30 June 2011

Learning From Lady Gaga's Lawsuit

Lady Gaga, to raise money for the Japan earthquake and tsunami, sold bracelets for $5 to her fans. It was a resounding success and raised enough money for Gaga to have made a $1.5 million donation at the end of March. However, some fans are not happy that there were extra costs such as shipping and tax. From USA Today:
[N]ow a Michigan law firm, 1800LAWFIRM, is contesting all of that. In a lawsuit filed on Friday in Detroit, the firm claims that the pop star is scamming her fans and the victims because she's not actually donating all of the money. The lawsuit notes that an unnecessary sales tax and a $3.99 shipping charge were added to each order. Detroit-area attorney Alyson Oliver told AP she wants an accounting. Oliver told Reuters Gaga may have "inflated reports of total donations."

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and possible refunds for people who bought wristbands.

Today, however, a Gaga rep issued a statement to E! News, saying, "This misguided lawsuit is without merit and unfortunately takes attention away from the kind deeds of the fans around the world who are supporting the people of Japan.

"The entire $5 donation made with the purchase of each bracelet is going to support the disaster relief. No profit is being made on shipping costs. Sales tax charges were made in accordance with local legal requirements. Lady Gaga has personally pledged her own funds to this cause and continues to support the victims of the disaster."
It does not seem that there is much merit in the accusation. Unless the lawyers can prove that the money was mishandled, Gaga's charity has done nothing wrong. In fact, they have done the same thing that every other NGO does when attracting donors for a cause. They set out an issue, offer a simple solution, and give a call to action for supporters.

All in all it is a silly lawsuit, but it proves two points. The first is that donors need better education. The $5 for the bracelet covers the item, but it is not free to ship it. If the money for the shipping was included in the $5 then the upset supporters would have been equally as upset since it still would have meant that all of the $5 did not get donated.

Second, building off the first, the fallacy of overhead being bad has to come to an end. Education will help that, but the costs to deliver a good or service need to be better communicated and understood. Scores of people could have donated time and effort to Gaga's charity, but that does not mean that there were no costs to produce, package, and ship the bracelet. That does not even cover the fact that people have to process the order, collect the money and allocate the funds.

Finally, to avoid these problems, giving directly is always the best solution. Rather than buy the bracelet, Gaga fans could have given $5 to her favorite charity. Better yet, they could have calculated the additional fees and given that sum which would have had an even greater impact. It means that they would not have a bracelet to show their support for Japan and Gaga, but the impact could have been greater.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Growing the Private Sector in Liberia

Speaking to the Center for Global Development, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spends her twenty minutes discussing the importance of growth in Liberia. In the talk she explains that the end of poverty cannot be reached if a nation is not growing. For that reason, she outlines why the private sector is vital to the continued growth of Liberia.

In the end, she sums up what success will look like by saying. "Goal number one...If we continue on the path with the investment we have, and we open up the economy, and our capacity proves our infrastructure is expanding; in 10 years, Liberia will not require foreign assistance. We have to do it and I'm convinced it can be done."

The fact that Sirleaf aims to end foreign aid in Liberia in a decade will get the most notice, but two other things stood out to me. First, she jokes that she will not have to worry since she will not be around to see through the goals that have been set by Liberia. This indicates that Sirleaf, at this point, not only has no intention of spurning the constitution's two term limit, but sees herself out of office. Considering the way that many African leaders have held onto power, that is telling and promising statement.

Second, is her focus on foreign investment and private sector growth. The two drivers that have become a favorite for some leaders have been the government and foreign assistance. Sirleaf does not discuss either and lays out a plan to eliminate the latter.  By changing the discussion, Sirleaf is making an appeal to an entirely different set of actors to participate in Liberia's economy.  A leadership that is open and inviting to investors should be attractive to those looking for opportunity to invest in growth opportunities in Africa.

If Liberia can achieve all of the goals set forth by Sirleaf, then aid has been a success in the country. It provided the necessary support to allow growth to the point that it is entirely self-sufficient. J. wrote on Tueesday "aid cannot and will not fix anything" and I think that he is right.  However, aid can be a part of supporting development. It is why I write time and again on the issue of aid effectiveness and donor communications. Aid projects that do not work or are harmful to the development of nations should be fixed or eliminated.  The pressure is now on NGOs in Liberia to do everything they can to put themselves out of work in the country in 10 years.

29 June 2011

On the Lighter Side: First World Problems

I came across this video thanks to Brett Keller. This is a nice companion post to my quote from Esther Duflo on poverty this morning.

