Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘random, musing or confusing’ Category

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you’ll know that I have a strong connection with El Salvador where I lived during the decade of the 1990s. Every so often I get nostalgic or something triggers me and I get the urge to write about those days or how they still impact on me and my kids. The Central American child migration situation is in the news every day now, with varying explanations and huge amounts of political manipulation, so it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

I migrated to El Salvador for love in 1991 and back into the US with my kids in 2001 to get out of a country that was increasingly sinking into terrifying violence and where I could not envision a future for myself or my kids. The very week we left El Salvador, the 9-year-old son of a man who owned a small mechanic shop (eg, not someone who was uber wealthy) was kidnapped and then killed by his captors when the police attempted to rescue him. My son Daniel was also 9 at the time.

Still, leaving El Salvador was the hardest decision I’ve ever made – and I had a plane ticket, family support in the US, spoke the language, had a job, and already had US citizenship, as did my kids. I cannot imagine sending my children on their own, by foot. I cannot imagine having to make the choice between the known day-to-day violence of one kind and the potential yet very real violence of another.

My ex-husband made the journey into the US in the early 1980s when he was 18. It took him four months to make it. He tells of hunger, of sleeping outside, of looking for short-term work in Mexico to replace the money that the police had stolen from him, and being chased through the fields by a man with a machete. He traveled with the clothes on his back and not much else. The heartbreak and fear involved in a decision to send a child on that journey alone is something I can’t fathom. But I know that El Salvador is no place to try to raise children right now either. Even in the 1990s, every time I left the house I wondered if I would return that evening or if I might be caught up somehow in the senseless violence that runs wild in the country. It’s something you learn to live with, and you don’t realize how stressful it is until you wake up somewhere where you feel safe.

Our decision to migrate back to the US continues to be difficult sometimes, as I wrote in this post about my daughter’s experiences dealing with family separation. It’s never easy for families to be separated, and it enrages me when the family bonds, of “others” or of “the poor” are imagined to be less strong or less meaningful than those of more privileged people or of the current citizens of a particular country. Sending a child to walk across a desert is not a decision parents make lightly. Why do people seem to understand that when it’s the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and not when it’s children of Central America?

Yesterday, my son Daniel wrote about his experiences for a newspaper called Brasil do Fato, where he’s interning for the next 3 months as part of a human rights grant he received from his university. He doesn’t elaborate about his childhood in El Salvador in this version, but his original version talked about the joy of growing up in the Barrio where we lived, playing in the alley and the rubble of an abandoned building down the road, and how things have changed since then.

Daniel’s piece gives a quick history of the US’ involvement in Central America and why it’s not an isolated issue, free of history and a broader global context. He also reflects on “how much a person’s fate is determined by the country and family into which they are born and where they fall in the order of social forces that structure the world.” It’s something he understands well, because he’s had the best of his two worlds.

Here’s the original article published on July 24, 2014, in Brasil do Fato (in Portuguese), and I’ve pasted in an English translation here:

Human Rights here and in the wider world

by Daniel Ramirez

I am Salvadoran, on my father’s side. Which means that I share, at the very least, a common history and memories of life in a Salvadoran barrio. In the barrio, I grew up alongside many children living in very difficult circumstances, just like the children who are seeking to flee the country today.

Our lives, however, turned out very differently. I am privileged to be a college student at the University of Chicago, and currently in São Paulo working as an intern for Brasil de Fato thanks to a grant from my school’s Human Rights program. This highlights for me how much a person’s fate is determined by the country and family into which they are born and where they fall in the order of social forces that structure the world.

Throughout the 20th century — especially after 1932 when the Salvadoran government put down an attempted peasant insurrection led by the Partido Socialista Centroamericano, killing up to 40,000 indigenous people in a massacre known as “La Matanza” — economic tension between the Salvadoran oligarchy and its working classes continually increased.

This conflict hit a high point during the global economic crisis of the 1970s, and in 1979 an attempted coup d’etat sparked the Salvadoran Civil War. The United States saw this as an opportunity to ensure communism would not take root in El Salvador, as it already had in Nicaragua, and funded the Salvadoran military’s campaign against popular resistance. On the left, the guerrilla militia named Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (in honor of Farabundo Martí, the leader of the 1932 insurrection) was organized to fight for the Salvadoran people.

It was a brutal war that lasted until 1992. Thousands were killed and human rights were grossly abused on a massive scale. To escape this, many Salvadorans migrated to the United States, including my dad who escaped to the US in the early 1980’s. In 1990, my dad was deported back to El Salvador, and my mom went with him.

I lived in El Salvador until I was nine, then I moved to the United States with my mom and sister.

Since I left, I’ve gone back to visit El Salvador once every couple of years. Now, my old friends have grown up. They work hard for little pay and already have families, and we’ve grown apart. There are still kids hanging out outside, but they’re older, and it seems to me like the character of their activities has become more serious.

The barrio has changed. It now “belongs” to the 18th Street gang. There’s more violence around, some of it between rival gangs, and my dad tells me to be careful who I talk to. The kid who lived directly across from us back in the day was shot and killed along with his mother right in the alley in front of my old house. If I’d been born ten years later, my childhood would not have been the carefree, playful existence that it was.

Violence, Hope and Reality

This is the type of social climate that is causing children to leave for the United States. And if we follow the chain (if not totally causal, then at least telling) from US military funding, to an intensified civil war, to refugee migration, to Los Angeles gangs, to deportation and finally to the pervasive power of gangs throughout El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, we can see how much current migration into the US from Central America has been shaped by the United States’ influence.

Right now, on the United States’ side of the US-Mexico border, thousands of children are arriving at immigration detention centers, most looking to escape violent conditions in their home countries. Meanwhile, President Obama is looking for the power to deport them as quickly as possible, intending to send Central Americans the message that the US will not aid immigrants arriving en masse to its borders, even if they are children.

United States foreign policy in Latin America extended and fueled a brutal civil war in El Salvador. Its domestic treatment of immigrants, refugees and low income communities bred gangs who then committed crimes and who then were deported back to a Central American economy and society that had no room or place for them to reintegrate in a healthy manner.

The United States is a major historical cause of the current influx of child immigrants. It would be just for United States society to take collective responsibility for the harm it inflicted in the past, and do what it can to help remedy the crisis in Central America. But, as can be seen by looking at how United States society treats its African-American community, as a country, it is not very good at taking responsibility for past crimes.

Why I’m Here

Now, I’ve come to Brazil with a critical eye in order to understand the interconnections between my Salvadoran barrio, my experiences in the United States, and the periphery and the social movements in Brazil, specifically in São Paulo, where I’ve come to live these three months.

I hope to see how diverse groups of people organize to fight for themselves. My goal is to consistently articulate my insights, and track the progress of my thinking on the theme of human rights. I’m not sure where this project will go, but I’m excited to go along with it and take it wherever it leads.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 5.13.57 AM

I spent last week in Berlin at the Open Knowledge Festival – a great place to talk ‘open’ everything and catch up on what is happening in this burgeoning area that crosses through the fields of data, science, education, art, transparency and accountability, governance, development, technology and more.

