29 March 2012

Catching Kony with Humor?

The Enough Project teamed up with Funny or Die to produce this video starring Law and Order: SVU star Christopher Meloni. Meloni announces he is quitting acting to go catch Joseph Kony (As an aside, Kony does not rhyme with pony, it should be pronounced nearly identically to the word coin). He disrobes and transforms into the Machine Gun Preacher dressed up like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The ploy is to provide information about the LRA through Meloni's rant while his agent talks him down from going to Congo. He tells Meloni there is something he can do without having to hunt down Kony himself and a graphic flashes sending the viewer to Enough's Kony page that has the same video and a form letter someone can sign and send to President Obama with their policy prescriptions:
1) Troops: President Obama should call on African governments to deploy capable forces to help find Kony;
2) Intelligence: A surge of U.S. intelligence support; and
3) Transport: Logistical assistance from European countries.
4) Defection strategy: aid and radio towers to make sure that LRA fighters know they have a safe place to come out.
I'd like to hear what people think of the video. Personally, I did not find it funny but I am assuming that I am not the intended audience. As for the policy suggestions, the second is interesting. IC advocated for the US to stay the course with its intelligence support, but Enough is requesting a surge. I'd be interested what the 'surge' would look like and how more intelligence support will help the efforts to capture Kony.

HT to @texasinafrica for the video

First There Was the Poverty Trap

...and now there is the middle-income trap. At least that is what the World Bank says in its China: 2030 report. The Economist explains that the chart, "plots each country’s income per person (adjusted for purchasing power) relative to that of America, both in 1960 and in 2008."  It notes that only 13 countries 'escaped' the middle-income trap to join above middle to high-income group. Presumably, Greece who is a part of the group in 2008 is likely back in the middle-income trap due to its financial state. I would be interested in seeing an update from 2008 given that the US is the peg. With the slowing US economy and the continued rapid growth of the BRICS, this chart could very well have some noteworthy shifts (of course that is pure conjecture as I have no data in front of me right now to make the comparisons).

China has made a relatively reasonable rise in the 4 decades. What stands out to me is that Brazil remains largely unmoved. Yet again, learning a new piece of info about Brazil has me interested in learning more about the nations growth, especially given that it will play host to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

For good measure, here is outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick discussing the report. He raises some good concerns about the levels of poverty in China and what may eventually come if it is not adequately addressed.

Here is also the report for anyone interested.

28 March 2012

Gender Bias in Development Commentary

The following post is by Taylor Ball-Brown* from her blog Bell Tolling. I was happy she picked up the gender and development blogging conversation and wanted to share it here to keep it going.

Today I read a very interesting post by Tom Murphy of A View from the Cave. It was about gender bias in his ABBAs awards and in the development commentary community generally. I highly recommend reviewing it and (if you are a woman) speaking louder from now on.

One snippet from Murphy’s post that I found particularly thought-provoking was a comment by Jennifer Lenter, stating that, “In the U.S., 80-90% of OpEd pages are written by men, 84% of guests on Sunday morning political talk shows are men, and 85% of Hollywood producers and directors are men. In short, despite advances in the women’s movement, public conversations exclude many people.”

After reading this quote, I had to ask myself, “Are these public conversations always excluding women, or are we [women] just not stepping into an open ring?” In other words, is the lack of women in commentary due to external prohibitions, or internal inhibitions? It is surely due to both, but with women now exceeding men in years formal education, it seems intuitive that the balance of academic and political commentary should soon even out. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to ask ourselves why not–honestly.

Now, this is not to diminish the still very present and very active sexism that exists (consciously and subconsciously) in the world today. I know that sexism’s influence is yet felt far, wide and deeply. However, my point is simply to ask if we [as women] are making any excuses to pacify our existence as second class and/or silent bodies in the pews. We shouldn’t be afraid to head to the pulpit and speak loudly–and we definitely shouldn’t be afraid to make a blog comment.

*Taylor Ball-Brown studied evidence-based social intervention at the University of Oxford and recently moved to Washington for work. Academically and professionally I focus on the intersection of human rights and development--particularly in relation to women. I have lived an worked throughout the US and abroad.

Bell Tolling was started a recently as a means to introduce others to social issues in an educated but accessible manner. I strive to consider, and invite others to consider, multiple perspectives before forming opinions.

Simon Moss: Africa is Poor and 5 Other Aid Myths

Simon Moss of the Global Poverty Project delivers his TEDxWarwick talk on some of the top aid myths including the one that says overheads are bad and he even tackles voluntourism. Though a bit jarring to some, I would suggest this as a must see for people why are newer to the aid field. Even if there are points where an individual disagrees, I think Simon is successful in presenting his ideas in a way that can force people to think hard about their held positions.

27 March 2012

Floating BRICS

The rapidly growing nations also known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are quietly turning into the next generation of donor countries. While their total foreign aid numbers pale in comparison to the United States, UK, Germany and France, the BRICS are having an impact.

All are at various points of transition from recipient to full fledged donor countries. India is debating whether to take aid money from the UK any longer and some MPs in the UK are calling for the end of aid to India.  What is developing is a South-South cooperation with countries like Brazil providing aid to African nations and China emerging as one of the major investors in SSA.

A report by GHS Initiatives brings to light the rapid economic growth of the BRICS and the parallel increase in amount spent on foreign assistance. The BRICS are a welcome entry to the global aid world for two reasons. First, they are particularly focused on global health. The Global Fund is reeling financially thanks in large part to overblown reports about graft related to disbursed funds. The wealthier donor nations are starting to make new pledges, but the major body is reeling. The BRICS, though still small, are providing more and more to the Global Fund.

Second, and probably most importantly, BRICS present a different set of interests. It is no surprise that the GHS Initiatives study finds that the BRICS give because of economic and and political interests. However, the interests of these rapidly growing nations are not exactly the same as the traditional donor countries. Rapid growth wants markets and development assistance has the ability to nurture future trade partners.

India manufactures 60% – 80% of all vaccines procured by UN agencies; China surpassed Japan in R&D investments in 2009 and now invests more in R&D than any other G7 country except the US; and Russia committed more than US$4.4 billion to production and innovation in its pharmaceutical and medical industries. As seen in the graphic below, the BRICS still have a way to go in order to catch up with the big donor nations, but their impact is being felt. The question is how the development of the BRICS will transform USAID, AUSAID, DfID and the like.

25 March 2012

The DRI Debates According to Twitter

I grabbed the tweets from the DRI event on Thursday and put it into a storify as a way for people who did and did not attend to have a record of the conversation among the presenters and the audience.

See full Storify after the jump.

23 March 2012

DRI Debates Quick Hitters

Yesterday, the Development Research Institute at NYU hosted a one day conference on aid and development debates.  It was quite good. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to adequately get into the debates and answer the audience questions. That was due to a constraint on time and the inclination of some audience members to grandstand when given the microphone. Further yet, the topic of the MVP was discussed in the first panel which brought out a cohort of Columbia students to ask hard questions to the panelists.