The Luxury of Wealth and Responsibility of Poverty

This is a fantastic thought from Esther Duflo.
We tend to be patronizing about the poor in a very specific sense, which is that we tend to think, ‘Why don’t they take more responsibility for their lives?’ And what we are forgetting is that the richer you are the less responsibility you need to take for your own life because everything is taken care for you. And the poorer you are the more you have to be responsible for everything about your life….Stop berating people for not being responsible and start to think of ways instead of providing the poor with the luxury that we all have, which is that a lot of decisions are taken for us. If we do nothing, we are on the right track. For most of the poor, if they do nothing, they are on the wrong track.
She said it at the Center For Effective Philanthropy and I ripped this quote right off the blog of Brigid Slipka. It was too good not to re-post. I will try to make it up to Brigid by pointing out that she writes an excellent blog on philanthropy that everyone should read.

This is a quote that I would love for every American to read (better yet, everyone should read it period).  The context is applicable to domestic and international poverty.  Oftentimes it is easy to characterize the poor as lazy and not working hard enough.  The debate over entitlements is partially resting upon the idea that the US poor are not working hard enough to make their lives better.  As Duflo points out, this is just not true.

28 June 2011

Somaliland: Growth Without Aid

This small article on Somaliland in The Economist caught my eye:
Somaliland announced its secession from Somalia in 1991 and has operated as a more or less independent country ever since. It has its own president, parliament and constitution. It even boasts a central bank that prints its own currency, the Somaliland shilling. The peaceful existence of its three million mostly Muslim, but secular, residents contrasts sharply with the disorder and instability of Somalia. The world, however, has refused to recognise Somaliland. Reluctant to encourage other separatist movements, the West remains committed to supporting the embattled Transitional Federal Government in Somalia which opposes its separation.

In his paper, Nicholas Eubank, a researcher at Stanford University, claims that some of Somaliland's success is down to a dearth of aid. Donors cannot give aid directly to the government since it is not recognised as such. It has been dependant on raising local tax revenue, which the paper says citizens have used as leverage to make the government more inclusive, representative and accountable. For those looking to bash the multi-billion dollar aid industry, it is an appealing thesis...

Somaliland's experiences cannot be applied directly elsewhere. But it offers some lessons. The resource constraints which led to a more inclusive government gave each clan a stake in maintaining stability. It is impossible to judge whether this outweighs the benefits that aid might have brought, but it should give donors pause for thought when they start splashing cash around. Somaliland's chances of becoming a fully-fledged country have risen with the precedent of South Sudan's independence. But the Somaliland government should consider its options before accepting the aid that would pour in if and when it is recognised. Its stability has in part been a result of a weak central government that does not threaten traditional regional leaders. An influx of money could upset this delicate balance.
I am not too sure what lessons to draw from this because I do not know much about Somaliland. The final paragraph provides necessary caution and reason for further understanding of the potential nation. Just as aid cheerleaders should take pause, skeptics should not hold this up as if it proves that aid is entirely bad.

27 June 2011

Spending for Impact Part 2

The following is the beginning of latest post on the PDT blog. Read the entire post by going here.

Last week, I wrote on the PDT blog that it would be more effective for people to buy a cheaper product and give the rest to an organization that will support local economies rather than buy the latest pair of TOMS shoes, water bottle from Starbucks or t-shirt from (RED). The next day Melissa Kushner, founder and Executive Director of Goods for Good and also a partner with TOMS, published a rebuttal to critics of TOMS in GOOD. I do not take it to be directed to me, but the timing drives me to address some of her points made in GOOD.

Kushner points out that interventions by TOMS and Goods for Goods are paired with existing government interventions in Malawi as a means to strengthen what is being provided..


As a bit of an postscript to my post, I really am not a fan of sitting with the same subject for too long. Especially when I am writing from a place of criticism or skepticism. However, the questions raised about TOMS model have yet to be adequately addressed. Partly, I believe there needs to be some more research into the impact of introducing free goods into a market. My hypothesis is really my best guess, but it is possible that handing out a free good might have a positive or no impact on local businesses.

To me, this is a prime subject to perform an RCT. You can measure health and economic outcomes in various communities that are introduced TOMS. Heck, toss in school attendance and measure family expenditures while you are at it. It will not provide the definitive answer, but could at least bring about a better understanding of what works best.

Any researchers want to take this on? TOMS, want to contact a researcher to do an impact evaluation?

The Ease of African Entrepreneurship

Life on Another Blog

I caught up with some friends for dinner over the weekend. As it happens, one is a fellow blogger on a slightly different subject than international development...

So check me out on Cait's Plate.

24 June 2011

Weekend Tunes: I Can't Make You Love Me

The latest from Bon Iver dropped this week. Buy it.

Included as a bonus, Justin Vernon sings Bonnie Rait's tune I Can't Make You Love Me with an outro of her song Nick of Time. I am trying not to repeat artists, but this song is just too good not to share immediately.  Michael Cragg in the Guardian music blog is spot on with summation of pairing the songs saying,  "In the last minute the song bleeds into a version of Rait's Nick of Time, offering up some semblance of hope as he croons, 'I found love darling, love in the nick of time.'"

