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Posts Tagged ‘guardian’

Original published on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters site as part of a series of year-end reflection pieces.

An Egyptian anti-government protester holds a flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this year. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Waking one lazy Sunday morning and checking my Twitter feed, the first link I clicked on was a video of the Egyptian military beating unarmed protesters. The second was a series of Lego reconstructions of key moments in 2011, including the now-famous campus policeman pepper spraying unarmed student protesters in the face. It’s impossible to look back on 2011 without recalling the massive number of people who joined in worldwide protests to push for openness and inclusion – financial, political and social. No less memorable is the violence with which those protests were met.

As 2012 approaches, protesters across the world continue to occupy public spaces and fight for a voice in how things are run. They seek greater transparency, and new means of participating in social, financial and political life.

Many of 2011’s more horrifying and memorable images – captured on mobile phones, and generating global outrage and solidarity – involved systemic repression by the powers-that-be. Progress has been made in some countries, but sadly it’s not clear what the end result of the world’s uprisings will be.

Inclusion was not only a theme of large-scale world events, it was also key in aid and development. Organisations continued to push for adolescent girls’ inclusion in development initiatives and to emphasise that the most excluded and marginalised populations need to be reached in order to advance towards shared development objectives such as the millennium development goals. In June 2011, in a clear move forward on inclusion, the UN endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, yet the world still has a very long way to go.

Another central themein 2011 was openness. Whether it was the World Bank’s open data site, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), theInternational Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the Busan high level forum on aid effectiveness, the increase in “fail faires“, or grassroots initiatives pushing for more transparency – in aid and government funding as well as political decision making – “open” was everywhere.

As yet, however, the trend hasn’t reached quite far enough, and it would be good if it expanded in 2012 to encompass banks and other private sector entities. Hopefully, openness can help to advance inclusion and itself become more inclusive. All this amazing, open data needs to be re-used and it needs to connect back with people who might not be technology or data experts, have an internet connection or speak one of the major languages.

I hope 2012 sees greater effort to support communities and local organisations to access and use open data. I also hope there will be more effort to understand what information communities and local groups need to improve their own situations and exact more accountability and better governance from aid agencies, governments, service providers and the private sector.

Along with inclusion and openness, authenticity was a key concept in 2011. I enjoyed seeing critiques of simplistic media pieces about “the poor” and “the excluded”. Lakota youth, for instance, responded in a video to a Forbes [should be ABC] piece about poverty and hardship on reservations, emphasising: “We’re more than that.”. The Forbes piece, headlined “If I was a poor black kid“, caused a huge stir and response. One close reading of simplistic mainstream journalism called out the author for habitually ignoring the complex, systemic causes of poverty and exclusion.

I look forward to hearing more voices in these debates in 2012, continued questioning of simplistic messages, and more authentic reporting. New media can help previously excluded people tell their own, unspun stories and comment on simplistic reporting about them elsewhere. I hope aid and development agencies will increasingly support this, not as a gimmick or marketing ploy, but as a core element of their work and a way to better understand and share the issues and opinions of the people they aim to support through their programmes.

My wish for 2012 is that the world makes serious gains in reducing social, political and financial exclusion, in advancing participatory and accountable governance, and in achieving a better distribution of power and resources. Hopefully, aid and development organisations will continue to make progress in understanding what inclusion, openness, and authenticity in the global landscape mean for the kinds of programmes they fund and support.


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I joined Twitter because of frequent flyer miles.

No really.  It’s true.

I kept trying to use my miles and failing, due to blackout dates or not having enough points to go where I needed to. The use-em-or-lose-em deadline came up on one particular airline, so I accepted an offer to sign up for some magazines. In addition to a hefty increase in junk mail, I began receiving Wired Magazine – and my synapses started firing at a million miles per hour.

This was around 2006. I’d find myself suddenly having breathless conversations with the few people around who would listen about technology and the science of networks and other similarly nerdy stuff. This really wasn’t like me, but then, I was late to the game for a couple of reasons: for one, I spent the 1990’s in El Salvador and there was not much Internet or Wired magazine available there at the time. Secondly, I’d always been much more of an alternative music/ development/ social sciences geek than a computer / video game geek.

