31 October 2011

Visualizing Hunger Around the World


The World Food Programme put together the above map to give a visual of world hunger.  There is something striking about seeing how hunger is concentrated in three distinct regions of the world.

HT Tom Paulson

Reading Between the Buy One Give One Lines

After a book has finished its task of entertaining or informing a reader, it will find space to occupy on a shelf, the floor, a friend's hands, a landfill, or a buyer. It may travel around a bit, but will eventually come to rest in a place where it will never again be taken in by a person's eyes. Better World Books (BWB) developed to provide a new space for finished texts to find new readers, in the hands of people who need them.

College students need books each semester. With all the fees necessary to be a student, reducing costs becomes imperative. By setting up donation bins on college campuses, BWB hit the population that goes through many books that they never want to open again and provides them to other students who need those used books at a cheap price.

With the income earned selling the donated books, BWB has been able to use the proceeds to fund education programs. Since starting 9 years ago, BWB has funded $10 million in education programs both domestically and abroad. Additionally, because of such a large stock of books, BWB has donated 5 million books worldwide. With updated textbooks hard to come by in parts of the world, BWB has been able to bring university students the latest editions of science and technical books.

With a well-established model, BWB did something strange; they made an announcement that they would join the ranks of TOMS and implement the buy-one-give-one model. The campaign, called Book for Book, says that BWB will donate one book for every book purchased. Their announcement sparked the interest of some news sources like Fast Company, who touted the new initiative. What struck me was that nobody was asking why.

The stories linked BWB to TOMS, were written in an excited tone, said what BWB has accomplished and concluded. Having already donated a significant amount of books, why was BWB changing its model? Would this have an impact on the cost of books? Will they need more donations to keep up with the match? What impact will this flood of books have on local markets?

Seeking to learn more, I began a twitter conversation with the BWB account which led to a phone call with VP of Marketing John Ujda. When I asked why the change he said, "It is not so much a change for Better World Books, rather it is adding a commitment to what we are already doing." He pointed out that this would not impact the mission of BWB, which is to support the development of education. "Literacy is more than having books," Mr. Ujda said, "Our mission continues to be to improve the access to education."

Through our conversation I learned that the likening BWB to TOMS was not very accurate. Both now operate the buy-one-give-one model and believe in the triple bottom line, but that is where the similarities end. TOMS has shifted slightly with its eye care initiative, but it still is mainly an international shoe distribution channel. BWB incorporates the distribution of books into its model because of necessity rather than mission. With so many donated books and textbooks that are useless after the newest edition is released, book distribution is a way to fill a need and prevent books from being the latest addition to a local landfill.

The hope of the new initiative is to grow interest. Mr. Ujda lamented that people have such a short attention span that it is hard to catch their interest. Buy-one-give-one does so in four short words. With that, he hopes that people can learn more about how the BWB model works and become supporters of education, not just free books. The trick will be in making that transition.

The paradox of raising awareness and transferring it to lasting understanding remains unsolved. What is encouraging is that this growth of understanding is a part of the goal of the Books for Books campaign. Since it has only just begun it is impossible to evaluate if it will be effective, but I am optimistic.

The majority of donations go through Feed the Children, a domestic nonprofit. The books that are sent internationally are for the most part textbooks for university students. This means that the recipients will already have a fluency in English and the donations are filling a space that is not presently being adequately served.

This does raise concerns in regards to language and markets. Additionally, distributing books for free means that they will not be sourced through local means. As seen in the second-hand clothing market, the sale of extremely cheap clothing has a damaging impact on the growth of the textile industries in countries like Tanzania and Kenya. It has also increased access by providing quality clothing at a low price.

While hard to quantify, it is possible that giving away free books could have a similar effect. Local publishers could be squeezed out because they cannot compete with a free product. The benefit is that students are receiving books now rather than waiting for the publishing industry to catch up or paying high prices for the $100+ text books to be shipped from England.

Recent reports show that universities throughout Africa are woefully behind while NGOs focus on lower levels of education. Though books do not fix everything, providing the recourses and increasing access can have a positive impact on the English-speaking universities that receive textbook donations from Better World Books.

28 October 2011

Weekend Tunes: Don Giovanni



I will be spending my weekend immersed in the sublime sounds of Mozart's Don Giovanni being performed in a new production at the Met. Reviews of the production seem pretty flat, but the musicality is garnering high marks, which is what matters most.

Happy Weekend! I hope you enjoy listening to Bryn Terfel and Hei-Kyung Hong from the 2000 production at the Met.

How the World Bank Defines 'Missing Girls'

Nearly 4 million women and girls 'go missing' every year in developing countries says the World Bank's 2012 World Development Report. David Steven, decided to dig a bit more and found that the way the data was determined excludes the boys who also 'go missing' each year.
The WDR is based on a measure of ‘excess mortality,’ with methodology drawn from this 2010 paper by Anderson and Ray (which is, itself, inspired by Amartya Sen’s work on missing women from more than thirty years ago).This indicator assumes that men should die faster than women at a rate set by the developed world, where female life expectancy is nearly 7 years higher than for males. Any deviation from this, at any age, is evidence that women are ‘missing’.

Take Nigeria. Of every 1000 boys that are born, 146 die before their fifth birthday. The figures are slightly lower for girls, but still eye-poppingly high: 135 deaths. In developed countries, only 8 boys and 7 girls out of every 1000 die before the age of 5.

For the Bank, though, this is evidence not of excess mortality among children, but of excess mortality among girls. Seven fewer girls (or eight more boys) would need to die in Nigeria for the country to provide girls with the ‘correct’ health advantage. The same pattern holds across Africa and India: more boys die than girls, but the gap is not as wide as the Bank thinks it should be.
He concludes saying that addressing women's rights and missing girls is important. There is no doubt, but ignoring the impact that is on both genders can be problematic. A better statement would be there there are a given number of children who 'go missing' each year in developing countries.

Since determining these measures and numbers is not my strength, I hope that the boys at the World Bank Development Impact blog will take to looking at Steven's concerns. There may be a good reason why the World Bank came up with the 4 million number.

My Podcast Debut

I had the opportunity to chat with Jaclyn Schiff of Brazen Careerist the other day about this blog and the other work I have been doing. Talking about myself is probably the single thing I like least to do, but it was a fun conversation and included questions from Jaclyn that have me thinking about some aspects of this blog. It is my first time appearing on a podcast and I would definitely love to find ways to be involved in them more often (especially when the topic is not about me).

The part that I care about the most is the discussion about DAWNS Digest.  I really believe that finding ways to activate storytelling is one avenue to expanding the global narrative. I wrote yesterday that storytelling will change humanitarian communications and hope that I can prove that I am right.  If not, it will be a glorious failure and I will continue to seek ways to change the ways that we talk about the global South.

To those who have come here from the interview: I welcome you and encourage you to click around. I have a list of other blogs in the aid/development space that needs to be updated, but still provides a listing of the people that I believe do an exceptional job.

To my usual readers: Thanks for coming back. I always appreciate your inputs and the discussions that can be engaged here and on other platforms. I have no doubt that some of you will offer your thoughts and that is what keeps me blogging. So have at it and let me know where I am right and wrong.

Above all else, I hope everyone has a great weekend and be sure to listen to Brazen's Podcast today.