The Unintended Consequences of the MDGs for Youth

Placing a large focus on infants (under the age of 5) may lead to neglecting other children. A report from UNICEF finds that a significant part of the world's population (1.2 billion to be exact) may be ignored due the focus that the Millennium Development Goals has placed on infants. Prevention Action shares a summary from the UNICEF report.
According to the UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report, almost 1.2 billion (or 18 per cent of) the world’s population are between 10-19 years of age. Most of these children live in developing countries and have benefited from efforts to improve the UN Millennium Development Goals during their lifetime. Much of this effort is funded by international donor agencies like the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development, who have supported the UN’s approach to improve the wellbeing of young children.

However, much of the efforts to improve the lives of people in developing countries over the last few years has focused specifically on the health and wellbeing of children aged 0-5 years. In fact, at least three out of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals target younger children, and make no reference to adolescents. These include the reduction of child mortality rates for those under five, improvement of maternal health, and improvement of universal primary education attainment. Others focus specifically on heath indicators rather than a set target population.

The targets set by the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2000 focused on young children primarily because the health indicators for young mothers and children under five were very poor, and this had a direct effect on reducing the world’s overall population development. Designed by Unicef and other international organisations, they were established to address the declining health of women and young children’s health as a means of reducing global poverty...
Missing from the excerpt are the five reasons why such a significant focus has been placed on infants (read the entire piece here). As the conclusion says, the focus is warranted, but the consequence of making it acute may not be fully realized.
While the reasons for focusing on adolescents are clear, an estimate of the financial returns expected for these investments are not. The evidence put forward by the report make it difficult to hypothesize what the returns on improving the lives of these young people might be. Despite making an argument for the investment opportunity, proof of its efforts are absent from the report and so it is difficult for policy makers with tight resources to make the right decisions.
The point of sharing this is not to suggest that policy should suddenly shift to make up for the gap. It is also not to harp on the MDGs. Rather, this is another example of a widely held idea which, when implemented, can potentially cause harm to some groups. I think it would be tough to find a person who will argue that the health of young children is of the utmost importance. With the rate of death for children under five so high, getting them past that stage of adolescence is vital to ensuring a longer life. However, so much focus on one part might lead to problems later on.

I am interested in knowing more about this and what evidence there is to this happening. I would not be surprised if there were negative consequences to the focus on infants, but can only guess at this point until there is data to show that it is the case.

Any researchers want to take this on?

23 June 2011

Unpacking Kiva Lenders' Bias

A month-long study of donor activities on Kiva.org yielded some very striking results.
We find that donors discriminate on the basis of attractiveness, skin color, and weight, preferring borrowers who are more attractive, who have lighter skin, and who are not overweight. The effects are statistically significant and robust, persisting across a variety of specifications and conditional on a full range of controls including country fixed effects, MFI fixed effects, economic sector and activity fixed effects, and date fixed effects. The effects are quantitatively significant. A borrower at the 75th percentile in terms of skin color (darker skin) is estimated to require 20% more time to have his or her loan funded than a borrower with lighter skin at the 25th percentile; similarly, a borrower at the 75th percentile in attractiveness (more attractive) requires almost 25% less time to receive full funding.

We also find evidence that donors appear to strongly prefer lending to women compared to men, making group loans instead of individual loans, and lending to borrowers from poorer countries. We conjecture that these preferences are in part driven by the substantial evidence circulated in the media on the success of microfinance institutions which concentrate on group lending and lending to women. However, our evidence on the strong impact of attractiveness, skin color, and weight are difficult to reconcile with any consensus or even popular evidence on the value of increased capital access to more attractive, lighter skinned, skinny individuals when it comes to economic development. We thus interpret our findings as suggesting the presence of significant discrimination on the part of donors in microfinance.
The authors speculate that weight has to do with perceptions of need. They say that previous studies show that people want their money to have the greatest impact and believe that it often believed that the person with the greatest need will maximize impact. Attractiveness does not seem very surprising to me and the same goes with skin color.

Gender something which alarms me a bit, but also seems to make sense. Microfinance has been packaged to be something which is portrayed as aimed at women. In fact many MFIs will only offer their services to women. With that picture established, I speculate that potential lenders believe that there is validity in giving to women and lean towards them for a loan. I do not mean to undermine the premise that women could be a better investment, but the study which made that claim has come under heavy scrutiny recently.

I would like to know more about why women received greater support as well as if gender does have an impact on the safety of an investment. It is possible that there is no difference in gender or that it is not the same for each country or even that different businesses will have more or less success depending on the gender of the owner. These are questions that have yet to be answered, but the narrative of microfinance continues to act as if they have.

This is also only one study of one site for one month. Jumping to immediate conclusions would be wrong. A more expansive study is definitely in order and it would be worth offering some tweaks to see what can support those who are hampered by lender bias. As it always seems, studies like this one bring up more questions than it answers them and ends with the desire for more research...