One session was on Power, politics, inclusion and voice, and it encouraged participants to dig deeper into those 4 aspects of open data and open knowledge. The organizers kicked things off by asking us to get into small groups and talk about power. Our group was assigned the topic of “feeling powerless” and we shared personal experiences of when we had felt powerless. There were several women in my group, many of whom, unsurprisingly, recounted experiences that felt gendered.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 5.24.53 AMThe concept of ‘mansplaining‘ came up. Mansplaining (according to Wikipedia) is a term that describes when a man speaks to a woman with the assumption that she knows less than he does about the topic being discussed because she is female. ‘Mansplaining is different from other forms of condescension because mansplaining is rooted in the assumption that, in general, a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman.’

From there, we got into the tokenism we’d seen in development programs that say they want ‘participation’ but really don’t care to include the viewpoints of the participants. One member of our group talked about the feelings of powerlessness development workers create when they are dismissive of indigenous knowledge and assume they know more than the poor in general. “Like when they go out and explain climate change to people who have been farming their entire lives,” she said.

A lightbulb went off. It’s the same attitude as ‘mansplaining,’ but seen in development workers. It’s #devsplaining.

So I made a hashtag (of course) and tried to come up with a definition.

Devsplaining - when a development worker, academic, or someone who generally has more power within the ‘development industry’ speaks condescendingly to someone with less power. The devsplainer assumes that he/she knows more and has more right to an opinion because of his/her position and power within the industry. Devsplaining is rooted in the assumption that, in general, development workers are likely to be more knowledgeable about the lives and situations of the people who participate in their programs/research than the people themselves are.

What do people think? Any good examples?

 

 

Read Full Post »

The scars you have. The wounds you inflict. The knots wrapped up in your perceptions and the memories that cross generations….

We are using Skype to call a landline in San Salvador. That side — a father and a grandmother — doesn’t understand how it works, doesn’t realize that this side – a son, a daughter, an ex-wife – is gathered around the computer, all listening.

One-third of this side, the daughter, has dissolved into a heap of tears. Hyperventilating, choking sobs. The fact that we left 12 years ago for the US has punched her in the gut, and she’s destroyed upon hearing the deep, gravelly voice of her abuelita, who cared for her unconditionally when she was small.

Typical Skype, the connection is not good.

Alo? Alo? No se oye bien. Aqui no se oye. Alo? 

She had buried it. Every mention of facing it or trying to resolve it met with tears. With fear and resistance. With avoidance.

Her recent post-Thanksgiving twitter feed confesses: I’m late but thankful for my dad’s selfless decision to not ask for joint custody (c) 

…And to let my mom bring us to the US. If I were there I wouldn’t have any of what I have now.

He comes on the line, and his voice, his loss, his sacrifice become tangible. She sobs. He tries to reach out.

Why doesn’t she wanna talk? Ahhh, it’s ok. I know how it is…. She can hear me? Then both you kids know I am proud of you. I love you….  She still crying? Bueno, it’s ok. She gets that from me. I am a cry baby too. A cry-man.

The magnitude of his sacrifice hits her. She imagines what it felt like for a father to lose a wife, a son, and a small daughter to the United States. She wonders how he could handle it. Meanwhile she is living her life carefree, like nothing. She knows it’s not her fault, but the guilt is still there. Somehow until now she has not understood or appreciated it.

Maybe causing hurt can feel worse than being hurt. But even that is preposterous and selfish. The fact is that only some people have the privilege of being able to leave, to come and go as they please, to move on freely to better opportunities.

We hang up and have dinner and try to talk about it. We change the subject. We watch a movie about the time El Salvador’s national team made it to the World Cup. It was 1982 and the country was deep in civil war. The team had no funding and arrived through pure grist, themselves wondering what they had done to achieve such greatness. The players talk about how they were bathed in their reputation upon arrival to la Copa Mundial: A country at war. A country of assassins. A country full of poor people and violence.

On the field, the team won the record for having the most goals scored against them: 10 goles metidos. They returned home ashamed. But the players understand the context that led to their failure, and they also talk about el orgullo del pobre – their pride in themselves, their people and their country.

It strikes me that ‘la gente humilde,‘ (humble people) is the polite term sometimes used to describe ‘the poor’ in El Salvador. I keep thinking about what that means.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes a work trip accidentally has a theme, and my recent trip to Cape Town was one of those. I arrived on Thursday, December 5th to the news that Mandela had passed away. My cab driver was on the phone, telling someone that Friday would be a holiday. He glanced back at me and asked “Do you know who Nelson Mandela is? He’s passed.” I turned on the television when I got to my hotel and watched for a few hours, but it was already after midnight and so there was not a lot of new content.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 7.56.17 AMThe following day I went with a small group to an ecumenical ceremony in the square, but it didn’t feel yet like the news had really hit. I had no idea how to interpret the crowd, the messages, the speakers, the politics. As the news traveled and people began writing about Mandela and his life, I dipped in here and there. The typical conversations happened. Was Mandela and his life going to be sanitized by the mainstream media for political purposes? It was good to see people attempting to show the full man, with all his complexities. It was striking to remember that such a short time ago apartheid was alive and well, and to really think about that, I mean really really think about it, and to be reminded yet again of the fact that social change is not easy, clean, or straightforward. It’s most certainly not a technical problem waiting to be solved with a new device or invention, though clearly international and national political pressure play a huge role.

Mandela and his life became an underlying base for the conference, as I’m sure was true for much of what was happening around the world. Whether he was directly mentioned or not, his life’s work was present. I participated in sessions on ICTs and open development, ICTs and children, ICTs and raising critical consciousness. In all of them, the issues of equity and power came up. How can development processes be more open and is there a role for ICTs there? What world do we want to see in the future? How do we get there? How do we include children and youth so that they are not marginalized? How can we take a critical approach to ourselves and our agendas in development and in ICT4D? Can ICTs play a role in helping people to change existing power structures, achieve more equity and equality, and transform our societies? All these sessions were planned before anyone knew of Mandela’s passing, but talking about issues in light of the recent news and the renewed presence of him and his life made them feel more real.

Fast forward to the flights home. My first flight was the long one, from Cape Town to Amsterdam. My seat mates were two inexperienced flyers in their late 30s or so. They didn’t know where to put their bags or that they could not get up to go to the bathroom while the seatbelt sign was on and the flight was taking off. They were tattooed and looked a little rough around the edges. One of them carried a small, stuffed cheetah and wore hot pink pumps. I fell fast asleep the minute we took off and woke up an hour before we landed. The woman with the pink pumps started a conversation. Almost immediately she told me that she and her friend were returning from 2 months in rehab. They were both struggling with addictions to alcohol and sex, she told me. She was originally from Croatia and had lived in Amsterdam for years. She had recently relapsed and that’s why she went into treatment. She was returning to a safe house now, and it was her daughter’s 10th birthday. She was feeling positive about her life, yet sad that she would spend her daughter’s birthday in a safe house. She had recently revealed her addiction to her boss and received a negative and disempowering response. She was trying to be strong and accept that she was a recovering addict, learning to not feel ashamed, and working on being proud of the fact that she was moving forward. I was struck by her vulnerability and sweetness and left wondering how she would fare in a world where addiction and mental illness are so buried and stigmatized.