27 October 2011

Storytelling Will Change Humanitarian Communications

[B]alances need to be struck. ‘Poverty porn’ is a no-go and portraying aid workers as martyrs is tacky as well, particularly in this age of recipient-led development. However, sharing more of the real stories of aid delivery with the public — a process with as much blood, sweat, tears and joy as any sweeping Hollywood epic, animated or not — could be a beneficial communications approach.
That is Ashlee Betteridge concluding in a post on communications for the Development Policy Centre Blog. She is absolutely right and should change 'could be beneficial' to 'will be beneficial.' Storytelling, warts and all, will change the way humanitarian communications.

The birth of the DAWNS Digest has been a way to begin to find an actionable way of telling more stories from around the world. As a news source, it shares the reports that are not making the front page, but are important. By making the platform as simple as possible, the hope is that people who are already engaged can connect on a broader scale and people who have a nascent understanding of the humanitarian endeavor can begin to learn.

An important part to this will be the storytelling. There are many talented people and storytellers out there but they are not being adequately accessed. The problem is a matter of incentives. Media sources justifiably want to continue providing news, so they must be responsive to what will engage their readers. For humanitarian organizations, talking about the complexity of aid and development is not going to win a lot of supporters. To engage an audience they must find innovative ways to reach people, but failure to do so could mean that the organization will lose its financial support and cease to exist.

What the DAWNS Digest tires to do is untie these connections. The digest itself is a stand-alone service that will serve many people. At a very low price, the aim is to achieve ubiquity with the service. What this will allow us to do is begin to use revenues to fund storytelling. We want to hear from citizen journalists in the Horn of Africa who can keep telling stories from the region about people who are affected by the drought.

The beauty of this is that these stories do not have to fill a financial need. They need to be told, so the goal is to find a way to independently support them. There are some organizations that do support international journalism (the Pulitzer Center is an excellent example), but this is not just about traditional journalism and is why I am using the word 'storytelling.' We will seek out ways to support storytellers and search for ways to share their stories. Doing so will change communications and hopefully humanitarian work for the better.

I will continue to talk about why this is important because I believe that education and information can be accessed through stories. This will help to inform how interventions are designed and give the greater public a broader understanding of the world in which they live.

Of course I think you should subscribe, but right now I care about your thoughts. Offer your ideas and let's try to make this as effective as possible.

25 October 2011

The Empire Strikes Back: Sachs Vs. The World

The debate over the Millennium Village Project (MVP) turned the burner on high this month with more people jumping in to question how they are being evaluated. Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes put out a paper saying that the evaluation design is flawed and were even set to have a public debate with Sachs until the event fell apart.

Things really picked up with Madeline Bunting writing about the debate in the Guardian Development on October 10. She writes:
As part of the announcement this week, the MVP proudly claimed that malaria in its villages had fallen by 72%, access to clean water had more than tripled, and average maize yields had doubled. All of this was achieved on a budget of $60 a head per year, according to the project. The next stage of funding will build on business and enterprise to help villages to link better to the wider market. Soros punched the point of this huge programme home: here was a model that was replicable and could be scaled up across Africa.

But it is on this last point that questions continue to dog the project. Is it replicable and does it really serve as the model for development? The handling of those questions has been pretty brusque.
Noting the questions raised by Clemens and Demombynes, she alludes to the fact that the claims may not be substantiated.

In response to Bunting, Sachs writes in the Guardian Development that the MVP is working quite well.
The inputs and outputs of the project are all carefully measured. The budgetary costs are studied. Contrary to the loose talk of critics, this project is not throwing "gazillions" of dollars at poverty. The project spent $60 on each villager every year between 2006 and 2011 to build the capital of the community. That prompted further contributions from the government itself and in-kind contributions from the community. This is a replicable and scalable budget model, well within the official development assistance amounts donors have long promised. It's nonsense to suggest otherwise, or to change the game now this amount has been shown to work so powerfully.

The systems the Millennium Villages Project are building and working to expand will continue to be improved and upgraded along the way, and we will follow the challenges and successes of our colleagues in the villages for much longer. Our critics are quick to point out how we should be doing this or that better, but they do not offer concrete alternative models for achieving the MDGs. We wish they would. When improved methods of service delivery come along, the project is very keen to take on those lessons and ideas.
Lawrence Haddad, Director of the Institute for Development Studies, then struck with a post slamming the MVPs.
The 2 main critiques of the MVP seem to be (a) of course if you spend $60 per head per person for 5 years you will see dramatic development improvements--but what happens when the donor money runs out? and (b) actually we don't know if the impacts are there because the MVP has no baseline comparison group of villages (and there is absolutely no technical reason the MVP experiment could not have been randomised at the village level a la Progresa).

The second critique seems sound to me. It is hard to understand why baselines of case control villages were not undertaken. The second critique gets us impact folk excited, but I suspect it is the first critique that is more widely supported--who on earth will pay for this once the donors leave?
Not to miss an opportunity to respond, Sachs writes back with the help of Dr. Prabhjot Singh to disabuse Mr. Haddad of his supposed misconceptions.
The critiques presented by Lawrence Haddad on the Development Horizons blog are second hand (we believe that he has not visited a Millennium Village nor consulted with our team in any substantive way) and reflect a real misunderstanding of what is happening in the Millennium Village Project. There is a huge difference between the objectives of a household-level intervention project like the Progresa program in Mexico and the Millennium Village Project. The Millennium Villages Project builds community capital at the scale of 30,000 or more people. A major purpose is the design and implementation of community-based and district-based systems with cutting-edge ICT tools to achieve complex goals (such as fashioning a primary health system from almost nothing). The notion that this is about randomized trials like Progresa is a misunderstanding.

(snip)

There has been much na├»ve talk about paired “comparison” villages. The Millennium Villages Project actually has them, though we introduced them in year 3 rather than year 1, because in year 1 the considerable work required to create a foundation of community-driven strategies in the context of a very complex project took precedent. We knew from the start that there would be many complexities in comparison sites and we began to introduce them only when the project was functioning in all sites.

For anyone who has taken the time to understand the difference in pace of initiation, organizational culture and preexisting capacity between the varied settings of the Millennium Villages will know that a “Year 1” comparison would be meaningless. The fact that we started in year 3 rather than year 1 of a 10-year project is taken as a mortal sin by some critics, but frankly that position is taken by polemicists who are keen to criticize the project rather than by people who actually carry out complex projects or care to understand the real practicalities of such project.
Sachs and Singh continue to point out where they think Haddad is wrong with the basic argument that RCTs are not appropriate for measuring the impacts of the MVP.

Not wanting to miss out, David McKenzie took to the World Bank Development Impact blog to address the Sachs/Singh post that he called, "a rather stunning reply." In the post, McKenzie responds to each of the claims made by Sachs and Singh. One example:
“The logic is also flawed. In a single-intervention study at the individual level (e.g. for a new medicine) one can have true controls (one group gets the medicine, the other gets a placebo or some other medicine). With communities, there are no true controls. Life changes everywhere, in the MVs and outside of them.”

Comment: This is just a baffling comment. The whole reason for having controls is that life changes everywhere – if it didn’t, before-after analysis would be just find. The purpose of having these similar control communities is precisely to control for all the other stuff going on in these countries which could be causing changes in the Millennium Villages regardless of the impacts of the MVP. The work by Clemens and Demombynes critiquing the earliest claims of the MVP’s impacts showed clearly some of the massive changes occurring in Africa in indicators such as cellphone ownership that clearly render before-after analysis misleading.
On the same day, researchers Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes responded to Sachs claims with an article in Guardian Development. The text covers the findings made in their paper and use that research to directly address the claims that Sachs had made previously on the same news site.
We argue that weaknesses in the MVP's evaluation methods will make it impossible for anyone to know if the project is achieving its goals. We also argue that the published evidence does not provide a basis for advocates' claims that the project "has been shown to work powerfully" and is "enormously successful".

