29 July 2011

Weekend Tunes: Goin' on Vacation!

...and it could not be at a better time. It will be something like 'Toes' by Zac Brown Band or really nothing like it at all. Though there will be relaxation, sun, a boat and relaxing tunes while kickin' it by the lake.

I have some posts queued up for next week. They are basically videos, infographics and graphs. My goal is to try to be offline completely. I am not sure if I will be able to not check my Google Reader, but my hope is to not even send out a single tweet. Maybe I will take lots of pictures of the lake...

Thanks to everyone for reading. I have crossed the threshold of 500 blog subscribers, so a special thanks goes to the regulars and those who find what appears here worth reading every day.

Have a great week!

On Sending Bloggers Around the World

This is an excerpt from my debut piece on Think Africa Press.

In a recent piece for Guardian Development, Rowan Davies discusses the latest NGO trend: sending bloggers to the field. She discusses the example of Heather B. Armstrong who traveled, on her own dollar, to Bangladesh at the invitation of the Every Mother Counts. Davies is not sold that sharing such an experience will lead the audience to act or engage in their own right.
Where blogger engagement projects often fall down is in closing the deal: having aroused the empathy of an engaged audience, they fail to provide something potent for people to do next. If you've just read a post about children working 14 hours a day scavenging material from towering heaps of putrefied waste, you probably want to do something more effective than signing a petition or sending an email to your elected representative; but frequently, this is all that's on offer. Engagement, information and a powerful completion strategy allow westerners to stand behind those in absolute poverty: not to attempt to save them, but to recognise our outrageous luck and try to change global systems for the better. Deciding what this completion strategy should be is the hard part. But without an answer, blogging trips risk being little more than groovy PowerPoint slides in the campaign department's next quarterly report.
As an aid and development blogger, I would selfishly love to be flown around the world to see various projects...

Read the rest by going here.

Mark Thoma on the Missing Middle

Economist Mark Thoma writes about the disconnect between economists and practitioners for the Reuters blog. His focus is on business and the present US financial crisis, but you can take the majority of the article and apply it to international development.
Academic economists have emphasized the “how it works” part of economics; in econometrics, for example, the focus is on hypothesis testing to determine which model of the economy is best, rather than on forecasting the future of the economy. Academic economists do evaluate policy proposals theoretically and empirically, and they do provide forecasts of the economy. But forecasting in particular is not the main focus of their efforts, , and they’ve all but ignored – even looked down their noses upon – forecasters and practitioners in the government and business communities...

The medical profession would do much worse without connections between the practitioners in the field and the how-it-works types in the labs. The questions researchers ask, for example, are shaped by the needs of the practitioners trying to prevent and cure illness. What types of tests can doctors do in their offices and labs to quickly and reliably indicate the current health of a patient and to forecast future health problems? In economics, if reliable tests for bubbles had been available to business economists, that could have saved the economy from considerable losses.

Economics has lost the connection between the practitioners and the academics. This may have something to do with the desire among economists to become more of a science – a heavy focus on theory and math is the result. But no matter the cause, if we want to do all that we can to avoid big economic problems, and if we want to use the feedback from those testing economic ideas on real world applications as a way of better understanding how the economy works, then we must reestablish these ties.
He is right about this topic and I believe right about development economists. I am the first to say that I am a fan of the work being done by Easterly, the randomistas, and the researchers at CGD. Maybe that is because there is a component of wanting to connect with practitioners, but there still remains a gap.

What I would add to Thoma's argument is that the practitioners have to do their part as well. That does not mean that they should become academics, rather they should not so casually dismiss the research of economists. Coming towards the middle from both parties could lead to better collaboration, improved research and ultimately better interventions.

28 July 2011

Us and Them: The Limits of a Narrowed Worldview

I wrote this yesterday morning, just before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee voted to cut USAID funds, eliminate contributions to UNFPA, and redeuce money give to the UN. This act, I believe is a symptom of the 'us' vs. 'them' mentality that I get to in this post.
The past week has experienced the convergence of four high profile tragedies. The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa impacts millions, Amy Winehouse died after a long battle with substance abuse, a single man terrorized Oslo killing nearly 70 people, and a two trains collided head on killing 39. All have happened in quick succession and all have lead to some very hasty reporting.

This lead some people to comment on twitter and blogs about the rapid changing media from one story to another and the drive for sensationalism. Some argued that the millions affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa should be getting far more media coverage relative to the other tragedies.

There is no doubt that there not only needs to be more coverage, but better coverage. Owen Barder, Ed Carr and More Altitude have written excellent posts on this. However, any loss of life should not be weighed as more tragic than any other.

This kind of binary view of lives having greater or lesser value is a serious problem. Either extreme misses the point. One side will place greater value on the self or what is local. So they will argue that Americans should take care of America first. This has become a favorite argument for commentators who want to end foreign aid. I listen to my fair share of conservative radio and it has become one of the favorites amidst the budget crisis.

The argument goes that we are experiencing hard times and need to prioritize ourselves above all others. It is easy to see why this argument would lend itself to the idea of eliminating foreign aid and also why entitlements are the next target on the list.

This narrow view of humanity is dangerous. It is why the death of Amy Winehouse resonates more strongly within some people. To some, the loss is a great musician and singer. This can make her passing seem more important, because it is felt personally. People dying of starvation or being shot by a gunman have a distance between what we have experienced in our every day lives.

Food insecurity, for most Americans, is something that is never considered. Many are unaware of the privilege of being born into a nation with such a strong economy and chance to make a reasonable living. This breeds a disconnect on the basic level of humanity.

Bec Hamilton articluates this point well in the conclusion section of her excellent book Fighting for Darfur(review will be written soon).
[I]f sacrifices paid by those inside our borders continue to weigh much heavier than the benefits they accrue to people outside our borders, then we do not have the legitimacy to ask China or any other country to disrupt its national priorities to help the citizens of a foreign country. And it makes little sense to speak of the political will of those in power when, as now, the system they are working within is structurally aligned with the idea that the comfort and the well-being of people "here" matter more than life or death for people "there."
Peter Singer makes the same rough argument when he describes his 'drowning child' scenario. I think that Bec says it better by pointing out the problems with viewing people as 'us' and 'them.' Those arguing that the Horn of Africa needs further coverage should expand their view when considering the other tragedies this week. They are right, but have an opportunity to point out that unnecessary death and suffering are unacceptable regardless of the circumstance.

