Elizabeth Stuart (@ElizStuart), Oxfam’s Bank-watcher in Washington, reflects on the challenges facing the new World Bank president.
To the surprise of precisely no one, the next president of the World Bank is Jim Yong Kim, an American doctor, anthropologist, academic, activist and organizational leader. As lots of commentators including Oxfam have said, the process by which he was chosen was a sham, which is a great shame as the man himself is a development hero. Thumbs-up to the pick, thumbs-down to the process by which he was chosen.
So what kind of leader will Dr Kim be? By all accounts, he has an impressive history of getting things done in complex institutions: he himself has called his alma mater, the WHO, “one of the most complicated bureaucracies in the world”. Sharp elbows will serve him very well in the Bank, a place where management lines are notoriously nebulous, both because of its complex structure of matrices, anchors, regions and hubs, and the difficulties of negotiating the executive board made up as it is of different coalitions and interests (the primary divide on the board is advanced and developing/emerging economies, but often countries split differently on different issues). And then there’s the US Congress – which continues to try to micromanage relatively minor aspects of the Bank’s work – to assuage.
Problem number one is a paradox. Development is complex and multi-dimensional. The World Bank, by its very nature, needs to be across all aspects of development. One of its latest pushes is on road safety for instance, and with good reason: 1.3m people are killed on roads each year, 90% of whom are in developing countries. But this is just another issue to add to the seemingly never-ending list of Bank initiatives. One reason why the institution has not achieved the big development successes that might be expected is its overreach. So how to be an expert on everything without trying to actually do it all?
Another very real dilemma he’ll have to negotiate is infrastructure. Lack of roads, electricity, ports, railway networks etc remains a massive issue for developing countries, and for most of them private sector finance, which often demands double-digit returns, is just not feasible. The BRICs say getting their hands on affordable finance to build what they need to grow it is a key reason for their setting up their own development bank, which could, in part, rival the Washington one. But lending for infrastructure is very hard for the World Bank. How to ensure that the maximum number of people have access to affordable energy, for instance, without harming – often the most vulnerable – populations in the process is a very difficult issue indeed.
Dr JimYong Kim
And then there’s the problem of keeping emerging countries engaged, bearing in mind this is where almost three-quarters of the world’s poor live. They’re already looking elsewhere for finance (see above: in future it’s not just going to be Africa that looks to China for cash). How can the Bank compete, especially when it has just given the institutional blow-off to Africa, Latin America and Asia’s choice for president? One solution being proposed by a Center for Global Development working group: expand IDA (the Bank’s very low interest loans and grants) to middle income countries, provided it’s very tightly targeted at fighting poverty.
Let’s hope that he will successfully square these differing and competing demands, as there’s lots to be done. Every organization will have a list of priorities for a Kim Bank, and here are Oxfam’s top three:
1, get rid of health user fees. Poor people can’t afford to pay out of pocket to see a doctor and the World Bank needs to work with countries to make healthcare free
2, stop investing in land grabs which displace poor people, and affect their ability to feed themselves
Just a few more demands to add to Dr Kim’s welcome pack.
Elizabeth Stuart is head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office.
And Chris Blattman perfectly captures the irony of the debate over the ‘contest’ for the job with a tweet from @JustinSandefur: “#WB race = strange bedfellows: free-market economists 4 3rd world democracy vs pub health humanitarians 4 US imperialism?”
Barbara Stocking (my big boss) adds her bit on the FT blog
I’m in Boston and should really be going off to teach a weekend course on How Change Happens at Brandeis University, but I can’t drag myself away from watching Jim Yong Kim on youtube. Kim, a Korean American health expert and currently president of the prestigious Dartmouth College, is Washington’s nomination for the next head of the World Bank, a choice presumably intended to wrongfoot critics of the US’ traditional stranglehold on the nomination (because a) he was born in South Korea and b) he knows a lot about development). The critics are unimpressed: Kevin Gallagher explains why Colombia’s José Antonio Ocampo is better qualified for the job and Lant Pritchett does the same for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. They’re both pretty convincing.
