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Updated: 14 hours 9 min ago

Some Friday Feelgood: Why campaigners should take heart from Anthony Trollope, the Overton Window and Madiba

14 hours 44 min ago

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk,–”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

— Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn, 1868 (see left, peak beard definitely a Victorian thing)

So take heart all you ‘revolutionary demagogues’ demanding action on climate change, reining in the finance sector, redistribution, planetary boundaries, the care economy, limits to growth, international taxation, open data, or rights for any number of excluded/oppressed groups.

The Overton window, by the way, is a political theory that describes as a narrow “window” the range of ideas the public will accept. On this theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. It is named for its originator, Joseph P. Overton. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Nelson Mandela put it rather more succinctly:

Why ‘political economy analysis’ has lost the plot, and we need to get back to power and politics

10 July, 2014 - 07:30

Adrian Leftwich (right), a much-loved guru of the ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ (TWP) movement, died in April 2013. But in testament to his importance (and the slow grind of academic publishing), his last paper only came out last month, and it is an important one.

Written with David Hudson of UCL (and universally referred to as the ‘Hudwich paper’), From Political Economy to Political Analysis critiques the way TWP has evolved. In a nutshell, it fears that it has succumbed to two temptations – trying too hard to look like economics, and succumbing to pressure to turn itself into a toolkit. Time to get back to power and politics.

I loved the paper for two main reaons: it nails the origins of my disquiet at the way that in polite society, we often say ‘political economy’ when we actually mean politics, and it puts human agency back in to what can sometimes seem like a defeatist exercise (political economist = someone who comes and explains why your project has failed). Some highlights:

‘Political economy has thus now virtually become a shorthand term for the emerging consensus that it is not only technical, administrative or managerial factors that explain poor development performance. The way in which political and economic processes interact is also critical in promoting or frustrating developmental processes.

There have been three broad phases – or ‘generations’ – of political economy work:

The ‘first generation’, in the 1990s, mainly addressed issues of ‘governance’ (and especially the reasons for the absence of ‘good governance’), but largely from a technical, administrative, managerial, capacity-building and, subsequently, public sector management perspective. Work in this tradition continues.

The ‘second generation’ is best typified by DFID’s Drivers of Change, Sida’s Power Analysis, and the Dutch SGACA work (Strategic Governance and Corruption Analysis). Importantly, these approaches and the many studies they generated made a huge contribution. They ‘brought politics back in’, with a greater emphasis on historical, structural, institutional and political elements that shaped the context within which actors worked.

The ‘third generation’, often combining elements from the previous two, has come to be strongly influenced by assump­tions, concepts and methods drawn from economics. It emphasises the way in which institutional incentives shape behaviour to produce positive or dysfunctional developmental outcomes. In short, political economy has come to be the economics of politics, and less about political analysis.’

But the latest twists have some serious limitations:

‘The key analytical concepts are seldom well-defined, carefully differentiated or usefully disaggregated. Among these we include institutions, structure, agency, ideas, contingency and – above all – power. The way they are used tends to provide for lumpy, one-dimensional analysis. It does not allow analysts or policy makers to reach the detailed inner politics that shapes or frustrates change.

The explanatory core of third generation political economy has increasingly come to focus on how interests, incentives and institutions shape and explain both how agents behave and the political processes and practices that affect development outcomes.

The net effect has been to transform the analysis of politics into the economics of politics. And, by effectively reducing politics to a form of ‘market’, much recent political economy misses what is distinctively political about politics – power, interests, agency, ideas, building coalitions and the impact of contingency.

Political analysis on the other hand takes politics, power and agency much more seriously. Unlike second and third generation political economy, political analysis enables one to dig down to the level of messy, everyday politics.
This is where there are competing ideas, interests, values and preferences; where specific groups and interests struggle over the control, production, use and distribution of resources; where conflict is negotiated; where bargains are struck; and where formal and informal political settlements, alliances and coalitions are made and broken. Here politics collapses and violent conflict can break out; institutions are contested, shaped, implemented, avoided, undermined or amended; contingency, critical junctures and windows of opportunity disturb old patterns or open up new possibilities and – crucially – here the different players use different sources, forms, expressions and degrees of both de jure and de facto power.

There is now a growing realisation that we need to refocus not simply on ‘big structures’ but also on actors – in short, agency, defined as the ability of individuals, organisations and groups of collective actors to consciously deliberate and act strategically to realise their intentions, whether developmental or not. But, whether individual or collective, agents do not work politically in a limitless, structureless and institution-free plane of open possibilities.

The structural and institutional contexts of power – formal and informal, local and external – always and everywhere consti­tute constraints. However, while structures and institutions are constraints, they are not destiny. People, groups, organisations and coalitions do not move in unison, like reeds in the wind, to a change of incentives.

Structures and institutions provide opportunities and resources that agents can use – and hence also provide room for manoeuvre. The point is that structures and institutions of power not only constrain political actors, but can also provide the resources which they, as agents, can find and use to initiate or bring about change.

Political analysis does not ignore interests, incentives or institutions, but goes further and deeper. It differentiates and disag­gregates interests, ideas, incentives and institutions, and also has the analysis of power (and the sources and forms of power) at its core.

Political analysis focuses on how the structures and institutions of power shape how agents behave, and how they do or can strategise, frame, generate, use, mobilise and organise power and institutions to bring about domestically owned deliberation and appropriate change in the politics of development.

Ultimately, if you wish to defeat poverty, prepare to address the power and the politics that keeps people poor. That is why political analysis matters.’

If you want to understand what TWP is all about, the full 108 page paper is a great place to start.

From ‘baby-making machines’ to active citizens: how women are getting organized in Nepal (case study for comments)

9 July, 2014 - 07:30

Next up in this series of case studies in Active Citizenship is some inspiring work on women’s empowerment in Nepal. I would welcome comments on the full study: Raising Her Voice Nepal final draft 4 July

‘I was just a baby making machine’; ‘Before the project, I only ever spoke to animals and children’; ‘This is the first time I have been called by my own name.’ [Quotes from women interviewed by study tour, March 2011]

While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme on women’s empowerment is contributing to and reinforcing an ongoing long-term shift in gender norms, driven by a combination of urbanization, migration, rising literacy and access to media, all of which have combined to erode women’s traditional isolation.

During the past 20 years, Nepal has also undergone major political changes. It has moved from being an absolute monarchy to a republic, from having an authoritarian regime to a more participatory governance system, from a religious state to a secular one, and from a centralized system to a more decentralized one.

These shifts have produced some important windows of opportunity and implementation gaps on which RHV seeks to build. To do this, RHV has set up some 80 Community Discussion Classes (CDCs), bringing women together for up to 2 hours a day to share experiences, enhance their knowledge of local decision making, and build their communication, advocacy and leadership skills. Crucially, facilitators come from the communities themselves.

CDCs have become the building blocks of a remarkable exercise in grassroots empowerment. Women have seen tangible progress in their homes, communities and broader social and political roles on issues such as violence against women, political representation and the right to be heard.

Change Strategy

The change strategy in Nepal echoes RHV’s global framework (see diagram)

Personal Sphere

Although men have many informal and formal forums in which to discuss their issues, such as local tea shops or community meetings, women have previously been more isolated. Aiming to counter this, the CDCs have reached about 2,000 women through 80 classes.

