If you only read one thing this week…


People and the Planet – How to lift people out of poverty without destroying the world. by Nick
May 4, 2012, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Development theory, Environment, If you have 30 mins

The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption… Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.” Sir John Sulston, Royal Society Fellow on the Society’s recent report.

Overconsumption in rich countries and grinding poverty in much of the world are a threat to social stability and environmental sustainability. Britain’s Royal Society spent the past two years studying this, and their report (download the report here) is well worth a look.

Key recommendations include:

  1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today.
  2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels.
  3. Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally.
  4. Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues.

If you can’t face the full report, the BBC summary is nice!



The worst way to judge a charity by Nick
April 30, 2012, 8:54 pm
Filed under: accountability

The LA Times is running a long over-due op-ed here on how misleading administrative costs are as a measure of charitable effectiveness. It won’t be news to anyone who works in the non-profit sector, but I’m always disappointed at how little push-back there has been from the sector on this metric. It’s high time we started being more assertive about what we want to be held accountable for.



Ignorance isn’t bliss! by Anna
March 1, 2012, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

 

Some of us working in aid are brand new to the country or community we are trying to serve. Some of us have grown up here our whole lives, but are new to the organization we work for or the donor who is funding our project. Some of us focus too much on what to report and not what is actually happening. Some of us lean towards routine and fear taking the risks to break the mold. Some of us don’t know how to find the funding for a brilliant idea. We are all missing pieces of the puzzle to crack the poverty nut. It’s hard. But even worse, our knowledge gaps and poor planning can damage communities we are trying to assist. Some aid projects are just bad ideas: misplaced, poorly planned, unscrupulous, even manipulative. Here are seven of the worst as identified by the Matador network – an “independent media network and nexus of travel culture worldwide”.



The future. Again. by Nick
January 10, 2012, 10:57 am
Filed under: governance, If you only have 15 mins

I know, I know, I’m tired of people trying to predict the future as well. We all know how that game inevitably turns out, bu Peter Konjin is actually pretty interesting. He spells out two big issues that are playing out right now (the increasing presence of poverty in middle income countries and the more multi-polar world) and anticipates that the role of INGOs largely depends on what happens to the big western powers (the current funders of the lion’s share of international humanitarianism).

Well thank you Captain Obvious, but the interesting issue is what INGOs will do with the questions of: Whether to follow the poor into middle income countries, or follow Collier’s advice and stick to the Bottom Billion in the world’s poorest countries. Western donors appear more political in their donations to middle income countries (thanks Cap!) and donor publics more difficult to convince, but the moral imperative to work with the poor and marginalized demands a principled examination of this issue.

Konjan forsees a re-thinking of the idea of civil-society as we understand it, and a need to form alliances with domestic advocacy groups in emerging countries to work out a genuinely collaborative understanding of governance that does not feel like an imposed western model.

Take a look here.



Why unrestricted grants are useful by Anna
December 9, 2011, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This article, published in philanthropy.com, written by the chief executive of the Global Fund for Women talks about the importance of non restricted grants to local partners to be more strategic, develop their own missions and independence and avoid strong staff turnover. It points to the latest Nobel Peace Prize winners as illustrative of this. A great piece on gender, impact and giving.

http://philanthropy.com/article/A-Nobel-Victory-for/130037/



Evidence based poverty reduction and the Millenium Villages by Nick
November 30, 2011, 11:28 am
Filed under: If you have 30 mins, measuring results

So – here’s the dream – figure out how to reduce poverty, scientifically. Find ways to do this that you can show, with numbers, actually work. What a seductive idea. And how slippery and evasive. Let’s look at one of the flagship projects, the Millennium Villages.

They are the poster child of Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia, along with UNDP. The idea is to take Sach’s theories of poverty traps (if you need to brush up on this stuff it’s all in ‘The End of Poverty’ by Sachs), and design a series of pilot interventions that demonstrate, empirically, that an integrated approach to rural development with consistent adequate funding over time can achieve the goal of lifting communities out of the poverty trap (and meet the Millennium Development Goals while we’re at it).

There are 13 of the sites, in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, plus a bunch of similar type projects all over the place. They started as a five year project in 2006 and just got renewed for another five. So – where are we as far as empirical proof of poverty reduction is concerned? Well, it’s, erm, a mixed bag, and sort of depends on how you look at it…

ODI did one of the earliest reviews of it in 2008 (read the full pdf here) – a little early to really show impact on poverty reduction, they do claim crop productivity increases (although only alongside additional agriculture inputs, so there isn’t really a lot of income increase). There does seem to be some malaria reduction, and that’s good, although it’s not entirely clear how cost effective this public health program is compared to traditional ones, since the whole thing is a big integrated package.

ODI signs out with some rumblings about sustainability of gains and issues of scaling up, but they are basically optimistic. Not so the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities group, who claim that their Ekwendini project villages that use sustainable agricultural techniques and crop diversification achieve better agricultural gains with far less cost.

Fast forward to this week, when we get the first independent evaluation of the MVPs, by Kenyan economist Bernadette Wanjala of Tillburg University. She looked at 236 families in the project and 175 control families in the same districts (read more here). She was hoping to find that the MVP project (which spends the equivalent of 100% of local per capita income per year on each beneficiary) would be able to show some empirical increase in recipient income. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find any evidence for it.

How can that possibly be? Well, let’s dig in a little more. She did find a 70% increase in agricultural productivity, which did tend to increase agricultural income in those families (at a substantial input cost). The problem was that those families that spent more time farming seem to be spending less time doing other profitable activities, and their income in those other areas fell, canceling out benefits.

The MVP group claims that ‘incomes are rising’, and that the project is ‘enormously successful’, but unfortunately doesn’t publish their data on incomes.

So where does this leave us? The MVPs are a bold attempt to test theories of change on a village level, and five years on we’re still arguing about what the data mean. It’s encouraging to see donors and academics entering this field of research, and perhaps not surprising that the answer is “it’s complicated – we need more research”.



Business, conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding by Anna
November 22, 2011, 10:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Violent conflict is bad for most businesses. But what impact does business have on conflict? This short blog post from a site called “Find What Works” provides a good overview of the ways in which businesses can avoid exacerbating conflict and actively promote peace. For those of us who work with private sector actors in conflict-affected environments, this post gives inspiration for how we can work with businesses not only to reduce poverty but to reduce conflict, as well.




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