31 March 2011

Volunteering Overseas: A Socially Conscious Action That Only Looks Like It Helps

Cracked.com has a post titled 6 Socially Conscious Actions That Only Look Like They Help. One of the listed actions is "volunteering overseas." The site is meant to stir the pot a bit and push buttons, but they do a pretty good job with it and I have reproduced what they wrote with pictures and captions included. Yes, it is a simple look at the issue and I have said many times that I am not wholly in opposition to overseas volunteering and do not think it to be all bad.  With that said, the present state of international volunteering, especially short term voluntourism, is not doing the job well.

Note: All that is below is an exact reproduction of the Cracked.com post.  I thought that putting it in a block-quote was adequate, but I want to be explicit in that I am not claiming this to be my work and have reproduced it here in its entirety since I believe it should be read as such.
The Idea
So, lately your yearly vacations to the International Cheese Rolling Festival have left you feeling unfulfilled. Don't despair: There's always voluntourism, a growing movement that allows you to travel the world while helping the needy. A recent survey found that two-thirds of American high school students have considered this type of volunteer vacation.

This isn't a new trend among rich white people, either.
Traditional organizations mostly look for volunteers with relevant skills: doctors, nurses, dentists, qualified teachers and people fluent in foreign languages. Still, they also welcome unskilled travelers who can do stuff like clerical work and cleaning while the professionals offer the help that's desperately needed.

Taxpayer Money Ending Abortions in Kenya?

This makes me ashamed of my home state. From Mother Jones:
But Rep. Chris Smith...spent part of the break on a taxpayer-funded trip to Kenya, where he slammed the country's new constitution for allowing abortions in cases when the health of the mother is at risk.

Kenyan abortion restrictions go far beyond those in American law, and Kenya's new constitution, approved overwhelmingly last August, codifies a ban on abortions in the country. But that's not enough for Smith and US anti-abortion groups, who argue that the exception allowing for legal abortions to preserve the health of the mother "opens the door to abortion on demand."

Smith wasn't just meeting with Kenyan politicians and activists during his time in East Africa—he was actively politicking. On March 21, Smith spoke at an event on the new constitution sponsored by the Kenya Christian Professional Forum in Limuru, a town about 35 miles outside Kenya's capital, Nairobi. A staffer for the US-based group Center for Reproductive Rights, which recently opened an office in Nairobi, took notes during the speech. In it, the congressman reportedly called for "a world free of abortion." Smith also accused "pro-abortion NGOs" of having "hijacked" the maternal mortality issue in order to legalize the killing of the unborn, CRR says.
This is absolutely a place that US politicians have no right meddling. I will not even get into my disagreement with his thoughts on the policy, but I do not that members of congress should be acting as diplomats in the capacity of their office. That is a blatant misuse of power. If Rep Smith wanted to make a personal trip to Kenya, that would certainly be within his own rights. However, I am shocked that such a trip would be covered by congress.

On another note, this reminds me of a song that was often on the radio in Kenya with the refrain "abortion is a crime."

30 March 2011

Oligopolies and Development

Firoze Manji, executive editor of Pambazuka online speaks on "oligopolies" in a panel Global information Network at The Left Forum. I feel like I need to watch it a few more times to process some of his thoughts a bit more. It is definitely worth a watch.

Must Watch: Pushing the Elephant

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

Texas in Africa had a post on PBS' debut documentary in the Independent Lens series called Pushing the Elephant.
In the late 1990s, Rose Mapendo was imprisoned with her family during violence that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her harrowing experience included the nighttime arrest of her entire family by government agents, the execution of her husband, the birth of their twin sons in prison, and grim negotiations with prison guards to save the lives of her children. She emerged from the harrowing experience advocating forgiveness and reconciliation. In a country where ethnic violence has created seemingly irreparable rifts among Tutsis, Hutus, and other Congolese, this remarkable woman is a vital voice in her beleaguered nation’s search for peace. Now, Rose is confronted with teaching one of her most recalcitrant students how to forgive — Nangabire, the daughter who remained behind.

When war came to Rose’s village, she was separated from Nangabire, who was 4 years old at the time. Rose managed to escape with nine of her 10 children and was eventually resettled in Phoenix, Arizona. More than a decade later, Rose and Nangabire are reunited in Phoenix where they must face the past and build a new future.

Rose struggles to find balance in her life as a mother of 10 and a full-time advocate for refugees, women, and peace in her country. Her speaking engagements take her around the world — from the White House and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, to meetings with displaced women in Congo. Meanwhile Nangabire, now 17, must adapt to America and discover how she fits into the sprawling Mapendo family. As they get to know one another, the mother and daughter must come to terms with a painful past, and define what it means to be a survivor, a woman, a refugee, and an American.

This family portrait unfolds against the wider drama of war, and explores the long-term and often hidden effects of war on women and families, particularly those in traditional societies — financial despair, increased susceptibility to rape, and social ostracism. Rose and her family offer a lesson in what it means to become an active advocate for a peaceful and hopeful future.
I watched it last night and highly recommend that everyone does the same.  Unfortunately, the only way to see it is by watching it on TV, but I will be sure to share it if I can find an online version.

29 March 2011

A View From the Cartoon

Credit XKCD

World Vision USA CEO On Media

Richard Stearns, president and CEO of World Vision USA, writes on the CNN Effect over the weekend and concludes with this:
How can we have a shared media experience with such an inconceivable volume of images? To gain a significant audience on YouTube, one must be humorous, outrageous or remarkable. Is your kitten wrestling a German shepherd? Is your daughter spewing racist rants against Japanese students calling home? Is your three-year-old prodigy playing Mozart sonatas?

Like many people, my optimism, fortunately, is stronger than my frustration. Optimism that people will demonstrate compassion and generosity to those devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Optimism that freedom fighters in Arab countries will prevail over dictatorships.
Or optimism that, someday, we will not need shared media experiences to instill a deeper desire in all of us to help victims of poverty and injustice, that we will respond to pain and suffering using our heads -- not only when our hearts are pierced by images.
Him recognizing this is a very good thing, but I am curious as to know what World Vision is doing about it. 