CDC activities include literacy, discussions on community issues selected by the participants, and agreement on action plans to tackle shared problems. Often the facilitator introduces new information to the group, using printed material, but also role plays and debates.

Social Sphere

The CDCs have proven effective in breaking down the walls of women’s isolation. Almost all of them have started collective savings and credit schemes. Many have claimed ring-fenced, but often undisbursed village budgets for construction of community toilets and halls. Others have organized ward meetings that bring together women and men from across the community, as well as teachers, political party representatives and local government officials.

In many cases, CDCs took root slowly, identifying a few women who were relatively free to join project activities and building out from there, as they encouraged others who were either less convinced or faced greater constraints from husbands or others.

By creating an ‘enabling environment’ of women’s empowerment, rather than a specific project, RHV was able to adapt to the different context in the three project districts. In one, the focus was on addressing shared issues such as alcohol abuse, whereas in the other two, there was a stronger focus on supporting individual women through group coaching, counselling and mediation.

In addition to promoting women’s participation, the project deliberately sought to influence existing, mainly male, committee members as well as other influential local actors such as policy officers and civil servants.

Political Sphere

Work at national level highlighted poor governance, particularly at village and district levels, and its negative effects on the people, especially women. This was achieved through radio programmes, national assemblies involving over a hundred community women representatives, subsequent lobby meetings with politicians, bureaucrats, police, rights organisations etc.

In the event, RHV found that although the lobby meetings did not yield anything concrete immediately, they served as a strong morale booster for the women who came to Kathmandu (the majority of them for the first time in their lives). Many said that now that they had interacted face to face with so many senior officials and politicians, they could easily face the local level officials and politicians and would not allow them to look down on them and ignore their voice. They went back to their villages and did exactly that.

The CDCs also encouraged women’s participation in Nepal’s plethora of community organizations. RHV targeted four in particular: Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs), School Management Committees (SMCs), Sub-Health Post Management Committees (SHMCs), and Drinking Water and Sanitation User Groups (DWSUGs).

Women’s participation has grown most in committees with quotas, and evaluation finds that women members have more influence on, and are more likely to have leadership roles in, committees when they have received more training, are involved in more than one committee and are fully supported by their family.

New institutions are often more malleable and thus easier to influence than established ones, and an opportunity has arisen with the Ward Citizen Forums that are being gradually implemented under the Ministry of Local Development’s Local Governance and Community Development Programme. These are intended to facilitate participatory planning processes at village and ward levels, and also espouse accountability and transparency in local governance until local elections are held.

To some extent, CDC women leaders have also become role models for women in other communities, inspiring numerous women from villages next to RHV communities to ask for help in setting up their own CDCs.

Surprises and Dilemmas

Local political party committees and leaders soon noticed the confidence, leadership skills, and networks of RHV women and started trying to recruit them. Initially, the women were reluctant for fear that if they joined different political parties, they would lose their previous levels of solidarity and organisation, and things might fall apart.

Oxfam and its RHV partners cautiously watched and supported the CDCs, helping them analyse the manifestos of different political parties, explaining how political parties function, the electoral processes, and the pros and cons of joining political parties. This was a delicate balance between giving useful knowledge but at the same time leaving the decision up to them. So far more than 150 CDC women have joined different political parties and some of them now plan to stand in local elections.

When a project like this succeeds, it has to accept a certain loss of control. In the phrase of Robert Chambers, project managers have to ‘hand over the stick’ to poor women to take their own decisions. Empowered women come up with their own priorities and approaches, and these are sometimes uncomfortable for project organizers, as for example when women set up a number of Alcohol Control Committees, started limiting alcohol sales in the villages and imposing fines on drunkards. Some then went further and physically destroyed bars.

Feel free to comment on previous draft case studies in this series on Campaigning on the US Deepwater Horizon oilspill, Changing hearts and minds on Violence Against Women in South Asia, promoting Women’s Leadership in PakistanLabour Rights in Indonesia, and Community Protection Committees in DRC

An important breakthrough on disability, aid and development

8 July, 2014 - 10:02

One of the trends in aid and development in recent years has been increasing recognition of issues around disability. A lot of that is down to the activism of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs). Here disability campaigners Mosharraf Hossain and Julia Modern update us an important breakthrough

In April we blogged on this site about the publication of the UK parliament’s International Development Select Committee report on disability and development. Last week the Committee published the official response to the report from the government. It’s a thorough and thoughtful reply to the challenges that the Committee set to the Department for International Development (DFID), and the changes that are set out have big implications for practices throughout the international development sector, particularly for organisations that DFID funds (including NGOs and multilaterals), which will find themselves increasingly being held accountable for whether they include disabled people in their work.

What does this mean for the 800 million disabled people living in the developing world? The proof will be in the implementation, but this is a giant leap forward. DFID have made a public commitment to prioritising the inclusion of disabled people, improving their own work and signalling to others that more needs to be done. In the humanitarian sector in particular the response talks about a fundamental shift, with disaggregated reporting on age and impairment of recipients a requirement in all future humanitarian proposals.

After Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007 I witnessed the results of not thinking about the inclusion of disabled people in emergency responses; with thousands of people competing for limited assistance, disabled people lost out. Monitoring recipients and supporting training in disability inclusion for relief providers will help to ensure this doesn’t happen in the next disaster responses.

While DFID

haven’t accepted every recommendation made by the Committee, they have committed to an impressive series of actions:

  • Publish a disability framework by November 2014. To be developed in consultation with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and NGOs, the framework will set out DFID’s ‘commitment, approach and actions to strengthening disability in our policy, programme and international work.’
  • Strengthen DFID’s capacity to work on disability inclusion, by: appointing a senior-level managerial champion to work alongside Ministerial champion Lynne Featherstone MP; increasing the number of staff working on disability in the central policy team and creating a network of disability experts across DFID; and creating a ‘basic disability awareness module’ that will be rolled out to all staff, as well as providing more and better guidance on inclusion.
  • Push DFID’s partners towards disability inclusion, including through the World Bank’s current safeguards review; reviewing the Multilateral Aid Review process to check that it adequately monitors disability inclusion; and asking civil society organisations that DFID funds to report on disability in future annual reviews.
  • More thoroughly embedding disability in DFID internal processes, for example by including DPOs in the Ministerial disability advisory group, putting ‘specific reference to considering disability and other vulnerabilities in guidance for future country level operational plans’, and strengthening inclusion in large-scale programmes ‘through strengthened systems as well as ministerial and managerial championing’.


It is this last area, strengthening DFID’s internal processes, in which the response gives least detail, suggesting that whether the attempt to embed inclusion into DFID’s processes is successful will be decided largely by the details of the new disability framework, to be produced by November. We hope that the framework will address a few areas that remain unclear:

  • There isn’t much information in the response about how DFID’s practices will change at country level.
  • The response doesn’t fully engage with how DFID will access the expertise of Southern DPOs.
  • While DFID set out a clear commitment to support the development of better data on disability, they have not taken on board all the Committee’s recommendations about monitoring of their own programmes or other UK ODA spending.
    The investment DFID is making in global capacity to collect data on disability should be matched by setting out in November’s framework a timescale for introducing systems to collect this data in all DFID bilateral programmes. Gathering this data is the only way to properly monitor whether DFID are increasing on that 5% of bilateral aid going to programmes that consider the needs of disabled people, and is therefore an essential part of making sure the increase happens.