Among the five weaknesses we document in the MVP's impact evaluation, the most important is the failure to properly compare outcomes at the project sites to what would have happened in the absence of the project. In two reports (pdf), the MVP has presented before-and-after comparisons of living conditions at its sites, describing the differences as "impacts" and "results" of the project. These reports give no consideration to the possibility that some or all of these changes might have occurred even if the MVP had never been implemented at those sites.
Taking to the same blog, Berk Ozler writes a post the following day questioning why the program was getting so much financial support.
[T]he impact evaluation nerds are losing the battle to "I've seen it with my own eyes: it is working" and "we've been monitoring progress: it's all good." This is why I am writing.

The tack that the critics have taken so far is that MVP needs to be evaluated. That has not worked (yet). I propose another tack: we should start talking to the people backing MVP at the UN; Michael Clemens should have his people start calling George Soros' people. We should tell them that they should not be giving away precious resources, which could be used to implement interventions with far better evidence of effectiveness, to people who have not even started to provide evidence of impact for their projects. In other words, Occupy United Nations or the Open Society Foundation.

If we don't succeed in at least getting a more coherent explanation from the donors than "I've seen it working," then we're not doing our jobs.
As the dissent mounted, MVP looked to someone to shore up support. What they got was a quote from Kenyan Minister of Water Charity Ngilu.
The Millennium Villages Project, and Professor Sachs individually, had a huge effect in enabling Kenya to pursue a policy of mass distribution of bed nets and the shift to community-based treatment of malaria. The Millennium Villages Project informed our government about the efficacy of such policy breakthroughs. Professor Sachs’s advocacy inside Kenya, with the Global Fund, and at the United Nations, helped not only Kenya, but all of Africa to make a breakthrough in malaria control. It is because of this important work and the lessons of the Millennium Villages that our women and our children have stopped dying from wholly preventable causes. Nobody should doubt the importance of the Millennium Villages in showing the way. It has worked, it has made a huge impact on Kenya.
A summary post from Michael Clemens on the same day catches people up with debate. He concludes by addressing the statement from Minister Ngilu.
I invite readers to judge for themselves the plausibility of the claim that “Professor Sachs individually” has caused the huge increases in school enrollment, vast increases in cell phone ownership, and huge declines in malaria prevalence that have occurred all across Africa over the past decade—all changes that the Millennium Villages Project has uncritically claimed in large part as its own “impacts” and “achievements” with its before-and-after evaluation. If that is true, Africans themselves would not have made the enormous efforts and sacrifices they have made to accomplish those sweeping improvements if not for the arrival of Professor Sachs from New York. On that, I am speechless.

The most recent post comes from the MVP blog with yet another researcher wanting to spar. Director of Monitoring and Evaluations Dr Paul Pronyk addresses each of the criticisms individually. He summarizes his post saying,
In all program evaluations, there are trade-offs and limitations – and the need to design systems that are appropriate to the real-world questions and challenges faced by the project. Evaluators should never start with a methodology and define their intervention around it. Rather we have to start with the challenges at hand, and construct the best possible methods to understand what works and why. With this in mind, we have done our best to pull together a suite of analytical methods for learning, documentation, monitoring, evaluation, and scaling.

The Millennium Villages are offering a wealth of knowledge about the systems needed to achieve the MDGs. We are noting not only the key successes – such as in the reduction of malaria, the mobilization of community health workers, the development of pre-paid electricity systems, and more – but we are also learning about the challenges, costs, human resource needs, strategies for community leadership, methods of national policy scale up, and much more. The tools and methods that are in place, and new systems that are being developed over time, allow for the measurement of specific outcomes while simultaneously providing insights into how real-time systems of public services and investment can be replicated and scaled.

I look forward to ongoing discussion, debate, and constructive new ideas around these and other issues, and welcome colleagues to meet with us at The Earth Institute or in the Villages themselves to understand the project and these complex systems and design challenges first hand.
The discussion has spilled over to twitter (economist Justin Wolfers has two very harsh tweets about Sachs here and here), but it remains wonky and disconnected from the very people who are affected by the MVPs. That is because they have not been a part of the discussion. Sachs argues that the evaluation could not start until year 3 because of the variables and obstacles that exist in setting up the MVP. What is unfortunate is that is the time to have the most rigorous data (qualitative and quantitative) coming out of the intervention village. This is when beneficiaries are (hopefully) being heard and programs shifting. If the goal is to reach scale, ignoring the first few steps makes it much harder to replicate.

Also, on the issue of scale. The argument against comparison villages partially rests on the idea that outside impacts may affect the development of a village that cannot be measured. This may be true, but there is a chance that the MVP will have an impact on surrounding villages. What if they were to find that villages that were within 50 miles achieved the same rate of improvement? If there is a noticeable difference between that group and the rest of the country or region, it would change how scale is defined for the project.

The group of researchers who have raised questions appear to have made valid points. The defense made by Sachs in the Guardian article (he has done it many times before) is that they are trying something while the others are being critical. Fair enough. Sachs should be applauded for trying something and working on an innovation. He should also be held accountable for making sure that his intervention that garners a lot of financial support actually works. The reply to financial question will be that it is really only $60 per person for the MVP to operate, but that is rhetorical red herring. Aid money is a finite resource. Spending more money on more people does not lower the stakes, it makes them higher.

My recommendation is that the researchers offer to do a RCT when the next village is started. Between CGD, World Bank and the various university affiliations I am sure they could come up with the money to do it. We sure know that MVP can. What needs to be said outright is that this is not an argument where one side wants the other to fail. Rather, the critics want the MVP to be better and an intervention where lessons can be learned. I often use sports metaphors in my posts, but they break down at the end because we are not competing. This is a field where the goals are shared. Critics are not like opponents, they are the technical staff on the team. They spend time breaking down a batter's swing to make it better.

***Just so nobody makes the wrong assumption the 'Empire' in my title is not meant to imply that anyone is bad or evil. Just that there are two opposing sides in the debate which, much like Luke and Vader, are more linked than they realize.

24 October 2011

Admitting Failure: A Comms Game Changer

J at Tales From the Hood writes:
[T]he NGO and aid world will have no choice but to find new ways of reaching out to their donor bases. The overly simplistic, happy-happy, headline-style marketing that pervades the aid world right now barely works. Once it is common practice for us to admit failure, simplistic marketing messages will stop working altogether.
This is absolutely the best argument for supporting the admission of failure by NGOs. Even if failures are fluffed-up with success stories, nuance and complexity becomes a part of common discourse. In the short term this may confuse and disappoint some donors/supporters. However, in the long term it will have an impact on accountability and dramatically the way that people understand international aid and development. That is a good thing.

Are Markets the Answer to Development?



Ruben Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Emerging Market Solutions, tells Matthew Bishop of The Economist the answer is yes. He makes a pretty compelling argument, but I can't say it is entirely convincing.

21 October 2011

Weekend Tunes: Callas Sings Carmen


Saw it last week in Philadelphia. Wonderful opera. As a note to the City Opera.  When your Michaela, who really only sings twice, gets more applause than your Carmen you know that your casting might be a tad off. Not many are better than Callas so I dug up her singing the iconic Habanera.