So, WV USA, if you happen to read this blog at all, how about a post which addresses how World Vision plans on working towards a time when images will not be needed to move people to act?

28 March 2011

Stuck In The Poverty (Marketing) Trap

Andrew Darnton writes for the Guardian today asking why were are stuck in the Live Aid era of awareness raising after 26 years (which happens to be the span of my life).
It is our contention that it is time to have another go at breaking that legacy, once and for all. We have marshalled a body of theoretical and empirical evidence around values and frames, which we use as lenses through which to see the problem of public engagement. Through these lenses we also point to solutions, for ways out of this stalemate in public engagement.

Maternal Health: Using Social Media to Edcuate

AMREF has rolled out a social media based campaign today which introduces an application where Facebook users can have their status updated by a mother or midwife from an "underprivileged African community." Aside from the poor choice of wording, this could be an interesting way to use social media as a way of educating about maternal health through the words of mothers and health care providers.  5 days seems like a good period to test things out and get people thinking.  With only 2 updates a day, news feeds will not be overrun by the campaign, but should be enough to get to people.

NYT Mag Does Penn in Haiti

The New York Times Magazine features an article on Sean Penn the "Accidental Activist." Here are some of the more interesting parts:
Perhaps most telling of all is the respect that Penn has earned from seasoned aid workers. Dr. Louise Ivers, who is chief of mission for Partners in Health, Haiti, says of Penn: “His newness to this work has actually helped him in some ways. He doesn’t have misconceptions about what works and what doesn’t. He sees a problem, he talks to people, and he figures out solutions. As clichéd as it sounds, I think he really gives a damn about the Haitian people.”

“I’ve known Sean for more than 25 years, and I’m stunned,” says the musician David Baerwald. “He’s always had a tremendous desire to help people. But who knew he had this bizarre skill set? I mean, he may actually be better at this than acting.”

...For much of 2010, Penn and his staff slept in and worked out of tents. They moved to these new headquarters after their encampment was destroyed in a storm last September, but their living conditions are still far from lavish. Most of the staff camp in the garden, and Penn’s bedroom, while it does boast a ceiling, has the dimensions — and ambience — of a walk-in closet. Penn prides himself on running a lean operation. J/P HRO’s overhead is a modest 3.2 percent of donor funds. Permanent international staff routinely work 18-hour days.

27 March 2011

Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Press Corps? NYT Mag and Voluntourism

This is the introduction to a voluntourism article for New York Times Magazine which then lists organizations who do it.
What began as a generational drive to “give back” spawned an addition to the travel lexicon: voluntourism. By the mid-2000s, many hotel chains were offering affluent boomers an opportunity to drop in and do good for a day — but with little real effect on those in need, and almost no sustainability. Then came the Indian Ocean tsunami, and Katrina, and Haiti, and an emerging segment of tourism gained momentum. Now a handful of companies offer trips that could be called “extreme voluntourism” or “urgent response travel,” many of them requiring a two-week commitment and tangible skills. One such outfit, Gap Adventures, said it had seen a 100 percent increase in bookings. But the idea of “volunteer vacations” has been met with controversy: many not-for-profits say that the logistics of putting people on the ground disrupt the flow of care, and that fly-by-night foreigners are stealing long-term jobs from locals. These eight organizations are challenging that perception. They work with grass-roots groups in their host countries, placing travelers in orphanages, land reserves and developing communities from the Gulf of Mexico to Haiti and China.
Evidently the reservations about the problems associated with such trips warrant a passing mention, but do not deter the listing of ways to get involved that even includes a top trip!

25 March 2011

Kofi Annan on Elections and Côte d'Ivoire

[T]he crisis in Ivory Coast must also spur global efforts to uphold the integrity of elections wherever they are held. The right to a free and fair vote is key to everything that matters most. Without credible elections, citizens have no recourse to peaceful political change. The risk of conflict increases while corruption, intimidation and fraud go unchecked, rotting the entire political system slowly from within.

National leaders must learn that to provide democratic legitimacy, elections must be free and fair. The international community must understand that every time it turns a blind eye to electoral abuse, it becomes complicit in degrading democracy’s potential. Short-term expediency cannot be allowed to overshadow the longer-term impact on security, development and human rights. We have to raise the costs for those tempted to rig or steal polls.

From a Financial Times piece on Wednesday by the former UN Secretary General.

Friday Funny: Goofy Goes to Africa


A chance to laugh because and also cry as some parts are a little too close to reality.

 HT Michael Kirkpatrick

Ethiopian Land Grabs

John Vidal reports for The Guardian on how international agricultural businesses have been handed a remarkable opportunity in Ethopia.
It's the deal of the century: £150 a week to lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset – for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in.

Karuturi snapped it up, and next year the company, one of the world's top 25 agri-businesses, will export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province – a remote region near the Sudan border – to world markets.

24 March 2011

Community Involvement in Decision Making

Parallel Urbanism Panel - Designwala from Rick on Vimeo.

Lina SrivastavaJyoti Hosagrahar,  and John Gerarci discussing "local people regulating local spaces addressed the topic of involvement of community in the decision making processes pertaining to their environments."  Lina gives a nice shout out to the use of twitter, Smart Aid and SWEDOW.  It is an interesting discussion to see how the three approach the issue.  Notably, I am intrigued by the idea of displacing one thing with another that John brings up at the beginning of the video.  I had never thought about how causing one action can likely displace another and how it is complicated in trying to achieve this displacement in an effective manner.  It also brings up the question of who are we to displace a priority in a person's life?  This might make all the talk of avoiding top-down solutions a tad unrealistic.

Recycling Old Tricks

J. pretty much sums up exactly what I have been thinking in regards to the use of the Japan disaster as an opportunity to raise money.
Japan is only the most recent example, but it’s a poignant one. I’m not even up-to-date on the statistics (too busy ranting), but last I read it was something like half a million people fleeing Abijan, but no one knows or seems to care. The poorest country on the Arabian peninsula – Yemen – is about to totally melt down, and when it does there will be massive and widespread humanitarian need. Don’t even get me started on eastern DR Congo and it’s unfathomably high average of something like 10,000 women raped per year since 2001. Or my old favorite – Afghanistan and the seeming impossibility of scraping together a few measly tens of thousands of USD for disaster risk reduction. Real humanitarian need, for all practical purposes being ignored. “We can’t raise money for conflicts”, say the marketing departments.

