17 December 2009

Articles and Books of the Decade from IDS Staff

I am a big one for lists.

I asked my colleagues for their top reads of the decade, and this is what they sent me. You will see contributions from many disciplines, nationalities and paradigms. This is one of the things that makes IDS so wonderful (admittedly I am biased).

I hope you find this an enjoyable and useful read--I discovered several books and papers through this process and I hope you will too. To find out more about the authors click here.

Jeremy Allouche

James Mahoney. 2001. The Legacies of Liberalism: Path Dependence and Political Regimes in Central America. Johns Hopkins University Press.

I enjoyed this book since it brought back the long term historical perspective needed in social science approaches and did so in a solid methodological 'American' way, bringing together long term processes and 'rational' decision making, bringing the path dependency approach and methodology to political science and international relations. The book illustrates how nineteenth-century economic liberalism represented an important historical critical juncture for the region. In particular it analyses the legacies of the introduction of liberalism in the 19th century on the national development strategies and political economy of Central America. As we look forward in development in 2010 we need to remember to learn from the past.

Niagalé Bagayoko

Jeremy Weinstein. 2006. Inside Rebellion: the Politics of Insurgent Violence. Cambridge University Press.

This books deals with why rebellions abuse civilians in some contexts and not in others. Its purpose is to shift the focus of a body of research from the causes of civil war to the question of the determinants of violence within civil wars. In conceptualizing strategy as a problem of institutional choice, Weinstein explains the distinct set of organizational challenges confronted by rebel leaders and then turns to the factors that shape how individual respond in the process of organizing violence. The main strength and originality of the book is the methodology: bringing the tools of ethnographic research to bear on internal dynamics of rebel organizations. The author chose to draw heavily on personal perspectives on rebellion. The book reflects Weinstein’s interpretation of the stories told by individuals who participated in and experienced rebellion. Finally, the book offers a starting point for thinking about how instruments of influence mobilized by policy-makers may vary in their effectiveness across rebel organizations.

Marc Berenson

Jason Brownlee. 2007. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Brownlee begins with a very timely and apt puzzle for the 2000s: why is authoritarianism so darn persistent in some areas of the globe? Through extensive and unique field work in four fascinating and important cases—Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and the Philippines, Brownlee discovers that the role that ruling parties play in authoritarian states and in particular the degree of strength and solidarity that these parties maintain is a deciding factor in whether and how such parties rule on—even by holding elections. This book argues that the answer to the conundrum of authoritarianism—and all the ramifications of authoritarianism for the welfare of multitudes of people around the globe—lies in the origins, histories and paths of political institutions. There is still a good bit of the world that proves to be highly resistant to the democratization bandwagon.

Robert Chambers

Gomathy S. Parasuraman, Kumaran Raj and Bina Fernandez. 2003. Listening to People Living in Poverty, Books for Change, 139 Richmond Road, Bangalore 5321747, 350 pages, paperback.

This is a shocking reality check based on over 250 life stories of people living in poverty in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam, as told to ActionAid researchers. 29 of these life stories are recounted in the book. They surprise and inspire. They ignite outrage at the gross injustices and exploitations of our world, and admiration for those who live in poverty and struggle against appalling odds for a better life. They make you angry. They drive you. They energise. And beyond that, what makes this such an outstanding book, and top of my list, is that these are not just case studies. The authors have used them as an empirical basis for analysis that is at once passionate, scholarly, insightful and original, shedding light on aspects of poverty, like the labouring body, which are central to the experiences of many poor people but easily and often overlooked by professionals.

Lawrence Haddad

Diana Coyle. 2007. The Soulful Science. What Economists Really do and Why it Matters. Princeton University Press.

Economics is in the doghouse right now. This book reminds me of why I like economics. It shows how economics has adapted itself to incorporate irrational human behaviour, the interconnectedness of human behaviour and how it has moved beyond a strict adherence to the neoclassical model, incorporating complexity and uncertainty as friends, not enemies. One day all undergraduate economics textbooks will be like this.

Susie Jolly

Ipek Ilkkaracan and Gülsah Seral. 2000. “Sexual Pleasure as a Woman’s Human Right: Experiences from a Grassroots Training Program in Turkey.” pp. 187-196 in Pinar Ilkkaracan, ed., Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies. Istanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights.

Women for Women’s Human Rights, a Turkish NGO, has run human rights trainings for over 5000 women in rural, often conservative Muslim areas of Turkey. These trainings include a session on exploring sexual desires, which introduces the concept of ‘sexual pleasure as a woman’s human rights’. This session is overwhelmingly the most popular with trainees! This short snappy book chapter tells the story of these trainings – an encouraging account that shows us that even in contexts of violence and constraint, openings can be created for pleasure, enjoyment and happiness in life. An influential book in women’s health circles and beyond.

Patrica Justino

Roger Petersen. 2001. Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe. Cambridge University Press

The main question is very simple: How and why do ordinary people rebel against powerful and brutal regimes? And so is the main conclusion: the choices and behaviour of ordinary people matter significantly in making change happen. However this is a complex scientific analysis on the significance of collective action, and one of the very best illustrations on how to undertake true theoretical and empirical multidisciplinary analysis.

Elizabeth Maddison

Paul Collier. 2008. The Bottom Billion, Oxford University Press

For me, coming new to the development landscape (I am the Director of Strategic Operations at IDS), this book is a great example of writing for the general reader – making learning and research accessible; it is an effective polemic – a snappy title capturing something profoundly important, entering public discourse and influencing public policy. It is properly provocative, evidence-rich, critical, challenging – and finally (just) optimistic.

Edoardo Masset

Karla Hoff and Priyanka Pandey . 2006. Discrimination, Social Identity, and Durable Inequalities. The American Economic Review, Vol. 96, No. 2 (May, 2006), pp. 206-211

There are at least three reasons why I like this article. First, it is trying to answer one of the most difficult questions in social sciences: why there is so much inequality and discrimination in the world? Second, because is a bit like the collider at CERN. The collider tries to explain the universe by looking at the infinitively small. Similarly this paper wants to explain caste discrimination by exploring a few young minds in a small Indian village rather than by grand theorising. Finally, I think it is a great example of the value of combining social sciences approaches: economics and psychology in this case. In fact I believe that economics may be doomed to failure if it doesn’t take this route more boldly.

Rachel Sabates Wheeler

Philippe Legrain. 2006. Immigrants: Your County Needs Them. Little, Brown.

This is a great book - myth busting, provocative, engages with contemporary agendas, political, built on evidence and written in a very accessible way. Fresh thinking about the X-word.

Hubert Schmitz

Dani Rodrik. 2007. Industrial Policy for the twenty-first century. Published in One Economics – Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions and Economic Growth, Princeton 2007

Rodrik argues that getting the institutional setting right, with an adequate balance between autonomy and embeddedness on the part of government officials, is far more important than worrying about the precise policy instruments to be deployed. This proposition is not new for political scientists, but seeing it presented so clearly by an influential economist is new. The entire book is as good as this Chapter.

John Thompson

Kates, R.W. Clark, W.C., Corell, R., Hall, J.M., Jaeger, C., Lowe, I., McCarthy, J.J., Schellnhuber, H.J., Bolin, B., Dickson, N.M., Faucheux, S., Gallopin, G.C., Gruebler, A., Huntley, B., Jäger, J., Jodha, N.S., Kasperson, R.E., Mabogunje, A., Matson, P., Mooney, H., Moore III, B., O’Riordan, T., Svedin, U. 2001. Sustainability Science. Science 292:641-2.

Over the past decade, there have been significant attempts at defining a new science of Sustainability. Geographers, in particular, have highlighted the need for an integrative science linking natural and social sciences to address the challenges of global change and ‘regions at risk’ from natural hazards and disasters. Questions of scale interactions – across both space and time – and uncertainties resulting from complex system dynamics are highlighted in much of this work. A regional, place-based approach is also advocated, allowing such integrative approaches to environment and development problems to be pursued in located ways. Perhaps the most important publication to have emerged over this period is the multi-authored article by Robert Kates, William Clark, et al. on ‘Sustainability Science’, which appeared in Science in 2001. Since then there has been an explosion of interest in the subject, including the launch of multiple research programmes, graduate training courses and numerous specialised journals and websites featuring the latest writings on nature-society interactions and applying the resulting knowledge to create a sustainability transition around the world.


Richard Longhurst

John Le Carre. 2001. The Constant Gardener, Hodder and Stoughton.