22 June 2011

PDT Post: Spending for Impact

The following is my opening paragraph in my guest post for Peace Dividend Trust. Special thanks to Elmira and Clare for the copy-editing assistance. It is pretty nice to have an extra set of eyes to look over my work. Read the entire post by going here.

Plenty of people drink coffee, wear shoes and use laptops. Why not find ways to turn spending into impact? Ethical consumption has taken a newer form since the launch of Project (Red), one-for-one products like TOMS, and vendors such as Starbucks selling responsible products. The basic idea is to add a second bottom line to a product that will provide a social benefit to a targeted group of people.

Cinderella for a Day: Matric Ball

Shanty Town Cinderellas is a 10 minute documentary on a group of young people living in Cape Town preparing for and discussing the significance of Matric Ball. Eligible for only students who have completed all of their schooling through Grade 12, the ball is similar to American prom. The video is quick and well worth watching.

Shot entirely on location in Cape Town, South Africa the documentary is directed by Benitha Vlok.
HT Africa is a Country

21 June 2011

Adapting to Failure

This short video of Tim Harford talking about failure is a must watch.  I am admittedly a fan of the push towards embracing and admitting failure by the likes of Engineers Without Borders and Peace Dividend Trust.  What failure actually means is an entire discussion by itself.  I have not read Harford's book as of yet, but it is on my short list of books to read.

Has anyone read Adapt?  What are your thoughts on the book or on failure in general?

20 June 2011

Oxfam's Foreign Aid 101

Oxfam has done a nice job in creating an informational tool about how US foreign aid is allocated and structured. For someone who does not know very much about the topic, this introduction provides an overview with enough depth that it creates a stronger understanding of what parts constitute the US foreign aid budget and the ways that it can be applied effectively.

Noteworthy is the section which illustrates good aid and bad aid. In the bad aid section it says:
When donors do not take into account local needs and demands and bypass governments and local communities, aid is ineffective and unsustainable and fails to reach the people who need it most. In Afghanistan, despite some laudable efforts, US aid is still overly reliant on contractors and provincial reconstruction teams to deliver assistance rather than relying on Afghans themselves. For example, a US-funded highway in the northern provinces of Afghanistan is plagued by wasteful spending and threatens the homes of the people who live in a nearby community. Before construction on the road could begin, the $15 million project had to pass through the hands of three different consulting companies. As a result, not enough money was left to purchase the materials necessary to build a decent road once expenses and salaries were paid to each consultant. As one senior USAID contractor put it: “So you have contract after subcontract after subcontract, which just kills everything. Multiple contracts, then an Afghan guy digging the road—why not straight hire the Afghan?”
Foreign Aid 101 Revised Edition

17 June 2011

Weekend Tunes: Justin Vernon

Justin Vernon, better known as Bon Iver, covers Tom Petty's "Crawling Back To You." I nabbed this from a former schoolmate who has a blog called Love and Squalor in Los Angeles. Not at all related to development or aid, but Bronwyn is a brilliant and honest writer who narrates her attempt to navigate LA with intermixed memories of childhood and college. I think she is onto developing a Hemingway-like voice for my generation. People will spell her name correctly one day.

Gates Vaccination Conspiracy Theories

I came across this first video as I was alarmed by the title "Bill Gates: How to Kill a Billion People and Not Get Caught." Naturally I gave it a view. In short, Gates is accused of using vaccinations, reproductive health and other health programs to justify reducing the global population. The evidence for the claim comes from his TED talk where he discusses reducing carbon emissions.

In the talk Gates says, "The world today has 6.8 billion people. That's heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent."

What surprised me is not the logical rabbit hole that is followed, but the fact that it was not isolated to a single video.

Unfortunately the people in the videos did not look a bit further on the TED website to see Hans Rosling show how the increase in life expectancy correlates with a fall in fertility rates. I am not sure what exact data that Gates uses for his claim of a 15% decrease in population, but the data does show that fertility rates will decline with improved health programs.

This is definitely going to be preaching to the choir, but I wanted to use this post to highlight how easy it is to turn a phrase and adapt it to what we want it to mean. I am just as guilty of that as others from time to time, so it highlights the importance of being as precise as possible with how information is communicated. I am sure that Gates did not think much of the statement when he prepared his TED remarks and it was seized upon so easily by 9/11 truthers and someone who thinks there will be a new world order. It is an extreme example, but one which I believe can teach some important lessons.

Also, it is Friday and it would not be complete without a little conspiracy theory mixed into the middle of the day.

16 June 2011

Top and Bottom GDP Growers over the Past Decade

Commentators are asking for context for this graph. Personally, I threw it up because I found it interesting and surprising. I did not expect Equatorial Guinea to be at the top of the list. As has been pointed out, using this to say that development has taken place in the top growth countries is misleading (as is the case with relying on any single indicator). According to The Economist, GDP per person is still the measure that gives the best indicator of economic progress or lack thereof."

