30 September 2011

A Growing Interest in Brazil's Economy


A friend asked me last night what country interested me most right now.  My immediate response was Brazil and that has been confirmed with the above graph tracking the exchange rate of the Real against the USD since the start of the year.  My interest, which spills over to India and China, is how a country continues to address poverty after it has made the transition from low to middle-income status.  GDP growth is certainly not enough to end poverty in a given country.  As this graph helps to illustrate, it does not also mean financial certainty. Add in the use of cash transfers, a massive population, and the rapid growth of some regions; and you have a dynamic space where a lot of learning can happen.  Finally, I have to toss in the fact that I know so little about Brazil (having said it numerous times on this blog before) and have a strong desire to better understand what has been happening there.

I turn the question over to the comments section.  What country or region interests you right now?

Gender Inequality and Democracy: So Simple Yet Complicated


As this graph from The Economist shows, the correlation between gender inequality and democracy is quite strong, but it is not a perfect indicator.  Singapore is a country with gender equality on par with France but is as democratic as Turkey.  On the other end, India aligns with France on democracy but gender inequality sits as high as Saudi Arabia.

The slope of the line of best fit does show a rather strong correlation between democracy and inequality, but advocates should not jump too quickly.  It also does not do anything to hint at causation.  Could it be that greater democracy leads to lower gender inequality?  That seems to have been the case in the United States, but I am sure that argument could be flipped on its head pretty easily.  The same goes for all the other nations.  There are strong Singapore says you don't really need democracy that badly and India says that gender inequality does not matter all that much.

Maybe it is time for Hans Rosling to bring this graph to life!

29 September 2011

Mixed (mis)Trust in Experts

Why do we like experts for some fields and disregard them for others?  The answer does not seem too clear, but this section from Duncan Watts post at Freakonomics on the myth of common sense illustrates the problem well.
Why is it, for example, that most social groups, from friendship circles to workplaces, are so homogenous in terms of race, education level, and even gender? Why do some things become popular and not others? How much does the media influence society? Is more choice better or worse? Do taxes stimulate the economy? 

Social scientists have struggled with all these questions for generations, and continue to do so. Yet many people feel they could answer these questions themselves—simply by examining their own experience. Unlike for problems in physics and biology, therefore, where we need experts to tell us what is true, when the topic is human or social behavior, we’re all “experts,” so we trust our own opinions at least as much as we trust those of social scientists.
Aid is one that is rife with conflict over trusting experts.  Not that they are perfect, but it is interesting to see how this applies to other fields.  Even the biologists that Watts lists are not free from skepticism as many people still do not believe in evolution and others are not vaccinating their children.

The Problem With Twitter-Ready Data

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, and produce 50 percent of the food, yet earn only 10 percent of the income….  
--Former President Bill Clinton addressing the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (September 2009) 
Impressive, heart-wrenching, charity-inducing, get off your sofa and go do something heartbreaking. 
But Wrong. 
It’s a problem isn’t it? Almost all those twitter-sized 140 character, pull-all-the-right-heart-strings messages (& yes, the “oh-we-did-so-great” messages like David gently took aim at) are usually wrong. Or at least don’t stand up to detailed scrutiny without many, many caveats. 
Working on the gender World Development Report, here are some of our favorite ones: 
Women make up nearly 70 percent of the world's poor and 65 percent of the world's illiterate. (International Labour Organisation 1996
Women produce half the world's food, but own only one percent of its farmland (CARE, “Women’s Day Facts”
Increasing gender equality by ____________ would increase growth by ___ %. 
We specially love this last format, because you can put in anything in the first and second blanks, and the statement would almost surely be wrong
That is Marcus Goldstein and Jushnu Das in the World Bank Development Impact blog beginning to discuss the problems with reducing data into a neat sound bite.  In short, it often ends up being wrong.  My personal favorite is the one that says that women spend 90% of their income on their families.  This was used recently at the WFP/UN Women in NYC last week and just about every advocate for investing in women.  What is likely is that women do put more money to their families than men, but it sounds better when it can be said that they contribute 90 cents on the dollar.

The suggestion of the authors, which I like, is to start having active fact checking bodies that do the same as fact-checkers on US politicians.  They see the World Bank as one of those bodies that can contribute, but it may be hard with sources like twitter.  If a celebrity with a large following tweets out a false statistic point it is likely to be shared outwardly from his/her followers who will reach their own followers and so on.  Correcting that mistake will be harder because all the people who saw the original tweet will need to see the correction.  However, there is good reason to root it out so that it is not repeated.

Definitely chalk this up as one of the limitations of twitter.  The restriction of characters means that people and NGOs have to be quick and clever with what they say.

Changing the Way You Access Humanitarian News

The Development and Aid Workers News Service (DAWNS) is a daily digest of news and opinion for individuals who work in the international humanitarian space both at HQ and in the field. When you sign up for our service you will receive a consolidated digest of the news of the day in your inbox each morning. Mark Goldberg of UN Dispatch and I will sort through dozens of news sources to collect for you the critical stories you need to know about. The DAWNS Digest makes global news more accessible and gives you back the time (and data charges) you now spend tracking down what is going on around the world.

We offer two editions of DAWNS Digest that will offer the latest news to be delivered in the morning. If you live in Nairobi, Mumbai or London, the GMT edition is for you as it will be out by 5 AM GMT. For those in New York, DC, Brasilia, or Mexico City, the EST edition will arrive by 9 EST.

The two versions may differ slightly due to news and developments in the eight hour interim. You can sign up for both of these editions for one price: $2.99. If you chose to only receive one daily e-mail, that is fine too. If you have signed up for one version and would like the other version for free, just send us an email and we will manually subscribe you to the other.