Ending Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia


A more concerted effort to discuss the shortcomings of voluntourism is picking up steam. A program by the Friends Network and ChildSafe Network that is also sponsored by UNICEF seeks to change this in Cambodia. The "Think Child Safe" campaign provides tips to travelers on how to ensure the safety of children when traveling to Cambodia.  Their tips are:

1) Support ChildSafe Network Members
2) Avoid buying from children and refrain from giving to the begging children
3) Purchase products made from parents and youth in training
4) Avoid situations and actions that could be exploitative including visit to orphanages
5) Taking children back to your hotel room for any reason is not a good idea
6) Avoid places that tolerate prostitution
7) Keep your eyes wide open

I would bet that numbers 2 and 3 will raise some eyebrows. Number 2 will get some push-back, but it is the issue of orphans that I am betting will lead to strong reactions. ChildSafe writes:
A recent report into Cambodian residential institutions (orphanages) has revealed that tourist visits, despite tourists' best intentions, cause more harm than good. The report shows that orphanage tourism, often conducted by unscrupulous business operators, does more to harm, rather than help child protection, rights and education standards. Further, it is shown that this industry contributes to the separation of Cambodian families.
They list a series of questions and answers on the topic here. Additionally, a group of 'case studies' are provided, but anecdotes are not enough for people who support the idea of visiting orphanages in Cambodia. Their advice to be careful about orphanages is good, but more information will strengthen the claim.

It is a good thing for a large organization like UNICEF to be a sponsor. Maybe they will step up to take the lead on the issue of orphanage tourism and voluntourism at large.*

What do you think about the campaign?  Will it work?  Are they right?

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*To be clear, I am not saying that voluntourism should be eliminated.  Rather, it should be carefully considered.

Storytelling to Create Action


Lina Srivastava presents at TEDxTransmedia about how providing people the opportunity to tell their own stories can enrich the understanding of how to act and affect change.  I will not summarize the whole thing because I will not do nearly as good of a job as Lina.  So watch the video.  

One section that stood out to me is the beginning of Lina's talk. She starts by telling the story of how she quit being a lawyer and set off to Calcutta to save the world. Brimming with idealism, Lina quickly ran into reality.

"It was clear that the foundation hadn't yet figured out how to talk to talk to the children. How to create programs around the girls that was relevant to their culture." She gives examples of how well intended donors were focused on their own desires rather than the needs of the children. She left the organization but connected with another that had the same goal of working with street children in Calcutta.

The organization was in the midst of making a movie about children who come from the red light district of the city. "The difference of this organization was that the film and the mission of the organization was centered directly on the children's self expression. On their cultural expression. On their photography." The project was successful and Lina attributes that to the fact that the center was the voice and expression of the children. From there the organization has been able to build a home and school for the kids. Having heard their stories, they were able to create a program focused on them and not the needs of the donors.


This, to me, is where storytelling can wield its most significant power. The beneficiaries can communicate their culture and their needs with the world so that programs can support them. This can help to fill out the bare-bones narrative that is currently being told.

Disclosure: I am a huge fan of Lina and try to see her every time I am in NYC. I highly suggest that anyone living in or passing through the city find time to chat with Lina over a cup of coffee.

20 October 2011

Two Simple Life Savers: Soap and Water

This post originally appears in the Huffington Post. I had the good fortunate to speak with Dr. Myriam Sidibe while she was in Nigeria about the importance of handwashing to reduce pneumonia and diarrhea. Though not a solution by itself, it does have a powerful impact on health and is a pretty low hanging fruit.

One of the most simple and cost-effective ways to reduce pneumonia and diarrhea in children involves only two things: soap and water. A Lancet study published randomized control trial on the use of soap in Pakistan found that children under the age of 15 who were provided plain soap and hand-washing promotion had a pneumonia incidence 50 percent lower than children who did not receive such treatment. Diarrhea exceeded it with a 53 percent reduction in incidence. The evidence is clear, but the behavior change is still not there.

"In Senegal people do not wash their hands. A businessman believes that if he washes his hands it will wash away his money," says Dr. Myriam Sidibe, Social Director for Lifebouy. Sidibe has poured her public health focus into trying to make hand-washing a part of people's daily routine. With many people around the world able to access water adequate for hand-washing and soap, the intervention is a no-brainer. Better yet, the type of soap does not matter. In the same trial in Pakistan, the researchers concluded that anti-bacterial soap showed no significant difference from regular soap.

How can hand-washing become routine?

Affiliations are a powerful force explained Myriam. If people start seeing others washing their hands, they too will want to participate. Additionally she pointed to nurture as a key component to behavior change. If children are taught at a young age to wash their hands they will continue the habit as they grow older, teach their own children and so on.

I experienced this first hand in Western Kenya where hand-washing was a routine before and after meals as well as after using the bathroom. When we had meals it was the children who would many times run quickly to wash their hands. Restaurants would have basins with a faucet at the bottom and a bar of soap for hand-washing before meals. Customers were thorough. Some even looked like future doctors with the vigor used to scrub. Though a small observation, it was striking to see how hand-washing had become a routine part of life for Western Kenyans.

One challenge is the appearance of clean hands. When there is no visible dirt, a person might believe that his/her hands are clean. Discussing germs with pictures is hard if they cannot be seen. One way that Myriam addresses this problem is to take two people for a public demonstration. Each have powder poured on their hands. One is given soap to wash and the other only water. The two wash their hands and show the audience their seemingly clean hands. With a UV light, Myriam is able to show how the person who used soap has clean hands, but the person who only used water has dirty hands because residue remains that cannot be detected by the human eye.

What can we do in the United States?

"Everybody needs to wash their hands. You can help by making hand-washing with soap a norm in your own life," she advised. The changes will not necessarily be imposed by unilateral outside forces; rather it will require a social shift. Some might rush to provide free soap, but Myriam says that is not the real problem. "This is not necessarily about donor money. The goal is not to make soap a free thing. What needs to happen is for it to become a daily routine and it will become an unquestionable expense."


Saturday, the world celebrated Global Handwashing Day. On Thursday, I had the chance to speak with Myriam after she participated in the Guinness World Record for simultaneous hand-washing in Lagos, Nigera. There, 50,000 children gathered to wash their hands at the same time in an effort to raise awareness about the need for more people to wash their hands and get the chance to, as Myriam put it, "bring another world record to Africa."

Additional Resources

Luby, Stephen P., Mubina Agboatwalla, Daniel R Feikin, John Painter, Ward Billhimer MS, Arshad Altaf, Robert M Hoekstra. 2005. "Effect of handwashing on child health: a randomized controlled trial." The Lancet. Vol 366, July 16, 2005

Clasen T, Roberts I, Rabie T, Schmidt W-P, Cairncross S. 2006. "Interventions to improve water quality for preventing diarrhoea." (Cochrane Review). The Cochrane Library, Issue 3, 2006. Oxford.

Curtis, V. and Cairncross, S. 2003. "Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: a systematic review". The Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 3, May 2003, pp 275-281.

The Handwashing Handbook: A Guide for Developing a Hygiene Promotion Program to Increase Handwashing with Soap

WELL Fact Sheet: Health impact of hand-washing with soap Author: Jeroen Ensink Quality assurance: Val Curtis

19 October 2011

Changing the Flow: Reverse Thinktanking

This post is by Sean Jacobs and originally appears on Africa is a Country and was titled 'Developing the First World.'  If you do not already do so, check out the collective blog.  It is utterly brilliant and informative.