On the other hand, and talking of nifty footwork, I bet neither Ocampo or Okonjo-Iweala has performed Thriller on stage – watch this to two minutes in to see ‘the only Ivy League president who can dance’ (admittedly, not a very high bar….). [h/t Global Dashboard]
He can also rap, or at least is willing to give it a go in public (three minutes in)
Not only that but he is not Larry Summers. The man clearly has a lot going for him.
OK, I really must go to work now (more to follow on the Brandeis seminar – really interesting group of students)
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……
Will it change the weather or disappear? I’m hopeful, based on the 40 page overview, (so you should take these comments as initial and tentative, until someone reads the full tome). Here’s a summary of the content, and a few reactions.
First, what kind of inequality is it talking about?
‘This Report focuses on three key dimensions of gender equality: the accumulation of endowments (education, health, and physical assets); the use of those endowments to take up economic opportunities and generate incomes; and the application of those endowments to take actions, or agency, affecting individual and household well-being.’
What’s the approach?
‘This Report focuses on the economics of gender equality and development. It uses economic theory to understand what drives differences in key aspects of welfare between men and women. [But it] does not limit itself to economic outcomes—indeed, it devotes roughly equal attention to human endowments, economic opportunities, and women’s agency.’ [nb my colleagues tell me that the economics used is distinctly mainstream – precious few feminist economists in the bibliography.]
Next, what does it say? First the good news:
‘Women have made unprecedented gains in rights, in education and health, and in access to jobs and livelihoods. 136 countries now have explicit guarantees for the equality of all citizens and nondiscrimination between men and women in their constitutions. Progress has not come easily. And it has not come evenly to all countries or to all women—or across all dimensions of gender equality.’
Then the nuance:
‘[In some] aspects of gender equality there has been most progress worldwide (education, fertility, life expectancy, labor force participation, and the extension of legal rights), [while in others] there has been little or very slow change (excess female mortality, segregation in economic activity, gaps in earnings, responsibility for house and care work, asset ownership, and women’s agency in private and public spheres).’
In the areas of progress, such as life expectancy or falling fertility rates, ‘The changes were much faster than when today’s rich countries were poorer. It took more than 100 years for the number of children born to a woman in the United States to decline from 6 to 3; the same decline took just over 35 years in India and less than 20 in Iran (figure 2).’ [Are you listening, population controllers?]
The record on education is extraordinary:
‘Two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary education enrollments, while in over one-third, girls significantly outnumber boys in secondary education. And in a striking reversal of historical patterns, more women than men now attend universities, with women’s tertiary enrollment across the globe having risen more than sevenfold since 1970.’
The WDR has a go at explaining the structural origins of success v failure:
‘The main lesson: when market signals, formal institutions, and income growth all come together to support investments in women, gender equality can and does improve very quickly. And these improvements can occur even when informal institutions, such as social norms about what is “appropriate” for girls and boys or women and men, may themselves take time to adapt.’
In the areas of slow progress:
‘Gender disparities persist in these “sticky” domains for three main reasons. First, there may only be a single institutional or policy “fix,” which can be difficult and easily blocked. Second, disparities persist when multiple reinforcing constraints combine to block progress. Third, gender differences are particularly persistent when rooted in deeply entrenched gender roles and social norms—such as those about who is responsible for care and housework in the home, and what is “acceptable” for women and men to study, do, and aspire to….. Perhaps the “stickiest” aspect of gender outcomes is the way patterns of gender inequality are reproduced over time.’
And progress is particularly hard ‘where poverty combines with other factors of exclusion—such as ethnicity, caste, remoteness, race, disability, or sexual orientation.’
So much for the diagnosis – what about the cure? The WDR proposes three criteria for selecting what issues require public action:
‘“First, which gender gaps are most significant for enhancing welfare and sustaining development? Second, which of these gaps persist even as countries get richer? Third, for which of these priority areas has there been insufficient or misplaced attention? “
From these, it arrives at four priority areas for action at both national and global levels:
“Reducing gender gaps in human capital endowments (addressing excess female mortality and eliminating pockets of gender disadvantage in education where they persist)
Closing earnings and productivity gaps between women and men
Shrinking gender differences in voice
Limiting the reproduction of gender inequality over time, whether it is through endowments, economic opportunities, or agency”
It then applies these ideas to some specific areas, such as reducing excess female mortality. Its recommendations are pleasingly holistic, stressing the importance of water and sanitation or the need to release women’s time through improved childcare provision, as well as more specific policies such as affirmative action in labour markets and political representation. Thankfully, the depth and detail of the ‘so what’ section goes far beyond the usual ‘general denunciation + demand for gender disaggregated data’ school.
