Friday, December 14, 2007

Merry Green Shopping!

A NYT story dear to my confused and complex heart - A World Consumed by Guilt - it's complicated this holiday season...
So what can an unreformed consumer do in the face of green fashion that doesn’t always fit?

“Perfect doesn’t exist and we’re probably never going to get there,” said Leslie Hoffman, the executive director of Earth Pledge, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable development and technologies. “We all make compromises every day. Making them with your eyes open instead of arbitrarily is the best piece of advice I could give.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

(Not) Shopping Till I'm Dropping!

My friend at Global Lab is always reminding me about neo-liberal economic principles and consumerism and he's not the only one! Today I learned (via Four Hour Work Week Blog) about some who are going the beyond the No-shopping-for-a-day! stuff, which always seems pointless to me. Some have tried no shopping for a year!

I enjoyed this little exchange on broken head phones. I wonder how long I could last in such a Compact. Of course, I know that ending shopping would end economic growth and we can do that, right, Global Lab. ;-) But it is nice to be pushed to think a bit harder about how often we run to the shop for a new set of head phones when many-a-friend probably has an extra pair. I have two extra if anyone needs a set.

Here are the rules they set up.

I also liked what a reader named liz said after reading the rules...

ah... america... where the upper class can take the higher ground by resolving to live a consumer life somewhat like the majority, who cannot afford to choose such a lifestyle choice, and publish their efforts to make themselves feel better, while arguing inane cop outs of their original decision. go for the gold team america!

OK, Liz, you are right, don't be such a little anti-american. Can't they pose the questions and dare to think a bit harder about it all? Humor us, please.

Oh yeah, and Buy(Less)!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Attention for the "Bottom Billion"

The Bottom Billion is worth a read. In fairness, I should read the End of Poverty since I already read and have been positively provoked by The White Man's Burden (which I don't feel places me on the right, as Collier suggests, anymore than I would call Sachs a defender of the left, but that is another story for other posts).

Summaries and reviews of Collier are plentiful, here and here and here so I won't bother with that.

I think it contributes some clarity to "conditionality" in the international development discussions and the term "governance conditionality" - that which is based on broadly agreed international norms - is an area I think might gain traction in a new information-obsessed world.

The greatest contribution is his analysis of laws and charters. Clearly, no international court is in the near future, but he cites the progress - note that I stop short of calling them "successes" - of initiatives like the Kimberly Process and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. I would add that voluntary initiatives such as the Equator Principles, which I use a lot in my work, are re-focusing the debate on role and responsibilities in international development. There is less turning a blind eye to the indirect impacts of our actions.

I was less offended than I expected to be about his arguments for military intervention. He certainly doesn't defend the blunders of Iraq and rather tries to re-think Somalia and Rwanda and how they might have followed a scenario more like what he considers to be successful interventions like Sierra Leone.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Still my favorite blog!

Congrats to Kedibonye Elijah, winner of the HIV essay contest, and especially to the two creators of Nata Blog. What an amazing model for getting support and sharing your stories.

C.A.R. Blog?!?

This is leap-frogging at its best! Kudos to the Humanitarian and Development Partners - Central African Republic for a Web 2.0-charged blog and intranet for Humanitarian and Development agencies. I learned about it from friend and was gutted to have missed the presentation of Tony Lanzer at the LSE. You can still see the presentation online with power point.

Everyone should learn a little bit about CAR..., but somewhat only an aid story. More on that later.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More on mosquito economics

To subsidize or not to subsidize, isn't that always the Economist's question? It was in Money v mosquito, asking whether the Gates Foundation and World Bank should subsidize a malaria remedy to keep the price down.

(Has anyone else noticed that when you wish to blog about something, you end of finding five more things you should read?)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

That's Random

I am a fan of the potential of randomized trials and was pleased to read an article in the 25 Oct 2007 issue of Nature called Field Trials Aim to Tackle Poverty. The Poverty Action Lab, featured in the article, is a good resource for me, but I thought the article was a bit unfair to the "debate" over handing out malaria bed nets for free or charging. (Here's the paper for those wishing to review their development economics.) They take a swipe at Population Services International, an organization I have appreciated in many contexts, mostly as they push people (me, especially) to see aid and health programs as more than just supplying the needed goods. It also requires socil marketing to help change behavior, or so I thought.