Here are some quick observations about what was discussed. I hope to provide more soon, but for the sake of time I am going with this format. Forgive me for jumping around.
  • Bill Easterly of DRI; Andrew Rugasira, Founder and Chairman, Good African Coffee, Uganda; and Angus Deaton, Princeton University and Woodrow Wilson School attached themselves to the idea of trial and error. Deaton used the example of Angry Birds saying that it would take too much time to run an RCT on ever possible angle and action of the user to determine the optimal outcome. Even children will try it out to see what works and then make changes that are necessary to succeed.  Abhijit Banerjee of MIT refuted the idea, but did not go too far into why. To me, this idea falls apart when taken into the context of present aid and development. Deaton held trial and error in high regard because it is a matter of learning from mistakes and improving until a solution is found. In an ideal world that would be acceptable, but given the inability of governments and NGOs to openly admit failure it becomes hard. Further, what seems to be an adequate solution at a given time can be problematic later down the line. New solutions will need to be developed to deal with the emerging problems and the process will begin again. To some extent, this is hard to avoid, but strong and open monitoring and evaluation practices can ensure to the trial and error of the Easterly 'searcher.'
  • Michael Clemens pitted 'goals' verses 'evaluations.' The MVP is an example where the two are in conflict to a degree, but that does not mean it is the case for all of development. Much like working with trial and error, goals and evaluations can and should work together. Goals are useful in setting benchmarks, but they are not absolute. They are also not an end, neither are evaluations. Rather, evaluations can act as a mechanism to optimize the goals themselves and the way that the set goals will be attained.
  • The do something better argument is weak. It is used often in the MVP debate, but in many other places. As it goes, defenders say that they are doing something, would love to hear new ideas, but dismiss criticisms because they do not offer a new plan. In the case of Clemens's concerns, it is that the evaluations are not telling the whole truth. There is a lot to be learned from the MVP, let's make sure that the evaluations tell what trends are taking place around a target village to get an understanding as to the changes going on in places that are not receiving the intervention. An RCT is a possible way to help test it, but there are many other methods to track these changes that will do a reasonably good job. The overall point is to learn from the MVPs so that parts can be improved when new villages are established. Finally, given the cost, it is important to see how much they are actually accomplishing. Clemens was criticizing for pointing out the cost of the new MVP in Ghana. His mistake was not to be more explicit. The cost per household exceeds by a significant amount the household makes every year. It is a legitimate question to ask if the MVP will improve the lives of the households more than if the money was simply given to each household over the same period. Fortunately, Give Directly is testing this very idea with an RCT in place. Yea, it won't prove whether the intervention is the answer but it will help learn more about what works.
  • Andrew Rugasira had a few negative thoughts about Kony 2012 that received applause from the audience. Evidently the crowd was not a fan. It is only anecdotal and my basis is on how loud people were applauding, but it is still worth a mention.
  • Stewart Paperin of the Open Society Foundations was enjoyable for his candor. Two things stood out from his remarks. First, he sees the MVP as an investment. He did not explain it much, but he mentioned it as an investment at least a handful of times. Second, he dismissed the need for knowing causality and followed it up by saying that he wants to fund things that work. It seems off that he cares so much about things working, but does not care to know why or even measure if they are in fact working. This is where his defense of the MVP was the weakest. The strength was in the fact that it is relatively cheap for the OSF and is an experiment worth testing. In his mind, there was only upside from the project. Given the amount of money in each village he is likely right that the interventions will do some amount of good.
  • Rugasira gave the argument for trade over aid. What was interesting was he attacked the theories set forth by Sachs, but disguised to some extent by taking about entrepreneurship. This seems to have resonated with the audience as there was little push-back as compared to that seen in the other panels. Easterly gave a taste test to the coffee and shared his approval. After the talk, Yaw Nyarko of DRI said that we need to have Andrew2012, an appropriate observation given the lack of stories about innovation and entrepreneurship from countries like Uganda. It is also valuable as he does not fit the mold of the microfinance success story. The single-story about entrepreneurship in the developing world has the face of a woman participating in a group-liability loan. While a truth, there are many women and men who are starting businesses outside of the traditional microfinance world. Rugasira is an excellent example.
If you went, add some of your thoughts in the comments section. Also, feel free to ask questions. Much more was covered. Andrew Rugasira's talk was phenomenal and will be much better seen on video that summarized here. 

22 March 2012

Tracking World Water Day

I am keeping tabs of photos, blog posts, tweets, pictures, and videos from World Water Day (aka today) using Storify for PSI. I wanted to share with all of you what I am tracking because there is some pretty neat stuff and to also solicit some help if there is anything I miss.

Happy World Water Day!

Click 'continue reading' to see the storify. I added a break to prevent the page from loading too slowly.

19 March 2012

Are Property Rights the Path out of Poverty?

Adam Davidson of NPR's Planet Money pens a review of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's new book Why Nations Fail for New York Times Magazine. The review is largely about the work of Acemoglu and his contribution to reshaping how we think about failed states.

A short summary of the books thesis:
But through a series of legendary — and somewhat controversial — academic papers published over the past decade, Acemoglu has persuasively challenged many of the previous theories. (If poverty were primarily the result of geography, say, or an unfortunate history, how can we account for the successes of Botswana, Costa Rica or Thailand?) Now, in their new book, “Why Nations Fail,” Acemoglu and his collaborator, James Robinson, argue that the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy. It’s an idea that was first raised by Smith but was then largely ignored for centuries as economics became focused on theoretical models of ideal economies rather than the not-at-all-ideal problems of real nations. 
Consider Acemoglu’s idea from the perspective of a poor farmer. In parts of modern sub-Saharan Africa, as was true in medieval Europe or the antebellum South, the people who work the fields lack any incentive to improve their yield because any surplus is taken by the wealthy elite. This mind-set changes only when farmers are given strong property rights and discover that they can profit from extra production. In 1978, China began allowing farmers to benefit from any surplus they produced. The decision, most economists agree, helped spark the country’s astounding growth. 
According to Acemoglu’s thesis, when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help. I observed this firsthand when I visited a group of Haitian mango farmers a few years ago. Each farmer had no more than one or two mango trees, even though their land lay along a river that could irrigate their fields and support hundreds of trees. So why didn’t they install irrigation pipes? Were they ignorant, indifferent? In fact, they were quite savvy and lived in a region teeming with well-intended foreign-aid programs. But these farmers also knew that nobody in their village had clear title to the land they farmed. If they suddenly grew a few hundred mango trees, it was likely that a well-connected member of the elite would show up and claim their land and its spoils. What was the point?
The Seattle-based NGO Landesa is one of the leaders in working with nations to ensure that property owners have land rights. This video tells the story of how the NGO is partnering with the government of Rwanda to ensure that people get owner's deeds to their own lands.
It looks a bit like the Girl Effect video that has made the popular rounds over the past few years. The timeline of what could be when a family owns their land is inspiring, but rather simple. The theories of Acemoglu about state failure seem to confirm the premise of Landesa and the video.  

When I get the chance, I want to get my hands on the book to learn a bit more about this myself. I am curious to what extent land ownership will lead to development. One advantage that I have not heard mentioned is that it should help to stabalize the microfinance industry. Clients who own their own land have equity which can in turn help MFIs evaluate and protect themselves on loans. It could be possible that such equity could drive down rates as the ability to collect becomes easier. Naturally, the issue of foreclosure would come into play which is a nasty and drawn-out process (at least in the US).