DFID’s response is truly promising, and shows respect and consideration to the evidence the inquiry received from disabled people and their supporters. As a trend-setter in development, we hope and expect that the promised changes will be transformative for disabled people in the developing world.


Links I liked

7 July, 2014 - 07:30

[for Jenny, who only ever reads these posts, never the more boring ones]

Inevitable World Cup nonsense (and sense)

Number of extra ‘O’s in ‘GOAL’ in Facebook posts, by country average [h/t Ben Phillips]. (Caution, this is based on the group stage – subject to rapid change over next few days)

The Brookings Institution on African teams’ mixed performance (& behaviour)

Best photoshop reactions to Luis Suarez getting his teeth into the opposition


Americans who say Bible is an ancient book of fables has gone up from 13% in 1976 to 21% in 2014 [h/t Conrad Hackett]

‘The American political system is overrun by money’. Inequality is not inevitable. Powerful polemic from Joe Stiglitz [h/t John Magrath]

Chris Blattman is on the money (in both senses) in this New York Times piece on the case for cash transfers in the US and everywhere else

Other stuff

How to appear smart in meetings – leap up and draw Venn diagrams; randomly say ‘could you go back a slide, please?’ [h/t Geoff Mulgan, who always seems smart]

Let’s get linear, people, here comes the Log Frame of Love (there must be a song in there somewhere)

Meanwhile, back in a small island off the French Coast…..

Politicians Beware Children: Watch one asking George Osborne “What’s 7×8?” Then enjoy his answer [h/t Ben Phillips]

Defence against backsliding? The Liberal Democrats (junior coalition partners in UK government) seek to enshrine in law a commitment for UK aid budget to be at least 0.7% of Gross National IncomeI (the UN target). It may well pass, too.

But enough of Westminster, this from the other (much more real, wonderful etc) Britain: “For my sisters across the world” 13 year old Sadia from Tower Hamlets, London. [h/t Ben Phillips]

These are some of the links I’ve tweeted over the last week – if you want the real thing, sign up on @fp2p

Is ‘thinking and working politically’ compatible with results? Should advocacy ever be done in secret? Big questions at the LSE this week.

4 July, 2014 - 07:30

This week I found myself on a fun panel at LSE discussing ‘can politics and evidence work together?’  with Mary Kaldor (LSE), Ros Eyben (IDS) and Steven Rood (The Asia Foundation – TAF has a really interesting partnership with LSEto study its use of theories of change). Early last year, I promised to revisit the topic after this blog hosted an epic debate on the politics of evidence between some top DFID people and (in the sceptic corner), Ros Eyben (again) and Chris Roche. Has anything changed since then?

My 15 minutes of fame are summarized in this page of speaking notes: Notes for Thinking and Working Politically LSE panel July 2014

I largely summarized previous pieces on this blog, but added some alliterative categories for some of the obstacles aid agencies face in thinking and working politically, namely:
· The Toolkit Temptation: managing large bureaucracies creates a demand for standardized and simplified procedures (indeed it’s often the first thing hard-pressed staff ask for). Difficult to shift from that to deep engagement with the local context, thinking on your feet and responding to events etc, trying multiple experiments and failing faster etc
· The Planning Preference: Similarly, big aid organizations maintaing internal coherence and external direction by agreeing (at great length) and implementing plans – strategic, operational etc. After years of thrashing out a plan, they are often understandably reluctant to begin all over again because some major event has presented a new window of opportunity
· The Data Delusion: non-scientists in particular are dazzled by numbers, even if they don’t mean much. I still remember my alarm in a meeting of Oxfam’s big cheeses when, after a discussion based on the experience and judgements of senior people with decades working in the development business, someone said ‘right, so much for the opinions – what do the data tell us?’

The other presentations and ensuing discussion (lots of sharp questions, as you’d expect at LSE) drew out some further lessons.

Ros sees actual state of discussion on evidence in DFID and elsewhere as very unreconstructed, with my preferred TWP-compatible approaches still languishing at the bottom of the ‘quality of evidence pyramid’ (see graphic from her slides)

This leads to a major ‘drunk under the streetlamp problem’ of going where the data is, rather than looking at what’s important (see cartoon, not that I’m suggesting MEL people are usually drunk)

Fear of failure is deeply rooted at field level – you can forget all that stuff about celebrating/learning from it, at least when there’s a funder in the room.

The real challenges to TWP are often ‘managerial’ – processes like staff rotation, and the kinds of people you employ.

I’ve been mulling over one issue in particular since then: Mary Kaldor was very opposed to any suggestion that TWP might involve some level of acceptance of the ‘dark arts’ – i.e. working in the shadows, persuading people to do things or talk to others in ways they would not want to become public etc. In contrast, Mary argued for transparency and openness throughout, as the only way to ensure accountability.

Which raises some pretty massive dilemmas: TWP and politics in general often moves forward by opposing forces doing deals that would rapidly collapse if exposed to the light too soon – think of just about any peace negotiation in history, or even just the Northern Ireland one. In NGO world, there’s a reason why advocacy is separate from public campaigning, with different staff, language and tactics. One is based on clear, simplified messages, the other on arm twisting and compromise.

But it must be right to be sceptical of advocacy and policy insiders singing the virtues of secrecy (it’s so easy to be coopted – there’s nothing more intoxicating for an advocacy type than to be the only NGO in the room, get the draft document before all your colleagues etc). Fundamentally, secrecy disempowers anyone who is not in the room, and that usually includes the people we are trying to help.

I wondered if the ‘policy funnel’ – a way to understand how new policies evolve from outlandish ideas to agreed policy – might need to be adapted. We need maximum openness in the early stages, eg trying to get issues onto the official agenda, but have to accept a degree of non-transparency if you get as far as negotiating deals, policies, or cash. But then whatever is agreed needs to be open to public scrutiny (so the funnel becomes more like an egg timer on its side). Mary was entirely unconvinced.

As to the main question, it didn’t feel like much has changed since last year’s FP2P wonkwar on evidence. Maybe there’s been some progress on learning how to measure what matters, rather than just what’s easy to count, and the randomista craze seems to have passed its peak and hopefully RCTs will soon settle down to become one tool among many, rather than the ‘gold standard’ for everything (remember what Keynes said on the real Gold Standard – a ‘barbarous relic‘).

So over to you – do you see progress on reconciling TWP and evidence? And how do you balance TWP and commitment to openness and transparency? Any good examples?

And here’s the rather nice slide that ended Ros’s presentation (don’t suppose Mary will thank me for the panel pic – click to expand and see why)

Which governments are doing best/worst in the fight against hunger and undernutrition?

3 July, 2014 - 07:30

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) 2013 measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries. It uses two types of data. Primary data comes from Expert Perception Survey’s (EPS) and provides an in-depth view of six countries in the larger dataset (Bangladesh, Malawi, Zambia, Nepal, Tanzania and India). The secondary data analyses 45 countries across 22 indicators analysing political commitment to tackle hunger and undernutrition in terms of policies, laws and spending (see diagram for how the index is constructed).

