Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"Nothing is what you think it is"

There are things you learn about yourself and your surroundings when you have the opportunity to live in unfamiliar surroundings, but unless you're up to your waist in those new surroundings you’ll be hard-pressed to actually understand them. Most are content to not understand them. Fucked up things happen and that’s just the way it all flows. Fortunately, I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, and am in the habit of trying to understand some of these fucked up things. A common phrase to anyone who’s witnessed or been subjected to inequality or some other aforementioned fucked up thing is along the lines of “that’s just how it is”. This is a submission that things are flowing against how you would ever want them to be, yet can do nothing to fix this. Sometimes it’s out of laziness, but sometimes, there truly is nothing you can do without putting your life at risk. 

In Canada we have the good fortune to be able to publicly comment on government policy without being arrested or any other terrible thing, and in this case saying the above phrase, conceding defeat, is out of laziness. Too lazy to participate in democracy, and submission is much easier.

In non-democratic states, this is not always the case. You see harsh inequalities, or unjust occurrences and to speak out against them may mean your life, or in the very least an increase in discomfort. I see many new luxury vehicles around the city now, yet with a mean annual income of $1,700 this would never be a reality for most. So people work hard to fight this monster called inequality. They work for NGOs and even government agencies, they rally companies to get involved and the best ones put their asses on the line to help those who could never dream of owning that car, mostly because they cannot even sleep long enough in a day to dream in the first place. 

They work hard, and yet their work is often clouded by realities. Realities of needing partnerships. Realities of needing funding. Realities of not being arrested. These are often unavoidable, and some of these workers I’m sure are tempted to concede defeat against the wave of fucked up things. Sometimes we can fight against the realities to still make a meaningful difference, and in the field of development it’s just something we have to do. We push through them, holding our values as key, until we can find a solution. A co-worker told me that one of her friends’ had a nanny who took their infant outside on a daily basis to beg on the streets with her (unbeknownst to the parents), adding with a tone of near-resignation that “here, nothing is what it seems. There is always a reality hiding underneath what you see”. 

But her friends didn’t give up. They installed cameras in their house.

And sometimes, that’s just what we have to do to un-fuck situations.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Practioner's Dilemma: The Professionalization of Development

The economist Bill Easterly is likely the largest proponent against technocratic, heavy handed development efforts around today. He argues against the 'big development' type of development that repeatedly witnessed a strong lack of consistent success, and yet the largest voices in development such as Jeff Sachs, The World Bank, and The Gates Foundation are still working within this framework. As his recent book The Tyranny of Experts' name would suggest, Easterly has an issue with the professionalization of development that has taken a stranglehold of the decisions that are made across the Global South, and became a standard for all major (and most minor) development organizations. Professor Easterly refers to these experts themselves as the dictators, and the problem the continues to plague development efforts worldwide. The experts are the technicians who can fix technical problems, when in reality problems faced by the poorest one billion people are far more complex than any technical solution can handle. How can experts, such as Jeff Sachs, travel around the world preaching the technocratic solutions for poverty and one hand, and live in a multi-million dollar flat in Manhattan on the other?

And herein lies the problem. I want to be that same expert, technician and now apparently dictator.

I agree with Easterly, who echoes the likes of Arturo Escobar and Amartya Sen when he says that poverty reduction is something that can only occur through freedom, not technical solutions. A conflict exists between this approach and the more technocratic, expert-aligned approach, and it is very politically derived. When rationally-minded people are faced with seemingly logical solutions it is natural to take the path of least resistance, work within the bounds of reason which dictates problem identification, finding the most effective cost efficient solution and implementing it. This is how I was taught to find solutions studying Geographic Information Sciences and data base management, because this is how they are structured: within the confines of logic. Humans, on the other hand, do not easily fit into the confines of this model. We are often irrational and incomprehensible, we do things that often work against us, and often times do it repeatedly.Effective development, like all things, should be completed holistically. It should be entirely based around the needs of the beneficiaries, with the inputs of experts being done within a loose and accommodating framework.

