Thursday, 28 February 2013

Charity: Chalk and Cheese

by Roger Williamson

I went recently to the launch of the   The Future World Giving project. The initial report can be found on the CAF website. This sharpens the approach of the World Giving Index 2012.

The meeting was arranged by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and hosted in the Houses of Parliament by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society. He produced the statistic that the British public spend as much on charity as on cheese – 0.4% of the weekly household spending.
The Index itself looks at three dimensions of giving – money, time and help to a stranger in the last month, and averages out the responses. These are recorded as percentages of population not totals of eg money or time given. The data is part of the Gallup Worldview survey – an amazing source of information on 100 different questions of how people look at the world – whether the economy is getting better, whether climate change is a serious threat and so on. 

As the basis for this report, it records the responses of 155,000 people giving a snapshot of 146 countries. We pressed the CAF researchers on the methodology – in particular the enigmatic “helping a stranger”.  One MP said she nearly always points a stranger in the direction of the Houses of Parliament at least once a week, but she hardly thinks this is what is intended by the question. We are left with self-reporting and the understanding of the respondent. Perhaps because it is vague, it is far ahead of the other categories globally, with “giving time” at the bottom in percentage terms.
This is where the chalk and cheese comes in. I am fascinated by the three categories – giving money, time and helping a stranger. There has been a double dip in giving in parallel with the global economic crisis. It is easier to imagine the reasons money donations declining than for the other two aspects. There is no direct reason why people should give less time when the economy is struggling – perhaps mood matters. We need a deeper understanding of altruism.  We need to understand more profoundly the relationship between giving and wellbeing.

It is a strength of the index that it does not only focus on money, because it could well be that making time available (seemingly the most difficult commitment) is the one which potentially makes most difference. At the meeting, Lord Phillips regretted the decline in pro bono work by the legal profession.  Particularly now with the new technology of giving on line, there is no necessary community involvement - perhaps we find it easier to pay up for a good cause than invest ourselves more deeply and in a more costly relationship through commitment of time. Perhaps it is time to look again at the work of Staffan Burenstam Linder, The Harried Leisure Class,  who asked forty years ago why we feel we have less time as we get richer. The economics of time is funny. As we get richer, if we view time as money to “spend” the value of it (or the exchange rate time-money) increases and we become less ready to “give time”. But if we begin from a concept of “enough is enough”, once you have earned that total (easier at a higher hourly or daily rate), you have more time for good unpaid causes.

Further information presented at the meeting stressed the rise of the global middle class and the increasing importance of the economies in the Asia-Pacific region.  If the global middle class gave at the same rate as UK donors (0.4%), by 2030 an extra $224 billion a year could be generated – far more than the figure calculated by Jeffrey Sachs as essential for poverty eradication.
In the Bellagio Initiative on the future of philanthropy and international development in the pursuit of human wellbeing  , we also explored  many dimensions of these issues, including values and human wellbeing by Tim Kasser, and the care economy  by Rosalind Eyben and Marzia Fontana.

Economics as a social science and needs to be seen in a more inclusive light.  As Daniel Kahneman stresses in  Thinking -  Fast and Slow,  the atomised, individualistic, rational homo economicus does not describe either real world or the desirable economic actor.
I would add, we need anthropologists on giving (Marcel Mauss et al.), Richard Titmuss on The Gift Relationship (Tony Hancock may be more fun on blood donors, but this is a serious exploration of disinterested help); Axelrod on The Evolution of Cooperation; Onora O’Neill on A Question of Trust – to name but a few.

Back in the real world, where people give and help their communities, the recommendations made by the CAF report (pp 6-7) on proper frameworks to assist giving in a national context are valuable.
Three parts of my biography make me want something more radical – the academic (see above); my faith-based career choices, because the contribution of the major faiths to the understanding and discipline of training in altruism is part of all the major faiths ( see for example the paper by Mariz Tadros on Islamic Philanthropy  ; and also the campaigner – I was head of policy and campaigns at Christian Aid and am in favour of the Tax Justice campaigning which many NGOs are now doing.
Widespread reactions to the current crisis (see the BBC commentator Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere) suggest that many people are fed up with the behavior of a rich elite (of banks, firms and individuals) which has largely detached itself from the social obligation to pay their way. There is a desire for a fair tax system to tie them into financing public goods. The state cannot abdicate its responsibility to get the rich to pay tax and hope that middle class generosity or solidarity among the poor will pay for everything in the real world, while the unpaid taxes of the mega-rich sit in bank accounts and mansions in tax havens. The good exceptions of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett do not let the super rich off the hook.  As Adam Smith says in The Wealth of Nations: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in that proportion.”