But something had changed since high school and college. There was Radiohead for starters… but on top of that, it became strikingly clear to me that things were aligning in a way I hadn’t seen before. Tech could really have a social purpose.

In Wired, I started reading about the idea that the Internet was horizontal, that things could be free, that people could collaborate in self-organized nodes, that social media could bypass ‘official’ pronouncements and allow alternative voices and ‘citizen journalists’ to be heard. I started thinking about how many of the principles and philosophies behind social media networks were closely aligned with those underpinning participatory approaches to development:  self-organizing, community-led processes and self-management, accountability and transparency, ownership, learning by doing, building on local knowledge and localized expertise. I got hooked on trying to link some of the ideas that were fueling social media and online networking with the work that the organization that had been employing me for several years (Plan) was facilitating with young people and communities. I started reading blogs about technology and aid, and I began writing one too.

Over time, my initial interest broadened to how new technologies — not only social media networks, but also new tools like mobile phones and GPS units and digital maps and all kinds of other new tools and platforms — could be put at the service of community development.

In large part, the reason for the branching out and wider perspective was that in December 2008, a couple of development and technology leaders/ bloggers/ mentors (Ken Banks and Erik Hersman) gave me a suggestion. “Get on Twitter,” they said,” if you really want to keep up with what is happening.”  I was wary of the platform, so instead of my real name, I used the name of a kitten we used to have – @meowtree  – also a bit of a play on my last name.

Quickly I realized there was nothing to fear. Twitter opened up a whole world at the professional and personal level. I found all kinds of people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds who were discussing, debating, trying, failing, learning, blogging, and collaborating on a variety of projects related to technology, human rights, global development, community work and other fields I am very interested in.

Joining Twitter was like signing up to get an online degree in a very specialized field, where everyone was both teacher and learner. The quantity of information and knowledge shared among practitioners and theoreticians in my field and related areas was infinite, as were the ranges of opinions.

Through Twitter I’ve had the opportunity to work on voluntary side projects and connect with experts and practitioners for research and professional or personal advice. Sometimes a number of us join together to get across a certain point that we feel strongly about, and it ends up getting to the ears of someone who’s making major decisions or it gets brought up by individuals in personal conversation, spreading the ideas offline. A group of Twitter folks who are part of the ‘Smart Aid’ collaborative recently conducted a survey to find out more about who reads aid and development blogs, for example, and what they do with the information there.

Not just a news and professional education platform, Twitter is also a friend and colleague network. Over the past 3 years, I’ve met a few hundred new people in real life that I initially connected with on Twitter.

It’s a great feeling when you are chatting with someone at a conference, and they look down at your name tag (where you’ve penned in your Twitter handle with a Sharpie) and exclaim “Wait! You’re @meowtree!? I’m @so-and-so!” You’ve only just met, but because you’ve connected on Twitter, you already feel like old friends. You can immediately jump into a conversation and continue on with a topic you’d been batting around on Twitter or make plans to partner up on a work-related initiative or simply discuss the fact that you both like the same kind of beer.

Last week a colleague alerted me (via Twitter, naturally) that I’d been named by the Guardian as one of the “20 Global Development Twitterati” to follow. It was unexpected, and I’m hugely honored.  The Guardian’s Global Development team does fantastic and highly credible work facilitating forward-thinking debates and discussions around development. Being listed alongside the 19 other “Twitterati” is indeed a privilege, as they are some of the leading voices in the aid and development debate.

So if you have an interest in development and/or new technology, you can either accumulate a ton of unusable frequent flyer miles and follow my convoluted path, or you can skip all that in-between and simply “Get on Twitter!” Once you do, be sure to follow the Guardian’s list of 20 Global Development Twitterati. But don’t stop there – the Twitterverse is full of brilliant minds and voices that you won’t want to miss if you are serious about engaging in a stimulating global development conversation.

Note: this post originally appears on PlanUSA’s blog.

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