To give an idea of the importance of context "Slow population growth also helps: although America's economy has grown considerably faster than Japan's since 2001, Japan’s population has shrunk while America's has risen. This means that income per head in Japan has grown almost as rapidly as in America over this period." I would add that for some of the faster growing nations it is not shown where the growth is happening. Natural resources contribute to the rise which makes me wonder if that means that technocrats and oligarchs are growing in wealth.

If I can do so, it would be useful to compare these rates against unemployment, median income levels and poverty rates.

Via The Economist

15 June 2011

Advocacy and Impact: 2+2=5

Update: @global_erinH points out that USAID tweeted a thank you to ONE for its support (see at end of post). I don't think it proves impact, but it is worth noting that the campaign was heard.  So that is something by itself.

Update 2: The White House further recognizes ONE.

Ahead of the big GAVI pledge on Monday, ONE wrote a post saying how the White House had heard the message from their twitter campaign. The aim of the campaign was to have everyone send the same tweet to the White House requesting a pledge of $450 million over the next three years to support the immunization efforts of GAVI.
So, two weeks ago, when we asked ONE members to join us in sending our vaccines message to the White House on Twitter we were more than pleased with the results. More than 2,300 ONE members and advocates posted their Twitter message on our national map. Overall, more than 3,200 messages were tweeted across the Twitterverse. These were tweets from everyday activists like you who wanted @whitehouse (The White House’s official Twitter handle) to get the message that we’re serious about their pledge to fund vaccines that could save up to four million children...

While @whitehouse didn’t respond to our outreach via Twitter, we know they got the message and that every tweet from ONE members made a huge impact. Thank you to everyone who tweeted about this critical message.
The promise did end up coming with an announcement from Raj Shah on Monday.
I am pleased to announce that the United States will continue one of the best, most cost-effective life-saving investments we have ever made.

Over the next 3 years, subject to congressional approval, we will devote $450 million to GAVI's mission, which seizes upon the opportunity to save four million lives by 2015. The United States' coordinated support for GAVI complements the efforts of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and USAID in the research, development and use of vaccines.

This multi-year commitment leverages the billions of dollars that other donors have committed to GAVI, multiplying the impact of our funding more than eight-fold.
Being that they were boasting victory before the announcement was made, it is likely that ONE will tell its supporters that the twitter campaign was successful. However, I think it would be misleading to make such a claim. As Bec Hamilton's book Fighting for Darfur shows, advocacy can be a very complex road to navigate. Asking for something, no matter the numbers does not mean it will happen. Considering the current political climate, I am sure a few will be critical of money being spent to vaccinate non-American children. That alone had to weigh on the decision of the administration when making the pledge. Fortunately, it appears that they did not allow such pressures to cause a backing off.

I stand in full support of ONE advocating for the allocation of funds to GAVI. Though imperfect, GAVI does provide a useful alliance of pharmaceuticals and vaccine implementers that can lead to meaningful vaccine efforts. Claims that tweets caused the Obama administration to make the pledge are dubious at best. This serves as an excellent illustration of the problem with causality. As researcher Laura Seay points out,
Whenever I teach students about the difference between causation and correlation, I try to have them do something ridiculous. I might have one student repeatedly flip the light switch while having another jump up and down while another sings "I'm a Little Teapot." Then I ask, what caused the light to go on and off?

Students generally roll their eyes as they answer, "flipping the switch," but the point is clear: just because events happen at the same time doesn't mean they're in any way related. They learn one of the key principles of all sciences: correlation does not imply causation.
Was ONE flipping the switch or just singing "I'm a Little Teapot?" It is likely that they did have some impact on the switch moving, but over 3,000 are not a likely reason for it to have flipped. In fact, we don't even know if the metaphorical light was already on before the campaign started. Yes, it is a good thing and ONE wants to get its supporters excited about the announcement and make them feel like they are making a difference. The question of the scope of impact does matter as it can create better informed advocates who can use their energy as effectively as possible.

Right now it feels like being told that 2+2=5.

Update: USAID thanks ONE

Update 2:
In the lead up to GAVI’s conference, the White House received thousands of phone calls, emails, and signed petitions calling for continued U.S. support for GAVI.  The ONE Campaign issued a statement of support following our announcement, including praise from Bono who noted the President was “in it to win it.”

14 June 2011

Child Labor's Complexity

A report by Al Jazeera examines the changes in child labor in the period since the global financial crisis. At the heart of the discussion is a recently published report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which says that there are 215 million child laborers around the world. Of that number, 115 million are doing what ILO deems to be 'hazardous work.' The report's author, Susan Gunn, is joined by LSE Economics professor Marco Manacorda and ecologist and activist Vandana Shiva.

