28 February 2013

The New Spiritualism in India: Implications for Development?

A big part of IDS's take on development is that we have to go outside of the development bubble to really understand the wider forces that drive it.   Religion is one of those big drivers.  And yet we tend to think of it as static--something that does not change very quickly.

Last night we had a Sussex Development Lecture from Prof. Nandini Gooptu, from Oxford University's Department of International Development.

She described the rise in the new spiritualism in India.  India has more spiritual leaders per person than any other country (e.g. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, pictured, the founder of the Art of Living), according to this BBC report  which is focused on the potential contradictions between the apparent lavishness of the lifestyles of some of the leaders and their teachings.

But this media framing wasn't the subject of Prof Gooptu's lecture.  Based on her fieldwork, she made several key points:

* the new spiritualism (NS) is about personal empowerment, autonomy and self agency--"learning together to live alone" or "individually, together". In the past people would pray to gurus to help them, now the devotees pray to gurus to give them the strength to help themselves
* the devotees report that they find peace, calmness, energy and inner strength
* NS has raised the profile of corruption as an issue in India
* NS has increased levels of volunteerism and civic work
* NS is seen as a response to a lack of effectiveness of politics. The state is no longer seems as the facilitator for ways out of poverty, the gurus are filling that vacuum
* NS is helping people manage the challenges of everyday poverty

However, Gooptu cautions that the experiential understanding of reality can support an anti-intellectualism, an uncritical approach to social enquiry and breed a "political quietism" (people vote to punish politicians but they no longer believe them).

What has caused this rise in NS?  Gooptu would not be drawn too much on this, but suggested it had much to do with the state of flux India finds itself in today--rapid growth, spatial mobility, lack of faith in government and a long tradition of spiritual leaders.

What are the implications for development?

* does the focus on the self give politicians an excuse not to focus on the underlying structural features of poverty generation?  Or does it provide another way of defining and addressing structural issues?
* NS has a great ability to shape behavioural and cultural norms, and these are very important when it comes to a number of development issues, e.g. violence against women, son preference, care of babies and young children
* NS is already entering into the formal sphere with self help entering the national school curriculum
* self help ideas are shaping the ways in which we think about the delivery of some public services--recently, the one state government offered to shift the responsibility for nutrition in children under 3 from the staff of the government-run Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to self help groups supported by a prominent Indian NGO.

Fascinating stuff, and a reminder that development is a whole of society process, with many forms of capital, including spiritual capital.  I would be very interested in the reactions of DH readers, especially our Indian friends.

24 February 2013

Making the most of Nutrition 2013: unity, polity and clarity

What a year this is going to be for the collective efforts to reduce malnutrition rates throughout the world. 

The torrent of events--scientific, rallying, and pledging--the reports (including the second Lancet series); the campaigns, speeches and op-eds--could combine to lead to increased investment in nutrition, better programmes, better policies, better data and improvements in nutrition status.

How to maximise the likelihood of this happening?

1. The nutrition community has to continue to stick together.  We cannot let old squabbles resurface (e.g. food versus non-food; under vs over nutrition; diet vs micronutrient fortification/supplementation; private sector good vs bad).  I was at a meeting last week on the MDGs and nutrition and there were faint reminders of how disparate the community used to be. The SUN movement has brought the community together and unity is more important than ever now. 

2. The nutrition community has to engage with broader development processes. We are in the limelight right now but we are not the centre of the universe.  There are dozens of similar communities, many much more powerful. We must appreciate this, understand the most relevant ones for us and work with the relevant polities, within their processes, to advance our own agenda by strategically supporting theirs.

3.  Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to engaging with the general public.  Like many other communities, much of the work done by the nutrition community is highly technical with many nuances.  We must communicate clearly and simply and not be too precious. 

So we need to be unified, aware of the wider context we are working in, and clear in our messaging.  The nutrition community has been great on this in the past 3-4 years, but in 2013 the pressure is on like never before and we need to hold our nerve as this exciting year unfolds. 

The premium on unity, polity and clarity has never been higher.

15 February 2013

Friday round up: All change at top, the curse of elections and crowdfunding of risky research?

Here are some items that caught my eye this week.