I will turn to the wisdom of the crowd to share their inputs and experiences. What do you think?

16 March 2012

Weekend Tunes: Yo-Yo Ma plays the prelude from Bach´s Cello Suite No. 1

A little bit of relaxation thanks to cello extrodionarie Yo-Yo Ma as he plays the prelude from Bach´s Cello Suite No. 1. I wish I could find the full suite as it only gets better with each movement.

Happy Friday and Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Who Will be The Next World Bank President? Wanna Bet on it?

That's right! You can put your money where your mouth is and lay down a bet on the next World Bank president. An outside shot for Lula da Silva will yield you a nice reward if he wins. Sadly, the top 4 are all Americans (I could say 5 by including Geithner and including Dervis, but that is not entirely accurate) and seem to be the best bets for assuming the role. Dark horse candidate Jeffrey Sachs is now one of the favorites to assume the role as leader of the Bank.

Given that the options are so disappointing I want to launch the Birdsall for Bank Prez 2012 campaign. An American is going to assume the role. I want to be wrong about that statement, but it seems unlikely the US is ready to give up the post. With that in mind, Nancy Birdsall is my candidate. As the head of the excellent Center for Global Development, she will bring much needed accountability and transparency to the Bank. Under her watch, CGD has launched the innovative Cash on Delivery aid, it produced David Roodmen's excellent survey on the impact of microfinance, and sparked a debate with Bank president wannabe Jeffrey Sachs over the Millennium Village Project.

Who else is with me? Do you have another suggestion? Maybe you want to disagree with me that there is no chance of a non-American presidency.

14 March 2012

Tracking Ugandan Responses to #Kony2012

Al Jazeera set up a space for Ugandans to send in their thoughts and responses to the Kony 2012 video. There have been plenty of discussions (including on this blog) by people who are not from or living in Uganda. People can now SMS or email their thoughts on the video and the campaign. The responses are then mapped based on location (seen above) and coded with positive and negative view points. At present, most are against, but it is not an overwhelming majority.

These responses will still represent a small number of people. Access to the video and knowing about this opportunity will likely make this a set of responses by mostly middle class Ugandans. That is not to say their voices matter, this initiative is a welcome change, rather it is to point out that many are still not able to participate in these discussions who are affected by the campaign and policies supported.

Al Jazeera explains:
In the last couple of weeks many people internationally have been talking about the LRA and Joseph Kony. There have also been conversations about the children who have been affected, who some call “Invisible children”. 
The boys and girls that have been kidnapped by Kony’s soldiers. The boys have been forced to kill and maim and the girls to give sexual services. People are arguing over the facts and over the portrayal of the communities that have been affected. There has also been debate over the ethics of those, who say they have answers to the problem. 
Now the rest of the world has had their say Al Jazeera wants to hear from you inside Uganda. What do you think about the situation and what solutions do you have to share with the international community? If you have an opinion on this Tweet us on #UgandaSpeaks, SMS us on the numbers listed above and send your video to voices@aljazeera.net
If you are in Uganda and happen to read this, you can SMS in to these numbers to share your views:

SMS: +256 790 893828
SMS: +256 790 840728
SMS: +974 550 78998

Meanwhile, in Northern Uganda Families are Hit by Nodding Disease

A major story is developing about an elusive killer wrecking havoc on the lives of children in northern Uganda. It is not Joseph Kony.

Nodding disease is affecting thousands of children largely in the north of the country. The symptoms are characterized by the nodding of the head (hence the name), seizures, and stunted growth.

A recent report from the BBC:

More than 200 sick children turned up on Monday for treatment in the centres in the districts of Kitgum, Pader and Lamwo, Uganda's Commissioner for Health Services Dr Anthony Mbonye told the BBC.

Health workers cannot offer definitive treatment - until doctors find out what lies at the root of the disease - but, Dr Mbonye says, they have been trained to help improve the lives of children by managing the neurological symptoms.

Anti-epileptic drugs have been effective in treating nodding disease patients, according to the World Health Organisation.

Nodding syndrome causes children to spasm uncontrollably - and eventually to waste away and die.

The BBC's Ignatius Bahizi in Kampala says a local MP, Beatrice Anywar, has spearheaded a campaign to press the government to deal more effectively with the disease, which, he says, has caused huge anxieties in rural communities.

Uganda's health ministry has recorded 3,000 cases and almost 200 deaths since 2010.

As the final sentence points out, this is not a new problem. It has affected the region for over a year and has existed since the 1980's when it was discovered in Sudan.

Reactions from a Kony 2012 Screening in Northern Uganda

Al Jazeera reports from a screening of Kony 2012 put on by a local NGO called the African Youth Initiative Network. The reporter characterizes the response as angry and features a few reactions. The fact that Americans are mostly featured is mentioned most and what seems to be the greatest offense. One man said, before seeing the film, that he was hoping to see something about northern Ugandans and the LRA. It may be that the expectations of the crowd were similar and the disdain grew out of the reality that Kony 2012's focus is away from Ugandan people.

I have seen other tweets about screenings that did not go well. Many are from journalist Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire who attended the screening.

Update: Check out Mark Goldberg's post with an additional quote from Victor Ochen, the man who organized the film.

13 March 2012

Book Review: Damned Nations

The timing of the Kony 2012 campaign is quite apt in light of the recent release of Dr Samantha Nutt's memoir-cum-aid commentary Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies & Aid. Dr Nutt, a physician and the founder and Executive Director of War Child Canada, shares her experiences as an aid worker in conflict zones for the past 15 years.

Dr. Nutt's first exposure to conflict was while working as a UNICEF field volunteer in Somalia in 1995. There, she made the mistake of surveying a resettlement camp alone. Little did she know that the landowner was watching over her movements. He was charging the people money to access the UNICEF-built water source in the camp. Dr. Nutt was not aware of this when she took a picture of a child taking water from the reservoir.

Security guards were dispatched when the landowner thought Dr. Nutt was recording evidence of his fee for water access. In this experience, Dr. Nutt was exposed to the many layers that are at work when there is a humanitarian response to a conflict. People in the camp were traveling further to gather water because of the fees. The book continues to cover a career path in conflict zones like eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her writing is most compelling when describing her first-hand experiences. Writers who have worked in aid, and especially in conflict zones, have to establish some level of credibility by narrating a particularly dangerous event. Striking a balance is often hard and can come across like an exercise in saying "look at how bad ass I am."

The strength of Dr. Nutt's book is her restraint in telling these stories. She has experienced attacks and lost friends to assassinations. The focus largely tends to be away from herself. Her inclusion in the stories is a matter of being the witness, not the central player. It is a subtle, but important mechanism that appears to be deliberately employed. In doing so, Dr. Nutt profiles the accomplishments of individuals in their own right, rather than through her help or benevolence.

Mariam, a Somali midwife who worked with UNICEF to curb female genital mutilation, is one example. Dr Nutt narrates a section where she observed Mariam take the lead during a meeting with village elders to explain why ending FGM is important to women's health. Mariam convinced the men to allow her to speak with the village women.