Our digest is optimized for viewing on low bandwidth connections or handheld mobile devices. There will be no fancy graphics, confused formatting, or embedded codes. Keeping it light is important to us.

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In the meantime, go see a Sample Digest.

28 September 2011

Moreno on Latin American Growth



President of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Moreno, sits down with Matthew Bishop of The Economist to discuss emerging economies and the future of development and growth in Latin America.  Moreno says that Latin American economies are in good shape and rests most of the problems on the rest of the world's financial problems.  Hopefully his confidence about Latin America is correct, but there is reason to be hesitant.  The Economist pointed out earlier this summer that the growing darling, Brazil, may not be as stable as it appears.  For a whole host of reasons, Brazil is a nation to be excited about when discussing its economy over the past decade, but the rise in inflation is something to watch.

Any Latin American experts want to chime in and share their perspective?

Has Advocacy Reached Its Lowest Point?

Joe Turner tipped me off to a video put together by Save the Congo called Unwatchable. The video tries to tie the brutality of the DRC with England. The basic premise is that if we would not stand for it to happen in our own community than we should not be OK with it happening in another country. In short, the video shows a raid by military men on a white British family all with their blonde hair and idyllic flower garden. The men break into the home rape the eldest daughter and murder the parents. Fortunately it comes with a warning for all audience members and mobile phone manufacturers.

The mother is grabbed by a soldier.
If you want to 'make it stop' you can click a button that will take you to the organization's petition calling on the EU to act on conflict minerals. The campaign seemingly says that the cause of rape in the DRC is conflict minerals and it can be stopped with the petition. The connection between violence and conflict minerals is not accepted to be true by all (see this post and many others from Laura Seay on the issue), but the issue here is how Save The Congo is choosing to advocate for this action.

Has it really come to the point where a video of a young girl being violated by a gun is necessary to get people to act? The intent is to be offensive and startling. I get it. This simply takes it too far.

If you feel inclined to do so, you can watch the video here. I felt the need to at least see a good portion in order to write this post, but I would suggest against watching it. Also, you can read about it in this article by Jane Martinson in the Guardian Development which is frankly too kind.

Learning Lessons From Cancer Advocates

In the United States, cancer gets plenty share of notice.  It might be yellow LiveStrong bracelets or pink ribbons or runs for the cure.  It feels like there are fundraising opportunities at just about every turn for a choice cancer. 

This is made easier because nearly everyone has been affected by cancer.  It may be a childhood friend, a parent, a classmate, or a co-worker, but cancer is easily found.  I assumed that this shared experience made fundraising and awareness campaigns easier.

Armstrong speaks at the Social Good Summit in New York City.
Credit: Insider Images
However, I was quickly disabused of this belief when speaking with Lance Armstrong and Doug Ulman (President and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation).  Armstrong said bluntly, “The stories about prevention don’t sell,” when telling us how journalists can support the fight against cancer.

Ulman expanded on this thought explaining how the global impact of cancer has expanded his understanding of the disease. “I didn’t know three years ago that the vast majority of cancer cases were in the developing world. I imagine that most people don’t understand those easy, low hanging fruit wins that we can implement today.  Whether it be tobacco control policy or the HPV vaccine, there are certain things that should happen today that can save lives.”

27 September 2011

How ONE Will Address Agriculture and Move Past Simple Stories

With 2.5 million members around the world, the advocacy group ONE is, if anything, a loud voice in the sphere of awareness creation and lobbying. With strong financing, ONE does not request money, rather it uses the members in combination with high level influencing; a campaign strategy that new CEO Michael Elliot calls ‘grassroots and grass tops.’

Last week, I had the opportunity, to sit down with Elliot in a small group to discuss ONE and the steps the organization will be taking next to advocate around the Horn of Africa (HoA) drought and Somali famine.  A former self-described policy wonk for the British government and Editor at international magazines like Time International and the Economist, Elliot came into the leadership role only last month.

We are strong advocates for effective aid in the developing world. We understand that transparency and good governance are extraordinarily important…and make the case it is smart and effective aid to transparent governments that works best,” explained Elliot to us as he touched on the favorite aid buzz word ‘transparency.’  Tom Paulson asked Elliot to characterize ONE saying that they are not quite as edgy as other organizations such as Invisible Children.  Elliot responded without disagreement pointing out, “We recognize that there are certain interventions that have been particularly effective, such as vaccinations.  So, we have been a tremendous supporter of places like GAVI.”

26 September 2011

Storytelling 1 Minute at a Time


20 children from Chibuto district, Mozambique produced a series of videos as a part of the 1 Minute Junior Initiative put together by UNICEF and IKEA. This gives each of the children the opportunity to share how they see a particular issue that interests them. I am a huge fan of projects like this since they give the opportunity for more storytelling that can add to the complex narrative and allow a finer brush to fill in what is often seen as singular continent.

WFP and UN Women: Collaborating to Support Women in Agriculture

Last Thursday, UN Women and the World Food Programme co-hosted an event called Empowering Rural Women for Food and Nutrition Security. With opening remarks from WFP head Josette Sheeran, a keynote from Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina, closing remarks from UN Women head Michelle Bachelet, and a panel including all of the previous plus various public and private actors hosted by Christiane Amanpour; the two hours were highly informative and concluded with the announcement that the two UN organizations will be collaborating to support women in agriculture.

"If women are given the same access as men in agriculture, we can see a 20 to 30% increase in farm production," said Bachelet as she introduced the initiative. Panel members Anne Itto, Farmer and Former Caretaker Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, South Sudan; and Reema Nanavaty, Director, Self- Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India; provided anecdotes earlier to highlight how they have seen programs that target women in their respective countries lead to successful agriculture improvements.