I got on my last flight and checked my Facebook while waiting to take off. My friend Subir had posted that two Supreme Court judges had overruled the Delhi high court’s decision and upheld the constitutionality of Section 377 –  essentially ruling that homosexuality is a crime and throwing India back into the dark ages.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 7.26.51 AM

My seatmate on this flight started up a conversation and I mentioned the India decision. I also told him about some of the different work that I do and the various hats I wear, including my involvement as a board member with ICAAD, the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination. ICAAD’s work is fascinating because they look at discrimination that is embedded into law, and the link between structural and legal discrimination and racial, gender, religious and social discrimination, violence, and hate crimes including those against religious minorities, immigrants, women, the LGBT community, and people of color.

As we talked, I learned that my seat mate’s mother had been a Holocaust survivor and that he was traveling to the US to attend an event in his mother’s honor. Her father survived a concentration camp, and she had been hidden and sheltered by different families for many years until the two were finally reunited and moved to the US.  She spent years dealing with the psychological impacts of the experience, but now works to help children and youth understand and deal with bigotry and hate, to identify it around them even when it’s not directly aimed at them, and to find ways to stop it. She highlights that it can manifest itself in seemingly small ways, like bullying at school.

This accidental theme of discrimination, violence and hate, whether based on race, poverty, addiction, religious beliefs or sexual orientation was so alive for me this week. I met and learned more about brave individuals and the work of organizations who stand up in the face of injustice to take action at both the personal and the institutional level, raising critical consciousness to push for the changes that the world needs.

Despite our ‘advanced’ societies, our awareness of history, our facts, our data, our evidence, our literary genius, our ICTs, our innovations, we have very far to go, as I was reminded multiple times. But strong and caring individuals, organized communities, and political will can make a dent in structural discrimination and contribute to a more human society. More of us, self included, need to re-focus and work harder toward this end.

Read Full Post »

Bruce Lee explains why many open data and technology-led initiatives go wrong.

(See minute 1.14).

Read Full Post »

“Google employees get to take 20% of their time to do their own thing,” is a phrase that is often repeated and praised in the circles where I run. I have to agree that it’s a fantastic idea — I’m a big fan of side projects.

Chade-Meng Tan works for Google, and he took his 20% time to work on the idea of bringing ‘mindfulness’ into the workplace. (His long-term goal is the loftier one of world peace–but more about that later.)

Meng’s idea turned into a course for Google employees called “Search Inside Yourself” (pun intended). It was a kind of meditation course for geeks and engineers. His book (by the same title) walks readers through the course, going from very very simple ‘learning how to meditate’ to (my favorite) ‘mindful emailing’ and onto his idea that if we each start by developing peace and happiness within ourselves, we will develop compassion, and if everyone is happy, at peace, and compassionate, we can create the foundation for world peace.

I was skeptical about reading Search Inside Yourself because I’m not big on self-help books or reading about hot business management trends or which ’7 Habits’ will transform my life. I’m also not super touchy-feely. I did enjoy the book, however. It was a pleasant and easy read, and I’m guessing it rolls the key points of most of those other self-help books into one. (Though I could be mistaken, since I haven’t read any of them!)

Search Inside Yourself is meditation and mindfulness merged with emotional intelligence and research on how the brain works applied to the workplace, relationships and life in general. Throughout the book are quotes and conversations with renowned Buddhists such as Matthieu Ricard, (noted for being ‘the happiest man in the world’), the Dalai LamaRichard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn (pioneers in the field of contemplative neuroscience), Norman Fischer and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

Meng starts us off with very accessible exercises to learn to meditate. (Chapter 1 is titled ‘Even an Engineer Can Thrive on Emotional Intelligence’) Starting with 2 minutes a day, he says, you can get going. (I tried, and even I was actually able to slow myself down for 2 minutes). He moves on to ‘mindful activity,’ and ‘other-directed mindfulness,’ and  ‘mindful conversation’ exercises that help develop non-judgmental listening, empathy and compassion.

Next, he walks us through moving from emotional self-awareness to accurate self-assessment to self-confidence, focusing quite a bit on the concept of ego. Following this, Meng covers ‘self mastery,’ managing pain and stress, and dealing with distress and managing emotions. One quote I particularly liked was by Thich Nhat Hanh:  ‘wilting flowers do not cause suffering; it is the unrealistic desire that flowers not wilt that causes suffering.’ There is a nice section on dealing with emotional triggers and managing negative emotions with calm.

Meng backs up his ideas with neuroscience and behavioral theories, including those of Tony Hsieh who started Zappos Shoes and Daniel Pink who emphasizes that the best way to find motivation at work is to spend most of our time and energy working towards higher purpose rather than short-term pleasure chasing. ‘If we know what we value most and what is most meaningful to us, then we know what we can work on that serves our higher purpose. When that happens, our work can become a source of sustainable happiness for us,’ writes Meng.

I found the parts of the book that talk about empathy to be quite applicable to the work that aid and development agencies (and non-profits in general) do, especially in terms of results, accountability and effectiveness and how development agencies interact with staff and partners at all levels, internally and externally. People often imagine that at non-profits, everyone is there for a good cause, therefore everyone is nice and there are no nasty internal politics or bad management issues or unpleasant interactions with ‘beneficiaries’ and participants or staff. I promise you this is not true – non-profits need to work on this every bit as much as for-profits — and maybe even more since there are usually less resources to go around or to invest in management and staff training in these areas.

One section I really liked was where Meng refers to Patrick Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of  a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. The only way to change this, says Meng, is starting off with sincerity, kindness and openness and with 3 assumptions: that everybody in the room is there to serve the greater good until proven otherwise; that no one has any hidden agenda unless proven otherwise; and that we are all reasonable, even when we disagree, until proven otherwise. Also helpful, he says, is ‘empathetic listening’ and ‘political awareness,’ eg., the ability to read an organization’s emotional currents and power relationships.

Meng talks about compassionate leadership and offers advice on turning foes into friends and on dealing with difficult conversations and situations, based on David Rock’s SCARF model for the social brain which describes how status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness are major drivers of social behavior. This is where we get our tips on ‘mindful emailing.’

The book closes out with an explanation of how Meng would like to see meditation and mindfulness enter the public sphere in the same way that exercise has. Eg., one day everyone will know that meditation is good for them, anyone will be able to learn how to do it, companies will understand that it is good for business, and meditation will be taken granted: eg, ‘Of course you should mediate…. duh.’

Search Inside Yourself is great example of what can be created when employees have time to think and work on those side projects that add meaning to their lives and value to the greater good. I enjoyed seeing where I’m already being mindful, empathetic and compassionate, analyzing where I could improve, and having some clear and concise instructions on how to get started working on areas that need more effort. Meng has taken an excellent step towards his dream of making these concepts accessible to everyone.

*****

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending over the complimentary copy of Search Inside Yourself for review!