Dr Nutt follows up the story saying, "To be present for these conversations - these moments of education, revelation, and sisterhood - is to confront our assumptions. The entire humanitarian movement and cacophony of NGOs it has spawned are, to melancholic effect, anchored to the myth of the poor nebulous "Other" (in deference to Ryszard Kapuscinski): Hurry, we must save them."

The book progresses in this manner. A self-reflection or personal event is connected to aid - how it is operated and how it is perceived. The final section sheds the stories, transitioning to criticism and ultimately advice. She touches on the challenges and shortcomings of voluntourism, NGO communication tactics to elicit donations, and the myth of low overheads.

For aid workers and people already working in the humanitarian space, these conversations are not groundbreaking. Some may disagree on her points, but have already been exposed to these views. For young people and anyone with little understanding of aid, Dr. Nutt begins to shed light on the many competing ideas that impact aid and development.

The lesson she imparts is that aid is imperfect and has the potential to reduce suffering. As an introduction to international aid, Damned Nations is excellent. The writing style is free from NGO jargon and Dr Nutt's storytelling is engaging. Given the rise in popularity of conflict in aid over the past two weeks, this is a good place for people who are just starting to learn about the subjects.

If Kony 2012 was an introduction to the impact conflict has on the lives of people in Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic, this is a book that will illuminate the continuity of conflict and poverty. It will describe the many contributing factors to conflict and its both direct and indirect consequences.

Disclosure: I was provided a review copy by the author. The opinion of this book is entirely my own. I was not provided compensation or any gifts in exchange for this review.

12 March 2012

Chatting About #Kony2012 Today

I have the opportunity to join the never-ending-yet-necessary Kony 2012 conversation with writer Juliane Okot-Bitek, Athletes for Africa founder Adrian Bradbury, and Africa Canada Accountability Coalition Director Simon Child . Hosted by The Canadian International Council, it will take place today at 1PM here.

Join the conversation directly or tweet at me with your comments and questions.

09 March 2012

Using Microfinance to Bring Clean Water to India's Poor

This originally appears in the Huffington Post.

Mumbai - A unique public-private partnership involving private sector giants like Unilever and Heinz is improving the health of Indian children. Two hours outside India’s tech hub Bangalore is Krishnagiri the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP) is using interest-free microfinance loans to increase access to products people could not afford on their own. “I care about the safe health and education of children. If I do business with people and don’t care, it is not development. This is not development,” explained Kulandei Francis, founder of IVDP.

The term ‘microfinance’ elicits the image of groups of women who take loans, share the liability with the group members and use the money to expand a small business. This idea grew out of Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank which has operated in Bangladesh for four decades and reached a wider audience thanks to organizations like Kiva that allow any person to provide a microfinance loan to a woman anywhere in the world. Today, a shopper at Whole Foods can round up to the nearest dollar at the register to support the company’s microfinance institution of choice.

Microfinance is just about everywhere these days.

The truth is that microfinance is a complicated term that covers many ways people access financial services around the world. Payday-loans** in the United States are a form of microfinance; as is rainfall insurance for farmers in Ghana. It would be similar to calling every financial service that I can access in the United States ‘finance.’ It does not come close to adequately capturing the services I use.

In India, the most common avenue of accessing financial services by the poor is through self-help groups (SHGs). On the face they look similar to Yunus’s group lending scheme, but there are important differences that allow for a shift from building business to supporting social goods like health and education.

SHGs are formed by women with the help of an NGO. For a period of time, the women only save money. They deposit a small sum of 50 rupees ($1) each month. After 6 months, the women are eligible to take small loans. These loans can either come from the group savings account or through the bank. The group helps determine if the loan is appropriate for each member and serve as a check for the bank. Because the liability of the loan is shared among the group, it is in their interest to ensure that each member is capable of paying back a loan on time.

NGOs run Bank Linkage Programs to serve as an organizing mechanism and a bridge between the women and the banks. Having never been to a bank themselves, this bridge allows access, and provides an easy way of becoming familiar with banking. Additionally, the mission of the NGO is to ensure financial access for families so they can weather the peaks and valleys of poverty. The livelihoods of clients are at the forefront of NGOs like IVDP.

This small change in structure impacts how outcomes are then measured. For IVDP, success is measured by the health of children and their ability to go to succeed at school. To achieve this mission, IVDP partners with corporations like Unilever.

Unilever’s PureIt water filter is a significant innovation in terms of bringing safe water to homes in India. The device filters water to meet the US EPA standards for clean drinking water. It is simple to use and the most cost effective filter available.

IVDP partners with Unilever to provide women the ability to purchase a PureIt using an interest-free loan. She can pay for the 2000 rupee filter over time and has the ability to access future loans, still without interest, to pay for a new filter when it needs to be replaced. When I asked Mr. Francis why he would forego the interest earned on the product he scoffed at the thought of collecting interest, “We do not take interest on anything that improves children’s health.”

I saw one SHG in Krishnagiri that is associated with IVDP. Of the 15 members in the group, 10 said they already owned a PureIt and 2 indicated that they are interested in purchasing one in the near future. The group leader bought the first PureIt about a year ago. A worker in a garment factory, she said that she used to do nothing to treat her water. When a family member fell ill, she would boil the water for them until they got better.

She understood that boiling water had a connection with illness, but did not do it as a precautionary measure. Since owning the PureIt, she says her children have been less sick and in school more often. In my time visiting both urban and rural users of PureIt, this change was observed by every mother. Their children were sick fewer days since drinking water from the PureIt and had improved attendance at school.

In another home, the PureIt was decorated with stickers. I remarked that it looked like the children liked the filter. She nodded saying, “The children maintain the PureIt and insist it is always clean”. She explained that her three sons and one daughter learned about clean water while at school and demanded that they have access to clean water. The mother, having learned about PureIt from her SHG and hearing the praise from the group leader, spoke with her husband and decided they would take out a loan to buy the filter.

Now, her children take a bottle of clean water with them to school each day. She did not know that germs were in her water and that they were making her family sick. She too was happy with the PureIt because it provided her good tasting water and her children were less sick. Only by seeing the product demonstration and learning about clean water from her children did she understand the importance of water safety.

Mr. Francis offers additional products to his clients including nutrition packets by Heinz and solar lamps from d.light. Such partnerships help to achieve his goal of improved health and education opportunities for the children of Krishnagiri. The group leader of the SHG uses one of the solar lamps. She charges it in her courtyard and said it is helpful during frequent blackouts so she can get around the house and her children can do their studies.

Recent studies and a book by David Roodman make it clear that microfinance has not been the transformative poverty solution as proponents claim. Giving families the ability to access financial services is important itself and support from NGOs to provide loans, like the interest free loan offered by IVDP to buy a PureIt, can bring about access to more products and services for the poor.