RCTs Are the New Black

Being that it is in the epicenter of Development RCT research labs (aks Boston and I am including New Haven since it is only 2 hours away), Boston Review is catching on to the movement and has a pretty extensive article on how they are being applied to discovering ways to improve development and aid.
All over the world, the poor weigh economic factors and make decisions about whether and how to invest in education and health. But their decisions are not always optimal for them or for society. Sometimes the poor do not invest because they are cash constrained, lack information, or there is insufficient incentive because much of the benefit of a product accrues to others. Often, like Americans who put off retirement savings, the poor procrastinate or don’t save enough for important lump-sum investments, such as school fees or uniforms. And just as nurses in one Swiss improved their hygiene practices when sanitizer was made more readily available, so convenience matters to the poor. Across a range of programs, small incentives can help alleviate procrastination.

23 March 2011

A Kleptocrat How To

Quote of the Day: Felix Salmon

But while these are familiar concepts to my blog’s regular readers, they’re not necessarily familiar to people on the internet more generally. “There’s nothing you can do to help” is never a pleasant message to convey, and people tend to react strongly against it. On top of that, decades of fundraisers sending the message that “every penny helps” have clearly done their job — which is to conflate, in the public’s mind, the act of helping with the act of donating money, to the point at which a message of “don’t donate to Japan” is read as saying, in substance, “don’t help Japan.”
Writes Felix Salmon in re-visiting his post on donating to Japan.

I think this is an idea worth considering a bit more. There is certainly a benefit in the fact that campaigns have been so successful that people want to lend a hand when a disaster takes place. Better yet, I hope that it extends to everyday happenings (like someone falls on the sidewalk and people rush to help him/her up). However, does it go too far when help is declined and would-be helpers react with indignation? It is better than complete apathy, that is for sure, but like all other issues it seems that this could use a tad bit more balance (to reinforce this, it is definitely better for people to care too much than to not care at all, no doubt about it).


22 March 2011

The BOBs Finalist

Alongside other great bloggers such as Owen Barder, Mobile Active and Jillian C York; I am a finalist for the BOBs in the category of Best English Blog. Voting began on March 21 and will continue until April 11.  After that point an audience and panel winner will be announced for each category.

Deutshe Welle hosts the BOBs (slightly more prestigious than the ABBAs) with 17 different categories that are meant "honor websites in 11 languages that champion the open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression. Blog were just beginning to establish themselves as a new type of media and the BOBs aimed to show that this new form of communication was worthy of being taken seriously." It is really an honor just to be included as a finalist. Any support would be greatly appreciated, but I must admit that the other nominated blogs are spectacular.

No matter how you feel, please do take a moment to vote for what you believe to be the best in the categories you follow/support. Finally, I want to publicly wish good luck to all the other nominated blogs:
Nairobi Nights, Jillian C. York, Rantings of a Sandmonkey, Gawaahi Speak Out, Mona Eltahawy Blog, Owen Abroad, Mobile Active, Groundviews, Informed Comment, and Osocio

Water: Psycho Killer

Sorry if you wanted to hear the Talking Heads tune, but this video done by Good is a take on Hitchcock's classic film with dirty water the killer... I quite like this as it is quick, illustrates a point, provides information and is fun. As I try to be a bit more positive, I would say this does a decent job, can't quite go all the way with it being a sterling example, but I like it.

Quote of the Day: Aid Presumptions

Beyond that, my deeper issue with aid work is that much of it begins with an implicit assumption that “we” have figured things out, “they” haven’t, so clearly we can and must go teach them how to do things. This subconscious thinking has led to lots of condescending and patronizing behavior whereby many people, with the best of intentions, have caused more harm than good. My problem with aid is that doing it for the last half-century hasn’t been extremely effective or dignifying, yet when I question TOMS Shoes some of my friends scorn me as a cynic who doesn’t care about other people.
Via Tate Watkins

21 March 2011

Dani Rodrik and others on Growth Strategies

The above video is Session V: Growth Strategies from the IMF conference on Macro and Growth Policies in the Wake of the Crisis featuring George Akerlof, Dani Rodrik, Paul Romer, Andrew L T Sheng, and Michael Spence.

There is a lot here to watch, but it is worth clicking around to see the various talks including this one. They are dense and pretty hard to watch in their entirety, but, as always, it is worth listening to Rodrik (the first speaker). See the others here.

Blattman and Easterly on Libyan Military Intervention

Chris Blattman expands on Bill Easterly's thoughts on military intervention in Libya. In short, Blattman sums up many of my gut thoughts on an issue which I do not know nearly enough. So, I will make no commentary but quote the part that I think is the strongest and encourage you to read the posts from the two academics.
In the face of failure, one has to decide whether to give up or persist. I think it depends whether you think that experimentation, however risky and costly, is going to lead to better practices and institutions, and thus better outcomes.

I for one was very surprised that the UN Security Council endorsed military action against Libya. This is big. I suspect the UNSC’s failure to act in Rwanda and the Congo, and to some extent Iraq, played a big role in their decision. That is institutional evolution in action. That makes me hopeful, because I think unified responses and moral authority matter.

Another thing that makes me hopeful: If we evolve to the point where the UNSC, or some other body, can make consistent and credible threats of prosecution and intervention, they’ll probably need to use force far less.

On the other hand, if the world threatens and then backs down, or rewards the most thuggish leaders with coalition governments, we could move in the opposite direction.

The tricky thing: however they turn out, we’ll learn very little from the cases of Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. The effects and institutions will emerge over decades rather than years. So not only do we have low accountability, we have bad feedback.

Even so, I would rather see the world try.

20 March 2011

Quote of the Day: Reporting and Marketing Africa...