You couldn’t miss this trailer in front of The New School’s West 12th Street building in the West Village last week:
The Ghana ThinkTank Mobile Unit is a custom-built teardrop trailer designed to journey into the so-called “First World,” where it collects issues of concern from various local communities. The collected problems get sent to think tanks in Ghana, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Serbia, Iran, Afghanistan and/or other countries, where strategies are developed. The trailer then rolls back into the previously visited communities, this time as a workstation, cooperating with community members to apply the strategies received from this global network of think tanks—whether they seem impractical or brilliant—for effected communities. Ghana ThinkTank thus reverses the customary flow of knowhow from “developed” to “developing” countries in playful and provocative ways.
Photo Credit: Amanda Ghanooni

Debate: The Impact of Conflict Minerals on the DRC

With a rising profile due to the conflict mineral campaign it has become important for a diverse group of advocates and activists to answer the question: how does the story of Congo get told? A two day conference by Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) has brought together a diverse group to answer the question in a series of public and private events. Because it was done under the Chatham House Rules, I am unable to attribute the quotes to the panel members. **

Two weeks ago, a panel consisting of Prof Laura Seay, Morehouse College; Mvemba Dizolele, Stanford University; and Kambale Musavuli, Friends of Congo; took part in a two hour discussion that included a constructive exchange of ideas and emphatic audience participation. The discussion was noticeably missing its fourth panelist, John Prendergast of The Enough Project, who audience members were told was unable to make it because of a scheduling conflict.

The first panel member to give his prepared opening remarks first and did not waste time illustrating how the Congo that advocates speak of is not the same country that rests in East Africa. Using a slide of a map of the country, he quizzed the audience where they had traveled in the DRC and showed how the majority had only been to the concentrated Kivus region in the Eastern part of the nation. “We have ignored the rest of the country and the results have been terrible,” he said.

What this has done is place a focus on effort and information in a single part which then has come to represent the entire nation. This is limiting, he points out and has shifted the focus away from what he believes to be the root cause: poor governance. “Nobody talks about how the government has failed on all fronts,” he argued. Rather, the narrative is one of war and rape concentrated in the Kivus. “Did anyone ask who raped these people? Did anyone ask, ‘Where is the Congolese government?’ What about the Army?”

From better governance, he believes that women will be afforded the security that they need to prevent further violence. Part of the solution, to the first panelist, is having ‘the courage to tell the truth’ when discussing the country and what is happening. The second panelist largely agreed with many of the premises set forth by first, but had a different perspective on the role of the international community.

Believing that external actors have done more harm than good in the DRC he advised the Americans in the audience, “The best thing you can do is tell your government to disengage from the Congo.” He pointed to an uneven policy by foreign actors when dealing with Great Lakes Region countries like Uganda and Rwanda which has not allowed for some of the problems to be adequately addressed.

Echoing first’s call for better governance and security, the second added, “It is very important to include the Congolese in the decision making process; especially the diaspora.” He continued saying that the diaspora is able to provide a “unique perspective on the situation given we get to see first-hand how policy is made in the US and how it affects the people on the ground, which the local activists in the Congo are not privy to that type of insight.” Externally, he advised, “Instead of investing in an individual leader, as was done in 2006, advocate for in investing in the democratic process.”

The last panel member shifted the focus more directly to the question of conflict minerals. “The problem is that the whole conflict minerals narrative has been constructed right here in Washington,” he said. Beginning with a 2009 Enough Project paper, conflict minerals have risen in profile leading to national legislation (Dodd-Frank), conflict mineral free college campuses (UPenn is one), and state legislation (California). The idea rests on the fact that the mineral trade funds the perpetrators of violence. Enacting legislation that makes the trade harder for those actors, say advocates, will help to reduce the incidence of violence in the Kivus.

The third takes issue with this supposition and some of the basic conclusions from the report. One example is the claim that the majority of the world’s Colton is mined in the region. According to him, there is little evidence to support this claim. He suggested that if Congolese were included in the process the policy suggestions would have been quite different.

As the conversation between the panel members continued through questions and statements from the audience, it was clear to anyone attending that the issue is extremely complex. Security Sector Reform became a part of the discussion, but everything seemed to fall back into the issue of governance. There was an agreement that the stories being told right now only provide a surface-level understanding of the country and the many forces that have led to the present circumstances.

As an observer, the panel was important because it provided the opportunity for the conversation to expand beyond short messages. In the end, the most important thing will be for the leadership of the conversation to shift. As TMS Ruge tweeted after the event “At what point will DRC take pole position on these debates? We can have hundreds; will mean nothing until DRC owns it!” Advocates will be well served to keep this in mind and work to ensure that this transition of leadership happens soon.

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**I did get permission from two of the three panel members, but cannot use their names and not the remaining member as it will become obvious what that member said. Also, for the sake of anonymity, I will use the masculine gender since two of the three were men.

18 October 2011

CGI's Self-Deprecating Humor


Each year the Clinton Global Initiative is the place to be. With world leaders and celebrities, it is really a who's who of international figures. This year, Funny or Die teamed up with some notable celebrities to make fun of themselves. Notably included are celebrity NGO founders Matt Damon (Water.org) and Sean Penn (J/P Haitian Relief Organization).  It is good to see them and the other actors not taking themselves too seriously.

The video is quite funny with Ben Stiller's growing frustration with the terrible ideas probably the best part. Even Clinton gets in on the act at the end.

HT Amanda Makulec

The Importance of Learning From Failure

This is an entry in Tales From the Hood's aid blog forum on failure.  Be sure to go here to see all the other well thought out posts.  Definitely read the ones from Marc, Terrence, Ian and Shotgun Shack.

Failure is becoming more popular in the humanitarian world.  That is evidenced by last week's #FailFaireDC and Engineers without Borders's conference on failure earlier in the year.   Why is it important?

Visually, it brings us from here:

#FailFaireDC 2011 filled the World Bank auditorium

To here:

  #FailFaireDC afterparty: @tkb @LCMoy @kjpeterson @jerotus @viewfromthecave @jacquideelstra @meowtree @wayan_vota 

 To here:

OK, that is way too simple, but the point is that it can bring us from talking about it to workable solutions. A recent example of admitting failure comes from the report And Who Listens to the Poor on two pilots implementing BRAC's social safety net program called 'Targeting the Ultra Poor' (TUP) by Trickle Up in West Bengal, India and Organi Charitable Trust Sindh, Pakistan, along with 7 other NGOs. The report shows is that implementation is not so simple.  Trickle Up's West Bengal program proved to be a resounding success, but the Organi Sindh pilot failed. 
In the Sindh pilot, there was little transformation among participants and their households. Their household resource bases remained weak, with limited improvement in livelihoods, persisting constraints due to purdah and poor access to health care, and with no group formation or village assistance committees, their social resources continued to be based upon pre-existing kinship ties. Their material resources, however, slightly improved with greater financial capital through savings and less exploitation by intermediaries. It can be hoped that, with greater access to education of TUP children, resource bases for the next generation will strengthen.

We saw that both programmes often reinforced virtuous and vicious circles as they initially manifested in participants‟ lives. There were programmatic limitations, but despite these, both programmes were able to create trajectories out of extreme poverty for participants who had favourable starting points. OCT's programme, however, proved to be ineffective for the most vulnerable women – those who had feeble starting positions, faced constraints outside the remit of the programme, and lacked the agency to bypass programme flaws.
They continue in their conclusions to further identify why the Singh program failed and recommends what could be done to improve (emphasis added).
Such lessons enable us to understand the pivotal role that organisations play in getting all members to graduate, and not just a favoured few. Organisations seeking to implement similar programmes should be careful that they are defining needs and then devising objectives; defining eligibility and identifying the eligible; designing and delivering effectively; putting in place accountability mechanisms; and feeding ground realities back into programme design.