To get at some definitions, to ILO a child is considered to be under 18 (can do light work at 13, ordinary work by 15 and hazardous by 18) and hazardous work is:
  • work that exposes children to physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
  • work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces;
  • work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or that involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;
  • work in an unhealthy environment, which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;
  • work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work that does not allow for the possibility of returning home each day.

An discussion on twitter around the topic took place after @paxfelicitas tweeted the link to the report to myself and a few others asking for opinions. I responded quickly saying that there is 'unequivocally no' instance where child labor was acceptable. Fortunately, Matt Richmond jumped in to say that making such a statement comes from a place of privileged; which I immediately conceded to be correct. He argued that understanding it from an outsider is nearly impossible because we are not aware of the conditions which my drive parents to put their children to work. For example, it might be necessary to do so in order to put food on the table.

A conversation ensued, but I was struck by the opposing forces that are my heard and my mind. My gut feeling was to make a sweeping statement in response to the question that it is all bad. When my mind caught up to me, it examined the issue from the perspective of survival, necessity and external forces. Is child labor always bad? No. Is it desirable? No. Should it be eradicated? Yes. Although it is a matter of how.

Hazardous work presents a separate discussion. Based on the definitions set forth by ILO, I can feel pretty comfortable in agreeing that children should not be engaging in hazardous work. However, I worry that the discussion around the report can lose the complexity of the issue presented. In the discussion the matter was child labor itself which leads to many different definitions of what that means. You could define doing household chores such as washing the dishes as child labor as can the prostitution of a young girl. Both are very different circumstances which need to be parsed out.

All of this gets back to the original idea of how we frame discussions and the language we use. Being picky is quite tiresome, but it is important. When presented with the question of it child labor is ever OK, I thought only of the situation of a girl forces into prostitution or the small hands of a boy being used to fix machinery in a factory. What I did not initially consider were the kids who provide support to the family farm or shop in order to support the family's source of income. Even that is far too simple of a picture, but it gets at the importance of being as specific as possible.

The ILO report does an excellent job of attaining this level of specificity and hopefully advocates who put it to use will do so as well. It is worth noting that one of the most encouraging aspects of the report is that it states that the issue of child labor starts with the underlying conditions of poverty. In the video, Ms Gunn points out that laws exist but are not followed. That is not evidence that legislated efforts have no bearing on the decline of child labor, but goes to show that they are not going to solve the problem either. At the root is a situation where a family needs to bring in more income and, acting in the short run, determine that children can provide the necessary support to help out the family.

13 June 2011

The Right and Wrong Maps of Africa: ODI vs Shoe Aid for Africa

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has put together a report based on a series of case studies called Mapping Progress: Evidence for a New Development Outlook (see special site here). In the report, ODI highlights how nations have been successful in addressing various poverty-related issues. The below chart is a representation of the nations studied and gives a rating of sorts to certain aspects of what is being done in the given country.
In addition, ODI notes the following commonalities that have 'driven progress.'
Smart Leadership - Pragmatic leaders that make tough decisions. In other words, they do what is right not what everyone wants or what benefits them politically.
Smart Policies - The usual suspects are here "long-term policy principles, which include sound macroeconomic management, an increasingly competitive market environment and investment in education, health and infrastructure."
Smart Institutions - Stronger, more responsive, less corrupt institutions and allow citizens to engage.
Smart Friends - Work well together, cooperate with multilateral orgs, and share knowledge. Of note, the section says, "International support has been most effective when the government has had a strong coordinating role and has linked donor support to coherent sectoral strategies"
My summaries are crude at best, but I have done so to highlight that the report affirms what is already known. It is why I added the 'ish' to my title. Yes, the report is new and very well done, but the conclusions are many of the same ones which have been shared for years. Development is complex, it takes cooperation, it requires reform and it is not going to be done with top-down interventions from outside actors.

If anything, this serves as a great development 101 report.  I would suggest anyone who is interested in learning about development from the side of finding what works to give this a read.  Those already reading about these issues will find the case studies interesting.

In complete contrast, this map of Africa from 'Shoe Aid for Africa' does just about everything wrong.  My only comments will be to note the pirate ship in the Horn of Africa and to say again that flooding existing markets can have negative consequences which can potentially do more harm that good.

HT Dave Algoso, Aid Thoughts, and Texas in Africa for the Map.

10 June 2011

Weekend Tunes: Holdin' On to Black Metal

The latest offering from My Morning Jacket, who I lamented missing last week at Mountain Jam, is worth a listen (actually just buy it). Holdin' On To Black Metal is one of the album's highlights. A funky song where Jim James thrives in the falsetto, this is a tune that showcases the bizarre mind which populates the musical space that is MMJ and makes them so great.

Happy Friday!

