31 October 2012

Development Horizons: Big in Norway--But Why?

Development Horizons has been going for about 3 years now--about 300 blogs and 185,000 page views.

One of my collaborators in India has been telling me that I am hopeless at getting the blog to have a wider readership, and so I have been looking at the stats that Blogger software generates.

One of the stats is the top ten page reads by country of reader. The table below summarises the countries in order of page reads. I have calculated the page reads by population size and by number of internet users (columns 2 and 3 respectively).
Which country has the top readership per internet user? Not the UK, but Norway. Other interesting points:
  • 185,000 feels low--600 reads per post on average. Other bloggers---what do you think?
  • China and India and 3rd and 5th in terms of absolute readership--emerging powers indeed
  • On a per internet user basis, Ukraine is the fourth largest readership--again, I have no idea why
  • I was surprised that Japan is not in the list--perhaps a language issue? Japanese readers, what do I need to do to get the blog more widely read
  • No country in Africa listed, although lately South Africa has featured more strongly-this is partly to do with internet access and speeds--anything to do here?
  • No country in Latin America listed--I am relatively uninformed about the region, and it shows (and the language does not help)
As for Norway.  Why Norway?  I'm not sure.

Norway has a deep interest in international development, peace, participation and human rights and these surely resonate with IDS interests and values. But are Denmark and Sweden so far behind? (By now I have probably alienated the entire Norwegian readership by comparing them to other Scandinavian countries. It could have been worse, I could have gone for the Nordic comparison.)

Perhaps it is institutional connections? IDS has some connections with Noragric, FAFO and Chr. Michelsen Institute, but we have more with Swedish organisations. We have a Board member, Jon Lomoy, from Norway too. We also have one Norwegian Research Fellow, Lars Otto Naess, head of our climate change team.

Personal connections? I gave a talk last year at the Research Council of Norway's annual meetings. I know some of the Noragric folks (Ruth Haug and colleagues) and some of the food security, nutrition and human rights community (Arne Oshuag, Asbjorn Eide and Wenche Barthe-Eide). But I know as many from other countries in the region.

Does any of this really explain a rate equivalent to over one-in-a-thousand internet users in Norway visiting Development Horizons in the latest 3 years? Maybe it is the name of a prominent tourism website in Norway? In any case, a puzzle.

In the final analysis, perhaps it all boils down to Norway's inherent good taste!

In any case, a warm tusen takk to you all.

28 October 2012

Australia in the Asian Century: UK Please follow suit

A new White Paper from the ruling Coalition Government of Australia, headed by PM Julia Gillard (left), was launched yesterday at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Now Government policy, the White Paper is entitled: Australia in the Asian Century.

The report is a wide ranging analysis of how Australia can benefit from and contribute to the emerging countries of Asia.  It does not generate too many specific policy priorities or spending pledges, but that is not it's point.  It is a strategic document about positioning Australia in a rapidly changing context.

Reactions have been largely positive, although there have been criticisms about the lack of specific pledges. Some also say it is motivated primarily by domestic politics: it contrasts the current Government with the Opposition who are perceived by many as more Anglocentric.

Some have praised it for its positive focus on opportunity, but have criticised it for the relative lack of discussion about the risks inherent in closer links with the region.  There are other risks too, for example this document seems to be steering Australia firmly away from the New Zealand model towards Australia not settling for being a small and prosperous country, but one that wants to be prosperous and a much bigger player in the region and the world (note it was recently voted onto the UN Security Council).

Some have said it is too state-centric and does not recognise that Australian businesses need to take more responsibility (see the CPA Australia competitiveness survey of Asian and Australian companies which concludes that regional business leaders see Australian businesses as disengaged from the region).

I obviously have not read the 300 page report in full--I have gone through the useful slide pack and some of the press releases and the exec summary.

While it is clear that the main audience was domestic, it is a little disappointing that there was not more emphasis on international development and on Australia's emerging role.  

This is not surprising I suppose--it is difficult to sell Asia to your population if you focus on its poverty, malnutrition and inequity.  To be fair, the White Paper does spend some time on the inequality issues, but only in the sense of noting how internally focused many of the Asian giants will have to be over the next few years to deal with these growing internal tensions.

I found the strategic international ambition of the paper really refreshing.  The attitude on promoting student exchange between Asia and Australia is particularly impressive because it comes in the context of the concerns many Australians have over immigration levels.  The Paper says:

"Australia’s university system is a powerful link with the Asian region through the number of students who come to Australia for their education, and more can be done to strengthen these links."

This is in stark contrast to what is happening in the UK.

A recent Economist article ("Shutting out foreign brains is a good way to foster mediocrity") paints a gloomy "Little Britain" picture with restrictions on student visas and work permits being used to bring down net numbers on UK immigration.  This is hurting everyone.

Mr. Cameron, follow Ms. Gillard's lead: tear down this wall--you are not helping us compete in the so-called "global race".

26 October 2012

Climate Change: It's the Economy, Stupid

As we near the US Presidential Election, it was noted that for the first time in 24 years climate change did not feature once in any of the 3 Presidential Debates.

This prompted David Attenborough, one of the UK's leading naturalists, to speculate on what, if anything would change the US public's minds. He said it would have to be a disaster, clearly linked to global warming.
A related report in Foreign Policy by Kate Sheppard, says, its not that people don't think the climate is changing, but that they do not have the capacity to worry about it that much due to the global economic downturn.

She cites a 2012 paper by Scruggs and Benegal in Global Environmental Change which poses the question: "Declining public concern about climate change: Can we blame the great recession?" Their answer is yes.

