Some vaguely Christmas-related stuff:
‘In order to release this positive energy, people need oxygen. Society can offer this oxygen. Positive education, positive parenting, positive journalism and positive politics play a crucial role here. This oxygen we can also create ourselves by a balanced existence or a religious or philosophical rooting.’ Europe’s leaders are even weirder than we thought - from Herman van Rompuy’s Christmas letter to Barack Obama
‘How Martin Luther went viral’, Economist Christmas essay argues that five centuries before Twitter and Facebook, networks of pamphleteers – the social media of their day -helped bring about the Reformation
And finally, Engineers Without Borders is continuing to cause a buzz of excitement among development wonks by talking about failure (and encouraging others to do the same), as in this TedX talk by David Damberger, from its Canadian chapter
And with that I shrug the blogmonkey from my back and take a seasonal break. See you in 2012.
Tis the season to be jolly; the shortest/grimmest day of the year etc etc, so here’s a Christmas scoop. As part of our ongoing discussion of religion and development, someone inadvertently submitted the Ten Commandments to Oxfam’s sign-off procedure. The result provides a fascinating insight into how NGOs think and communicate, although it perhaps lacks some of the punch of the original……. Click on the numbers in square brackets to go to footnotes explaining the various corrections and improvements.
The Ten Commandments Eleven Best Practice Guidelines
1. “I am your Line Manager, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, (where, incidentally there are some really inspiring uprisings going on). You shall have no other managers before Me (apart from confusing matrix-style arrangements, but they don’t count).
2. Carved images are acceptable, provided they are fair-trade, but they should be seen as a stepping stone to worship of the Main Deity. For I, your Line Manager, am a jealous Manager, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me
3. You shall not take the name of your Line Manager in vain, for the Manager will not hold him [or her] guiltless who takes His [or Her] name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of your Line Manager. In it you shall do no work: nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates By “work”, you shall understand both paid and unpaid labour, especially that in the care economy, which is too often overlooked. Paid work in the other six days shall be subject to the ILO Core Conventions.
5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which your Line Manager is giving you.
6. You shall not murder or commit grievous bodily harm, assault and battery or any form of unwarranted attack on the integrity of the person, so as to cause physical or psychological harm or damage to their social, cultural or economic ways of life.
8. You shall not steal land or water resources – commonly called Land Grabs. Stealing other stuff like intellectual property is more open to debate.
no this isn't Rob from publishing.....
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife/husband/civil partner, nor their male servant, nor their female servant, nor their ox, nor their donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
11. All the above shall be turned into SMART targets and subject to proper monitoring and evaluation of results, preferably involving randomized control trials of the different commandments guidelines. These will then be published on a dedicated website and subjected to desultory online discussion.
 ‘Commandments’ are unacceptably top-down – we need to promote partnership and participation
 The original ‘Lord Your God’ implies an unacceptable level of upper/lower hierarchical domination (Chambers, 1997) and unfortunate echoes of feudal power structures
 Need to recognize that the Arab Spring has moved the debate on from the old ‘house of bondage’ discourse
 The previous ban on carved images, irrespective of how they are produced, ignores labour rights and the value of statuary to a range of belief systems
 If a risk assessment concludes that we have to keep this in, due to the possibility of Divine Wrath and the consumption of senior managers by fire/ being turned into pillars of salt etc, we should add, “…on the children. subject to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the need to convene and facilitate robust multi-stakeholder engagements between future generations and wrathful deities in pursuit of win-win solutions”.
 This is pretty standard performance management – keep unchanged
 Need to clarify terms here, the original is very sloppy
 Link between family harmony, longevity and property rights very unclear, but happy to leave in for now, pending further research
 The original focus on homicide ignores a range of other violences
 I know this represents something of a U-turn, but all this “you shall not” stuff goes completely against our new emphasis on positive frames; we have to transmit provocative optimism and possibility
 The original ‘you shall not steal’ formula implies an unacceptable and ahistorical reverence for property rights, which are of course social and political constructs reflecting underlying power relations
 Impressive early commitment to transparency and accountability
 Actually, we do want people to covet the ox and donkey at least; they are not selling very well this year in Oxfam Unwrapped; so can we say: “nor their ox, nor their donkey, even though these are real bargains this year”?