Maybe I will spend Sunday afternoon reading this and see if I was wrong all along.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Add a few more voices...

It goes on... Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda didn't sound like he wouldn't sign up to (Red) any time soon. His talked seemed to make waves over the summer and is now online.

And I have stumbled upon Arvind Subramanian through the PSD blog's diligent monitoring of the debate.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Social Change - The Wrong Way

I "heart" NPR. I love the way it just hits you with a voice... Here's the latest "frustrated" and "pained" voice who explains social change is going in the wrong way in Iraq.

And the letters.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Jetsons to the Flintstones"

Not commonly one to appreciate Mr. Friedman tone, I can't agree more with his Sunday column on 9/11 is Over.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Steve Biko

The BBC had a link that caught my eye - it has been 30 years since the death of Steve Biko, the South African leader of black consciousness. Seems a bit narrow as he helped me learn a lot about being conscious in general. I learned about Biko while reading My Traitor's Heart, one of my favorite books for too many reasons to name here. Highly recommended!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Design for the other 90%

(Via PSD Blog), a fantastic story and video in the NYT about the concept of design for development. I will see the exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York, as the Design for the other 90% exhibit it is there until September 23.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Collier joins the debate

The Sachs versus Easterly debate expands! This is good as I was beginning to think it needed some fresh insight. Paul Collier's new book, The Bottom Billion, according to the Time's Sunday Book Review last week, is a must read and a better book than either of the recent efforts of Sachs or Easterly.

The Financial Times summarizes:
So what else is needed to help countries in the bottom billion? Collier makes three suggestions: first, military intervention; second, laws, statutes and charters for improved governance; and, third, trade preferences.

Controversial, but given the debate needs some news ideas. Waiting for my copy...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Listen to a good interview about...a lot!

(Via Paul) I listened to an interesting interview with Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, on BBC's In Business (May 31, 2007). I appreciated this part (about 16:50) of the interview:
Peter Day: You think social entrepreneurs are thinking too small, don't you? This is a new or fairly new movement which has enormous possibilities.

Tim Smit: I think it's a new movement, but I think it's also a new philosophy of business and it irritates me that we define people as being social entrepreneurs when in fact our ambition should be to make all entrepreneurial activity social. The only distinction I can see between social entrepreneurship and ordinary entrepreneurship is the ultimate disposal of the surplus of profits and of course the philosophy behind the protocols of its management. But if you had a business...that was ethically sourcing its products; that was making a light a footprint as it could; that was treating its people well; that was trying to create products of social benefit or joy; after it had achieved all those things, I don't really care what it does with its surpluses or its profits.

More on the definitions follows. He cuts through some of the language that frustrates me.

He has some interesting rules he uses:
* Say good morning to 20 people before you start work.
* Read two books a year that people who know you think are outside your interest and review them for your colleagues. (A mid-year resolution, I think!)
* Make a speech once a year about why you like your work.
* You have to prepare a meal for 40 people you like working with. (Done because major decisions are made at night; "...the influences you bring to bear on your decision are wider than more narrow confines of what you might do if you just had your work hat on.")

Let's have a dinner party!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Making Money, Making a Difference?

Thanks to the Private Sector for Development blog, I read these four cases of "sustainability" about Coca Cola, McDonalds, Proctor & Gamble and General Electric. In case you hadn't noticed, they are Making Money, Making a Difference, according to the Motley Fool.

OK, P&G and GE I can read without feeling like my feathers are too ruffled. But McDonalds and Coke? I just couldn't swallow this easily. I did have to ponder: what do we do when McDonalds works with Conservation International to decrease their un-sustainable whitefish consumption from 50,000 to 32,000 tons? I suppose we do need to praise Coke for trying to support education, improve water efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions, but shouldn't their corporate responsibility work address obesity and rotten teeth, the actual externalities of their sugar infused products?