They use 3 data sources for their regression work (fitting lines to data and then figuring out if there is causation): (1) pooled averages from US opinion surveys from 3 different organisations from the past 15 years, (2) individual level responses from PEW surveys and (3) data on country level opinions about climate change from EuroBarometer data between 2008-2009.

They find plenty of evidence correlating unemployment with belief and concern that global warming is happening and is a serious threat: stronger than media effects and stronger than local weather anomalies--although church going and a very conservative ideology had stronger associations than unemployment. But they can't really test for causation with their small sample sizes.
They suggest that when the economy picks up, more capacity can be directed to addressing climate change. Ironically, the pick up in the economy will accelerate emissions--there is no counter cyclical force on attention to climate change.

It is clear that when economic growth picks up, we need to be ready to strike while the iron--and the earth--is hot.

25 October 2012

Plan International and Nutrition: Helping to Scale?

Founded 75 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world.

Plan International's website says: "We work in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. In 2011, Plan reached 56,500,000 children in 58,053 communities. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations." 

This is a phenomenal outreach and, in a context where the world is working hard to scale up nutrition action, having a such a well regarded and far reaching organisation such as Plan up its ambition on nutrition is a major plus. 

Yesterday I was invited to be on a panel that was addressing Plan's country and national Directors.

My argument was (a) if you don't focus on nutrition status, you are ignoring the very foundation of child development--all your other programmes and effort will not realise their potential, (b) a focus on the first 1000 days after conception helps break the intergenerational cycle of hunger and child deprivation and helps make sure that any resilience work is pro-poor, (c) focus more on the most marginal areas, the fragile contexts and the urban contexts--this is increasingly where the malnourished children are, and (d) become fragile development experts--the wider development community needs organisations who can bridge the disasters-development space.

I also saw presentations from Peter Walker of Tufts University and Steve Collins of Valid International. 

Peter presented some interesting stuff on (a) how we are hardwired for diet diversity and how supermarkets and food processing plays on this to generate the consumption of the wrong types of foods, even in poorer environments.  (As a side note, it was fascinating to hear that the first supermarket, Piggly Wiggly in the US, secured a patent in 1917 for its new supermarkets in terms of store plan layouts that forced customers to pass through all the aisles to get to the checkouts.) and (b) how concentrated the decision making is in food systems--for one country (I did not catch which) Peter said that for 3.2 million farmers, there were 160,000 suppliers, 8600 manufacturers, 600 chains, 110 buying desks, 170,000 outlets and 170 million customers--that is a lot of concentration of power in those 110 buyer desks.

Steve gave a nice summary of community managed acute malnutrition and was urging the nutrition community to find ways of working with the private sector to incentivise them to be more concerned with healthy and affordable foods.  One idea he proposed was to have SUN social branding if companies meet certain standards.  Nice idea, but who has the capacity to enforce? 

I was impressed with the quality of reflections and questions from the leaders in the audience and I wish Plan well as it (hopefully) enters the nutrition field in a strong way.

22 October 2012

George McGovern: Leader against hunger and malnutrition

In a world where too few political leaders put themselves on the line for things that don't help them get elected, George McGovern will be surely missed.  The former Senator and Presidential candidate, 90, died over the weekend.

He was described as "disastrously attached to principle" by the Economist (he was trounced by a Watergate fuelled Nixon in the 72 Election) and as a "Prairie Liberal, Trounced but Never Silenced" by the New York Times.

I ran across his work early on in my career, when I was writing my Master's Thesis on Women Infant and Children Nutrition Centres in the poorer neighbourhoods of Massachusetts.  This is because Senator McGovern was a champion of nutrition--at home and abroad--when it was terribly unfashionable to be one, and he was a great advocate of political solutions to hunger.

 A World War Two bomber pilot, he was no pacifist, but was staunchly against the Vietnam war and proud of his stance.

It is hard to think of politicians of this age in the US or the UK who were as willing to stand up for things they believe in but which have little immediate political payoff.

19 October 2012

How Effective are Cash Transfer Programmes at Improving Nutritional Status?

A new paper by James Manley, Seth Gitter (both Towson University  in Maryland US) and Vanya Slavchevska (American University in Washington DC) asks "How effective are cash transfer programmes at improving nutrition status?". 

The paper is a rapid evidence assessment of all the studies that evaluate the impact of conditional and unconditional cash transfers on various measures of nutrition status. 

(It is not a systematic review--the restricted time period available to find the studies probably led to some of the difficult to obtain and foreign language material being excluded and this might bias the findings because easier to find studies--i.e. published--tend to be more likely to find statistically significant results.  It still seemed to me like a very careful study.).

Their search uncovers 24 papers on 18 programmes in 11 countries.  

The authors focus most of their energy on the analysis of the impacts of cash transfer programmes on height for age as this is the outcome for which they have most data (18 studies looking at 15 programmes in 10 countries which generate 117 estimates).  

The multiple estimates are averaged out per study per outcome indicator and then used in statistical meta analyses (simple regressions or analysis of variance) to see if the impacts varied by study features (e.g. quality, RCT, sample size), programme features (e.g. conditionality, size of transfer), child characteristics (e.g. sex, age) and country level features (e.g. infant mortality rates and health service provision).  For the height for age outcome this generated 18 observations which (I think--they don't actually say) from the basis for the regressions (n=18) in the meta-analyses.
The paper is thorough and, for the most part, well done and generates some interesting results.  

I liked the fact that the authors attempted to do meta analyses on the estimates of the impact of the programmes on height for age.  

My main problem is that the authors used all 117 estimates stating that "Each estimate contains useful information so we want to include all of them, but at the same time we must control for the correlation between estimated impacts for different estimators or treatment groups in the same programme." 