Nanavaty, through SEWA, has been able to create a network of 1.3 million Indian women. "Women should no longer be seen as just workers," she said, "They are producers, managers, and owners; all who can take charge at any point in the supply chain." Most notable of her remarks was her insistence on enabling work opportunities for women before thinking about nutrition. Income security, she argued, is necessary as it will always be the top priority for a family. So, discussing proper nutrition when the women is unable to buy food is ineffective. Later in the discussion, when Sheeren discussed trying to accomplish both, Nanavaty jumped in to disagree by making the same point as she previously stated.

23 September 2011

Tutu at CGI


Just because it is Friday, I am a little burned out, and I love Archbishop Tutu (who I am told likes to be called 'Arch')

22 September 2011

FWD: Some Promise and Some Transparency

The numbers are big when talking about the crisis in the Horn of Africa. Recent estimates say that 750,000 lives are at risk largely due to the drought in Somalia with sum of 13 million people impacted by the drought in some way. The need is clear, the response it happening, but the buzz is low. The earthquakes in Haiti and Japan showed how quickly people can act in response to a crisis, but the same enthusiasm and financial support has not come to the Pakistani flood victims the past two years and people in the Horn of Africa.

USAID is trying to change that. On Monday, USAID Administrator Shah announced that USAID would be launching the FWD (Famine, War, and Drought) campaign to focus on the Horn of Africa Crisis. The site features quick hitting infographics and maps of the HoA. Ranging from rainfall to staple prices, people can be informed with what is happening in the region.


Shah, in his talk and later comments, reiterated the importance of providing this information. Coupling that with the ability to make a text donation, he believes that this can be a way to grow support. This is also seen as a step in the direction of providing more open data. When going to the site, you can click around the map to pull up what will supposedly be constantly updated information.

“If I am seeing this information on my desk, why am I not sharing it with all of you?” Shah said explaining part of his motivation.

Watch Clinton and Kristof Speak at CGI Right Now


You can also keep on watching the live stream from the last day of CGI on this spot as well.

21 September 2011

Obama's Remarks at the UN

Obama is speaking at the UN right now. Here are his prepared remarks:
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations - the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world. 
War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilization. But in the first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on a staggering scale. It was this killing that compelled the founders of this body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent conflict, while also addressing its causes. 
No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt. He knew that a victory in war was not enough. As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, "We have got to make, not merely a peace, but a peace that will last." 
The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than the absence of war. A lasting peace - for nations and individuals - depends upon a sense of justice and opportunity; of dignity and freedom. It depends upon struggle and sacrifice; on compromise, and a sense of common humanity. 

The Global Burden of NCDs


Lot's of talk and promises here about addressing NCDs.  Tobacco is one of the favorite and easiest culprits with the heads of the CDC and the American Cancer Society both speaking about reducing their use to support health.  One thing to point out in this graphic is that the world's poor still have a significant burden from communicable diseases.  On the other hand, the wealthier of the world are almost only impacted by NCDs.  Pointing out how the majority of NCD deaths are in low and middle income countries is important, but it should not mean that other issues should be ignored.

If anything, NCDs crashing into the room means more attention on prevention and primary healthcare.  The US is trying to make a domestic push towards this, but it will be interesting how it will work in the rest of the world.

Social Media and Medical Professionals

Social media sites have grown in popularity among millions of people around the world. For medical professionals, these sites present new avenues for interaction with family, friends, patients, colleagues, and organizations. This article will provide an introduction to social media and the various networking opportunities they offer. With many choices and designs, these platforms provide healthcare professionals with new ways to support their work. Additionally, advice on how to get started participating in social media will be offered, and the ethical and professional concerns that have been raised about using social media will be discussed.
That is me writing about social media for medical professionals in Medscape. I give a really basic introduction to the various social media sites with a tie into how it can support the American medical profession. What I found most interesting was the last section where I was able to discuss the implications of social media and medical ethics.

You can read the full story by going here. You will have to sign up to Medscape to read it, but it is entirely free. Comments, as always are welcome.

20 September 2011

The Burden/Promise of Highly Populated Countries


No surprised that the giant India and China have a large burden.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria makes up a pretty significant part of the female deaths with the DRC additionally a large contributor.  This is really terrible news, but also can be seen as positive.  It means that specific solutions can be directed towards these four countries that will be able to address this problem.  On the other side of the coin, it means that there is a long way to go in some places and it is really depressing when thinking of what can be done in the DRC.

Josh Nesbit on mHealth

This session just ended, so please forgive if it is a bit of a hasty post. I want to be a bit more rapid with some of my coverage. This is a primer of sorts that I hope to use as a springboard for conversation about mHealth and lead to further discussions with Josh.

mHealth, as Medic Mobile CEO Josh Nesbit sees it, can be a collaboration between what he calls the 'techies' and the 'healthies.' In his presentation, Nesbit laid out the various ways that mobile technology can support global health. "We need to understand the needs and the capacity first before working on solutions," he said while stressing the importance of listening first to make sure that the collaboration between the two groups is appropriate and effective.

The examples he shared, some of the standard fare, included MPESA, charging phones through bikes, electronic medical records, SMS reminders and phone applications. Of note, he stressed that the most boring applications are often the ones that have higher use rates. "I am more concerned with ubiquity of applications," Nesbit said.

The rush to get mobile solutions has led to some great practical innovations as well as a few that overreach such as an iPhone applications meant to be used by the Haitian poor. So, hearing a ICT leader discuss the need for solutions that are actually used was a positive sign. Better yet, Nesbit is looking to randomized evaluations to look for solutions. He is currently running trials in Ethopia and India by partnering with the World Bank and DMF respectively.

