Stuff I Liked

A Global Carbon Tax or Cap-and-Trade? Part 1: The Economic Arguments: A great initial look at the potential differences between the ideas. C&T certainly went up in my books after reading this.

Complexity, clarity, simplicity: Storytelling in global development: I’ve battled a lot with trying to strike the balance between complexity and simplicity, this article brings out some nice caveats to help transcend the dichotomy.

How to Prioritize U.N. Goals: The MDGs were criticised for leaving too many things out, are we in danger of overcompensating in the post-2015 goals?

Economist Jeffrey Sachs Says NO to TPP and TAFTA Trade Deals: Some robust analysis of what little we do know about the TPP without the usual sensationalism.

Ten of the best collective nouns: What would the collective noun for aid workers be? Of volunteers? Politicians?

Russia cries foul over Scottish independence vote: I know this isn’t meant to be funny… but, come on: “It is normally the sort of turnout you would expect in North Korea”.



Conflated meanings of ‘development’

Inspired by the book’s superb title and Chris Blattman’s post Books development economists and aid workers seldom read but should?, I’ve been reading The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson.

I’m only part of the way through but I felt compelled to share this beautifully cogent explanation of how different meanings of ‘development’ can be conflated and exploited:

“In the first sense, one speaks of “development” as a progression toward a known end point, usually modern industrial capitalism… In the second sense, so much in vogue in the late 1970s, 
development” is taken to mean the improvement in quality of life or standard of living…” (p55)

“The implicit argument is of the sort known to logicians as a fallacy of equivocation, of the form: (1) all banks have money; (2) every river has two banks; therefore, (3) all rivers have money. This fallacy, of course, consists in changing the meaning of one of the terms of the syllogism in the middle of the implication. The “development” version goes as follows: (1) poor countries are (by definition) “less developed”; (2) less developed countries are (by another definition) those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy; therefore, (3) poor countries are those which have not yet been fully brought into the modern economy.”  (pp.55-56)

Problematising the term ‘development’ is hardly a new trend (The Anti-Politics Machine was first published in 1990), but this is probably as logically as I’ve seen it framed before. What are your favourite examples that capture the essence of the problem?

Ferguson, J. (1994). The anti-politics machine : “development,” depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.



NZ Election Aid and Development Summary

The NZ Council for International Development (CID) asked the parties contesting this year’s election five questions about “party policy on aid and development, and the individual party’s willingness to engage with the development sector.” The full questions and answers can be found here, but I thought I’d make a bite-sized summary that cuts to the chase.

I’ve only included the responses from parties that I think could be relevant in influencing the outcome of this election, and note that the Conservatives, Internet Party, and ACT did not respond to CID’s questions and are hence excluded from this post. I considered pulling answers from the websites of these parties but decided it would be better to be consistent and just stick to the CID answers.

I’m deliberately being pretty brutal in cutting through the rhetoric and these summaries are based purely on my interpretations of the answers posted by CID, not outside comments or past policy. I welcome your comments.

1. Commitment to 0.7% of GNI to ODA

National: No. Labour: Yes, no timetable. Greens: Yes, within four years. NZ FirstYes, wants timetable. Mana: Yes, wants timetable. Maori: No. United Future: Yes, by 2020.

2. What NZ should focus aid on

National: Economic development in the Pacific. Labour: Elimination of poverty and post-2015 goals. Greens: Climate, gender, economic and social rights. NZ First: Gender, climate and environment, health and reproductive rights. Mana: Child poverty, inequalities, climate. Maori: Whanau Ora, rights-based approach. United Future: Agriculture and education.

3. NZ’s involvement in post-2015 agenda process:

National: Advocating for goals important to NZ and Pacific: economic development, agriculture, oceans, energy. Labour: Thinks NZ should be more assertive and focus on non-violence, gender, health, education. Greens: Supports involvement of civil society and a consultative process for setting goals. NZ First: Supports advocating for above focuses and needs of the Pacific. Mana: Focus on the above areas and resourcing of NGOs and Tangata Whenua. Maori: Thinks goals should be for NZ too, we should practice before we preach. Key areas as above. United Future: Supports teaching countries how to build their own economy and not rely on aid.