Well, they may all contain interesting information, but but that does not mean they should all be included.  Some are reported in the original studies to test whether more sophisticated estimates are needed and if they are needed then the more basic estimates should be discarded by the meta analysis. In other words only the preferred estimates from the original papers should be included.  From the review, I could not tell if the non preferred estimates had been discarded from the meta-analysis.   

If known biased estimates are included in the meta analysis, then this is obviously a big problem for all the conclusions of the paper. 

If--and it is a big if--the conclusions are drawn from meta analyses that exclude the known biased estimates, then they are really interesting.  

* "The average effects of the programmes on height for age are positive but statistically indistinguishable from zero, and the conditions, including the country characteristics, recipient population characteristics, and the programme characteristics all matter." (In other words, these interventions are not proven in all contexts, and design matters--this echoes the 2008 Lancet conclusions from Bhutta (Table 1).)

* Which programme characteristics matter?  The only one found to be significant was conditionality that is not tied to health and education (not terribly clear what these non health and education conditionalities were--I presume they had something to do with employment)--this had a negative effect.  There was no statistical difference between programmes that did not condition and those that conditioned on health and education (I was surprised at this--my priors were that the latter would have a bigger effect). Wisely the authors state that there are probably many other programme features that are more important than conditionality and we should avoid over-focusing on this design feature, although they recognise the political as well as technical rationale for this feature (but, then again, many of the others are political too--think of transfer size!).

* Which study characteristics mattered? The analysis could not find any significant correlations between outcome and study characteristics. So use of RCTs, quality, peer reviewed--no significant differences. 

* Which child characteristics matter?  The impacts tend to be higher for girls. No significant age effects found. The girl effect is not discussed in the report.  Nor is the programme characteristic of who the transfer is given to within the household explored--perhaps there is some link there? 

* Which country characteristics matter?  When infant mortality is high and hospital infrastructure is poorest, impacts are most positive.  As the authors note, this provides some supportive evidence for the UNICEF Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals approach of reaching the most marginalised. 

But the meta analysis is a tease.  Only 18 observations.  And these might include known biased estimates of impact.  We need clarification of the last point and multiplication of the data points.   

Nevertheless this is a fascinating paper and perhaps its greatest contribution is the creation of a universe of studies with a coding of some of their key features.  

As the paper says, we need more studies.  I agree, and they should be informed by this report.  

16 October 2012

Resilience: Utopia or New Tyranny? New Working Paper

We development studies types seem to like dramatic short titles followed by long statements. 

We also seem to like the phrase "New Tyranny". The phrase comes up in Google--not for new dictatorships--but for 2 papers in development studies. 

The first listed is 2001's "Participation: The New Tyranny? " by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari (2001, edited volume). 

The second is a new paper by my IDS colleagues, led by Chris Béné. The paper is titled:  "Reslience: New Utopia or New Tyranny?"  

Chris and the team have the following messages for policymakers and practitioners working on resilience:

"1. Resilience thinking can help better incorporate the social-ecological linkages between the vulnerable groups and ecological services on which they depend, thus contributing to a more adequate targeting of (future) vulnerable groups.

2. By emphasizing the importance of scale and boundaries, resilience also offers some value for social protection in relation to ‘spatial’ processes, such as rural-urban, or trans-boundary, migration.

3. Being a term that is used (loosely) in a large number of disciplines, resilience can be a very powerful integrating concept that brings different communities of practice together.

4. Although it is appealing, one should not rely on the term too heavily. It is not a panacea and certainly not the new catch all for development. Instead, it needs to be considered more carefully, especially with the recognition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ resilience.

5. On the basis of this, practitioners need to step back, consider the objectives of their interventions and then consider how resilience may support or actually hinder these objectives.

6. In particular, a resilience-based systems approach might end up leading us towards abandoning interest in the poor(est) for the sake of system level resilience.

7. The politics of resilience (who are the winners who are the losers of ‘resilience discussion"

These are great points, and it is wise to counsel against uncritical bandwaggoning (see this earlier post on development fads and fashions).

I particularly liked the sections of the paper where they describe how "resilience" has been coopted to promote some other agenda (such as climate resilience growth--which is protect business as normal growth from the ravages of climate change). 

So is it utopia or tyranny?  It is definitely not utopia and it is tyranny only if we let it be.  Used wisely and knowingly resilience can be a powerful integrating concept. 

15 October 2012

On the Impacts of Career Choices

Like many 16 year-olds, I wanted to be a medical doctor.

My A levels were in Maths, Chemistry and Zoology. However, a particularly bloody film we were shown in Zoology class quickly put me off that.  So for my undergrad degree I hedged my bets and did a joint honours degree in Ag Economics and Food Science and Nutrition.

My motivations for wanting to be a doctor boiled down to wanting to help people, to make a difference in their lives. 

I suspect many of us in international development still feel that drive.  So it was interesting to think about these issues again in the context of (1) the UK's Research Excellence Framework, (2) the ESRC's new Research Outcome System and (3) a conversation a friend of mine was having with their 16 year old nephew (let's call him Henry). 

UK Universities are occupied with developing their "impact case studies" related to the research work they do.  This is for the UK's Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) review (Research Excellence Framework or REF) every of 7-8 years of different submissions by different Universities to different disciplinary/subject panels. (IDS is not eligible to participate in the REF exercise as we are not a University.)  This week the Times Higher Education Supplement has an interesting article on the impact case studies (how some Universities are recruiting new professionals to help them get this right--it is a big deal as this now comprises 20% of the overall score and these scores drive government resource allocation to Universities).

The UK Research Councils (UKRC), the premier research funding body in the UK, has just launched its Research Outcome Systems, which encourages Universities that receive UKRC funding to update their profiles by output, outcome and impact. 

It will be interesting to see how the impact scores vary by discipline and topic within each of these two new databases.