A 'can't put down' narrative. It confronts issues of corruption, the role of governments and business and how civil society advocates confront these in turn. The producer of the film, Simon Channing Williams died earlier in the year, and he believed in responsible film making, to help the communities the film crew had met and worked with during the shoot. Therefore he set up the Constant Gardener Trust which has built sanitation facilities in the Kibera slums in Nairobi and a secondary school in the north.

07 December 2009

Politics in the Traders Port

The recent hacking into the email exchanges of scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit--and the continued furore over their contents--shows how much is at stake in designing climate change policy. Too often the debate is described in the media as sceptics versus believers. The debate is much more nuanced---there are several dividing lines which generate a complex picture.

1. Is the earth’s changing temperature exhibiting a long term upward trend?
2. If there is a trend, does it have anything to do with human activity?
3. If it is human activity, do we need to change behaviour or will technology--working silently in the background-- solve most of it?
4. If we do need to change behaviour, does it need to be done quickly (i.e. perhaps sacrificing some growth today) or not?
5. If it does need to be changed quickly, do we only act nationally if it is within a multinational agreement?
6. Whether or not we only act within a multinational agreement, do poorer countries deserve help given that they have not caused the problems?
7. Whatever the actions we take, do we rely primarily on market forces or on governance agreements to incentivise behaviour change?

These choices describe at least 11 positions and there are many more with further twists.

The scientific consensus as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 4 is that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations”. Even this is contested by some. Beyond this, the evidence becomes less
certain. The projections look bad for most regions and especially bad for regions such as sub-Saharan Africa that have the least capacity to adapt. But in the wake of the economic models that could not warn us of the global financial crisis, rightly or wrongly, many people have lost confidence in the ability of equations to forecast anything.

We know that the use of science is political. Many would also say that the governance of science is vulnerable to ideology and the tribalism it brings. Given the state of climate science, it is surprising that there have not been more political science analyses of climate outcomes.

One analysis that has been getting a lot of airtime is by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita in the Nov/Dec issue of Foreign Policy. Bueno de Mesquita is a professor of political science at New York University. His game theory analysis of the talks at Copenhagen suggests failure. His argument centres on the assertion that anything which 192countries can agree to--without the clarity and urgency of the barbarians at the gate--will not ask them to do very much or, if it does, will not have any enforcement mechanism.

If the threats were more visible, even if we did not know their likelihood, then surely most would be willing, in effect, to buy a planetary insurance policy. But at the moment, too many people are willing to play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of future generations. It is tough to convince people to buy insurance for something that has never happened before.

But all hope is not lost—far from it. Many think that if the US, EU, China and India can engage in a series of enforceable bilateral agreements on climate and trade then some kind of global deal can be worked out post-Copenhagen.

Back in the 12th century Copenhagen was called 'the Traders' Port'. Over the next 2 weeks there will be a lot of horse trading going on in that city. Let’s hope it is underpinned by real leadership from the big 4, otherwise the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) may end up generating a feelgood roadmap to a very bad neighbourhood.

05 December 2009

Progress in Measuring Progress?

Forty years ago Dudley Seers, one of the great development economists, published the “Meaning of Development” in which he called for GDP to be “dethroned”. As we end the first decade of the third millennium, GDP is still regal. Changes in GDP define whether we are in a recession, depression or boom. Goldman Sachs signal China and India’s emergence as global players on the basis of their GDP. International aid is targeted using GDP. The list goes on.

But the pursuit of GDP as a measure of progress is under attack. First, there is the work that seems to indicate a disconnect between GDP and people’s sense of wellbeing--the economist Richard Layard suggests that this delinking occurs around $20,000 GDP per capita. Second, there is the work that suggests current measures of GDP do not pay enough attention to the tradeoffs with future GDP (see Stern review). Finally, current measures of GDP don’t say anything about justice—who wins, who loses, and who makes the decisions.

Nicholas Sarkozy has set up the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress to look into the production of more relevant indicators of social progress. The Commission is chaired by Joseph Stiglitz and advised by Amartya Sen.

I have only read the long summary of the long report. But as far as I can tell there are no surprises.

The headlines are:

• focus on income and consumption (and wealth) rather than production
• focus on the household perspective
• give more prominence to distribution of income and well being
• well being is multidimensional with potential tradeoffs between different dimensions
• combine different measures of well being to generate different composite indices
• both objective and subjective indices should be collected
• sustainability is harder to measure than current wellbeing, aggregation between current and future wellbeing is often not meaningful and some natural environment indicators defy monetary equivalents due to irreversibilities.

This is all sensible and there are thorny technical challenges of measurement, comparability, and aggregation to be sorted out, but not that much that is new.

I am more interested in the political economy of indicators.

• How much of this is relevant for the poorest countries? Just because there is a statistical association between GDP/capita and wellbeing indicators at the lower end of the global income distribution does not mean GDP/capita is still regal. But in reality, many of the new indices are going to mean massive investments in the capacity of National Statistical Offices to collect them—will we set up a “progress partition” and does it matter? Are there cheaper ways to get human indices of human development? Indicators of infant nutrition may be one such set: valid across countries and combining concepts of current consumption and future potential.

• Many have long been pushing for greater use of the Human Development Index (which combines GDP, life expectancy and education attainments and enrolment), for a separate MDG on inequality, and for better measures of hunger....all to no avail. Why have these calls not landed on more fertile ground? There are many vested interests clinging to their indicators. What is the trigger to change the systems?

• Finally, note that the report is addressed, first of all, to political leaders. What capacity, incentives and willingness do they have to grapple with complex dashboard indicators in a context where decisions often have to be made quickly and where large minorities of their citizens do not believe in official statistics?

The Commission regards the report as opening the discussion rather than closing it. I hope that some of the dialogue will focus the political and institutional dimensions rather than solely on the technical. We are good at increasing the supply of credible indicators, but not at stimulating the demand for their credible use. Dudley Seers may have called for the dethroning of GDP in 1969 but it will not be easily dragged out of the palace.

01 December 2009

Is "power to the people" a panacea?

Two new papers have come to my attention recently. They are unusual in that they bring the tools of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to the issue of participation in development interventions. RCTs are the random allocation of the intervention to treatment and control groups with baselines and follow up surveys.

The first, by Abhijit Banerjee and colleagues from MIT investigates the effectiveness of 6 types of participatory intervention on community involvement in schools, teacher effort and learning outcomes in Uttar Pradesh, India. One of the 6 interventions has a positive (large) effect on reading. The others have no effect. The interventions were designed as follows: 1: information on school norms and provisions is made available and large groups of school officials and community leaders are organised to discuss, 2: information on school norms and provisions made available and small groups of school officials and community leaders discuss, 3: as 1, but with design of a report card on school and community comparison with other schools and community discussion, 4: as 3, but with smaller groups, 5: as 3 but with training and encouragement of volunteers to show how child reading skills can be encouraged, 6: as 5 but with smaller groups.

Intervention 6 was the successful one, but only because of the added “direct control small group component”. In other words, giving villagers information about the state of their schools was not enough—it required encouragement and training, in small groups, to turn this information into an intervention that improved learning outcomes (intervention children were 60% more likely to decipher words than the control groups one year on).

They conclude that “it seems clear that the current faith in participation as a panacea for the problems of service delivery is unwarranted”.

The second paper is by Martina Bjorkman and Jakob Svennson (Quarterly J. of Economics May 2009) of Bocconi University and the Centre for Economic Policy Research and focuses on community based monitoring of public primary health care providers in Uganda. Here the intervention consists of a report card (designed by the community for its own treatment facility) and the development of a community contract between patients and medical staff. The community then used the cards to monitor facility performance. The intervention has large impacts on under 5 mortality rates and on weight for age scores for infants (underweight). The authors estimate that it costs $300 to avert a child death using this intervention which is well below the average cost of $887 for 23 other child survival interventions. The authors conclude by stating that “future research should address long term effects (of the intervention), identify which mechanisms or combination of mechanisms are important, and study the extent to which the results generalise to other social sectors.”

What do I take away from these 2 studies?

1. Using experimental methods to test participatory interventions seems possible, working closely with local groups to design the interventions

2. Continuing the cross-method investigation theme, can participatory research methods look at RCTs as a development intervention? Do RCTs introduce healthy or unhealthy dynamics and under which conditions?

3. Both studies are strong on internal validity (did the intervention have an effect?) but struggle valiantly to look at external validity (can we say anything about the range of contexts within which these can work?). The first study uses variation in intervention design to do this and the second uses regressions on sub-samples.