 An extraordinary oversight in the original – without proper targets + monitoring and evaluation systems, how is this edict going to achieve results? Moses very unlikely to get project funding for the roll-out at this rate.
Original document here. This is of course a living document, so feel free to suggest further improvements.
[h/t the Research Team and a great Christmas dinner at Yeti’s]
A couple of years ago, I wrote a pretty critical post on Paul Romer’s proposal for ‘charter cities’. According to last week’s Economist, Honduras is now about to try and turn that blueprint into reality. I’m prepared to make a small bet it won’t work – any takers?
Romer proposes building cities from scratch in the world’s poorest nations, outsourcing their design and government to rich countries. Like their kindred proposal, Paul Collier’s ‘independent service authorities’, the underlying motive seems to be to liberate development from the supposedly dead hand of dysfunctional and corrupt states, transferring it instead into the hands of benign and honest technocrats. There’s probably some folk memory of the Pilgrim Fathers (below) at work somewhere. Here’s an excerpt from the Economist piece:
“The Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups—quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections. This year the Honduran legislature has taken the first big steps towards the creation of what it called “special development regions”. It has passed a constitutional amendment making them possible and approved a “constitutional statute” that creates their autonomous legal framework. And on December 6th Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran president, appointed the first members of the “transparency commission”, the body that will oversee the new entities’ integrity.
The idea of setting up a charter city echoes the way that big companies adapt to change. They often set up new divisions unencumbered by old rules. These can be dramatic successes. Target, America’s second-largest discount retailer, began life as an internal start-up but eventually took over its parent company, Dayton Hudson.
Perhaps the most important feature of the new venture is the “transparency commission”, a kind of board of trustees that appoints the governors, supervises their actions and is meant to make sure that the entities are beyond reproach, not least when it comes to the corruption (often fuelled by the drugs trade) that plagues the region. “It is easier to create a board of trustees than to give control of part of your territory to a foreign nation,” says Octavio Sánchez Barrientos, the presidential chief of staff. A role for foreign government is still an option, but only Mauritius has so far signed on—as part of its push to become a global provider of legal services.
Much will depend on the transparency commission. The first batch of members appointed this week comprises George Akerlof, another economist and Nobel laureate; Nancy Birdsall, formerly at the Inter-American Development Bank, who now runs the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank; Ong Boon Hwee, a former senior executive at Temasek Holdings and Singapore Power; and Harry Strachan, an investor who used to run INCAE, a leading Latin American business school, with Mr Romer himself in the chair.
The commission’s first job is to fill all of its nine seats. Then the hard work will start, first on investigating whether any foul play has already taken place: rumours are circulating that insiders have bought land in or near Trujillo and other potential sites. Next comes helping pick the regions’ locations and choosing developers in a way that inspires confidence not suspicion. The Honduran agency for public-private partnerships has already signed several memoranda of understanding with firms including South Korea’s Posco and two start-ups with libertarian leanings.
Last, but not least, comes security. Private security firms will have to protect the population in the new cities. Honduras is one of the world’s more corrupt countries, in 129th place out of 183 in a survey of outsiders’ perceptions by Transparency International, a Berlin-based lobby group. It also has the region’s highest murder rate. The local police have a poor reputation. Last month 176 police officers were arrested in a corruption crackdown.”
On the basis of the Economist piece, at least, the Trujillo charter city looks like a mess. The government is going to bypass constitution, laws etc, outsource the lot to private interests and rely for good governance on a commission of overstretched VIPs. If the hyperactive Birdsall is typical, they will have so many other commitments that they really are not going to be able to invest the time to micromanage a potentially chaotic period of institution-building. I emailed Nancy about this and she replied that yes, there are big risks, but the world needs more experiments like this not least because ‘we don’t know in the development community how to ‘produce’ good governance’. She points out that there are resources, e.g. to pay at least one aide per member of the transparency board. But that still seems like a pretty skeletal arrangement and many of the criticisms I quoted in my original post apply in this case too. Got a bad feeling about this one.