Which brings us to Henry.  Henry is just starting A levels and is trying to make the "right" university subject choice--and a key criterion for him is "impact".

This is an excerpt from his exchange with my friend (obviously he has agreed for this to be published):   "we discussed over the phone the amount of 'good' achievable through various occupations. At this stage of my life evidently I will not be able to foretell...whether a certain person will be able to make more of a difference as a politician, a charity worker or say a doctor...one of my fears is procrastinating throughout life and not really ever invoking change...I was wondering what your views were on how possible/difficult it is to make large changes as for example an economist or a politician.

The reason medicine fascinates me ...is because although this may sound naive and premature...with politics and many economists I often feel this process of dehumanisation whereas with the scientific side, it is actually dealing with life and death scenarios and face to face interactions and the human process that, I think, inspires me more"

The REF and RCUK databases will probably not be that useful for a young person trying to figure out life choices, so if you have any advice to give Henry (constructive please!) that would be most welcomed. 

My own view is that the propensity to want to make a difference to other people's lives will probably find productive expression no matter what career choices are made, both in the one to ones and in the wider systemic changes.  (Social scientists can have profound impacts on their students, on communities, and on policy and doctors can affect how their profession works and can have a profound impact on government policy.)

The choice you make, it seems to me, has to be the one that first of all inspires you.

But it would be great if you could give Henry some advice and feedback...  thanks

12 October 2012

David Cameron's "Golden Thread": How to weave a better story

For quite a while now (and well before the 2010 election) the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been referring to a Golden Thread of successful development:

“No conflict, access to markets, transparency, property rights, the rule of law, the absence of corruption, a free media, free and fair elections.” (from his July Family Planning Speech).  

The Golden Thread may well become a very important organising principle for the London G8 Summit in June and for the High Level Panel on the post 2015 agenda, which the PM co-chairs.

The Golden Thread has been critiqued in several places (see Owen Barder  and CAFOD blog) -- for being silent on inequality  and being too individual focused, for example.

I think the problems with the Golden Thread go like this:

1. There are dozens of building blocks that are common to development success stories, so why select the above as the gold thread? Sen and others argue persuasively that the golden thread building blocks matter greatly. But there are many golden threads, and so what is the basis for selecting this one? Some will say they are politically motivated/politically convenient.

2. The main problem with the building blocks selected by the PM, it seems to me, is that there is no acknowledgement that people do not start at the same point. This has nothing to do with the normal distribution of skills and attributes in a well off society, but has to do with whether you are born in poverty or not, whether your parents are alive or not, whether your family has any rights to land or not, whether your community is remote or not, whether you are a scheduled caste or not. So if you were malnourished when born and as a consequence grew up to be someone who attained less in school, and has a worse job or no job at all, then you are not going to be as adept at accessing markets, claiming property rights, accessing the rule of law as applied fairly and accessing/using information. You are not going to be able to “work the system”--even if it is fairer and more transparent.

So this means adding a few things to the golden thread…I would suggest empowerment, fairness and collectivity.

  • Empowerment--the PM has talked about women’s empowerment and that is good, but we need to support the processes that empower all of the poorest and most marginalized to access the PM’s golden thread fibres so that they can realize their full potential.
  • Fairness—goes beyond equality of opportunity, to helping people raise their aspirations and then to realise them.  To give them greater power to engage with the powerful who dominate debates and decisions.  This means giving people a hand up, not a hand out.
  • Collectivity—the golden thread vision has been criticized for its individual focus. I think that is unfair--it just needs to be explicit that many problems have collective action solutions--either on how to use water, how to use land, how to minimize pollution, how to curb emissions etc. and that these golden thread building blocks apply at many levels—individual, household, community, nation, global.

I realise that this language is difficult politically for the Conservative Party, but I would argue that the golden thread framing is not diluted by doing this--on the contrary I think it is strengthened by it and it becomes less difficult to attack on purely ideological grounds.

09 October 2012

SOFI 2012: Hunger Numbers Rise in Sub-Saharan Africa

The State of Food Insecurity in the World report (known as SOFI) came out today, ahead of next week's World Food Day. 

The report from FAO, WFP and IFAD has the following headlines:

  • Hunger numbers are stalling at the global level (867m in 2007-9 and 868m in 2010-12)
  • Hunger numbers for Sub-Saharan Africa are rising, and at an increasing rate:
    • > increasing at about 2m a year between 1991 and 2000
    • > about 1m a year between 2000 and 2005
    • > about 3.5m a year between 2005 and  2008
    • > about 6m a year between 2008 and 2011
  • These are alarming increases in level and speed of increase.
  • FAO has made 5 changes to methodology and has recalculated all the hunger data back to 1990.  The 1bn number in the 2010 SOFI report has been quietly buried.
  • The biggest change in the numbers is generated by better accounting for losses of food in the retail system.  Accounting for this loss increases hunger numbers substantially, especially in 1990, but not in 2010-12. This means that hunger numbers have declined faster than previously thought and that the achievement of the MDG target, based on this indicator, is closer than previously thought.
  • The odd thing is that for the "developing world" the hunger estimates were 870m before the 2007-8 food price spikes (i.e. in 2005-7) and are lower after the food price spikes (853m in 2009 and 852m thereafter). 
  • This suggests the food price spikes did the most damage in sub-Saharan Africa, but this is also a little odd given that this is where the translation of world to national prices is weaker, on average, due to lower levels of global integration.

So, at first blush, the report is a confusing mix of good and bad news.

P.S. Congratulations to FAO for improving the methodology.

08 October 2012

Five Takeaways from the Conservative Party Conference

No, this is not a survey of the best pizza and kebab take out joints in Birmingham, but a few snap reflections from the Conservative Party Conference which I attended yesterday and today.