OK, that’s my attempt at a summary. Here’s some of the aspects I like:
• The symbolic importance of the World Bank devoting its flagship report to this topic.
• While focussing on economic evidence and argument, is very far from being ‘economistic’, covering topics such as endowments, agency, social and political institutions, time poverty, domestic violence and gender norms that are central to a full understanding of gender and development.
• The usual World Bank collection of excellent Killer Facts, which we will all be lifting for our own reports for years to come.
What am I uneasy about? There are only a few obvious gaps (see below) – the real issue is the relative weight given to different topics and approaches. Although the WDR ticks the right boxes (e.g. on the intrinsic importance of women’s rights, rather than just the instrumental benefits for social progress or the economy), the weight of analysis and policy recommendations is solidly in the more orthodox sphere. As my colleague Ines Smyth puts it, there is much more on ‘what women can do for development’, than there is on ‘what development can do for women’. There are nods to the importance of women’s organizations, but the treatment is rather cursory, compared to issues like labour market policies.
Then there are some pretty startling gaps. In a report that stresses the importance of gender norms and values, how can there be not a single mention of religion or faith-based organizations? In a report on ‘gender’ (and not just ‘women’) there is very little attention to the construction of masculinity(ies), which seems to be rising up the genderagenda fast right now. Finally, it also seems largely oblivious to events of the last five years – a word search finds no uses of ‘food prices’ or ‘climate change’ or ‘financial crisis’. This is just an initial reading, and I’m sure further concerns and disagreements will surface as people read and debate the report (which is of course part of its contribution and purpose). So I may come back for another go on this, depending on comments and other reviews.
End of inevitable NGO whinge. The report is excellent, and let’s hope everyone in the Bank, DFID, national governments and elsewhere in the development jungle spends time properly digesting (and disputing) its analysis and recommendations.
And here’s a nice World Bank launch video – when did multilateral institutions get this funky?
Martin Ravallion, the World Bank’s head of research, has been doing some interesting thinking on poverty lines. We currently have an odd divide between poor countries, where absolute measures are more often used (eg $1.25 a day, the current international poverty line) and rich countries, which tend to use measures of relative poverty. For example, in Western Europe (including the UK) the poverty line is set at a constant proportion (typically 60%) of median income. Ravallion calls this a “strongly relative line”.
Ravallion argues that both approaches make sense – an absolute line in establishing who is able to feed and clothe themselves, a relative line in determining whether people feel socially excluded or not. In very poor countries, absolute survival plays a bigger role, but as countries’ average wealth rises, so social inclusion, and thus relative poverty, becomes more salient.
However, Ravallion argues that social exclusion matters even in the poorest imaginable country. So a sensible poverty line cannot simply rise and fall proportionately to average income, as in the strongly relative poverty lines used in Europe. Look at Ravallion’s graph. The strongly relative line keeps falling toward zero. The strongly relative lines will be too low (below survival levels) in poor countries. Ravallion says we need “weakly relative lines” which incorporate an absolute minimum, as in the bold line in his graph.
In a paper with Shaohua Chen published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, he puts some numbers on this (and lots of equation which were way above my head, so thanks to Martin for helping me make sense of it to write this post……). Up to an average national consumption of $2 per day, he sticks with absolute measures – anyone under $1.25 is poor. But then he switches to a relative measure – above $2 a day, the poverty line slopes upwards, reflecting the importance of social inclusion (see graph). The graph slopes up with a gradient of a third – less than the 60% of the UK strongly relative poverty line. Chen and Ravallion use data on national poverty lines across countries to set this schedule—the same data they had used to select the $1.25 a day line.
What do they find?