Would you like a super size fillet-o-fish (see link for content of sandwich) and coke while you ponder that sustainability report? Too much damage was done with Super Size Me to let me buy this corporate hand washing, even if done with P&G's soap that is supporting hygiene at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Election '08: Preliminary bet on Obama

I've done it. While this is not meant to be an overtly political blog, I find it worth sharing that I have given my first political contribution to Senator Barak Obama. I admit that I have not studied all issues to my heart's content, but I am excited by Obama's approach and maintain a slim hope that a US election with Obama on the ticket would move us a few steps away from poisonous politics and, as The Economist sums up well, flirtation with monarchy:
The dynastification of American political life is weakening America's claim to be a democratic beacon. These days political dynasties are usually associated with the young democracies of South Asia rather than mature republics. The dynastification of its political life also points to a deeper problem: the fact that America is producing a quasi-hereditary political elite, cocooned in a world of wealth and privilege and utterly divorced from most people's lives.
The tipping point (to donate) for me was the New Yorker article I read last night. Just having someone who reflects would be a hugely needed breathe of fresh air for US and global politics.

I gave my donation with reservations. I will always listen to my intellectual hero, Cornel West, who expressed some reservations about Obama's campaign announcement. I also find the myspace situation concerning, but not enough to keep me from expressing my hope for a deeper, self-reflective engagement in politics, which is what the Obama '08 campaign represents to this American living in London.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Peace Corps Blogs

Peace Corps Blogs - and what seemed to be a lack of them - have been an interest of mine for some time. I think one of the coolest elements of Peace Corps is what it allows Americans to learn by deeply - sometimes too deeply - integrating into another culture. Often these are very less-traveled cultures so I was pleased to see some Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have set up a site with Peace Corps blogs. Back in the day, when I did Peace Corps (Western Russia 1996-98), we had World Wise Schools, but I could never get the the buzz going with Russian students through snail mail. Blogs are World Wise Schools on drugs. There is also a podcast called Volunteer Voices. I will be going to Mongolia soon and will be busy exploring the blog impressions of Americans in the steppe.

If you look at any of these, I would love to know what you think of them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Case for "political pillars"

Which is the greatest threat to globalisation: the protesters on the streets every time the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organisation meets, or globalisation's cheerleaders, who push for continued market opening while denying that the troubles surrounding globalisation are rooted in the policies they advocate?
Dani Rodrik on globalization...
Historians teach us that globalisation rests on delicate social and political pillars. The first order of business today is to strengthen these pillars, rather than to push market opening further.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Buy (Less)

I am not opposed to the idea of donating part of the profits to help boost sales, but I haven't been a fan of (RED). There were some thoughtful comments recently on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. Don't miss the comments either...
What’s wrong with all of this ostensible “corporate generosity”? First, it is self-serving, further diminishing true altruism in the corporate world. We live in a society where values are threatened, and avarice and greed need to be better balanced by a sense of the greater good – the commonweal. If values erode further in the market, nonprofits and the rest of us are all in deeper trouble. Second, all of us need to understand that, in the words of Buy(Less), shopping is not a solution. We cannot consume our way to charity and to a better world. Doing good sometimes requires sacrifice, and we ought not allow ourselves to be convinced that we’ve done our part because of the color of what we use. Third, we generally don’t know how much goes to the cause and how much goes to profit for each sale or in the aggregate; there is no true transparency or accountability. What do direct and secondary benefits add up to for the corporation? Are charities being fairly compensated for those benefits? Fourth and last, we need to remember that there really is a profound difference between doing well and doing good. To the degree that we confuse the two, we substitute ourselves for the other and are diminished rather than enriched.

Check out Buy (Less).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cultural literacy

I like the questions that the Cultural Literacy project at Demos is asking:
What skills do we need to read a changing world?
What are the key skills that we will need as cultures merge, meet and clash to a greater degree than ever before?
What can we learn from other disciplines and domains, like anthropology in how to approach this new environment?

I am very interested in interaction and the Cultural Literacy project gave a great link to a Wired article that discusses the dominance of English in cultural communication. One part of me wishes this wasn't the case, but when I read the article, I found myself thinking about other places, like the South Caucasus. Instead of culture going through a Russian channel in that part of the world, people are less likely to interact (Armenian, Azeri and Georgian are very different languages). I don't like the idea of having only one language hub, but do think having a few "biggies" - like the six UN languages - helps immensely. We need "hub and spoke" and "point to point" communication and we always will.