Main findings?

Economic growth has not necessarily led to increased action by governments. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are global hotspots of hunger and undernutrition, even though many countries within these regions have achieved sustained economic growth over the last decade. For example, Zambia has had a decade of rapid economic growth, yet hunger is highly prevalent and nearly half the population were undernourished during the period 2010-2012, and according to HANCI the Government’s efforts to address these are actually weakening.

Nutrition does not get as much political traction as hunger. Hunger is about empty stomachs; undernutrition is about having the wrong things in your stomach – a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets – and/or a weakened immune system. Expert perception surveys show that hunger spending is strongly sensitive to electoral cycles, in contrast to nutrition.

For instance politicians in Tanzania anticipate that people vote on the basis of having their stomach filled, so those in power prioritise action to reduce hunger, such as investing in maize production, over efforts to address chronic undernutrition, e.g. by focussing on dietary diversity and clean water. Limited awareness by political leaders and the general public of the dire consequences of undernutrition means that it is harder to get undernutrition onto political agendas.

Perhaps because of these different political dynamics, as Lawrence Haddad points out on his blog, there is very little correlation between government action on hunger, and on nutrition.

This is the second year of the index, and once again, Guatemala is ranked number one. However competition for the top spot is heating up with Peru and Malawi making significant improvements on their political commitments.

Some low ranked countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Myanmar, are showing clear improvements. E.g. Burundi increased agriculture spending by 5.9 per cent; enhanced people’s security of tenure over agriculture land; enhanced coverage rates of Vitamin A supplementation; increased access to water and sanitation; initiated a national nutrition policy/strategy; and strengthened safety nets.

But some countries which are already at the bottom of the HANCI ranking, including Guinea Bissau, the Yemen and Sudan are demonstrating a decline in relative commitment. These countries are increasingly getting left behind.

To view the full HANCI data and download the report visit the new HANCI website, which allows you to explore the index data in depth to analyse and compare how each country has performed.

And here’s the country rankings


One minor, nerdy beef: I wish we could standardize the year people put on their annual reports. When publishing something in 2014, some (I’m looking at you, World Development Report) slap a ‘2015’ on it, presumably to enhance its shelf life; others more sensibly say 2014; but modest/bashful/honest ones like HANCI, go with 2013 – I spent ages (well, a couple of minutes) trying to find the 2014 version. Maybe my brain was still recovering from a week’s bird-watching……..


Piketty + Ninja Puffins: A Perfect Week

2 July, 2014 - 07:30

Spent last week on a remote Welsh island, Skokholm (if it sounds like Stockholm, I think that’s because the Vikings invaded it at some point). There was nothing to do

1. Puffin resists

except watch the achingly cute puffins arriving with beak-fulls of eels and try and dive down the burrows to their

2. Goes all Luis Suarez on gull’s eye

waiting chicks before the lurking gulls could grab them. One

3. Gull vanquished. Go puffin.

photographer in our group, Richard Coles, caught some great puffin-on-gull action (see pic sequence, click to enlarge), clearly influenced by Luis Suarez. David fought back, grabbing Goliath by the eye, and didn’t let go. Puffin wins. The pics went viral in the puffin-watching community, apparently. If you fancy it (groups of about 15, small island to yourselves, + several hundred thousand sea birds), check out the website – some slots still available in August.

But back to the day job – development and all that. When it rained, I finally sat down to read Thomas Piketty. There’s not much point in me trying to add to the mountain of handy summaries, reviews by very clever economists, online discussions, largely unconvincing takedowns by the FT etc, so here instead are some impressions from a non-economist.

It took a while to get started – I grazed til about page 200, then got increasingly hooked. It reads like a rather wonderful, scholarly seminar, with multiple digressions, cross references and reflections. A bit like Hobsbawm, but with graphs.

A more brutal anglo-saxon edit could have got it down to 400 pages, but that would have been a shame. Part of its charm is its quintessential Frenchness – an insistence on cross-disciplinarity, the importance of politics, power, institutions and social justice, and a healthy scepticism about all things British or American (see excerpt). All in all, a wonderful, and much-needed alternative narrative on globalization and inequality.

But not at all in the ranty ‘globalization ate my kids’ style that occasionally characterizes French polemics. Capital in the 21st Century is wonderfully measured and numerate, using numbers to understand the broad sweep of modern politics and distribution, the role of the state etc – a great primer. If anything, it probably should have been even longer, because it has some pretty serious blindspots – notably the implications of planetary boundaries for the future economy (climate change gets its first mention on page 567). The care economy and gender issues warrant no mention at all.

And as far as I can tell (schoolboy French only), the translation by Arthur Goldhammer is outstanding – the text is fluent, witty, full of nuance and enjoyable asides. Doesn’t read like a translation at all.

So I’ll be mining it for quotes for years. Convinced yet?

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc

1 July, 2014 - 07:30

Regular FP2P readers will be heartily sick of used to me banging on about the importance of ‘killer facts‘ in NGO advocacy and general communications. Recently, I was asked to work with some of our finest policy wonks to put together some crib sheets for Oxfam’s big cheeses, who are more than happy for me to spread the love to you lot. So here are some highlights from 8 pages of KFs, with sources (full document here: Killer fact collection, June 2014).

Development Success

Income Poverty: Worldwide, the proportion of people living in extreme income poverty (< $1.25) has more than halved, falling from 47% to 22% between 1990 and 2010. (Source: UN Millennium Progress Report 2013)

Health: Globally, the mortality rate for children (under-five deaths) fell by 41 per cent—from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990. (Source: UN). In absolute numbers, Under-five deaths have fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. (Source: UNICEF)

Finance for Development

From 1990-2011, total international resource flows to developing countries grew from US$425 million to US$2.1 trillion. Much of this has been driven by rapid expansion in foreign investment in developing countries, growing remittances, and increases in lending (see graph). (Source: Development Initiatives).

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) remains the main international resource for countries with government spending of less than PPP$500 per person per year. (Source: Development Initiatives)

Locally generated revenue: Government spending in developing countries is now US$5.9 trillion a year, over 40 times the volume of aid. (Source: Development Initiatives)


Conflict: According to the OECD, half the world’s poor live in conflict-affected or fragile states (Source: OECD DAC); by 2030 it may by two-thirds (Source: Brookings Institution).

In 2014 the world will spend $8 billion on peacekeeping (Source: UN), compared to $1,745 billion total military spending in 2012 (Source: SIPRI) (i.e. peace merits less than half of one percent of war).

‘Natural’ Disasters: The number of weather-related disasters reported has tripled in 30 years (Source: Oxfam).

For all the talk of building long-term resilience, the world spent $532 million to prepare for and prevent disasters in 2011 – and $19.4 billion to respond (so 40 times more spent on cure than on prevention). (Source: Oxfam)

Inequality and taxation

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. (Source: Oxfam). Update: Forbes using 2014 billionaires list, say it’s now down to 67 richest individuals.

More than 1.5 million lives are lost due to high income inequality in rich countries alone, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

Governments around the world lose around £100bn a year in tax from rich individuals using tax havens. (Source: Oxfam).

