The Problem With International Development — and a Plan to Fix It. Why my career didn’t end up in international development, in a nutshell.
Historical context, or systemic knowledge, is critical to the pursuit of understanding any complex issue. The long term, thirty year prespective provided by Pervez Musharraf this evening opened my eyes to what could be the causes of more recent events. As we were requested to silence our cell phones, and specifically not to tweet, at the beginning of my lecture, I took sporadic notes on the back of my hand.
“All Taliban are Pashtuns, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban.” Musharraf argues that the resurgence of Taliban activity since 2003 is because the coalition forces have not included the Pashtuns in the political process. The Pashtuns comprise over 40% of the Afghani population. Not being involved in the political process means that they’ve been driven to the city and hills; to effectively rebuild the prior national covenant, the Pashtuns must also be engaged in the political process.
On why Pakistan has nuclear arms: 80% of India’s military force is reportedly oriented towards the country. Pakistan has an “existential threat” to its existence.
On relations with Afghanistan: “They have always been bad.”
Why hasn’t Osama Bin Laden been captured? “I think he’s smarter than us […] Operations are going well, let’s see if we can get him.”
On the practice of stoning women to death, and what a recent act might do: “If you think by enacting laws you can change mindsets, that doesn’t happen. Not in developing countries.” It is not in all of Pakistan that people stone their neighbors, just in the backward wilds of some areas. Musharraf argues that misunderstandings forwarded by the media make this more of an issue than it is.
What kept surfacing in my mind was this: how does minimum viable democracy change from country to country and context to context? I feel that, all to often, we unfairly judge a country’s politics in comparison to our own standards of success and failure. Musharraf notes that when he came to power at the end of 1999, through a non-violent coup, the country was considered a failed state and that by 2006 the World Bank was praising the country for its economic progress.
The recording of the lecture, if made available, will be recommended.
I’m curious to see if there is a reputation system built into it. As they say, this works based on the participation of experts and non-experts. How do you gauge the expertise of a sweeper? And I don’t mean to imply as a journalist that I think that journalists are ‘experts’ by default. For instance, I know a lot about US politics but consider myself a novice when it comes to British politics.
To take a step back, Swift River is a project to “crowdsource the filter” for real-time crisis reporting. Ushahidi provides a platform for aggregating the information around a crisis but, when a crisis situation explodes metaphorically or literally, the information coming in can quickly overwhelm the people trying to make sense of it. Swift River will enable an observer to create a new instance for a given situation, add RSS feeds from various sources including news publications and Twitter, and then additional users will be able to come in as “sweepers” to curate those incoming bits of information and float the most important to the top.
In the comments, Jon mentions that the three “most critical aspects are the trust algorithm (veracity), predictive tagging and filtering out redundancies and inaccuracies.” The first, in my opinion, will be the most challenging, and hopefully most rewarding, piece of the riddle. They’ll be able to scale their ability to float accurate information if they focus on identifying the trustworthy people instead of the trustworthy information.
A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, I observed that the crowd is the least important part of crowdsourcing. More often than not, you could care less about the opinion of the crowd on a whole. What you really want is an authoritative answer, or field report, from the most knowledgeable person in that crowd.
In Rajasthan, two boys in the 8th standard fill their father’s cart with water from the village naadi, or pond. It takes around an hour and a half for them to complete this task daily, and provides just enough water for the eight family members, 10 to 15 goat, a cow, and a bullock. The quality of their water becomes less important when quantity is a concern.
I’ve been working frantically for just over a week on putting together a piece for this year’s edition of Flux Magazine, only to learn at the last minute that my story was cut because I’m not an active student. If I have time next week, I’ll finish up what I was writing and publish it.
I’m giving this presentation today as a part of a panel at a global health weekend my friend Alex Goodell spent a significant amount of time putting together. The conference is “You Can’t Crush a Louse with Only One Thumb: Integrating Biomedical & Sociocultural Approaches to HIV/AIDS in Africa” and my panel focuses on student experiences in these issues.
To make this interesting, I’ll be arguing that both the university system and standard practices in international development are broken, and that, more importantly, there are ways to fix each which will create more desirable future. It’s not about who should be to blame, but rather how the methods for each can be improved. One of these days, I’ll start producing second version of my presentations that include more narrative text too (I’m too much of a minimalist to include extensive text on my slides). Because the Oregon Direct Action project ended before implementation, I also hope to do a retrospect post on what worked and what didn’t work in the effort.
Whitman Direct Action has been active recently, first posting an update about their most recent project, The Transnational Community Development, and then reporting on meetings with a couple of the NGOs they’re supporting.
I’ve also uploaded a PDF of the report we produced last spring, titled “Developing Water.” Through a series of surveys, focus groups, and interviews, we took a look at the socio-cultural constraints to clean water access in the Kolwan Valley. It isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking if you’ve been working in the sector, but it does serve as a pretty legit primer to water access issues in India.
Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to travel again with Green Empowerment and check out the water project in progress in the community of Suro Antivo. Through a combination of municipal and foundation funds, the small collection of houses is finally going to receive safe and reliable water access to their households. To date, most families have to get their water from unimproved sources. There are two tanks being built, and one being refurbished, which will supply water to each house through a gravity-fed system:
Three news items that caught my eye in the last couple of days:
Building a Social Entrepreneurial Garage Startup in India – PBS MediaShift
Update from a pretty cool project to bring community radio stations to rural India. If it’s not too prohibitive to launching one of these (who knows what it takes to legally license spectrum in the country), then it could interesting to try applying the concept of a social business to this. I can see community radio for a social cause having a tremendous effect on water literacy, health education, etc. Also related: layoffs at out-sourcing firms might lead to huge innovation spikes in India. I certainly think it’s possible. Here comes the real competition.
Change Haiti can believe in – The Boston Globe
Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon argue for better US policy towards developing, and not punishing Haiti. It will be interesting to see how Obama’s foreign policy changes will affect the country’s development (especially in this economic climate and after the hurricanes). The authors are also participating in a panel discussion tomorrow night, the 27th of January, that will be broadcast live over the web.
Ecologists warn the planet is running short of water – Times Online
An annual report by the Pacific Institute in California says that the world could run out of “sustainability managed water.” Part of me wonders if this article is too broad to actually deliver anything substantial, but water is certainly going to become more and more of a local issue.
A view of the main street running down Alta Cayma. As the city grows, it expands outwards, and the distance from the center is a decent ruler for measuring socio-economic status. The houses, businesses, and infrastructure closer to the hub are significantly nicer than those in the periphery. Conversely, a view up the street running out of town (from a few blocks higher):
Rural poor come to the city looking for new livelihoods, and the easiest place to start is on the outskirts of town.
Also, a wee little video of the same area.
At about 0800 hours tomorrow morning, or today based on your timezone, I’ll be giving a presentation to the Asian Studies Program at Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus.
It’s a longer, more in-depth version of the one I gave in November, which means I get to expand a bit on the times I slept on train station platforms and when I got ringworm. We’ve finally finished the report associated with the Appropriate Technology Study Group, too, and I’m excited to go over some of the findings.
Sidenote: SlideShare doesn’t seem to think Helvetica Neue Light is a legitimate font and instead replaces it with some medieval looking thing. This is especially fun to discover by trial and error at midnight when you have to wake up early the next morning. Yes, I know that the lettering is too big on the first slide.
The cool thing about grants is that they will often fund the neat idea you have. The not-so-cool thing is that they generally take a lot of work and luck to be accepted.
My good friend Isaac Holeman and I entered an application on Friday to NetSquared/USAID’s Development 2.0 challenge. They’re looking to give $10,000 dollars to a project using mobile technology (like SMS or phone-based applications) that “[maximize] development impact in areas such as health, banking, education, agricultural trade, or other pressing development issues.” We think we’ve got just the idea.
We’d like to put together a bridge between mobile phones, potentially FrontlineSMS, and OpenMRS, a super neat medical records system that is beginning to gain a lot of traction in Africa because of Paul Farmer’s Partners In Health. Specifically, this would allow community health workers in the field to access and interact with the medical records database. This would, for instance, allow them to instantly query the last time a tuberculosis patient had reported taking their treatment medicine. Isaac and I are also very interested in sorting together an OpenMRS module that would “watch” the data going in and out of the database. If a bit of data passed through tagged with, say, “#emergency”, it would go to whomever the on-call doctor was. This type of functionality, as far as we can tell, doesn’t already exist. We think it would be sweet if it did.
Now, most of this project is in the very preliminary stages. With your help, though, and funding from NetSquared/USAID, we can take it to the next step. Here’s the details:
- Voting started on Monday and will run until Friday at 5:00 pm Pacific.
- To vote on our application, you must first register.
- Once you’ve registered, you then have one (1) ballot with up to five (5) votes. You have to vote at least three (3) times.
Our application is called “Mobilizing Medical Records In Resource Poor Settings“. We would be very much obliged if you took the time to vote for us and, if you do and leave a comment on this blog post, I’ll send you a personal thank you.
Also, if you don’t know who else to vote for, there were a few other projects which caught my eye:
- Providing Business Opportunities Information To Farmers And Producers Via SMS
- QuestionBox – Democratizing Information and News for the Illiterate, Poor and Unconnected
- Building A Sustainable Supply Chain For Portable Appropriate Technology
Most importantly, I think these types of projects show that mobile connectivity has tremendous potential to empower positive change. We think our project can do the same for healthcare. Thanks for the support!