1. The new DFID Secretary of State, Justine Greening, makes a good first impression. And this in spite of being ambushed by me in the midst of a busy conference hotel lobby. My conclusion is based on a meeting of about 4 minutes but, hey, most of the time first impressions are right. Further highly scientific research confirms that people at Conference have lots of good things to say about her—namely that she has been a very effective Minister, has made a good start at DFID and has an inclusive style.

2. A Major NGO Food Campaign.  A new large multi-NGO campaign will be unveiled in the New Year. It is great that the UK NGOs have managed to work together to develop such a broad, big and potentially engaging campaign. But will it be too late? The June 2013 London G8 agenda will be set in the next few months and it looks like the food and nutrition agenda may be delinked from the main G8 agenda. How can hunger and malnutrition be set aside by the G8? More amazingly, how can such UK electoral gold be misplaced? Campaigners, we need you to spring into action.

3. Nutrition advocates need to up their ambition. This moment in the SUN will not last for long. IDS hosted an invite-only breakfast meeting on this topic and the 10 high level participants agreed that now is the time to make major inroads on stunting: economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is holding up, tax revenues are up, global commitment is high, national commitment is beginning to grow, and public resources are beginning to flow, despite peaking ODA levels. But is the current energy too statist? As one participant put it: “the mood music has changed but the instruments remain the same”. There was a sense among some of the participants that the private sector interest in nutrition (and not just from the food companies) is not being sufficiently exploited—that the private sector train has left the station, but needs direction. There was also a call for new forms of financing for nutrition (see this just released ACF-IDS report by IDS Fellow Stephen Spratt on the topic). But I’m not so sure that SUN merely represents old wine in new bottles—a more enabling environment can be the spark to unlock business action.

4. The Conservative Friends of International Development is a masterstroke. CFID is a voluntary organisation, with the aim of informing party members about the difference that aid can make, co-chaired by Baroness Anne Jenkin and Stephen O’Brien. It also seems to be a very effective commitment and communication mechanism for building support within the party. (Post-blog addition: The Labour Party have the much more established Labour Campaign for International Development which I seem to have missed--apologies to David Taylor in particular.)

5. Development Initiatives is kind of cool. DI monitors and analyses resource flows for development. Their Director, Tony German, and I have been co-presenters on many panels, but we have never really had a discussion beyond “can you pass that bottle of water” or “is this mike on?” I am already a consumer of many of their excellent reports (see this one on DRR), so it was good to catch up over lunch. Being a bit of a nerd, I find DI’s work (based on the premise that the right to information is a good thing) to be really interesting—unearthing accurate resource flows, analysing the fairness and effectiveness of allocations, and trying to make sense of even the most unloved official databases. As 2015 nears, the kind of work they do will become even more important. What might different MDG configurations mean for resource allocation? And how has ODA changed as a result of the Coalition Government.

The theme of the Conservative Party Conference was “Britain Can Deliver”. The last I saw of Justine Greening she was talking with journalists from the Mail on Sunday--no doubt making the case that “Aid Can Deliver”.

It’s a case that will have to be made over and over again in the next few years--without compromising our ability to be honest about when it does not work.

06 October 2012

The Wonderful Patrice Engle

There are some people you meet in life whose influence on you far outweighs the time spent in their company.  For me, Pat Engle was one of those people.  Pat passed away on September 22.  

She was a goddess in the Early Child Development field and her influence travelled as far as nutrition, and even, economics.   

She was a Professor of Psychology and Child Development at Cal Poly University in California.  For the nutrition readers, Pat's work was the link between food and health--she was a leader in "care".

Care is the provision in the household and the community of time, attention, and support to meet the physical, mental, and social needs ofthe growing child and other household members. 

Pat spend 6 months as a visitor at IFPRI when I was there and we worked with Purnima Menon, a nutrition epidemiologist, on a paper that tried to introduce the concepts to those in the wider field (the linked paper was published in World Development) and for those in the field, tried to develop some approaches to assessing care. 

Working with her sensitised me to the fact that relationships really mattered in development, and not everything of value could or should be measured. Her work carries on in a new field of well-being.  

The things I loved about Pat?  Her keen wit, her ability to reach across disciplines (child development was her interest--whoever could help was welcomed) and her complete lack of "guru ego".  She was just a lovely person.  She will be missed. 

For details of her life and memorial services in New York and California and her Fund for Dissertation Fellowships for students in low and middle income countries, see here.   

Listen to Pat speaking on the importance of ECD at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYj9BaFRfcw

Poverty is urbanising and needs different thinking on development

The share of poverty in the developing world that is located in urban areas has jumped from 17% to 28% in the past 10 years. In eastern Asia, nearly half of all poverty is found in urban locations (pdf), while in sub-Saharan Africa the urban share of poverty is 25%.
So what? Well, urban poverty challenges the development community in several ways. For a start, most development professionals have been trained in rural development and rural livelihoods. As we are so fond of saying, context is everything; whether we are equipped to face the different challenges of urban contexts is another question.
So how is urban development different? There's not enough research to be definitive, but there are plenty of plausible hypotheses.
For the hypotheses and the full article, see The Guardian here.

05 October 2012

Does "One Nation" from the Labour Party mean "One World Development" too?

At the Labour Party’s Annual Conference this week, their Leader, Ed Miliband gave a “One Nation” speech that was well received by most non-partisan commentators. The speech was a claim for the middle ground of British politics.

The speech stressed the need for those with the broadest shoulders to bear the biggest load, that inequality matters and that a Labour Government would make life a bit harder for the business predators and a bit easier for the producers.

