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December 2016

#7 from 2016: Joseph de Maistre’s prophecy: Is violence unavoidably human?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on August 4, 2016.  

These days, every day brings news of a fresh outrage somewhere in the world. As the body count grows, empathy fatigue has set in. And the perpetrators of violence must have come to the same conclusion because they are finding ever more imaginative ways to kill innocents and stupefy the rest of us. The question is: is the ubiquity of violence a passing phase in a world that is allegedly getting more civilized? Or is violence simply a part of fundamental human nature? Each day, as the news alerts on my iPhone bring fresh news of horrific killings somewhere in the world, as I get really, really fed up with it all, someone has been coming to my mind. His name is Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), a conservative political philosopher that I studied in graduate school several seasons ago now, and one whose ideas have stayed with me. Last weekend, I went to re-read one of his classic texts: Considerations on France (1796).

The work was a reaction, a fierce and uncompromising one at that, to the French Revolution, much like Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. But, as often happens with the leading figures in the history of political thought, a particular historical event prompted reflections on the nature of man and the judicious organization of political communities.

#8 from 2016: Globalization of Food Has a Long History

Maya Brahmam's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on June 17, 2016.  

Our Green Competitiveness Launchpad team is looking at agriculture supply chains in Bangladesh and how they’re affected by climate change – as farmers change the crops they plant owing to drought or flooding. As a result, we’ve been exploring the supply chains of a number of crops from guavas to sunflower and mung beans.

There’s a fascinating infographic from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) that illustrates the geographical diversity of the common foods we eat every day. It shows that the globalization of food began centuries ago. Many cultures incorporate foods that originated thousands of miles away. For example, sunflower originated in North America and is now widely produced in Eastern Europe, and guava originated in Central America and is now mainly produced in South Asia.

Now Accepting Applications!! The 2017 World Bank - Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

Instituting reforms is challenging. The changing environment of politics, the conflicting interests of multiple stakeholders, and contrary public opinions can all become obstacles to the success of a reform agenda.
 
So how can leaders and change agents create successful and sustainable reforms?

What is the role of strategic communication in planning, implementing and evaluating a reform? Join us for the 2017 World Bank - Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment to find answers to these important questions.
 
The seventh annual Summer Institute will be held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, June 5 - June 16, 2017. During the 10-day program, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation. Participants will develop the skills required to bring about real change, leading to development results. Leaders will also connect with a global network of development professionals working on initiatives in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

S.O.S. from La Paz: send water, please!

Mauricio Ríos's picture
If you wonder what climate change means in real time, and how it impacts people’s lives on a daily basis, just read the news about the on-going water crisis in Bolivia.

Over the past six weeks, hundreds of thousands of people living in El Alto and La Paz -the world’s highest capital- have been subjected to constant water shortages and cuts, which are now reaching dangerous limits:  more than 90 neighborhoods are getting water only every three days, and for three hours only. Others don’t see a drop for more than a week. And the luckier ones are getting water for two hours daily.  (I know this because my extended family lives there).

The administration of President Evo Morales recently declared a state of emergency to cope with one of the worst droughts in the last 25 years. But the water situation has been deteriorating for a long time given that around 25 per cent of the water supply for La Paz and El Alto comes from the rapidly shrinking glaciers in the surrounding Andean Cordillera. Other cities around the country are also being affected by water shortages due to the climate-induced drought.

Add to that the fact that three main dams that supply water to almost two million people in the highlands are almost dry, and no longer depend on the glaciers’ runoff. 

Campaign Art: #2BillionCare – do you?

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report “Trees, forests and land use in drylands” (the first global assessment) 23 hectares of land per minute are lost to desertification. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variations and human activities.” Desertification in return reduces the biological and economic productivity of drylands. Drylands are the land areas that receive relatively low overall amounts of precipitation in the form of rainfall or snow, referring to all lands where the climate is classified as dry, dry-sub-humid, semi-arid and arid, exclusive of hyper-arid areas.

Desertification poses direct threat to the livelihoods of an estimated 2 billion people who live in drylands, which covers about 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface. Desertification, land degradation, scarcity of water, draughts, food shortages, hunger and violence disrupts the lives of millions of people, and pushes them into forced migration. Therefore, the need to deepen our knowledge about desertification, the status of drylands globally, and the ways to improve the management and restoration of them cannot be underestimated.

In order to raise awareness about the importance of the world’s dryland forests, and bring attention to the urgent need to improve the management and restoration of drylands, FAO launched a global campaign #2BillionCare.

#2BillionCare – do you?

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

#9 from 2016: What is the serious conservative approach to politics?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on May 19, 2016.  
 