The WTO ministerial (there was a ministerial?) was predictably forgettable, apart from the accession of Russia (the last major economy still to sign up) and a pretty outspoken attack on WTO boss Pascal Lamy (right) by UN Food Security czar Olivier de Schutter (below), who accused Lamy of ‘defending an outdated vision of food security’.
‘We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.
The food bills of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade.
By promoting this trade-centric approach, we miss the simplest of win-wins. If we were to support developing world small-holders, who are often the poorest groups, we could enable them to move out of poverty, and enable local food production to meet local needs. In this context, trade would complement local production, not justify its abandonment. The urban poor would have access to fresh and nutritious foods, and the gap between the farmgate price and the retail price would narrow. This however requires policy space to limit price volatility at domestic level: it is this policy space that the WTO rules are reducing.
The policies currently shaped by the international trade regime are not supportive of these small-scale farmers. Instead, we impose a lose-lose upon them. They do not benefit from the opportunities that access to international markets represents for some. But it is they who are the victims of the pressure on land, water and natural resources on which they depend, for which they increasingly have to compete with the agro-export sector.
In the long term, poor net-food-importing countries will not be helped by being fed. They will be helped by being able to feed themselves. This is the consensus of the post-global food price crisis world that even the G20 has recognized. It is disappointing that the WTO continues to fight the battles of the past.”
Interesting seeing how much more critical of trade-based food security a number of commentators (and governments) have become since the food price crisis. I remember being told in the early 90s by Costa Rica’s Central Bank governor that there was no reason why his country should grow any food at all – much better to export pineapples and buy food cheap from the US. Now governments have seen how volatile world prices can be, they have come to see the wisdom of rebalancing trade and domestic production. I still don’t buy the food sovereignty line about farmers in all countries having the ‘right to produce’ – that ignores issues of prices and consumers – but the debate has definitely moved away from seeing trade as the answer to everything.
One other postscript on the ministerial. The ODI’s Yurendra Basnett argues that it’s time for the ‘decoupling of the WTO and trade liberalisation’. Based on this exchange, good luck with that, …..
Here’s my contribution to the flood of ‘2011 retrospective’ articles, published on the Guardian site today
What you make of 2011 depends on your vantage point. The year’s events look completely different depending on whether you are sitting at the bottom or the top, in the old north or the old south.
From the bottom, this was a year of protest and revolution, toppling tyrants and throwing up new governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and (probably) Yemen. So far, thankfully, fears about the negative impact of such revolutions on women’s rights or religious tolerance have not been realised; that’s something to watch out for in 2012. In Madrid, Washington, London and dozens of other cities, a rather more sedate protest movement raised the question of whether a single global movement is emerging. I’m sceptical, though certain themes – of inequality, greed and injustice – emerged in common. What was universal was “active citizenship” – people taking matters into their own hands – in many cases, with historic results.
The geopolitical order, too, continued in ferment, as the “emerging economies” and “low-income countries” carried on booming, in stark contrast with what I recently heard referred to as “the formerly rich countries”. Can it only be two years since the old certainties and power of the G8 officially handed over the baton to the new order of the G20? This year’s aid conference in Busan and climate summit in Durban brought further progress, with China and other emerging economies accepting new levels of global responsibility to accompany their growing economic and political might. With China the world’s second largest economy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the north-south frame of the 1970s is now as redundant as the east-west divisions of the Cold War.
Seen from the bottom, or the old south, many of the changes are positive and uplifting. Not so the view from the top, the old north. For all its internationalism, the aid industry and international NGOs such as Oxfam have substantial European DNA, and it is hard to shake off the Euro-gloom narrative of crisis, fragmentation and decline that hangs over the continent.