No doubt we will see these themes carry through to Labour’s International Development Policy. I attended the past 2 Labour Party Conferences, and in their new role as Opposition party, I was a little critical. I asked whether Labour—at the highest levels--still cared about international development and wondered how, assuming it did still care, it was going to intensify and focus that commitment.

Ivan Lewis took over as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development about a year ago and has injected much new energy and provided a dedicated focal point for others in the Party to rally around.

I read an article by Ivan Lewis in House magazine’s Conference Edition, entitled “Labour’s critique of the Tory-Led Government’s approach to international development”. Quite a title, but then this was for a partisan crowd. There were 4 paragraphs critiquing the Government’s policy and one paragraph on what Labour would do differently. I guess this is a standard ratio of critique-to-plan when we are 2.5 years out from the next election, but I would have liked to have seen a more active perspective put forward the team.

They are clearly asking good questions, including:

  • How can UK government funding trigger other forms of financing for development? (and it is needed—climate finance is struggling and humanitarian finance regularly fails to meet demonstrated need targets)
  • How can we demonstrate value for money without undermining investments in long term change? (and, I would add, in such a way that convinces enough of the UK voting public—really not easy)
  • How can Government support collaboration between the private sector and civil society that goes beyond rhetoric and window dressing? (see Noshua Watson’s work in our Business and Development programme)
  • How to support the processes that empower women and help break cycles of conflict? (my colleague Patricia Justino did a recent report on this for WomanKind and ActionAid)
  • How to create a stronger One Government approach to development, one that goes beyond DFID? (there is an upcoming BOAG report on this led by Matthew Lockwood)
  • How to ensure that the voices of those affected by aid can help shape UK aid policy (I am particularly keen on this)
  • How to create a global movement for change to take on the big global collective issues of resource depletion, climate change, trade, etc. (the biggest question, and one for which the Scaling Up Nutrition movement might have some lessons).

These are big questions. They defy easy answers. They are more about the politics and the civics than the technics and metrics. But they are the right questions, and they point us towards a more One World approach to development (i.e. problems at the global level, problems in North, South, East and West, solutions that require many countries working together, and whole of government approaches).

Along with many others, IDS will contribute ideas, based on our research, to the consultative process set up by the Labour Party to address the questions. Every Government needs a strong Opposition to provide a check and balance. Given the UK Government is a coalition of 2 of the 3 major parties, the role of the remaining party, the Opposition, has never been more important.

No matter how challenging the above questions are, we need to hear some emerging ideas on these at the 2013 Labour Party Conference, ideas that unite and have a One World Development frame from the One Nation Party. It is time for the Labour Party to deliver on their vision for international development and explain the role they will play in achieving that.

I will write more from the Conservative party meeting next week and will try to speak to Justine Greening, who Ed Miliband described in his speech in a rather unflattering way (incidentally this was the only time in the speech he mentioned international development!).

Reply from David Nabarro to October 3 Post

Here is a response from David Nabarro to my October 3 post (it was too long to post as a comment) 

David is the UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Food and Nutrition, and an inspiration to many of us.

He is also good at coining dodgy expressions (see third line from the end). 

My final thought on the Congress (I promise): it was a pity that so few of the international or global nutrition community were here to meet the African nutrition professionals who actually will make SUN a success (or not). A missed opportunity. 

October 4

Dear Lawrence

I am so pleased to read your blog from the African Nutrition Conference. 

Last week the SUN Movement Secretariat was immersed in meetings of the SUN Movement Lead Group, Networks, Country Government Focal Points and others in New York.  We met with the 30 SUN country Government Focal Points on 26th and 28th September.   There is good buy in within countries. Governments are at the centre.  We see major involvement of civil society, donors and foundations, the UN system, development banks and the research community at country level and globally.  The Movement is open to all countries.  Countries that engage usually make a political commitment at highest level to scale up nutrition.  They identify a government official with the capacity to convene across sectors and actors. They work with multiple stakeholders on both immediate and structural causes of malnutrition.  They are encouraged to work towards a single set of expected results and to match their political ambitions with adequate resources. There are NO formal conditions for engagement. 

At the UN Secretary-General's High Level meeting on Scaling Up Nutrition on September 27th (worth watching at http://webtv.un.org/watch/high-level-meeting-on-scaling-up-nutrition/1864981615001/)we heard from many committed leaders, with a significant group from Africa.  They include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister of the Economy in Nigeria; Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of NEPAD and Mozambique's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Oldemiro Baloi.   South Africa has so much to offer to countries scaling up nutrition from all over the world - both as a resource centre and as a country which is actively addressing its own nutrition challenges.  Jay Naidoo is one of the 27 members of the SUN Lead Group which undertakes stewardship of the Movement on behalf of those at risk of malnutrition in SUN countries.  The Lead Group - chaired by Anthony Lake of UNICEF - met on the 27th September morning. 

Recent figures suggest that there are 165 million stunted children and more than 2 billion with micronutrient deficiency in today's world.  The outcomes being sought within the SUN Movement are determined within each SUN country and tend to include (a) better access to water, sanitation, public health facilities, nutritious foods; (b) empowered autonomous women with an understanding of ways to optimize nutrition, and the opportunity to feed and care for themselves and their children (including exclusive breast feeding to six months, complementary feeding, adequate nutrition in pregnancy); (c) improved growth rates (and a reduction in low birth weight and child stunting) and (d) reduced micronutrient malnutrition.   Progress is being monitored within SUN countries by Governments, validated through standardized surveys with information collated by the World Health Organization.  Global targets for some of these outcomes were agreed by nations at the World Health Assembly in May 2012.  The efforts of SUN countries will certainly contribute to the realization of these targets.  Care is being taken to chart the average annual rate of reduction in stunting across SUN countries and to relate this to (a) their state of preparedness to scale up, and (b) commitments being made and fulfilled.  This aspect of the Movement's work needs more emphasis during the next 12 months. 