Karen Rothmyer writes for the Columbia Journalism Review on the way that NGOs and journalists have portrayed Africa by only speaking of the harsh parts of living in the continent. It is an excellent read that does a good job hitting on the state of fundraising and journalism around the subject.
Over the past thirty years, NGOs have come to play an increasingly important role in aid to Africa. A major reason is that Western donors, worried about government corruption, have channelled more funds through them. In the mid-1970s, less than half a dozen NGOs (like the Red Cross or CARE) might operate in a typical African country, according to Nicolas van de Walle, a professor of government at Cornell, but now the same country will likely have 250.

This explosive NGO growth means increasing competition for funds. And according to the head of a large US-based NGO in Nairobi, “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need. Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.” So fierce is the competition that many NGOs don’t want to hear good news. An official of an organization that provides data on Somalia’s food situation says that after reporting a bumper harvest last year, “I was told by several NGOs and UN agencies that the report was too positive.”

Rasna Warah, a Kenyan who worked for UN-Habitat before leaving to pursue a writing career, says that exaggerations of need were not uncommon among aid officials she encountered. “They wanted journalists to say ‘Wow.’ They want them to quote your report,” she says. “That means more money for the next report. It’s really as cynical as that.”

Western journalists, for their part, tend to be far too trusting of aid officials, according to veteran Dutch correspondent Linda Polman. In her book The Crisis Caravan, she cites as one example the willingness of journalists to be guided around NGO-run refugee camps without asking tough questions about possible corruption or the need for such facilities. She writes, “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa, but that’s not how reporters see them.”
HT Ned Breslin

18 March 2011

Orbiting PBS

Enough sure does a great job getting press. That is certainly a strength of the advocacy organization. So, here is the Satellite Sentinel Project on PBS NewsHour.

You Mean We Should Ask People What They Want?

Claire Melamed writes yesterday in the Guardian Poverty Matters Blog on taking a look at what the poor want.
Thanks to some very big studies, such as the World Bank's Voices of the Poor, which involved 60,000 people in 60 countries, we have a pretty good idea. There's a long list. But near the top in most countries is a desire for a job, better connections to the rest of the world, a reduced threat of violence, and an end to the regular daily humiliations and disrespect that are too often the reality for poor people.

And how is "development" doing at giving people all this? Not so well. For example, donors have tended to focus on poor people as entrepreneurs and assumed that they will want to start their own businesses with access to microfinance, rather than prioritising creating jobs or equipping people to get the jobs that are available. Aid for infrastructure was on the decline for years before the Chinese government stepped in and reawakened interest in the sector. And issues of personal security, of respect and dignity, are very low down the programming agenda for most big agencies.

I am also in the middle of reading More than Good Intentions which makes the very same point when discussing the famous Yunus quote that every person is capable of enterprise, it is just access to money which is the obstacle.

Yunus is a brilliant man, but this romantic point of view is wrong. Survival is one thing; building an enterprise from scratch - especially one profitable enough to sustain borrowing at typical microcredit interest rates - is quite another.

I tend to agree with this line of thought. The very fact that businesses fail here in the United States works to disprove Yunus. That does not mean that access to credit is not important; rather it points to the fact that some are quite happening working in a steady position rather than creating their own enterprise.

Even when we know what will work, want is something which cannot be ignored. It then allows practitioners the ability to craft programs that can appeal to the wants of individuals rather than impose a top-down idea of what is right. External assessments of needs can be useful, but if they do not intersect with wants of a community there will be little or no take-up.

16 March 2011

CARE Packages In Their Own Words

CEO Helene Gayle discusses CARE Packages with Be the Change: Save a Life.
BtC: We also hear that you're relaunching the CARE package?

Gayle: Yes!...You know, that was our start- we started out by giving CARE packages to people who had been ravaged by World War II and…

BtC: The term care package started with CARE?

Gayle: Yeah, we're the organization that started the care package! But development has changed. Development is no longer shipping in commodities to people. So what we've developed is kind of a virtual CARE package where people can go online and for $34 send a girl in Afghanistan to school for a year, or give a woman a loan for microfinance. So virtually, people can contribute resources that go to the poverty fighting programs that we're involved in. It's fun and it's using new social media. Groups can do CARE packages, people can challenge people in their work places to build bigger CARE packages...It's a way of having people have that more direct link to the work that they're supporting in a way that will make it more real to people.
To me, it seems like there is no question as to what the aim of the campaign is for CARE.

*The use of bold is my doing.  Hopefully, this is the end of posting on CARE, but I can't promise anything.

HT Ward A

Self-Deprecation and an Appeal to Africa

I had never seen this video before this past weekend, so I thought I would share. I have to say that I am glad to see Bono and Geldof get in the act with a little humor at their own expense. This is what makes Gervais so good. He also does an excellent job at the way that such celebrity campaigns for 'Africa' can be entirely self-serving and have little to do with the issue at hand.

That is not to say that good intentions and caring do not exist, but to illuminate the fact that goodwill is also good PR. If you do not believe me, look no further than Mark Zuckerberg who announced a hefty donation to Newark, NJ schools at the same time of the release of a film that that portrays him in a less than flattering light. He likely does care about American education, but he also cares about how he and Facebook look. I don't feel too bad applying guilt to someone who has so much wealth into making a donation, but let's not pretend that he and other celebrities are not concerned with their public image.

15 March 2011

What to Do for Japan

In short; nothing.

Saundra, who has been giving great advice on disaster relief for awhile might finally be wearing down the entrenched attitudes which are pervasive amongst most of media. Annie Lowrey writes:

There are two basic rules for being useful: First, give to organizations with long track records of helping overseas. Second, leave it up to the experts to decide how to distribute the aid.

The first suggestion is simple: Avoid getting scammed by choosing an internationally known and vetted group. Big, long-standing organizations like Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross are good choices. If choosing a smaller or local group, try checking with aid groups, Guidestar, or the Better Business Bureau before submitting funds.