What connects these four events is that there are ways that they can be addressed and mitigated. Sadly, three have come to pass and there is no way back. The Horn of Africa is a place where this trend can and should be reserved. Food aid and relief can save lives and further support can hopefully prevent this from happening again.

27 July 2011

India: Taking Control of its Aid Money

The government of India has established an agency to oversee how development money is spent in the country. The Guardian reports:
The agency will reportedly be called the Indian Agency for Partnership in Development, overseeing $11.3bn (Rs 50,000 crore) over the next five to seven years.

The move has been welcomed by policymakers who say a central agency will halt leakages, curb delays, slash operation costs and prevent projects being rushed through by individuals misusing their discretionary powers. Furthermore, aid would no longer be driven by territorial divisions and regional interests, making way for a cohesive aid strategy...

The agency will have to ensure quick decision-making and insulate aid from political considerations if it is to deliver aid effectively. Experts say that India's legal framework monitoring government procurement should be strengthened to boost accountability and to prevent it from falling prey to corruption.

The concerns over aid management are timely. Earlier this year, the government auditor revealed that $22.6bn (Rs 1 lakh crore) in foreign aid given to India was lying unused due to poor planning by various ministries.
This is really exciting news. Increased accountability and transparency will help to stem the mismanagement of funds. It does bring up the question of whether India should start being weaned off international aid; a conversation that has continued to stir within England.
The creation of the aid agency, believed to be modelled on the US international development agency, USAid, raises the question of whether India should be dishing out aid at all when it still receives international aid and suffers from rampant poverty and poor development. But supporters of India's foreign aid programme say aid helps the country's domestic agenda indirectly by opening economic doors, ensuring regional peace and boosting business opportunities in recipient countries.
These conversations should continue as there will be a time, in the near future, when countries like Brazil and India will take the complete lead on addressing domestic poverty issues. This day should be encouraged, but the transition will not be easy. DFID has been making some moves forward, but still has committed £1bn in aid to India through 2015. Donors and organizations are likely to point at the work that still needs to be done while others will say that the majority of the responsibility should reside in the nation itself.

What do you think it will take for this transition to take place? It is inevitable. When will India be seen as simply a trade partner as opposed to an aid recipient?

26 July 2011

Voluntourism is the Best Option? Really?

Eric Hartman writes in Good Intentions are Not Enough a defense for voluntourism. It is really less of a defense as it is a list of why he supports it.
Let’s first dispose of the false dichotomies: it’s not the case that everyone interested in international volunteerism should “just donate the same amount as their plane ticket and program fee.” Most international volunteers are not exclusively interested in funding development projects. They’re interested in supporting community goals, traveling to new places, meeting new people, connecting across cultures, and doing more good than harm while they learn and serve. They’re paying for that whole package and entire experience, not a development initiative alone.
From there he gives what four outcomes that voluntourism opportunities are invested. Frankly, they do not matter when starting from the point that Hartman lays out above. In short, he says that most people who take part in voluntourism are not concerned with development; rather they are interested in themselves.

This will not become an argument that says that every act must be selfless. That would be silly to argue. However, the priority should not be about if an individual likes to travel to new places and meet new people. An attitude like that will always put the experience of the individual above any activity done. That is why critics, such as myself, are concerned.

Education can be a part of it. People not caring about development is a matter of a lack of empathy and understanding. Not everyone will be as interested in the wonky points of intervention tweaks, but I think it is dismissive to say that growing an understanding of poverty is not possible.

That does not mean that everyone will be converted to the idea that it is better to make a donation. Rather, there can be a future where people are more inclined to make a donation. That is through education.

A part of education will be achieved through first hand experience. Voluntourism, at the present moment, is here to stay. So, it should be leveraged as much as possible in order to bring forward education and create a tipping point where less and less people will want to do such experiences.

Right now, successful voluntourism experiences should mean providing a strong education to those involved that leads to no further trips. Voluntourism is not all bad. It is certainly not all good and it is not the best option.


I also wanted to address the one section of the post that mentions me:
tradiction in the development blogosphere at the moment, where on the one hand there are numerous exasperated posts maligning the presence of unskilled or under-prepared development amateurs (see Tom Murphy @viewfromthecave, Tales from the Hood 1 & 2, or Dave Algoso in Foreign Policy , among many others) that somehow sit neatly alongside, sometimes even on the same sites as posts that extol the virtues of the searchers – the independent, hard-scrabble, keenly intuitive new social-sector-solution-makers: the entrepreneurs
To be as clear as possible. I, under no circumstance, am in support of actions done without any sort of prior learning/research/education/experience. That applies equally to DIYers, unskilled volunteers, skilled volunteers, travelers, and on and on. The concern is applied equally.

25 July 2011

Things I Like: Lessons I Learned

Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY, keeps a blog sharing the lessons she has learned over the past 6 years since she started her education NGO in Cambodia 6 years ago. Her reflections are extremely honest and help to highlight what I believe is a problem with DIY aid when starting without any understanding of development and aid.

On Friday, she shared the short film "Changing the World on Vacation." The film gives a peek into NGO work and voluntourism in Cambodia. Daniela appears in the film at a point when she was just getting things going with PEPY.

Upon watching it a few years later, Danilea recorded this reflection:

As someone who has cheered on the idea of admitting failure, it is encouraging to see someone who is willing to admit where she has gone wrong and freely share what the journey was like. People like Daniela can help to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

This is not to prove that all DIY aid is inherently wrong. It would be too broad of a stroke to make such a claim. Rather, it is to illuminate the importance of knowledge. Daniela is not the first to make the mistakes that she shares in her blog and will not be the last. Efforts should be made to ensure that that mistakes are not replicated and projects are started with an awareness of what has and has not worked in the past.

That is not full-proof, but it can mitigate most of the negative outcomes that can be borne out of poorly designed and implemented interventions. It would be like stepping onto a a soccer field having only ever watched a few games. Nobody could reasonably expect to excel at the sport on the first attempt. It requires practice and time to hone skills and improve. Unfortunately, there are NGOs that are started under the same circumstances. If we would not put a first-timer on the pitch with Manchester United, why do we accept it in humanitarian work?