Across the Atlantic, the crisis feels more political than economic, as decades of partisan venom have poisoned Washington’s bloodstream, leaving a US too consumed by infighting to show the global leadership required.
Globally, northern gloom is compounded by the gulf between science and politics, as political systems struggle to adapt to the growing evidence binding planetary issues to human activity. While in some ways achieving surprising progress, the Durban climate change summit kicked the can of ecological constraints down the road, making it increasingly likely that the world will experience catastrophic levels of climate change over the course of this century.
At Oxfam, this cognitive dissonance between bottom-up optimism and top-down malaise informed our new Grow campaign, a four-year global effort to grapple with the issue of “food justice in a resource-constrained world”. Feeding the 7 billion, without destroying the land and water that they and future generations will depend on, requires both a transformation in how we behave (production, consumption, investment) and how we think (materialism, solidarity, fair shares for all).
So roll on 2012. From the bottom, we should see resolution (and maybe revolution) in Yemen and Syria, and further developments across the Arab world. If recession and economic crisis bite, as seems likely in Europe, at least, there will be little political bandwidth for global diplomacy and leadership of the kind needed at the Rio+20 environment and development summit in June. But the planet and its people cannot wait for a more propitious political moment, and organisations such as Oxfam will be pushing for global responses before it is too late. Our state of mind is perhaps best described by Antonio Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will”, echoing the dissonance that described the world in 2011.
Its basic argument is that there is ‘a symbiotic relationship between higher education and the broader political, social and economic environment, in which they both influence the development of each other over time.’ i.e. the MDG and aid focus on primary education is all very well, but it misses a crucial aspect – leaders are vital and tend to go to universities, not just primary school. And that applies not just to presidents and prime ministers: ‘there is a correlation between education, civic engagement and social participation.’
What’s more, what they study, and how they study it, is important. Governments everywhere are trying to build up science and tech departments to help their countries industrialize, but:
‘Research indicates that arts, humanities and social sciences provide a broader educational experience that contextualises learning and often provides more opportunities to develop leadership skills. In addition social sciences, economics and law are the most common fields of higher education study for African heads of states. These subjects tend to encourage collaboration [hang on, economics encourages collaboration? Not what I’ve read....] and provide opportunities for students to test and develop their leadership skills; they also encourage historical examination of leadership styles and exploration of ideas beyond students’ individual perspectives, as well as consideration of broader social issues.’
What should universities do to develop future leaders? Promote ‘interactive, student-focused pedagogy’, provide ‘opportunities for students to be involved with governance and other extra-curricular activities’ and remember that ‘The networks formed during higher education can influence the emergence of developmental coalitions, and also help to inform attitudes and behaviours of students, for example perceptions of the value of trust, collaboration and social responsibility.’
At which point, I realised I was reading the academic justification for [yet another] hobbyhorse of mine. Why do NGOs like Oxfam do so little with universities as part of their long-term influencing agenda? Sure, we recruit some great campaigners there, but supposed you took this paper as a starting point and said, how do we influence the next generation of leaders before they are old and set in their ways?
1. Target universities, by which time you have a pretty good idea of where the leaders of tomorrow can be found (if you’re a church, you can target the whole of primary education, but we don’t have that kind of money)
2. Limit your search to social sciences, economics and law, for the time being (sorry media studies and geography…..)
3. If you want to be thoroughly elitist, target the universities attended by future leaders, and not just (or even mainly) in the North – places like Uganda’s Makerere – has anyone got time to go through an African Who’s Who and come up with the list of universities attended by today’s leaders?
4. Within those departments run essay competitions, internships, research partnerships, guest lectures etc etc – build up a relationship
If it all works out, you will have a significant input to the formation of the leaders of tomorrow, and get some top interns into the bargain.
And I’ve actually seen this in operation – a few years ago Savio Carvalho, then Oxfam’s entrepreneurial country director in Uganda, had some of Makerere’s best and brightest (he seemed to target student union leaders) working for Oxfam and had previously done the same thing in India. Anyone doing it more systematically?