Read Full Post »

I’ve been a runner for probably 7 or 8 years now, but it wasn’t until this past January that I finally started ‘barefoot running‘. The funny thing is that I still wear shoes when I run, but I’ll get into that later…. The story starts about a year ago with the purchase of a new pair of same-shoe-new-model Nikes that trashed my knees and ankles and spiraled me into not being able to run, gaining a few pounds, struggling to keep up my capoeira game, and dealing with the thought that I’m just going to have to face the fact that I’m getting old.

Luckily my mid-term memory is better than my short-term memory, and I kept thinking about the book I’d read over Christmas break in 2009: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

Hype generally turns me off (and there is certainly a lot of hype right now around barefoot running), but this book touched all the right nerves: anthropology, natural fitness, shifting paradigms, sticking it to the man, history and culture, a great story, good writing, running, and being barefoot. It finally hit me, after 6 months of joint pain, that I could blame everything on those damn Nike shoes and start over.

Meanwhile, 2 of my brothers had also read Born to Run. My youngest brother has always been a slender, healthy runner. My middle brother is tall, super muscular and has perpetually complained that his bad joints prevent him from running. Without even knowing it, the three of us were on the same barefoot running track.

My middle brother and I spent last Fall obsessively sharing information about barefoot running on Facebook, dropping articles and videos and instructions back and forth. My youngest brother would chime in now and then, though he was already easily doing double-digit mile runs in the San Francisco hills.

Finally while I was visiting my middle brother in New York in December, he and I decided we’d both get serious, invest in some official barefoot running shoes, and (re)train ourselves to run.

‘Barefoot running shoes’ (oxymoron much?)

This is where I explain that most people who ‘run barefoot’ actually wear some kind of ‘barefoot running shoe’. Normally this means Vibram Five Fingers, which look like a wet suit glove for your feet; huarache sandals (apparently the ‘next big thing in barefoot running’); or some kind of minimalist shoe, as in the photo below.

All this footwear is designed to be as minimal as possible while still protecting your feet from concrete or glass or whatever you might find on the ground while running. Part of the logic behind barefoot running is that the overdone structure in most running shoes weakens the muscles in your feet and calves (kind of like putting your foot into a plaster cast). Regular running shoes also encourage you to land hard on your heel rather than gently on your forefoot, causing all kinds of knee, ankle, back and hip stress and injury. Running with proper form (see graphic below) reduces shock to the joints and allows you to put less stress on your body. It is one of the main reasons that people learn to ‘barefoot run‘.

A Wired Science article (To Run Better, Start by Ditching your Nikes) by Dylan Tweeny notes “strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.” (Unfortunately, now the shoe industry is going to make a killing out of making those cheap shoes really expensive…)

(Ditching the Nikes – The new model of Nikes that I mention in the first paragraph were Nike Frees. I had been wearing Nike Frees for a long time, but the new model had a slightly different design and more spongy cushioning than the old model, and this turned out to be a bad thing for my ankles and knees.)

According to a 1997 study in Sports Medicine (Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear), “Athletic footwear are associated with frequent injury that are thought to result from repetitive impact. No scientific data suggest they protect well. Expensive athletic shoes are deceptively advertised to safeguard well through “cushioning impact”, yet account for 123% greater injury frequency than the cheapest ones.”

A team at Harvard is dedicated to “comparing habitually barefoot runners with runners who normally run in modern running shoes with built-up heels, stiff soles and arch support”. Their research notes that “barefoot runners experience a shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their body weight, whereas shod heel strikers experience 1.5 to two times their body weight–a threefold to fourfold difference.” (Unfortunately much of the ‘barefoot running’ research is funded by shoe companies like SOLE and Vibram, so I like reading around and finding testimonies by real people who aren’t trying to sell me shoes, too.)

Social fitness and apps

So anyway, my brother got the funny looking Vibram shoes and I went for the less obnoxious-looking ones (in the photo above). As of January 1, we started re-training ourselves to run with a proper ‘barefoot stride’ for short distances on the treadmill. We’d regularly text, message and email each other about our progress. By March it was warmer and we both got to running outside. Whenever I am in NYC, we plan our days around long runs together over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

My eldest brother who lives in Los Angeles had also started running (though we’ve yet to evangelize him to go barefoot). He and my middle brother started using the Nike+GPS app to track their routes, distance and pace. I started seeing all kinds of comments on their pages from friends and fellow runners, barefoot and not.

I resisted the Nike app for a number of reasons but eventually caved. Once I started using it, I joined the group of motivators and found myself motivated too. I was more aware of my pace because the app was notifying me each half mile how fast I was running. I’d always run a slow and easy pace of 10 minutes per mile over a maximum of 5 miles and had no real interest in picking it up or pushing myself. I still can’t totally keep up with my brothers and their friends in terms of pace, but I’m now running more hills and I’ve shaved 48 seconds off my mile average in the past month since I installed the app.

On top of running better and longer and faster, I wanted to ditch those few extra pounds that had accumulated from my months of not running. So in early January, I downloaded a free app called “Lose It,” which allows you to research and track everything you eat and to plug in calories burned through exercise. It helped me pay better attention to what I was eating, make healthier and more natural food choices, and ensure that I was not eating more than I was burning off through exercise. My daughter downloaded it too, and it’s been a helpful neutral tracking tool for us to motivate each other. Being lighter is helping me to run more gently, and it’s also meant my speed and agility in capoeira have picked up. Not to mention, my knees and ankles feel great (knock on wood).

The barefoot running obsession is not only mine and my brother’s. My son was with us at the shoe store in December and hinted around that he needed a new pair of running shoes. My brother told him that if he read Born to Run, he’d give him $50 towards a pair of Vibrams. Deal complete, my son got his shoes in March, worked on his barefoot stride a bit, and is off and ‘running barefoot’ as well. Via Facebook I discovered a few other friends are into it, including a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 4 years and a fellow development worker, Weh Yeoh, who does barefoot running training in Phnom Penh and has even done a “Nerd Night” talk on it. (Check out Weh’s awesome other project here). Below is his video on how to run with proper ‘barefoot’ stride.

I’ve never been someone who needs to have the latest shoes or apps or gadgets.  But since January, this perfect storm of  information, communication and technology (books, videos, articles, blog posts, social networking, improved shoes and a couple of mobile apps) along with self-motivation and the encouragement of family and friends, has allowed me hit my sweet spot and reach my health, fitness, running and capoeira goals.

For some really interesting research, reasoning and background on barefoot running, check out this 2009 post by fellow anthropologist and capoeirista (check out his book) Greg Downey - Neuroanthropology: Lose your Shoes: Is barefoot running better?

And by the way – new research is showing that running (and other exercise) makes you smarter too :-).

Read Full Post »

Imate: gocentralamerica.about.com

One of the signature pieces of architecture in downtown San Salvador is the Municipal Cathedral located in front of Plaza Barrios (popularly known as la Plaza Civica). The Cathedral, along with the Plaza are perceived by most Salvadorans as public space. Both the cathedral and the plaza hold a million memories of destruction and rebuilding.

La Armonia de mi Pueblo is the title of the work that Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort created in 1997 to adorn the front of San Salvador’s Cathedral. Armonia is easy to translate into English – it means harmony. Pueblo is a bit more difficult. It’s a term in Spanish that includes the notion of both place and people. It comes from the Latin populus and can refer to a) inhabitants of a nation, country or region who share a similar culture; b) a population that farms in a particular zone (eg., a village or community); or c) the peasant or working class.