Daniela sums up the same point saying:
The attitudes and actions of us real human beings can not always be predicted well and we make mistakes. Let’s not brush them under the rug or not talk about them. Let’s admit them, work to fix them, change our behaviors so we don’t repeat our mistakes, and then let’s share the lessons we have learned with others so that they can learn too. Mistakes should not be what we are punished for, but perhaps for not being willing to research, listen, or learn, we should be.

23 July 2011

Much Ado About Philadelphia

That is from last night's performance of Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' in Clark Park. Each year one Shakespearean play is performed, for free, at the park. Braving the heat, I took in what I believe to be one of Shakespeare's best comedies. How can you not like something that includes some thoughts on beards?
What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel
and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a
beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no
beard is less than a man: and he that is more than
a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a
man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take
sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his
apes into hell.
There is no development link here (though I may be so bold to write a post this week that does in fact connect the play to development), rather an admiration for the arts in Philadelphia. One thing this city does exceptionally well is offer the opportunity to enjoy the arts for free throughout the year. Whether it is First Friday where all the art galleries stay open into the evening or it is free movies at Penn's Landing on Thursday night, Philadelphia has a lot going on that can be done on a low budget.

Better yet, it is taken in by people old and young. What struck me about last night was that the majority of people attending a Shakespearean play were in the 25 to 35 range.  I took my picture from a lower perspective in order to show the young crowd.  The heat may have played a role in who attended, but the arts are thriving among young people. As an avid fan of Shakespeare, it is encouraging to see more who appreciate the beauty of his language.

If anyone reads this and is in the Philadelphia area, you can see the play tonight and tomorrow night at 7PM. I highly recommend it as it is well acted and very funny.

22 July 2011

Weekend Tunes: The Civil Wars

Happy Friday!

Rules of Engagement (or ways to make your generic press release more appealing to me)

From time to time I get emails from organizations or individuals about topics which may be of interest to me. Basically, they want to see if I will write a post on a recently released idea, paper, project, or video. The communications have been a mixed bag and I felt that it would be helpful to anyone who has interest in sending along an email to offer some advice. So here goes:

1) Please use my name.  The name on my email address is 'Murph.'  Go right ahead and use it! If it is a press release from a giant multilateral then all is forgiven. However, if you found my blog and pulled my email address the least you can do is personally address it since you already put in the effort.

2) Be direct. Let me know your expectations. If you send a press release, say how you hope for this to be used. Otherwise, it just appears to be interesting information that can be shared with a quick tweet.

3) Read a few posts before deciding to email me. I love getting them, but you might not be happy if I write critically about a project that you hope will garner some positive. I will give an honest assessment of any given idea.  My aim is to always be fair with what I write, but reading this blog should indicate that I am not simply a cheerleader.

4)Provide as much supporting information as possible. Give me some data, charts, links, hard reports, etc. The more information I have the easier it is to develop a post.

5)Follow up. Sometimes I have other posts set to be published for the week. Other times the email might slowly make its way down my inbox. A follow up is always welcome as a friendly nudge.

6) Advanced information is the best. I love being able to get my hands on a report a few days ahead of the official release. It allows me to plan a bit better and can let me coincide with when the official release takes place.

7) Keep them coming. I was a little perplexed when I first started to get press releases and inquiries, but now I quite enjoy ones that are put together well. It is hard to catch everything myself, so this is a nice way of having gathering information I may have missed.

RCTs: Failing Economics for 100 Years?

Economist Steve Ziliak writes in to Mark Thoma in regards to the growing use of RCTs by economists. In his letter, he argues that they were rejected a century ago and are not a valid tool. He also includes the abstract of a paper he has written in response to 2009 paper by Steve Levitt and John List on RCTs.
In an article titled "Field Experiments in Economics: The Past, the Present, and the Future," Levitt and List (2009) make three important claims about the history, philosophy, and future of field experiments in economics. They claim that field experiments in economics began in the 1920s and 1930s, in agricultural work by Neyman and Fisher. Second, they claim that artificial randomization is the sine qua non of good experimental design; they claim that randomization is the only valid justification for use of Student‘s test of significance. Finally, they claim that the theory of the firm will be advanced by economists doing randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for private sector firms. Several areas of economics, for example the development economics of Banerjee and Duflo, have been influenced by the article, despite the absence of historical and methodological review. This comment seeks to fill that gap in the literature. Student has, it is found, priority over Fisher and Neyman; he compared balanced and random designs in the field—on crops from barley to timber—from 1905 to 1937. The power and efficiency of balanced over random designs - discovered by Student and confirmed by Pearson, Neyman, Jeffreys, and others adopting a decision-theoretic and/or Bayesian approach - is not mentioned by Levitt and List. Neglect of Student is especially regrettable, for he showed in his job as Head Brewer of Guinness that artificial randomization is neither necessary nor sufficient for improving efficiency, identifying causal relationships, or discovering economically significant differences. One way forward is to take a step backwards, from Fisher to Student.
Hopefully some of the randomista's will jump into the discussion to share their thoughts. I am not familiar with either paper and will abstain from in-depth commentary at this point. What I find curious is the fact that the rejection of a method 100 years ago appears to be sufficient to say that it is not appropriate now. I will need far more evidence than that to prove that RCTs are not accurate.

Anyone have thoughts?

Read Ziliak's paper here and List/Levitt's here.  Also, see Ziliak's full letter to Thoma here.

21 July 2011

Visualizing the East African Drought

This video comes via the Economist which explains the trajectory of the drought and looks forward to heavy rainfalls due to La Nina. If you want to have a closer look at the data you can also see this chart below. Oh, and if you want even more from The Economist, read this article about the situation.

This confirms that I am in the midst of a torrid love affair with The Econmist's Daily Charts.

Aid's God Complex and Bloggers Groupthink

I had this sitting in an open tab for a few days to watch. I knew it would eventually end up here. Tim Harford discusses the God Complex and the value of trial and error in his TED talk. If there was ever a time that I happened to teach a university level class on aid and development, this video and probably Tim's book would be one of the first assignments I would give.

This ties into another post I have been mulling over. Shawn Ahmed wrote a post on aid work and Islamic extremism a few days ago. In the post he takes on aid blogger groupthink over the subjects of orphanages, overhaead and professionalism. He made some salient points, but I think missed some of the finer details. Dave Algoso offered a retort which then spilled into the comments section. I will not summarize what the two say since it is far better to read it yourself if you did not see either post.