4. Neither study looks at empowerment of the community per se, regardless of learning or health outcome. If confidence and capability at the individual and collective level have been built up, might the true effects of the intervention in terms of outcomes come at a later stage rather than within structures that the community did not design (note the success of the UP intervention that was not constrained by the school system)?

5. Do the concluding sentences of the papers reveal the authors’ inherent biases? The first paper says that participation is not a panacea. Who said it was? Of course mindless application or participation is not going to work. We want to know when and what types of participatory intervention work. The second paper makes this point in a much more thoughtful way.

6. Finally, the cupboard for this kind of research is bare. We need more work of this kind to help us understand the conditions under which participation makes a difference to people’s lives—both the people directly affected and those such as infants who are indirectly affected.

26 November 2009

The Building Blocks of Human Development

For the past two days I have been at an EC-hosted consultation on how to configure governance architecture at the national and international levels to maximise efforts to address widespread malnutrition. Malnutrition is responsible for nearly a third of all child deaths, a third of the global burden of disease in the developing world and economic productivity losses of 3-5%. Nutrition status represents the building blocks of human, social and economic development.

Governance is crucial for nutrition because nutrition services are challenging to deliver. First because the determinants of nutrition are multisectoral. This means good work in one area (say health) is undone by vulnerabilities in other areas (e.g. food insecurity). Therefore nutrition reduction efforts require coordination across ministries where nutrition is usually not the number one priority. Second, reducing malnutrition requires a lot of behaviour change which is often very context specific (e.g. attitudes towards breastfeeding), so a strong capacity to adapt is paramount. Finally, malnutrition, unless it is very acute, is a silent killer and a subtle destroyer. Its presence is not easy to detect. It requires height and weight measurements to be compared to international standards. A high degree of vigilance is required. Capacities for coordination, adaptability, and vigilance need to be deliberately built up accordingly—among all stakeholders, not just governments.

The 2-day meeting also highlighted global and national nutritional trends. First, we don’t actually know what is happening post food, fuel and financial crises—highlighting just how difficult it is for our monitoring systems to keep up with the real world. Second, pre-crisis trends are encouraging in Asia (excluding India) and less encouraging in sub Saharan Africa (although there are exceptions and also the average rate is still lower than South Asia).

We had some terrific national-level presentations showing how strategic some of the nutrition leaders have been (e.g. Malawi, Brazil, Cambodia, Peru) in positioning nutrition within government (usually in a central location such as the Ministry of Planning and Investment or the Prime Minister’s Office), in setting up inter-ministerial coordinating mechanisms and in setting public goals in terms of outputs and outcomes.

Most people agreed that a global nutrition strategy would help raise the profile of nutrition on Davos-like stages (where it is not even on the radar screen) helping to generate more resources for the country level processes to focus them. Much inspiration was drawn from the reframing of global efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and the water security.

The importance of process in constructing this global vision for nutrition was brought home by the country level leaders. They insisted that global processes are not framed only by the multilateral agencies. Programmes that aspire to global reach need to be globally constructed, not from Washington, Brussels, New York, London or Rome, but from everyone who needs to play a role.

The EC hosted the meeting. The gathering sparked a re-commitment of support from the major UN agencies for the Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN). The SCN has the potential to be a leading mechanism for creating interagency synergies at the global level if it can get its focus, governance and resourcing right. The meeting was thus important for that re-commitment.

The meeting was also important in that it helped maintain the immediacy and urgency of the malnutrition issue within the EC. The EC and the EU are major international development players and already exhibit strong leadership in food security. I hope they are also becoming convinced that they can and need to play the same European leadership role in the fight against malnutrition.

18 November 2009

A Davos for Education?

I just returned from the first World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) in Doha. Qatar has made a long term commitment to convert its natural gas revenue into a world leading research capital. WISE was a further statement of intent.

With 6 or so US Universities already in residence at Education City, corporate R&D centres and Qatar University across the road, there are possibilities for new blends of research to generate global public goods in environment and energy. These possibilities need inclusive shaping and governing processes if they are to deliver for the world’s poorest and marginal. The Qatar Foundation funds much of this and seems open to such ideas. The three major themes of the conference were pluralism, sustainability and innovation. There were over a 1000 participants and 100 speakers drawn from all over the world.

My presentation was on Transformative Universities, describing some of the pioneering work done by our Participation, Power and Social Change Team in the area of blended learning. I highlighted their partnership work on the new Master’s in Development Practice being planned by Cairo University and Makerere University (led by Mariz Tadros) and the innovative Masters in Power, Participation and Social Change led by Jethro Pettit and Peter Taylor run by IDS for the University of Sussex.

This was my first large education conference and it was interesting how the sector is:

· looking beyond enrolment--grappling with delivering and assessing quality
· looking for ways to incorporate new ICT technologies
· struggling to deliver education in fragile contexts
· looking for ways to flexibilise rigid higher education systems
· missing the plurality of systems that one sees in health

The WISE conference wants to position itself as the annual global conference on education with the profile, if not necessarily the model, of Davos.

There seems to be a need for such a forum. Some are worried that this might diminish the role of UNESCO, but the new Head of the Agency was there and enthusiastically supported the initiative. If the sector is to address the above challenges, my sense is that UNESCO and the rest need all the help they can get.

11 November 2009

Rajiv Shah at USAID?

I just heard that Raj Shah has been nominated by the Obama Administration as the new Administrator of USAID. It is good news that this important agency is finally getting some attention from the Administration. Raj was the head of health and then agriculture at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so he has a good breadth of experience. I have had a few interactions with Raj over the past two years. Some people who are worried about the Foundation's potentially unchecked influence (and about AGRA in particular) will not like this appointment. I don't know who the other contenders were, but I do know that Raj cares deeply about the resources under his stewardship actually having a positive impact on the poorest groups in society. In particular he is seriously committed to fixing the broken feedback loop in international development by creating spaces to listen to smallholder farmers and families who have a hard time getting access to good quality health care. If his nomination is confirmed I encourage you to get in touch to tell him how you think USAID should be reshaped.

09 November 2009

Commitment Technology

If you have not seen the new HungerFree scorecard report from ActionAid, then I suggest you check it out. Why? It is the first report that rates countries -- rich and poor -- on their commitment to reducing hunger. What do they spend on sustainable agriculture and social protection, do they have laws on the right to food and do they uphold them?

The index ranks Brazil, China, Ghana, Vietnam and Malawi as the top 5 countries with a commitment to reducing hunger, with India at 22. Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Denmark and Sweden are the top donor countries.

This index is a good start, but needs to be (a) more fine grained and ground truthed, (b) expanded to multinationals, multilaterals and large NGOs and (c) evaluated to see if it has been used by civil society and the media or whether it has changed anyone one's behaviour. We hope to work with ActionAid on the next version.

03 November 2009

Dudley Seers: A seer in name and nature

Last week Sir Richard Jolly delivered the 10th Dudley Seers Memorial Lecture at IDS.

Dudley Seers passed away in 1983. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the Institutes's most influential Fellows and Directors. One of Dudley's great strengths was to bring a freshness, vividness and originality to a seemingly intractable problem. These are the very things that the current IDS continues to strive to do. His challenges to economic orthodoxy were numerous and well-known. He was one of the first voices calling for the "dethronement" of GNP as a measure of development. He was always at pains to point out that the international coexistence of rich and poor was crucial to understanding the problems of the developing world.

The current discussions around the measurement of economic performance and social progress (see the Commission chaired by Joseph Stiglitz) and the build up to the Climate Conference at Copenhagen show how prescient Dudley Seers' work would prove to be.

Richard Jolly gave a fine talk about UN Ideas That Changed the World, drawn from his new book. With the uncertainly about how to re govern the market, these ideas -- sustainability, human development, human rights, social development, women's empowerment--are needed now more than ever.

27 October 2009

Gender and Macroeconomics: Necessary Bedfellows

About 9 months ago there was a joke going around about how the global financial crisis would never have happened if it were Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers. A difficult hypothesis to test!

But a UN recent publication lead-authored by my IDS colleague, Naila Kabeer (World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, 2009) does not shy away from how macroeconomics and public finance need to-- and can be--more gender-sensitive.

Much progress has been made in the microeconomics of gender in the past decade (although not enough-see this paper by me, recently published in the latest Copenhagen Consensus book from Bjorn Lomborg).