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel subsidies cost over half a trillion dollars ($500 bn) globally in 2011. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Venezuela, spend at least twice as much on fossil fuel subsidies as on public health. (Source: ODI.)

Feel free to add your own favourite Killer Facts, (with sources please) or take issue with these ones, not least because I am probably going to have to update this at regular intervals. And here’s our guide to writing your own.

And here’s another page of KFs on inequality and crises, which Ed Cairns has just sent me: The Inequality of Crisis – 1 page of key facts 25 June 2014

Off on holiday, back next week. Here’s a cute picture of some puffins

26 June, 2014 - 07:30

Just got back from Bosnia and Herzegovina (more on that next week), and am now off for a week to Skokholm, an island off the Welsh Coast, where there is nothing to do but look at puffins. Sounds perfect. I may even finish Piketty…….

Strengthening active citizenship after a traumatic civil war: dilemmas and ideas in Bosnia and Herzegovina

25 June, 2014 - 07:30

I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.

Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning

Protests in February over jobs and corruption have fizzled out

funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.

I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).

Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:

Actions speak louder than words: ‘People trust you if they directly benefit from your work.’ When CSOs have a reputation for being self-serving talking shops, people want to see practical results – advocacy-only approaches look like a non starter.

Coalitions and alliances: CSOs sometimes seem reluctant to play nicely with others – faith organizations, politicians, officials, academics, business groups. Yet doing so not only increases impact, but could also increase public trust and legitimacy. There’s a clear role for Oxfam in helping get those conversations going.

Municipal v National: National politics is a fragmented, multi-tiered mess (see yesterday’s post), with little clarity on decision-making. How do you campaign when you have no idea who’s in charge? Better to focus on the municipal level, where lines of accountability are clearer, and NGOs are more likely to be taken seriously.

Positive deviance: Conversations are dominated by (often well-justified) complaints. One Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) network had painstakingly compiled and published 147 obstacles to SMEs (credit, red tape, infrastructure, skills etc etc). But is that really the best basis for a campaign? Why not identify, analyze and publicise examples of positive outliers – which municipalities have done better than most on any given issue and why? As another SME lobbyist observed, ‘Carrots work much better for mayors – they like photos with awards’.

Putting those last two together, one option that got people seriously interested was the PAPI project in Vietnam, which publishes league tables comparing local government performance. Why not put together some of the issues CSOs are working on, develop a credible methodology and then use league tables to start a ‘race to the top’ between photo-opportunity seeking mayors?

Next generation: with such a complex and often poisonous legacy from statism and civil war, it is tempting to skip a generation: how to identify and develop student leaders-of-tomorrow? How to break the cycle of ethnic hostility?


A window slams shut?

Windows of Opportunity: CSOs seem a bit trapped in their project and funding cycles, exacerbated by dependence on external funding. A graphic example was provided by the response to the recent floods. After talking about the sudden upsurge in citizen activism, the anger with the authorities and its great plans to work on improving water and sanitation, one leading activist commented ‘Our role is to be on the same track as before the flood, get back to the developmental things. We didn’t have a conversation about windows of opportunity.’ Oh dear.

Easy wins to build momentum: when people feel frustrated and powerless, find an easily winnable, small thing, and make a very big noise about winning it. In Cardiff, my son’s organization, Citizens UK, found that young Muslims were fed up with the local Nando’s not offering a halal option. So they organized a very noisy, public campaign, and of course, Nando’s changed the menu. A phone call might have done the trick, but a big public campaign helped the local kids realize that they had the power to change things.

Norms, implementation gaps or new Policies? The CSO default option seems to be to lobby for new laws, when everyone agrees that BiH already has lots of lovely legislation, all largely ignored in practice.  One alternative would be to work on implementation gaps. But maybe, faced with such a difficult and unresolved set of ethnic and religious tensions, and generalized sense of powerlessness and futility, working on norms might make more sense. For example, identify those bits of society that cross religious boundaries – sport, business, youth culture – and build on those.

Working with the Diaspora: There are millions of Bosnians overseas, sending home about $1000 per head of the remaining population. What else could/would they do, if encouraged and facilitated? Fund social investment? Mentor new businesses? VC style funds for social innovation?

Northern campaign tactics: BiH is relatively well off, highly connected, and very European in feel. So importing ideas from northern campaigns might make a lot of sense – clicktivist crowd sourcing on corruption (OK, that one’s from India) or public services; whimsical campaigns by ad agencies working pro bono; celebs (sadly, UNICEF already grabbed Edin Dzeko, the national soccer hero).

And one question for readers – how to rebuild active citizenship after a bloody conflict in a European country, with big ethnic/religious divisions– what would be good comparators for exchanges of lessons? Northern Ireland? Your suggestions please.

20 years after the war, politics is frozen in Bosnia and Herzegovina: first impressions from last week’s visit

24 June, 2014 - 07:30

Just got back from a week visiting Oxfam Italy’s programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH from now on). It wasn’t what I expected. For a start, it never stopped raining

War? What war?

(and I say this as an Englishman).

And the traumatic war of 1992-95, which left some 100,000 dead (the exact figure is still disputed), and engraved names like Srebrenica, Tuzla and Mostar on the memories of our generation, is almost invisible now. Today they are just modest European towns. Nothing iconic here, move along please.

So what’s it like? 20 years after its traumatic four year siege, Sarajevo, the capital, is miraculously restored, thanks to European, US, Turkish and Middle East money. Tourists mill on the cobbled streets of the Ottoman quarter; imposing buildings in the Austro Hungarian bit; elsewhere, the glass towers and malls of 21st Century capitalism.

The buildings may have been repaired, but not the politics or the people. A sense of brittleness lurks beneath the trappings of modern Europe. No-one talked to us about their war experiences all week (and we were advised not to ask – better to let people volunteer their stories when they are ready). To fill the gap, I read Aleksandar Hemon’s brilliant and harrowing account, The Book of My Lives.

We drive out of Sarajevo along a pristine EU-funded motorway, alongside rushing swollen rivers passing through hillsides of gravestones. Scatters of solid alpine chalets, dotted with the needle minarets of mosques in some areas, church crosses in others. The war divided communities; peace froze those divisions in place: the Dayton Agreement that stopped the bloodletting 20 years ago is asphyxiating political progress now, and has no provision for review or evolution.

It made sense at the time

The religious mosaic is reflected in the institutional divisions established by Dayton:  A largely Bosnian (Muslim and Catholic Croats) Federation and a Serb Republika Srpska (Orthodox) form two separate ‘political entities’ within a not very powerful BiH ‘state’ (see map). The entities have different internal structures, producing a mind-boggling level of complexity. Listen to businessman Mladen Ivesic:

‘The administration is huge, too many overlapping tiers of government: cantons, municipalities, entities, state. All have departments, ministries (BiH has 162 ministries!). They send us to and fro, play with us. Everyone blames everyone else. But if you give them €100, suddenly they know who’s responsible – more levels of government mean more opportunities for corruption.’

I was travelling with a South African colleague (Hugh Cole) so the comparison was inevitable. BiH has no Mandela, no Truth and Reconciliation process, no agreed history of what actually happened. In the words of Silvana Grispino, Oxfam’s country director ‘the collective memory is fragmented and manipulated, so how can we imagine the future?’