 I have faith that while working for beneficiaries instead of for donors I can still be an expert, but an expert who doesn't carry only his laptop to hotels, hold meetings, and fly home. A balance must be struck between being a logically minded technocrat or expert and someone who can accept (not try to understand) the irrationality of human decisions. I anticipate learning from both schools of thought will help this become a reality in coming years.

Monday, 30 June 2014

GIS and Poverty Reduction: Part 2 (Map Kibera)

In Part 1 I provided a brief explanation of what a GIS is and what it does. I'll focus here more on what a GIS is capable of within a poverty-reduction framework, with some examples where applicable. It is important to emphasize that I:
 a) do not assume that any technological tool can alone remove poverty;
 b) do not want to further enhance the dichotomies that exist international development studies by emphasizing rural/urban, North/South 

What really sparked my interest in this topic is a project which was launched in 2009 by  Penn State called Map Kibera, seen in the video above. This ambitious project involved the residents of one of the largest slums in the world in Nairobi, Kenya to map out, and create household and geographic data of the entire city.

There's a few reasons why this project is so much more than providing a detailed map of pathways and roads in the area. It makes those residents that were previously invisible on a map visible; it marks the beginnings of land-rights reforms, it allows services to be measured and provided (or enhanced); and, finally,  it can help to identify where change can begin to happen.

It is not the software itself that can bring forth poverty alleviation, it is how the software is used, who is using and for what purpose they are using it. In this case, simple digitization efforts by hard working individuals in a community created a wealth of new options and choice, efforts that are currently being replicated around the world. I'll continue to explore how a GIS can help in the fight against poverty, but giving people the power of being formally recognized is an excellent place to start.

Ignore the past, doomed to repeat it...

The heavy costs of cheap clothing: Bangladesh
A story in the NYT brought home an important point that we cannot forget while we continue to consume freely: there are much more costly implications involved in buying that sale item than the runway would suggest. I'm not writing this to induce feelings of guilt when it comes to consumption in wealthy nations. Guilt doesn't promote change, and if it does it's for the wrong reasons.  If we consider the current levels of environmental and human disaster occurring in the manufacturing centres of the Global South to bear equivalence to the industrial revolutions' human rights travesties, then we have a problem. If we justify our current methods of production, consumption and environmental destruction by claiming that it is a part of growth, a part of a nations' way of becoming developed we are committing a fundamental crime: we are blatantly ignoring the past. Our short-sighted society can hardly see itself a week or year from now into the future, but to ignore what has already happened, and what we know the solution to, is ignorance in its most pure form. Whereas consumer habits are unlikely to change anytime in the near future at the risk of an impending economic meltdown caused by not growing and consuming and wasting, the change should be coming straight from the source. The big players in the field need to be criminally held responsible for not upholding the rights and laws that are in place, because if they're not being upheld by them, they won't be by anyone.
Source: Khaled Hasan, NYT
There is nothing new when it comes to organizations' being very easy to pat themselves on the back for a 'sustainable' plan being implemented, but very little being accomplished at the structural level. Most CSR policies don't extend out of the country of main consumer bases, and plenty of organizations don't know how, where, or by whom their products are being created. A very sobering investigation by the Guardian revealed the horrific conditions that slaves are held to in the Thai fisheries industry shows how little companies know about their product chains.

The argument is that by upholding workers' and environmental laws the cost of good will increase, hence decrease consumption and hurt the economy. The idea that these mega-corporations can't absorb the necessary costs to make their operations legal is ridiculous and nauseating.  So don't feel guilty when you buy that shirt you don't need, just don't buy it in the first place.The right for clean water and respectable living conditions cannot be determined by a companies' unwillingness to comply TO A LAW. When state's don't have the will or the power to implement international labour laws or allow for the effective unions to be formed it is in my opinion the burden of those who are most exploiting the workers to step in: and these are the companies working there.While international carbon footprinting and waste standards are being developed and used by large organizations effectively would it be an effective next step to begin exploring how a 'human rights standard' or 'workers rights standard' could be built? for the private sector, a private company would be best at creating and monitoring this standard. Leave some thoughts below about what things you think this should include, and who you think should be the one's monitoring and giving this standard.