Within economics, macroeconomics has been the most resistant of all outposts to gender sensitive analysis and policy formulation. In addition to a good review of the micro evidence, Kabeer and her authors draw our attention to new ways of thinking about macro models, taxation, budgeting, fiscal stimuli and the like.

It is no surprise that in times of crisis, gender issues come to the fore. Women, whether they want to or not, tend to take on or be assigned a shock absorber role during crises. This is one of the reasons why we saw an upsurge in interest in the microeconomics of women in development during structural adjustment in the 80s. Now I hope we see more at the macroeconomics and public finance levels--both during and after this global financial crisis.

26 October 2009

Beyond Planning: Markets and Networks for Better Aid

A striking article (title above) has just been released by Owen Barder. The paper argues that sustained improvements in the effectiveness of aid cannot be made by more planning. Rather, we need collaborative markets which draw on the different strengths of planning, networks and market paradigms. Donors would have to agree collectively to change. They would regulate the aid infrastructure better--positive spillovers (innovations) would be subsidised and negative ones (such as creating parallel systems or an excessive number of donor missions) taxed. Donors would repair the broken feedback loop from intended beneficiary to donor (a theme I have focused on many times in this blog) via new mechanisms. Donors would improve the transparency and accountability of their operations (examples include publish what you spend, and user ratings of technical assistance providers). Finally they would unbundle public service agreements so that funding and delivery are delinked and provision of services could be competed for, with the publication of subsequent performance data.

Why should donors do any of this? Because there might be political resonance in ideas of transparency, outcomes, and voice for beneficiaries of aid. The other reasons he gives (appealing to donor long term interests and the fact that it's easier to collectively agree on the rules of the game than agreeing on how to coordinate specific actions) seem less strong to me.

But should they do any of this? Barder makes it clear that this is no blueprint, but a way of injecting some evolutionary mechanisms into the ossified aid system. I don't agree with all of the specific mechanisms he proposes, but I like the direction of travel and the blend of new (networks), borrowed (markets) and old (planning) ideas. It should generate a good and much needed debate.

19 October 2009

Local Media as Development

I just read a good paper by Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis at the LSE (and IDS Trustee) on networked news for developing countries. The paper argues that the media are often wrongly engaged by NGOs and others in development. The "media about development" mindset can be extractive, feeding communication from country programmes to donor newsrooms. The "media for development" mindset seeks to build local media capability, but often in ways that are overly technically focused and in isolation from society. He argues that networked journalism--engaging with local media as development actors--can blend both of these. Engaging with local media in a "continual conversation" between NGOs and the communities they seek to empower will allow NGOs and others to integrate their programme and media work and improve their accountability to the communities they seek to support, as well as to the donors.

This approach resonates with me given the shift in our Mobilising Knowledge for Development (MK4D) programme towards greater capacity development of knowledge intermediaries--more on this as it develops.

14 October 2009

A Ghost at the Party

Yet more on Indian Malnutrition. A good article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (if you can get beyond Jamie Oliver on the cover) on malnutrition--the ghost at the Indian economic party, which features the recent IDS Bulletin on Malnutrition in India.

Here is an excerpt "When Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, declares that the 21st century will be India’s and that of the other so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia and China), he has sound reasons for saying so. The self-confidence of the Indian corporate elite is even more arresting. Mukesh Ambani, head of one of the country’s principal conglomerates, expressed a common view when he insisted that the 21st century “belongs” to India — though he largely attributes this to demography, contrasting India’s young population with the aging populations of the United States, Western Europe, Japan and China. But there is a ghost at the party, and its name is malnutrition."

The article juxtaposes the optimism that many feel about India's demographic dividend (the bulge of young population about to enter the labor market) and the dawning grim realisation that the potential of up to half of these young citizens has been damaged by impairments in their first 3 years of life.

Last night I went to a reception at Buckingham Palace held in Honour of an upcoming visit of the President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil. In effect, it was a case of another ghost at the party. Her website says she is committed to the cause of education. How I would like to have 10 minutes of her time to talk about how nutrition is vital to that cause.

09 October 2009

Rebooting Africa

Calestous Juma delivered the Marie Jahoda Lecture at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) last week. Calestous is a prominent Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School and a Graduate of the University of Sussex. His talk was about the role that innovation in science and technology must play in Africa's development.

His talk was brimming with optimism, about "rebooting Africa". With new undersea fibre optic cables connecting Africa's coastlines with the rest of the world, African countries could become the new destinations of outsourcing, the drivers of digitization and the conveners of cloud computing (the use of Internet storage via rugged laptops). What can the state do to support this? Build infrastructure. Distribute the capacity to innovate. Train leadership on the importance of investing in rather than taxing technology development.

His techno-optimist vision was rightly challenged by Melissa Leach from IDS. She noted the ways in which science and technology, left to the market, could not guarantee the delivery of poverty reduction and social justice. See the STEPS research centre she directs for more work on the governance of science and technology. Juma countered that he did not mean to imply that the freedom to innovate was the same as the unchecked free market. He also said that it was important to begin innovating rather than analysing the perfect time to innovate.

There is a lot to both views. Too often those outside the African continent are unable to imagine and vision the new opportunities. On the other hand, the accurate assessment of risk requires good information and a capacity to do something in response to it.

My favourite quote from Juma's presentation? "Vision is a product of trial and error. When something works, the vision is how to project it forward, not how to make it work".

Hope and Peace

There may well be more deserving candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama. But let there be no doubt about his accomplishments.

First, he got elected on a progressive ticket. A ticket that said we want people around the world to welcome American help. A ticket that stressed "Cooperation and Interconnectedness" as opposed to McCain's American "Exceptionalism and Leadership". A ticket that rejected cynicism.

Second, he is taking on big foreign policy issues in the middle of the fullest domestic agenda any US president has faced since the Second World War. We don't know how well he will do on climate or on the reform of the World Bank, IMF and the US State Department or on Middle East peace talks, but he is expending scarce political capital when many would just forget their overseas campaign pledges.

Third, he has changed the way the world sees America and has given numerous failed peace processes renewed impetus. As I wrote back in January "If there is a silver lining to the current global economic downturn, it is the upturn in progressive leadership in the US. We are loading impossible hopes onto the new administration and it faces many practical problems in achieving stated plans on sustainable development. But I suspect it will be the as-yet-unknown possibilities and opportunities that an Obama administration will inevitably create space for which will, in the end, make the biggest positive difference to global poverty and justice".

It is this game-changing dynamic that the Nobel committee awarded the prize for. What has he achieved? The replenishment of that crucial ingredient for peace-building: hope.

08 October 2009

How Committed is the UK to International Aid?

We just finished a round of presentations at the UK political party conferences on how to make aid work better. My narrative was that the UK public does not think aid works because of the failure of the aid community to be clear and upfront about when aid works and when it does not. If we only provide feel good vignettes in boxes, this breeds cynicism. So, is sharing failures a risky thing to do? It depends. If we describe what we have learned from the failures and explain why the risks were taken in the first place, I believe not. We can also build more UK commitment for aid by using it more smartly (less gap filling and more strategic support for reform within recipient countries) and more authentically (allowing so-called intended beneficiaries to define success or failure of the policies and interventions and to have a public platform to report on their definitions of donor and government performance).

I was at the development fringe meetings of the Labour and Conservative parties, giving similar presentations at each. From the two IDS events, I found the discussion on aid reflecting the current realities of the two parties. In the Labour event, discussants were struggling with the practicalities of using aid in a sensible way. In the Conservative event, there was much discussion over the possibilities of using it differently. There was also much testing of the Conservative commitment to aid, with their senior representatives saying the rights things (see article by Annie Kelly in the Guardian). While the outcome of the election will not be determined by party positions on international aid, the election could yet shape the lives of millions of people outside the UK-for better or worse. I will be tracking the commitments of the different parties towards aid and reporting on it from time to time as we approach the election next May.

18 September 2009

One Hour to Save a Life

There is a very active and informed debate in India about what to do about infant undernutrition. My previous blog gives you an idea of the nature of the malnutrition problem-- all the more stark given it is against a backdrop of dazzling economic growth.

The IDS Bulletin on this issue was the latest opportunity to temporarily intensify the debate. I spent several days in meetings with senior members of the Planning Commission, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Health and DFID India. The senior policymakers I met in India are very knowledgeable about the extent of the problem, the causes and the consequences.

They are, however, bombarded with a large number of solutions, many of them driven by single-intervention campaigners. There is a real need to focus. But how? Perhaps the first step is to focus by age group. The 0-2 age group is the period when the die is cast in terms of the development of the child, so this is an obvious candidate. But which intervention?