The cornerstone to successful implementation is defining needs before setting objectives. Conducting needs assessments prior to implementation would have revealed to OCT that the targeted communities preferred health support over assets. Trickle Up would have realised from the outset that participants required livelihood options beyond livestock. Such insights might have drastically altered the inputs provided, and enabled the organisations to respond more accurately to the constraints the communities were facing. A TUP member in Sindh captured this aptly: "How can they help us if they don't ask us what we want? Had they asked, we would've said health care, drinking water, better jobs for our husbands. But who asks the poor? Who listens to the poor?"

(snip)

Amiss in OCT's programme design was an analysis that incorporated different strands of knowledge from local communities, staff, and livelihood experts where relevant. If participants are to succeed, they must also be given adequate services that complement the asset. These include veterinary access, intensive training and monitoring, a stipend to smooth consumption when assets are not generating income, and close mentoring support from staff.

Also, a feedback loop within the organisation is essential for effective delivery. During any pilot programme, a number of unexpected issues arise which call for modification of inputs and alterations in strategy. This is especially true for programmes that target extremely poor people, who may face unanticipated constraints. As field staff are most privy to ground realities, their experiences should be harnessed by programme management in order to respond and modify inputs as required. Accountability measures, such as incentives and repercussions, would help both sets of actors to perform these roles more optimally and transparently.

Lastly, and most importantly, it is worthwhile to identify the less dynamic participants early on, and to provide them the lion's share of mentoring support. We have seen that more dynamic participants have the resources to do well in this programme from the outset.
Organi Charitable Trust admits to making a series of mistakes.  Their recommendations are not new, but they will help to foster the design of future programs.  Looking at the implementation of the BRAC program, it would be easy to shrug off the failure in Sindh as a fluke and focused on the successes in West Bengal.  BRAC could decide to continue with one organization over the other.  That would miss the point.  By pairing the success of Trickle Up with the failure of Organi, the future impementors of TUP, including both organizations, avoid the mistakes that were made and make it a more effective program when introduced into new communities.

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The challenge of admitting failure is twofold.  First it needs participation.  Secondly, it needs to lead to meaningful action.  Terrence Wood explains the first challenge in his post saying,
I’ve always thought that admitting you’d stuffed up in development work cut the other way: if everyone did it would be easy enough to do but if you’re the first NGO trying to do it you’ll find yourself at the sharp end of a ‘first penguin to leap off the ice sheet’ type collective action dilemma (i.e. it’s the first penguin that has the highest chance of getting chomped by the sea lions). Who’s going to keep giving money to the one NGO that’s forever feeding journalists with stories of what it did wrong.
Getting organizations to own up to failures will be really hard.  I think that it will have to start with some of the big guys to really get the ball rolling.  This is a place where the World Bank could take the lead as its Development Impact blog has been a place that openly discusses some program failures.

The second step is probably more important.  My optimism in the report is that BRAC and its partner implementors actually heed their own advice.  However, with few mechanisms to keep their feet to the fire, it is possible that they might not do anything.  I am optimistic, but there still need to be accountability measures to ensure that failures are not simply admitted but are learning opportunities.  Admitting from failure is nice, but learning should be one of the most important words in this discussion.

Photo Credit: 1 & 2 to Invenneo, 3 myself

Are Cities a Solution? Not so Fast

Director of the Africa Research Institute Edward Paice says that urbanization of African countries is not a solution itself.
One of the explanations for the modest momentum of urbanisation in so many African countries is the dearth of opportunities for individuals to improve their lot in towns and cities. Job creation, or lack of it, is the key factor here. In the absence of formal or informal employment, or better services, many rural migrants chose to return whence they came, or to come and go – a phenomenon known as “circular migration”. This is becoming more and more common, and stays in each location are of shorter duration. Natural increase among the poorest urban-dwellers, not migration, is the biggest driver of urban growth in Africa. This means slum growth, and burgeoning ranks of unoccupied young men and women.

As Professor Edgar Pieterse, Director of the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town, points out “this is tough stuff”. In Africa, despite encouraging GDP growth figures over the past decade, larger concentrations of people are not automatically generating benefits – quite the opposite. Talk of widespread “bottom-up development” occurring in towns and cities is far-fetched. The notion that big ticket urban infrastructure projects will be a panacea is equally misguided.

The social, economic and political consequences of policymakers continuing to ignore the best available demographic research could be grim. For example, appropriate food supply networks and health services require sound knowledge of population distribution and migration patterns. But unsound “common knowledge” is contributing to bad policymaking and wasted resources – human and financial. “A set of very pernicious trends is unfolding and planned investments will exacerbate these trends”, says Pieterse.
I have to admit that I was not aware of the Map Kiberia Project that estimated about 1/4 of a million people like in Nairobi's well-known and ever popular slum. Other interesting facts are that 1/3 of the inhabitants are Luo and there is 1 lavatory for every 53 people (I assumed there would have been a 0 at the end of the number).


Better yet, there are a whole host of maps that you can view in 2D, 3D or on Google Earth. I would definitely suggest going to the website to see the maps and click through the data.

Surveys like this are important because they will help to better coordination. For example, knowing where lavatory structures have been placed can allow the government to know where are the best places to support the innovative Iko Toilets installation.

17 October 2011

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty


The following video comes from Trickle Up. Titled "The Test of Poverty." It was produced with support from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, which is 'spearheading a global effort to understand how safety nets, livelihoods, and microfinance can be sequenced to create pathways for the poorest to graduate out of extreme poverty.'

Since today is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I thought this would be an interesting video to share about one of the many solutions that are being sought to eradicate poverty. Tomorrow, I will write a bit about Trickle Up's new study titled And Who Listens to the Poor? that looks at how critical listening and adapting is in lifting people out of extreme poverty.

Storytelling: Eyes That Feel

 Juan Antonio Hernandez tries to touch a flower in order to feel its's temperature and determine where the sunlight is hitting the flower as he prepares to photograph it at a park in Mexico City. Hernandez is one of 30 visually impaired or blind people learning photography with the help of the Mexico City foundation Ojos Que Sienten, or Eyes That Feel. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

This is the kind of storytelling that I would love to see more often.  How amazing is that picture?
The sun's warmth helps them know where to place themselves to photograph their subject. They may touch a flower to sense its shape before photographing it, or listen intently for the wind blowing through leaves to locate a tree. 
They ask people they are photographing to talk to them so they can figure out how high or low on their body to place the camera. They then hold the camera against their foreheads or chests for stability. 
"My hearing, my smell, all my senses are alert when I'm taking a photograph," said Jose Antonio Dominguez, who has taken scores of photos of his guide dog Boni, a 3-year-old golden retriever.
Read the article here.

14 October 2011

Weekend Tunes: Ray Lamontagne


I missed the past few weeks with this. Sorry.

Saw Ray a few weeks ago so it seems appropriate to go with one of his best tunes.  Tonight I see Carmen by the Phila Opera and tomorrow is a festival with The Walkmen.  Needless to say it has been a bit of a music mix.

Happy Friday.

Migration: Where Are People Going?


Thanks to the work of Michael Clemens, the issue of migration is becoming more popular. His research has shown that there is a strong positive correlation with open migration. So, this map put together by Martin De Wulf deserves to be seen. Unfortunately, I can't share the really cool interactive map here. A screen grab will have to do. When you go to the website you can click on every country to see a visual of migrants exiting and entering the country.

Check it out here.

My Own Mini FailFaire

Last night was Fail Faire DC held at the World Bank. If you want to see all of the discussions of failure be sure to check out the #failfairedc tag on twitter.