Friday, 27 June 2014

GIS and Poverty Reduction: Part 1

While I often cringe at the idea of technological solutions to poverty, there is one I am profoundly interested in exploring further, and that technology is Geographic Information Sciences, Systems and Studies. A disclaimer would first be appropriate: I am still a student in GIS and development, and as such do not claim to know everything on these two subjects. A GIS is "an integrated collection of computer software and data used to view and manage information about geographic places, analyze spatial relationships, and model spatial processes" (Esri, 2014), and as such it has immense implications for fighting poverty. I will explain this definitions further, and once we have a better under

"manage information about geographic places": Every aspect of our lives is in one way or another dictated by our geographic location and the circumstances that are affiliated with these locations. The sheer size of information involved with geographic locations requires explicit decisions to be made regarding what will be managed, and what will be ignored, and this aspect brings on other implications in itself.
"analyze spatial relationships": A GIS allows one to actively manage and analyze what processes take place regarding these locations, and how the relationships of structures and objects interact and influence each other within and between locations. Unlike aspatial data and information which works according to underlying principles of independence between variables, spatial relationships are NOT independent, and as such influence each other.
"model spatial relationships": A model is a representation of something that cannot be fully replicated because of complexity, cost or a wide variety of reasons. Models can used as a means of predicting future or current events based upon historical trends and existing data. As mentioned in point 1, models are instantly biased in that every influencing factor cannot be replicated or included, and the user must therefore make decisions as to what will be left out of the analysis.

These definitions are my interpretations of Esri's definition of a GIS, which itself carries some controversy. With this understanding of GIS as a complex tool capable of managing vast quantities of data, and providing visual and graphical representations of processes on the surface of the planet, we can look a little further at what it can do. 

Environmental Studies and Analysis: A powerful aspect of a GIS is the capabilities regarding environmental variables. A simple example of this could be using combined data, satellite and remote sensing imagery to measure deforestation in an area, and how it will progress with a "business as usual" scenario through a constructed model.

Network Analysis: An effective tool that allows for, you guessed it, network analysis. Networks are interconnected sets of points and lines that represent routes from one location to another, such as a pipeline, road, or even a social network between people. Common tools for this could be determining the best location for an emergency facility, a new store, or finding the best route to deliver goods.

Urban Analysis: While not being a separate toolset within most GIS platforms, urban analysis is (to me) one of the most awesome ways that a GIS can be used. Determining a new bus route, what roads can support new bike lanes, where new buildings or stores can be placed, determining market segments, population centres or any other wide array of things are just some of the urban analyses that can be completed.

Now that we have a better idea of what a GIS is, we can start to see how an analytical geographic approach  can fight something as real, cold, and ugly as poverty, which will be followed up with in Part 2.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Indian development: What is going on?

Being one of the most important figures both living and dead in international development and economics circles, Amartya Sen has again teamed up with Jean Dr├Ęze to release a book on the status of "India's defective development". In an interview with Guardian Global Development, Dr. Sen emphasizes his use of comparison to other countries as a wake-up call to the apathetic middle and upper classes in India.  The relevance of the release couldn't be more apt in light of a tragedy in an Indian school which resulted in the deaths of 22 children because of a tainted free meal, followed by local protest of burning police vehicles and tearing the school kitchen down. With the largest slums in the planet within and around all of its cities, and rural poverty levels equivalent to the poorest countries in the world, it's hard to believe that India is one of the largest emerging markets in the world, with an ever-increasing GDP per capita. Growth without equality continues to be one of the most pressing issues the world is facing in the 21st century, and countries in the North and South need to acknowledge the importance of spreading wealth evenly. Regardless of where you live or how your countries' overall economic standing is, wealth redistribution needs to occur at some level or other not only as a means of increasing healthcare, educational and economic standards, but as a tool for stemming corruption and increasing citizen involvement in local and national affairs.