1. All change at the top. I was really pleased to see that Kevin Watkins has been appointed the new Director of ODI. Kevin is an original thinker, an articulate speaker, and a thoroughly nice person. As is the outgoing Director, Alison Evans. She has done a great job with ODI and is always a pleasure to work with and is an inspiration for many in the field. Similarly for Barbara Stocking, the outgoing CEO of Oxfam UK, who has really done a great job of leading Oxfam for the past 12 years or so. Always positive and engaging with a keen intellect and a great ability to connect with everyday people and their concerns. I wish them all well.

2. Michela Wrong on the upcoming Kenyan elections. Michela's article in the current edition of Prospect is, frankly, depressing. It reminds us how difficult it is for some places to adopt things that we take for granted and think are "a good thing". The business of holding free, fair and peaceful multiparty elections in a country with identities that are split along ethnic lines takes time. Wrong, like all of us, hopes that bloodshed can be avoided this time.

3. Crowdfunding and risky research. We are having a particularly frustrating time raising some funding for a risky research project. It's risky in that it might amount to nothing, but if it works, it could give us real insights into long term change, insights that are very different from the 3-5 year windows that are usually available from research. The risks are clear, but developing plans for managing them also takes funding, so we are in a bit of a catch 22 situation: research is too risky to fund as-is but funding is required to reduce the risks. I appreciate this is not a very attractive proposition for traditional research funders, but sometimes innovative research requires innovative funding models.

We won't give up with our traditional funders, but I have been following the crowdfunding movement. This model is lots of small funders supporting a researcher with a dream. It is possibly a mad dream, but if it is, the giver has only lost £30. It has been successful in supporting films, novels and new technology. Who knows, perhaps this will evolve into a new way of funding research.

14 February 2013

Development: What's the Story and Should We Tell It?

I was at a roundtable co-hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Debt, Aid and Trade, the International Broadcasting Trust and IDS.

The question we posed the assembled MPs, media experts and development folks was: How to we reengage the UK public on international development?

Peter Kellner's "its a policy knockout" in Prospect magazine at the end of 2012 found that the UK public places cutting aid high on the list of things it wants the government to do.

Given the headlines today "UK set for low GDP growth for at least two years, Bank of England warns", it will be difficult to change this dynamic, although the Enough Food IF.. campaign should help counter it, at least temporarily.

The prevailing media narratives centre on a number of things:

  • We spend too much on aid. There is an excellent video from ONE which does a good job of highlighting the disconnects between what the UK public think we spend on aid (20 percent of national income) and how much we actually do (0.54 percent)
  • Aid has no effect on people over there. Aid is either diverted, used incompetently or used on things that are just band-aids. Save the Children and others do a very good job of showing how aid makes a positive lifelong change to people's lives.
  • Aid does nothing for the UK. Much of Secretary of State Justine Greening's speech last week was centred on countering this theme. Her speech focused on the security and growth benefits for the UK of development aid.

So all of these narratives can be countered, but what about a more "front foot" stance?

What is the story of development? It is a story of:

  • shared agendas--climate, the right types of growth and sustainable resource use
  • one world, not three--increasingly common problems faced by all countries, with solutions coming from all corners of the world
  • tax and policies overtaking aid and projects

We saw some of these elements in a recent speech from Ivan Lewis, the Shadow Secretary of State, although, for me, the elements don't yet come together sufficiently to tell a compelling story.

But above all it is a story of interconnectedness: forget 6 degrees of separation, it is down to one or two in global development terms. The choices of a UK procurement officials in Tesco's have a huge amount of influence on agricultural opportunities in Africa. A Chinese government official's decision to open up a coal fired plant in a remote Province contributes to the pattern and intensity of droughts and floods in South Asia. A participatory budget in Brighton (courtesy of Bill Randall the Mayor of Brighton) that is inspired by Porto Alegre's council in Brazil.

The story the media frequently tells--aided and abetted by the development industry which needs to raise funds--is centred on disaster, deprivation and disease. This sells newspapers and helps charitable giving. So why try to change it? Because it doesn't reflect the reality. Fatigue and cynicism will set in. Trust will be broken. And most importantly, it is a misrepresentation.

So how to make development interesting to viewers in the 6-7pm television news slot, preferably the local news slots which have even higher ratings than the national news ones? Not easy. First, think like a regular viewer. Why should they be interested? Find some stories that penetrate the lives of busy people who have no professional interest in development. Second, write like a regular person. Don't use jargon. Third, develop a relationship with media professionals (not only those converted about development)--get to know how they think and what they need. Finally, tell the real story--authenticity will win out.

