Those 'other' things we can't quite categorize


Infographic: How mobile money is faring in Africa | 

The story of mobile money in Africa is as much a one of success as it is one of failure. The rapid rise of M-PESA in Kenya and other competing ways to send money from cell phone to cell phone has been heralded for years. Today, nearly 70% of Kenyans who own a cell phone regularly send or receive money on their phones.

The growth has been staggering considering that M-PESA turned 7 years old this month. Estimates show that one-quarter of Kenya’s gross national product travels through mobile phones. As a result, it has helped to make it easier for people to send money home, pay for goods and services, and gain instant access to a savings account.

Due to the success in Kenya, the belief has been that mobile money can work elsewhere. Advocates are buoyed by the fact that the continent managed to leap past land-line phones for mobile technology. It means more people are connected by phones and as higher speed coverage expands, by the internet.

That is why USAID, the Gates Foundation and other funders have been making the bet to support the growth of mobile money elsewhere in the world. So, how are things faring in Africa?


It’s still early, but the results are not so great. As seen in the infographic of use across the continent, there is a steep decline from leading Kenya to Uganda to South Africa. There is reason for hope that mobile money will catch on elsewhere in the world, but it is evident that copying the success of Kenya is not enough. The trend also seems to be making its way north. T-Mobile is now letting its customers deposit checks in a mobile money account, which they can then access at ATMs.

“Some of the factors behind Kenya’s lead cannot be copied; but many of them can, which means it should eventually be possible for other countries to follow Kenya’s pioneering example,” said The Economist blog last year.

Why economic growth is not enough to end poverty | 

The long and often still held tenet of development is that economic growth is needed to ensure that a country improves. In other words, poverty will end when more people are making more money.

It makes a lot of sense at the face of it, but the stunning pace of global economic growth has not helped everyone, especially the people who need it most. Economist and former Oxfam staffer Kate Raworth makes the case for thinking beyond economic growth in this short talk animated by the The RSA.

Are you convinced by her argument? I’d love to hear from other economists as to why she is right or wrong.

GM Cotton is not killing Indian farmers, nor is it saving them | 

Farmers examine cotton for insects.
Farmers in India examine cotton for insects.
S. Jayaraj

The suicides of farmers in India are once again making headlines. Hailstorms and rain have damaged crops for millions of farmers in India, adding to the hardship caused by erratic weather patterns.

Debt concerns have driven nearly 60 farmers to commit suicide in the past month, say advocacy groups. As usually happens, the reports of suicides are followed by claims that the culprit is a genetically modified form of cotton called BT cotton. The finger of blame is often pointed at the agriculture giant Monsanto, creator of the Bt cotton seed.

“Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India,” writes Indian activist and Vandana Shiva. “This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.”

Problem is that the argument made by Shiva and others does not stand up to the available evidence.

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Humanitarian aid worker, aid thyself | 

Guest contribution by Allison Smith and Brendan Rigby, on a new aid worker support initiative by WhyDev

Two aid workers measure one year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Syria's civil war has left many children suffering from malnutrition.
Two aid workers measure one year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Syria’s civil war has left many children suffering from malnutrition.

Aid workers tend to suffer higher-than-normal rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, burnout and anxiety.

Members of the humanitarian community are well aware that getting drunk while out ‘in the field’ saving lives and helping the poor is a fairly common way of coping with the stress and isolation of these jobs. Studies show aid worker stress is no small thing.

The problem starts with isolation.

Aid workers are isolated from the friends and family that most of us count on as support networks when dealing with crises, whether physical or mental. Even when they return home, aid workers often struggle to describe their experiences and challenges to those who don’t understand the difficulties of working in the humanitarian context.

One researcher, Colleen McFarlane, has reported that: “Increasing evidence has suggested that international humanitarian staff are at risk of developing significant mental health problems.” Continue reading

Why are male farmers out-performing women in Africa? | 

Tanzanian farmers
Gates Foundation

The gap between men and women in some African countries is easily seen in agriculture. Male-managed farm plots consistently out-perform those of their female counterparts by as much as 66% in Niger and 25% in Malawi.

The long-held belief was that a lack of access to the necessary inputs (seed, fertilizer, labor) to make a farm successful were less available to women. That is the case to some extent, but there are more ways that women are put at a disadvantage as to their male counterparts.

“Despite the centrality of agriculture in the economies of most African nations, relatively little is known about why farms managed by women are on average less productive. This “knowledge gap” in turn translates into a “policy gap” in the steps that African governments, their development partners, business leaders and civil society can take to equalize opportunities for female and male farmers,” writes Makhtar Diop, Vice President for the Africa Region for the World Bank.

In fact, equal access to inputs does not necessarily mean that men and women will have the same levels of agricultural productivity. Doip’s comments come as a part of a joint-report on gender and agriculture led by Michael O’Sullivan from the World Bank and Arathi Rao from the ONE Campaign. A closer look at six African countries that are responsible for more than 40% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa helps to make sense what is happening.

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Online activism has its shortcomings, but is not a failure | 

unicefActivists have turned to social media as a way to get people involved in their campaigns. Critics say that the ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ is nothing more than a cheap way to make a person feel like she did something while not doing anything. Proponents say that every little bit helps and there is value in creating awareness as people share information with their social networks.

The popularity of the Kony 2012 video and its ensuing backlash brought the debate to center stage two years ago. Some charities are pushing back on the trend. UNICEF Sweden released a series of videos that shunned Facebook likes and asked for cash donations

So, who is right?

Two new pieces of research shed a bit of light on the answer. Those who sit firmly in pro and against slacktivism camps will be disappointed. Both sides are right and wrong.

Using social media for activism can make a difference, but it matters most to the people who are already interested in an issue. It is not terribly hard to get people to participate by liking a Facebook page or sending out a Tweet. The challenge is converting bystanders into engaged activists.

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How after-school tutoring in Nepal hurts the students that can’t afford it | 

Students as Shreeshitalacom Lower Secondary School. Kaski, Nepal.
Students as Shreeshitalacom Lower Secondary School. Kaski, Nepal.
Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

While conducting research in 2005 and 2006, Seema Jayachandran heard parents in Vietnam complain that teachers who offered paid tutoring were not teaching well during the school days. The parents accused the teachers of worrying more about the extra money they would make at the end of the day, rather than the students in the classroom.

The Northwestern University economics professor eventually had the opportunity to see whether there was any truth to the claim. He research in Nepal, recently published in the Journal of Development Economics, found that teachers who provided after school paid tutoring spent less time teaching in the classroom.

The students who are able to afford the tutoring performed better on secondary-school exams, those who don’t participate suffer. The problem is not unique to Nepal.

“It seems to be a pretty common phenomenon in mainly poorer countries in Asia,” said Jayachandran to Humanosphere. “In Africa it does not seem to be as common. Tutoring is not as common, but you do not hear this complaint in places where it occurs.”

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