People talk with nostalgia of Yugoslavia, whose disintegration triggered the war. Memories of the good old days were triggered by the public response to May’s catastrophic floods (below), which killed 44 people and did billions of dollars of damage to BiH and Serbia. ‘We felt like before, in the era of rich socialism [before 1991]’ says one university professor, after supposedly apathetic students headed off in droves to volunteer for the cleanup. Mosques and churches handed out food to the victims, regardless of faith. But the euphoria rapidly dissipated as rival political parties started to score points off each other and refused to cooperate.

Not everyone agrees that Dayton is a problem (after all Switzerland has four official languages and a labyrinth of local government, but seems to muddle through), but it certainly complicates any attempt by ordinary citizens to engage with politics. Here’s Mladen again:

‘Politicians will always try and drag you down (if you protest or call for reform), saying this will harm this or that religious group. The people are very afraid, frustrated and easy to manipulate. They have no strength to fight. Young people leave if they can. Europe has to help – we cannot solve this problem by ourselves. This constitution was imposed, mainly by America, so they have to solve it. We call it the straitjacket.’

Government officials agree (but ask to remain anonymous): ‘The Federation and the RS are totally separate and often reject the rules and regulations of the State. We lost $0.5bn of EU pre-accession money because of the disputes. Dayton created peace, but now it is a bottleneck. Everything is difficult, Dayton needs to change.’

The frustration is that away from politics, some things do actually work. Not everything is religiously polarized – business, sport (the country is obsessed with BiH’s first ever involvement in the soccer World Cup). And civil society is working to overcome the divisions – more on that tomorrow.



Links I liked

23 June, 2014 - 07:30

My twitter feed has been disrupted by being on a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina (more on that later), and the over-excited outpourings of World Cup tweeting (sour grapes,

moi?) but here’s a few that slipped through.


The disease most likely to kill you, by country (some doubts on the stats, but they come from WHO)

Latin America still has the highest murder rates, by country, from the UN ‘Global Homicide Book’.[h/t Conrad Hackett]

Big Numbers

$7.6 trillion is hidden in the world’s tax havens. That means lost annual tax revenues of $200bn (50% more than official aid flows). [h/t Chris Jochnick] It also = $1000 for every person on the planet.

The global cost of violence in 2013 was $9,800,000,000,000 ($9.8 trn, 11.3% of GDP), according to the latest Global Peace Index


The propensity of Latin Americans to protest rises with education, income and age (up to about 48 years old, then it falls)

The BBC’s arch inquisitor Jeremy Paxman stepped down last week. Here he is in vintage form, subverting efforts to make him tell viewers about the weather [h/t Ian Bray]

And for the more obsessive UK politics heads, here’s the legendary time he asked a Tory Minister the same question 14 times (and still didn’t get an answer)


‘Economists know almost nothing about anything’. Yet another reason to love Thomas Piketty

20 June, 2014 - 07:30

From the intro to ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, a taste of his great approach to learning, the easy discursive style, (but also why the book is 600 pages long – succinct he ain’t. I’ve got to page 164):

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences. Economists are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in. There is one great advantage of being an academic economist in France: here, economists are not highly respected in the academic and intellectual world or by political and financial elites. Hence they must set aside their contempt for other disciplines and their absurd claim to greater scientific legitimacy, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything.

This, in any case, is the charm of the discipline and of the social sciences in general: one starts from square one, so that there is some hope of making major progress. In France, I believe, economists are slightly more interested in persuading historians and sociologists, as well as people outside the academic world, that what they are doing is interesting (although they are not always successful). My dream when I was teaching in Boston was to teach at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, whose faculty has included such leading lights as Lucien Febvre, Fernand Braudel, Claude Levi-Strauss, Pierre Bordieu, Francoise Heritier, and Maurice Godelier, to name but a few. Dare I admit this, at the risk of seeming chauvinistic in my view of the social sciences? I probably admire these scholars more than Robert Solow or Simon Kuznets, even though I regret the fact that the social sciences have largely lost interest in the distribution of wealth and questions of social class since the 1970s. Before that, statistics about income, wages, prices, and wealth played an important part in historical and sociological research.

The truth is that economics should never have sought to divorce itself from the other social sciences and can advance only in conjunction with them. The social sciences collectively know too little to waste time on foolish disciplinary squabbles. If we are to progress in our understanding of the historical dynamics of the wealth distribution and the structure of social classes, we must obviously take a pragmatic approach and avail ourselves of the methods of historians, sociologists, and political scientists as well as economists. We must start with fundamental questions and try to answer them. Disciplinary disputes and turf wars are of little or no importance. In my mind, this book is as much a work of history as of economics.”


Working with unlikely bedfellows to turn BP Deepwater Horizon fines into local jobs: How Oxfam America adapted to doing advocacy in the Deep South

19 June, 2014 - 07:30

Next up in the series of case studies on ‘active citizenship’ is an impressive bit of campaigning by Oxfam America’s domestic programme, in response to the horrendous BP oil spill of 2010. Here’s the draft case study (Draft AC case study Gulf RESTORE campaign June 2014: comments welcome), which I summarize below.

‘We started with two Senators and ended up with 74 Senators supporting the bill.  A House member said, ‘I didn’t think Jesus could get 74 votes in this Congress.’’ Oxfam Ally

On April 20, 2010 an explosion in the Deepwater Horizon oil well started a spill that would ultimately release 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Twenty-two months later, President Obama signed the Resource and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revised Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act into law, in July 2012.

The final bill requires that 80% of civil fines (which may reach as much as $20 billion) are placed in a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, to be distributed directly to the five Gulf Coast states and to a newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Council that will oversee how funds are utilized in the affected region.

While individual states retain significant decision-making authority, the law establishes a series of guidelines, restrictions and oversight mechanisms to ensure that the funds are allocated for economic and environmental restoration. This was where Oxfam America, its Coastal Communities Coalition (CCC) partners, the Gulf Renewal Project, and a broad range of allies concentrated their efforts, representing the concerns of poor, coastal communities disproportionately affected by the spill and pressing an agenda that included focused investment in socially vulnerable communities, work force development and preferential hiring of local people, and the establishment of participatory governance mechanisms.

The opportunities for influence were particularly great as Oxfam was the only large social justice NGO involved in a field dominated by environmentalist organizations, whose priorities often did not include the immediate interests of local communities.


An upbeat January 2013 evaluation found that the campaign had ‘largely’ or ‘significantly’ achieved its goals on ensuring adequate long-term federal funding for Gulf Coast restoration, investment in resilience to strengthen communities, investment in transitional workforce development and contracting practices promoting access to opportunity.

It gets better. Oxfam America estimates the total investment in the campaign over two years at approximately $740,000 (USRO, 2013). It asked Mather Economics to model the potential impact of that spending in the area most clearly attributable to the campaign – workforce development and local hiring. Among the national NGOs engaged in the campaign, workforce development was considered Oxfam’s niche area and the area in which it had the greatest influence.