The word ‘conservative’ has lost all meaning these days, which is both sad and depressing. It is now used as short hand for all manner of romantic reactionaries (who want to go back to some Golden Age), bigots, racists, obscurantists, buffoons, and carnival barkers. Yet modern conservatism is a serious and intelligent approach to politics espoused by some of the finest and deepest minds in the history of political thought. I always say that when I studied political philosophy in graduate school I went into my studies as a political liberal, and while I came out more convinced of the justness and soundness of liberal constitutional democracy, the thinkers that had impressed me the most were mainly conservative political philosophers, particularly David Hume, Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and James Madison. An encounter with these minds is a bracing experience. You do not survive it without your mental architecture being somewhat rearranged.

In what follows, I will attempt a restatement of modern (because it is also, like liberalism, a product of the Enlightenment) conservative political thought as I understand it, and try to indicate why I deeply respect this approach to social and political challenges even if I don’t always agree with it.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Commodity crash has dragged back world’s poorest countries, finds UN
Public Finance International
In a report on the progress of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), published yesterday, the United Nations warned that a drop in international support also means these countries are likely to remain locked in poverty. It predicted the world will miss its target to halve the size of the LDC group by the end of the decade. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders last year and include targets on ending extreme poverty, are also at risk. “These are the countries where the global battle for poverty eradication will be won or lost,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, which produced the report. “A year ago, the global community pledged to ‘leave no one behind’, but that is exactly what is happening to the LDCs.” Global poverty is increasingly concentrated in the 48 LDCs, which comprises mostly of African and Asian nations alongside some Pacific island states and Haiti.

OECD Recommendation of the Council for Development Cooperation Actors on Managing Risks of Corruption
OECD
There is strong awareness among the global community that corruption poses serious threats to development goals and that international development agencies have a common interest in managing and reducing, to the extent possible, the internal and external risks to which aid activities are exposed, in order to obtain effective use of aid resources.  This Recommendation of the Council for Development Co-operation Actors on Managing the Risk of Corruption (Recommendation) promotes a broad vision of how international development agencies can work to address corruption, including the bribery of foreign public officials, and to support these agencies in meeting their international and regional commitments in the area of anti-corruption.

Media (R)evolutions: Social media and communication tools under assault?

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

According to the latest “Freedom on the Net ” report “In a new trend, governments increasingly target messaging and voice communication apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram.” Annual report of the Freedom House, it tracks improvements and declines in governments’ policies and practices. This year the report covered 65 countries.  

While Facebook and Twitter have long been targeted by governments, silencing messaging apps is somewhat new.

Messaging apps have become an integral part of peoples’ lives, enabling millions of them to communicate with their friends and family much easier, faster, and cheaper. If messaging apps are so helpful in connecting people, why do governments target them so much? One of the main reasons is encryption! In addition to low, or often no cost associated with them, messaging apps also offer a sense of security not often available in other modes of communication. Many messaging apps, like WhatsApp, use encryption. Encryption ensures that messages are secured and encrypted, making it harder, if not impossible, for governments, to monitor content.
 

Source: Freedom House

#10 from 2016: Nudge for good: How insights from behavioral economics can improve the world— and manipulate people

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally posted on August 16, 2016.
 
Richard H. Thaler is a world-renowned behavioral economist and professor of finance and psychology. Recently, he was interviewed by The Economist. The discussion covers some of the fundamental studies in the field, like “save more tomorrow” which encourages people to save more by signing up to increase their savings rate every year and auto-enrollment for pensions that have drastically increased employee participation in pension funds.

Thaler also suggests, in the interview, that behavioral economics has the ability to influence human behavior for both good and bad. He argues that much of what behavioral economics does is remove barriers. The goal is not to change people but to make life easier, but that idea can be skewed by organizations or individuals looking to capitalize on the biases of people. Whenever he is asked to sign a copy of his book Nudge, he writes “nudge for good” which is a plea, he says, to improve the lives of people and avoid insidious behavior.

The list of ways companies nudge behavior is endless, and I would love to hear more examples from you all in the comments section. In the meantime here are a few- I’ll let you judge which ones “nudge for good”:

Is it time to move on from Stats and Numbers to Metaphor and Narrative?

Duncan Green's picture

Post Brexit and US elections, I’ve been doing some thinking about how we talk to people. It seems to me that, along with much of the aid and development sector, and quite a few other social change movements, we have been in thrall to the power of numbers and evidence. Everyone is a policy wonk these days.

The trouble is, as this year’s political events have shown, we are in a world of public debate that if not exactly post-truth (truth means different things to different people), feels very post-evidence or post-fact. Actually I think it’s probably always been like that, but people were more willing in the past to defer to experts and their alien language. The death of deference (good thing) means they are now no longer willing to do so (not so sure).