The recent book by Chrystia Freeland, The Plutocrats gives an insight into how the world looks from the commanding heights of wealth – one quote even suggesting that the “top 1% probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99%” This view is countered by Joseph Stiglitz: What worries me is the idea that we’re in a vicious cycle …. Increasing inequality means a weaker economy ,which means increasing inequality, so the ability to stabilize the economy gets weaker”. (See Sunday Times, Culture, 28.10.12, pp. 42-3).

However, in a time of middle class expansion  and huge human need,  it is surely also a good strategy to set up a framework to support and encourage the generosity of those who give. The Asian Tigers’ development model suggests that one key element has been a high domestic savings ratio. So it seems entirely sensible to establish an enabling framework, ensure that charities and foundations adhere to basic standards and can be trusted to use money appropriately, and individuals encouraged to give through tax incentives. The social discipline of saving (pushing up the domestic savings ratio) and personal planned giving are related.   Malaysia – from the top of government has done this and is encouraging (   Successive British governments have also done this and people who want to do good do think increasingly about tax efficient ways of giving. Internationally, it needs a new way of thinking – governments need to establish ways to ensure that the rich pay tax even if they don’t want to, and the rest of us see our money go further because of concessions to charity. Tax money is not “government money” – it is our money that the government should use for the common good.

Internationally, our Prime Minister has a major chance to leave his legacy through chairing the Panel on “what comes next after the Millennium Development Goals”.  CIVICUS reminded us that transparency and accountability had been major themes at the UN High Level Panel on Aid Effectiveness in Busan last year. An active civil society is vital for good governance and keeping standards high.

 The Big Society concept has not delivered as hoped here at home – but Prime Minister Cameron has a chance to ensure that the international “Big Society” delivers on development pledges.   Interestingly, all three co-chairs come from countries which score well in World Giving Index ( Indonesia, Liberia and the UK).

In the Bellagio Initiative it was clear that the challenges of human need will not be met through ODA alone – there is a need for the development system skillfully to employ whatever resources can be mobilized and coordinated – individual decisions to give time, money and  be altruistic should not be hindered (or even persecuted by) government. Government can develop and guard the space in which the initiative and commitment of ordinary people can achieve huge amounts of good. Governments should not shirk this responsibility and withdraw. CAF have encapsulated the key headings as follows: accountability and transparency; independence and sustainability, and incentives. To illustrate transparency and accountability by a quote – once more from Adam Smith:  “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

Finally – if you want the headlines – Australia, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand score high on the Index – and Liberia’s high score is very interesting. But read the reports, make the connections, decide for yourself.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

LANSA, working to improve nutrition through agriculture in South Asia

By Stuart Gillespie

​Despite rapid economic growth, undernutrition rates in South Asia remain among the highest in the world. Ensuring nutrition security in the region can only occur through a combination of nutrition-specific interventions and more distal ‘nutrition-sensitive” interventions and approaches, such as broad based agricultural growth. The key conceptual linkages and pathways between agriculture and nutrition are well known. Given that agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood of half of the region’s population, it has the potential to be a strong driver of nutrition in South Asia.

But recent evidence points to an apparent disconnect. Agricultural growth, which itself is slowing, is simply not doing enough for nutrition. Against this backdrop, the newly launched Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) research programme seeks to address the core question: “How can South Asian agriculture and related food policies and interventions be designed and implemented to increase their impacts on nutrition, especially the nutritional status of children and adolescent girls?”

copyright Stuart Gillespie
LANSA is a partnership of six organizations working in four focal countries (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan) on three streams of research, capacity strengthening and policy influence. We have just spent an intense week refining our research plans and coordinating our capacity strengthening and policy influence strategies. The programme has been funded by the UK Government for six years. Led by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in India, partners include: BRAC (Bangladesh), Collective for Social Science Research (Pakistan), Institute of Development Studies (UK), International Food Policy Research Institute (USA) and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (UK).