In the spirit of failure, I should admit my own. Yesterday, I jumped on the fact that media were under reporting the fact that along with two Spanish MSF workers, two Kenyan aid workers had been kidnapped. When working on the DAWNS Digest I noted it as a top story and was proud to think that the headline would not be the same as everyone else.

The problem was that as more reports came out it became harder to substantiate the story of the two Kenyans. Thus far, I have been able to track it to an AP wire from 8 AM yesterday that said:
Security officials in Kenya say gunmen have seized two international and two Kenyan aid workers from the world's largest refugee camp.

Kenyan police chief Leo Nyongesa said authorities are following the kidnappers by road and air, and that the Kenya-Somalia border has been closed.

A youth leader in the Dadaab refugee camp, Baijo Mohamed, said the two kidnapped foreign aid workers are with Doctors Without Borders. Mohamed said their Kenyan driver was shot in the neck.

A Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman said she couldn't immediately comment.

Thursday's attack follows the recent kidnappings of a British tourist and a Frenchwoman from Kenyan resorts near the Somali border.
The AP began to exclude the two Kenyans from their reports and discuss the driver who was shot in the neck. A few other sources, such as The Standard (Kenya), reported that 4 people had been kidnapped. However, it seems that there is a good chance they sourced their information from this original AP wire. Because we could not follow up on the story from the United States, it became clear that the stork may be bunk.

I pushed to find ways to get that into the story (I wanting to prove I was right), but Mark said no for good reason. So, we published the report that has the most validity. MSF has made public statements about the abduction of its two workers and that is the only hard evidence available.

This makes me further interested in finding ways to support citizen journalists that are in Dadaab right now. With a limited number of people it is easy to see how the initial mistake by the AP was made or how they have had a tough time backing up their earlier claim. It is possible two Kenyans were abducted, but I would imagine that a reporter would have a harder time proving that than the story of the two MSF workers.

The point is, that this is exactly what DAWNS hopes to be able to support. So there you have it. I jumped the gun based on early reports and failed beautifully.

13 October 2011

Why is the Math Wrong on the MSF Kidnapping Story? (Doesn't 2+2=4)

UPDATE: I have jumped the gun on this post and wrote it based on very early reports that have yet to be completely substantiated.  See my follow up post here about how I came to fail.

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The headlines say that two Spanish nationals working for MSF have been kidnapped.

AFP: Two Spanish aid workers kidnapped in Kenya
News24: 2 aid workers kidnapped in Kenya
Financial Times: Two foreign aid workers kidnapped in Kenya
Capital FM: Two aid workers kidnapped in Dadaab
The Guardian: Two aid workers kidnapped from Kenyan refugee camp
and so on...

Problem is that two Kenyan aid workers were also kidnapped during the raid on a car and the driver was shot in the neck (no mention of nationality of the driver but I would hazard a guess that he is also Kenyan). Some of the articles do not even mention the two Kenyans. So why are the reports mentioning only two of the four people? Don't the other two matter just the same? Don't they count as aid workers? Note that Capital FM is included with is a Kenyan news source, so it does not just the international press.

Fortunately the Kenyan Standard does a better job reporting:
Somalia gang strike again abducting four people in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab.

Two of the victims worked with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) Spain and were in the company of two locals when they were attacked.

Police said the attackers were suspected to have come from neighbouring Somalia, and both military and police are pursuing them by land and air.

Reports said there was a shootout in the area between the gunmen and another group before the victims were taken away.

The gunmen had hijacked workers’ vehicle and shot the driver in the neck.

North Eastern PPO, Leo Nyongesa said a major operation was underway to rescue the victims.
I could put out a few thoughts on why the reporting is skewed, but that seems to obvious. The better thing to discuss is how to change it. Maybe some will think that it is perfectly fine. Jump in the comments to share what you think.

I look forward to participating and hearing your thoughts.

Using Fishermen to Catch Illegal Fishing

Sierra Leone and Liberia have two thought provoking methods of monitoring illegal fishing. The use of smart phones in Liberia is particularly interesting as it can give real time reports to the proper authorities. The question will be if they are used and what may come from such a system. Is there a chance that the fishermen will be paid off? Will they use on each other when doing small scale illegal fishing? Will they sell their phones for money in order to make a short term profit? Either way, the idea seems pretty neat and certainly something worth learning about.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
Sierra Leone has recently introduced a high-tech vessel monitoring system, or VMS, says Mr. Kabia, the fisheries minister. Once that system becomes fully operational, EJF’s community surveillance should be able to feed into it.

Similar work is underway in Liberia, where a World Bank-supported project has recently handed out smartphones to four communities along the coast. Snapping geo-tagged pictures with their new devices, the artisanal fishermen are able to send images in real time to government authorities, who can then dispatch vessels immediately or use the information to build a body of evidence against a particular ship.

Although governments here don’t always have the capacity to respond swiftly to such calls, there are signs that enforcement is getting better.

In July, for the first time ever, Liberia’s coast guard chased down and seized a vessel that had been fishing illegally in the waters off its coast. Owned by a Korean company called Inter-Burgo, the boat had been operating in in-shore areas, which are reserved for local fishermen. The government fined the company and suspended the vessel’s fishing license for six months.

World Food Day Quiz

Save the Children has a little quiz for World Food Day.  I like taking quizzes and have to say that I did pretty terribly when I did it.  Post your score in the comments section.

12 October 2011

Somalia: Aid's Quicksand?

Over 20 years of instability in Somalia has lead to a price tag of $55.3 billion to the global community say John Norris and Bronwyn Bruton in their paper Twenty Years of Collapsing and Counting for the Center for American Progress. 


In Foreign Policy the two write:
Somalia's ruin can't simply be chalked up as a case of Western neglect. For decades, the United States and international organizations have poured money into Somalia despite its relative geopolitical insignificance -- first as a Cold War bulwark, then as a humanitarian emergency, and now as an effort to contain crime and terrorism...For all the treasure expended there, Somalia is no closer to stability than it has been at earlier points in its two-plus decades of chaos. The country is currently experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in two decades, with more than three-quarters of a million people at grave risk of starvation, and remains riven by civil conflict, piracy, and extremism.

The world's approach to Somalia has long been trapped in an unhappy middle: It has been insufficiently robust and well-designed to resolve the country's conflicts but far too heavy-handed and frequent to allow the country to resolve its own problems. An entire generation of Somalis now views the "state," whether it is the Transitional Federal Government or al-Shabab, as a largely predatory institution to be feared, not as a source of stability. Perhaps more than anything, the spending on Somalia demonstrates how the world -- and Washington in particular -- keeps groping for quick tactical fixes while failing to embrace the sensible diplomacy and the kinds of patient engagement that might help Somalia achieve peace.


This is all only made worse by the present famine in the Southern half of the country. Yesterday, the AU said that it had successfully gained control of Al-Shabaab-held Mogadishu. However, it seems that the terrorist organization always comes back in bursts after being driven from a city. The AU will also probably want to push a bit further which means that more fighting will continue and thousands more people will be displaced from their homes. A portion of these people will be those who fled the South because the famine.

All of this means that things are not on track to change in the short term and more money will be spent in the region. As can be seen on the right hand chart, refugee numbers are again spiking to the same levels of the early 1990's.

Somaliland has become a favorite example for how aid is not needed for a country to grow.  The same people will likely look at this study to support the idea that aid has not been working in Somalia.  The latter assessment seems to be pretty fair, but it (like all things) is not so simple.  Governance in Somalia continues to be nearly non-existent which means that programs will be harder to implement.  What we do know is that over $50 billion has been spent and little progress has been made.  What we cannot measure is if this money was not available if things would have been better or worse.