A central feature of the SUN Movement is its focus on ensuring that the effort to scale up nutrition empowers all people to have more control over the way they nourish themselves and their dependents, and on their capacity to use the nutrients that are consumed.  This means paying attention to hygiene, water, sanitation, access to health care, women's time and autonomy, as well as access to nutrient and energy rich foods especially in the 1000 days between the start of pregnancy and second birthday.  The principles of the SUN Movement include a commitment by all who join to combining improved coverage of specific nutrition interventions with nutrition-sensitive strategies across all development sectors.  There is strong emphasis on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and social protection - enabling people to access nutritious foods all year round at an affordable price - and on contributing to all people being able to realize their right to nutritious food. 

Within SUN countries, it is clear that four processes are important.  First:  functioning, people-centred multi-stakeholder platforms, Second: agreed strategies and legislative frameworks, Third: a single set of expected results around which different groups align, and Fourth: mobilizing additional resources (and capacity) in support of effective actions to realize these results.  The Country Government Focal Points are tracking these processes within their countries and discussed this when we were in New York.

SUN Countries are heightening their advocacy efforts for improved nutrition. They are raising awareness of nutrition at local government level and at central level holding highly visible SUN launches. The SUN Advocacy and Communications Team of global advocates met on 28th and will continue to ensure that nutrition is headlined at key international events. The new SUN website was launched on 27th September to provide a space for SUN countries and improve communication throughout the entire SUN Movement.  (www.scalingupnutrition.org)

All those who join the Movement - including civil society organizations and businesses - contribute within the principles of the movement.  These include ensuring that countries are at the lead and respecting national legislative codes.  Other principles are set out in the latest SUN Movement Report (http://scalingupnutrition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SUN-PROGRESS-REPORT-FINAL-2.pdf).  I also send you the Strategy for the Movement (agreed by the SUN Lead Group on 27th September 2012) which provides additional information - http://scalingupnutrition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SUN-MOVEMENT-STRATEGY-ENG.pdf).  

An emerging feature of the SUN movement is the application of learning for more effective action - through sharing of experiences among SUN Countries, Networks and the Lead Group. This was evident during the meetings last week.  The focus was on the four in-country processes and on how they are being taken forward within different country settings (including at the State or District levels).  This is a key feature of the 'how you make it happen’ dimension of the SUN Movement.

I think many within the SUN Movement would agree with the five bullets at the end of your "Hadeclaration".  I did not hear much diplomatic language during the SUN meetings in New York last week.  All within the movement are eager to intensify progress and support countries as they demonstrate results. 

Warm regards as always


04 October 2012

From Nutrition Education to Nutrition Leadership

One of the encouraging things about the Congress is the focus on nutrition education.

But what is nutrition education? To me, the term feels a bit archaic.

I was at an excellent session on Nutrition Education, chaired by Paul Amuna.

The session helped me clarify my own rather biased thinking about the landscape of needs for nutrition education:

1. Make sure nutrition professionals (whether front line workers or policy people) are updated with the latest thinking on nutrition science and implementation.

2. Equip nutrition professionals with the “non-traditional” skills--leadership, influencing, communicating, demonstrating impact—needed to work effectively across sectors.

3. Equip the non-nutrition professionals who affect (or could affect) nutrition profoundly with some basic understanding of nutrition. These non-nutrition professionals are the doctors, the agriculturalists, the social welfarists, the educators, the economists, and the politicians.

4. But to equip these non-nutritionists who are potentially strong allies, nutrition professionals need to understand a little about how they think: how do they frame issues and what are their professional drivers? This means nutrition professionals being exposed to one or more of these sectors in their own training.

Working across boundaries is hard. What’s in it for the nutrition professionals? Resources directed to nutrition, resources that they can have some influence over. What’s in it for the non nutritionists? Demonstrable impact. Development policies and interventions are under increasing pressure to demonstrate human level impact—linking up to anthropometric indicators is a good way of doing it.

All of these skills have the hallmarks of leadership: not being satisfied with the status quo, thinking broadly, building alliances, taking risks, communicating effectively—whatever the level you are working at.

Maybe the time has come to begin thinking about nutrition leadership instead of nutrition education. 

In that spirit, The African Nutrition Leadership Programme is an African-led initiative, and one that it is essential to support.

03 October 2012

The African Nutrition Congress: Declare the end of the 22nd Century Mindset

Days 2 and 3 and the African Nutrition Congress are generating lots of good ideas, evidence and connections, but I wonder how much influence it is generating?

It is interesting that not too many people here are talking about the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement. For example, when asked why they had not signed up to SUN, senior nutrition representatives from the South African Government said they were waiting for an invitation. Of course they don’t need an invitation—that’s the point.

There may be political reasons for South Africa not signing up--they don’t need the money, they might think the hassle of dealing with donors is not worth it, and making yourself accountable to a wide audience is not an easy decision to make—but I found the disconnect rather stunning.

We had a good session from Jane Badham on SUN 101 (Jane is South African and the lead of the SUN Advocacy and Communications Team), but the fact that the Congress needed a 101 session is telling. I think this may say as much about the Congress community as it does about SUN.

SUN is beginning to be driven by countries (see the latest progress report from the SUN Secretariat—although it would be good to have an independent progress assessment). Rubber is hitting roads, but it is taking time—and I would like to see Jane’s Advocacy and Communications Team work more at the national level.