Aligned with the fundamental, underlying and immediate determinants of undernutrition, the three research streams will address several key questions. First, how can agriculture and food policies be more strongly linked to other underlying determinants of nutrition such as women's status, poverty induced food insecurity and sanitation? Second, how can we make agricultural growth strategies, broad policies in areas such as food storage and trade, and public-private engagement more likely to reduce undernutrition? Third, how can agricultural interventions be designed to improve diet quality and improve nutrition directly, whilst ensuring livelihood security?

For more information please see the LANSA project page.

This blog post first appeared on SecureNutrition's blog.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Towards Systems of Social Protection

by Gabriele Koehler
Most countries of the world, South and North, feature formal sector social insurance schemes which are contributory and cover government employees, workers in large domestic or international enterprises, or members of the military (see International Social Security Association database). But, in low-income countries, such schemes de facto cover only a minute fraction of the population. The majority of the world’s population lack any institutionalised social security - although they face enormous economic and social insecurities, income and asset poverty, and systematic social exclusion.

Over the past decade, however, social assistance programmes addressing hunger, acute poverty and various vulnerabilities have been introduced on an unprecedented scale in many regions of the world. They come in the form of monthly cash transfers, food subsidies, school meals or education stipends, social pensions, or public employment schemes. According to the “Barrientos database”, roughly 50 countries today provide some form of non-contributory social assistance (Barrientos et al 2010). But still, only roughly 10% of the world population is covered by such non-contributory schemes.

These assistance schemes are often fragmented. Recently, countries which have been proactively introducing these programmes are therefore beginning to look into consolidating them into a more coherent system of social protection.

Indeed, an international consensus concerning social protection appears to be emerging favouring a unified system of universal coverage, to be achieved progressively as resources permit, to address income and child poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion, or health shocks (Michelle Bachelet 2011)
In several countries, social protection systems are conceptualised around the notion of a social protection floor, with guaranteed income for the very young, the retired, the unemployed and at least rudimentary health insurance. In some countries, social protection efforts are being linked to tax reform, as a means to address the ever growing income inequalities.

The efforts at system building go in the direction of creating legally binding entitlements and benefits based on a notion of social solidarity. Many discussions now position social protection as a right, with the government as duty bearer. Other principals include transparency and accountability, and financial, fiscal and economic sustainability. Monitoring and periodic evaluations and complaint and appeal mechanisms are to be built into the system. There is also a general agreement that social protection needs to be in coherence with other social and economic policies, such as high-quality public service delivery in education, health and utilities, and active labour market and decent work and employment policies.

But beyond the consensus on principles, building a “system” is not straightforward. There are numerous challenges (see CSP Newsletter 23,Talking point on systems of social protection). In terms of strategy, a system can be built “top-down”, by fostering processes of formalising the economy, so that all citizens move from the informal to the formal economy and become eligible for social insurance. However, this is difficult, since many economies are becoming more casualised, in North and South, rather than more formalised. The alternative route would be “bottom-up”, by universalising social assistance to cover all citizens – or even all residents - of a country, and funding this from universal, and progressive, taxation.

At the managerial level, countries need to determine roles and responsibilities of respective governmental ministries and departments that often each administer separate social assistance schemes, and create an overarching coordinating body at cabinet level or higher. In terms of financing, a systemic approach requires governments to undertake actuarial calculations of population trends and the evolution of beneficiary entitlements over time, as well make binding decisions to create and sustain fiscal space, so as to reliably fund social protection over the long term. At the administrative level, systems need to unify eligibility criteria and have transparent records of recipients and accounts of claims and receipts. Some countries have for example begun creating citizens registries, or offering “single window” access to social assistance, or are introducing bank transfer modalities.

Probably the most difficult challenge in system building is political: to build coalitions or a social compact between tax-paying middle and high income groups and the working poor and those in complete poverty who are outside the formal economy and lack voice and political influence.

At this juncture, the policy moment for system building has come. At the Centre for Social Protection at the IDS, we are looking for experiences from low-income countries of creating a unified social protection system. Policy makers, policy analysts, researchers and activists working on systems of social assistance or social security or social protection are invited to share their insights.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Transformative Graduation?

Photo of Stephen Devereux, IDS Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Research Fellow By Stephen Devereux

In social protection programmes, “graduation” refers to participants crossing an income or asset threshold, after which they are no longer eligible for support. In January 2013 the Centre for Social Protection (CSP) hosted an online discussion event on the topic of graduation, under a partnership agreement between Irish Aid and IDS on ‘Hunger Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation’. The debate was lively and helped clarify my ideas on graduation (which are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of CSP, IDS or Irish Aid).