Localising global stories is not easy, but it surely can be done. We have to change the conversation on development before it is too late.

13 February 2013

Beyond Averages: Addressing Inequalities for Post 2015. Guest blog by Richard Morgan and Saraswathi Menon

Here is a guest blog by Richard Morgan (UNICEF) and Saraswathi Menon (UN Women) on the global consultation their organisations have been running for the past 4 months on addressing inequalities:

Since September last year, UNICEF and UN Women have been supporting an open consultation on Addressing Inequalities in relation to the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This has been held entirely on-line, at www.worldwewant2015/inequalities. A report, aiming to synthesize the many contributions from around the world, has just been posted. The findings will be discussed at a “leadership meeting” hosted by the Governments of Denmark and Ghana on the 19th February in Copenhagen.

We received more than 175 papers for the consultation. The largest number contained analysis and personal testimony on gender inequalities, while others focused on economic issues, disabilities and the experiences of young people, slum dwellers and minority groups. Some of our NGO and UN partners also teamed up to moderate online discussions on these issues. Almost 1,300 people participated in these e-discussions over several months.

What were some of the key messages coming out of all this?
First, it was widely felt that inequalities concern us all, on several grounds: there is an obligation to address them, based on the human rights principles of universality and non-discrimination. Inequalities are widespread and often growing – despite aggregate development progress during the “MDG era”. They persist within all countries and between them. Similar kinds of inequalities – such as violence against women, exclusion of people with disabilities and child deprivations – are faced in common by people across the world. Global action and partnerships are seen as necessary to address them.

Even more than this, the case was made that inequalities harm everyone, not only those most directly affected by disadvantage and exclusion. Economic growth is slowed and productive potential is lost to all – not least by the exclusion of women. Children are consigned to inferior education, poor nutrition and low future productivity. Existing social fragilities are worsened, as is the impact on families of disasters and conflict. Cohesion and security are undermined. Interacting with poverty, the impacts of inequalities are transmitted from present generations to succeeding ones.

There was widespread agreement that, no matter what form inequalities, they are often deeply entrenched, reinforced by discrimination and legitimized by prejudice. The drivers of inequalities are structural and mutually-reinforcing – and found in the political, cultural and environmental domains as well as in the economic and social ones. And, as such, they cannot be solved by piecemeal interventions alone. Anti-poverty programmes may work to alleviate the symptoms of structural inequalities – but they are not likely to affect the drivers that reproduce them. Worse, they may simply pit one “target group” against another, instead of confronting the common factors that marginalize them all.

What are the messages for those framing the Post-2015 Development Agenda?
First, the challenge of inequalities is not reducible to the fight against absolute poverty. It goes beyond that. There was a widespread feeling that a global goal will be needed to address the multiple forms of inequality, including those relating to gender.

Second, the failure of the MDG design and indicators to “look beneath the averages” must not be repeated. Dominant inequalities must be addressed and tracked, by some combination of targets and indicators, within each future goal area of the new Agenda.

Third, it is not just about “results” for the disadvantaged. The process also counts. Equity-based policies and programmes will need to be expanded, including social protection and specific levelling-up measures to address specific forms of exclusion and harm; the actual impact of public spending will need to be assessed, both for those worst-off and on the gaps between them and others; and legal reform, redesigned service delivery methods and social communication will all be needed to combat discrimination, prejudice and exclusion. Deep experience in these areas has already been gained in the struggles for the rights of women and of people living with disabilities and/or HIV.

Accountability will be at the core of all this. Our contributors kept coming back to the question of how political leaders and decision-makers can be better held to their development commitments and human rights obligations, the next time around. There was wide agreement that only the use of a human rights framework for development would help ensure accountability and transformative, non-fragmentary approaches. Human rights principles would also impel the kinds of widespread citizen participation in decision-making and monitoring that will be needed to hold those with power to account. Open-source data, transparent institutions and mobile information technologies are potentially highly empowering tools for disadvantaged people and largely-excluded groups to start exercising accountability.

We’ll be holding a final public discussion with our Inequalities Advisory Group of civil society, UN and academic experts on Monday 18th February. You are invited to participate through the www.worldwewant2015/inequalities site, where the Report on the Consultation can also be downloaded.

Richard and Saras

07 February 2013

The Drugs (policies) Don't Work: Can Development Help?