You can subscribe to the Demos projects and get regular updates through your feed reader. There must have been a real mastermind behind that site. It is truly amazing.

Coffee trade and intellectual property

The value of a brand or a manufacturing license is now far more important than a product’s physical production. Also, income from creative products (such as designs, writings or inventions) is entirely due to intangible value.

So reports the Light Years IP website, which today launched a blog on its project with Ethiopian Coffee growers. The blog will give "real-time coverage as they lead a momentous training on Intellectual Property management, bringing together fine coffee stakeholders from across Ethiopia."

This case seems to need a whole econ course. If you talk to Starbucks, the seem to think they have done a lot to help coffee and Ethiopia. If you get the other sides, Starbucks is little more than a greedy corporation. Of course, the Economist warns us of the side effects of fair trade initiatives:

Starbucks also has questions about the different standards of fairness applied by the Fair Trade brand custodians in different parts of the world. It doubts even that the strategy of the Fair Trade movement, to secure farmers a premium over the market price for their beans, is the best basic approach. Starbucks prefers a code known as the CAFE practices (Coffee and Farmer Equity), which aims to help coffee farmers develop sustainable businesses through a mixture of technical support, microfinance loans, and investment in infrastructure and community development where the farmers live.

No opinion here. But I am eager to hear a bit more from the directly affected people rather than another press release from Starbucks or an NGO working on fair trade. Perhaps the Light Years IP blog will give some insight. I will also be reading through the Poor People's Knowledge, that includes a chapter by the founders of Light Years IP. This seems like an idea worth exploring.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Life Along the Pipeline

This is a good article. I appreciate the balance and love the photos. (Disclaimer: Rena Effendi is a pal of mine. But she still takes really amazing photos. I learn a lot from her images.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Machine is Us/ing Us

Lack of Intelligent Debate

The Intelligence Squared moronic debate held on Tuesday was the greatest display of arrogance I have seen in a long, long time.

The motion, put forward: We'd be better off without religion.

My favorite part was when Rabbi Julia Neuberger was making a point about how scornful the "For" side was when Christopher Hitchens heckled her from the other side of the stage.

In reflecting after, I asked how they could pose such a provocative question and ask a self-professed liberal rabbi, an art historian and a philosopher to defend the value of religion's existence. I find this dangerous and disturbing. Neither side was convincing and after an initial interest in good debate, I just got bored. According to UK statistics, there are 41 million Christians and almost 1.6 million Muslims in the UK. There are 267,373 Jews in the UK. Not reinforcing any stereotypes there, are we?

The final vote - 57.8% For - 37.3% Against - 4.3% Don't Know - was a loss for tolerance and moderation, as well as a little gas on the fundamentalist fire. Just what we needed.

Here is The Times Religion Correspondent's post on the event and a really useful article for sparking reasoned debate.

Still my favorite blog...

The Nata Village blog remains one of my favorites. I like checking in from time to I was inspired by the exchanges that are beginning with schools from North America that have picked up on this and are beginning to have their students read about Botswanna.
Despite the hardships here, kids still figure out a way to have fun. The boys in the photo are big fans of the Zebras. The Zebras are the national football (soccer) team of Botswana. Whenever the Zebras play, everyone gets excited about it and the kids show their spirit by painting their chins the team colors. We are pleased that kids in the developed world are opening their minds to the hardships of others. The teachers are doing a fantastic job of educating their students.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Drawing a social investment line

Today's slog through my bloglines was fruitful! The Global Development: Views from the Center blog is full of great stuff and I am still at work trying to make sense of it all.

Interesting story
about the effect of investments in companies that do bad things. The LA Times has been looking at the Gates Foundation investments. This kind of goes along with my last post on far does this socially responsible investing, buying and living actually go? Favorite quote from a related Seattle Times
"It's very, very complex. Let's say I don't invest in oil companies but I do go and buy gas with my car. Let's say I don't buy gas for my car, but I use rubber tires. Where do you draw the line?"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Philosophy on philanthropy

This Peter Singer article on giving has challenged me for years. Comments on it are very welcome!