The accusation of groupthink leveled by Ahmed is the part that bothered me most about what he wrote. It is possible that cognitive dissonance is at play, but I believe it to be untrue. Dave points out and I agree, many aid bloggers and aid workers are not in complete agreement.  Some love and some hate RCTs.  There are ICT evangelicals and those who think we are a long way off from them making a significant impact.  In fact, most aid bloggers, myself included, will often admit that they do not know all or any of the solutions. If there is a commonality, it is the agreement that the current systems are far from perfect. Some interventions do more harm than good.

Although he does not feel comfortable with the title, Shawn is an aid blogger. He uses the medium of writing and video to share his thoughts and experiences in working alongside Save the Children in Bangladesh. That is not the same role as others, but that is no less varied than a group of people that includes a communications associate, a number cruncher, a field researcher, a knowledge manager and a campus advocate.

What is also shared is that nobody claims to know all the answers. It is not a popular stance. Bill Easterly tweeted the other day something to the effect, "it is hard to get funding when saying that I am not sure if aid works." Ambiguity and complexity are not interesting to most. If Oxfam was discussing their GROW campaign and said, "there is a chance it might work if things line up correctly and even if they do it might fail," it would have fallen flat.

So, Tim Harford is right. We need to accept failure and realize that trial and error is part of the process. Some will argue that lives are at stake and we should not be treating recipients like guinea pigs. Fair point. However, I believe it to be irresponsible to implement solutions with the assumption that they are correct.

This would be like assuming that a properly trained rookie left fielder on the Phillies will bat a perfect 1.000. Then, if he utterly fails he is kept on the team because he is trying really hard. Or, if he succeeds, nothing is done to make him better or understand why he has been successful. Baseball is the perfect analogy because it is rife with failure. In fact the best hitter in baseball right now (avg), Jose Reyes, fails 65% of the time.

The batting average is not a complete picture.  Like Rosling's graphs, it tells larger trends but misses on the finer changes.  Reyes is notorious for running up the count to two strikes.  Does this contribute to his present batting average?  Did he change his approach this season?  Making the wrong decision to take a pitch rather than swing, guessing fastball and swinging too early on a curve, trying to take an inside fastball to the opposite field; all are small failures or mistakes that can lead to success, like a broken bat single, or failure, such as a strikeout. Isolating each instance is extremely hard. Randomistas will claim that they do it best and I think that they are on to something.

Critics of research will decry the wonky conversations that do not address the issues at hand. Some will say that things need to get done and it is a waste of resources and time running an evaluation.  Things do need to get done, but speaking so generally is problematic. The real waste is supporting solutions that do not work. I am not sure quite what works in aid and development. I don't think that anyone knows all or even the majority of the answers. This can change when failure is admitted, shared and embraced.

What that looks like? I don't know.

20 July 2011

Visualizing and Comparing 7 Billion People

OK, I am a sucker for charts. This set of interactive infographics from National Geographic are too interesting not to share. All four are here, but you can also go here to see them on their site. I made the pictures about as big as I can. If you click in you can zoom in to see them more clearly.

19 July 2011

Life as the Global North Sees It

Journalist Clair MacDougall writes a reflection on seeing the new film Life in a Day on her blog. Her final section has me thinking.
A great deal of the footage from the ‘third world’ looked like it had been taken either by skilled cinematographers or members of the Peace Corps or other volunteer groups. The only footage I saw from Africa was of that of a man saying that he was against homosexuals, another man saying he liked football, a woman from the Masai Mara saying a few funny things, and beautifully shot footage of women singing while pounding some form of grain in the Congo.

One of the final clips showed young people at a beach party setting forth paper bags filled with candles into the night sky, a suggestion that though we are individual souls glowing bright, we are collectively part of something bigger, more wondrous and beautiful. While the visual metaphor may bear some truth, I did not leave the film with a greater feeling of connection to the world but rather one of alienation. I left with a heavy sense that we, from the global north and elites from the south, are flooding the world with increasingly sophisticated messages and projections that have more to do with how we want to be seen than who we are. While the poor, and those who have less access to and a less sophisticated grasp of technology, continue to be represented by others.
What Clair says is not new, but it is right. The aid blogging space is full of people with privilege (such as myself) who have constant internet access so that they can write about and discuss the latest information from an RCT. I am not beating up on myself nor am I critically writing about anyone else. However, there continues to be a significant and important group missing from the conversation. From time to time that must be recognized. Outsiders showing what is happening in the global south, as seen through NGOs, this blog, other aid blogs and films like Life in a Day have utility. They are not giving a voice to the voiceless. That ability lies with the people who are living in poverty and in nations where access to internet is rapidly growing.

HT Rachel Strohm

18 July 2011

The Lady of Yangon is free; but what next for her long suffering nation?

The following is a guest post by Adam Vink. Adam is a human rights campaigner, having followed the situation in Burma for a number of years. Based in Brussels Belgium, Adam currently works in the area of gender equality and girls' rights.

Making my way down a crumbled thoroughfare twisting through the first lush green approaches to Yangon’s splendid and iconic Schwedagon Pagoda, I recall the joke about George Orwell writing not one book about Burma, but a trilogy and in chronological order: Burmese Days, followed with Animal Farm, and 1984. Though conscious barely conspicuous video devices and camera equipment stalking me on my path, I wonder nevertheless whether the time is near for a fourth installment. After all, I have just left the Yangon headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), having met Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s leader, and where a huge crowd was still gathered amid scenes of elation and euphoria.

None of this was imaginable three years ago - the last time I was in this beautiful but long suffering country, crushed as it still exists between the dual humiliation of poverty and cruel authoritarian rule. The day I meet Aung San Suu Kyi she is celebrating her 66th birthday. Only recently released from a period of house arrest lasting close to two decades, she remains a striking and elegant figure, in excellent health and spirits despite decades of confinement and hardship. She speaks in a calm, considered and erudite manner, with a passion and conviction that seems utterly bereft of resentment or malice. On learning my nationality she expresses her fondness for the Kiwi bird; "so incongruous, so improbable". I suggest that perhaps these are qualities she can identify with - she giggles before her answer "...maybe!"