**Caitlin McShane of the Opportunity Fund disagrees with my calling payday loans 'microfinance.' My intent was to try to connect microfinance to an example that hits closer to home, but I may have overstepped. Her response:
I was surprised to see that you feel “Payday loans in the United States are a form of microfinance.” Really? Why – because they offer “small” loans to people not served by traditional financial institutions? Even if the loans are for consumption and rarely, if ever, for enterprise investments? This gets to the age old question of who gets to define “microfinance.” We’ve seen Yunus hedging closer and closer to microfinance only meaning a low-cost loan for entrepreneurial activity with a specific poverty-alleviation intention. I’m not sure it has to be that narrow. But my gut tells me that opening it up to PayDay loans is far too broad. That might be “alternative” finance. But it’s not “microfinance” in my world.

08 March 2012

#Kony2012 Deserves More of your Time Than a 30 Minute Video

Advocacy group Invisible Children (IC) wants to bring an end to the leader of the violent Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony. Since the three founders traveled to Uganda in 2003 and documented the children displaced by conflict in the north, IC has transformed into one of the leading international advocacy groups in the United States.

Presently, the nonprofit uses media campaigns and awareness raising to bring the issue of the LRA to the halls of Washington DC with the hope that the US will act to end the violence of Kony and the LRA. It is a daunting task given the overall lack of interest about the issue. With little interest in Uganda and its neighbors, the United States has shown little will to act in humanitarian circumstances. Recent examples of little or no action include the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the 2004 genocide in Darfur.

In the case of the LRA, it is further complicated by a long standing conflict between the Acholi people and the present government of Uganda. The LRA emerged from the Acholi region in the late 1980s in response to the young government headed by Yoweri Museveni.

As Michel Deibert explains, "Upon taking power, the Museveni government launched a brutal search and destroy mission against former government soldiers throughout the north, which swept up many ordinary Acholi in its wake. Some Acholi began mobilizing to defend themselves, first under the banner of the Uganda People's Democratic Army (largely made up of former soldiers) and then the Holy Spirit Movement."

A charismatic Joseph Kony seized on the ideas of Holy Sprit Movement leader Alice Lakwena to lead an Acholi defeat of the government. Kony climbed to lead what would be come the Lord's Resistance Army where he terrorized villages with violent attacks and formed an army that included many child soldiers, a tactic previously employed by very government he was fighting. What started as a form of resistance against a brutal regime turned into a sort of domestic terrorist organization.

Kony was eventually indicted for war crimes in 2005, peace talks fell apart in 2007 and a Ugandan-government lead force utterly failed in 2008. By this point, the LRA was actively hiding and moving around countries in the region including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). By moving from country to country, the LRA succeeded in complicating the response by the government of Uganda and the potential for international action.

To further complicate the issue, the LRA were supported by the government of Sudan to destabilize Uganda. In response, the south Sudanese rebel group the SPLA, who were at the time seeking independence from Sudan, provided support to the government of Uganda. The SPLA were successful in driving out the LRA who now operate largely in the DRC and CAR.

At present, peace does not seem to be an option. The International Crisis group writes in its November 2011 report, "There is no prospect of a negotiated end to the LRA problem, given the collapse of the multi-year Juba process and the lack of any apparent interest on the part of either Museveni or, especially, Kony to go that route again after three more years of fighting. Instead, the AU, under pressure from some member states and the U.S., announced in late 2010 that it would authorise a forceful mission against the LRA and coordinate regional efforts. A year and counting, however, planning has foundered over its inability to reconcile differences with and between key member states and donors."

The lack of interest by Museveni is rooted in the fact that the LRA's activities in Uganda have all but entirely ceased. From the same ICG report:
The reasons for military failure are at root political. Museveni scaled down the operation to pursue other ventures he felt would win him greater political capital at home and abroad. Since the LRA has not been able to operate within Uganda for years and no longer endangers its security, few opposition politicians or community leaders there demand its defeat.
Invisible Children's founders learned about the devastating damage caused by the LRA in northern Uganda and shared it in their documentary. The natural response to seeing such harrowing circumstances is to do something. This moment is capture in the documentary and is played again in the recent video.

Jason "Radical" Russell interviews a young boy Jacob about the death of his brother at the hands of the LRA. Jacob's utter despair swells as shares what he would want to say to his own brother and begins to sob. Earlier,he explains that he has nothing and feels no reason to be alive. It is heart-wrenching to watch a young boy at a point where he would rather be dead that continue living and see the impact such horrible acts have had on his life.

The video fades to black while Jacob continues to cry. Then a soft whisper with white subtitles, "Jacob it's OK," says Russell. He narrates, "Everything in my heart told me to do something. So I made him a promise." The instinct to act took hold of Russell and he told Jacob, "We are also going to do everything we can to stop them."

The film transitions to connect the individual, Russell, to the audience of over 32.6 million people (YouTube views as of 10:49 AM EST) who have now seen the video. He did something to act 8 years ago that brought about the founding of IC and tells viewers that it is now their turn to act. Jacob serves as a bridge from the self to others and then becomes a bit player in encouraging people to take action.

The audience will be joined by 12 policymakers and 20 celebrities who are dedicated to capturing Kony, disarming the LRA, and setting child soldiers free to return home. "If we succeed, we change the course of human history," says Russell.

How will that be done? By buying goods from IC with Kony's name featured, making donations and tweeting using the hash tags #Kony2012 and #StopKony. The campaign aims to go viral and by every account it has been successful. Celebrities are tweeting about Kony and his name became a trending topic in the US on Wednesday.

The video is well produced and visually captivating. Making it personal draws in the audience to learn more. Featuring his son is a nice touch by Russell. An important scene in the video is when Russell's son is told what his dad does for work and sees a picture of Joseph Kony. He is then explained that Kony is the bad guy. Russell wants his audience to say, "Wow! This is so simple that even a little kid can get it. Kony is one bad man."

To achieve this end, IC has to be a bit fast and loose with the facts. They tell people that Kony is the #1 criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court. The truth is that he was the first warrant served by the ICC because the young body knew there would be no resistance to it being served. There is no question that he is a war criminal, but the top listing is less of a rank than it is an ordered listing.

An article in Foreign Affairs last year on the decision by the Obama administration to provide military advisers to Uganda condemned the practice employed by advocacy groups, including IC.
In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.
The Kony video aptly illustrates how IC approaches advocacy.

It is about the self. The children who suffer from the injustices of the LRA are the others living out a modern day heart of darkness. It is the 'white man's burden' to ensure that violence against children comes to an end. We must do something.

The problem at hand is extremely simple, they say. The audience are forgiven for not having know about it prior to that moment, but now that they do know it is imperative that, like Russell, they do something. The three men that founded IC did something and now it is your turn is the message.

Such a structure plays on the desire to do something. It continues the trope that Africa is a monolithic region where people go to save others. By making Kony famous the children can be saved. A dynamic of helper and helpee strips dignity from the children and portrays them not as individuals with agency, but a group in need of saving.