So what does this mean for those of us working on progressive social change? I think we need to at least partly put aside our preference for number crunching and lists of policy recommendations, and make greater use of metaphors or narratives instead.

This goes back to the long-standing discussions on framing – what kind of emotions are we trying to evoke? What is the underlying picture of the world? I would say positive emotions like trust, love, pride and self-reliance, laced with anger at injustice and discrimination.

What kind of narrative or metaphor could capture that? As an example, we could do worse than London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s soundbite that we should be building bridges not walls. That seems to conjure up exactly the right blend of emotions – optimism in the face of a threat.

Quote of the week: Marina Abramović

Sina Odugbemi's picture
"A few days ago I woke up and I looked at the Guardian and I read the critic saying that my work was honest, remarkable. Then I read the New York Times, who said the complete opposite. Oh my god, did you see that one? This said I was pretentious, outrageous, masochist - completely pretentious and fake. My life has always been too hot or too cold, never in between, and these two articles were exactly like that."

- Marina Abramović is a performance artist. She is based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience.

Quoted in Financial Times Weekend print edition December 3, 2016 "Lunch with the FT Marina Abramovic" by Jan Dalley.

Photo credit: By Manfred Werner / Tsui [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Great Gatsby Goes to College

Shwetlena Sabarwal's picture


Nick Carraway, the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, remembers his father saying, “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone … just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”

What advantages? For starters, wealth, power, and in today’s developed world - college.

In the U.S., the college wage premium has risen rapidly since 1980 – causing a widening earnings gap between the college and non-college educated. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn over $800,000 more in lifetime income, on average, than those with high school diplomas. In the OECD, the college wage premium averages at 28 percent for male, full-time working employees - ranging from 18 per cent in Sweden to 50 per cent in the Slovak Republic. 

As higher education expanded, college wage premiums were expected to decline. So why are they high and, often, increasing?

The consensus seems to point to increased computerization and automation in labor markets. Technology is expanding the demand for the college educated, at the expense of the non-college educated. This ‘job polarization’ in the labor market, manifests as the growth of high-education/high-wage jobs at the expense of middle-education/middle-wage jobs. This is increasingly visible not just in advanced economies, but also in the developing world. According to the Word Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, the share of middle-skilled employment is down in most developing countries for which detailed data are available.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

For Every Child, End AIDS: Seventh Stocktaking Report, 2016
UNICEF

Despite remarkable achievements in the prevention and treatment of HIV, this report finds that progress has been uneven globally. In 2015, more than half of the world’s new infections (1.1 million out of 2.1 million) were among women, children and adolescents, and nearly 2 million adolescents aged 10–19 were living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most impacted by HIV, three in four new infections in 15–19-year-olds were among girls. The report proposes strategies for preventing HIV among women, children and adolescents who have been left behind, and treating those who are living with HIV.

Navigating Complexity: Climate, Migration, and Conflict in a Changing World
Wilson Center/USAID Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation
Climate change is expected to contribute to the movement of people through a variety of means. There is also significant concern climate change may influence violent conflict. But our understanding of these dynamics is evolving quickly and sometimes producing surprising results. There are considerable misconceptions about why people move, how many move, and what effects they have. In a discussion paper for USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, the Environmental Change and Security Program presents a guide to this controversial and consequential nexus of global trends. Building off a workshop held at the Wilson Center last year, we provide a background scan of relevant literature and an in-depth analysis of the high-profile cases of Darfur and Syria to discern policy-relevant lessons from the latest research.

Campaign Art: #BeatMe

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

In order to raise public awareness about violence against women and girls around the world, in 2008 the United Nations Secretary-General launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, with the objective to bring together a number of agencies committed to end violence against women and girls. 

Gender based violence is a human rights violation that needs to be rooted out. “In 2012, 1 in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family. Only 1 out of 20 of all men killed were killed in such circumstances” – reports UN Women, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In order to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals, violence against women and girls needs to be at the forefront of the global agenda. 

Leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25), UN Women Pakistan published a powerful campaign video focusing on women’s rights.

This powerful video showcases a woman daring a man to beat her at things she is good at. It as an unusual campaign video, with a dramatic plot line, aiming to inspire women.

 
#BeatMe | I Am UNbeatable

Source of the video: UN Women

Bill Gates did it, will.i.am did it, Mayor Bloomberg did it and even the POTUS did it. Shouldn't you? An hour of Code for *you* the Busy Development Professionals

Tanya Gupta's picture

Computer Science Education Week has already kicked off (December 5 - 11, 2016) and it is a pretty big deal. One hour of code for everyone (no experience needed) is a part of that. The focus is on getting children involved. But what about busy professionals? Can it be useful for them, too? We think the answer to that is yes. This blog will teach you to code in Google Apps Script (GAS for short) in sixty minutes or less. There are two main reasons we chose GAS.