I apologize for my attire; several hours among the large crowd in the heat of Yangon in June, along with a small stint linking arms with the NLD security team attempting crowd control, had left my shirt drenched with sweat. Suu Kyi, in an immaculate purple dress, the famous flowers in her hair, gave a reassuring look and assured me it was quite standard attire for this office. At that moment, I was reminded of the striking contrast between the image of the intelligent, passionate and courageous woman sitting opposite me, and the hyper-masculine, unimaginative and oppressive military machine that is bent on silencing her.

Our conversation quickly turns to the political situation as Suu Kyi sees it in her 66th year, and the strange new atmosphere the NLD finds itself in following last year’s elections and her subsequent release. She begins by telling me, 'if there is one message I would like those outside Burma to hear, it is to remain alert'. She brings up the fighting that broke out just a few days before our meeting between government forces and Kachin rebels - one of many minority ethnic groups ruthlessly exploited by the regime: ‘[The fighting] is the proof we have all been expecting, that the newly formed civilian government is neither willing nor able to work towards any form of national reconciliation. A government must firstly protect its citizens, and it is clear that this one doesn’t seem to be prepared to carry out this duty".

Elaborating her point further, Suu Kyi explains, "By ‘alert’, what I mean is that it is more important than ever to hold this regime to account and not to be fooled by its new guise." Acknowledging that her release is a part of this, she repeats the message given by her colleagues earlier in the day, that by releasing her, relaxing its treatment of the NLD supporters and its leadership, and by orchestrating the charade of an utterly flawed election, the regime hopes to buy enough favor from the international community to encourage further foreign investment in the country. She adds that nobody quite knows what to expect from the regime in response to her upcoming tour of the country, and in the future.

"The regime claims it acts against us in the name of stability.” She continues, pointing in the direction of the crowd gathered outside, "[however] we have never in 20 years caused any trouble. [The Regime] claims it acts in the name of stability, but it gets to define what stability and instability is. The trouble only takes place when they show up." We half-joke that it is the ludicrous manipulation of words like 'stability' that seem often to give authoritarian regimes the world over their own sense of vindication. I mention that when signing a visa application form to enter Myanmar, one also agrees not to 'interfere' in the internal politics of Myanmar. 'Yes!' Suu Kyi laughs, 'what is the definition of interfere?'; 'perhaps attending your birthday party might qualify' I suggest.

This issue leads onto the subject of Suu Kyi's interpretation of events currently taking place in the Middle East. Her response to comparisons with the Burma situation is emphatic; 'I don't think we can expect the so-called 'Arab Spring' to come to Burma'. While she believes these events are inspiring to many with access to outside information, the reality in Burma is that the majority of people are kept painfully ignorant about the outside world, despite the government’s efforts at censorship appearing clumsy and crude to visitors to the country.

Moreover for Suu Kyi, Burmese not only lack of technology infrastructure, and an understanding of international issues, but remain profoundly frightened by their leaders. ”The people know for sure that their government will fire on them if they take to the streets like in the Middle East. Burma is still governed very much by fear."

My time with Suu Kyi is not long; on this day as any other she has much to do and many people to see. I offer my gratitude in what feeble Burmese I know and after a small informal exchange I am ushered out by senior party members into the dank and derelict foyer where others wait to meet with the Lady of Yangon.

Before heading outside to negotiate the deluge of supporters still gathered below Suu Kyi’s office, I copy the photos and notes taken throughout the day onto several drives as a precaution against potential confiscation. My NLD pin and various badges collected throughout the day, I keep on.

The passion, joy and enthusiasm of the crowd that greets me finally as I quit the building is palpable, and, like Orwell in a different time and context, I reflect once again on the absurdity of such an affecting country of enormous antiquity and vast mineral wealth enduring the humiliation and degradation of a cruel and despotic gang of thugs. But on this day, those assembled in the shadow of the Schwedagon Pagoda – intensely effulgent in the late afternoon sun – experienced a small glimpse of a life free from fear; it seems more urgent than ever that the world take notice of Burma, and to the message of its most famous daughter.

15 July 2011

Weekend Tunes: Radiohead – The King Of Limbs: Live From The Basement

Raw. Sublime. Happy Friday.

Investing in English

The Guardian reported on a recent study which is said to have uncovered evidence of economic advantages to African nations that are English-speaking.
The level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is significant. FDI increased by an average of 6% over 2005-2008. Although dynamic economic performance is a key attraction for FDI, there is also a link between language and investment. FDI inflows from English-speaking countries such as the USA and the UK are typically highest in those countries where English is the lingua franca; in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan the share of FDI originating from English-speaking countries is 41%, 35% and 33%. By contrast, largely French-speaking Cameroon and Rwanda lose out, with only 2% and 1% of their total FDI inflows coming from English-speaking countries. However, those other markets investing in Cameroon and Rwanda, such as the UAE investing into Cameroon, will communicate in English as well, necessitating a strong grasp of the language within the countries.
I don't have a strong background in research methods, but evaluating only five nations (Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Pakistan) does not seem like quite enough to say it is statistically significant. Over a larger sample size, it is possible that the direction might shift a bit. Pakistan and Rwanda are special cases that seem to be more of exceptions rather than the rule.

In Pakistan, the United States continues to pour money into the country that they hope can stabilize in order to maintain greater regional harmony (to some extent). This means that a lot of investments will be going into a nation that is very important in terms of national security and diplomatic interests. Rwanda is also interesting because the genocide likely has an impact on investments for better or for worse.

Trying to draw any real conclusions seems fruitless.  Like most studies, this piques interest and disappoints as it necessitates yet another study.

14 July 2011

UN Corruption: Unpaid Parking Tickets Edition

Just a fun map to see.  Maybe African diplomats don't like parking rules? Or there must be a perceived difference between fines and bribes.  Paying bribes might be fun?

Ending Poverty in Brazil

This feature from NPR investigates the high rate of growth in the northeast of Brazil. While economic growth abounds, some have still not seen the differences in their own lives. The active hand that the government of Brazil is taking in lifting people out of poverty is something I need to watch more closely.

13 July 2011

Watch Live Now: Freeing Kenya's Data

Watch live streaming video from worldbankafrica at livestream.com

From now until noon watch "Freeing Kenya's Data:Official Speaks About the Open Government Initiative in Kenya" from World Bank Africa.
On July 8, the Kenyan government launched an Open Data portal, releasing several large datasets, including the 2009 census, seven years of detailed government expenditure data, and the 2005 household income survey. It will provide data access on the web and through mobile phones to researchers, web and software developers, journalists, students, civil society and the general public.

Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications for Kenya is in Washington to attend the Open Government Partnership event organized by the U.S. Department of State. He has kindly agreed to come to the World Bank and discuss this exciting initiative, launched last week by the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi.

The Kenya Open Data portal is an initiative of the government of Kenya spearheaded by the Ministry of Information and Communications, managed by the Kenya ICT Board in partnership with the World Bank, Socrata and; private web and content developers.

The Savior is Matt Damon?

That picture runs atop an article in Fast Company about Matt Damon and the efforts of his charity Water.org. The title of the article is nearly as good: Can Matt Damon Bring Clean Water To Africa? The article reads as the standard foreigner helping the poor narrative. Credit is due for writing a rather expansive piece on Damon, rather than a quick hitter that talks about how great he is because he started his charity.

What is unfortunate is that water.org is a pretty darn good organization. From what I have learned, it sounds like they really have a strong model and get what they are doing. The article does show some of the innovative ways they are using microfinance and other tools to improve and sustain their reach.

That aside, when will we stop seeing graphics like the one that asks if Damon can save the girl? Why couldn't it ask how he was collaborating with that girl. Better yet, how he is learning from her. The perpetuation of the idea that aid work falls on the helper-helped spectrum really must come to an end.

To be explicit and not confuse anyone, this is not intended to say or even suggest that Mr. Damon believes that he will save people in Africa. Rather, it is to point out that this narrative continues to be used when presenting the story of aid projects.


12 July 2011

Duflo: Venture Capital, Not Aid

Speaking at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Duflo gives some of her usual talking points with a very slight twist. Being that her audience was philanthropists, Duflo chose to frame her talk around encouraging venture capital to support programs that work as opposed to general aid. I assume most of you are familiar with Duflo's thoughts, but it is worth checking out.

11 July 2011

The Economist Calls Out the Republican Party

Another reason why I love the Economist:
There is no good economic reason why this should be happening. America’s net indebtedness is a perfectly affordable 65% of GDP, and throughout the past three years of recession and tepid recovery investors have been more than happy to go on lending to the federal government. The current problems, rather, are political. Under America’s elaborate separation of powers, Congress must authorise any extension of the debt ceiling, which now stands at $14.3 trillion. Back in May the government bumped up against that limit, but various accounting dodges have been used to keep funds flowing. It is now reckoned that these wheezes will be exhausted by August 2nd.

The House of Representatives, under Republican control as a result of last November’s mid-term elections, has balked at passing the necessary bill. That is perfectly reasonable: until recently the Republicans had been exercising their clear electoral mandate to hold the government of Barack Obama to account, insisting that they will not permit a higher debt ceiling until agreement is reached on wrenching cuts to public spending. Until they started to play hardball in this way, Mr Obama had been deplorably insouciant about the medium-term picture, repeatedly failing in his budgets and his state-of-the-union speeches to offer any path to a sustainable deficit. Under heavy Republican pressure, he has been forced to rethink...

Both parties have in recent months been guilty of fiscal recklessness. Right now, though, the blame falls clearly on the Republicans. Independent voters should take note.
Read the full piece here.

Get Your Wonk On: Microfinance Governance Matters, So Does Structure

In response to the lively debate at Microfinance USA back in May between Errol Damelin, Wonga; Carlos Danel, Compartamos Banco; Adam Davidson, Planet Money, NPR; Ananya Roy, University of California, Berkeley; Felix Salmon, Reuters; and Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund, Timothy Ogden wrote that focus should not be on whether microfinance institutions should be for-profit or non-profit. Tim writes for Financial Access:
What determines the course an organization takes over the long term—whether it hews to a vision of serving the poor or pursues profit above all else, whether it flexibly adjusts to changes in markets and contexts or becomes hidebound and irrelevant, whether it maintains a commitment to a long term vision or shifts like the wind with fads of the day—comes down to the governance arrangements that are put in place after the choice of profit status...

What are proper governance arrangements for a pro-poor institution? That’s a question that deserves a lot more attention and debate. Most people today seem to accept that socially responsible, pro-poor for-profit organizations can exist. If so, what is the proper role of the poor in the governance of such an organization? Can poor clients deliver the kind of oversight necessary to check management? Similarly, how should power at a non-profit be divided between funders, managers and clients? The answers to these questions are critical but non-obvious. The industry would do well to think about them more deeply.
There is no doubt that governance is very important. Tim is right to say that it deserves far more attention than it is currently getting right now. The examples he uses of the AP crisis and the CAI scandal are perfect examples as to why governance is important.

However, I slightly disagree with Tim on the issue of profit motive. If the base supposition is that MFIs will sometimes not act in the best interest of the people they serve, then we need to look at how to solve that problem in the most complete way possible. Given that governance must improve, it is possible that it is not the only solution.

Panelist Eric Weaver, head of the Opportunity Fund, offers the same concern by writing in the comments section, "I continue to question how a for-profit institution, whether public or privately held, can truly be held accountable to a "pro-poor" agenda, other than through the good intentions of management and board, and ultimately the good intentions of the owners, at whose whim they serve. I agree this can and has happened with for-profit companies, but I think it is much harder to achieve and mantain when the profit motive is present."

The point is not to continue to make this the only discussion about microfinance. It gets top billing when it is not deserved and most seem to agree to that point. However, it should not be forgotten when trying to refine the microfinance industry. In fact, governance packages can be shaped to include language specific to profit motives of MFIs.

For-profit MFIs are not inherently bad, but additional motives and responsibilities can cause a shift in operations. My interest in the debate remains high because I am not entirely sold by either side of the debate. If I had to pick I would say that I am sympathetic to the non-profit side, but I want to continue to learn more. A hard look at the way that, say Compartamos, operates and grows should take place. The same goes for the non-profit side and some of the hybrid MFIs.

Understanding what model offers the best opportunity for the poor in a sustainable manner is of the utmost importance. So, let's keep the debate going rather than shelving it. While we are at it, let's also talk about governance, interest rates, predatory lending and so on.

In short, get your wonk on.

09 July 2011

South Sudan is a Nation; Thank You Local Celebrity

After reading this post, do go read Bec Hamilton's thoughts on the NYT article here
The photograph offers a unique window into what is happening now. American celebrities and religious groups teamed up with policy makers and helped a forlorn underdog region finally achieve what very few separatist movements achieve: independence. On Saturday, after decades of guerrilla struggles and intense international pressure, the Republic of South Sudan will officially split off from the north and become Africa’s 54th country. 