Ugandan TMS Ruge writes about this in his response to the Kony 2012 video:
Africa is not short of problems, epidemics and atrocities. But it is also true that it is not short of miracles, ingenuity, and a proclivity to surprise. We as Africans, especially the Diaspora, are waking to the idea that our agency has been hijacked for far too long by well-meaning Western do-gooders with a guilty conscious, sold on the idea that Africa’s ills are their responsibility. This particular affliction is called “white man’s burden” in some circles. Please don’t buy into this. Africa’s problems are our own.
And Uganda Journalist Angelo Izama for the Royal African Society blog 'African Arguments' adds:
The real danger of the game-show type ‘pornography of violence’ that Invisible Children has made so appealing is that it has a dangerous hold on policy types in Washington DC whose access to nuanced information and profiles of issues is similarly limited... The simplicity of the good versus evil narrative where good is inevitably white/western and bad is black or African, is also reminiscent of some of the worst excesses of colonial era interventions. These campaigns don’t just lack scholarship or nuance; they do not bother to seek it. As a colleague once said to me, a campaign such as this could not be mounted around peace in the Middle East because it would require actual scholarship and knowledge of the issues.
A hard message to read when coming from a place of wanting to act.

The desire to act is inherently one of the challenges of advocacy. IC and other younger advocacy groups are praised for their new approach, but the truth is that little has actually changed. This is just a much better packaging of the same message that Bob Geldof and Bono championed at Live Aid: A horrific problem is being ignored and we must stop it.

The power of the message should not be ignored. People face terrible circumstances around the world that deserve attention and action. There is an inclination among us to do something when another person is facing a life threatening situation. It is exposed in Peter Singer's drowning child exercise where he argues that if we would act to save a drowning child right in front of us, why wouldn't we do the same for a child thousands of miles away?

The premise is grounded in the instinct to do something. Successful advocacy campaigns connect to this desire. It is why the Save Darfur movement picked up steam on college campuses in 2004-5. The problem is that the point at which it succeeds, advocacy fails. For Darfur, the changes on the ground were hard to reflect in advocacy communications.

Just at the moment when campus advocates were achieving strong numbers Darfur transitioned from need security to needing relief. However, given that the campaign was built around the former and based its recommendations on that understanding it was hard to all of a sudden change message and risk losing people. There were some wins accomplished through the advocacy efforts, but they were small and ultimately poorly targeted in terms of the changing situation.*

Invisible Children is making some of the same mistakes with the LRA. The focus remains on Uganda where they played a part (it is hard to know how big or small) President Obama sending 100 military advisers to help root out the LRA in October. Dan Solomon summarizes their mission saying their goal is, "to assist and, well, advise the Congolese, Central African (from CAR, rather than the region), Ugandan, and South Sudanese military forces in an escalated counterinsurgency campaign against the LRA throughout the region. Frankly speaking, the military advisers’ presence will likely improve, rather than deteriorate, the implementation of human rights norms in the multinational military campaign."

This could help bring an end to the LRA, but given the failure in 2008 and the lack of coordination among the countries in the region it appears to be an immense challenge. Hence the IC campaign. On the other hand, Invisible Children do deserve some credit. While their advocacy efforts have done more to entrench ideas about the relationship between the United States and Africa, their LRA Crisis Tracker in partnership with Resolve is excellent in terms of pulling together, sharing and visualizing data. A better innovation is the Early Warning Radio network that allows people to prepare for upcoming attacks.

There are also the missing considerations of Ugandans themselves. This short video from CODOC shares the view of some Acholi people who have already forgiven and just want the rebels to return home.

The desires of the people seen, including one of Kony's wives do not fit neatly into the story presented in the video by Invisible Children. As the man who says he has forgiven points out, it is his own personal view on the matter. That is an important consideration when shaping policy for how to realize a future without the LRA.

It is important to distinguish the difference between simplifying the story and creating a distorted narrative. Dave Algoso explains the importance of this balance saying, "Unlike a distortion, a simplification is actually backed by and derived from a more considered analysis. A simplification is tied by a clear (if unstated) chain to a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the problem. Some advocates would claim that it’s okay to use a distorted narrative, as long as it leads to the right policies. This thinking is dangerous because it detaches your policy agenda from reality. You start believing your own distortions and lose any assurance that you really are pursuing the right policies. Even worse, other people start believing your distortions."

The plan right now for IC is to stay the course. Russell narrates, "In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in. But in order for the American advisors to be there, the American government has to deploy them. They've done that, but if the government doesn't believe the people care about Kony, the mission will be cancelled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony's name is everywhere."

The actual goal, to stay the course, is not all that sexy. Hence, the additional goal to capture Kony by the end of the year. This is akin to going all in before the cards have been dealt. From an advocacy perspective, IC has implemented not only an expiration date on Kony, but on themselves. If nothing changes between now and the end of the year, accomplishing the first goal but failing the second, what will follow?

One way that development and aid communications have failed is by making otherwise complex and multifaceted problems appear to have simple solutions. When things do not go as promised people are left jaded by the experience and grow to distrust implementing NGOs. IC may very well be setting themselves up for the same outcome.

While the reach of the video has brought the problem of the LRA to the homes of millions of people. There is something to be said for that accomplishment. Unfortunately, that is where the upside ends for this campaign that relies heavily on stale tropes about helpless Africans in need of foreign saviors. The story of how the LRA came to being is lost in the false feeling of empowerment of the audience that masks the dis-empowering storyline of people like Jacob.


* For more detailed look at this, read Bec Hammilton's Fighting for Darfur. I recommend it often and for good reason.

** Why Dev is collecting posts and articles about the Kony 2012 video. Take some time to read through a few of them. The concerns are held by aid workers, African diaspora and Ugandans. Whether this or any of the others will change your mind, the least you can do is spend as much time as it took to watch the video and learn more about the LRA, Invisible Children, Joseph Kony, and Uganda.

*** If you feel you must do something, here are two suggested alternatives that support former child soldiers in Uganda.

- Concerned Children and Youth Association - http://www.ccyauganda.org/ HT @innovateafrica
- Africa Canada Accountability Coalition http://www.acacdrcongo.org/ HT @intldogooder
- Please offer other suggestions if you have them.

07 March 2012

International Women's Day Inspiration

I had to share this from @semhar right away. After all the other stuff today, I needed a little inspiration and she always delivers.

Tomorrow I am going to share some of the women in the aid and development world that I admire. Semhar is included.

Map of the Day: How Long are World Leaders Staying in Power?

Today's map from the Economist lists how long, on average, leaders have stayed in power for each country in the world.

06 March 2012

The State of Water and Sanitation: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A version of this post originally appears on the PSI Healthy Lives blog

The latest report from the WHO and UNICEF, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation (pdf), bears both good and bad news. Headlines about the report have been generally positive, but it feels that celebrations are a bit misleading. On the global scale, safe water is doing well. However, looking at individual countries and regions it becomes clear that there are areas that are significantly behind.

Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from the report. There is reason to be excited by progress, but it serves as a reminder of the importance to achieve a world with complete safe water coverage and improved sanitation. 

The Good

The good great news is that the world has halved the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water. This means that we are 5 years ahead of the 2015 target. According to the report, 'over 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources and 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation facilities between 1990 and 2010.' That is a staggering accomplishment that deserves praise. The task of increasing access to safe drinking water seemed daunting in 1990 when considering the rapid population growth in low and middle income countries. This achievement is a testament to realizing a world with 100% safe drinking water access.