So in essence, the title of the work is “the Harmony of my People”.

The cathedral in the 1950s

Rather than a history of harmony, the cathedral itself has a history  of destruction and reconstruction. It was erected in 1888 and destroyed by a fire in 1951. Reconstruction began again in 1956. Archibishop Oscar Romero became the Archbishop in 1977, inheriting the partially restored cathedral. He reportedly deferred work on reconstruction, preferring to spend the church’s funds on projects to benefit the poor. The earthquake of 1986 damaged the structure further. In 1990 reconstruction began once again. The mosaic gracing the front was completed by Llort in 1997 and the current cathedral was inaugurated in 1999.

Aside from earthquakes and fire, other tragedies have marked the cathedral and the plaza.

1979. A massacre took place on the cathedral steps on May 9, 1979, as recounted here by journalist Ken Hawkins in a BBC article called “Witness to a Massacre“. Video footage in this accompanying article 1979: El Salvador Cathedral Bloodbath is eerily similar to the kinds of videos coming out on YouTube lately from Egypt and Syria, with armed troops shooting live ammunition into the backs of protesters. Towards the end of the 1979 video, people clamber up the steps of the cathedral in an attempt to find shelter inside. The military contends that protesters fired first, but witnesses have said the gunfire began on the side of National Guard.

A close friend of mine was present during the May 9th massacre. She took me to a photo exhibit about it last year at The Museo de la Cuidad de Santa Tecla, telling me her personal story as we wandered through. She was 15 years old at the time and had gone to the protest in her school uniform, thinking she would be there just a few hours. She ended up trapped in the church for much longer, fearing what might happen next and helping others tend to those wounded who were still alive.

The museum where we saw the exhibit was originally the Santa Tecla Municipal jail. After the civil war began, it housed political prisoners. My friend used to visit her husband there. He had been captured while participating in activities with the teachers’ union.  The Santa Tecla museum is a remarkable feat in taking a painful history and reclaiming it for the public good. Among other things, it has served as a place for people with similar histories, those former families of political prisoners and the former prisoners themselves, and families of the disappeared and dead, to reunite, share their memories and losses, and build community.

The Municipal Museum in Santa Tecla (photo by Carlos Rodriguez Mata)

My friend told of going to the steps of the cathedral on a recent May 9, the anniversary of the massacre. She found a few other survivors there, standing on the steps, remembering. One of those people was the journalist who had photographed events that day. ‘It was so strange,’ she said, ‘after so many years, we were somehow drawn to each other, there on the steps.’ In addition to the journalist she met a rural man in a straw hat, who had also been there in 1979, and who showed her his gunshot scars. A couple of other women who had lost a relative were also there, sitting on the steps, paying their respects.

1980. Archbishop Oscar Romero, a friend of the pueblo and considered a martyr by many, was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass at a private chapel. On the 31st, his funeral was held at the cathedral and people traveled in from across the country to pay their respects, packing the Plaza Civica with an estimated 50,000 people, many old women and children.

People filled the square during Monseñor's funeral

A bomb exploded somewhere in the plaza setting off panic and gunfire. Some say it was a ‘propaganda bomb’ designed to blow leaflets out to the crowd. Others say it was some other type of bomb. A journalist recounts his experience here. Dozens were killed in the resulting crush. My Salvadoran mother-in-law tells the story of one of our neighbors’ brothers being trampled to death that day, and how in hindsight, she is glad she wasn’t able to attend the funeral given what happened. The dead and wounded were carried up the stairs into the cathedral and many people hid inside until the dust cleared. Members of the leftist guerrillas were also stationed in and around the cathedral, guns loaded.

Monseñor’s funeral, captured on film here, is usually cited as the official beginning of the civil war in El Salvador.

http://youtu.be/EN6LWdqcyuc

1992. On January 16, 1992, the Peace Accords were signed and I remember the resulting celebrations. My husband and I were afraid to openly participate in the street fest as you still couldn’t be too sure of what might happen. There were separate celebrations for the opposing sides: Arena and the FMLN; a couple of blocks from each other. Arena celebrated in Parque Libertad, right up the street from our apartment in Barrio Candelaria. The FMLN celebrated in the Plaza Civica, adorning the Cathedral with banners. We wandered through both celebrations, not stopping for long in either place out of fear, but feeling a tremendous joy all around us, especially in the Plaza Civica.

Celebrating the Peace Accords in 1992. Image from the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen in San Salvador; photographer Francisco Campos.

1997. One thing that I always loved about Catholicism in El Salvador was the way that people made it their own, merging local culture and belief systems into it, and celebrating their spirituality in their own unique style. So when the front of the Cathedral was decorated in 1997 by Fernando Llort, whose art resembles a folk art style popular in La Palma, Chalatenango, it seemed fitting. Given the history of the cathedral, the history of the country, and the events that had happened in the square, to me, the cathedral always seemed to belong to ‘the pueblo.’

2011. I discovered this past weekend, however, that Llort’s tiles and his work, which he considered his greatest achievement of all time, dedicated to ‘God and Monsenor Romero,’ were being removed from the face of the cathedral. Some consider Llort’s work to be commonplace, saying it belongs ‘on a tourist’s towel, not on a church.’ Others feel that his work represents something truly Salvadoran. The latter are outraged that the mosaic was removed with no warning, and they are asking why. They are questioning the legality of the destruction of the mural, and wondering where is the respect given to art and culture in El Salvador.

Photo of the tiles, on the ground in front of the cathedral.

Church leaders have since apologized to the Llort family and to those who are upset by the surprise removal of the tiles. They contend that they consulted with the congregation of the cathedral, and got their approval to remove the tiles. But the Secretary of Culture has called the Catholic church out for their actions, condemning ‘the destruction of the face of the Cathedral,’ and accusing the church of violating the ‘Special Law on Protection of Cultural Patrimony’ which states that ‘although the mural on the Cathedral of San Salvador was not declared a Cultural Site, it was in process of being declared, meaning that under no circumstances should any interventions have been made.’ Any actions should have followed procedures according to the law, and these were not considered, according to an article in La Pagina.

A group has formed on Facebook called Indignados por el Mural (Angry about the Mural) where debate is happening around the value of art and culture in El Salvador. It was originally rumored that the tiles were being removed so that they would not clash with a ‘more elegant and timeless’ sculpture that was being donated. Details about this statue were never obtained, and the reason given officially by the church for the removal of the tiles is that they were damaged and irreparable. Many have questioned this, asking why the tiles couldn’t have been restored as with other works of art.

Tiles being dumped. Photo via Indignados por el Mural, @AnaCanizalez

The cathedral means so much to so many that it’s not surprising to see people upset by the sudden change in its facade. Given the cathedral’s history, one might wonder if the ownership and path of the Salvadoran Catholic church is again being debated, as it has been throughout history. Does it belong to the rich or the poor? Why would such an important piece of art be removed in such an undignified way? Does the cathedral belong to the congregation that attends church there? To the church leaders? To the Vatican? Or is it a public good, belonging to the pueblo?