While RCTs have been coming under some well deserved scrutiny as of late, mHealth may be a place where the evaluations can mesh well. The behavior changes are easier to measure when comparing how women access health services when provided SMS reminders verses those who do not. The drive to scale would lead many to want RCTs to lead to immediate growth, but Nesbit cautioned that scale would be in the context of the trial and where it happened.

It was evident through his remarks that listening is one of Nesbit's priorities. It is how he sees technical advocates like himself as linking up with health advocates to maximize the interaction between the two.

Social Media Summit Day One Thoughts

There are a lot of events going on today around the UN. Right now there is just too much stuff to really put down anything too much of substance. It is my hope that I will be able to put together some more comprehensive posts about these topics soon, but I wanted to share some really quick thoughts about some of the events that I had the opportunity to participate in yesterday.

  • Every Woman Every Child: There is a drive to find measurable results.  The examples used this were low hanging fruit like increasing midwives in Bangladesh by 3,000.  I followed up by asking how they were going to track results that are much harder to count like maternal mortality in countries where many births still take place outside of hospitals.  The answer I got was that the records are improving and that it is one of the priorities to ensure that these metrics are being properly tracked.  I am not entirely convinced, but it is at least good to know that they are thinking about how to fill this gap.  With countries leading the way in data collection and setting their own goals, it seems like it might be hard to know what data is actually being recorded.
  • Mark Kornblau on the US position about Palestine's bid for statehood: "Any action in New York is detrimental to the peace process."  He also spoke at length about how the US has rehabilitated its image in the UN.
  • Ted Turner is really something else.  He clearly does not like nuclear in any form since the Japan earthquake and has a disdain for the amount of money spent on defense.  Clearly he has settled into the role of being a big idea guy.  When asked a specific reporting question he shrugged it off saying, "I'm a big brushstroke guy."
  • Mandy Moore is impressive on her advocacy of malaria.  I have been critical of celebrities, but she does a nice job of sticking to the basics of the program that distributes bed nets which has strong evidence of working.  There is no pretending to know any more than she already knows and easily deferred on any technical questions she could not answer.  Simple? Yes.  If Nothing But Nets can do a good job, they can connect Mandy's role to teaching people more about malaria and activate them beyond the donation.
  • Michael Elliot, CEO of ONE: New initiative will be related to agriculture and the Horn of Africa.  He says that it has been something they have worked on for awhile and now is prescient due to present famine.  Tom Paulson asked an excellent question about the campaign getting softer with their approach and was assured that the new campaign will be 'edgy.'  Likely, this means 'Invisible Children' edgy rather than Oxfam.  We will have to see. I had the chance to ask him about moving from the simple story to discussing complexity.  He sees it as a real challenge and something that they went to be able to achieve with their new campaign.  Being that Elliot is a news guy there is a chance that he may be able to lead ONE towards a real change...
  • Raj Shah: Premiered the new FWD (Famine, War and Drought) campaign that focuses on providing real time data to people on the Horn of Africa. He feels that we should be sharing what is happening through food prices, rain, etc.  Strangely, he left off what USAID was actually doing in the Horn.  When I asked about it, his response was that it would be included in the tool but kept it vague enough so that it is possible that all data related to programs will not be available with the same vigor as food prices.  When asked about NCDs Shah essentially said they remain a secondary concern to communicable diseases where there is a real opportunity to reduce burden and improve health.  He also mentioned a few times the procurement of local goods and services when working in the HoA...good news.  Finally, on the issue of transparency, I asked him about what he hopes for building transparency and sharing data.  Shah seemed very excited to talk about this and had trouble not being too aspirational.  His hopes might exceed what can actually be done, but he is up on transparency and wants the US to be a leader on sharing information.  FWD may be a strong start.
  • Fact that needed context: Shah said that maize production grew by 300% in Western Kenya when talking about the drought and food security.  What he forgot to say was that Western is getting plenty of rain, unlike Northern Kenya which is impacted by the drought.  The news is great, but it is related to the drought only in the context that the country can supply food for itself.
  • Looking to Today: We kick off the morning with discussions on mHealth, the state of HIV, and a briefing on Women and Population.  The afternoon will include a chat with Lance Armstrong and most importantly a chance to chat with CDC head Dr Thomas Freiden and a briefing on the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs.
If you are interested in any of the topics I have quickly covered, let me know and I will be sure to try to expand on the more when I get the chance.  Also, jump in with some questions you would like answered by the events.  The afternoon stuff will be very interesting and are an opportunity to learn more about the direction of NCDs.

Also, I am not tweeting much because there are a ton of people here live tweeting using the #socialgood tag.  It has been pretty disappointing the quality of tweets from the event.  Basically it is echoing what is being said without any real commentary or thought.  Definitely give points to last year for being smaller and allow myself, @laurenist and Alanna to chatter away.

17 September 2011

Ron Paul's Equation: Socialism = Famine

In case you have not heard, there is a new political theory. We will call it Paul's Equation. Coming from the brilliant libertarian mind that wants to end the Federal Reserve and says that shop owners should have maintained the right to refuse service based on race, we now know what causes famine. See, famines take place when countries are ruled by Socialists. It is why it happened in Russia, North Korea, Somalia, Ireland, the United States and pretty much everywhere throughout history. If free markets were allowed to exist, suggests Ron Paul, then Somalia and the rest of Africa would not experience famine. Famine is not a part of capitalist society.


The best part of the equation is that it is not at all true. As you know, Somalia is anything but a Socialist nation. Some might use the word anarchy to describe the nation, but I say it is a libertarian haven. The government is so weak that people can do as they please.

