If you only read one thing this week…

More on the food crisis from the Institute for Food and Development Policy by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 30, 2008, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Gretchen Gordon writes: “Food protests and riots from Italy to Yemen have begun capturing worldwide attention, and policymakers are scrambling to point fingers at a litany of culprits—everything from climate change, high oil prices, a weak dollar and the biofuels boom, to meat eaters in China.” Her analysis of the situation points to unprecedented deregulation and concentration of ownership in the global food markets for the current crisis. As we have eliminated breadth and diversity in the system, we have eliminated its ability to withstand shocks and manipulation.

Read the article here.


Food shortages – how will we feed the world? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 22, 2008, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory, Environment, If you only have 15 mins

Britain’s Daily Telegraph is carrying an interesting article on the current world food shortage here (unfortunately also here and here, thanks to stupid click throughs). They address the questions of why prices are rising, who will be most affected, and what we can do about it. Interestingly genetic modification and biotechnology are not a large part of their proposals, although biofuels do take a topical beating (with the need to make them sensible, rather than politically expedient, sources emphasized).

Making existing technologies more available to small scale farmers (who till one third of the world’s soil) is a large part of their ‘multi functional’ agriculture prescription.

Strategic Planning – does it really make us more strategic? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 16, 2008, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Development theory, If you only have 15 mins, Management

As someone who is fully immersed in my agency’s annual strategic and budgeting process right now, I am fascinated in reading thought provoking articles on the issue. This thought piece by Becky Andrews entitled Why Strategic Planning isn’t Strategic struck me as a good, concise account of where we go wrong in our planning processes. I have listed out her key arguments below but it is worth reading the full article (it’s only 2 pages). My frustration lies in the fact that she states the problems clearly but doesn’t give much of a hint as to what the alternatives are (unlike the piece on budgeting that we posted last week). If anyone has any suggestions on things that have worked for them, please post them here.

What goes wrong when we try to plan strategically:

  1. We mistake goals for strategy
  2. We generate more goals than we can reasonably pursure (this sounds familiar!)
  3. We expect strategies to fit within a rigid timeframe
  4. We confuse strategic planning with consensus building
  5. We try to forecast the future from a snapshot in time
  6. We pretend to be objective (she has a funny analysis of how we kid ourselves in SWOT analyses)
  7. Staff get frustrated through bad data and/or inaction
  8. There is a tendency to overrely on bad data
  9. Time delays put the organization on hold
  10. The whole process wears us down

Unintended consequences of Climate Change…more execution of ‘witches’? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 16, 2008, 4:25 pm
Filed under: Environment, If you only have 15 mins

This opinion piece from the New York Times speculates about some of the possible unintended negative consequences of climate change, taking the example of how people are often used as scapegoats in many cultures when weather patterns are unfavorable. The author pulls several historical examples of patterns relating to increased executions of elderly women as witches in Europe  as well as current examples in Africa, that appeared to correlate to the weather. Although not scientific I found this article thought-provoking. So much of the thinking around climate change relates to immediate weather-related impacts. We haven’t even begun to think about all the broader ramifications around it. Maybe we should….

Climate Crisis – a new talk from Al Gore by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 10, 2008, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For those of you who enjoy the TED talks and slideshows, consider watching this latest 20 minute presentation by Al Gore on the current state of climate change and how it may be worse than scientists were predicting. Clearly presented, this is thought-provoking viewing. 

Measuring Your Mission – Is it Possible? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

Any of us interested in the complexities, challenges and successes of macro-level measurement that tells us at an agency level whether we are making progress (or not) towards achieving our mission, should check out The Bridgespan Group. This non-profit consulting group helps agencies get closer to results measurement in a number of different ways. Although their focus is US domestic agencies, the papers that they have published are relevant to those of us in the international humanitarian field. In particular I liked a study entitled Great Valley Center: A Case Study in Measuring for Mission that talks about how they helped the Great Valley Center start to measure it’s results at the macro level. Interestingly, a recent study by the Independent Sector identified that nearly 60% of the nonprofits surveyed said that the results of at least some of their programs were too intangible to measure. Now that sounds familiar!!! Even if you aren’t interested in the specifics of the case, the generic challenges and potential solutions outlined are (I think) applicable to all of us.

Why inequality matters. by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 2, 2008, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Nancy Birsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development (which is worth a look in itself – check out her YouTube video on Cash-on-delivery aid). She is an ex-World Bank economist who has been involved in several major studies of the role of inequality in economic development. Her article in the Boston Review is about inequality, and why we need to pay attention to whether it is working for or against us. So is inequality good or bad? Unfortunately, as usual, it’s not that simple. It could be crucial that we understand it though – read all about it here.