There’s a ridiculous amount of hype talked about mobile phones, but they clearly are having a significant impact on poor people everywhere in lots of unexpected ways. Last year I met a group of Ethiopian coffee farmers who had no running water or electricity in their homes, but each family had a phone. When I asked what difference they make, the answer was always the same. You can check in on your relatives, talk to the sick, or sort out a meeting without going in person. By skipping the landline stage and moving straight from having to walk miles to see someone (public or private transport is rare, beyond mules and horses), without any certainty that they will be there when you arrive, to calling them on the mobile, the new communications technology has brought huge time savings.
“The study concentrates on 12 opportunities for mobile technology, in four key areas highlighted by stakeholders: improving access to financial services, provision of agricultural information, improving data visibility for supply chain efficiency and enhancing access to markets. Where possible, researchers modelled the anticipated total number of mobile connections to each service in 2020 and the associated potential increase in agricultural incomes and reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions…… Each of the 12 opportunities was modelled across 26 countries in Africa, India, Australasia, Europe and the Middle East.
Mobile communications can help to meet the challenge of feeding an estimated 9.2 billion people by 2050. The 12 specific opportunities [see table - keep clicking on it if you want to expand] explored in this study could increase agricultural income by around US$138 billion across 26 of Vodafone’s markets in 2020.
They could also cut carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 5 mega tonnes (Mt) in these markets and reduce freshwater withdrawals for agricultural irrigation by 6%, with significant savings in water-stressed regions. These benefits assume there will be around 549 million mobile connections to relevant services in 2020.
Mobiles can help farmers improve agricultural productivity by giving them access to basic financial services, new agricultural techniques and new markets, in turn helping them to secure better prices for crops and a better return on investments. As their income improves with each harvest, they can invest in better seeds, fertiliser and chemicals.
The greatest potential for improving farmers’ income comes from access to financial payments and agricultural information via mobile, together delivering approximately 75% of the total increase in agricultural income from the opportunities studied.”
I have to admit that from what I could read in the report, I wasn’t convinced by the big numbers. They reckon the $51bn from improved access to financial services would come from an additional 240 million connections – that’s over $200 per mobile per year, which seems an awful lot for a typical small farmer (and the report claims to focus on smallholders). The methodology annex is pretty sketchy but says ‘the increase in agricultural income was based on the potential uplift in average value added per agricultural worker. The potential uplift factor was based on empirical field studies where available, rather than attempting to model the complex individual drivers responsible for increasing smallholder income.’ What it doesn’t say is the extent or whereabouts of those field studies.
But in any case, on the basis of my own (ahem) in depth research in Ethiopia (i.e. the conversations described in the first para), I’m not sure dollars and cents are the best metric for measuring the human impact of mobiles. Has anyone seen or done any research on the broader (and perhaps more important) impact on the time/care economy?
In her foreword to the report, my boss Barbara Stocking distances Oxfam from the number crunching (we had our doubts about that bit), welcomes the focus on mobile financial services, on moving this discussion away from corporate philanthropy and into discussions of core business models and applying these to smallholders, and urges the phone companies and others to go further in three areas:
• How mobile technology could improve the efficiency of government safety net systems that assist the poorest and most food insecure small farmers – rather than looking only at the role that mobile technology can play in increasing farmer productivity and income from agriculture
• How companies such as Vodafone can better understand, document and address barriers to the use of mobile technology affecting women. Getting new technology owned and used by women often carries significant challenges, for example overcoming illiteracy and cultural norms which mean that men tend to be the early owners and beneficiaries of new technologies
• How mobile technology could drive new agricultural practices rather than simply greater efficiency in current practices, particularly around climate change adaptation, and ensuring focus is given to a full range of opportunities around climate change adaptation.
To which I would add the bit about the time economy.
