossing over into depictions of Africa. Here they are and the accompanying descriptions from Quiles:

This work is a critic about religious establishment who use religion all around they find misery to get more believers. This people don't need a holy book, don't need a fake God, don't need a fake hope. This people need a real hope, a real education, they need schools, FOOD, medicines, preservatives...They need a real future, not a fake truth.
Kid soldier (no description included)

14 December 2014

When Wall Street and philanthropy went on a date

ProPublica keeps taking a bite out of the wider charitable sector. This time, it turns to donor-advised funds. As a young person with not much money to kick around, this is a new concept to me. Here is their set up of the problem:
For about 40 years, charitable giving held steady at about 2 percent of gross domestic product, while donations from individuals have stayed at around 2 percent of disposable personal income, according to Ray D. Madoff, a Boston College law professor and frequent critic of donor-advised funds.

Over the last few years, the donor-advised funds have grabbed significant market share. The total amount of assets under management at donor-advised funds rose to $54 billion in 2013, up 20 percent from $45 billion a year earlier. Fidelity's alone have skyrocketed to $13.2 billion.

Contributions to donor-advised funds rose 24 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, to $17 billion. They only gave out less than $10 billion, so money is building up in them. And the amount paid out each year declined in each of the last three years through 2013, according to Alan Cantor, who runs a philanthropy consultancy and is a frequent critic of donor-advised funds.
The decline in money available is certainly concerning, but that is based on a lot of assumptions. Chief among them is that all money is well spent. There are some worrisome incentives here and an issue of witholding money that can generate long term impact, but spending is not the biggest problem when it comes to creating impact. At least that is in my estimation.

Anyway, the story is worth reading in full.