In the wake of the destruction of the mural, one idea that has been suggested is to gather the smashed tiles and use them to create a new work of art in homage to Fernando Llort and Salvadoran art and culture in La Palma, Chalatenango. Given the cathedral’s history of ruin and rebuilding, and the notable ability of Salvadorans themselves to rise and rebuild from the ruins after earthquakes, floods and civil war, perhaps that is a fitting use for the remains of La Armonia de mi Pueblo. It still makes me sad, though.

…..

http://youtu.be/pr4UIHLk4r8?t=35s

(“los mejores artisanos del mundo….”)

Note: updated on Jan 4 to correct errors in the dates related to the construction of the original cathedral.

Updated: In this video, Fernando Llort reacts to the situation in a press conference on Jan 3, 2012. 

http://youtu.be/NHoedoaUnSc

Read Full Post »

A recipient signs for a cash transfer (Photo: http://www.plan-international.org)

The popularity of cash transfer programs in the academic and aid blogosphere over the past few years, got me wondering what the difference is between the kind of cash hand-out programs that sponsorship organizations were doing in the early days and today’s cash transfer and conditional cash transfer programs.

What prompted the shift in thinking from ‘line up and get your cash’, to ‘cash handouts are paternalistic, ineffective, unsustainable and create dependency,’ to ‘cash transfers are innovative ways of achieving development gains’ and/or ‘cash transfers empower local people to purchase what they really need?’ How are cash transfers different today from 40+ years ago?

I happen to work for an organization that raises a good percentage of its funding through child sponsorship. From what I’ve heard, for the first few decades of our existence, cash handouts were simply how the organization worked. Along with most other development agencies, we moved away from direct handouts in the 80s. Like some other organizations, by the end of the 1990s we had adopted a rights-based approach. We are also now doing cash grants again in some cases such as this program in Vietnam. I’ve asked around a bit internally and haven’t found anyone able to point me to documentation on what in particular prompted the move from cash handouts to community-based development in the 80s. Obviously it was a change happening most everywhere, not just in the organization where I work. I assume there was a process and a lot of discussion around this like there is with any change in approach, but it’s most likely on paper and not on-line. I do wonder what has been or could be learned about cash transfers from that process of discussion and change in methods.

There is certainly a lot of debate today about cash transfers. When I’ve asked people outside my organization what the difference is between today’s cash transfers and those of 40 years ago, most pro-cash transfer folks say that today’s approach to cash transfers is different or that cash transfers are included as part of broader programs, or that cash transfer programs that succeed are done by governments and not INGOs.

The anti-cash transfer folks tend to feel that cash transfers are not sustainable development, encourage dependency, and cause community conflict, and that they do nothing to improve systems or infrastructure in the long run; eg., what good is having cash if there is no health system? no food to purchase?  no school to attend? Or they consider cash transfers to be individualistic rather than a way to support an entire community or district’s development or worry that conditioning cash transfers can cause unintended consequences. (Here’s a fun piece that talks about what the cash transfer debate says about the international humanitarian community.)

There are tons of studies (mostly by economists it seems) showing that cash transfer and conditional cash transfer programs have improved health, nutrition and education enrollment. Some caution that cash transfer programs such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia are not a panacea and need to be complemented with other types of programs.

I liked this recent paper ‘Richer but resented: What do cash transfers do to social relations and does it matter‘ by MacAusland and Riemenschneider (HT @rovingbandit). It questions the impact of cash transfers on less visible, more contextualized local and national relationships and power dynamics and suggests a need to go beyond material analysis during design, implementation and impact evaluations of cash transfer programs.

Especially helpful for someone like me who is trying to better understand the discussion around cash transfer programs is the paper’s reference to Copestake’s (2006) aspects of well-being (material, relational and symbolic) and three views on social protection as applied to cash transfers.

I’m pasting in the paragraphs I found especially useful to tempt you into reading the whole paper. I liked the excerpt below because it provides good insight into how different development theories color the objectives set in cash transfer programs and the way that success and impact are measured.

‘…An „income-first view of social protection focuses on the consequences of cash transfers for recipients’ incomes and on their costs, including fiscal costs and perverse incentives to stop working or to seek rents. Second, a needs-first view starts from a more multidimensional view of poverty and focuses on the states role in guaranteeing access to basic needs, including livelihoods, assets, and public action. This would criticise the income-first view for being too narrow. Third, a rights-first view identifies injustice as a key cause of poverty, and criticises the „needs-first approach for being paternalistic.

Very broadly, these views can be identified with philosophical approaches to development. The income-first view is most closely identified with a  modernisation theory and Washington Consensus approach, which is rationalist, individualist and utilitarian in nature, measuring utility primarily in terms of income. The appeal of this view in part lies in the measurability and equivalence of outcomes and costs – so that outcomes measured in dollars can be compared to costs measured in dollars. This possibility is very attractive for planners, since it enables an unambiguous (on this single metric) judgement of whether an intervention should proceed. In terms of approaches to social protection, the income-based view is reflected most clearly in the safety nets approaches of the early 1990s (World Bank 1990).

The needs-first view starts from a similarly utilitarian and individualist standpoint but broadens this by introducing other dimensions of well-being, largely adding material dimensions (such as education, health, and livelihoods) but in some cases relational aspects (such as a capacity for social action). This draws in part from Sens capability perspective (Sen 1985) and is currently being operationalised through the Millennium Development Goals and now multidimensional poverty indices (see e.g. Alkire and Foster 2009). In the social protection literature, this view is closest to the transformative social protection approach (Devereux and Sabates-Wheeler 2004) that emphasises the role of social protection in overcoming not only material shortcomings but in enhancing self-esteem and social status.

The rights-first view has developed rather differently, in part from Latin American traditions of dependency theory and structuralism, which place more emphasis on relational and symbolic aspects of well-being. One application of this tradition can be found in Figueroa (2001) who argues that persistent inequality in Latin America can be explained by processes of social exclusion (based on cultural difference) leading to political exclusion from social protection programmes and education, and resulting economic exclusion. As Copestake (2006b: 4) summarises, this interpretation highlights: “the extent to which economic growth and inequality reduction are dependent upon cultural and political mobilisation, not least through advocacy of human rights. This is in stark opposition to the more common assumption of economists that improved human rights are more likely to follow economic development than to be a precondition for it.”

The consequences of these different views for assessments and planning of cash transfers are quite profound. For instance, the different views will put quite different weights on the negative consequences of excluding members of the community from controlling payments or targeting as opposed to the problems associated with additional costs of targeting. The decision whether to pay for additional community participation will look very different depending on which view is held. Similarly, the different views will imply quite different judgements on whether cash transfer programmes should be replicated, given different material, relational and symbolic outcomes.’

I still don’t really know what I think about cash transfers, (I suppose “it depends’ is always a good answer) but at least I have a bit of a better framework for thinking about them and analyzing what I read about them. Copestake’s three areas (material, relational and symbolic) also give a good framework for analyzing other types of aid and development programs, beyond cash transfers (such as Gift In Kind, as @cynan_sez points out).