A giant sucking sound – Ethiopia’s losses due to illicit financial outflows amounted to $3.26bn in 2009, which was more than the combined value of the development assistance it received and the products it exported. [h/t Beyond Aid]
Climate change adaptation in Uganda and Ethiopia: What is the impact of climate hazards, variability and change on different livelihood groups? How do development interventions contribute to communities’ adaptive capacity? What is missing that would enhance their contribution to adaptive capacity? Oxfam’s Kirsty Wilson summarizes the initial findings of a big new research project.
‘Busan is notable for the almost complete absence of additional commitments for all donors (apart from on transparency) and for highlighting the ”opportunities presented by diverse approaches to development cooperation”. … This new architecture for the global governance of development assistance – which might be described as ‘variable geometry’ – has obvious parallels with the direction in which climate change discussions are also moving. [And] there seems to be less focus on ‘mutual accountability’ between donors and developing countries, and more attention to accountability of donors to their taxpayers and of aid-recipient governments to their own citizens in their use of aid.’ Owen Barder reflects on the deeper dynamics of the Busan (and Durban) summits
‘Leaders are necessary, but not because they are the source of social change. Rather their real function is to occupy the role that allows the rest of us to make sense of what is happening.’ Ben Ramalingam reflects on the (lack of) leaders in Occupy and the Arab Spring.
NGOs in action. Ouch – too close for comfort [h/t Martin Hall]
Here we go again. Last week, a bunch of us NGO types had an initial discussion with the World Bank on its next flagship World Development Report, the 2013 edition of which will be on jobs (defined as ‘productive activity that is remunerated’), to be published in late 2012. Great subject, and one that is horribly neglected. Income from work is one of the best ways to reduce poverty; decent jobs play a vital role in improving self-esteem and a sense of well-being; and unemployment is rising across the world (and underpinned the uprisings of the Arab Spring).
Dena Ringold, from the WDR team, whizzed us through a 50 slide powerpoint based on the 48 page outline of the report, which is already up on the website. She set out the main messages of the report:
“Jobs are transformational. We tend to neglect jobs when thinking about growth, while in reality they are at the center of development. Jobs connect improvements in living standards, productivity gains and social cohesion.
What is a “good job”? Some jobs do more for economic and social development than others, because they reduce poverty and inequality, strengthen value chains and production clusters, or help build trust and shared values.
Policies through the jobs lens. Understanding how labor markets interact with government and market imperfections, and how this interaction affects development goals, is the key to identifying and evaluating policies for the creation of good jobs.”
In terms of the big picture debate, putting jobs (rather than growth or productivity) at the centre of development (see pic) is a big deal, and may be more important than all the detailed analysis that follows.
As for typically neuralgic NGO issues:
• Yes, the WDR will discuss how jobs affect subjective wellbeing (not just income)
• Yes, there will be lots on the importance of women’s earnings in terms of their bargaining power within households and the way they spend income on food, health and education
• Yes there will be a link to the rights agenda
• But no, not much sign of links to the unpaid/care economy or to planetary boundaries/green economy agendas. Nor much discussion on the power relationships/political economy issues that determine what kinds of jobs are created. I’m also a bit worried that the discussion on social cohesion, while welcome, could become a substitute for talking about inequality.
So if there is so much good stuff, plus the Bank’s ability to synthesize mountains of academic literature and generate new data and insights, along with its laudable commitment to transparency, why did my heart sink as the conversation progressed?
Firstly, it’s the insistence on economic ‘analytics’ as the only permissible source of evidence. This pushes the discussion towards seeing jobs in terms of short-run efficiency. I raised the importance of looking at history, and studying how successful economies (Germany, Korea etc) have created and upgraded jobs over decades, but had the familiar sensation of NGOs and World Bank talking past each other.