The second suggestion is more important. Right now, thousands of well-intentioned donors are sending money to Japan to help it rebuild. But some portion of the donated funds will be earmarked, restricted to a certain project or goal, and therefore might not do the Japanese much good in the end. Moreover, given Japan's extraordinary wealth and development, there is a good chance that aid organizations will end up with leftover funds they will have no choice but to spend in country...

[G]ive without restrictions; leave it up to the experts to figure out how to save the most lives and do the most good. If Japan needs the money, they will make sure the country gets it. But if it gets back on its feet, there are a whole lot of other places that could use the funds.
Felix Salmon is singing the same tune in his post for Reuters on what to do.
[E]verybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other. 
Please don’t.

We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.
More directly, blogger Patrick McKenzie, who owns and runs a small business in the country, provides an excellent post on the disaster which ends with this advice:
A few friends of mine have suggested coming to Japan to pitch in with the recovery efforts. I appreciate your willingness to brave the radiological dangers of international travel on our behalf, but that plan has little upside to it: when you get here, you’re going to be a) illiterate b) unable to understand instructions and c) a productivity drag on people who are quite capable of dealing with this but will instead have to play Babysit The Foreigner. If you’re feeling compassionate and want to do something for the sake of doing something, find a charity in your neighborhood. Give it money. Tell them you were motivated to by Japan’s current predicament. You’ll be happy, Japan will recover quickly, and your local charity will appreciate your kindness.

On behalf of myself and the other folks in our community, thank you for your kindness and support.
Finally, Saundra gives a little background as to why NGOs are not quite jumping in to take part in the disaster response efforts.
The reason I suggest you wait is because Japan has thus far only allowed/requested very limited international assistance. If you read the fine print in most nonprofits appeals for this disaster, you’ll see phrases such as: “prepared to assist” “readying a team” “stand at the ready” “assessing the situation.” But few have actually deployed staff. And there is the very real possibility that many of the organizations currently collecting donations for the recovery efforts might not be allowed to operate in Japan.
There’s a good reason for this. Just because a major disaster has occurred, does not mean that the country is not capable of responding to it themselves. Just as Chile was able to respond to their earthquake far better than Haiti.
While it might seem like the more organizations helping the better, it’s not actually true. Having organizations pour in from all over the world, with different regulations, priorities, donors, and governing boards can lead to confusion, duplications and gaps in assistance, and a slower response.

Celebrating Failure!

...without realizing it?

*Note : Alanna has pointed out, correctly, that aid has not be a complete failure.  I did not intend for this post to come across that way.  I think that she and Owen have been right, aid has worked across the world and USAID has done some great things in the Philippines.  Despite that, I do not see this as being a time to throw a party.  Either the end is near (so we do not want a 'mission accomplished' type mistake) or there is a lot of work left to be done.  I do not know enough about the country, but I think it is the latter.*

Created nearly 50 years ago, USAID is celebrating with one of the countries where it first started, the Philippines.
On November 3, 1961, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act was signed into law by President Kennedy, creating USAID. Since that time, USAID has been the principal U.S. government agency providing development assistance to countries around the world.

USAID assistance in the Philippines has helped communities all over the country to reduce maternal and child mortality, promote stronger governance and rule of law, develop rural infrastructure, increase access to financial services, recover from disasters, improve access to health care and education, promote women and child rights, and increase agricultural productivity, among other achievements.

“The United States and the Philippines share a partnership based on respect, shared values, and a desire for peace, stability, prosperity, and opportunity, and we are proud of our partnership with the Philippine people,” said Ambassador Thomas.
Is this cause for celebration? After 50 years of assistance the nation is behind on some of the millennium development goals in achieving universal primary education, halving the proportion of population under $1.25/day as well as the child health and maternal mortality targets.

I would think that USAID would be embarrassed to have been in the nation for so long.  Even if they have been doing everything right, isn't this the time to get serious rather than throw a party?  At best, this shows that development is a very long process.  At worst, USAID has been an utter failure for half of a century.  

USAID is not alone in this.  Other NGOs have been in countries for just as long and even longer.  How does this not make you think that what you have been doing is wrong?  It would be like staying in school your entire life without ever actually graduating.  Sure, you can celebrate the small victories, but if you have been going to full-time school for 50 years and have not graduated high school there is a problem.  It would be unacceptable for that to happen, especially if the same methods of education were used over and over.

14 March 2011

Updated Shoe-Thrower’s Index

At the very least it is interesting to see what this index from The Economist sees as large influence over what might lead to revolution in various nations.  Not sure at all if this is anything more than a fun tool, but it is certainly interesting to manipulate.

We Know Who Does it Wrong. Who Does it Right?

On Friday, I wrote a post on the use of misleading tactics by CARE in order to raise money. I highly suggest reading the comments as they provide some excellent additional points to my post. However, one challenge got me thinking. Ward A wrote:
There are any number of creative and somewhat/marginally/incredibly misleading ways of raising funds out there. As a community, we wax poetic about them.

I'm curious as to whether you've seen any outstanding, positive, creative examples of 'new' ways to fund-raise. Something that stood out for it's honest yet engaging approach.

I imagine reinforcing (and promoting) positive work might have a greater impact than highlighting yet another negative example
He is 100% right here. It is really easy to point out how campaigns are wrong. For someone who is critical of organizations for going for low-hanging fruit, I have to realize that I can be just as guilty of it with my criticisms. Far too often we (re: I) focus on what is wrong rather than right.

The worst part of all of this is that I cannot come up with any real good example of something done well. Am I so focused on the negatives that I have not taken the time to praise what is done well? Are advertising campaigns so terrible that there are no real examples of how it is done right? I tend to think it is the former. Yes, there are many terribly done marketing campaigns which rely on our lack of understanding and guilt, but that cannot be done by every organization.

My first thought was of the Mama Hope video. However, it really did not seem to be an effective marketing tool as the focus on the organization was minimal at best. So, I cannot really count it.

Second was the use of vloggers by World Vision Australia in Zambia. The short story is that WV Australia took three vloggers from around the world to record and share their experiences seeing projects by the organization in Zambia. The three did their own updates that showcased what struck them about the day and shared what WV was doing in Zambia. To me, this was clever because they took young people who were not discussing these issues, exposed them to it and had them share the experiences in an instant manner to WV supporters and their individual audiences.