This week IDS is hosting a workshop on Global (illicit) Drugs Policy and Development.

It is one of those areas that IDS loves doing research on: a key driver undermining development (especially in West Africa, parts of Latin America and South and Southeast Asia), one that most traditional development agencies ignore, and one that brings different disciplines to the table.

One small indicator of the lack of interaction is that a Google search under "illicit drug and international development" yields no results.

We know drug use is bad for development: poor health (drug use is the fastest rising risk factor in the new global burden of disease estimates); conflict, violence, trafficking and other violations of rights to name a few.

But it turns out that attempts to control the supply of and demand for illicit drugs are also very bad for development, violating rights, generating conflict and many other unintended consequences. This is because these efforts are policing/security/punishment led on the demand side and on the supply side are about destruction of crops and external ideas about generating alternative livelihoods which have lots of unintended impacts. There is a nice summary of the state of the field here.

Can a better balance between a development and a security perspective help? I would think development has a lot to offer.

  • On incentives, the work on horizontal inequalities (the work pioneered by Frances Stewart on inequalities across identity based groups) gives us insights into greed and grievance; and work linking bad governance in the rich countries (around arms control and illicit financial flows) with bad governance in the south should have some broader lessons for drug policy
  • On context, the development community's work on (a) locating de facto authority in ungoverned spaces, (b) promoting voices from the margins and (c) realising rights in difficult contexts can surely help.
  • On policies, our work on the following should have lessons that read across:  (a) health systems and social protection-how they can work better for those at the margins of society and (b) infrastructure--how to make groups less remote spatially and (c) gender based violence--how to change community norms as to what is acceptable via social movements.

There is not much research in this area, but two things seem clear to people who work in this area: (1) the current illicit drug policies are not working well for development and (2) the drug policy and development communities do not get enough opportunities to work together.

My IDS colleague Markus Schultze-Kraft deserves a lot of credit for attempting to bridge these two worlds and the Open Society Foundations should also be recognised as being a leader in this rather unfashionable but critical field.

06 February 2013

What if 60 million people turn to food banks in “rich” countries?

Here is a guest post by Ugo Gentilini, who recently published an IDS working paper on the topic of the usage of food banks in high income countries. I think the numbers will surprise you.  Highly recommended. 
By Ugo Gentilini 
How do people cope when they are laid off, family bonds are broken and welfare systems are tight? They often turn to food banks.

Food banks provide food to charities and other grassroots organizations for supporting people in need. As such, they tend to complement institutionalized, government social assistance programs by offering a free hot meal or a set of take-away, pre-packaged foods.

By all accounts, turning to food banks is a growing phenomenon. The BBC broadcasted an insightful documentary on the matter, while a recent article on the The Guardian defined 2012 as “the year of food banks”. This is a common trend emerging all across the West (see here, here, here and here).

But does the rise of food banks suggest high stress in societies, or a high level of responsiveness to needs? How many people turn to food banks in “high-income” countries? And what does this imply?

Those questions have motivated a new IDS working paper. According to latest data, almost 60 million people – equal to the entire population of France – are supported yearly by food banks in “rich” countries. This is a highly conservative estimate that represents over 7 percent of the surveyed countries’ population.

What does this imply? A number of thoughts sprinkle to mind.

First, by queuing for food handouts, people have made visible an often invisible problem. As such, those services have been an eye-opener for communities around the world. Yet, both governments’ safety nets and the food bank system seem overstretched. These dynamics pose serious concerns in terms of possible effects on social fabrics, inequality and stability.

Second, food banks as a whole help millions of people. However, they tend to do so in a fragmented, dispersed and localized manner. Overall, there is a need to better map out, assess and connect the universe of initiatives more robustly and systematically, particularly in Europe. Also, it might be required to strengthen and harmonize definitions, statistics and information systems across countries.

Third, the debate around the most appropriate providers of assistance – whether the state, NGOs, or combinations – is of great importance. Indeed, it is intimately linked to issues around rights, responsibilities and social contracts. However, such debate is no substitute for identifying and addressing the root causes of poverty and marginalization. In other words, food banks provide relief support to people affected by structural drivers of vulnerability – they are an instrument, not an end in themselves.

Fourth, the nature of food assistance in advanced economies differs remarkably from that in developing countries. Being food insecure in Europe officially means skipping “a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day”. In a number of developing countries, food insecurity is life-threatening and food assistance is about survival. However, food banks offer a wealth of practices that could be of interest to an array of contexts.