4. Government relationships with NGOs:

National: Yes, particularly in disaster response. Labour: Wants greater consultation with NGOs, re-establish NGO-NZAID strategic partnership. Greens: Focus on supporting programmes consistent with above priorities.  NZ First: Strengthening NGOs and greater collaboration with them to get public support. Mana: Yes, with MFAT. Maori: Yes, separate from MFAT. United Future: Yes, with MFAT.

5. Cross-party approach to aid and development

National: Thinks this already happens, wants to continue. Labour: Supports connecting MPs from all parties to NZAID and enshrining aid targets in legislation. Greens: Supports this.  NZ First: Supports this, providing NZ’s interests are put first. Mana: Supports this. Maori: Supports this. United Future: Supports this, but thinks it’s unlikely.

That’s my run through. Also check out Tear Fund‘s helpful infographics.





Is ‘Touristy’ Bad?

One of the things that always strikes me when I’m traveling is how often I hear other travellers expressing their distain for things because they are ‘touristy’.

First of all, I didn’t think ‘touristy’ was a real word. Turns out it is; here’s what a quick Google search tells me:

relating to, appealing to, or visited by tourists (often used to suggest tawdriness or lack of authenticity).”

I’ll be the first to admit that I often avoid things that many would deem touristy while I’m traveling. However, that’s just a personal decision made on a case-by-case basis. What I don’t feel comfortable with is objectively criticising things / places / activities because they are touristy.

Many people I’ve met during my stints on the road use the word ‘touristy’ with an incredible amount of negative connotation and often talk condescendingly about people who partake in these touristy things (in some cases even to their face).

Here are some reasons why I don’t approve of this:


  • Most of us tend to recommend touristy things to to travellers visiting our own countries and towns.
  • A number of touristy things are touristy because they’re ridiculously awesome. Machu Picchu and Victoria Falls are just two such places I know from my own experience.
  • Everyone has different levels of comfort when it comes to going off the beaten track. Yes, I encourage people to push themselves, but it’s not fair to criticise others for failing to meet your own standards.
  • Tourism is a business and one that a lot of countries depend on. You can’t criticise people for trying to make a living in their own country, especially in places where people are poor and economic opportunities are limited.
  • Related to the previous point, who are we, as travellers, to pass judgement over what is or is not ‘authentic’ in countries that we know little about? Cultures and communities don’t have to (and often don’t) live up to the fanciful pictures we have of them in our mind.

I should say that the majority of travellers I’ve taken the time to know are wonderful people. The views I’m describing are minority ones and there’s nothing wrong with not being a fan of stereotypical souvenirs and large crowds of tourists.

But everyone in those crowds are humans too and deserve our respect, regardless of how they choose to travel. They’re also probably contributing more to the local community and economy by spending money on those ‘touristy’ things some of us don’t like.



Touristy souvenir stores in Stone Town’s Old Fort.

Stuff I liked

I’ve realised that if I post ‘Stuff I liked’ weekly it’s probably going to account for 70% of the posts on this blog. So these links are from the last two weeks or so:

Exposing the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie: the counter-interpretation of poverty reduction stats that anti-poverty campaigners generally like to keep hushed.

If political parties were beer…: an entertaining and impressively accurate summary of NZ political parties.

Results for the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes are in. You won’t believe what they are! Another great crowdsourced piece on WhyDev. Even my limited experience working abroad the world many of these ring true.

Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? Nicholas Kristof has written a number of great pieces in the aftermath of the Ferguson shootings, this was one of my favourites by him.

Scared Scientists: A great little site by the Australian Climate Council to bring the humanity out from behind climate science.

Orphanages, Latrines & Soap Powder: Changing the #PovertyDiscourse: There’s plenty of criticism of the development discourse out there, here /TheRules clearly articulate some steps to improve it.

What stuff have you liked recently?

Representative Democracy and Climate Change

After bravely sticking to his guns in the Climate Voter debate last night, Hon Tim Groser mentioned that, as a centre-right government, they have to carry forward and take into account the views of sectors of the population who are instinctively against progressive climate policies (such as a price on carbon) and some of whom even consider anthropogenic climate change as a conspiracy.

