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Cross-post: a (somewhat provocative) piece from the IDS Blog, addressing the increasing focus in many development programmes on bringing “youth” into labour markets, and some of the issues that are missed in the process.

Youth and young people are becoming a hot topic among development donors and actors. But who exactly do these “labels” apply to, and are they too broad for effective policies? Or do they create too narrow a focus which is blind to larger structural issues?

Varyingly, youth are identified as “at risk” – of unemployment, of marginalisation or abuses – or “as risk”, where they may engage in undesirable activities from crime to terrorism, armed violence or migration. However, there are also many calls to understand youth “as opportunity”, particularly in the context of Africa’s “youth bulge” and its promise of a vast demographic dividend.

A recent visit to the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) and some great discussions with research colleagues there, brought some clarity into the interlinked promises and problems arising from development actors’ burgeoning interest in youth and work. Clearly, a better understanding of the specific vulnerabilities and needs of particular young subpopulations is useful, and related efforts should be welcomed.

But if applied wrongly, a simplistic focus on young people (or a narrow “youth lens”) may obscure more than it illuminates. The reasons include categories that are too unclear, heterogeneous needs and what a “youth” focus misses.

In the context of questions around young people’s labour market prospects, particularly in agriculture, which both IDS and KIT are working on, these are particularly salient.

Read more on the IDS blog.

(phil)

 

Yesterday, the papal encyclical “Laudato Sii” was finally released. Environmentally engaged members of the Roman Catholic Church have awaited this day with cautious excitement since January 2014, when it was first announced that Pope Francis prepares such a document on “the ecology of mankind”. Over the last months, the event has also received remarkable attention in the wider public all over the globe.

The release of the encyclical exemplifies how religious actors can influence regulatory processes. Short-term, it may affect current political events with judgments about concrete political choices, influencing their (il)legitimacy. For instance, the papal encyclical calls the final document of the Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, “ineffective”. Further,

the strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. […] it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors (Laudato Sii).

The release may also create a new momentum of debate and hope in the year of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in Paris during which parties aim for a new, legally binding agreement.

Long-term, it is a significant theological document meant to give direction to contemporary Catholicism and 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. Even if we cannot know how it will be interpreted in thirty years from now, its effect is likely to last longer than the next international climate agreement. But despite or especially because of its character, it enfolds its dynamic only with its reception by an audience willing and eager to engage with it. At least three factors have helped to turn the publication of the encyclical into a widely received event which is likely to deserve all the hope that is attached to it.

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One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. “Blue Collar Professor” Shawn Humphrey is the initiator of the student-oriented Month of Microfinance and the Two Dollar Challenge. He teaches a variety of development-related courses in most fascinating ways, among other things having his students sleep in cardboard box shelters and (for better or worse) roping them into the operations of a Honduran microfinance institution. 

Usually narrated in a personal, essayistic style, Humphrey’s blog offers candid and often bravely self-critical insights into the vicissitudes of trying to “do good” and “development” – and of teaching American students how/how not to do it. Even though they’re hardly always up my alley (as with the suggestion that “doing good” is a “market”) and not always palatable, Humphrey’s musings are ever thought-provoking, sometimes philosophical, and overall highly relevant given this blog’s consistent interest in ethical questions over social justice and philanthropy. It is my pleasure therefore (as the ninth instalment in our occasional series about great series on other blogs) to introduce “Do-Goodernomics / Do’s and Don’ts of Doing Good” with this reprinting of parts of some of my favourite posts.

We were just finishing up our conversation with Clementina when another van full of Gringos arrived. A middle-aged man in a ball cap and shades bounded over to us. “What are you all doing here?” he asked with a hint of accusation. I introduced myself and my students. I began a review of our microfinance program. And, somewhere between “no fees” and “no penalties” he lost interest.  “You know” he interrupted me. “Before we got here…,” there was a dramatic pause and a deep draw of breath “they had nothing.” He swept his hand over the small community of 30-plus families in makeshift shelters. “We built that meeting house. We built those two public restrooms. We are building that home.” He turned to place his eyes on my eyes. He removed his shades. He raised his cap. “You know without us I do not know whether or not they would have survived.”

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This blog is provided by our guest blogger Kristen Hopewell. Kristen Hopewell is an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada and has been a visitor of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in 2013.

After protracted and contentious negotiations among trade ministers in Bali last month, the WTO announced agreement on a new global trade deal.  The so-called “Bali package” is being touted as an historic achievement and a victory for the WTO.

However, such claims should be met with considerable skepticism.  In reality, the deal stuck at Bali is of limited consequence and the hype surrounding it is intended to mask the deeper failure of the Doha Round. Read the rest of this entry »

On October 2nd thirty years ago, Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, the world’s most famous microfinance institution, by the grace of a special ordinance from dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. The German radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk decided to commemorate this event with a 15-minute piece which included an interview with yours truly and with the incredibly well grassroots-informed Andrea Rahaman of non-microfinance NGO MATI.

Though not every statement of mine was used in context – for instance my explanation of the high costs incurred by lending tiny sums and collecting them in weekly instalments, illustrating the inefficiency of microfinance-based poverty relief – I like how the piece directly contrasts Yunus’ pathos-ridden and impressionistic proclamations with Andrea’s and my own sober descriptions of the reality of microfinance in science and on the ground. Thanks to this technique, Andrea and I perhaps got as close to having a real debate with the Gandhi of finance as any regular mortal can; though others certainly have tried, like Tom Heinemann (view part 4 / 2:40 of the documentary, to see Yunus almost comically avoiding speaking to the journalist). Read the rest of this entry »

It’s good to see microfinance researchers seriously studying alternatives to microloans or other microfinancial services. Very poor people need assets and a helping hand more than a loan, so why not hand out a cow or some other income-generating assets, offer training, and provide basic healthcare? That’s what an 18-month “Ultra-Poor Programme” run by SKS Microfinance in India did. But the randomised impact evaluation performed by Jonathan Morduch of New York University, Shamika Ravi of the Indian School of Business and Jonathan Bauchet of Purdue University on this programme turned up a “null” result, similar to those of randomised studies of microfinance.