‘The trend decline in the incidence of relative poverty has not been sufficient to reduce the number of poor by this measure, which rose from 2.3 billion to 2.6 billion over 1981 to 2005 (see table 1). The turning point is around 1987.’
This contrasts with the more standard measures of absolute poverty, which have the numbers of poor people falling both as a % and in absolute numbers to 1.4bn people by 2005.
Why the disparity between the two (a rising absolute number of relatively poor, and a falling number of absolute poor)? As the global economy grows, poverty lines start to rise to reflect the higher costs of social inclusion, which puts a brake on the pace of relative poverty reduction, despite falling absolute poverty.
In fact, it makes a perfect toilet book for geeks, an intriguing scattergun collection of ‘vignettes’ covering everything from wealth inequality in Pride and Prejudice (yep, that Pride and Prejudice – the Jane Austen/Colin Firth, puffy shirt one – see left) to a comparison between ancient Romans and today’s super rich (turns out that Carnegie, Rockefeller and Bill Gates are/were a lot richer than fabulously rich Roman Marcus Crassus).
Anyway, the book is so gloriously random and weird, that I am not going to try and review it. Instead, here’s an excerpt that caught my eye – a ‘vignette’ that argues that income inequality caused the global financial crisis.
Here’s how the reasoning goes:
‘In the US, the top 1% of the population doubled its share in national income from around 8% int he mid-1970s to almost 16% in the early 2000s. That eerily replicated the situation that existed just prior to the crash of 1929, when the top 1% share reached its previous high-water mark. American inequality over the past hundred years thus basically charted a gigantic U, going down from its 1929 peak all the way to the late 1970s, and then rising again for 30 years.
What did the increase mean? Such enormous wealth could not be used for consumption only. There is a limit to the number of Dom Perignons and Armani suits one can drink or wear.. So a huge pool of available financial capital – the product of increased inequality – went in search of profitable opportunities in which to invest.’
So the rich hand over their vast piles of spare cash to the financial sector and tell them to invest it well.
‘Overwhelmed with such an amount of funds, the financial sector became more and more reckless, throwing money at anyone who would take it.’
‘The second part of the equation explains who borrowed that money. There again we go back to the rising inequality. The increased wealth at the top was combined with an absence of real economic growth in the middle. The real median wage in the US has been stagnant for 25 years, despite an almost doubling in GDP per capita. Middle-class income stagnation became a recurrent theme in American political life, and an insoluble political problem for both Democrats and Republicans.’
Since they could not increase their wages, they helped them accumulate household debt.
‘Thus was born the great American consumption binge that saw the household debt increase from 48% of GDP in the early 1980s to 100% of GDP before the crisis’ Result? ‘The interests of several large groups of people became closely aligned. High-net-worth individuals and the financial sector were keen to find new lending opportunities. Politicians were eager to ‘solve’ the irritable problem of middle-class income stagnation. The middle class and those poorer than them were happy to see their tight budget constraints removed as if by a magic wand, consume all the fine things purchased by the rich, and partake in the longest US economic expansion since World War II.’
Conclusion: ‘The root cause of the crisis is not to be found in hedge funds and bankers who simply behaved with the greed to which they are accustomed (and for which economists used to praise them). The real cause of the crisis lies in huge inequalities in income distribution that generated much larger investable funds than could be profitably employed….. in a democratic system, an excessively unequal model of development cannot exist with political stability.’
Some International Women’s Day reading at the wonky end of the spectrum.
Firstly, an excellent response from its co-directors (Ana Ravenga and Sudhir Shetty) to my earlier post on this year’s World Development Report on Gender Equality, whose website goes live today. Secondly check out a couple of papers on the Developmental Leadership Program website. The DLP describes itself as providing ‘thinking and policy about the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development’. All of the papers follow a similar format, identifying ‘critical overarching themes’, factors that facilitate the formation of successful coalitions, the strategies the coalitions used for greater influence and some do’s and don’t’s for donors. Nice.
• ‘Critical junctures’ such as national political change may provide opportunities for civil society to redefine its rules of engagement with the state. Knowing when and how to seize such opportunities is crucial.
