If you only read one thing this week…


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.

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Mobilizing for peaceful change in the US by Nick
October 10, 2011, 11:33 am
Filed under: accountability, Articles, governance, If you only have 15 mins

The New York Times is running an interesting piece of commentary by Paul Krugman on the wave of demonstrations and protests currently taking place in the US. Read it here. The comparisons to the ‘Arab Spring’ are fascinating (although that is not the point of this article).



Steve Jobs by Nick
October 5, 2011, 5:34 pm
Filed under: If you only have 15 mins, Management

The tragic death of Steve Jobs today made me think about some of the things he said about the work of transforming Apple from a good to a great company. I think this video from 1997 is pretty interesting, Jobs talks about focus, and how, without it, Apple had been less than the sum of its parts. “Focusing is about saying no,” says Jobs. Watch the video here.



Results of 30 year organic vs non-organic farming trial by Nick

Started in 1981, the Farming Systems Trial (FST) at Rodale Institute is America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. The results of their 30 year trial were published this week (get the full pdf here).

The short story is that they claim that, on real farm size trials, over 30 years:

  • Organic yields match conventional yields.
  • Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
  • Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
  • Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
  • Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
  • Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.


NGOs and corporations – what’s wrong with CSR? by Nick
July 18, 2011, 7:55 am
Filed under: Articles, Environment, If you only have 15 mins

Andrew Pendleton’s 2004 report (Institute for Public Policy Research) for Christian Aid on the issues and perils of NGO engagement with corporate power is a sobering read that looks at some of the trends, what has been achieved, and some learning about what can and cannot be reasonably expected from dialogue and engagement.

Pendleton concludes that a shift from self governed Corporate Social Responsibility to legal structures that produce Corporate Social Accountability by allowing those harmed by corporate action to seek redress through national and international law is a major avenue that does not receive enough attention.

Read the report “Behind the Mark – the real face of corporate social responsibility” (surprisingly digestible) here, or read the rather more forceful one pager from CorporateWatch here.

Proponents of dialogue see it as the best chance we have, faced with the reality of corporate dominance. But this is only true if other realities cannot be conceived of and brought into being …

Many NGOs are choosing what is essentially a palliative campaign strategy, one that tries to make conditions more bearable rather than solving the problem. As the world’s ecological crisis worsens, many of the organisations we’ve trusted to fight the destruction are effectively reinforcing the power of the destructive corporations. As our need for change becomes ever more urgent, and the solutions needed ever more drastic, some NGOs find themselves actually asking for less and less change.” – Corporate Watch.



What did USAID think of last year? by Anna
April 15, 2011, 3:29 pm
Filed under: If you only have 15 mins, News

In case you’re not sure about the results from your work and you’re not involved in monitoring and evaluation, check out this year’s annual letter from USAID Administrator Shah for a quick, optimistic, and colorful look at USAID’s year in review. Shah had quite a first year in office, beginning with the earthquake in Haiti only five days after he swore in. He concludes with the notion that more people today are interested in development work than ever before and this attention to these issues is what drives USAID forward.

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The hazards of working in Afghanistan by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
January 27, 2011, 2:59 pm
Filed under: conflict, Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Over the past year, over 100 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan. This NY Times article cracks open the debate about the impact that the US military and government contractors may have on the safety and security of humanitarian workers. Humanitarian aid agencies, such as Mercy Corps, mostly operate without the use of armed guards, whereas many government contractors work behind fortified compounds with armed guards. Despite the high number of deaths from aid workers, the number of injuries and deaths from contractors is almost four times as high, and the number of military casualties almost doubles that. Read the article to learn more about the intertwining of these ongoing initiatives in Afghanistan.

For Nick’s most recent literature review on incidents of violence against humanitarian workers see this post.