Everyone can agree that the status quo is not working.  What do you think the international community should do in regards to Somalia?  I think Somalia and DRC are places where the AU can come together to support governance efforts and assist in ensuring safety.

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Do take a look at the full report, is definitely worth your time to read.

Taking a Bite out of Bullies (and A Bit of Pride)


The following is a video about a program that uses dogs help decrease bullying in schools. The CNN video features two students at St Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven, CT where I used to teach.

11 October 2011

Invest In Agriculture


The basic prescription is simple enough: invest in agriculture. It is the execution that is the challenge. The FAO is warning that food insecurity will continue with increasing price volatility. Al Jazeera does a nice quick report on the FAO findings and recommendations.

10 October 2011

Governance: The Best and Worst Nations in Africa

The 2011 Mo Ibrahim Index of African governance is out. No index is perfect by any means, but this one is interesting because it puts a premium on the very important issue of governance.  The Great Lakes Policy Forum panel discussions last week put a strong emphasis on the need to improve governance in the DRC.  It is no surprise that the Congo among the worst nations rated by the index.



A quick capture of the best and the worst:

Top five: 1 Mauritius; 2 Cape Verde; 3 Botswana; 4 Seychelles; 5 South Africa
Bottom five: 49 Central African Republic; 50 Democratic Republic of the Congo; 51 Zimbabwe; 52 Chad; 53 Somalia

Scroll down to the bottom of the post you in order to see a breakdown of the scores by country. Meanwhile, here are some of the key findings according to the organization's press release:
Key Index findings across the past five years (2006 to 2010) show that:

- Large differences in performances between countries and across categories are masked by the unchanged continental average of 50 for overall governance quality.

- Liberia improved across all four categories and 13 out of 14 sub-categories.

- Togo and Angola have also seen meaningful improvements.

- Togo's score has increased in all four categories, in particular Participation & Human Rights, which was Togo's weakest score in 2006.

- Angola has improved in three categories, in particular Participation & Human Rights and Human Development, which were Angola's weakest scores in 2006.

- Egypt, Libya and Tunisia demonstrate starkly the imbalance between weak performance in Safety & Rule of Law and Participation & Human Rights and strong performance in Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. This imbalance between the countries' performance in Human Development and Participation and Human Rights might well have been a trigger for instability.

- While all three countries are ranked in the top ten in Human Development, with Egypt and Tunisia also ranked in the top ten for Sustainable Economic Opportunity, all three countries are ranked in the bottom half of the Index for Participation & Human Rights, with scores that are below the continental average.

Category trends:

- Sustainable Economic Opportunity: 38 countries improved, three significantly. No country has declined significantly.

- Human Development: 48 countries improved.

- In the Health sub-category in particular all but two countries improved and neither of the two declines is significant.

- Safety & Rule of Law: 36 countries declined, one significantly.

- Participation & Human Rights: 39 countries declined, one significantly.

- The greatest declines in Safety & Rule of Law and Participation & Human Rights are substantially larger than the concurrent improvements in Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development.


Here is the list in order of rank:

There is a lot more to be seen when reading the full report (pdf).

07 October 2011

The Impact of Climate Change on Women

Weathering Change from Population Action International on Vimeo.


Just came across this video from Population Action International that looks at the ways that climate change affects women around the world. Though the women are the main focus, it is clear to see how it is impacting families such as one that has less water due to receding glaciers in Peru and another where the father had to leave to make more money and the mother continues to tend the farm alone so that their children can continue in school.

It is a quick video, but worth watching.

HT UN Dispatch

05 October 2011

An Evaluation Revolution From Cambridge, MA

An economist educated at a highly regarded university in Cambridge, MA pored over the research and past measures of a particular subject and realized that the measures used were inefficient. The economist learned that unpopular methods of measurement that were already in place could lead to a better understanding of the most cost-effective way to achieve success. With so much money being spent in the economist’s field of study, it was important to determine how to use the resources available in a given organization in order to maximize impact.

The economist started to get noticed and featured in books and news articles. Younger people flocked to learn what this economist was doing and began applying the new methods in their organizations. The old guard rejected the change, holding to traditional measures. When asked about what the economist was doing, they said that trying to use data to predict the actions of individuals was foolish and impossible.

Learn more about this economist in my latest post on the Peace Dividend Trust Blog here.

(Hint: It is not Esther Duflo or any of the other randomistas)

04 October 2011

Continuing the Unwatchable Debate

The discussion about the advocacy film Unwatchable has expanded a bit with the latest argument coming from Guardian Development's Jonathan Glennie in support of the video. He writes:
Will the film be effective? The fact that it did not appear to motivate a few highly knowledgeable bloggers does not mean it won't generate a response outside the development policy elite. Shocking people can lead to action. The film induces emotions of pity as well as anger – both powerful forces.

Very few people who watch the film will feel less likely to act in favour of rape victims, but quite a lot will probably be more likely to act because of it. Of course, it will not be for everyone, but it is likely to reach some people who have never before considered the issue.

If the critics are right, and the film proves ineffective, why are they so angry about it? Lots of advocacy is ineffective but does not provoke such strong responses. Some of the film's critics have implied that its images are unacceptable because they make you feel uncomfortable or ill. But the sensitivities of those watching the film are not of particular concern when the issue is so important. It strikes me that some would simply prefer the realities of war not to be brought home to a western public living relaxed lives on a seemingly different planet. I think they should be – we should be reminded of what is happening in other parts of the world, to shake us from our daily routine, and to galvanise us into response.
His argument boils down to the idea that it such advocacy will end in one of two responses. On one hand, people will be so moved by video that they will act within the range of simply signing the petition to becoming an activist against conflict minerals and violence in the DRC. The second seems to be one of indifference. Those who see it and are not moved will continue on with their lives uncaring and/or unaware.

Criticism is dismissed and I believe it is warranted because there is another outcome of advocacy: a warped understanding of a problem. A study by VSO examined this very problem in Britain by looking at how the advocacy push of Live Aid and the years since have shaped public understanding of poverty and the continent of Africa. One of the findings was that 80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid."

Additionally, the study finds that the idea persists that "we are powerful, benevolent givers; they are grateful receivers." In the context of the Save the Congo campaign, is it possible that the movie makes people think that those living in the DRC are helpless and that it is our responsibility to be the 'benevolent givers?'

What happens when they start seeing more of the story? "When consumers are presented with an alternative view of the developing world they often express anger and a feeling of being conned or misled. The target for this anger is mainly the media, and occasionally development charities, who are seen as the main sources of information."

Rape and war is not an alternative view of the DRC or even Africa as a whole. It has been used time and again to show abject poverty. True, it is a very terrible part of the reality but it is far more of a norm for audiences to see these images rather than ones of say children learning in school.

The makers of Unwatchable argue that we need to be shocked into action. For some this may be true, but for others it might further push them towards a single understanding of poverty in the DRC.  Could it be possible that by portraying poverty in such basic ways is making it harder to get people to act or care?

A lot of this argument rests on conjecture, but the evidence seemingly points at the problems with continuing the same advocacy messaging. Does Unwatchable do more harm than good? I can't say for sure in either direction, but the VSO study seems to show that there is a chance. The burden is on the producers of such campaigns to show that they can in fact not only get people to act but give them an understanding of global poverty so that they will become more globally aware.

One thing we know for sure is that the way poverty is portrayed has a significant impact on people.  Why assume that it can only produce positive results?

I encourage people to read the full VSO report here.

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