• Many factors account for the emergence of coalitions, including: new opportunities for political engagement during political transition; how local actors form collective initiatives and their motivation to initiate meaningful social change; the existence of prior networks and experience; the ability to mobilise popular civil society support; donor support.
• New spaces for policy influence may be opened through engaging in law reform. This study shows how the coalition’s extensive experience in women’s advocacy and in-depth understanding of the law contributed to their success.
• Strategies of ‘judicial/legislative advocacy’ can assist the process of legal reform, but success depends on the existence of a relatively free judiciary.
• Women’s coalitions may draw on and expand their elite networks and exploit political and institutional arrangements to build developmental partnerships.
• Co-operative networks between elite actors that span both civil society and government may initiate new processes of legal reform.
• The building of elite networks between national and international advocates at high-ranking meetings (such as UN Conferences) may have positive developmental outcomes – if the right people are involved.
• ‘Soft advocacy’ or ‘backstage politics’ may be more effective strategies where co-operative relationships exist between high-ranking state actors and civil society leaders.
• In dominant one-party states such as South Africa, ‘adversarial advocacy’ such as monitoring government’s fulfilment of laws and policies or criticising political elites in the media may antagonise the party and reduce engagement.
• A coalition’s leadership structures and functioning must be determined through consensual processes and not automatically assumed or enacted by its key figures.
• Competition over funding may lead to disruptive tensions and there are strong grounds for ensuring transparency about a coalition’s funding.
• Coalitions to advance women’s equality are rare in the Middle East, challenged by a restrictive and professionalized political culture that discourages collective forms of agency.
• A constellation of factors, rather than a single factor, accounts for the emergence of coalitions. This constellation includes (but is not restricted to): a cause that touches on people’s lives, a politically opportune moment, and local actors that respond by mobilizing to form a collective initiative.
• Given that the space for influencing policy is restricted to a closed circle of elites, it is not the agency of the coalition alone that leads to policy influence. The key finding is that engaging in informal ‘backstage’ politics is equally, if not more, important than formal channels of engagement in these ‘closed’ political spaces. Policy influence heavily relies on informal relationships rather than strictly formal citizen-state engagements. The “formal” faces of advocacy [such as through petitions, conferences and media advocacy] play a secondary role to informal processes in eliciting change, which is often facilitated by informal, backdoor processes of negotiation and mediation between coalition leaders and key players.
• Moreover, informal networks and, often, prior relationships, are crucial for building the internal cohesion of a coalition; and they also help to reduce their vulnerability to external political threat.
• Influential coalitions are those that are able to build formal as well as informal links with the appropriate actors, establish the right kind of image locally and secure the right kind of support from international official and civil society actors.
• In all of the six case studies studied, strong linkages existed between international and national actors, hence highlighting the importance of understanding how international actors can play an enabling role to support coalitions. In five out of six coalitions studied, donors played a critical role at some point in the life of the coalition, in both positive and detrimental ways.
Finally (just to be contrarian), what about men? Oxfam publishes an interesting research report on ‘The Effects of Socialization on Gender Discrimination and Violence’, based on a set of interviews and focus groups with men in Lebanon’s Ballbek area. It reveals a collision between cultural norms (boys being raised to be violent law givers/honour defenders by both their mothers and fathers) and modernity (more women getting an education and going out to work, undermining men’s sense of superiority and power).
“There have been significant changes in attitudes to poverty over the last three centuries, away from complacent acceptance, and even contempt for poor people, to the view that society, the economy and government should be judged in part at least by their success in reducing poverty. There are a number of possible explanations for this change. Greater overall affluence in the world has probably made it harder to excuse poverty. Expanding democracy has given new political voice to poor people. And new knowledge about poverty has created the potential for more well-informed action.
Word counts from Google Books suggest that there was a pronounced “Poverty Enlightenment” in the latter half of the 18th century, with a seven-fold increase in the incidence of references to poverty between 1740 and 1790. The all-time annual record level of references to poverty (as a proportion of all words) was in 1787.
But attention faded after that. If the late 18th century gave birth to the modern idea of distributive justice, based on the notion that a minimum standard of living should be attainable by all members of society, then it seems that the idea died a slow death in the public consciousness for the next 170 years.