The Guardian reports:
[B]etween 1990 and 2010 more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. Using data from household surveys and censuses, the JMP said at the end of 2010, 89% of the population – 6.1 billion people – now used improved drinking water sources, 1% more than the 88% target contained in millennium development goal (MDG) number seven, set in 2000.
The Bad

The bad news is that sub Saharan Africa and a few other regions are behind on attaining the goal by 2015.
As seen in the map below, the orange areas represent countries considered 'not on track' to achieve the safe drinking water MDG. If you include the countries where sufficient data was not collected it becomes clear that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Why then has the world already met the goal when SSA is behind? Most of the credit can go to China and India. With massive populations, the transformation of the two countries has brought access to safe drinking water to over a billion people. The home to the majority of the world's poor, as Charles Kenny pointed out to me, this is actually great news overall, but not for every country.

The Ugly

11%, or an estimated 780 million people, are without improved access to drinking water. That is 1 in 10 people! Worse yet, 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation. UNICEF and WHO predict that at the current rate 605 million people will be without an improved drinking water source and 2.4 billion people will lack access to improved sanitation facilities in 2015. That is sizable improvement for safe drinking water, but little change for sanitation.

Though lumped together, water tends to get more attention and resources than sanitation. Just comparing the safe water access verses improved sanitation numbers makes this obvious. To eliminate the spread of water-borne disease, sanitation will need to play an important role.

05 March 2012

Quote of the Day: Development for Women

While on the subject of gender and development, here is Andrea Cornwall in the Guardian today:
If women and girls are really to be put at the heart of development efforts, a good place to begin is to ask not what women and girls can do for development, but what development might do for them. It's almost 20 years since the fourth world women's conference in Beijing set out a Platform for Action. It's time to revisit and revitalise those commitments.
Do read her full OpEd; it is worth it. 

Carefully Wading into Gender and Development Blogging

The 2011 edition of the ABBAs were a success, but not in the way I anticipated. My intention for doing them was to spark conversation in the aid blogging world and hopefully bring forward some lesser known bloggers. Conversation was sparked this year, but it was because of the failing to include a significant portion of the community: women.

Using an open nomination process, I hoped that people would help me out with narrowing down some finalists. I took the most nominated 5 or 6 per category and short-listed them in the final vote. Trusting the system would work, I paid no mind as to who made the final cut. A silly mistake.

It should not have been a surprise when the finalists tilted towards white male academics from Europe and the US. Commentators gave me flack for this disparity. I openly admitted that my system for finding finalists was terribly flawed and I missed on the opportunity to provide an additional check on the short-list. As I try to be more aware of these issues, I also have to recognize that these disparities, as much as I abhor them, are not a constant part of my consciousness. I hope to change that, but the fact that I did not think twice about checking who was a finalist illustrates this personal gap.

In my wrap up post of the ABBAs, I wrote, "As I have noted before, the contest continued to tilt towards men. I really have little idea as to why. Possibly it has something to do with it being a largely academic field and maybe there are more men in the social sciences that deal with poverty alleviation (I have absolutely no data on hand for this and could be entirely wrong). There could be a gender bias. I am not sure."

Duncan Green of Oxfam wrote in the comments section, "There could be a gender bias.' NSS (no shit Sherlock). A platform designed for people who love the sound of their own voice and think the rest of the world is dying to hear their opinion? Dominated by men? Well who'd have thought it... Even on the comments, I routinely get female colleagues emailing me their comments, rather than posting them. Drives me crazy."

Duncan and I proceeded to exchange a few quick emails about it, but it was his post last week on the subject that brought it to the forefront. He leaned on other female bloggers to help understand the disparity and facilitated what turned out to be an excellent discussion in the comments section of the post.

Jennifer Lentfer (aka @intldogooder aka blogger at How Matters) had a great comment:

In the U.S., 80-90% of OpEd pages are written by men, 84% of guests on Sunday morning political talk shows are men, and 85% of Hollywood producers and directors are men. In short, despite advances in the women’s movement, public conversations exclude many people. 
Why is this a problem? Clearly as a result of the lack of women and minorities in key forums, the public and our leaders are not getting the best information to make the best decisions.
Thus, we have to ask—what is the cost to all of us when so many of the best minds and perspectives from the community-level are left out of navigating the paradox of development? Female or male, this is where we clearly need all the help we can get. 
Robert Chambers talks about the strong centripetal forces that draw resources and educated people into the ‘core’ where there is mutual attraction and reinforcement of power, prestige, resources, professionals, and the training to generate and disseminate information. What happens to the periphery then, especially when it’s those in the periphery that the development industry is trying to serve? 
This is a much bigger issue than whose aid blog is most popular.
Tobias Denskus joined the comments and pointed to his response post where he argued.
Many of my favourite development bloggers are female – Saundra Schimmelpfennig, Jennifer Lentfer, Whydev (e.g. Lucy Daniel's recent post on children, education and disability), Linda Raftree, Shana Johnson, Erin Antcliffe, or Akhila Kolisetty among others - and one of the issues that combines their writing/sharing is a qualitative, reflective and self-reflexive voice that talks/shares/cares about things like professional development, qualitative insights into their work, mental well-being, feelings, personal struggles, mindfulness or creative writing/spaces. In short, just because Chris Blattman doesn’t share poems or Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like would probably make fun about ‘liking poetry/stories’ they exist and I believe they are often great starting points to think and write about development and its people differently.
Though others offered ideas as to why the gender gap in aid blogging exists, I am not going to make any guesses. This blog is actually skewed slightly towards a female audience. Given that fact, it is noteworthy to point out given that the majority of nominations for the ABBAs were male. The 'why?' is the hard part.

Aaron Bady (aka @zunguzungu) wrote an excellent post on the Fluke-Limbaugh fiasco this weekend that illustrated some of the challenges of gender and privilege. Bady, started the post with an interesting quote from David Graeber's article "Beyond Power/Knowledge: An Exploration of power, ignorance and stupidity."
A popular exercise among High School creative writing teachers in America is to ask students to imagine they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like. The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Half of the boys usually refuse to write the essay entirely. Those who do make it clear they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and deeply resent having to think about it.
This story gets at the way that privilege can make one oblivious to others. I would venture to guess that I would have done poorly with that assignment when I was in High School. Heck, I still don't think I would do all that great of a job. This is a subject matter that is still relatively new to me and I am in the process of learning as much as possible. It is why I use this blog to engage in conversation rather than just spout out ideas with the belief that I am inherently correct.

It was suggested that next year's ABBAs include a separate category for women bloggers. My instinct is to say no, but I can be convinced otherwise. There are many high quality aid bloggers (Tobias lists a few above) who are not white Western academics that are deserving of recognition.

I would be remiss not to point out what is missing from this conversation. Gender is very important, but so are race, culture, sexuality, location, income level and so on. I believe part of the challenge to development is reflected in the problem highlighted in this very discussion. A minority of people have a disproportional share of power and influence over the sector and the lives of over 1 billion people. It is why I wrote that Jeffrey Sachs should not be the next head of the World Bank. There will be little chance for fundamental change as long as an American holds the seat. The same criticism applies to Clinton.