This feeling recurs in almost every such exercise, and was brilliantly discussed by Ravi Kanbur, in a paper written after he resigned from directing the Bank’s 2000 WDR on poverty. He argued that the Bank and its critics disagree because of profound ‘differences of perspective and framework on Aggregation, Time Horizon and Market Structure’. By aggregation, he meant the Bank’s preference for large data sets v NGOs’ preference for case studies and specific historical episodes. By time horizon, he meant that the Bank typically works with medium term (2-3 years), whereas NGOs think both more short-term (what’s happening to people now?) and long term (where will they be in ten years’ time?).
By market structure, which Ravi presented as ‘the most potent difference in framework and perspective’, he meant that ‘the implicit framework of [the World Bank] in thinking through the consequences of economic policy on distribution and poverty is that of a competitive market structure of a large number of small agents interacting without market power over each other. The instinctive picture that [NGOs have] of market structure is one riddled with market power wielded by agents in the large and in the small.’ In the intervening decade, I think there has been a bit of convergence on the first two – aggregation and time horizon – but the market structure issue remains a major source of disagreement.
That’s linked to a second issue, the lack of multi-disciplinarity. Work is steeped in cultural, social, historical and political meaning way beyond the question of income, as the report partly acknowledges. But judging by the website, the team is 100% economists. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are economists (really) and they obviously have to be central to any discussion about jobs. But where are the anthropologists to discuss the deeper cultural and social meaning of work, or historians to show how it evolves over time (think of the changing attitude to women’s work or child labour – in 1724 Daniel Defoe said that all children over the age of 4 or 5 could earn their own bread)? Or political economists to discuss the link between the nature of production and political and economic power (for example, how the move away from large-scale Fordist production has undermined both trade unions and the social democratic parties they helped create)? The WDR team will doubtless commission some papers from other disciplines, but if the core staff come from an academic monoculture (OK, I know there’s lots of different kinds of economists, but still….), the danger is that insights from other disciplines will only be adopted if they can pass through the filter of ‘economic analytics’ – a potential missed opportunity to think more deeply about the nature, purpose and human value of work.
One example of why multi-disciplinarity matters: how deeply will the report explore the links between anxiety/insecurity and work? My colleague Moussa Haddad attended the discussion and reckons this is a key area of difference – NGOs focus (sometimes too much, in my view) on highlighting and avoiding the ‘destruction’ in creative destruction, whereas the Bank thinks more about the ‘creation’ part. Moussa asks ‘if the reallocation of jobs across sectors, and increasingly countries is happening quicker and quicker, due to the exponential growth of technological innovation – then at some point are the productivity gains outweighed by the social damage they do?’
Third, great that jobs are presented as the ‘hinge’ of development. But from the presentation, it looks like that hinge will then be explored almost entirely in terms of improving the enabling environment for employers. That could easily end up producing a kinder, gentler tweak of the standard Washington Consensus: make it easier to hire and fire and otherwise ‘flexibilize’ the workforce; trade unions are a ‘distortion’ to the efficient workings of labour markets etc (see Kanbur’s point three). Why not, as Christina Weller from CAFOD suggested in the meeting, focus on the enabling environment for workers, starting by asking them what makes for decent, life-enhancing jobs? Perhaps the Bank could conduct a ‘Voices of the Workers’ exercise – a miniature version of their great Voices of the Poor project – and build the WDR around the priorities it reveals, which would probably be very different from the standard ‘economic analytics’ focus on rigidities, flexibility, productivity etc? (CAFOD did a small exercise on this and found issues like health, social protection and childcare were central concerns). Could the Bank develop a metrics for the ‘social return on employment’ to sit alongside more conventional indicators?
Fourth (and I don’t really have an answer on this), the danger is that the report will trigger another round of an unproductively polarized ‘quantity v quality’ argument. To caricature ‘what we need is jobs, millions of them – even a bad job is better than no job’ versus ‘a rights-based approach means we have to focus on creating decent jobs and avoiding a race to the bottom’. Maybe the previous points could help avoid this, I’m not sure – any suggestions?