Learning in the Field

In discussing the importance of getting field experience for the international development career path, Helen Lindley offers one of the better explanations of how time spent listening and learning can transform the way that an individual sees poverty and potential interventions.
It is important because it makes you grateful for what you have. Not in an emotional ‘these children don’t have shoes’ sense however, but gradually, thoughtfully, and rationally. When you do the maths and realise what sacrifices your host family has to make to pay for medicine, and how expensive daily life can be for a taxi driver paying off a debt. When you sit next to a local student from a private high school in an exam, and realise that despite his relative privilege, the education system has simply not given him the analytical skills needed to analyse that piece of French text that you have always taken for granted.
This relates a bit to J's post on innovation as it is important to have a stronger understanding of the situation on the ground before introducing the latest 'innovative' solution to a perceived problem, which is something that TOMS claims to have done with the introduction of their new one-for-one product: sunglasses.

With the announcement only yesterday, it is too soon to know exactly how this model will work. Nevertheless, two things strike me with the introduction. First, the $135 sunglasses are essentially Ray-Ban Wayfarer knock-offs. Second, with such a high price it seems far more useful for a perspective customer to make a direct donation to places like the Seva Foundation who are partnering with TOMS. Of course is counter to the model set up by TOMS where they sell products to achieve a double bottom line.

It is an easy argument to be made that this model likely brings in more revenue for organizations like the Seva Foundation by selling a product that people will likely already buy. However, this is still a slick form of cultural capitalism at its best and further muddies the efforts to educate donors. Founder Blake Mycoskie says in the video that the shift is now towards the one-for-one model. If anything, this is the most important part of TOMS announcement. Although the model existed with the shoes, by making it the forerunner of the company, I believe that more start-ups will try to replicate this model for other goods (water bottles, clothing, etc) that can have a significant impact on the development of low and middle income nations.

Hopefully TOMS has really done the work to partner with NGOs and organizations that address some of the systemic needs that contribute to global vision problems. They have not done so well in this respect when it comes to their shoes, so I am not terrible optimistic.

HT Tom Paulson for the TOM video and info

09 June 2011

Thoughts on RCTs from Microfinance USA

I should have known better than to have entered the Microfinance USA conference with assumptions about how ideas would be received. In my pre-post, I expressed interest in observing whether the gap between practitioners and researchers had reduced by any measureable amount. “Surely the publication of More than Good Intentions and Poor Economics would have cleared up any of the existing tensions,” I thought to myself while drinking tea at the conference blogger’s station.
The end of my fantasy came quickly, as if a dream itself, with the opening remarks by Jonathan Lewis, CEO of Opportunity Collaboration:
The latest storm cloud from international microfinance is the social measurement and evaluation fad. Inventing social metrics has become the popular pet project of academics, foundations and consultants… 
Micro-enterprise is a social venture with ripple impacts in many directions and for many years. Its value extends beyond – way beyond – the lifespan of a randomized controlled trial. Let’s avoid delegating to the measurement mafia -- even when they are motivated by good intent -- a kind of hegemony over social change.
If anything, it appears that RCTs have grown in popularity and opposition at a relatively equal rate.  The gap was as present as ever and did not appear to be getting smaller.  In fact, the two sites could be growing apart.  It was my hope that panels with researchers and practitioners during the day would quell my growing concerns.

08 June 2011

A Historical Development Perspective: Civil War Edition

I was struck by this passage from UNC Professor Peter Coclanis's answer on the Freakonomics blog as to why the South, who lost the Civil War, continues to celebrate 150 years later:
[A]s impressive as it was, the economic growth of the South lacked qualitative development. It wasn’t moving up the value-added chain. While innovation flourished in the industrial North, it wasn’t exactly stagnant in the South, but channeled into narrow agricultural lines. The voracious global demand for cotton and tobacco masked economic weaknesses that would have huge long-term consequences.

07 June 2011

Visualizing Privilege

Toby Ng designed a series of simple graphics that show the breakdown of the world if it was reduced to 100 people. All of the images (seen here) are worth seeing, but the above three stuck out the most, to me, by illustrating what privilege looks like.

Where the Next IMF President Will Not be From...

BRICs and South Africa.  With voting shares well below world GDP share, it looks like the EU/US block of 49.7% of the votes could likely keep the leadership in the EU.

06 June 2011

The (Salary Expectation) Gender Gap

This post by Shotgun Shack on gender and INGOs has caused me to do some serious thinking about one of the trendiest development topic; gender.  SS does a good job of pointing out that there are numerous problems within the very NGOs that attempt to address gender-related problems related to the issue of poverty.  She does a great job bringing up some of the dissonance, so I will simply recommending going over to give it a read.

As a sort of addendum or to piggyback off her post, I wanted to share this chart from The Economist.  In it, men and women are asked what the believe will be their starting salary in various EU nations.  The predictions are then compared to actual pay and across gender.  Notable is the fact that, for the most part, men continue to expect to be paid more and are actually paid more than women in countries that are considered to be 'developed.'  