Perhaps it is surprising to see SKS Microfinance (India’s largest microlender before 2010, and now perhaps most notorious microlender) giving non-repayable one-off kickstarts to ultra-poor households. But the intention of the programme was not purely altruistic; it was to “graduate” households into microfinance, by giving them assets to start a business.

In the programme in Andhra Pradesh evaluated by Morduch/Ravi/Bauchet, people who got a free asset and training to become microentrepreneurs were found to be no better off later than those who didn’t. They also didn’t manage to reduce their debts or increase their savings any more than others. Why? The authors believe it is

explained in large part by substitution with other economic activities. […] During the study period, wages in agricultural labor were rising steadily in the region, so that households in the control group were able to improve their economic conditions in parallel with households in the treatment group. (35)

The opportunities outside the self-employment programme offered similarly improving incomes as the opportunities offered by the programme itself. To what conclusion should this lead us about the concept of entrepreneurial self-lift out of poverty? Overall, the take-home message from the authors is eminently logical:

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“The Baby trade is likely to continue to grow, partly it is no longer simply a response to wars and humanitarian crises. For better or worse, it now behaves much like a commodities market, with demand informing supply; and neither demand nor supply is likely to subside.” – Ethan Kapstein 2003

Since Madonna and Angelina Jolie famously adopted children from Africa, the international adoption system is under fire.  The suspicion is that the system may be driven by market forces and profit seeking, and that regulations and international conventions just camouflage (illegal) market practices and facilitate the trafficking of children.  Clearly, international adoptions are serious normative and political issues for the “sending” countries because children are normally understood as “sacred” and are loaded “with sentimental or religious meaning” (Zelizer 1985: 11). They should be protected, educated and loved.

The international dispersion of these ideas is reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which has been signed by 193 countries until now, who

proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance …  [children] should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding …  in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Extra commercium

The idea of child protection clearly reserves them “a separate noncommercial place, extra-commercium” (Zelizer, ibid.). However, although it is prohibited, child trafficking is still a worldwide phenomenon. Usually it takes place between “Third World” countries and the industrialized western world, and it appears in different forms. Especially the practice of “child laundering” has gained high attention. Read the rest of this entry »

A colleague forwarded an excellent article by Peter Buffett (son of the “Oracle of Omaha” but also someone with his own list of impressive achievements) in the New York Times. Peter Buffett critiques what he calls the “Charitable-Industrial Complex”: a global feel-good industry in the business of alleviating guilt.

New York Times: The Charitable-Industrial Complex

Ironic illustration from the op-ed

©2013 The New York Times Company

The failures of present day large, organised philanthropy, Buffett argues, extend beyond just naively transplanting unsuitable ideas (“philanthropic colonialism”) to new places. Particularly the business-infused variant of philanthropy feeds a desire for cheap “conscience laundering”, making the rich and powerful complacent about their own part in creating social problems. Analogously to medieval indulgences, the Charitable-Industrial Complex promises easy absolution from wrongs committed in the pursuit of profits:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

The Buffetts aren’t exactly known for mincing their words. Warren (the investor and father) is known for his television statement “there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.” (See also: the Daily Show’s take.) “Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction” – also Warren B.

Read the rest of this entry »

How did tobacco and smoking become a global health policy issue? This article – the third in our series (1, 2) on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – examines the critical juncture at which new information, new information technology and an emergent transnational activism combined to produce a new agenda for reducing the impact of NCDs.

Corinthian steamers

Health hazards of smoking in 1824: the flaming moustache

(Detail from “Corinthian Steamers”. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon the time, the multi-billion dollar tobacco industry appeared legally impregnable, and held enough sway to turn United Nations (UN) organisations against the World Health Organisation (WHO) to neutralise global tobacco control efforts.

A 1999 World Bank report estimated that four million people died annually from tobacco-related illnesses and predicted the number to rise to ten million by 2030, with 70% of these deaths occurring in “developing” countries. According to Taylor and Bettcher, 800 million of the 1.25 billion smokers worldwide lived in developing countries in 2000.

However, within the emerging global health community, a transnational anti-tobacco movement was gaining momentum by the late 1990s. One major shift in approach by the WHO was the development of a new anti-smoking initiative within its new commitment to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs increasingly became a legitimate area of WHO involvement, which was concerned about tobacco as the second leading NCD risk factor, causing 9% of mortality worldwide.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thirteen years ago the largest-ever gathering of world leaders took place on 8 September 2000 at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, where the UN Millennium Declaration was made. The Declaration was the most supported, ambitious and specific list of global development goals agreed upon to date, and established a list of commitments to reduce extreme poverty by 2015 which became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Millennium Development Goals set in 2000

Source: United Nations

The MDGs were significant for global development cooperation due to their ability to stimulate global support, specifically financial resources. Many aid agencies and donors used them to direct their funding projects, and several governments also largely founded their health strategies upon them to receive external funding, which could comprise over 50 per cent of the state’s health budget. The MDGs thereby created a specific global development agenda, which some critics however now argue was not entirely in tune with the real needs of development of low- and middle-income countries. For example, proponents of a greater focus on non-communicable diseases (NCD) criticise that despite NCDs are now the leading cause of death worldwide, they did not receive a single mention in the 2000 MDGs.

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
June 2017
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