To see what I’m talking about, try listening to and critiquing this 6 minute video for the ‘Jobs Knowledge Platform’ that the Bank is launching in the New Year. Excellent on training, skills, partnership, but I couldn’t find a single reference to trade unions, power, inequality or political economy – just a reassuring but highly misleading world of apolitical fluffy bunny collaboration that ignores the role of organized labour in fighting for labour rights and decent jobs.
Brendan Martin of Public World was at the meeting and wrote this commentary on the WDR process. The WDR Team does of course have right of reply……
This is a guest post from Chris Anderson, Oxfam’s global adviser on disaster risk reduction
While the global humanitarian response system is more effective and sophisticated than ever before, in its current form it’s being outstripped by the pace of increasing risks.
The answer is Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), which makes great financial sense if done well. But what does ‘well’ mean and why does risk reduction receive so little investment. According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance report 2011, for every US$100 spent on official humanitarian assistance in the World’s top 20 recipients, only 75 cents – or 0.75% – goes on disaster preparedness and prevention.
Most visible among risk reduction measures are the large-scale technological schemes to control the damage of natural phenomena, which are undoubtedly necessary. The US$3.15 billion that China spent on flood control between 1960 and 2000 is estimated to have averted losses of about US$12 billion – a ratio of roughly 1 to 4. The Rio de Janeiro flood reconstruction and prevention project in Brazil yielded an internal rate of return exceeding 50% and a mangrove-planting project in Vietnam (see pic) aimed at protecting coastal populations from typhoons and storms yielded an estimated benefit/cost ratio of 52 over the period 1994 to 2001.
Less obvious perhaps but no less wise is the investment that enables people themselves to become more resilient to the shocks and stresses they face, long after the concrete mixers or aid workers have gone home.
Here, cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is trickier than for big infrastructure projects, but developing the resilience and ‘agency’ of individuals and their communities often produces far higher and longer lasting benefits and should be given equal if not higher value. This is particularly the case for people who have little or weak government to support them and whose livelihoods are insecure.
With failed embankments in Pakistan and Bangladesh and inadequate sea defences in New Orleans, we have dramatic evidence that costly hardware schemes decided upon by primarily economic and technological principles not only can fail spectacularly, but worse can increase risk by lulling people into a false sense of security, or by benefitting one group to the detriment of another.
A study by Courtenay Cabot-Venton, commissioned by Oxfam America and Tear Fund, analysed a selection of CBA studies and found that investing in engagement and ‘soft’ resilience measures with communities over the longer- term can reap significant benefits. Whereas much development programming typically runs for one to three years, the analysis of a British Red Cross project in Nepal shows that returns can often be doubled if a small amount of support, such as refresher training, or maintenance on physical works, is provided over a longer term period of 10-15 years.
The study warns against over-emphasizing immediate economic rates of return in cost benefit thinking. The opinion of people on the ground on whether hard or soft resilience-building interventions have more value to them varies hugely over time. If asked soon after a new physical asset has been provided, then people tend to value it highly. But wait until more time has passed, and the asset has perhaps fallen into disuse, and people value less tangible investments to build their own capacity far more. It’s logical then that when physical hardware interventions are developed along with the end user, and conducted in a transparent and accessible manner, the impact and sustainability improves greatly.
Interventions that bring wider development gains and enable people to adapt to unpredictable risk and changes are generally going to be more cost effective and more sensible in relation to uncertainties such as climate change. Supporting ‘no-regrets options’ that reduce people’s vulnerability more generally – such as the conservation of a natural wetland that sustains nutrition levels of local populations through fish protein, provides them with water in times of drought, helps with flood control, as well as offering income generating opportunities – makes sense in the face of the range of unpredictable risks that many face. These need to be given far more priority in planning and investment alongside physical schemes to control the impact of predicted events.
This blog is written and maintained by Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of 'From Poverty to Power'. More information on Duncan and the book is available on the From Poverty to Power official website.
It is a personal reflection by the author. It is intended to provoke debate and conversations about development, not as a comprehensive statement of Oxfam's agreed policies - for those, please take a deep breath and read the Oxfam International strategic plan or consult policy papers on a range of development issues.