Mather Economics’ modelling gave a mid-range estimate was some 22,000 jobs created over a ten year period. While only a rough estimate (eg it assumes attribution to the campaign at 100%, when there must were probably other factors at play), this provides an approximate figure of 1 job created for every $34 spent on the campaign, a truly remarkable return. Moreover that does not include other benefits from the campaign.

Success Factors

The evaluation highlighted feedback from external allies and core partners on the key factors contributing to the campaign’s success. These included:

  • Oxfam and partners’ long-standing relationships with affected communities;
  • The campaign’s ability to create a broad-based coalition, especially its work with faith-based groups and the private sector;

Partners working closer to the ground pointed to different factors, including:

  • Intelligence from Washington, regularly conveyed to the Coastal Communities partners, about the political dynamics surrounding the RESTORE Act and progress on the bill;
  • The research products that were developed in consultation with them and which conveyed in layman’s terms their situation and policy positions. These were an important resource for partners’ outreach efforts to community members and local officials;

For their part, Oxfam staff stressed the impact of working with non-traditional allies, especially conservative evangelical churches and the private sector, and working with Republican lobbyists. Staff also highlighted the importance of media work and the many lessons learned from its Katrina advocacy, including the need to engage in policy discussion immediately after an emergency, before deals “begin to be cut”.

Theory of Change

Power Analysis: Understanding the nature of Gulf Coast politics and power was an essential prerequisite for the campaign. Republicans, Conservative Democrats, and evangelical Christians dominate the political map. Political relations at local and state level are highly clientelist, based on personal relationships. Working in this kind of environment was a challenge for a social justice/rights-based organization like Oxfam.

Change Hypothesis: The Gulf Coast campaign illustrates several aspects of ‘shock as opportunity’ – the idea that social and political change is often linked to disruptive events that open up new directions by weakening the powers that sustain the status quo, creating demands for change among both public and leaders, and dissatisfaction with ‘business as usual’.

The BP oil spill hit a region still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina had also left several lessons, both in terms of failures and successes, upon which advocacy could build. One negative experience was the way reconstruction had relied on shipped-in undocumented labourers, with few jobs going to local people. Local hiring emerged as one of the key demands of the campaign.

Oxfam’s Change Strategy: Luck matters in campaigning and the timing of the BP oil spill could not have been better, coming just a month after the launch of Oxfam’s Coastal Communities Initiative, focused on addressing both environmental destruction and poverty as two of the root causes of social vulnerability. Moreover, off the back of Katrina, and prior to the BP spill, local communities had already formulated their demands for restoration – all that was needed was cash and political will, and the spill and subsequent fines provided both in abundance. The change strategy had three main thrusts.

  • Advocacy directed at the federal level in support of the RESTORE Act, which included extensive alliance building and direct advocacy with policy-makers in Washington, DC.
  • State level advocacy around workforce development and local hiring.
  • Support for partners’ programs, including local level advocacy on issues that were not directly related to the RESTORE Act, but which proved vital in establishing the relationships and partner capacity on which the campaign subsequently relied.

What have I missed? Your comments please. And in case you missed them, previously posted case studies were on Campaigning against Violence Against Women in South Asia, promoting Women’s Leadership in Pakistan, Labour Rights in Indonesia, and Community Protection Committees in DRC

What works in reducing gender inequality? Great overview from Naila Kabeer

18 June, 2014 - 07:30

We’ve been having an interesting internal discussion on inequality over the last few weeks, and this contribution from Naila Kabeer jumped out. So I thought I’d nick it for FP2P

A gendered analysis of essential services highlights the scale of the inequality challenge but it also offers useful pointers for the design of more inclusive and effective social protection strategies. Social protection interventions need to acknowledge that gender inequality begins at birth and deepens during the life cycle of a woman. A gender analysis of poverty and vulnerability must be at the core of the construction of an inclusive and effective social protection strategy.

Gender analysis draws attention to:

  • some of the ways that people’s gender differentiates their experience of vulnerability;
  • gender inequalities beginning in the early years and the inequalities in household resources that are devoted to the well-being of children;
  • the greater degree of variation in a woman’s experience of vulnerability over the course of her life;
  • the cumulative nature of gender disadvantages that make women more vulnerable than men in the face of shocks and stress;
  • the struggles of working women, poor working women who manage the dual responsibilities of earning a living and caring for the family;
  • a lifetime of discrimination which leads to greater insecurity in old age.

Unable to pay others to take care of their children, poorer women face a harsh set of options if they are to earn a living. They can choose to work from home and accept the lesser pay involved. If they work outside, they may have to cope with a longer working day – they would have to rely on older children, usually daughters, to look after younger ones, they may take their children to work with them, or may leave them unattended in the house. All of these options have adverse consequence for women and their children. Married women with children are likely to face a very different set of constraints in managing their dual workloads to single women, women without children, or women who head households.

Early inequalities intersect with the domestic responsibilities and unpaid care that girls have to experience as they grow up. The result is that women face a far more restricted set of livelihood opportunities relative to men, rendering them dependent on male earnings to meet their need for survival and security. Women own fewer assets than men, thanks to discriminatory inheritance laws and lower lifetime earnings. They will therefore have saved less and will have fewer pension rights. A Social Protection Floor (SPF) must have a life-cycle basis and SPF design must make it easier for women to work, but also account for double burdens.

While women’s overall participation in the labour force varies considerably across the world, women from low income households in most contexts are either in work or looking for work. This is as true in India, where restrictions on women’s mobility in the public domain have led to lower rates of female labour force participation, as it is elsewhere. In India, poorer households simply cannot afford to keep women confined to the home.

Here is some evidence from different countries…

Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT): Mexico’s conditional cash transfer programme provides monthly cash stipends to mothers conditional on children’s attendance at school and attendance at health clinics. The program has now been in operation long enough for both immediate and longer term impacts to be visible. Studies suggest that not only has it succeeded in increasing the overall school enrolment of children from poorer households but also helped to close the gender gap in education. Education has enhanced women’s prospects in the labour market. Recent research suggests that young women who graduated from these programmes are finding jobs higher up in the occupational hierarchy than their mothers. This is particularly true for women from marginalized indigenous communities.

Public works quotas and accompanying care support for women: Public works programmes in their conventional forms tend to benefit able-bodied men. The guarantee of work to all adult members of households rather than to the head of the household or just one member has been a factor in explaining the success of the Indian MGNREGA program in drawing high percentages of women. While the MGNREGA specifies crèches wherever there are a minimum number of women on the worksite, this has not materialized in reality.  Introducing quotas for women or, as with the Rural Maintenance Programme in Bangladesh, designing a programme intended specifically for women, may also help to promote their participation in contexts where discrimination may prevail. Redefining public work to include forms that women can more easily participate in is another option. Care-related work in South Korea and environmental work in South Africa were both found to be more conducive to women’s participation than construction work.

Direct transfers: Alternatively, in a number of African countries, there have been experiments with direct transfers to the working poor, many of whom are not able to participate in public works programmes. These may be provided as cash to subsidize food purchase as in Mozambique, or as vouchers tied to the purchase of specific assets or productive inputs. Direct transfer approaches are likely to be of particular benefit to women in those Indian states where there is no tradition of waged work for women, participation in the MNREGA is very low, and women have domestic responsibilities that make it difficult for them to participate in any public work.