Of course that an equally ridiculous statement to make. The ongoing famine in Southern Somalia is caused by a host of reasons that make it really complicated. Fortunately, one cause that can be knocked off the list is Socialism. Saying that it contributes to famine in Africa is false.

HT Noompa
Also See Wonkette

16 September 2011

Child Mortality: The Good News and Bad News

The WHO/UNICEF report on child (under the age of 5) mortality rates (PDF) is really exciting news. Child deaths are down and the rate is accelerating. There is a lot to be happy about, but some reasons for concern. I took some of the main points and put them into the good and bad news. Without further ado:

Good News
  • The number of under-five deaths worldwide has declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. Nearly 21,000 children under five died every day in 2010—about 12,000 fewer a day than in 1990.
  • The rate of decline in under-five mortality has accelerated—from 1.9 percent a year over 1990–2000 to 2.5 percent a year over 2000–2010—but remains insufficient to reach MDG 4, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, Caucasus and Central Asia, and Southern Asia
Bad News
  • About half of under-five deaths occur in only five countries: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and China. India (22 percent) and Nigeria(11 percent) together account for a third of all under-five deaths.*
  • Over 70 percent of under-five deaths occur within the first year of life.
  • The proportion of under-five deaths that occur within the first month of life (the neonatal period) has increased about 10 percent since 1990 to more than 40 percent.

In short, there is a lot of reason to celebrate, but we need to keep our heads down and drive the rates lower, especially in India, Nigeria, DRC, Pakistan and China.

*Note: It is no surprise that these nations are a part of the list as they are all very big which can lead to higher numbers. In the case of the DRC, the ongoing war and plays a major role and the same, to some extent, can be said of parts of Pakistan. So, the concentration may not quite be bad news.

On Donating to Somalia

Update: Give Well offers a point of clarification in the comments section:

We haven't made any claim along the lines of "giving to Somalia doesn't accomplish good." Based on what we've been able to learn, we believe that donors who want to accomplish as much good as possible are better served giving to outstanding charities working on "everyday international aid" rather than directing funds to Somalia, specifically.


For donors who are committed to giving to Somalia, we recommend three organizations above others: MSF, WFP, and the ICRC.
I see no disagreement because they are essentially saying not to earmark donations to organizations who are working in the Horn of Africa and specifically in Somalia. That is good advice as far as I am concerned.

Give Well has suggested against donations to Somalia.  That is frankly silly. It is good that they have pointed out that it is hard to track the effectiveness of donations.  Donors should hear that frequently. Maybe it is a step closer to the end end of simplified cause marketing that says "your $20 will do something very specific that we want you to believe is easily measurable, but is really impossible however we are doing this because it is to our advantage to make aid seem easy."

The unintended consequences of giving aid to famine victims in Somalia includes funding Al Shabab and the unchecked regional governing bodies. Some of the aid money will also make it to the people who need it and it will do some real good. The more effective donation will go towards supporting refugees if you think about bang for your buck.  Doing so will keep money out of groups who are not supporting the goal of alleviating hunger, but the consequence of not supporting Somalis still at home is dire.

The question is how to maximize the impact of donations that will directed away from their intended goal to a significant extent.  Part of this can probably be done by addressing food security in order to prevent it from happening again.  Though that does not help people who need food right now.

Anyone want to take a stab or share their experiences from being on the ground?

15 September 2011

You Hate Innovation. Really, You Do.

We love creativity.  Everyone has a favorite creative thinker.  Mine include David Foster Wallace, Hemmingway, Keats, Beethoven, Wagner and Van Gogh.  Others might be inspired by Lady Gaga or Euripides.  Right now, the favorite to discuss is the recently departed CEO of Apple Steve Jobs.


Despite all of this posturing and overflowing love for creative individuals and their works, we really don't like it.  Deep down, we reject creative ideas and stick to what we know.  When such an idea finally works, we look back upon it with wide eyes and admiration.  A study from Cornell titled The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas takes a look at how people act when faced with creativity:
Do people desire creative ideas? Most scholars would propose that the answer to this question is an obvious ‘yes,’ asserting that creativity is the engine of scientific discovery (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010), the fundamental driving force of positive change (George, 2007), and associated with intelligence, wisdom, and moral goodness (Niu & Sternberg, 2006; Sternberg, 1985). However, while people strongly endorse this positive view of creativity, scholars have long been puzzled by the finding that organizations, scientific institutions, and decisions-makers routinely reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as an important goal (Ford & Gioia, 2000; Staw, 1995; West, 2002). Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal (Dawson, D'Andrea, Affinito, & Westby, 1999; Runco, 1989; Westby & Dawson, 1995). We offer a new perspective to explain this puzzle. Just as people have deeply-rooted biases against people of a certain age, race or gender that are not necessarily overt (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995), so too can people hold deeply-rooted negative views of creativity that are not openly acknowledged. Revealing the existence and nature of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancement, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary. 
(snip) 
Practical ideas are generally valued (Sanchez-Burks, 2005). However, the more novel an idea, the more uncertainty can exist about whether an idea is practical, useful, error free, and reliably reproduced (Amabile, 1996). When endorsing a novel idea, people can experience failure (Simonton, 1984), perceptions of risk (Rubenson & Runco, 1995), social rejection when expressing the idea to others (Moscovici, 1976; Nemeth, 1986), and uncertainty about when their idea will reach completion (Metcalfe, 1986). Uncertainty is an aversive state (Fiske &a Taylor, 1991; Heider, 1958) which people feel a strong motivation to diminish and avoid (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008). Hence, people can also have negative associations with novelty; an attribute at the heart of what makes ideas creative in the first place. 
Although the positive associations with creativity are typically the focus of attention both among scholars and practitioners, the negative associations may also be activated when people evaluate a creative idea. For example, research on associative thinking suggests that strong uncertainty feelings may make the negative attributes of creativity, particularly those related to uncertainty, more salient (Bower, 1981).
Continued from the abstract:
In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.
How is this in play with development and the blogs who write critically (including this one)? It could account for the slowness of change in organizations as well as the dislike of DIYers from some aid blogs.  The tough thing will be evaluating when the disdain for a creative idea is right or wrong.  Unlike writing a book or composing a new song, there is a lot more at stake in the humanitarian field.