For me, this highlighted the importance of having clarity around the way in which our democracy is ‘representative’. Are officials to elected to ‘represent’ us by acting as our direct proxy in government and passing legislation only in accordance with our wishes? Or are they elected to ‘represent’ us in trust that they will make decisions to benefit the country, accepting that not every single decision would be one we might make ourselves?

I think that in NZ it’s quite clearly the latter, with some referenda along the way to infuse things with a degree of direct democracy.

Groser’s comment, however, seemed to defy this. It sounded like he was justifying his party’s feet dragging on sensible climate policy because a select (albeit important) group who vote for his party would disagree with it.

If there was ever an issue that required governments to transcend such opposition, it would be climate change. Making the hard decisions that are in the long term good of our country and planet is the noble task with which our leaders are entrusted. Their litmus test is doing so in the face of (expected) pressures from those who have short-term profit interests at stake.

Groser claims to appreciate the seriousness of the challenge presented by climate change. If so, it’s high time he remember the nature of his role as a ‘representative’ and not bet the future of all New Zealanders on an enigmatic low-emission future sheep.

Impact Sourcing (what I was doing in Zambia)

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to explain what I was doing in Zambia – both while I was there and since I’ve been back in NZ. Unfortunately, “working for an impact sourcing company” just doesn’t have the same intuitive ring to it as “working at a school/hospital/orphanage/wildlife sanctuary”.

“Impact Sourcing is the socially responsible arm of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Information Technology Outsourcing industry. Impact sourcing intentionally employs people who have limited opportunity for sustainable employment—often in low-income areas.” (Rockefeller Foundation)

For anyone who doesn’t immediately recognise the ‘outsourcing’ industry, yes, it’s basically businesses lowering their costs by sending work to other parts of the world where you can pay people lower wages than at home. Cue images of sweatshops and incomprehensible call centre operators.

Impact sourcing, however, is none of these. While it operates on the same basic premise, it has an explicit social mission of providing valuable employment and skills to those at the bottom of the global economic pyramid. As the definition above mentions, impact sourcing largely involves BPO and ITO work such as data entry, web research, transcription, and customer support.

It’s a rapidly growing industry, too. The mammoth BPO and ITO industry is expected to be valued at $574 billion in 2015; impact sourcing is projected to have an almost 30 percent CAGR and account for 11% of this market, up from 4% in 2010 (Rockefeller Foundation). Like regular outsourcing, it remains most concentrated in south/south-east Asia, but is also rapidly growing in sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya in particular).

There are a number of different models amongst the Impact Sourcing Service Providers (ISSPs): industry pioneer DDD combines employment with tertiary education, Samasource is non-profit and has a focus on women, and Cloud Factory uses its unique technology to break tasks down into tiny micro tasks. I worked for Impact Enterprises, a new entrant to the industry that focuses on partnering with startups.

After having mainly worked with non-profits over the last few years it was refreshing to work with a company that was turning a profit. I have, however, always been torn in my views about social enterprise: can it truly deliver social goods on a grand scale or is it just a capitalist wolf in sheep’s clothing?

While I still haven’t fully made up my mind, I’m pretty positive on the potential of impact sourcing. ISSPs aren’t just highlighting a nice spin-off benefit of their work while pursuing a profiteering, damaging, business-as-usual. They may epitomise aspects of the neoliberal economic project, but ISSPs don’t directly damage our environment and could employ thousands upon thousands of un- and under-employed in the global South while helping them develop 21st century skill-sets.

The lack of valuable employment, particularly for youth, women and minorities (all of whom are also increasingly educated), is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges facing developing economies. ISSPs can help address this through targeted hiring of the most disadvantaged (DDD in particular). While most clients are currently northern companies, there is also huge potential for South-South impact sourcing, particularly with regards to the digitisation of government records in Africa.

However, despite these positives, a question mark will always remain regarding their clients and the role they plan in an unjust international economy. While one hopes they would try to live up to their branding as ‘social enterprises’ when choosing their business partners, it cannot be taken for granted.

There’s a growing body of literature out there on impact sourcing, but key starting points are Impact Hub  (a network for ISSPs and businesses interested in impact sourcing) and Rockefeller Foundation’s “Digital Jobs Africa” initiative (see the links to the reports by Accenture and Avasant).

Internal review and training session at Impact Enterprises.

Internal review and training session at Impact Enterprises, Chipata, Zambia, 2014.