I also still haven’t figured out how the old style sponsorship cash handouts were different from today’s ‘innovative’ models. Any old timers out there with insight to share on that?

Read Full Post »

The funny thing about ICTs and Development (and mostly everything else in this world) is that just when you think things are plugging along, you get the rug pulled out from under you and have to re-think everything.

A couple of weeks ago, I was heading off to the ICT for Rural Development (ICT4RD) Conference in Johannesburg. Before I left, I got an invitation from Ken Banks to participate in an ”ICT4D Postcard” project, which I thought was a nice idea. I took a moment to find a photo and pen a few lines and went on my merry way to Joburg.

Little did I know that several of the key thinkers and writers in the ”ICT4D” space were going to deconstruct the concept over the next fortnight in a flurry of sometimes harsh and pointed, always thoughtful posts.

The day the ICT4RD conference started, Steve Song posts his Three reasons why M4D may be bad for development rant wherein he makes some pretty strong (and relevant) points, such as:

“…the future is going to be a surprise and tying the notion of development to a particular mode of technology [eg., the mobile phone] is as bad an idea now as it was in 1999” and “Mobile operators have entrenched themselves with development agencies as the saviours of access … what the mobile operators have achieved through this embrace is the effective sidetracking of debates about competition and affordability.”

Then Ken’s ICT4D Postcards post goes up, and no more do I look at it and have a think about the photos and captions, then Erik Hersman (White African) throws up his rant on The Subtle Condescension of ICT4D, which gets the whole ICT4D-slash-anti-ICT4D world in a tizzy and which has a lot of good, strong points, like:

”I was recently discussing this term with one of my Kenyan tech friends, where he stated, ’I always picture a team from the UN putting up toilets in Uganda when I hear of ICT4D’” and ”It also feels like [ICT4D] is how international NGOs are trying to stay relevant, by creating a new department and new initiatives that the big funders will buy into and support (themselves to stay relevant). Ask yourself, how many ICT4D projects in Africa are more than pilot projects? How many are just Westerner organizations parachuting in, which have no hope of staying alive beyond the time and funds put in by their organization? Sounds like the same old ’aid story’ to me.”

Erik closes with “We have to thinking less of ICT as something that’s about development, and more of it as a commercial venture. We need more focus on ICT4$ than ICT4D.”

And I am left thinking, well very much yes! …and also, sort of no…. But I can’t get straight in my mind what makes me hesitate. Maybe it’s that in my experience, not all ’development’ initiatives are the stereotypical foreigners parachuting in with new gadgets? Or maybe it’s because I am super wary of the trickle-down economic growth model and I think that the world needs something different?

I don’t have to wait long before Jonathan Donner drops some good points into the debate in his post More letters, more problems, concluding:

”I don’t think we’re going to move off ICT4D as the default compound term, at least for a while. But I like these discussions and think it is important for the community to have them from time to time…probably quite frequently since the field/ community of practice is increasingly methodologically diverse, and growing. The conversations are not easy as some might like them to be, but that is because they are about a “compound” community. Regular bouts of reflection are not just navel gazing – they should help us remain reflective, careful, and precise in the use of the terms we use to describe what we do and why we do it.”

Followed by Wayan Vota who pops in with the Challenge of Defining ICT4D or Why Erik Hersman is ICT4$, whereby he defines ICT4D and ICT4$ as two wholly different industries. Projects can be ICT4D and ICT4$, neither approach is perfect and there is plenty of failure in both, and the 2 should be symbiotic, he says.

“Let us not confuse two whole different uses of ICT. In the tech start up world, ICT is a means to make money. Software developers code products like MXit or M-PESA and hope to sell them at a profit to to venture capital funders and people that are currently under served by the market place. The focus is on $. This is ICT4$ and they should be proud of their efforts.

In the international development world, ICT is used to deliver education, healthcare, etc more efficiently. We have great products like FrontlineSMS, ChildCount+, and Ushahidi, and sell them to donor funders so we can deliver them free or subsidized to those under served by government or in market failure situations. The focus is on impact versus $. This is ICT4D, and I am proud to use the term.

Notice the different focus. In no way should a tech startup and its funders seeking to maximize profit seek to work in ICT4D, just like it would be laughable for a development organization (funder or implementer) to run a tech startup to be the next Facebook.”

Not to be left out, one of the top critics of ICT4D, the ICT4D Jester, pipes in on the stupidity of any acronym that sounds like a Prince Song [I wholeheartedly agree!]. He gets to the political heart of the discussion about ICT4D and ICT4$ in his post ICT *or* Development, Part 3: The Jester Meets the White African:

”The underlying issue is a deep one that goes straight to the heart of economic development. To compress the last century of economic history into a nutshell,* countries that attempted centralized socialism lost to capitalist countries in the contest to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.…

In the last few decades, however, countries like the United States have been running the experiment of rampant free-market capitalism. Among other things, this led to the dramatic financial crash of 2007-2008, a population unable to wean itself off of resource consumption, and increased inequality, not only economically but also in terms of health, education, and well-being. If that’s what happens under what could be argued is the closest thing to a “pure” free-market capitalism, any reasonable person should be reconsidering the lesson of the Cold War victory.”

The Jester goes on to explain that ”progressive activity” is necessary to counterbalance capitalism and mitigate the inequality caused by capitalism and that ICT4D in practice tends to embrace this progressive side of things.

ICT4$ is needed, but someone also needs to focus on D. (The Jester, of course, does not necessarily say that D should proceed via ICT4D!)”

He sums up with, “Yes, ICT4D is a four-letter word (with a number), but wear it proudly in your progressive technology activities, and cast it off – way,way off – for your for-profit ones. Meanwhile, don’t forget that the world needs both types of activity. Of course, the one thing you can’t do is split yourself in two.  And, that, perhaps, is another reason why it’s so difficult to make a profit and serve a poor population simultaneously.”

David Kobia continues in his post ICT4D Cont (first acknowledging that he’s ’whipping a dead horse’) that ”ICT4D and indeed then [sic] term ICT in general in this breakneck environment has come to symbolize access to technology at the lowest rung – basically a booster seat at the table with the adults. He asks, ”Is there a very remote chance that the role of technology in development has been slightly overemphasized?”

And Tony Roberts chimes in with his own Rant In Defense of ICT4D, where he joins the Jester in pointing out that the ’free’ market hasn’t done anyone [eg., the 99%] any favors in the ”developed” or the “developing” world.

”The problem with relying on commerce is that the ‘free’ market is fundamentally flawed; for 300 years it has abjectly failed to meet the needs of millions of people at the periphery. Whilst elites in capital cities enjoy relative opulence, marginalised communities are unable to secure adequate nutrition, basic healthcare or human rights. These divides continue to widen. In response people form not-for-profit organisations to have their voices heard and their community development needs addressed; sometimes employing ICT for these Developmental ends. Not-for-profits exist because of the failure of markets.

ICT4$ alone is not capable of fixing this problem….

When communities refuse to accept injustice and deprivation and form associations of solidarity with those at risk we should give them our respect. If they seek practical assistance in applying ICT for Development we should offer whatever assistance we are able. There will often be a positive role for ICT in community development.