One, GAS is an easy to use scripting language that can help you write programs to solve common coding problems. We chose GAS because it is very easy to get started and offers some great features for saving your files in the cloud and working with different kinds of files. You need to be able to use Google Drive to write basic scripts in GAS.

Secondly, as our regular readers may know, this is the seventh blog of the technology aided gut (TAG) checks series. So far in this series, we have focused on the tools and techniques of a just-in-time learning strategy, and how to use TAG checks to make conclusions about data. In this blog we wanted to focus on some basic programming that will help illustrate how powerful (and easy!) just a little code education can be. GAS is perfect for this purpose.

N.B. You can do some pretty nifty stuff in GAS and here is the result of more professional code we have written entirely in GAS. This is an Add-On for Google Docs to create word clouds

Now -- all you need is a gmail account to get started.

(͡• ͜ʖ ͡•) GET SET AND START YOUR CLOCK
MINUTE TO MINUTE
While logged into Gmail, go to https://drive.google.com/. If this is your first time, you will see something like this:


 

Media, participation and social inclusion: what are the links?

BBC Media Action's picture

This blog was originally posted on the BBC Media Action Insight blog.

Reviewing the results of a survey of 23,000 people across seven countries, Chris Snow looks at the potential of media to engage even hard-to-reach groups in politics.


Around the world, people are disillusioned with their rulers. From South Africa to Brazil to South Korea, corruption scandals have helped fuel discontent with politicians. Young East Africans feel excluded from decision-making processes and blocked from having a say in how society is run. 61% of people in the Middle East are dissatisfied with how the political system works in their country.

Yet despite the global frustration with government, ordinary people persist in feeling they can make a difference and are still motivated to participate in politics. Seeking to understand how media affects participation, BBC Media Action surveyed over 23,000 people across seven African and Asian countries about their political activities, ranging from voting to protesting. We found that media, when rooted in a commitment to open and balanced discussion, can be an effective tool for engaging even hard-to-reach groups in politics.

Quote of the week: Tony Blair

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The world's going to integrate more. It may integrate fast or slow, but it will integrate. Because technology, travel, migration, trade are bringing the world closer together. If you take a step back and you look at the broad sweep of history, this is actually a great time for humanity in many ways. You've had more people out of poverty than ever before in human history."

- Tony Blair -  Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 - 2007.

Quoted in NewStatesman November 24, 2016 "Tony Blair's Unfinished Business" by Jason Cowley.

Photo credit: Müller / MSC [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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What is this thing called ‘populism’? : Jan-Werner Müller hoes the weeds

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the most astounding features of public debate and discussion is how many times this occurs: a word acquires wide currency, even notoriety, yet its boundaries remain limitless and, very often, nobody really knows what it means. Because of current events around the world, right now the best example of such a word is “populism”. For instance, I read a special section in Foreign Affairs recently titled ‘The Power of Populism’ and after reading several of the essays I still could not make out the precise  meaning of the concept. Right now, what seems clear is that being called a ‘populist’ is not a good thing. It suggests that you are somehow a demagogue, and that you have something to do with getting large numbers of people worked up, and that you are generally up to no good.

In search of conceptual clarity, I recently acquired and read a new book by Jan-Werner Müller, a professor of politics at Princeton University. The book is titled simply: What is Populism? (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). It is a short, lucid, and exceedingly intelligent book.  Müller starts the book by demonstrating the ‘conceptual chaos’ around ‘populism’. The concept, he shows, is deployed fairly carelessly. It is a contested concept. He goes on to demolish what he calls definitional dead ends, that is, suggestions in public debate and discussion that populism means one or all of the following things:
  • A particular psychological cast (you can fill in the terms of abuse you have heard!);
  • A particular class of citizens (like those famous non-college educated voters!);
  • A particular set of daft or simplistic policies; or
  • A particular style of politics (boorishness, incivility or the famous paranoid style etc.).

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Freedom on the Net 2016- Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps Under Pressure
Freedom House
Internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year, with more governments than ever before targeting social media and communication apps as a means of halting the rapid dissemination of information, particularly during anti-government protests. Public-facing social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been subject to growing censorship for several years, but in a new trend, governments increasingly target voice communication and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. These services are able to spread information and connect users quickly and securely, making it more difficult for authorities to control the information landscape or conduct surveillance.

The limitations of randomised controlled trials
VOX/The Centre for Economic Policy Research
In recent years, the use of randomised controlled trials has spread from labour market and welfare programme evaluation to other areas of economics, and to other social sciences, perhaps most prominently in development and health economics. This column argues that some of the popularity of such trials rests on misunderstandings about what they are capable of accomplishing, and cautions against simple extrapolations from trials to other contexts.