In both English and French, a second “Poverty Enlightenment” only emerged in the latter part of the 20th century. Within 10 years the incidence of the word “poverty” in English- language Google Books had exceeded its level even in 1800. The latter half of the 20th century saw a doubling in the incidence of references to poverty. Averaging over a few years either side, the peak in the average incidence of references to poverty was around 2000. This Second Poverty Enlightenment came with a similar (proportionate) increase in references to economics, which provided a deeper set of models for understanding poverty. It also came with rising awareness of poverty in developing countries.
In the English language, the word “inequality” has been used far less than “poverty.” This was not true in the French language books. Until the late 20th century, “inégalité” was as prominent as “pauvreté” (more so in the late 18th century). And the French texts referred less to poverty and more to inequality than the English texts, though there are strong signs of convergence between the two languages toward the end of the 20th century.”
From an intriguing new paper by the World Bank’s Martin Ravallion. The first peak came two years before the French Revolution. Wonder what comes next?
Just got round to reading the 65 page outline (dread to think how long the final version will be) of the 2012 World Development Report on ‘Gender Equality and Development’. Kudos to the Bank, as ever, for putting such documents online as part of the report writing process – how many NGOs ever consider doing that? (see here for a rather successful example of us trying to do this).
As always with these World Bank flagships, it’s fascinating both for what’s in there and for what’s missing.
The report will emphasize four main messages:
1. During the last quarter century, sustained growth in many countries has been particularly effective in reducing disparities on some dimensions of gender equality (e.g. girls’ education and fertility decline – though that’s not entirely an issue of gender equality….). And, the pace of change in these outcomes has been much faster in today’s developing countries than it has historically been in high-income countries.
2. However, economic growth—even at a pace more rapid and sustained—will not by itself be enough to bring about improvements across all dimensions of gender equality. Growth alone won’t close the remaining gender gaps; poor women are missing out on the benefits of growth and constraints other than income (access to land, social norms, political voice) will continue to generate inequality even in high income societies
3. The costs to countries of maintaining gender inequality are likely to have become even larger in the globalized world of the 21st Century. At the same time, globalization offers opportunities for more rapid changes in norms and beliefs concerning gender equality. The Bank sees a ‘growign global consensus on the importance of gender equality’.
4. There is an important role for policies targeted towards reducing the most costly gender disparities that are not responsive to growth, and closing the most egregious gender gaps has become more urgent now than it was two or three decades ago.
Nothing too earth shattering in that, but it does matter (a lot) that the Bank is devoting such a high profile publication to the issue – previous WDRs such as the 2008 one on agriculture have played a big part in shifting the wider development debate (though others have sunk without trace), and it is to be hoped that this one has similar impact.
So what’s good, bad and/or missing?
Good: as always, the Bank has assembled a colossal literature review – dozens of great killer facts and examples that we will all be mining in the years ahead. However, the outline does little to address the weakness of some of the really big ‘stylised facts’, some of them highly questionable or just plain wrong like the ‘70% of the world’s poor are women’ stat. An alarming number of the big stats on land use, access to services etc that are routinely trotted out come from studies that are 20 years old or more. Let’s hope the final version updates these or gives us some new ones.
The report also avoids the trap of equating ‘gender’ with ‘women’, acknowledging that men lag women on an increasing number of issues like tertiary education, health (obesity, alcoholism) or life expectancy.
Bad/Missing: Although the draft’s conceptual framework breaks up the drivers of change into formal institutions such as governments, informal institutions (such as social norms and network) and markets, its implicit change model is based on the interaction between governments, policies, academic evidence and individual voters. The institutions bit is pretty impoverished, with precious little signs of any collective actors located between households and the state, such as churches, media, civil society or even the women’s movement. The draft has a telling sentence where it defines society as ‘the sum of individuals and households’. Oh dear.
Perhaps predictably, given who the report is trying to influence, gender equality (and development more broadly) is understood, discussed, calculated etc. largely in terms of economic growth and economic calculations (whether of household, their members and other institutions).