Also interesting is that the survey found, "Men generally placed more importance on being a leader or manager than women (34% of men verses 22% of women), and want jobs with high levels of responsibility (25% v 17%). Women, however want to work for a company with high corporate social responsibility and ethical standards; men are more interested in prestige (31% v 24%)."  This seems to support the idea put forward by SS that women largely populate the NGO world but it is men who are still largely in the leadership roles.

A hack-pseudo-psychology attempt at looking at this information has me wondering to what extent expectations and social norms have enabled this dynamic.  This is not meant to be one of these you-have-to-fix-internal-problems-first type posts that are written by some to either justify having a domestic focus or decry looking outside, but one to say that the conversation cannot be outward only.  Pointing out how a nation treats women poorly can be a tad hypocritical when coming from an NGO that does little to do it internally. The conversations about internal structures, like the one SS had, are important to continue as they can inform how interventions are shaped.

03 June 2011

Weekend Tunes: Mountain Jam

Mountain Jam is happening right now. I am not there. It depresses me. This special weekend tunes edition features the three acts that are up in Hunter, NY and make me wish that I was there.

Gov't Mule: Time to Confess

Coretta Scott King on Poverty

PBS was showing Simon and Garfunkel's Songs of America, a 1969 documentary about the duo that was as much political as it was musical. As I was half paying attention, the voice of a women comes into the background as the pickings of Paul Simon are heard and images of America with great farm expanses and urban poverty stand stark. The women, Coretta Scott King it turns out, says:
Poverty can produce a most deadly kind of violence. In this society violence against poor people and minority groups is routine. I remind you that starving a child is violence; suppressing a culture is violence; neglecting schoolchildren is violence; discrimination against a working man is violence; ghetto house is violence; ignoring medical needs is violence; contempt for equality is violence; even a lack of will power to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.
Hearing this made me literally stop my work and take in the verbal and visual imagery presented by Mrs. King as I imagined that the sentiments are just as relevant over 30 years later in and out of the United States.

There are many reasons one will work towards the end of poverty, whether it may be the excitement of travel or the rush of joy felt when helping a person accomplish a goal, but the moral indignation when considering the violence of poverty burns within every person who enters this endeavor. Though a sense of caution persists as I consider the 'violence' perpetrated by those who solely ride the wave of good will and implement programs that do more harm than good to be masked behind good intentions. Recognizing the violence that is poverty is as important as recognizing what is being done and has not worked.

The opening of Songs of America:

02 June 2011

Aid Has 3 Roles and All Matter

Terence Wood writes on what he sees as the three different kinds of aid.
1. Development aid. In this, aid is a somewhat effective tool for sustainably transforming countries. For shifting them from a sub-optimal state to a better one. This is the aid of Jeffrey Sachs books and development agency rhetoric. This is the ideal.

2. Band-aid aid. This is aid that makes no pretence at changing societies. It’s simply about improving people’s welfare in the absence of systematic change. This is the sort of aid that might ensure that people get basic health care over many years, even as their country stays poor. I don’t use the term band-aid pejoratively here: if you’re bleeding, a band-aid helps. And, even if you never significantly change the development trajectory of a country, if you help its people, by reducing the number who die from disease or who are crippled by it, then you’re likely making the world a better, happier place.The improvements generated by this aid aren’t usually sustainable in the sense that they stop when the aid stops (although, arguably vaccinations fall into this category and their impacts can be sustainable.)

3. Keeping it together aid. This is aid which aims higher than band-aid aid, but which doesn’t pretend to be transforming anything. This is aid which tries to keep states together and functioning even if it’s not transforming them. It’s aid that works in the short term (when it works) and which may have a long term impact, not through developing anything but through providing at least a little bit of space for development to occur indigenously.

In the remainder of his post, he argues his case for concentrating on number 2 and maybe allocating some resources towards number 3. He makes a strong argument which is worth reading, but I want to needle a bit at his aim to use number 2.

The invocation of a band-aid is quite apt and Terence is aware of this noting that a band-aid does in fact help. I concede the point when, staying in the metaphor, the wound is manageable and the band-aid of adequate strength and size. In the world of aid, this is a supposition that highly unreasonable.

01 June 2011

Visualizing Crop Production 1961-2050

A six-part infographic was launched by the Farming First coalition in advance of the G8 summit. "The Story of Agriculture and the Green Economy" uses visuals to tell the story of where agriculture has been, where it is projected to go and what impacts that might have. Below, I have included three of the most interesting graphics.  What strikes me is the fact that the predicted growth in cereal crop production in Africa is very small compared to that of Asia.

I am in no position to properly analyze the predictions and where the numbers were found, but I know that a commentator or two will jump in to add some perspective.