It is raw and a bit of an experiment, but it is what I believe to be the start of using social media effectively by NGOs. A new audience was introduced to the organization through this campaign. I assume that many of them decided to make a donation. Yes, it is not perfect, but I am again bullish on the potential.

Those two are where I ran out of ideas. So, as I try to search around and brainstorm ideas, let me know what you think. I challenge us to think of examples that are specifically meant to be a way of fundraising. Awareness is different and there are some organizations who do a superb job at that (which I should feature in a future post), but this is to look at getting people to part with money.

Who does it effectively?

11 March 2011

We All Need this Right About Now

(or at least I do)

From the great Stuff No One Told Me blog.

Be CAREful When Donating

CARE is back at it with this very nice site which allows you to pack "CARE package" full of goodies that will help people all around the world.  When you drag the item into the box you are given the option of how much you want to spend on each item.  As you can see, I have placed four items into my CARE package at $5 each and joined the CARE action network for free!

But wait a minute, what is that small print at the bottom?  The site looks simple enough, why do they need to have a frequently ask questions page?  I just choose what I want to support, drag it into the box, select an amount and then enter my credit card information for an easy donation.  Well my interest is piqued.  Let's take a look:

To quote Bill and Ted, "Woah!" You mean to tell me that it does not matter what I choose?  The CARE package is just a plain donation to CARE?  What about the school uniforms that I wanted to buy?

To be a bit more serious, this appears to be a slightly dishonest ruse.  CARE does clearly explain that the money will be used as it is needed and that the CARE package is 'symbolic.'  To that extent it is fair.  However, I would be interested in knowing how many people click into the FAQ.  This site seems to play on the desire to pick specific uses for our donated money.  It allows the donor to choose amongst a few options so it feels like specific programs are being supported.  If this connection/desire did not exist, this website would be a waste since individuals can just make a simple donation without having to load a flash page.

One might say that it is educational, but that seems to be a dubious point as the options are about as general as possible.  Is it fair to market to donors like this?  I would argue that it is not.  Fortunately, when I was sent this webpage I was told to check the FAQ.  At this point, I make the assumption that any scheme that allows donors to "choose" what they are donating is just a front for pooling money and making me feel more closely connected to what I am doing.

It is likely that donor fatigue requires more creative ways of reaching people, but dishonesty in any way can lead to clouded donor expectations.  As I have argued before, a better job of communicating to donors must be done in order to encourage more effective giving/philanthropy.  This is an example of making it worse.  

I believe that NGOs have the right to assert that they know what they are doing.  They should make the case that they are successful with their programs by showing real evidence and donors should support effective aid and development programs.  Sadly, the current state relies on deception and emotion manipulation.  Making someone feel good or trendy (I'm looking at you TOMS) through trickery is wrong.  Simple as that.

*Special hat tip and thanks to Penelope and Cynan for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE 17:13 EST: People commenting here and other places have noted that CARE is certainly not the only one guilty of this widespread practice.  So, I want to explicitly say that I am picking on CARE (for what I believe is good reason), but they are only one of a few organizations who use this donation generation tactic.  Those that do (I am looking at you Oxfam and Kiva), are in the same boat.

Aid Effectiveness from Lai Yahaya

Lai Yahaya, a Gleitsman Fellow at the Harvard University J. F. Kennedy School of Government, discusses aid effectiveness. He gives a reasonable list of the same points which many of us keep saying over and over.
1) Where is the aid going?
2) Listen to the recipients, not the donors.
3) Independent assessments.
4) Complete revision of the way aid works.
5) Innovation comes from those on the margins (the beneficiaries), not the giant organizations
6) Influence of government will shrink with growth of private sector
7) Major donor meetings will not "suddenly solve poverty in five years."
Funny thing is that many keep repeating this, but none of those people seem to be the heads of large NGOs. Where are they on this? Is fundamental change possible within the present frameworks constructed by the aid industry? These days it is hard to think that it is possible to do so, but maybe a new generation of leaders could contribute to this shift. Better yet, maybe a better informed class of donors and recipients can let NGOs know that they will not be providing financial support (donors) or program cooperation (recipients) if changes do not take place.

10 March 2011

Women in...

Interesting to see that the number of women on boards has decreased in every country from 2009 to 2010. What might be the cause of that? Shake-ups due to the financial crisis which has allowed for the old ways of male dominated boards to return? Overall it is not too surprising to see that the United States lags in all categories.

Maybe we need our own set of MDGs...

CAREless Use of Data

CARE is holding a conference down in DC to celebrate International Women's Day and the 65th aniversary of the organization. With speakers like Melinda French Gates and Laura Bush, there has been plenty to share via twitter. However, it was this tweet that caught my attention.

I immediately requested that they show the data. Having seen previous claims made which are blatantly false (ie. $20 = 20 years of clean water for a person), I was immediately skeptical (what's new?). After doing a little digging, I found that the statistic is a favorite for a bunch of other organizations.

Overseas Development Institute
Finally, the cost-effectiveness of hazard warning and prevention is only too clear. The World Bank has estimated that every dollar spent on risk reduction saves $7 in relief and repairs. Prevention now needs greater emphasis.
Relief Web (using UN data)
The United Nations says $1 invested in reducing the risk of disasters in developing countries saves around $7 in losses, and it costs $1 to feed a child compared to the $80 needed to save a starving child's life.
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Every dollar spent on drug and alcohol abuse treatment saves the public $7, largely through reduced crime, according to a study of the cost-effectiveness of California's substance abuse treatment programs. The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, which conducted the study from 1991 to 1992, called it the largest and most scientifically rigorous cost-benefit analysis of drug abuse treatment ever undertaken.
Maybe I missed a study, but it looks like there is some lazy application of data going on here.  CARE seems to be running with a static and applying it to development in general.  At best, it seems like one dollar invested in disaster prevention will prevent large expenditures post-disaster.  To me, that is pretty specific and would not apply to something like maternal care or sanitation.

