I’m taking time out from blogging today partly because my computer’s on the blink, but also because I promised to plug some new jobs in Oxfam that I thought would particularly interest the kinds of weirdoes intellectuals and deep thinkers who read this blog:
First up, our MEL pin-up Karl Hughes is off to the ADB, so if you fancy becoming our ‘global impact evaluation adviser’ (aka number cruncher in chief), now’s your chance. We need a seriously heavy hitter on this one – Job Description here, or go to the website. Closing date 13th Feb.
Second, my old chums in the research team are looking for a research officer. Again, top number crunching skills required, working in a great team led by Ricardo Fuentes. Details here. Closing date 7th February.
Finally, only a two month job, but really interesting, an great way to get a foot in the door/on the ladder and it’s on a topic dear to my heart: how change happens. ‘A recent graduate/post-graduate and/or someone with research and writing skills and experience in international development, political or social sciences for a two month role, starting early February, to help produce some How Change Happens case studies.’ Be warned though – you may have to work with me on this one. Details here. Contact renglish[at]oxfam.org.uk. Closing date as soon as we find someone.
Oxfam’s head of research, Ricardo Fuentes (right) reviews two big reports on jobs from the World Bank and UNESCO
Youth unemployment is making headlines everywhere – and with good reason. One in eight people between 15 and 24 are unemployed and the problem affects rich and poor countries alike. In Spain, almost half of young adults are unemployed; in the Middle East and North Africa is around one in four. The younger generation in many countries feel cheated: the past was truly a better time. Their perception, at least in some places, is that they will struggle to live as well as their parents.
Two recent flagship publications from large international organizations shed light on the problem of youth unemployment and propose solutions to policy makers. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report from UNESCO (full disclosure, I recently joined their Advisory Panel but didn’t participate in the preparation of this year’s EFA-GMR) and the World Development Report 2013 from the World Bank both tackle employment and employability. They are timely both for short term needs – the protracted global economic downturn has hit the young hard – and long term reasons – as UNESCO points out, the demographic pressures are here to stay since “young people are more numerous than ever; and their numbers are increasing rapidly in some parts of the world. In developing countries alone the population aged 15 to 24 reached over 1 billion in 2010.”
The GMR focuses on how to create useful skills for the young. It is a brave and comprehensive effort, especially because the GMR gives particular attention to the skills required by marginalized groups. The problems start with access to training: “All too often, access to skills is unequal, perpetuating and exacerbating the disadvantage that attends being poor, female or a member of a marginalized social group”. To back this argument, UNESCO recently launched a very comprehensive database on inequality on education that shows the extent of the disparities.
So far, so good. The report is thorough and detailed and describes the types of skills young people need (basic skills such as literacy and numeracy; problem solving and communication abilities and technical know-how). The evidence presented is solid. The element missing in the picture is a thorough discussion on “soft skills” that cannot necessarily be learned in the formal system. These include issues around confidence, self-esteem, and aspirations. This is an important omission; evidence suggests that prejudices and social expectations have an important role in educational and cognitive outcomes. One of the most notable examples is the change in problem-solving results of children reminded of their caste in Uttar Pradesh – two otherwise identical exercises showed different outcomes when personal information of the participants (including caste) was announced at the beginning of the test – children from marginalised backgrounds did worse when their situation was made public as part of the experiment. The point is that providing technical skills to marginalized young people may not be enough to break entrenched patterns of external and self-imposed social exclusion.
In addition, economies around the world are struggling to create the jobs required to keep up with population growth and more young people. This is where the WDR 2013 contributes. The Report tackles that issue of job creation. The team working on the WDR went to great lengths to make explicit that the document is about jobs and development, not labour markets. Even more, in their analysis, jobs are an important element for personal achievement and better social interaction, not only as sources of income.