Think about it this way: how do you expect someone in Canada to participate in society in the slightest ways if they have to work two part-time jobs to cover living expenses alone? It's the same inequality faced by the rural poor known as being "time-poor"; needing to spend hours getting water, or walking to school, or to a market... it is an inequality that is inherited unless state actors take part in ending the cycle. In India the state has not been nearly as active as its powerful neighbor to the North in changing the circumstances of its' poorest population, and by not adequately providing for the future India may just be setting itself up for problems that will be much more difficult to solve in 20 years then they can be today.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

#SWEDOW and Voluntourists

SWEDOW, or, "Stuff We Don't Want" is often written about in the development community referring to well-meaning people sending useless, often demeaning things to developing countries under the guise of development. The worst examples include sending used bras to Malaysia "give a lift to women", old shoes to Africa or "little dresses for Africa". I don't want to get into why this model is wrong, it is skillfully written about by whydev.org, Weh Yeoh, and Tom Murphy on several occasions. If there was a discourse built around SWEDOW, I would argue that voluntourism and related activities would fall under its' broader umbrella, and that what is considered to be 'voluntourism' is, indeed something that is not wanted and can often be useless, harmful, and degrading.

It is a task too large to tackle, but I will try to generalize here what the main issues are, and why voluntourism is most definitely SWEDOW.

      1. It undermines long-term, structural development efforts in the same way that TOMS shoes and others provide economically unviable, quick fix models for structural issues.
      2. It may be hard to believe, but untrained, privileged children and young adults are not qualified for construction work, social work or even to play football. This Huff Post article tells the story of a rich white girl going to build a library in Tanzania which resulted in their shoddy workmanship needing to be entirely re-finished by locals every night after they went to sleep. 
      3. It has been proven time and time again in development discourse that the minimum time required to be working in a single area is six months, which is even too short. Kids going to work for 2 weeks (or less) or desperately short of this goal.
      4. This type of SWEDOW further perpetuates ideas of people in developing countries as being lazy, unknowledgeable and dependent on outsiders.
These issues barely scratch the surface of everything that is wrong with voluntourism, and related activities. We can start by shutting down "great" programs like ME to WE which are to development what inactive pools of water are to fighting malaria.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

International Development Job Postings (UK +International)

UK-Based Organizations

    *Contact @pembletonc for any suggested organizations focused on international development based in the United Kingdom*

Overseas Development Institute (ODI): http://jobs.odi.org.uk/Search.aspx

Action Contre Faim (Action Against Hunger): http://www.acfin-hr.net/jobs/positions.php?hq=18

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED): http://www.iied.org/jobs

Centre for Global Development (CGD): http://international.cgdev.org/page/job-opportunities-0

University of East Anglia Professional Training: http://www.uea.ac.uk/international-development/dev-co/professional-training

International Association for Community Development (IACD): http://www.iacdglobal.org/Join-us/membership-benefits

KPMG International Development Sector (IDAS): http://www.idasafrica.com/

International Development Partnerships (IDP) http://www.idp-uk.org/AboutUs/ContactUs.htm

Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI): http://www.cesi.org.uk/contact

Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) http://www.cles.org.uk/join-us/

Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) http://www.ieep.eu/work-with-us/

Search Engines:

DevNet: http://www.devnetjobs.org/

Tetra Tech ARD: https://careers.tetratechintdev.com/ARDCareers/App/InternationalPostingDetail.aspx?PostingId=807 

Management Systems International: http://www-msiworldwide-com.careerliaison.com/careers/ 

Coffey International: http://ca.coffey.com/international-development/careers