It is likely true that early interventions are more cost effective than later fixes.  Why not compare it to an investment verses an expenditure.  If you make the investment in advance, it will bring later returns to pay for times in need.  If you choose to wait, you will have to pay and have nothing left over.

OK, that is not a great analogy, anyone have a suggestion?

09 March 2011

Picture of the Day: Richard Mosse Redux

Glenna already posted this pictures from Richard Mosse this past summer, but seeing them again reminded me how much I really liked them.  So much so that I wrote this rapid post.

While on the topic of photography and Glenna Gordon, go over and see her series of photos of Ivorian refugees for UNHCR titled "My Country has Two Presidents." The picture below should give you a good idea of how great the series is.

Satellite Sentinel Project: Now What?

Update: I should note that Bec Hamilton has written a book on Darfur and advocacy called Fighting for Darfur that has been suggested by Alanna in the comments section.  You can also see a Blogging Heads interview done by Mark Goldberg here.

Enough got the images as promised and predicted. For that, I have to credit Clooney and co for using satellite images to show what is happening in close to real time and with immediate evidence. They have effectively been able to use ground reports to find out what is happening where and get the images.

With the information that is now available, what is next? How is this information going to be of help? Enough's other large and ongoing campaigns are in the DRC and Darfur. They have said over and over again about how terrible the violence is in the two regions and international attention has waned with little real action. Yes, Bashir has been indicted by the ICC, but he still rules Sudan. We know of the horrible state of the Lakes Region, but many of the atrocities have continued.

Enough has not been a complete failure by any means, but their weakness has always been when it comes to the next step. They identify problems with compelling evidence and storytelling and then lobby celebrities to join the team and then speak to world leaders.

I want to toss a little skepticism into the world of advocacy. Where has it been successful? Is it because there is so much push-back? Wrong political climate? People do not care enough? Or could they be replicating the same mistakes with each campaign? Could the tactics be ineffective when it comes to sparking real change? Does it take a very long time, so Enough has to persist and slowly chip away?

Maybe outside pressure is not nearly as effective as internal (re: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia). Is there a way for outside organizations/governments/multilaterals to support people in these situations?

I hope a little more research and digging can answer some of those questions.  So far, Enough has me asking more questions as it is giving supposed answers.  We know what is going on in Abyei. Now what?

More satellite images?

08 March 2011

Happy International Women's Day

How many of you are going to participate by going to a bridge? I think I might wander over to check it out on the Ben Franklin, but I am not sure if I really get this idea. Yes, I get the symbolism, but call me a skeptic for thinking that it might be more effective to have people gather in city squares rather than on bridges. Either way, that is not very important.

I should admit my dislike of days like this. The benefit is that it can be a reminder, but I hope that we can strive to celebrate and recognize every group that has a specific day and/or month at every moment of every year. To me, a successful future will be when days like today are seen as antiquated and unnecessary. I would love for my kids to laugh at the very idea of having a day set aside to recognize a single group because they all have been integrated into education and social structures. However, we are far from that point and should be championing women all the time.

#DRI2011 Conference In Review: Nyarko

This week, I will have a post reviewing each of the presentations from last Friday's Development Research Institute's annual conference. The posts will act as a summary of the points made by the presenters as well as some additional commentary and explanations. A group of those watching live-tweeted the event using the #DRI2011, so check out the tag to re-read some of the live commentary. As always, I welcome comments, thoughts and additions. Part 1: Easterly.

Yaw Nyarko - Information Technology and Development
Unfortunately, Nyarko was a bit rushed with his presentation due to a late start and an excellent opener by Easterly. What was lost was depth beyond what has become a common part of ICT4D discussions. However, these discussions do not seem to have reached everyone. For those who were gaining first exposure, I am sure it was an enlightening talk.

Nyarko has a lightness that made his talk quite enjoyable and even a bit inspiring. To start, hetook down the notion that all of the focus should be on cell phones. He began with the favorite image of the Maasai standing with cell phones. Although a powerful image of the cross between technology and pastoral, it is also simplistic. When looking at phones as a means to SMS and make calls, there are some opportunities, but internet applications are just plain foolish. The price of a smart phone is still to high and then you have to deal with data plans and working networks. In short, leave the iPhone apps at home. It is a long time before they will be effective development tools used by aid recipients.

He sees innovation is possible with applications like SMS reminders and mobile banking, but glossed over my favorite example, M-PESA. However, depth was provided as he spoke of the ways that micro-insurance schemes can track rainfall in a region and make a mobile banking payment when rainfall is above or below a determined range. In the question and answer part Nyarko expressed a healthy amount of skepticism, but said experimentation is definitely needed.

The talk was far too quick and I wish that I could share more, but I definitely suggest seeing Nyarko speak. I will end with the best thing I think that he said, "[People] want to do things themselves, teach them and let them do it." He spoke specifically about Africa in that comment, but it applies to and must become the mantra of international development. Yes, the fish analogy is said far too many times, but maybe that is because we are not listening to it. ICTs show a lot of promise, but the innovations should be more practical. It is one sector which can expose the ways that solutions can be derived from personal understanding and have no practical application in the target communities.

07 March 2011

Senate CR Proposal Released

I am most happy to see that the Senate recognizes the value of AmeriCorps and has made what is a modest cut in comparison to what the House proposed to the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Not only do I have self interest in this (my job is on the line), but I feel that this is an important part of our budget and one which will see many young people out of jobs very quickly.  Certainly, improvements are needed to the corporation and its programs, but they do provide valuable services by supporting our nation's communities.

What do you think of the proposal?  A press release from the appropriations committee provides some context as to why they made the decisions they in the CR proposal.

#DRI2011 Conference In Review: Easterly

This week, I will have a post reviewing each of the presentations from last Friday's Development Research Institute's annual conference. The posts will act as a summary of the points made by the presenters as well as some additional commentary and explanations. A group of those watching live-tweeted the event using the #DRI2011, so check out the tag to re-read some of the live commentary. As always, I welcome comments, thoughts and additions.