I have been meaning to post on this since I came across another thought-provoker by Singer in December - "What Should a Billionaire Give - And what should you?" He seems to have been sparked by the New Year giving season and the huge philanthropic gesture in 2006 by Warren Buffet, who added $31 million to the Gates Foundations already healthy coffers.
Philanthropy on this scale raises many ethical questions: Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more? Is it troubling that such momentous decisions are made by a few extremely wealthy individuals? And how do our judgments about them reflect on our own way of living?

Good questions, so thanks for the reminder. But I have to say, my thoughts have changed on Singer and I no longer seriously think the difference between my homemade tuna sandwich and a boozy lunch out could be the difference between a hungry and a healthy child somewhere. I still greatly appreciate his work and wrestle with his ideas, but his examples assume straight forward action and result. Giving money doesn't always save a life. Giving large amounts of money - particularly to countries with poor governance structures - can actually make new problems.

Singer's calculates that 10% of the richest families in the US could generate $404 billion giving away only a portion of their incomes. This would easily pay for the changes Jeffery Sachs has estimated the world needs to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

But is the UN the best set up to use $404 billion? What if we took all $404 billion and put it in micro-enterprise? Peacebuilding? Democratization? Capacity building? Security? Gender rights? Human rights? Education? Climate change? And those pesky incentives and disincentives created by giving will not go away.

Mercy, we all need to do more, me included, but the debate on aid effectiveness has to go beyond the idea of giving money to get rid of a problem. The fact is, we won't get a grand slam result with a grand slam philanthropic donation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On importance of corporate governance...

Hopefully, I keep believing that things like transparency and good practice matter, even in places where an average citizen does not have much purchasing power.

The PSD Blog had a good post on the main reason why they felt corporate governance matters in the transitioning countries of Eastern Europe and beyond.

I certainly agree, but there is a need for some sort of critical mass that allows competition - in the good sense - to lift the bar on standards and transparency.

Not sure myself if corporate governance is outside corporate responsibility.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dropping Knowledge

Well, Dropping Knowledge seems to have something for just about everyone in its quest to further "the promotion of international understanding and the promotion of art and culture."

Due to my long-time admiration of Cornel West, I was drawn to the Table of Free Voices.

100 questions - Does our wealth depend on the third world being poor? What's after capitalism? Is corporate social responsibility possible?

112 participants - Wim Wenders, Cornel West, Bianca Jagger...mmmm, what's going on? Lot's of people from all corners of the planet, many of whom I have never heard of, but they all seem to have answers and in videos!

Professor West's answer - the video - to the question of whether corporate social responsibility is possible:
There is no doubt that corporate social responsibility is possible. It’s not only possible but it’s necessary. It’s highly desirable. We have seen, in fact, corporations make significant concession to workers over the last 150 years or so in which in fact child labor laws and which in fact healthcare and other benefits do in fact take place. It has everything to do with the power and clout, the organized pressure of working people, of trade unions in work places trying to ensure that the corporate quest for profits do not take place in such a way that that quest ignores the rights of working people so that we have, in fact, seen corporate social responsibility at work. Unfortunately in the last 30 years, workers rights have been attenuated, working workers power have been cut; and corporate social responsibility cannot be talked about without, in fact, significant worker organizations having power and pressure to ensure that there is some kind of fairness, some kind of justice in the kind of contracts made between working peoples and corporate elites. So, it’s not only possible. We have seen it in action over and over again; we’ve also seen cut backs; we’ve also seen take backs and, therefore, it’s always a dynamic situation and has so much to do with whether in fact workers organizations can be forward sustained and are strong enough to promote corporate social responsibility along with fellow citizens in small businesses and in civil society as a whole.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Peace Train

So would you say you have contempt for a terrorist group like Hamas?
I wouldn’t put those words in my mouth. I wouldn’t say anything on that issue. I’m here to talk about peace. I’m a man who does want peace for this world, and I don’t think you will achieve that by putting people into corners and asking them very, very difficult questions about very contentious issues.

Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens

I like that answer. Anyone heard the new CD?