Because of this privileging of the economic, the critical role in society of reproduction - still so undervalued – and the reality that women continue to play the primary reproductive role, gets lost or downplayed. If we go down the road of the narrow contribution to ‘production’ in the ‘economy’, we are likely to further undervalue the major contribution of women in reproduction. We also further the pressure on women to have to contribute in the recognised ‘production’ part of the ‘economy’ (if they are to have recognition and respect) while they also have to continue playing the primary role in reproduction – more stress for women, less value of their role = problem. This argument of course should not undermine the absolute right of women to have the same opportunities for participation in production when they choose to.
The outline is far too dismissive of ‘wellbeing’ and other new economics – even a perfunctory trawl of the gender issues in major Bank exercises like Voices of the Poor would have identified issues of shame, humiliation and fear as just as important to women’s lived experience of poverty as income measures.
It appears blind to the gendered impact of technologies, whether old and new.
Some of these holes can still be filled with decent case studies, so if you are engaged on these issues, make sure to send them over to the WDR team.
[Thanks to Ines Smyth and other Oxfam gender gurus for their input to this post]
World Bank President Robert Zoellick, or at least his press team, responded promptly to last week’s concerns on a new food price spike with a comment piece in the FT. It’s fascinating as much for what is missing as for what is in there.
On the plus side, Zoellick gives due priority to food as ‘the essence of life’ and argues that the G20 needs to show leadership on this (alas, in traditional World Bank style, he completely ignores the UN’s Committee on Food Security (CFS), which leads the international response). He stresses the importance of price stability, and supporting small farmers as both a way to produce local food, and to raise the incomes of poor people.
There are several nice nudges and tweaks – access to information on grain stocks to calm market fears; small regional reserves for fast-disbursing food aid; source food aid from local small farmers to boost agriculture. But the whole piece seems to suffer from a straitjacket of free market ideology (he probably didn’t pick the title ‘Free markets can still feed the world’, but it’s a pretty accurate reflection of the tone of the piece). Whatever the problem, the answer can’t go beyond liberalizing trade and investment, voluntary codes of conduct, access to information, and improved aid and safety nets for those that fall through the cracks.
What do we want? More than tweaks and nudges......
This was captured in one of his proposals: ‘give countries access to fast-disbursing support as an alternative to export bans or price fixing’. Export bans, which he presents as the major problem to be confronted, can indeed damage poor people in food importing countries, and need to be discussed. But ‘price fixing’, if by that he means deliberate government intervention to stabilise prices for consumers and producers, has been an effective tool in countries such as Vietnam to reduce food insecurity and provide incentives for farmers to increase food production. So why lump the two together? As far as I can see, the only thing they have in common is that they both interfere with the purported magic of untrammelled markets.
The suggestions for supporting small farmers by sourcing food aid from them are pretty pitiful too – what about government investment in extension services and infrastructure for small farmers rather than big farm lobbies? Or land reform to ensure secure access to land, credit etc, especially for women, the most excluded farmers of all?
Zoellick concludes that ‘the answer to food price volatility is not to prosecute or block markets, but to use them better’. What’s missing is the bit in between his two extremes – regulating markets so they work to the benefit of all, not just the powerful.
Finally, I assume this piece was looking purely to short term action, because it focuses on short-term measures rather than longer-term reform. He fails to mention the long-term drivers of high food prices, such as climate change, the redirection of land to producing biofuels rather than food, the spate of large scale land grabs by foreign investors in many of the world’s poorest countries, the possible role of commodity investment funds and other financial speculation in exacerbating price volatility, or the distorted way that technologies are developed and implemented, that all too often gives priority to large, rich agriculture and fails to really benefit small farmers. If the food price crisis really erupts this year, as seems increasingly likely, we need to have a much deeper discussion than this of its causes and how to respond.
To be fair, Zoellick was one of the earliest international leaders to sound the alarm on the 2008 food price crisis and made some pretty significant shifts in the Bank’s priorities in response. This time around, the measure of success should be whether poor people are insulated from shocks, how markets can be re-engineered to deliver a combination of stability and sustainability, and whether poor producers can benefit from the market opportunities of higher agriculture prices. Instead, if this piece is anything to go by, the Bank seems to have a myopic focus on maintaining the integrity of trade and markets.
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.