ICT4D alone, of course, is not capable of fixing the system.”

In addition to all the blog posts that Erik’s provocative post spawned, there are some great points made in the comments section:

For example, Paul comments (and I summarize)

”Left to its own devices, ’ICT4$’ will mostly chase the same set of rich urban market users, just as the bulk of SV consumer startups chase the same demographics…. So, yeah, make these things follow commercial logic and thereby sustainable, but the answer is not to deprecate the ’D’ in favor of the ’$’. Both need to be kept in mind because a rising tide raises all Gini coefficients…. Local capacity, sure, but that isn’t always the cheapest/fastest way to do it (which is what commercial logic would dictate). Again, to care about advanced capacity building, you have to care about the ’D’.”

(@hapeeHapee says ”To me the container ICT4D is useful as a hashtag for twitter, as a common ground for research and practitioners, social movements and ngos still play a role as do active citizens, open source is still an alternative used to prevent closed source standards and the market is still something to be very careful about because the driving force of profit is not the same as creating change.”

So. Much. To. Think. About.

It’s a really messy world out there and the field [formerly known as?] ”ICT4D” is no exception.  The issues being wrestled with are much broader than ICT and D. I’ve picked out points and angles that resonated with me from the various posts. I can’t say that any one of the authors is 100% right (nor, probably, would any of them claim to be). Or maybe they are 100% right in certain situations, but not all.

Should International NGOs stop creating dependencies and killing local initiatives? Yes.

Does the ’free’ market allow for dignity and well-being for all? No.

Maybe that is the heart of the question – how to operate in a way that does not create dependency or stifle economic growth but that also does not exclude or marginalize a large part of the population. Maybe it always comes down to that ’capitalist’ vs ’some other kind of inclusive and sustainable growth model’ discussion… And maybe a clearer divide between ICT as a growth sector and ICT-enabled development programs that aim to reach the most marginalized (where the market does not reach) is needed. Or maybe not, if you believe ethical business models can achieve both. (I’m still waiting for those models to become the widespread norm and don’t see it happening any time soon, anywhere).

And what about ICTs as tools to improve civic participation, voice, access to information, transparency, accountability and good governance so that [ideally] exclusion is reduced and resources generated by economic growth (and/or resources allocated to fill the gap where the market fails to reach, or resources designated toward improving services that are/should be provided by government) are better and more honestly allocated… And what about new technologies that support more transparent political and decision making processes? (What is the acronym for those kinds of ICT uses?) Oh, so messy….

In any case, I think the discussion is helpful in raising issues and making us all think more about the terms we use, and the processes and products we support, drive and promote.

If there is one thing the field [formerly know as?] ’ICT4D’ does do, it’s bring together good people who think deeply and who honestly care about how they are contributing to making the world a better place.

Take some time to visit the links and read the full posts if you haven’t yet, they are very much worth it!

*****

Updates:

16 Nov 2011:

RT @kiwanja: Check out the #BBCClickRadio podcast for a slightly extended debate on the merits of ”#ICT4D” terminology. http://is.gd/HUK37e

RT @hapeeg: More ICT4D Please! – My take on the ICT4D debate by @david_barnard http://tinyurl.com/c55tpg4 #ICT4d #ICT4RD #Tech4Dev #Africa.

David Barnard notes that “there is also more than one real “White African” serious about making a contribution to the future of this continent.” 

“These two issues represent different sides to the same coin – but often require very different approaches, and different roleplayers, to achieve the desirable objectives…. Whatever you prefer to call technology is irrelevant – IT / ICT / ICT4D / ICT4RD / M4D/ Tech4Dev, etc. What really matters is the intent, the objectives and the motivation for using it.

But, technology for technology’s stake is downright stupid. Too many technology for development projects and interventions fail because of the emphasis on the technology without understanding the development issue/s and/or what it would take to ensure the implementation of the technology will ultimately achieve success and impact. Too many technology competitions, awards and challenges place too much focus on the development of “more new tools” rather on what has been achieved.”

17 Nov 2011:

RT @mtotowajirani: New blog post: #OccupyTech: Take the money out of tech…and put the impact back in! http://bit.ly/tTAogC #occupy (Wherein Simeon Oriko takes on #ICT4$ with a new slogan – suggested by @noniemg – Take the SH out of IT… ” He says:

“Here’s the bottom line….Unless you are directly making an impact in someone’s life with you apps and all the hustle around them, you’re really doing nothing meaningful. …  Money is driving people in totally wrong directions!  Sober up and think about it for a second. What’s more meaningful and worth your hustle? Money or impact?”

And I missed Niall Winters original thoughts, including ideas from @katypearce, on this post The 4 in ICT4D.

“The ’4′ places an emphasis on “giving it to you”, and all the issues that brings up regarding donation. I hadn’t really thought about it in that way before, coming from the perspective nicely described by Kleine and Unwin (2009):

Our preferred terminology is ICT4D, in part because it is the most widespread term, but also especially because it places explicit attention on the ‘4’, or what kind of development is being addressed. Rather than the ‘and’ of ICTD, the ‘for’ of ICT4D forces users of the term to confront the moral and political agendas associated with ‘development’. By focusing on the ‘4’ we are forced to make explicit what we mean by ‘development’. The interplay between ‘information’, ‘communication’ and ‘technologies’ for ‘development’ is one that offers considerable intellectual and practical challenges, and it is these that this paper seeks to explore.

 Hence, the ’4′ for me is a challenge to think about the nature of inclusivity in my work, the power relations embedded within any intervention and the appropriateness of the technologies used or being developed.”

22 Nov, 2011

kdiga’s reply on ICTDJester’s blog: says we need to ask 4 questions and agree on some principles when invoking ICT4D:

1) Are we attempting to see the reduction of poverty (in all its multiple dimensions?) from the use of ICTD?
2) Are we attempting to see the reduction of inequality?
3) Are we seeing lower numbers in child mortality, an improvement through healthier families, or more student graduating Grade 12 as a result of ICT usage, less environmental degradation – how are we measuring?
4) Are we able to see less lives lost?

23 Nov, 2011

Ian Thorpe’s post “ICT4What” says part of the issue here is that ICT4D is a huge field (and a subset of “technology” which is an even bigger field, and which has absolutely everything to do with “development” – eg, read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel) and people are talking at cross-purposes and using all different definitions.  ‘The development, spread and use of technology is a huge field with lots of actors each playing their part, with plenty of room for different motives and philosophical or empirical approaches – even contradictory ones  – since in the end they will all contribute to the change that takes place through collaboration, competition and even contradiction. In short it’s a complex adaptive system. Past technological spread has always resulted from the actions of multiple actors often with very different motives and philosophies: Inventors, entrepreneurs, governments, consumers, academics, not for profits and others have all helped shape the way technology is currently used both consciously and unconsciously. Using technology to make money is a key component of spreading technology that improves lives, but it’s only part of the story.”

Ian concludes that “it doesn’t matter that we don’t agree, in fact it’s a good thing. A diverse approach involving multiple actors and friction between them is in the best interests of the field because it allows different models to co-exist, compete and learn from each other, and it allows then to be judged in the market and the marketplace of ideas.”


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 712 other followers