Let there be no doubt. Food banking is a sensitive and emotional topic. Accessing food banks is a tale of economic breakdown and socio-psychological distress. And the policy debates that it sparks are often rooted in competing views around the role of the state in welfare and development. Given the breath of those issues, the paper’s analysis is only scratching the surface. But the emerging scenario seems far more substantial, in terms of both magnitude of the phenomenon and its implications, than generally perceived. This would require elevating food assistance, and poverty more widely, among the top policy issues to be addressed in HICs.

04 February 2013

The MDGs: the best thing your friends have never heard of?

Well of course you have heard of them, DH reader, but I am constantly reminded of how bubble-like our development insider existence is when I talk to my non work friends about the MDGs.

I had these conversations because one of them spotted me on the BBC News Channel on Friday night talking about the MDGs.

The conversations go something like this:

friend: So what will you talking about on the telly?
me: The Millennium Development Goals.
friend: What are they then?
me: Goals that all nations signed up to to help end poverty and hunger and disease.
friend: have we ended poverty and hunger and disease?
me: Er, no
friend: Why not?
me: Well, it depends on the goal and the country.
friend: Give me an example then.
me: Well for hunger in East Africa it is about peace, roads and drought.
friend: And money?
me: Sometimes it is not enough money, but often it's about how money is spent--which regions and what it is spent on.
friend: Sounds complicated.
me: It is.
friend: Has the MDG-thingy worked then?
me: It has been better than anyone expected--look at the fuss everyone is making about them--if they didn't count no-one would give a hoot.
friend: I'll overlook the use of the word "hoot" -- how have they worked?
me: Well, they have increased aid, more of it has gone to Africa, and more to health and education. Most importantly they have been a rallying call for the development community.
friend: So why do we need new goals if the old ones work and have not been met?
me: Good question (panics for answer)--because there are new problems (e.g. climate change), things we did not get right the first time around (including more on monitoring actions as well as outcomes), and frankly because we need to reenergise everyone to complete the unfinished agenda.
friend: Reenergise? It already sounds really exciting to me!
me: hmm, you may be right (realising that he may just be a wee jaded)

A communications expert once told me, if you want to be able to speak persuasively about development, talk to your (non work) friends about it. They will ask you the hard questions and you won't be able to dodge behind jargon. Quite.

02 February 2013

Information IS Power (at least in this study area): New paper from Bjorkman et. al.

Community based monitoring of the quality of service delivery is certainly not a panacea.

But some studies have shown that some interventions have been successful in improving outcomes, solely through the introduction of some kind of feedback mechanism.

One of the highest profile studies was by Bjorkman and Svensson in 2009. The study was prominent because it was in one of the top economics journals (the Quarterly Journal of Economics), because it was a randomised controlled trial (RCT) and because of the large effects a community scorecard that publicly rated health facility performance had on public health outcomes.

In fact the effects on health outcomes were so large that it was one of the studies commissioned by 3ie for a reanalysis of the data (no results yet as far as I know).

In a new paper, Bjorkman-Nyqvist, de Walque and Svensson have revisited the 2009 study and have explored two questions: (1) do the effects of the original participation + information intervention hold up in the longer run? and (2) is it the programme design or the context that drives the positive results?

The authors find that the long run effects of the original intervention hold up. Some of the effects are larger (for reducing births), some are similar (reductions in infant mortality, impacts on low weight for age). This is encouraging.

On whether it is context or programme, they can begin to untangle this. They introduce a participation-only intervention and compare it to the control and to the original participation + information intervention. In the participation + information intervention, communities don't just provide feedback on providers, they have access to provider scores.

It turns out that community access to provider scores is vital for improved health outcomes. Without the information on provider scores, participation is disempowered because the accountability mechanisms are absent.

So some aspects of programme design matter a great deal. On whether this effect would be seen in another location, the paper cannot say.

Simplistic notions of participation are discredited by this RCT, which illustrates the importance of community-powered accountability, at least in these 9 districts of Uganda.

Note: The paper I have a hard copy of was dated January 13, 2013 and the paper publicly available is dated March 2012 (although it does not have the results tables included). The conclusions of the two versions are the same.  I have written to the lead author to get permission to publish the January 2013 paper.