Editor’s note: What do we know about the people who actually ‘do’ aid? Not much, apparently. The anonymous aid worker known variously as J. or @TalesFromthHood is working on a project with Elon University sociology professor Thomas Arcaro to change that. Take the survey!
- No, this is not aid work. Last week, soccer superstar David Beckham, via UNICEF, met with survivors of the Philippines typhoon Haiyan.
By J., guest contributor
You’ve got to admit that there’s a certain level of irony in the lack of any kind of systematic, evidence-based study of humanitarian workers. It’s ironic in two different ways.
First, there’s probably no other industry that puts more emphasis—at least at the level of professional discourse—on understanding culture, host communities, specific demographic groups, and so on, than the global community of humanitarian aid and development practitioners.
We’re kind of obsessed with context, culture, community, and finding ways to shape interventions which make sense and are effective. We agonize for weeks or maybe months over how to introduce birth-spacing in rural Afghanistan, say, or how to get people to cook differently in the Sahel. As we should. It is fully the aid community’s doctrine that “we shall respect culture and custom.”
But doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that we don’t spend much time trying to understand aid and development workers (including those who sit in offices around the world, doing the unsexy work of making the spreadsheet cells calculate properly, or getting the report into the proper format)? They’re an important—a crucial, even—ingredient in the overall aid formula.
Without them, aid work doesn’t get done. Wouldn’t it be useful to know what makes them tick? Continue reading
- Flickr, by Rodrigo Senna
The push to expand access to life-saving drugs and vaccines in low-income countries is threatened by the lack of drug safety monitoring.
How so? Well, the standard approach to getting drugs out to the developing world has been for the pharmaceutical industry to first make a product it can sell to the rich world and, as costs go down over time, eventually distribute it to the poor. The problem with that approach is that the costs don’t always go down enough and many drugs or vaccines needed solely in poor communities simply don’t get developed.
It was this fundamental problem – which Bill Gates in the early days of his philanthropy identified as one of the world’s most deadly kinds of market failure – that helped launch the movement (and/or industry) we now call global health. Continue reading
- Optimist in Chief, Bill Gates.
- Eric Haver
There might not be a more optimistic person about the future of the world than Bill Gates.
“By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world,” declared Gates in his annual letter, released in January.
He has good reason to feel so good. Massive gains against extreme poverty, the reduction in deaths by diseases and growing nations all point to a better and more prosperous world in the coming future. Challenges remain, but most things seem to be going in the right direction.
Despite all that good news, there may be reason to be skeptical of optimistic thinking.
“Actually, there’s a lot of research now to suggest that many of these techniques are counterproductive, that saying positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror can make you feel worse and that visualizing the future can make you less likely to achieve it,” said journalist Oliver Burkeman to NPR in November.
It goes further, there are instances that show holding onto positive thoughts can keep people from achieving their goals. The Millennium Development Goals set a host of targets to be reached by 2015, the World Bank wants says most extreme poverty will be gone by 2035 and it also hopes to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030. Countries create their own ‘Vision’ documents that outline where they want to be by a certain point.
There are a lot of goals and optimism floating in the international development ether and they might not be helping as much as we think.
In 2012, more than 87,000 people were resettled as refugees or granted asylum. People from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq made up more than 70% of the refugees arriving that year. The majority of US states take in refugees each year. Roughly 1 out of ever 5 refugees end up in the giant states of Texas and California.
However, adjusting for population, California and Texas are not overburdened.
- Refugees per million residents yearly, 2009-12.
- Casey Cupp
This map by Casey Cupp is warped to show which states take on the highest number of refugees relative to their population. For example, the densely populated New Jersey takes in a far lower rate of refugees than that of the two Dakotas. What the map shows is that the distribution of refugees looks very different when considering state populations as opposed to strictly the number of people living in each state.
HT Cherokee Gothic
Data: Migration Policy Institue
- Map of CRS and CARE programs.
A savings-and-loan initiative in Uganda sought to create groups where people could increase their personal finances. The hope was that agents would then help form new groups to reach more people. It succeeded, but not in a way that was expected.
A survey of savings-and-loan groups across Uganda in 2013 found that many of the new groups were self-formed.
A group of researchers went back to the villages that once participated in savings-and-loan programs. The Datu Research team found that villagers learned from the other groups and went on to start their own. The new groups are performing just as well as the ones assisted by CARE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
“At first people were overlooking our group. They would keep on moving. But at the time of sharing out, these people would see members of our group improving their standard of living. Many people were encouraged by our growth and wanted to join,” explained a group member from Bundibugyo, to the researchers.
The findings, published in the report Post-Project Replication of Savings Groups in Uganda, give evidence to the argument that programs can succeed when control is in the hands of the people, rather than the aid organization. The majority of members of the self-created groups say they were motivated to pay off recurring costs, mainly their children’s education. Fewer cited the desire to meet future financial needs and gain access to savings and loans.
I stumbled into the brain drain debate through research claiming to debunk all the concerns. I held it as fact that talented people leaving their home countries caused severe harm.
The argument made a lot of sense. Doctors from Malawi who chose to leave for work in the UK deprived the southern African nation of a vital medical professional. The same goes for the urban American who grew up in poverty, managed to climb out of the trap and now lives with her family in the suburbs working as a lawyer at a big name firm.
The systemic problem of poverty appears harder to unseat when the few people that do succeed leave.
It came to my surprise that people were advocating for migration as one of the solutions to help Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Researcher Michael Clemens made the bold claim that migration is an equivalent to trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk. It is a reference to the economics nerd joke:
An economist and his friend are walking down the street when the friend sees a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk.
“Look,” he says, “it’s a ten dollar bill”.
“Nonsense,” says the economist. “If that was a ten dollar bill, someone would have picked it up by now.”
The joke pokes fun at some of the assumptions economists hold regarding the efficiency of markets. In the case of Clemens, he said that opening up migration can make a lot of money for the migrants, the destination countries and the country of origin.
“For skilled workers, there is some evidence that wages of the remaining workers goes down, but the effects are too small to justify the hype about the brain drain,” blogged Shantayanan Devarajan, Chief Economist of the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa Region. Continue reading
- Troy Constable
The global campaign for education snagged a high-profile politician this week. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will assume the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Global Partnership for Education.
The organization’s model is akin to that of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, but it has not been able to wrestle the same financial resources. The Global Fund managed to raise $12 billion in its December replenishment event, short of the $15b requested, but more than the previous $10b.
The Global Fund for Education hopes to also succeed when it holds its replenishment meeting in June. A public goal has not been made, but the group said that they received $1.2 billion in funding requests in 2013. The Global Partnership for Education has managed to allocate $3.1 billion since 2002, not enough to stave off the 6.3% decline in global aid for basic education between 2009 and 2011.
“I am also alarmed about the recent sharp decline in donor support to education that threatens the progress achieved over the past decade, particularly for girls’ education,” said Gillard at the time of her appointment. “The global community must respond generously to the upcoming call for a renewal of multilateral, bilateral and national financing for basic education.”
A Toronto-based women’s shelter imagines a world where tabloids about celebrities are replaced by magazines telling of the struggles faced by the poor. A new campaign by the Woodgreen Community Centre, a place that helps educate, train and find employment for women, shows some of the possibilities by reworking the cover for People Magazine.
The campaign asks, “What if we cared about those living in poverty as much as we care about celebrities?”
It seems that the campaign is resonating with people, reports Fast Company.
HT Fast Co Exist