To end, I want to point to this list of "20 Empowered Women that You Should Be Following on Twitter" as compiled by the Center for International Private Enterprise. Many on the list are writers, academics and bloggers.

Please add your ideas and comments here. Suggested resources are also great as I selfishly want to learn more, but can expose others to differing ideas and opinions.

02 March 2012

Who Wants to Be the Next World Bank President?

A dark horse making a late break from way back in the field to come at least 5 wide in order to pace the lead pack reared into the race for the next World Bank president. Not only does famed economist Jeffrey Sachs want to take the spot, he took to the Washington Post to explain why.

Last week Sachs said the Bank needed a new form of leadership. In a well argued OpEd, he points out that the previous leaders have been largely political appointees from the United States. For an body aimed at ending poverty, such choices have missed the opportunity to do what is best for low and middle income nations and the 1 billion people living in poverty.

He wrote, "For too long, the Bank’s leadership has imposed US concepts that are often utterly inappropriate for the poorest countries and their poorest people." I would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with that statement. Even Bill Easterly would agree to that.

Though indirect, it is clear that he is advocating for himself as the perfect leader. He illustrates what qualities the leader should have, all of which he by chance possesses. So it came as no surprise when Sachs wrote a new OpEd about the World Bank in the Washington Post. In what Dan Soloman aptly described as a public cover letter, Sachs says
[I]n Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, I’ve been a trusted problem-solver for heads of state and impoverished villagers. My good fortune to see the world through the eyes of others, during 30 years working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has helped me understand various regions’ challenges and the need for tailored solutions. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India.

Yet the World Bank is adrift. It is spread too thin. It has taken on too many fads. It is too disconnected from critical areas of science and knowledge. Without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank. And unfortunately, Washington has backed at the helm bankers and politicians who lack the expertise to fulfill the institution’s unique mandate.


Solutions to critical problems such as hunger, AIDS, malaria and extreme deprivation remain unaddressed because of vast gaps in knowledge, experience and power among those who ultimately need to work together. I work with scientists who have powerful answers but no public voice; bankers with ample finance but no clear idea of how to deploy it; business leaders with powerful technologies but no ways to reach the poor; civil society with deep community roots but no access to capital; and politicians who lack the time or experience to forge solutions.


My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to see what can work in practice and then to help make it happen.

I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving. I will work with industry, governments and civil society to bring broadband to clinics, schools and health workers, creating a revolution of knowledge, disease control, quality education and small businesses. I will work with agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and communities to build prosperity in impoverished and violence-ridden dry lands.
Sachs even has Michael Shank of  George Mason University writing in The Hill blog for support.
Given the World Bank’s focus on all three of these – poverty, economics and climate – and given Sachs’ wealth of experience in all three, there is no better candidate. There is a reason why Fareed Zakaria praised Sachs - who is the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute - as “one of the world's leading economists, the go-to man for guiding countries out of economic crises.”
It is hard to believe that a Sachs-led World Bank would abandon the top-down approach he criticized. If we were to imagine Sachs as head with a large budget to put to work, is there any doubt that he would fund more projects like the Millennium Villages Project (MVP)? He has made it clear that he thinks that is the appropriate solution for eradicating poverty.

Despite concerns about how effective the intervention is and the methodology of measuring impact, Sachs could press on and establish more MVPs. Critics accuse Sachs and his MVP as a traditional top-down solution. If them problem is that previous leaders have implemented top-down solutions to poverty, why would it make sense to bring in a leader who advocates for the same formula?

Further, funding the MVP may come in conflict with the Bank's progressive push toward open data. Having kept information close at hand, Sachs might have to finally lay his cards down on the table for all to see what is actually happening in the millennium villages. Researchers, like the team who write the Development Impact blog, have done an excellent job to push impact evaluations into the DNA of the World Bank.

Sachs has shown a reluctance to implementing impact evaluations based on his disagreement with MVP critics. What will he do as leader of the Bank? Will impact evaluations be sidelined for less rigorous evaluations? Or will we finally have the opportunity to empirically test Sachs's theories on combating poverty?

Aside from that, if the world wants to get serious about eradicating poverty it should not select a leader from a Western nation. This is the time to bring in new ideas, not old ones. Since I am making the suggestion I should put forward a candidate. My horse, taking the shorter route via the inside rail, is former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Yea, it won't happen and he is not perfect, but that is the kind of change that is needed. Annan has become something of a global peace-broker in his post-UN career and such relationship building would be an exciting change in the World Bank.

Who are you pulling for to lead the World Bank?

01 March 2012

Pay Close Attention to Language: Vikram Akula Edition

A bit of a buzz followed remarks made by SKS Microfinance head Vikram Akula at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference a few weeks ago. While Mohammad Yunus is the most famous casualty, if you will, of the microfinance crisis of 2010, SKS and Akula have taken quite a beating themselves. Ground zero of the crisis was Andhara Pradesh state in India, where SKS is headquartered.

Akula and Yunus had a famous exchange at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative where the two debated the merits of for profit microfinance. Yunus contended that the term 'microfinance' applies to a social venture and for-profit lending should fall under the moniker of 'banking.'

The debate is not new, but it was an important moment since two of the figureheads for each side had the opportunity to engage in a public forum. So it came to the surprise of many when Akula admitted that Yunus was right in regards to bridging private capital and social enterprise.

Neha Thirani in the New York Times India Ink blog summarizes the event:
“Professor Yunus was right,” Mr. Akula said, referring to Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder, economist and a frequent critic of Mr. Akula and others who tried to turn microfinance into a for-profit industry. “Bringing private capital into social enterprise was much harder than I anticipated,” he said. 
Mr. Akula also told conference attendees that “he had focused on scaling SKS’s model and had not fully anticipated the potential downside of accessing the public market for social enterprise,” a statement from conference organizers said.
This probably came from having read the Social Enterprise Conference, where Akula spoke, blog:
Akula acknowledged the legitimacy of the criticism he had received from Mohammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor and Founder of Grameen Bank, who had long taken issue with SKS’s deployment of private capital in microfinance and its profit orientation. 
“Professor Yunus was right” Akula said tonight, amidst a room of 500 attendees at the Conference. “Bringing private capital into social enterprise was much harder than I anticipated.”
Reports and headlines would have you believe that Akula was admitting defeat and realized that his vision of private microfinance institutions was not possible. A closer read reveals that Akula is only admitting that it is hard, not wrong. Akula is admitting that he though it would be relatively easy to 'bring private capital into social enterprise.'

David Roodman argues,
He is saying he made mistakes, in particular in the aggressive way in which he brought private capital and the profit motive into microcredit, and to that extent that Yunus was right. But I don’t think that in acknowledging that “Professor Yunus was right” Vikram means to fully endorse Yunus’s position that microcredit should never be done for profit.
Given the wording of the statement, it appears that Roodman is right about Akula's intent.

What matters is what Akula and SKS will do next. Such a statement changes little. The crisis in AP knocked  SKS down, but not out. At the end of the last fiscal year (March 31, 2011), SKS had a $925,844,433 loan portfolio with 6,242,266 female active borrowers. With a large base of borrowers, SKS is not going away any time soon.