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I will conclude with some creative genius while on the topic...Beethoven ~ Third Symphony - III (Scherzo, Allegro vivace)


The Battle of the Sexes!

Duncan Green is having an informal poll on his excellent blog, From Poverty to Power. Readers can choose between videos on girls. The two main options are The Girl Effect video by the Nike Foundation and the second comes from the Commonwealth. This weekend, the World Development Report on gender and inequality will be launched and a greater push will be made on supporting girls.


After posting the two, Green tosses in the parody version of the Girl Effect as a choice. Seen individually, the two will likely result in a strong reaction from the viewer. However, by pairing the two, the viewer is challenged to address the simplicity of each message. The parody is far from perfect, but it is effective in showing that nothing is really said in the first. The idea of supporting girls feels good, it should happen, but what that looks like is not at all a part of the video.

Girls need to be empowered, supported, educated, and a whole series of verbs to reduce inequality. There is no disagreement on that fact. The question is how should it be done.


The microfinance pendulum is starting to swing back from the extreme of focusing on only girls.  As the methodology of the Pitt study that was seen as evidence for the focus has come under fire and more studies show the effectiveness of men growing businesses at a higher rate the debate is getting lively.

Timothy Ogden and Barbara Magnoni hashed out this debate on the Philanthropy Action blog that spilled over from the comments section into its own blog post. Matt Collin picked up on the debate after being struck by how the argument that Ogden is making is the antithesis of the 'Girl Effect' argument. He writes:
Basically, Ogden is arguing that growth trumps redistribution, that it’s more worthwhile to push a family’s income onto a high growth path, letting individual members benefit as best they can through whatever distributional norms currently prevail, rather than change those norms to be more equitable today, but doing little to change the household’s income path. 

This is pretty much the opposite conclusion that proponents of The Girl Effect have reached. It’s also one that’s barely been touched by the new wave of randomized empirics (aside from recent studies on micro-credit/micro-firm investment). Proponents would argue that what evidence we have seen suggests we should continue to err on the side of targeting women – results from studies of cash transfers suggest that women are significantly better at investing in children than men.

(snip)

We shouldn’t ignore the issue of bargaining power and gender equality in the household, but we need to be clearer about what our priorities are and what trade-offs we are making. Choosing higher income growth over more intrahousehold equality is a trade-off, but it might be a worthwhile one if what we really care about is absolute deprivation.
A shorter version is that women invest in the family and men invest in business. They lift society through social and economic means, respectively. I don't believe that Ogden or Collin are arguing for an either/or approach, but I that the middle might be the best place rather than the extremes.

If we take both sides to be right, they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Targeting men could lead to further inequality and targeting only women could alienate men and lead to only marginal gains. What is clear is that the information available is mixed. So let's do both and remember that clever videos about girls and cows can make an issue far too simple (to be very clear, that applies to both videos).

14 September 2011

Innovation's Unintended Consequences



Edward Tenner delivers his TED talk on unintended consequences. This could get really with wonky discussions about externalities and spillover, but I will avoid such a post. Rather I will stick with the simple point that innovations and intervention will lead to unexpected outcomes.

Some can be good and some can be bad. It is not a good reason to do nothing, but it is something that should be recognized. "Doing something" can be harmful. That has to be accepted as a possibility. I gave the example of the color pink being used in breast cancer awareness and the decline in resistance due to long term exposure to insecticide treated bed nets.

What can be done is monitor programs as they roll out as closely as possible to understand and track their impact (this then goes down the rabbit hole of what tools are best).  This information can then be shared internally to make necessary changes and externally in order to explain why changes are taking place and show that finding solutions is not easy.

13 September 2011

Development Through Mobility?

Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development Michael Clemens is featured on the latest Global Prosperity Wonkcast. In his discussion with host Lawrence MacDonald, Clemens shows how overwhelming evidence shows that allowing more free immigration can lead to effective development. The concern of 'brain drain' is unfounded says Clemens who adds, “A degree of increased labor movement from poor to rich countries of just 5%… would bring more economic gains than the total elimination of every tariff, quota, and barrier to capital movement in the world.”



Clemens is not naive to think that his findings will suddenly change the anti-immigrant push in the United States and Europe, but there is hope. On Wednesday, Republican Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman said, “Why is it that Vancouver is the fastest growing real estate market in the world today? They allow immigrants in legally and it lifts all boats. We need to focus as much on legal immigration.” Did he get an advance copy of Clemens study? It is not likely, but it is a good sign.

Unfortunately, it does not look like Huntsman will be around too long into the campaign season as he is pretty far behind Romney and Perry, but one can hope that he will have the chance to challenge some of the other candidates on the issue immigration over the next few months.

If you do not already, subscribe to the Global Prosperity Wonkcast. Yea, it is wonky (as the title says) from time to time, but not always. The discussion with Owen Barder about the Horn of Africa crisis is a good example of an episode that is light on the wonk and heavy on understanding an ongoing event.