The consensus is that breastfeeding is the most effective behaviour for reducing infant mortality. But “exclusive breastfeeding” for the 6 months is not an easy message to understand and its practice is challenging for a mother who may be malnourished herself and without the support of family, community and employers. So focus more--on promoting breastfeeding within the first hour of life ("one hour to save a life"). For attended birthing, this seems feasible, but perhaps less so for unattended births.

The week was a good example of how a modest research report, with influential backing, can serve to temporarily engage the media and energise the community. It was also a good reminder of how senior policymakers are always looking for the “first thing” to do to navigate through complexity and a reminder of how researchers like me are initially reluctant to make that “first thing” recommendation.

Here is the presentation I made at the IDS Bulletin launch

Launch of Bulletin

Claims and Disclaimers

In Delhi last week I spent a couple of hours at an all day Right to Food Campaign meeting. The Campaign (in which some IDS alumni are participating) is aiming to shape the food security/food entitlements act that the Government is working on, by publishing a list of essential demands.

The draft demands fall into two broad sets: one around entitlements to food, in the spirit of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and one around a set of demands on “food first” production and zero food trade. The negotiations within the Campaign members and with the Government will continue for a long time. Social change does not happen quickly.

But whatever the outcome, the focus, strategic vision and drive of the Campaign leaders was an inspiration.

While in India I had an interesting set of email exchanges with one or two of my IDS colleagues, asking me whether readers of this blog thought it represented IDS views or my own. This has prompted me to add the disclaimer under the picture.

IDS speaks with one voice on its goals and values but we try very hard to celebrate a plurality of ideas and to avoid lowest common denominator group think. So readers should be clear that these are my unguarded thoughts, and not necessarily an IDS corporate position.

15 September 2009

Economic Powerhouse or Nutritional Weakling? What India needs to do to “Lift the Curse” of Child Malnutrition

This is an op-ed from me in the Hindu Times today.

Imagine if three thousand Indians died every day from Swine Flu. Actually, the number is closer to 10 a day, and still the malady attracts media attention. But more than three thousand Indians a day die from a different malady. It is called malnutrition. The dead are babies and toddlers. And the press is focused on swine flu. Google News India listed 49,000 stories on Swine Flu on September 9. On the same day there were 2,500 stories on malnutrition.

Economic growth also ignores nutrition. In most countries economic growth and reductions in malnutrition are linked. In India they are ships passing in the night. Real per capita GDP has grown by nearly 4 per cent year on year over the past 15 years. Over the same period, the percentage of malnourished infants barely moved: from 52 to 46 per cent.

At current rates, India will only meet the Millennium Development Goal Targets in 2043, not 2015 as planned. China has already met its 2015 targets. In India, a further generation is condemned to the brain damage, poorer education and early death that result from malnutrition.

A new report published by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), in partnership with DFID, ‘Lifting the Curse: Overcoming Persistent Undernutrition in India’ argues that this problem reflects a failure of governance at several levels of Indian society. The report contains papers by over 30 Indian authors. It documents a number of problems in nutrition service delivery in India. Services are not provided where they are needed. Some groups of citizens are systematically excluded from services. Services are of low quality. Accountability for service provision is weak. Leadership is fragmented. Awareness of the problem is poor. Year on year nutrition data are not available to monitor any progress. Nutrition, it seems, is nobody’s responsibility. To its great credit the Government is expanding funding to ICDS, the main programme tasked with malnutrition reduction among infants, but without governance reforms this could be a case of “throwing good money after bad”.

So what should be done? The report contains a number of specific recommendations for strengthening governance.

First, fund communities and local governments to undertake social audits of the ICDS services actually delivered. Let the ultimate customers rate the provision and make the results public. This will put pressure on local MPs and local providers.

Second, give the Comptroller General and Auditor Office a bigger role in monitoring Government action on nutrition. Their work is already cited by many, and they should be empowered to do more.

Third, simplify ICDS. There are too many interventions and too many age groups. It is complex to run, especially given the thousands of different contexts it has to adapt to. At the moment it tries to be all things to all people and runs the risk of satisfying none.

Fourth, find an effective cross-ministry mechanism to deliver food, care and health in combinations that work. Efforts to lift the curse of malnutrition must be unified.

Fifth, historically excluded groups must be involved in the design, outreach and delivery of nutrition programmes, reaching out to women from these groups in particular.

Sixth, introduce simpler but more frequent monitoring of nutrition status so that civil society and the media can hold the Government and non-state actors to account for year on year slippage and reward them for progress.

Finally, develop new ways of teaching and doing research on how to improve nutrition. Reducing malnutrition is not just about health, agriculture and economics. It is also about politics, governance and power.

The persistence of extraordinary levels of child malnutrition in the midst of a whirlwind of economic growth – maintained even in the midst of the global recession –must seem like a curse. But the Government of India can act to dramatically change the situation. The IDS report gives many recommendations that we think will help. But September’s National Nutrition Week is not enough. Every day needs to be Nutrition Day if India is to escape the duality of being an economic powerhouse and nutritional weakling. By tackling malnutrition governance, the Indian Government can lift the curse and raise the stature of its children. It will also raise its own standing in the world.

12 September 2009

Aid Under Pressure

As we move into Autumn in the UK, the party conference season is rapidly approaching. All the major political parties will be laying out their stalls for the 2010 General Election. The main topic will be spending cuts. The battle grounds will not be whether they will have to be made (they will if we are to reduce deficits and not store up pressure on interest rates), but how fast and on what? Despite the pledges to maintain the 0.7% pledge (see earlier posts), aid will come under pressure.

I see three major questions being debated right now--all signalling this pressure.

1. What does successful aid spending look like?
2. How do we better assess the impact of aid?
3. When should we get out of aid altogether?

On the first, the UK public is largely supportive of the principle of aid in emergencies, but beyond that the consensus is fragile. Some work we are doing at IDS with the Mass Observation facility at the University of Sussex suggests that the public has a weak picture of what successes in aid look like. DFID has been urged by the International Development Committee to do more to communicate the many good things that come from aid and to not hide the outcomes when things do not work (development is riddled with risks and uncertainty just like any endeavour). The report released last week, Fake Aid, by the International Policy Network (funded by private individuals, businesses and foundations) takes a swipe at DFID's communication efforts. The report is riddled with fundamental errors, but will be taken seriously by some (and you should know that about 45% of IDS activity is funded by various DFID projects).

On the second, there is a lively debate on how to assess the impact of aid in projectised, programme and budget support modes. Budget support channels resources through existing recipient government structures, allowing recipients to pool resources and strengthen their fundamental systems, but it does make it more difficult to demonstrate impact of that aid. See Riddell's 2007 book on this.

On the third, there are the debates about when and how countries should exit from aid, exemplified by Moyo's Dead Aid.

All of these debates would be informed by stronger client-based reporting on whether aid is working. What do users of nutrition centers in India think of the services they are receiving? Are they good quality? are they delivered on time, in the right place, and in a respectful way? (next week I will be blogging from Delhi on these issues). What do farmers in Africa think of large agriculture projects that are supposed to serve them? Do they ask farmers to take on too much risk? Are they gender sensitive? Do they improve the things that farmers care most about?

More client based reporting would generate visions of success (and failure), help develop better measurement systems, and tell us much about when and where aid should be exited from.

08 September 2009

Taking Uncertainty Seriously

I have just finished reading Robert Skidelsky's "Return of the Master" which is about why Keynes is still the most important economic thinker in the world. The book goes though the litany of reasons for the crash: bank institutional failures, China hoarding dollars because of uncertainty, asset bubbles in the UK and US, consumerism and hubris. But behind all of these is a a failure of ideas.

The book has two main arguments.

First, markets cannot price all forms of risk because there are some things we do not know (drumroll Donald Rumsfeld please)--what Skidelsky calls the "irreducible minimum". The models of the Neoclassical and, to a lesser extent, Neo-Keynsian economists however value "beauty over truth" (see Paul Krugman in this week's New York Times magazine). They want to cover all eventualities and the way they do that is to circumscribe all eventualities in a false set, defined by the models themselves. In this way the models don't even entertain the fact that some markets are not self correcting. They assume frictionless markets with cool calculating agents operating with perfect information. As Skidelsy notes, macroeconomics should be built on expectations that are human or conventional, not on those that are rational.

Second, economics should think of itself as a moral not a natural science. It should not be so dominated by market efficiency and the pursuit of money. Money is the "continual stimulator of our imagination creatign a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction".