Wage guarantees must be accompanied by other services:  Social protection measures can be designed to challenge rather than simply reproduce gender inequalities. The Rural Maintenance Program in Bangladesh began by offering waged work to destitute women for a period of two years; but over time, and in response to various evaluations, built in a savings component as well as life and livelihood skills so that women graduated from the program equipped to start their own businesses. The ‘guarantee’ element in the MGNREGA program together with gender equality in the remuneration offered hold out the promise of citizenship to poor men and women although it is more likely to be realised in the presence of a pro-active bureaucracy and civil society.

Indirect and inter-generational design: Women’ s dual responsibilities within family and market mean that social protection measures directed at one set of responsibilities can have positive knock-on effects on the other. Conditional cash transfers in Brazil and Mexico, for example, were found to help women invest in their own education and in small livestock and poultry rearing alongside increasing their children’s education. In South Africa, not only did pensions to grandmothers have a more positive impact on the welfare on grandchildren than pensions to grandfathers, but it was also found to increase the mother’s labour force participation, since some of it was used to pay for transport and jobs search costs which they could not hitherto afford. In Mozambique, women were found to invest some of their food subsidy transfers in petty trading activities on the grounds that would enhance their ability to feed their children.

This is drawn from Naila’s contribution to a collection of essays on social protection floors.

Links I liked

17 June, 2014 - 07:30

Here’s the cream of last week’s twitter-crop

Some pretty pictures

Average number of firearms per 100 people (right). Yemenis and Yankees slugging it out for top spot. Datasource: The Guardian

Every country’s highest value goods export, [h/t John Magrath]

Relax, population controllers: the global slowdown is well advanced [h/t Kate Raworth]

Oxfam gets bashed for being ‘too political’ in its advocacy on rising hunger in UK

Which prompts an eloquent defence by Policy and Campaigns Director Ben Phillips v Tory MP on the BBC’s Today prog. Ban also bangs on in Huffpo

But if you want something a little more angry, try this mesmerizing taxi driver rant in defence of Oxfam [h/t John Magrath]

World Cup satire

‘Portugal’s Preparation: Entire team has been practicing writhing on ground in pain for months leading up to tournament’. The Onion’s guide to the national teams

OMG, what happened to the doves? [h/t Ellie Mae O’Hagan]

The essential introduction to FIFA. Definitive takedown from John Oliver [h/t Chris Jochnick and Laura Rusu]


Democracy is failing on representation (in the North) and rights (in the South). Interesting call for rethink from Dani Rodrik

Ben Ramalingam (he of Aid on the Edge of Chaos) is starting a new blog-which-then-becomes-a-book exercise, called ‘The Third Transition‘, on infectious diseases

The bar on communicating evaluations just went up a notch. Smart 90 sec animation summarizes 17 country, 6 year ‘Raising Her Voice’ programme on women’s empowerment:

Are we measuring the right things? The latest multidimensional poverty index is launched today – what do you think?

16 June, 2014 - 07:30

I’m definitely not a stats geek, but every now and then, I get caught up in some of the nerdy excitement generated by measuring the state of the world. Take today’s launch (in London, but webstreamed) of a new ‘Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014’ for example – it’s fascinating.

This is the fourth MPI (the first came out in 2010), and is again produced by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), led by Sabina Alkire, a definite uber-geek on all things poverty related. The MPI brings together 10 indicators, with equal weighting for education, health and living standards (see table). If you tick a third or more of the boxes, you are counted as poor.

Here’s the basics for MPI 2014:

  • It covers 108 countries, with 78% of the world’s population
  • As well as multi-dimensional poverty, it adds a new, more extreme category of ‘destitution’ for 49 countries (eg two or more children have died in your household, rather than one, see second table)
  • It analyses changes over time since the last index for 34 countries, covering 2.5 billion people (a third of humanity)


Key findings?

  • A total of 1.6 billion people are living in multidimensional poverty; more than 30% of the people living in the 108 countries analysed (compare that with a global figure of 1.2 billion in income poverty)
  • Of these 1.6 billion people, 52% live in South Asia, and 29% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most MPI poor people – 71% – live in Middle Income Countries (I won’t try and compare this with regional income breakdowns, as the MPI doesn’t cover all countries yet)
  • The country with the highest percentage of MPI poor people is still Niger; 2012 data from Niger shows 89.3% of its population are multi-dimensionally poor
  • Of the 1.6 billion identified as MPI poor, 85% live in rural areas; significantly higher than income poverty estimates of 70-75%
  • Of 34 countries for which we have time-series data, 30 – covering 98% of the MPI poor people across all 34 – had statistically significant reductions in multidimensional poverty
  • The countries that reduced MPI and destitution most in absolute terms were mostly Low Income Countries and Least Developed Countries
  • Nepal made the fastest progress, showing a fall in the percentage of the population who were MPI poor from 65% to 44% in a five-year period (2006-2011). Other star performers include Rwanda, Ghana, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tanzania and Bolivia
  • Nearly all countries that reduced MPI poverty also reduced inequality among the poor
  • Over 638 million people are destitute across the 49 countries analysed so far – half of all MPI poor people
  • India is home to 343.5 million destitute people – 28.5% of its population is destitute.
  • In Niger, 68.8% of the population is destitute – the highest share of any country


What does the MPI add to our understanding of poverty?

  • It more closely matches the actual lives of the poor. As the World Bank’s great Voices of the Poor study showed fully 15 years ago, poverty is a state of being – characterized by shame, humiliation, anxiety and worry, much more than it is about ‘do I have more/less than $1.25 a day’. The MPI is only a first step away from the reductionism of income measures (we don’t have comparable data on shame and fear yet), but it’s a start.
  • It measures the intensity of poverty – being poor and sick is very different from being poor and healthy. As a result it provides incentives to policymakers to try to help people become ‘less poor’, and recognition when they succeed in doing so; not just plaudits for those people lifted from one side to the other of a poverty line.
  • It compares deprivations directly (have any children died in your household?), so no need to mess around with Purchasing Power Parity calculations. That’s both more tangible, and a relief when periodic adjustments in PPP creates such doubt and confusion over income poverty comparisons (by one calculation, global income poverty fell by half between a Tuesday and a Wednesday last month!).
  • It allows you to go into some fascinating fine grain analysis, eg Benin and Kenya both had significant poverty reductions, but when you disaggregate by ethnic group, in Benin poverty reduction was virtually zero among the poorest ethnic group (the Peulh), whereas in Kenya, poverty among Somalis fell faster than for the better off ethnic groups.
  • The rural/urban finding is interesting – lots of discussion elsewhere about whether income poverty can be meaningfully compared between urban and rural settings, for example because you need money for lots of things in urban settings that come free in rural (so urban poverty is higher, for a given level of income ). But the MPI finds the opposite – in terms of multi-dimensional poverty, the benefits of urban outweigh the costs, so the proportion of the MD poor is higher in rural areas than for income poverty. That should get the urbanistas going. [update: yep, got that right]
  • Each indicator actually pulls its own weight – for example 10 countries’ poverty was tugged down by significant changes in all indicators. Not one is a laggard that never moves.


Which all seems really important, but as I said, I’m not a stats nerd, and I’d be interested in your views on the value (or otherwise) of the index.