12 September 2011

The Same Old Story and New Possibilities


This OpEd by David Brooks got a little buzz when it was published two weeks ago. I intended in writing up a quick post but had a hard time putting together a concise thought to express disappointment.

Brooks rattles off a few examples of people who are fighting the good fight and "start out with certain virtues but then develop more tenacious ones." The point seems to be that there are plenty of energetic and innovative Americans doing good. Unfortunately, it reads like the tired look-at-the-foreign-saviors* narrative. You could make a pretty good movie based on the lives of these adventurous people that are profiled.

09 September 2011

Weekend Tunes: Gayngs



What happens why you bond with the local barista over Bon Iver? She points out Gayngs, plays it for you over the sound system and you become obsessed. Now I pass it on to you. Happy Friday!

UN Week Tweet Up: Solar Sister

Tired of tweet ups in dark bars full of long conversation and beer-in-hand relaxation? Live the expat aid worker dream and kick off UN week with live music and dancing at the Illuminate event hosted by Solar Sister and NextAid on Sunday September 18 at Yotel. There is plenty for everyone to enjoy.

DAWNS Digest is Out!

On Tuesday, Mark and I quietly began to roll out the DAWNS Digest.  We tweeted about it and told a few friends, but wanted to work out some of the kinks to get the ball rolling before starting to more publicly announce that it is fully operating.  Now, I am proud to share with you that the DAWNS Digest is available to arrive in your inbox each morning with the latest news from around the world aimed at a humanitarian/aid/development audience.

We have two options for you to receive.  The first is the GMT edition which is published each day by 5AM GMT.  This means people living in Europe, Africa and Asia will get the digest in the morning.  The second option is the EST edition which is sent out by 9AM EST.  It includes the same stories as the GMT edition with a few updates based on a quick survey of the morning news before being published.

Should We Bribe the Poor?

Unfortunately, empirical evidence doesn't have instant power to convince. "There has been resistance on the left and on the right to the idea of paying people to do the right thing," says Duflo. "On the left, people say, 'How can you be so patronizing?' On the right, they insist that the poor have to be responsible, so we shouldn't give a handout." Priyanka Singh, Seva Mandir's chief executive, says that the approach was initially controversial even within her organization, and points out that other NGOs have also been divided on the issue. The Rajasthani government, after five years of Seva Mandir's continued success with the model, is still resisting linking immunization to an incentive--even though it offers incentives for family planning and sterilization.

Duflo remains undaunted. "I'm not giving up," she says. "My day job is to identify good ideas; my night job is to convince policy mak­ers that they are good ideas. That makes for long days!"

08 September 2011

Learning Foreign Policy Lessons From Chomsky



This is not directly development per say, but related to the issue of foreign policy Chomsky makes a strong argument for how the international political sphere is dominated largely by realism. Nearly 3 decades later, these policies have had a significant impact on the development of countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Chile and Sudan.

HT Loomnie

Shameless Self Promotion: UN Foundation Fellowship

I will be taking part in all the UN Week hoopla as a UN Foundation Fellow along with a pretty darn good group of journalists.  I feel a bit like I am living an episode of Sesame Street.  Anyways, it will be a great opportunity to learn more about what is going on in the global health world.  So expect lots of tweeting and blogging from NYC.


The United Nations Foundation announced today the names of press fellows who will participate in the 2011 United Nations Foundation Press Fellowship: Global Health, Global Challengesprogram in New York City. The fellowship will take place during the week of the UN General Assembly to provide the fellows with the latest information on pressing global issues and offer unprecedented access to high-level policymakers and experts.

07 September 2011

Take 5 Minutes and Complete This Survey

Under the banner of Smart Aid, Dave Algoso has put together this survey to capture information about aid blog readers. The goal is to learn a little bit more about you such as the blogs you read, how you read them and what about aid blogs interests you.

It is entirely anonymous and very quick to do.  The best part is that the data will be shared publicly (transparency!) so that you can learn from the findings as well as us.  It is your lunch break (if you live on the east coast of the United States). So please take the time to look it over and fill it out by going here.

Visualizing Kiva's Growth


The above video tracks loans and paybacks since Kiva's inception until now. Watching the growth is really something, but the explosion that takes place after Frontline features Kiva on October 31, 2006 is astounding. My exact reaction was a "woah" somewhere in the middle of 1980s Keanu Reeves and Sean Penn.

Marketing and media coverage are a really powerful thing. This is why it is so important to discuss how solutions are communicated to people. The Frontline episode did something to resonate with so many people that it lead to an immediate increase in the number of loans.

HT Marginal Revolution

06 September 2011

Horn of Africa Aid Map

Last week I shared this map from WFP tracking their programs in the Horn of Africa. At the end of the post I said:
I would love to see a similar map that pulls together the information from all of the NGOs working in the region with data about money raised and what they are doing. Any data nerds or grad students want to pull it together?


Well it seems that InterAction has heeded my call (doubtful that I had any influence but with the timing I can pretend) by creating a "Horn of Africa Aid Map." The map is great minus the inability to embed it into something like this blog post. However, they share the data collected and it is a good tool. So do go here to click around and learn a bit about what is happening in the HoA.

04 September 2011

NGO Honesty: MSF on HoA Crisis

 Has somebody been reading Tales From The Hood? From The Guardian:
The international president of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, returned from Somalia last week and said that, even though there was chronic malnutrition and drought across east Africa, hardly any agencies were able to work inside war-torn Somalia, where the picture was "profoundly distressing". He condemned other organisations and the media for "glossing over" the reality in order to convince people that simply giving money for food was the answer.

