Having worked on global development issues for over two decades, I should know who is an expert in my sector by now. I have many lists of experts on file and can’t help noticing a recurring trend: it’s usually people from a Northern/Western background, with endless degrees and credentials, most of them English-speaking. All of which begs the question: are these traits supposed to be the qualifications of the ultimate expert in my field? What if there’s a whole world of ‘expertise’ that we simply don’t consider?
As I seek to amplify Southern voices, I have partnered with CIVICUS, the world’s largest civil society platform, to reach out to its members and invite them to share how they are contributing to positive change. Among the many enthusiastic responses I have received so far, here is the amazing story of Kenneth (Ken) Ssenkubuge, a young Ugandan entrepreneur who has co-founded the online platform Hire the Youth. Its mission is to facilitate access to job opportunities, scholarships and fellowships for people aged 15-30 years with little or no work experience. Hire the Youth also helps young people cope with some of the challenges of finding a job, including how to manage the risk of depression. Based in Kampala, Ken is now working to establish partnerships with interested companies and organisations all over Africa.
The recent influx of refugees and migrants to Europe has brought to light the complexity of migration and how it is often linked to the development of the countries these people are escaping from. I discuss these issues with a former colleague of mine, Anas El Hasnaoui, who represents the Arab NGO Network for Development. Anas talks about the linkages between migration and development, particularly in his region, North Africa.
For my second interview with refugees advocating on behalf of other refugees I have reached out to Shaza Nabeel Al-Rihawi, a Syrian woman who now lives in Germany, where she works for the research institute LifBi. Shaza is also a member of the European Migrant Advisory Board and the co-founder of the Network for Refugee Voices. As World Refugee Day fast approaches, Shaza recalls the many challenges she has had to face to reunite with her family, rebuild her life from scratch and strive to improve refugees’ participation in the decisions that directly affect them.
With this post I have decided to focus almost exclusively on interviewing Southern policy-makers, practitioners and citizens, at least for the next few months. There really isn’t any need to filter what they think of humanitarian aid, development or climate change. The people I meet through my work often only need to have their voices amplified – and that’s what this blog is all about.
In the lead up to World Refugee Day on 20 June, it seems fitting to inaugurate a series of interviews I like to call “Refugees for Refugees”.
By this time of the year, wishing world peace may sound naïve and out of place. But for many people living in conflict zones, believing that peace is possible is surprisingly common. Inversely, it is often in more peaceful countries that we find the least optimistic people. This is what transpires from the first-ever Peace Perceptions Poll (2018), an initiative led by the NGO International Alert and the British Council in partnership with polling agency RIWI.
At the beginning of the year I wrote about the challenge of localising aid or, broadly put, how to help local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis by strengthening their capacity and channeling more international funding directly through them. As 2018 draws to a close, I come back to this topic to share the latest thinking based on what I heard from a few local partners themselves at a recent event held in The Hague.
During the summer break I finally had the time to reflect on the impact of the “Me Too” movement on the aid sector. A lot has been said already and yet we still know very little about the actual scale of the problem and even less about how it affects local aid workers in developing countries. This is what I find peculiar about current discussions on sexual harassment and abuse. Most of them reflect an expat’s lens instead of local workers' views.
This year marks my twentieth anniversary of working in the humanitarian and development sector. One of the issues I grapple most with these days is whether international aid is still, fundamentally, a Western construct based on assumptions that are no longer relevant, or if it is a universal form of assistance that takes different shapes depending on the region of the world we work in. In particular, if international cooperation is truly universal, is it paying more attention to what Southern citizens and the people directly affected by a crisis think of the aid they receive across the board, or is citizen engagement just another Western trend?
There are plenty of studies on civil society movements – how they start, grow and make citizen voices heard. Much less do we know about what happens at the other side of the negotiating table: how do public officials interacting with civil society representatives decide to respond to their requests? What drives bureaucrats’ decisions and why?
I have recently started a new job with the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that specialises in humanitarian aid in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.
Coming back to the humanitarian sector after over a decade, I am struck to find that many discussions about the efficiency and effectiveness of aid replicate what has been said in development circles for years. One issue in particular is at the heart of discussions old and new: the challenge of ‘localising aid’, that is, helping local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis through increased capacity and more direct funding from donor governments. Having agreed globally in 2016 that we should indeed localise aid, the humanitarian community is now tackling the big question: are we seeing any real change?
The development literature of the 1980s and 1990s gave considerable attention to participation in development – engaging local people, the “beneficiaries”, in decisions relating to their own development. This school of thought quickly drew criticism as the question was asked: what are they participating in? Of course, the answer was frequently that participation was little more than mobilising people in implementing an outside agenda, however well-meaning that may have been.
When we advocate human rights broadly, it is easy to rally support around them. Who doesn’t want to be a defender of freedom or protection? However, advocacy becomes a lot more challenging when we single out specific groups of people whose rights are under threat on a daily basis. We still periodically need to remind ourselves and others that ‘women’s rights are human rights’, for example. And not everybody who supports human rights in general is ready to stand by the rights of other gender-based groups, such as gender and sexual minorities, otherwise known as LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people.
“How do you measure social change?” As a consultant, I am often asked this question when I evaluate programmes or campaigns that are meant to produce some sort of social progress in the global South. I guess the underlying dilemma is about whether we can quantify qualitative changes, such as better dialogue between aid donors and civil society organisations. Is there a way to measure quality with numbers?
It has already been a year since the adoption of the “Grand Bargain”, a global agreement made at the World Humanitarian Summit to save up to a billion US dollars over five years by reducing inefficiencies in how humanitarian aid is provided. How well are we doing? Are things actually changing where they are supposed to? Is humanitarian aid becoming more efficient and effective?
I continue to explore how developing countries go about increasing their tax revenues as a way to escape from poverty, reducing the need for aid and other forms of international co-operation. In jargon, we call these efforts domestic resource mobilisation. This time I have spoken with Huong Nguyen, Non-Executive Director of the Vietnam Initiative Social Enterprise (VNI), a leading Vietnamese think-tank based in the country’s capital, Hanoi...
Strengthening a developing country’s finances by increasing its tax revenues, rather than depending exclusively on aid, is widely seen as the way forward in the development community. Yet, few people actually know first-hand what it takes to generate support for increasing tax revenues in a developing country – particularly at community level...
In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about ‘social accountability’, which is what happens when citizens directly engage in dialogue with public authorities to demand more rights or better services, and authorities respond with appropriate action. When managed effectively, social accountability brings concrete solutions to real issues even in the toughest contexts, such as some of today’s humanitarian crises...
This year’s International Women’s Day is about gender equality at work. A fitting theme to remember where and why we mark this day – it all started with a female garment workers’ strike in New York in 1908.
More than a century later, working conditions for women have dramatically improved, yet they are still worse than for male colleagues...
A couple of weeks ago thousands of people gathered in Nairobi for the second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), an international alliance aimed at improving the way aid and other forms of development co-operation can help people living in poverty in developing countries.