“Once you got someone like George Clooney, for example....” Mr. Walkley trails off with a smile. “George packs power.” 

Sudan has been an obsession for the West for more than 100 years, and it is an interesting question why, of all the world’s war zones and all the blood baths Africa has witnessed — Liberia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name a few — this place has grabbed so much attention.
That is how yesterday's New York Times article, Sudan Movement’s Mission Is Secured: Statehood, by Jeffrey Gettlemen begins. The historic independence of South Sudan is thanks to the efforts of Clooney and other celebrities;  at least that is what the article wants readers to think.
“Would this have taken place without celebrities?” Mr. Walkley, the consul general, asked. “I think the celebrities had a lot to do with it.”
Celebrities, he said, “focus attention on a problem. They do it in a bumper sticker fashion, perhaps,” but “if you get millions of people sending blogs to the president, that will have an impact.”
But in Darfur, Western advocates may have complicated matters, too, some analysts contend, pushing a hard line against the government that has made the rebels there more intransigent and peace negotiations more difficult.
Mr. Clooney, who got malaria the last time he was in Sudan, was not expected for the festivities on Saturday. But religious groups will be represented. The only nongovernment employee in President Obama’s official delegation to Juba besides Mr. Powell is Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services.
The fourth paragraph does add a little bit of skepticism to the discussion, but is more of a toss away sentence rather than a substantive discussion point. No doubt that awareness and advocacy campaigns made some sort of contribution to the independence of South Sudan, but the story should be about the people of South Sudan who fought for decades for their independence. Or what about the supportive diaspora who lobbied and provided support to their families and neighbors living in the now new nation?
As usual, the story has to be framed by the heroics of outsiders. There is a story here, that of the 20 year effort by the evangelical Christian coalition. But it only gets a few paragraphs of the entire story.
In 2001, Christian groups found a friend in the White House. The administration of George W. Bush pushed southern rebels, who had been fighting for self-determination for decades, and Sudan’s central government to sign a comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, which guaranteed the southerners the right to secede.
An article about how the effort to ensure a Christian South Sudan is interesting and worthy of a lengthy report. However, at the moment of a nation's birth now is the time for the people who have a nation that they can call home is what should be discussed. Many individuals, groups and nations have contributed to the realization of the new state. Everyone should celebrate, but the moment is not about us. It is not about what George Clooney did or did not do. It is not about faith.

It is about independence and a new nation.

Bec Hamilton, a reporter that I respect immensely, offers her thoughts on the piece that is a must read. She concludes saying:
They include several quotes from the man who is now the U.S. ChargĂ© d’Affaires in Juba, Barrie Walkley, including the following:
“Would this have taken place without celebrities?” Mr. Walkley, the consul general, asked. “I think the celebrities had a lot to do with it.”
This is simply not true. Sudanese, first and foremost, in addition to a core group of Americans, and many others globally, worked on this for two decades and got right to the point where Sudan agreed to let southern Sudanese have a self-determination referendum before any American celebrity took up their cause. The same is not true of Darfur of course, but the question before Walkley is what it took to get to this point in South Sudan.

This is not about what good Clooney has or has not done in Sudan. It is about the choice to frame your story around him, when he is not even there, and thereby lay his short shadow over the long story of the liberation movement. And it feels particularly egregious to do so on a day that marks the independence of a people who have fought for generations, and lost two million of their own, to the struggle.
Read her full post here.

08 July 2011

Weekend Tunes - Rain

It is pouring in Philadelphia. The Beatles song 'Rain' seems quite appropriate. Be sure to listen to McCartney on bass.

My Company Has More Revenue Than Your Country

Business Insider has put together a collection of 25 companies that have larger revenue's than the GDP of various world nations. See the full list of 25 here.
If Wal-Mart were a country, its revenues would make it on par with the GDP of the 25th largest economy in the world by, surpassing 157 smaller countries. We've found 25 major American corporations whose 2010 revenues surpass the 2010 Gross Domestic Product of entire countries, often with a few billion to spare. Even some major countries like Norway, Thailand, and New Zealand can be bested by certain U.S. firms.

07 July 2011

Moving from Transparency to Effectiveness

Ned Breslin of Water for People writes today why he supports transparency efforts and hopes that they can lead to the next step by increasing focus on the effectiveness of interventions.
I believe greater transparency makes coordination and strategic investments more possible, although hardly certain. I do not think we will get to the question of effectiveness – or impact – unless we move beyond showing where money goes to what it actually does over time. The “aid transparency” debate is not quite there in my mind.

Let’s take a simple example from the water sector. The explosion of web sites where communities are plotted on a map and where people are asked for contributions to solve a water problem in that specific village are becoming more common. You can easily get data on the community – number of users, location, type of technology needed, costs etc. Some have a small thermostat with the total costs required to help this community, with the indicator moving up with each contribution towards its full funding goal. One site I was just asked to review breaks the funding possibilities down cleverly – you can buy pipes, bags of cement, shovels for digging, and actual labor for construction (visualized by a hard hat). Some even include implementation information – what stage of the process is the project in and what is coming next.

This data is of course useful, and can to varying degrees show whether the US$10.00 you contribute actually goes to a particular village and a particular handpump. But it does not show effectiveness at all, despite claims to the contrary. These web pages simply show that money was collected, allocated and spent. And while that is a huge step and should be applauded, it does not answer the most important question of whether that handpump you bought is actually functioning over time.

In reality, these project pages actually obscure the problem in the sector – and undermine long-term efforts to understand effectiveness under the guise of transparency. These pages paint a picture of a project as simply hardware and capacity building. They suggest that the project is the work that goes into construction and once the project is done then the community’s problems are solved. Project over, no more funds needed.

And this highlights for me the missing link for me with all the aid transparency debate. It is invaluable – and probably an absolutely essential first step – to simply get donors to show where they are spending their money. That is where we are headed and that is a great first step. It could truly help solve messes like Niassa and lead to better coordination and resource allocation.