According to Karunakara, agencies have been able to provide medical and nutritional care for tens of thousands in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, which have been receiving huge numbers of refugees from Somalia. But trying to access those in the "epicentre" of the disaster has been slow and difficult. "We may have to live with the reality that we may never be able to reach the communities most in need of help," he said.

Karunakara said that the use of phrases such as "famine in the Horn of Africa" or "worst drought in 60 years" obscured the "man-made" factors that had created the crisis and wrongly implied that the solution was simply to find the money to ship enough food to the region.
It appears that J's wish has come true to some extent with this honesty from MSF. Any chance that other NGOs will agree and change their message?

02 September 2011

Internally Driven Aid: A New Component of the Aid Effectiveness Agenda?

The following is a guest post by Nathan Yaffe.

Last week, I discussed the work of several creative internally driven aid models in Haiti. In this post, I argue that supporting actors like these both reflects current thinking on best practices in aid, and simultaneously could help USAID contend with new budget realities.

The New Aid Effectiveness Agenda

The currents of change carry us toward greater decentralization of aid. Evidence of this shift is everywhere: aid agency initiatives, recent delivery innovations, the academic research agenda, and the universal adoption of buzzwords such as “empowerment” and “ownership.”

Bilateral Aid Agencies (Try To) Evolve

This shift can be seen within both DfID and USAID. For instance, DfID began an “innovative and ambitious program” earlier this year called Accountability in Tanzania. The program supports Tanzanian civil-society organizations (CSOs) seeking to monitor their government to ensure accountability and responsiveness. The goal of ensuring “transparency in the use of the UK development budget” is familiar, but empowering CSOs to do the work rather than British bureaucrats is a welcome sign of change.

Even USAID, which is weakest in the arena of “fostering [local] institutions, (see below)” recently signaled its intention to work on this very issue. The first goal listed under the USAID Forward initiative is to increase “contracting with and providing grants to more and varied local partners.”






Wonks Lead The Decentralization Push


Dfid and USAID are catching up to international aid and development thought leaders, whose work has pointed in this direction for several years. For example, the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Innovations in Aid” collection is filled with talk of social accountability, empowering citizens, and supporting local institutions. 


CGD’s headline-making proposal from last year for “Cash-on-Delivery (COD) Aid” epitomizes this evolution toward decentralization. The idea behind COD is that donors pay recipient governments per unit of progress (e.g. each additional child who takes a standardized test), rather than imposing a program to attain the same goal.


During a presentation last year, aid expert Owen Barder borrowed a classification scheme from Wired to summarize dead, dying, and emergent ideas in aid (see below). Of the 15 categories, 6 represent evolutions toward empowering citizens rather than large organizations (e.g. imported food aid & cash transfers), or recipient rather than donor institutions (e.g. project aid & COD aid). 


Source: Aid Effectiveness After Paris (presentation)


Enter Congress: Budget Constraints Limit Innovation


For USAID, these positive trends may be jeopardized by massive funding cuts under the Budget Control Act. The OECD 2011 peer review documented that USAID already has serious staffing problems. Specifically, since the 1990s, staff levels have fallen even as aid flows have witnessed “massive increases.” 


According to the OECD, the consequence of this is that USAID must “rely extensively on external aid contractors” rather than local partners. As some commentators have noted, further cuts means less technical capacity, which likely translates to even greater reliance on contractors. Even those who speculate that reduced resources might spur innovation acknowledge that USAID Forward reforms, such as increasing local partnerships, will be hampered by these cuts. 


Internally Driven Aid Actors: Appropriate for a World of Scarce Resources


Finding a way to operate on a reduced budget without sacrificing aid effectiveness goals poses a serious challenge for USAID. I argue that part of USAID’s response to these circumstances should be dramatically increasing the share of overseas development assistance going to local CSOs and internally driven aid actors.


Isn’t That What Staff Shortfalls Prohibit?

Not exactly. Increasing the share of funds to internal actors would likely entail increasing the share of grants relative to contracts. While there’s an efficiency gain from working with international contractors present in dozens of countries, contracts are more time-intensive because they incorporate detailed criteria for what a program entails. Therefore, on balance I suspect that grants to local actors are less administratively costly (but would welcome insight from someone with more insight). 


Moreover, project proliferation within aid agencies (presentation) consistently evokes the ire of aid effectiveness gurus precisely because it’s so costly. In the EU, for instance, 22,000 new aid projects are registered every year, which cost $4.32 billion simply to design. Relying more on local actors, rather than continuing to design new projects and programs, would free up operating expense account (PDF) funding. 


Why Internal Actors Are A Good Choice


This approach has the added benefit of reducing the twin efficiency terrors of tied and conditional aid. The former reduces up to 30% of the value of aid, and the latter can result in programs inappropriate for the local context.

But Owen Barder offered what I think is the best argument in favor of local aid actors in a speech last year (presentation):
The new aid effectiveness agenda isn’t about how to design, as bureaucrats, who should do what and how to do it better. It’s about … empowering citizens to decide for themselves, for them to be able to put pressure on governments and aid agencies to do a better job.
When he made those remarks, he was arguing that increased transparency could lead to social accountability, and therefore better aid outcomes. However, I think it’s a logical extension of his words – of the notion that citizens know best – that we should funnel resources directly to local aid and civil society actors whenever possible. 


If USAID wanted to pursue this option, I see a few options for how to give such an initiative teeth. While seemingly reluctant to establish binding requirements, the Procurement Reform Group could mandate that a certain portion of overseas development assistance go to grants for local actors. Or perhaps a new criterion could be included in the procurement process that mandates assessment local capacity to accomplish a certain aid objective before contracting external.


Whatever path would best take us from here to there, supporting internally driven aid efforts seems to be an idea suited to our times.

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