The solutions?

Economics should have a "more modest role as tutor of governments"
  • A new synthesis of government and market action
  • Build financial models that can cope with irreducible uncertainty and make governments focus on reducing the impact of uncertainty
  • Develop a new global reserve currency that is not influenced by any one country's needs
This will be hard for the freshwater (e.g. Chicago neoclassicals) and the saltwater (the coastal US NeoKeynesians) economists to take but, as a Stanford economist myself, these seem like the right answers to me.

05 September 2009

Grading Research for Development

I just returned from Coleraine and the Development Studies Association Annual Conference. Lots of interesting papers and presentations: Charles Gore on new global paradigms (knowledge-dominated), Santosh Mehotra from the Indian Planning Commision on the impacts of the downturn on India's growth (not too bad) and poverty (not clear but likely to be not good), Mayra Buvinic from the World Bank on what to do to protect women in the downturn (not too many new interventions it seemed to me, mainly intensification of existing ones), the new Director of Research at DFID, Chris Whitty, on a quality graded research evidence base, and DFID DG Andrew Steer reporting on the new DFID White Paper. There were many interesting papers from parallel attended by the 200 participants inlcuding some good IDS sessions on the impacts of the downturn and the implications for development policy. Catch some of the clips at The Broker website.

Chris Whitty's session generated the most heat, and perhaps a little bit of light. Chris shares the same concern I do--research is not fulfilling its potential to reduce poverty. It's hard to prove this. But we do know that there is an accelerating amount of research being generated--much funded by DFID--and that the very volume of it makes it very tough to keep up with. Just think how hard it is to stay on top of developments in one's own field and then imagine how hard it is for generalists in decision making positions either in policy or frontline positions to do so. So how do we systematically organise the material around questions and contexts, separating out the careful from the not so careful, and then communicate that in an accessible way? Outside of the development social sciences this is fairly routine--there is the Cochrane database and the Campbell Collaboration. Inside the development social sciences it is not unknown (see this example from the World Bank) but fairly rare.

The debate at the session revolved, it seemed to me, around which research questions one applies such a mechanism to and what that mechanism looks like, especially who does the grading. On the first issue--which question--one needs questions that decision makers want answers to and questions that lend themselves to comparisons across contexts. One example: when does conditionality of particpant behaviour improve social protection programmes and when not? Even this question is challenging to create an evidence base for--what qualifies as a social protection programme? What does "improve" mean?--but other questions such as: can pro-poor growth be pro-environment? will be more difficult, and more open ended questions such as: how do politics shape the use of knowledge? even more so and potentially counterproductive to even try. On the second issue--grading--it would be good to have peers reviewing, but perhaps in an open wiki-style way. I will keep you posted on this debate as it plays out.

29 August 2009

All the king's men and the Development Studies Association

I am useless at managing my email inbox. I regularly get messages telling me my inbox is nearly full, prompting a junk email deletion frenzy. Most of these junk emails are challenging some aspect of my current status: are you leading your team successfully? are your computing costs as low as they could be? why aren't you on facebook yet? I especially like the ones that begin "Dear Ms. Haddad"--the ultimate challenge of status. On the work front, I have noticed a stream of emails, blogs and articles that challenge current development thinking on a wide array of topics--can we afford growth that is green and pro-poor? is the downturn changing gender balances of power in unexpected ways? will the credit crunch liberate us from an obsession with consumerism? is financial economics broken? is morality about to become a bigger part of policymaking? In other words, will all the king's horses and all the king's men be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again, or do we need an altogether less fragile and more nimble symbol for the way we reconstruct development in the 21st Century? These and other themes will be the centre of attention at the Development Studies Association's Annual Conference. I am currently the President of the Association and I hope to see you in Ulster, Coleraine, Sept 2-4.

26 August 2009

Gender: everyone sighs?

One of the first IDS Bulletins that was published after I joined the Institute noted a quote from a development agency staff member that "when gender is mentioned everyone sighs".

Gender issues have been on my radar screen more than usual these past few weeks. We had a visit from Isatou Jallow, Chief of the Gender, Policy Strategy of the World Food Programme to discuss WFP's new Gender Policy. She met with the Bridge team and some of our Fellows. One of the progressive things about WFP's new gender policy is that it is making a big effort to incorporate understanding of masculinities and men's roles in promoting gender equity. Then a couple of articles on the Katine site (The Guardian newspaper) on brideprice. The debate was around whether brideprice is necessarily a violation of rights---some said it represented an informal and nominal gift and others said, no it was a contract that commodified women. Still others said, it does not matter what it is, don't judge other places according to UK cultural values. I also caught Douglas Alexander the DFID Secretary of State being grilled by Kirsty Wark on BBC's Newsnight about how could the UK government spend resources supporting the Afghanistan government when it had just passed a law stating that food could be witheld from wives who refuse sex from their husbands (glad I did not have to answer that one). Then the Caster Semyena controversy (the South African runner being "tested" for how female she is) and what it means to be a man or a woman. And finally an article in Foreign Policy on the financial crisis saying that the recession is turning into a "he-cession" as more than 80% of the job losses in the US have fallen on men. Fascinating stories all.

How is it that the development profession has managed to turn such a vital, contested and essential part of the human condition--the relations between men and women and the factors that govern them--into such an anodyne topic?

Interview with Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme

Today I post an interview I did with Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme. I wrote to her a couple of weeks ago after reading more headlines about how WFP was having to scrabble around for more funds to deal with the short and medium term causes and consequences of hunger. The old critiques of WFP--undermining local markets with food no-one really wants--are much diminished today. They are using cash to purchase food locally and making bigger efforts to reduce the transactions costs of buying from even the smallest smallholders. Often they are the only development agency operating in some of the most fragile contexts on earth. My view is that they deserve more support.

These are her answers to my questions. The forward purchasing mechanisms she highlights sound promising and her reminder that 18 years ago China was WFP's biggest programme is a reminder that hunger is not inevitable (and that UN agencies can improve the targeting of their programmes!).

Hunger today is a scandal. Don't tolerate it.

Haddad: We hear a lot about WFP in the media - much of it is about funding shortfalls rather than the important work you do in terms of staving off hunger and saving lives. How frustrating is this for you?

Sheeran: WFP typically reaches about 10 percent of the world's most desperately hungry people. Due to the food and financial crisis, the number of urgently hungry has climbed to over 1 billion for the first time in human history. In bad times WFP needs to be bigger, in better times smaller. This year, our analytical needs assessment has us planning to assist 108 million of the poorest and hungriest in 74 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

To do this WFP must raise $6.7 billion this year. But as of mid-August, we have received just $2.5 billion. WFP is facing an unprecedented funding shortfall. As we rely entirely on voluntarily funding, we have had to reduce our beneficiary numbers or cut rations in countries such as Uganda, Bangladesh and Yemen. In some cases, we have had to suspend an activity entirely. Without a rapid and massive influx of funds, we will soon have to make even harder choices and even deeper cuts.

Haddad: What percentage of WFP’s time and other resources are spent raising funds?

Sheeran: Unlike many other organisations in the United Nations, WFP depends entirely on voluntary contributions, which come mostly from donor countries but also from multi-donor trust funds, foundations, businesses, and individuals. It’s important to note that more than 90 percent of all funds raised go directly towards feeding the hungry. This very low overhead is not only highly efficient, but also includes a very small proportion less than 1 percent – of WFP’s annual budget that is spend on fundraising and communications. We therefore strategically leverage as much earned media and free visibility as possible – news, the Internet, You Tube, word-of-mouth, online games, such as freerice.com. One of the reasons that the world so generously stepped forward last year in response to the food price crisis was because nations knew that our very low overhead and focus on field operations meant that more than 90percent of every dollar raised would go to help the hungry.

Haddad: Has anyone at the WFP undertaken an analysis of the impact on lives lost due to lack of donor response?

Sheeran: We are already in a crisis situation when a child dies of malnutrition-related causes every six seconds – that equals 5.1 million deaths or more than half of all under-five deaths in the world. If malnourished children do not get the correct nutritional support during the critical first two years of life, their brains and bodies will be permanently stunted and their futures forever compromised. If farming families that have seen their annual crops devastated by drought or floods lose their monthly food ration, they will eat their seeds and slaughter their cattle, leaving them destitute – and still hungry. And during the high food price crisis, we saw how hunger led to civil unrest as hungry communities rioted in more than 30 countries.