But the Congress members need to find more ways to link to debates outside their countries—and I know this is not easy for many because of lack of staff, job responsibilities, freedom of expression, lack of travel opportunities and lack of IT access. The Congress is a good way of doing this, of course, but, admittedly as an uninformed outsider, I get the feeling that the Congress is not making the most of its potential clout.

For example, there is no "Declaration" coming out of the Congress.

Where else do we have 800 nutrition professionals, the vast majority being from Africa? This is a fantastic opportunity to put pressure on African governments to do more to accelerate declines in stunting rates.

Remember that if stunting were an MDG indicator, based on current rates of progress–about 1 percentage point a decade (see De Onis et. al. 2011 in Public Health Nutrition)--Africa would meet its 2015 target in the 22nd Century.

And it is not as if there are no dynamic African nutrition leaders—there are many here (some I have met Anna Lartey, Beatrice Kawana, Esi Colecraft, Joyce Kinabo, Paul Amuna, Namukolo Covic, Julia Tagwireyi, Bridget Okoeguale, Brenda Namugumya and others)--but the job of a Congress is to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

What would a declaration look like? Some thoughts:

“We the 800 participants of the African Nutrition Congress call on Governments throughout Africa to:

• Recognise the centrality of the nutrition status of your citizens to the success of your nation. Nearly one third of child deaths will be prevented by improved nutrition status. The economic growth and poverty reduction of tomorrow depends on child growth today. Tackling infant undernutrition today will prevent health epidemics of middle age.

• Make nutrition one of your top priorities. Champion it at the highest levels. Create a space for it within decision making. Create a nutrition budget line item and commit to spending 10% of your budgets to it. Sign up with SUN.

• Spend a high percentage of the nutrition budget on strengthening national and subnational capacity to scale up nutrition. This means working with households, frontline workers, NGOs, researchers, private sector and policymakers to dispel myths and enable action.

• Monitor the activities of the private sector within your countries. This sector can be a force for good but it can also be a force for bad. Monitoring what they do and spend is difficult, but we can monitor what they say. If it is responsible, let’s applaud. If not, let’s expose.

• Monitor nutrition outcomes on an annual basis, just as you monitor economic progress year by year. Allow civil society to applaud progress or criticise lack of progress. Allow yourselves to be guided by new evidence. Allow others to monitor your commitments—it is a way of building trust with your citizens. Let us see if you do as you say before you ask anyone else to do as you say.”

Of course, the language might have to be more diplomatic!

02 October 2012

Transforming Africa's Nutrition Landscape

I am in Bloemfontein, the city of roses in South Africa, for the 4-day African Nutrition Congress. The meeting brings together 800 professionals and 3 professional societies working on reducing malnutrition in Africa.

The theme is Transforming the African Nutrition Landscape. And it needs transforming—unlike other development indicators, rates of stunting (short height for age) for preschool children are declining at an extremely slow rate (WHO says from about 41% in 1990 to only 37% as the projection for 2020. This matters, because stunting is the composite wellbeing indicator from hell. Every insult from conception to birth through the first two years of life is captured in a grisly physiological index.

My talk, as you can guess, was about how we need to transform the way we: think about nutrition (focus more on creating an enabling environment), hold governments and donors to account, track and leverage funds, develop leadership and innovate around communication. The powerpoints are here.

The Congress is very focused on nutrition processes within the body and it is a long time since I knew anything about the Krebs Cycle. But there are plenty of sessions and presentations I could relate to—here are some from day 1:

• Anna Lartey (U. of Ghana), the incoming International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS) President, was inspirational, bringing her low key passion to the proceedings, with her focus on leadership, action and urgency. She emphasised that while the commitment to undernutrition is high right now, it will not last forever and we need to lock in the commitment now

• Alan Jackson (U. of Southampton, UK) was excellent on the issues of obesity and overnutrition. He told us about the status of the fetal programming research--how birth weight affects health risks later in life (development plasticity)--even after 50 years of potentially mediating effects. The evidence is stronger and stronger that fetal programming and variations in LBW are significant in magnitude (one study showed an increasing risk of chronic disease by 20% for a one kg drop in birth weight). Alan highlighted several systematic reviews and interestingly he thought that they were helping the nutrition community to become more influential with policymakers (now there is a hypothesis to test).

• Esi Colecraft (U. of Ghana) presented a study of the nutrition content of agricultural training programmes supported by the Ghanaian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). Key findings: (a) Of 72 academic staff in the 4 MoA colleges, only 4 had any training in nutrition related topics (and they were in home economics and food science), (b) of 180 courses offered by the 4 colleges, only 4 had any nutrition content (on cookery and home economics), (c) some of the staff interviewed said they wanted more nutrition in their curricula (although some of those rationalised this perspective by saying it was a way to get their products consumed), but some said they thought there did not need to be any more nutrition content because “we are agriculturalists”. Those who wanted more nutrition content highlighted the barriers between agriculture and nutrition: hiring practices in terms of essential requirements for a position and a very vague notion of what nutrition is by those in decision making power. This study was quite modest in ambition and, I suspect, resources but we need more studies like this--for a wide group of countries--to understand barriers and formulate strategies to get greater convergence between agriculture and nutrition.

• Zandile Mchiza (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa) presented a content analysis of 665 advertisements in the 3-5pm children/family slot time in the South African Broadcast Corporation not for pay TV channels (SABC channels 1-3). She found that 51% of the food adverts during the 3-5 pm time slot were for foods of poor nutritional value. Amazingly, a substantial proportion of the alcohol ads were in this time slot too. Only 8% of ads were for healthy foods. Clearly there is a need for the current advertising laws to be enforced. There was a discussion was around what to do next? Approach the Government of South Africa? SABC itself? Or the media? No conclusion, but I would go to the Mail and Guardian. Headline? SABC breaks law and puts commerce ahead of the health of South African children.