The Report poses some challenges to readers. I got frustrated during my first two readings of the WDR’s Overview. I couldn’t see heads or tails in the construction of the argument. It wasn’t until the third reading that I realized, to my surprise, that the Report is not following a formal economic model. Forget one size fits all recommendations, where typically, labour markets should be made more flexible and wages reflect labour supply and demand. The WDR 2013 instead suggests a taxonomy for policy makers: depending on the structure of the economy, different policies could create jobs that promote development. They even provide examples of countries that, in their view, have succeeded in the challenges.
After I got over my initial frustration, I welcomed this innovation in the WDR. The authors decided to focus on the policy relevance of its recommendations and not on the internal consistency of whatever model. This is where the World Bank can put to use its vast knowledge and create room for policy debate – in suggesting different policies for different settings based on the latest evidence. The Report, however, falls short in failing to clarify what the Bank actually means by ‘development’ – a glaring omission given that they repeat that jobs are ‘at the center of development’ again and again. Probably I am reading too much in this, but there are paragraphs in the WDR 2013 where the authors move away from the idea that economic growth is the best proxy for development (see, for instance, their box on “Growth Strategies or jobs strategies?”). They should make explicit the alternatives.
Both reports share something that is not quite evident in the first read: with different approaches, they both are concerned about social exclusion and their recommendations aim to change the structures that keep people out of jobs – either because they lack skills or because the economy does not create enough good jobs. The practical angle as well as the myriad of examples that both reports give will make a good initial step for policy makers when solving the youth employment conundrum. Now it’s the policy maker’s turn to do something.
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……
I’m prompted to post this partly because there’s a job coming up in my team at Oxfam. We’re looking for a research methods adviser to build the skills of our staff around the world who commission and/or conduct smart research to inform Oxfam’s programmes and advocacy. If you’re interested, read more here, and you need to get a move on – the deadline is this weekend.
Otherwise, promoting From Poverty to Power over the last year has involved a lot of talks to bright young things in universities, and in almost every Q&A, the question comes up ‘how do I get a job at an NGO?’ (or more alarmingly, ‘how do I get your job?’). Firstly it’s not easy right now, as the crisis in the UK has hit NGOs’ funding and jobs are more infrequent. The official answer is that people should have a look at our website, but here are some unofficial (and anglocentric – this is about Oxfam GB) tips.
First, decide what kind of work are you interested in. Programme work on the ground? Emergencies (conflict refugees, disaster reconstruction etc)? Advocacy and lobbying? Campaigning?
Next think what kinds of experience will help – experience often marks you out more than gaining another post graduate qualification, but you have to find some way to get over the inevitable first-rung problem of ‘how can I get experience when I haven’t got enough experience to land a job’ – it’s not easy, but it can be done.
For emergencies and programme work, try and get out there and get some experience in developing countries – it’s very hard to arrange that from this end, unless you have a particular network (eg a Church) that you can call on, so many people just try and sort something out on the spot. For campaigners, a record of activism at university or afterwards is always helpful.
For advocacy work, NGOs are often impressed by people who have worked in other sectors, especially the institutions we are keen to influence – governments north or south, multinational companies. Many of them are much larger than Oxfam, and have good graduate entry schemes – a further advantage if you’re trying to get your foot on the ladder. Many are highly competitive, but check out the schemes for DFID, the World Bank, or the Overseas Development Institute.
And remember that research, advocacy and campaigning jobs are often the most sought after and competitive. It may be advisable to try to get a foothold by applying for more ‘corporate’ areas such as marketing, HR and finance, and then start from there.
Finally, show your face. Putting in a spell as an intern may add to your student debt, but it enables you to make your mark and prove your commitment. It also enables you to apply for jobs that are only advertised internally, including short term jobs that help you get on the paid employment ladder. But be choosy who you intern for, and what jobs you accept – even if there is no pay involved, you are offering skills and time to an organization, and should demand things in return.
By way of illustration, our research team includes one ex ODI fellows, one ex UK government number cruncher, one ex intern and one recruit from an environmental thinktank. Plus one mystery appointment (me).
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.