But let’s not stop there – let’s actually push to answer the effectiveness question as well, and insist that we not only track where the money goes, but also whether it truly transformed lives – and do all this transparently. This will require a different view on funding, and in the water sector, a stronger sense of what a project really is – not just hardware and pre-implementation work, but critically whether those investments, and the on-going post-construction support that is so critical to make water supply last, are financed as well. We need a new funding paradigm that gets philanthropists to realize that the completion of a project is Day One of the REAL project for communities. We need to visualize those investments as well, because they are just as important as the initial costs of a handpump. And we need to find ways to value, and finance, on-going monitoring.
I am a fan of RCTs because they push the effectiveness question that Breslin discusses. They are not the only tool to move things forward and Breslin highlights how part of this will require a shift in how projects are seen. To me, this is connected with how NGOs communicate what their programs are doing and how they are effective interventions.

A Better Life Without...

Now this would be a great NGO campaign. Too bad it is not real. Put together by students bye the Miami Ad School in Madrid, the video mocks standard NGO commercials and imagines a world without Oxfam. It was just awarded the Golden Pencil at the D&AD Awards.

I quite like the video and think it would be an excellent shift by NGOs as well as a clever way to connect supporters to individuals in the field. In starting with imagining a world without Oxfam, the focus is on achieving the mission of the organization and putting itself out of business. Other ads could be developed that imagine a world without poverty and show how Oxfam would not be needed.

Any NGO can go for this type of campaign. Are any willing to step up?

HT Duncan Green

06 July 2011

Picture of the Day: Chile Covered in Ash

via Boston Big Picture

Gauging the Temperature of Emerging Economies

The above chart is The Economist's 'Overheating Index.' As any comparative measure, it does not show the entire picture. It becomes further muddled by aggregating all of the factors into a single score. Nevertheless, I did no expect to see Brazil so close to 'boiling over.' One of the new darlings of development, I was under the impression that there is good reason to be confident in the progress of the home of the beautiful game.
Countries are first graded according to the risk of overheating suggested by each indicator (2=high risk, 1=moderate, 0=low). For example, if the growth in excess credit is more than 5% it scores 2 points, 0-5% 1 point, and below 0% nil. The scores from each indicator are then summed and turned into an overall index; 100 means that an economy is red-hot on all six measures.
I tend to like what The Economist offers with their daily chart. I think I post something from the feed about as often as Ezra Klein does so for TED's Daily Video. I highly suggest subscribing to their RSS feed.

05 July 2011

Africa: A Lot of Growth and Little Poverty Reduction

The recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that economic indicators have shown that Africa has experienced plenty of growth. Despite this, poverty alleviation does not seem to be matching the rate of economic growth. From All Africa:
Around 75 percent of foreign investment in Africa has been in oil-rich countries and in so-called extractive industries with few links with the rest of the domestic economy or with poor people.

Rielaender said that the weak response of "poverty reduction" to economic growth was caused partially because growth was not strongly linked to activities and economic sectors where the poor are. Numerous African countries are therefore trapped in a contradiction of resistant poverty despite high economic growth.

The AEO reports that high fuel and mineral commodity prices have strongly influenced economic growth in many of the fastest growing African economies in the period from 1996 to 2008, given that fuels and minerals account for the largest share of Africa's exports.

But this growth and its limited impact in reducing poverty creates a vicious cycle, for higher poverty diminishes even further the effects of economic growth in reducing poverty, the report says...

To tackle this lack of correlation between "growth and poverty reduction", the AEO also encouraged African governments to "take simultaneous actions on several fronts. Economic growth will improve human development only if it is inclusive and pro-poor.

"Investing in social sectors will produce sustainable human development, if investment is accompanied by efforts to create more economic opportunities that benefit a large segment of population."
This goes to show that tracking GDP growth is simply not enough. Even considering average salaries cannot be an adequate measure of the majority of the change takes place within the higher economic classes.
In an interview with IPS, Rielaender said that the lack of correlation between growth and poverty reduction in African countries should force "African governments to concentrate their immediate efforts in creating jobs, invest in basic social services and promote gender equality".
Achieving all of the goals set out by Rielaender is not easy, but they can at least be the targets that can be brought into the conversation when trying to measure the progress of nations towards eradicating poverty. To that extent, I must say that the MDGs are a good marker in providing a more well-rounded set of information for evaluating a nation's progress. Job creation is not sexy, but it is a vital part to development.

01 July 2011

Weekend Tunes: Brahms (and some thoughts on Tree of Life)

I saw Terrence Malick's Tree of Life last Friday. One of the featured pieces is Brahms Symphony No.4 II. Andante moderato played during dinner. Brad Pitt's character, a failed musician, comments on the beauty of the piece immediately after chastising one of his boys during the meal. The joy that he receives from the lightness of Brahm's masterpiece stands in sudden contrast to his abusive style as a father. This is where the film and Malick are sublime.

Go see it. Suffer through the first half hour and final ten minutes of nonsense to get to a story which depicts the tension of a cynical father and a idealistic mother shaping the lives of three young boys. Knowing from the start that the eldest would die at war makes the small capture of a single summer all the more harrowing. Malick tries too hard at times (re: the first movement of the film), but is genius at relationships and bringing together an amazing film.

He tried for 2001 and fell short in respect to the entirety of the film. However, Kubrick, my favorite director ever, did not ever reach the narrative and stylistic height that Malick reaches in this film.  Specifically, there is a section that focuses on the three brothers as they see life.  Never have I watched, read, or heard something that so perfectly captures what it is like to be a young boy.  There was nothing specific to relate to, rather an experience of emotion in the attempt to explore and understand the world as it is presented in that moment in life.

Aid Transparency 101

There is no ambiguity as to what Make Aid Transparent wants to do. It is an advocacy collaboration between organizations with some clout like ONE, Publish What You Fund, Oxfam International, Save the Children UK, World Vision UK and Transparency International.  In the video, MAT offers an introduction to aid transparency and explains why it is so important.  In the end, the hope is that the viewer will sign the petition and make donors more transparent about how their money is being spent.

Like anything else, transparency is not a complete solution.  The issue of educating donors and determining effective interventions will still exist.  Though knowing how money is being spent, by whom and for what project is a good step. What worries me is that this allows issues like overhead to creep into the conversation.  With more information and the inability to read it properly there is a potential for donors to be further confused or misinformed. Despite that, the video does serve as a good introduction to the issue of transparency.  It makes it clear that it is an important issue, explains why, and does not tout it to be the solution to all of the problems.