There is a devastating economic as well as human cost to hunger. According to the Global Framework for Action the cost of child under-nutrition to national and economic development is estimated at $20-30 billion per year. When multiplied over the lifetime of today’s undernourished children, this amounts to $500 billion - $1 trillion in lost productivity and income. For some countries, the cost of child malnutrition is as much as 2-3 percent of their annual GDP.

Unplanned budget cuts leave beneficiaries weaker and therefore more vulnerable and more susceptible to disease. It also reinforces a negative downward cycle, making it harder for beneficiaries to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.

The faster WFP can respond the sooner we can break the negative cycle of poverty and hunger at its root and prevent short-term food needs from turning into long-term malnutrition deficits.

Haddad: What is the main change you would like to see to WFP’s funding mechanisms? What is stopping this happening? How can supporters of WFP help change this dynamic?

Sheeran: Our immediate priority must be to raise sufficient funds to meet identified needs in the current year. Many donors have sustained their generous support despite a challenging economic environment. Others, such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Oman, contributed for the first time in 2009.
We are also reaching out to corporate partners and individual supporters. Everyone can play a crucial role in helping to raise awareness of worsening global hunger and our funding shortage. Moving forward, WFP is also working with donor countries to explore mechanisms that would improve the stability and predictability of its funding. More predictable and stable funding would allow us to plan farther ahead and respond to needs more effectively and efficiently. We already have in place a forward purchase mechanism that allows us to purchase food at low prices – when we’re not in a crisis situation – and preposition them. This has proven to cut 2 months off our normal procurement and delivery timeframe – thereby allowing us to not only save money, but life-saving time.

We are exploring with donors, the World Bank and other financial experts how to scale up this pilot concept and create an advance finance facility that will cut costs, improve effectiveness and efficiency, allow us to response more quickly in a crisis and institute a level of predictability that we have not had in the past.

Haddad: Did the G20 outcomes from London make a difference to WFP’s operations? What are you looking for from the upcoming G20 in Pittsburgh?

Sheeran: Restoring growth in the global economy is critical to continuing what had been a positive trend in cutting poverty and hunger. The global economic crisis has hit developing nations hard – reducing remittances, slowing exports, evaporating jobs and minimizing investment. By focusing on that goal and recognizing that the current crisis has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries, the G20 meetings were helpful.

Following an historic $20 billion commitment to food security by world leaders at the G8 Summit in Italy this summer, the Pittsburgh G20 will be a vital opportunity to set a bold vision for ending hunger vulnerability by directing substantial new resources toward the kinds of successful anti-hunger safety nets pioneered by Brazil, China, Sierra Leone and other countries. We need to remember that hunger is a solvable problem. A few generations ago Ireland, where my ancestors were from, was devastated by famine. Just 18 years ago WFP’s biggest program was in China. Today they help us feed other nations. Brazil has broken the hunger curve through innovative food safety nets and other programs. Ghana is making progress.

Now, more than ever, we need to make sure that these hard economic times do not reverse our progress on defeating hunger. Effective food security strategies must be comprehensive, including emergency food assistance, food safety net programs, such as school feeding and mother-child nutrition interventions, as well as increased agricultural production. They are proven strategies that need to be modelled as best practices.

22 August 2009

Spurious Correlations and "Compelling Inconclusiveness"

Spurious correlations are very much on my mind. As I noted in an earlier blog, I read Risk by Dan Gardner over the summer and enjoyed it very much (about the way people incorrectly assess risk, guided by emotion, fanned by the media and organisations with their own agendas). Recently my colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies passed me an article by Steven Greenberg in the British Medical Journal which shows how "unfounded authority" can be generated by citation distortions, using evidence from the medicial journals. Then in Foreign Policy magazine this month there is a note by David Lehrer on how the Journal of Spurious Correlations is a refuge for "compellingly inconclusive" results in the public policy research sphere. I also read somewhere about Rejecta Mathematica, a new online journal that has similar goals in its field. This is a trend I welcome--too often the applied policy research community polarises conclusions and overstates claims to get into the journals or policymakers hype a particular paper because it confirms their own biases. For example in the very same issue of Foreign Policy a "Prime Numbers" feature claimed that low birthrates are needed to create wealth and are not driven by wealth. This strikes me as a very strong statement--I would expect causality to run in both directions ("compellingly inconclusive"). But no articles were cited to backup this claim. The final thread on this entry relates to a paper I am writing on "The M&E of M&E". One section of the paper reviews the impact that the participation of intended beneficiaries has on project outcomes. A paper I co-authored in 2001 on this issue claims “De facto participation lowers the ratio of project to local wages; increases the labor intensity of projects that provide community buildings, roads, or sewers; and lowers the cost of creating employment and of transferring funds to poor individuals.” In writing this M&E of M&E paper I am reviewing more recent reviews of whether participation affects project outcomes. My 2001 paper is cited in two papers, authored by highly respected economists from the US and Europe, as showing that participation has "no effect" on project outcomes. I suspect they are referring to the result we found that de jure participation has no effect--but the much more important result is that de facto participation does. Thanks to the Greenberg paper I know know what this is called: "citation diversion--citing content but claiming it has a different meaning". You could also call it sloppy research. Just don't call it spurious correlation.

13 August 2009

Customer-Driven Aid?

Two recent publications pick up on the themes from my previous blog (Data Mining and Homer Simpson) around accountability to donor country taxpayers and the intended beneficiaries of aid--citizens of recipient countries. The reports are the Conservative Party’s new Green Paper on international development and Aid Under Pressure a report from the watchdog for DFID, the UK’s House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) chaired by Malcolm Bruce MP. The IDC’s report is well written and wide-ranging. The parts that caught my eye were on aid effectiveness and on public support for development. The report warns DFID of the tensions inherent in managing a growing budget with fewer staff in increasingly fragile contexts, while trying increasingly to demonstrate impact. The tendency, the report warns against, is focusing on inputs (i.e. spending) rather than outputs, outcomes and impacts. The Conservative Party report (refreshing in many ways) is unnecessarily critical about DFID under Labour on this issue.

The truth is that none of the donors are good at documenting the impacts of their spending. The canon of documented aid success stories is remarkably short, however impressive the components are: the eradication and control of smallpox, polio, measles and river blindness, progress in slowing HIV infection rates and the emergence of AIDS, increases in education enrolment rates, and farm productivity improvements in Asia. The weak documentation of impact has many causes: it is not easy to do (e.g. aid is often only one of several inputs and impacts take a while to emerge), taxpayers in rich countries have not shown much interest, and those living in poverty in the developing world have been cut out of the feedback process. But this is changing.

The downturn and the movement towards 0.7% of Gross National Income are raising the profile of spending on international development. And the Conservative Party Green Paper as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are now saying that they are looking at “innovative ways to transmit the preferences, desires, and priorities of poor people to decision makers” (Green Paper). DFID and indeed the whole development sector will come under increasing pressure to demonstrate poverty impact. The understandable temptation to accentuate the positive will need checks and balances. One set of checks is independent assessments to document the successes--and the failures. One set of balances is to innovate around ways to get customer feedback (i.e. people who are supposed to be benefitting from the interventions) into the public domain. For these changes to happen, donors are going to have to relinquish control to potentially gain more credibility and trust (and effectiveness) — a difficult calculation and a bold decision, but surely ones best made ahead of the curve rather than behind it.

09 August 2009

Data Mining and Homer Simpson

It is annual leave time in Europe and a chance to catch up on some reading. And when I’m not reading Robertson Davies’ “Deptford Trilogy” (brilliant, by the way) I have been going through some reports and books that have been lingering near my in tray. First up is an article in the New York Times entitled “In the age of data, nerd is the word” where Hal Varian (he of the famous economics text book and now chief economist at Google) and others reflect on the growing trend of trawling massive data sets (generated by web hits) and looking for things that are statistically odd. The job of statistician will become “sexy” says Varian. While this might be pushing things a bit far, we certainly are in an increasingly data-rich world.

Who is going to make sense of all this data? The statisticians are necessary but not sufficient. Why is that? Because the ways in which data are manipulated reflect political and cultural processes. Analysts have their own agendas (Diana Coyle’s excellent book, Economics: The Soulful Science, reminds us that economists in the US vote one way in general elections, and anthropologists vote in a very different way) as do the organisations they work for. The new data sets they work with do not represent a global census, much as they may appear to be, they are samples—big ones—and very partial, dominated by the US and Europe and by the wealthier groups in those regions.