Bill Easterly - From Skepticism to Development
To kick things off, Easterly took down the very title of his talk saying, " I have gotten this reputation as a destructive skeptic. Want to be more constructive that destructive." No surprise to anyone who has been reading Aid Watchers as of late, Easterly discussed the false notion of the benevolent autocrat. A healthy skeptic, Easterly wanted to see if there was good reason to support autocrats.

In short, the data reveals that only 10% of autocrats are successes and the same group are responsible for all the big economic failures. A by Easterly shows how volatile growth is amongst nations with autocrats verses the steady growth of democracies. To him, you might as well go bet all of your savings on black on the roulette wheel at Vegas. That is the kind of risk that is at stake. Finally, he adds the important issue of human rights which are regularly violated by autocrats and secured in democracies.

With this data, why does the support remain? Naturally, this was an idea which the audience was not too happy to hear. Easterly points to media bias. A Google search shows that there are 13x more citations for the benevolent dictator compared to those against. With so much discussion before, it has become accepted as fact. The bias also extends to focusing on leaders.

Although he did not use this specific example, one could point to the praise heaped onto Bill Belichick for guiding the New England Patriots to Super Bowl wins. Yes, he is a great coach, but it is foolish to pin all of the successes on him alone. In fact, it would wrong to say it was mostly because of him. No to mention the players on the team, you have to factor in a freak

injury, a bizarre rule, snow, a poorly played game by the Rams, a season with little other injuries, and one with a weaker pool of teams in order to account for the first Super Bowl win. Belichick is every bit of an autocrat in the world of the Patriots, but if it were not for Mo Lewis, Tom Brady may have never taken a snap and Belichick could have had as much success as he had with the Browns.

The talk finished up with a lot of questions and displayed why he generally has skepticism to much of what is considered to work in aid and development. Retelling the story of the block near NYU which progress from wilderness to brothels to industry to wealth, Easterly highlights how there are many unknowns in the field of development.

Aside from questions that had nothing to do with his talk, I had a feeling of general push-back from some of the questions that pertained to the talk. What I think was missed was the fact that Easterly basically was saying that the economic data shows that autocrats are not great for growth. Then, toss in the fact that they have little regard for human rights and it becomes pretty tough to make a reasonable argument for an autocrat. However, people will defend away. Funny, as the current long-term autocrats are being turned over, their former/current cheerleaders have been exposed and condemned. In a few decades the supporters of Kagame will be in the same position and it will continue on and on as long as people stand behind the 'benevolent autocrat.'

06 March 2011

Charlie Sheen Wants to Go to Haiti; Penn Welcomes

Sheen is going to pal around with his buddy Sean Penn reports Access Hollywood.
The “Two and a Half Men” star also confirmed that he plans to travel to Haiti next week with friend and fellow actor, Sean Penn.
“We’re going to do a couple things first and then it looks like we’re heading down [to Haiti],” Charlie told Billy and Kit of his plans to visit the earthquake-ravaged nation with the Oscar winning actor. “And I’m excited as hell because, you know, if I can bring the attention of the world down there, then clearly this tsunami keeps cresting.”
Sean Penn founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization immediately following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti and frequently visits the struggling country to continue his charity work. The former “Milk” star recently weighed in regarding the Sheen saga in an interview for the April issue of GQ, offering his support for the embattled actor.

04 March 2011

Innovation and A Free Signed Book

Two interesting interactive pieces are taking place right now by the Center for Global Development and devex.

For devex, you can now go and take a survey to help determine the most innovative development organizations.
“We thought it was important to highlight the achievements of development organizations that are identified as the most innovative by thousands of their peers,” Devex President Raj Kumar said. “But that’s only part of the purpose of this initiative. Ultimately our objective is to spark meaningful dialogue about how the entire global development community can be increasingly more innovative, and thereby increasingly more effective.”

The Devex Top 40 Development Innovators list will include four types of international development organizations: donor agencies & foundations, development consulting companies, implementing NGOs, and advocacy groups. Only the largest organizations within each of these four categories are included in the survey, which is being e-mailed to a diverse group of more than 100,000 aid workers and international development professionals.

The Center for Global Development is holding a contest to win a signed copy of Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More by Charles Kenny.
[W]e’re sponsoring a Twitter contest (HT to Wren Elhai for this cool idea) for the next couple of weeks. To play, just Tweet your best evidence of how the world is getting better. Include #GettingBetter and (character limits allowing) mention either @CGDev or @CharlesJKenny. You may draw your examples from Charles’s book or elsewhere. In keeping with his inimitable style, funny is good but not required to win.

@CharlesJKenny and @CGDev, our institutional Twitter feed, will retweet selected entries along the way. On March 18 or soon after we will select our favorites applying a combination of regression analysis and statistical tools derived from Google’s secret algorithms. Winners will receive a signed copy of the book...
Check them both out.  I have already completed the devex survey and am thinking of a tweet for the Center for Global Development.  Who doesn't like free stuff? I say it is worth giving it a thought or two.

03 March 2011

Leading Thinkers?

The Globe and Mail has put together a series of short videos that have 'leading thinkers' answer questions related to 'aid in the 21st century' and the 'battle for the brightest minds.'  The clips feature people such as Jeffery Sachs, Bono, Jessica Jackley (Kiva), Scott Gilmore (Peace Dividend Trust), Charity NgomaBen Best (EWB), Sylvia Mathews Burwell (Gates) and more.

It is definitely worth poking around and watching some of these videos.  A good job is done by the Globe and Mail to balance Bono, Geldof and Sachs with people like Gilmore and Ngoma.  It would be great to see them get all of the people that speak in the same room and have them discuss these questions with each other.  If I could have added to this, I would have like to have seen one of the RCTers from IPA of J-PAL, Andrew Mwenda, Zizek, Yunus, the head of an NGO that actually implements programs, and maybe try to have one or two political leaders from an African country which receives aid.

Also missing is the very important recipient.  I am sure that videos can be found of people who are impacted by these aid programs.  Why not get a person or community leader from one of the millennium villages?

Who do you think is missing from this group?  Are these the 'leading thinkers' when it comes to aid and development?