Knowledge is power, yes. But power and culture also shape knowledge. Dan Gardner’s latest book, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, reminds us of the classic Homer Simpson quote “people can come up with statistics to prove anything.. forty percent of all people know that”. Gardner goes through all the traps of interpreting data—looking for evidence that lines up with what one already thinks (confirmation bias), group-think (social cascading), the tendency for people to think something that is easy to visualise occurs more frequently than it really does (the example rule), our tendency to initially view new information as all good or all bad (the good-bad rule) and the power of stereotypes to frame new information and data (the rule of typical things). Statisticians are people too and will suffer from these biases no matter how rigorous their methods are because their models kick in largely after the questions have been framed and before the conclusions are drawn.

What does this have to do with international development? First, the development community is not spending enough time thinking about the potential of the internet to fix some of the things wrong with development (e.g. accountability to people living in poverty and ways of communicating to donor country citizens about what aid is and is not good for). Second, we need to be aware of the potential of the internet to make some things worse (e.g. generating a knowledge platform that privileges those with the greatest capacity to generate information which is partial). Third, I am worried that the age of data will undermine critical analysis. Hypotheses, true causality, evidence based policymaking and commons sense may become victims of the new data miners unless we put checks and balances in place. As the pressure on aid budgets increases and as the numbers in poverty grow we need to know more about where aid works and where it does not. These are themes that IDS is currently trying to raise funds for.

03 August 2009

Cory Aquino

I was very sad to note the passing away of Cory Aquino. Her husband's murder in 1983 mobilised Filipino citizens against the tyranny of the Marcos regime and she ran for and was elected President in 1986, governing decently and fairly, fighting off numerous coup attempts, and modelling good enough governance in a country that had forgotten what it looked like. The Philippines has a special place in my heart--it was the first country I visited in Asia and I spent a lot of time in Mindanao in the 1984-86 period, witnessing the lows and highs of citizen action. There should have been a bigger recognition in the world media of this remarkable woman, the first female President in Asia.

31 July 2009

Why no-one predicted the crisis: a failure of collective imagination or a failure of collective action?

The British Academy is certainly polite. The Queen visited the LSE in November and asked the entirely reasonable question: why had nobody noticed that the credit crunch was on its way? The British Academy answered her in a latter dated July 26. The answer they gave was "a failure of collective imagination". "Everyone seemed to be doing their own job properly on its own merit. And according to standard measures of success, they were often doing it well. The failure was to see how collectively this added up to a series of interconnected imbalances over which no single authority had jurisdiction." But a herd mentality prevailed and most people looked the other way. The full letter is at:


Thomas Palley of Economics for Democratic & Open Societies quickly replied in a letter on his website at: www.thomaspalley.com He says the letter, signed by Tim Besley (an economist) and Peter Hennessey (an historian), makes claims that are "tendentious" and that the real problem is that the economics profession has become too "arrogant, narrow and closed minded".

I am an economist. The claim by Palley about the profession has some truth to it--indeed Dani Rodrik at Harvard repeatedly makes similar points. Palley's claims might have something to do with the "failure of the collective imagination" (which is a neat way of avoiding blaming no-one in particular).

But I think the crisis is not a failure of collective imagination but rather an old fashioned collective action failure--no-one had any individual incentive to protect the collective resource, even though each individual's actions degrade the collective resource. Collective action failure is, of course, a classic example of market failure and as such requires GOVERNANCE.

Simply put, economics needs to be governed better. To the chagrin of other social sciences, economics is the discipline that has the ear of most policymakers. Because of that, it has responsibilities. Big ones. This means checks and balances. The global horizon scanning mechanism proposed by the British Academy is one form of global governance structure and might help serve as a "check" to action, especially if it is multidisciplinary. But "balances" are also needed and one type of balance is for economics and policymakers to actively bring other disciplines into the policymaking process--political science, psychology and anthropology.

There is a Chinese proverb that says "politeness wins the confidence of princes". The British Academy will have to do more than be polite and scan horizons to win the confidence of Her Majesty, it needs to bring together the disciplines to work out how to govern the market for economic advice.

29 July 2009

False Choices in African Agriculture

The Guardian UK reports today on the need for people "on the ground" in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a greater say in determining how the G8's promised on aid to African farming, if it materialises, should be spent. The editorial contrasts this with a government top-down Global Fund approach to disbursement.

This is a classic case of false choices that plague development and African agriculture in particular. Smallholder farming or industrial? Conventional or biotech? High potential or low? Food crops or cash crops? The boring answer to all of these is (a) it depends on the context and evidence and (b) it is the wrong question anyway. These kinds of choices cannot be made at the gut level--they must be based on evidence--African Agriculture is about thousands of ecological niches and there is no one size fits all approach--not even smallholder agriculture. And there need to be portfolios and blends of approaches not eggs in one basket decisions.

On the G8 funding there needs to be rapid disbursement mechanisms which are transparent and accountable, but these also need to reflect preferences and realities on the ground. This potential divide is an age-old challenge in public policy and one we should be innovating to bridge, not lobbying to maintain.

24 July 2009

The Untouchable 0.7%

"Fear of Spending Prompts Radical Thinking" says today's Guardian. But it seems that spending on health and on international development are the only areas that the UK Government and the main opposition party, the Conservatives, can agree will be ring-fenced over the next few years. While I am pleased about this commitment to international development (especially if connected to radical thinking and new efforts to promote greater accountability and impact) I remain puzzled about WHY the committment to achieving the UN target of spending the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP on international development seemingly remains so strong. Are there any votes in it? Is it a reflection of a new found "Moral Sense"? Is it enlightened self-interest in an increasingly interconnected world? And why is the UK public so placid in its acceptance of ring-fenced international development spending? Answers wanted please.

23 July 2009

Power and Katine

I don't know how many of you follow the Katine Chronicles Blog over at the Guardian website. Ben Jones has been blogging about multiple accountabilities. Who is Amref, the international NGO running many of the interventions in Katine in Uganda, really accountable to? On the face of it all of the following--the communities they intend to serve, local government, Amref management and the funders of the project. But as Ben Jones rightly points out, the most powerful tend to get their accountability needs met first, often to the exclusion of others. Accountability is development's Achilles Heel--those intended to benefit typically cannot change the way those who design and deliver aid actually behave. IDS is working with Keystone Accountability and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to innovate around something we refer to as 360 degree Monitoring and Evaluation. Such a perspective recognises that different stakeholders have different definitions of success when it comes to development projects and have different levels of power to make their definition prevail in a reporting sense. Funders preferences usually win out. Our pilot project is geared towards developing mechanisms that allow farmers and communities to advocate directly on their own behalf with funders like the Gates Foundation. If a project is not meeting their needs, there exists a very public way of expressing their opinion. The Gates Foundation is unusual in that it clearly holds a lot of power but is willing to use that power to build up other sources of accountability and learning power within the agriculture system. I will keep you posted as this pilot--called ALINe--progresses.

You can find out more at http://www.ids.ac.uk/go/news/improving-impact-planning-and-learning-in-agricultural-programmes

19 July 2009

Making Seasonality Season-Proof

For most of the readers of this blog, seasonality means holidays, digging out different clothes and buying different fruits. For most of the world's 2 billion poor people seasonality means a serious adaptation to the rhythms of rainfall, temperature, wages and prices. These adaptations are costly in terms of livelihoods, wellbeing and lives.


IDS just held a conference on Seasonality (see link above) which asked "why has seasonality dropped off the poverty agenda?". Many answers were proposed--policymakers' own ability to season proof their lives, the perception that urbanisation means seasonality is less important (it is not), and the relentless faddishness of international development.

One thing was not in doubt however, and that is the cost of unchecked seasonality. This was illustrated by most of the papers at the conference, but the one that stood out for me was by Michael Lokshin and Sergiy Radjyakin. They analysed the nutrition status of Indian infants by the month of birth. The direction of results was not shocking--children born in the monsooon months have worse malnutrition status--but the magnitude was. Children born in these months were around 50% worse off than their drier season counterparts, even controlling for other factors using econometric modelling The authors suggest that the rains generate a greater infection burden, exacerbated by poor sanitation and less parental care during a busy agricultural season which ramps up the infection-poor diet cycle that generates malnutrition. They suggest a few public policy measures to try to counter these rhythms such as better timing of immunisations.

It is ironic that just as we have come to terms with the importance of spatial diversity in development (think "growth diagnostics") we neglect temporal diversity. We must do better at season-proofing seasonality by embedding it better in policy processes and development education. We will be attempting to do this at IDS.