I discovered that I am a graduation sceptic. Of course graduation might be possible for some households at some times in some contexts, but probably only a minority under very specific conditions. It bothers me greatly that graduation is increasingly driving social protection programmes, because this is not what social protection is all about.

 A basic distinction should always be drawn between three functions of social protection. In the “3 Ps” terminology, social protection should “protect” the chronically poor, “prevent” the vulnerable from being decimated by uninsured shocks, and (thirdly and lastly) “promote” the livelihoods of the entrepreneurial poor.

The first function is social assistance for the "ultra-poor", such as social pensions and disability grants. Pensioners and people with severe disabilities are not expected or required to "graduate out" or exit from this social assistance after a few years – nor should they be.

The second function is the original (now regrettably much maligned) safety net role – ensuring that people who are vulnerable to shocks (because they lack savings, insurance or social security) don't collapse into destitution or worse when their livelihoods are disrupted by drought or unemployment or AIDS. Again, nobody – poor or rich – graduates out of the need for safety nets. No-one who can afford insurance cancels it after 5 years.

The third function does not have a "social something" label, because it actually isn't social protection; it's livelihood support for poverty reduction (the "promote" P). The people who are likely to graduate from grants and subsidies to micro-credit and eventual self-reliance are not the labour-constrained "ultra-poor", they are low-income smallholder farmers and self-employed workers in the informal economy – people with labour power whose livelihoods need a boost. They are the “entrepreneurial poor” – but, as we know from the microfinance experience, not all poor people are entrepreneurs, so even in this category, 100% graduation is 100% unrealistic.

Nonetheless, this is the poverty reduction agenda into which social protection has become co-opted. It is politically sexier than social grants and it is massively popular with donors and governments who fear the cost and commitment of permanent programmes, who want an "exit strategy", “value for money” and a "return on their investment", and whose vision of success is driven by the MDGs. So graduation looks like a "win-win": programme participants get their poverty reduced, programme implementers and policy-makers hit their poverty reduction targets. No wonder some social protection programmes are holding graduation ceremonies.

But what if you don't hit your graduation targets? I was disheartened to hear an Ethiopian policy-maker in a conference in 2011 describe the Productive Safety Net Programme as a “failure”, because “we are expecting most of the beneficiaries to graduate but instead the numbers just go up every year”. If political support for programmes that are fixated on unrealistic graduation targets starts to dwindle, it isn’t just the “Productive” components that will be closed down; the “Safety Net” will go too.

Graduation is not social protection. Although "promotion" was included In the "transformative social protection" framework it was never intended to stand alone. Our argument was that some forms of social protection provide transfers that simultaneously alleviate poverty ("provision") while at the same time invest in useful physical infrastructure (e.g. public works = wages for subsistence + economic assets for income generation) or human capital formation (e.g. conditional cash transfers, or school feeding = cash/food today + education for enhanced livelihoods tomorrow), which have the potential to generate future streams of income and thereby reduce poverty sustainably (i.e. poverty alleviation + poverty reduction).

The danger is that seeing social protection as a poverty reduction instrument loses sight of its primary functions – to provide social assistance to alleviate the poverty of the labour-constrained "ultra-poor" who have no livelihoods (and negligible prospects of graduating); and to install effective and reliable safety nets or social insurance mechanisms against downside risk for people with low and/or unpredictable incomes. In both cases social protection is a permanent commitment; it is not a 3-5 year project. You don't put a safety net in a circus until you believe the trapeze artist won't fall, and then remove it. We must not replace the critical core functions of social protection with objectives drawn from other agendas.

But I am not a total graduation sceptic. I do believe that social protection can build resilience and self-reliance, but it might take a decade or longer – maybe even a generation, which is why many social protection programmes invest in the human capital of children, in an attempt to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. We should surely aim for ‘sustainable graduation’ over time, rather than ‘threshold graduation’ based on income or asset ownership at a point in time. This requires a broader assessment of the problem that social protection is trying to address.

The impacts of a social protection intervention will always be heavily influenced by the context into which it is introduced. There needs to be a favourable economic “enabling environment” – good infrastructure, strong public services, well developed markets, financial services, vibrant economic activity, complementary linkages to other economic sectors – for graduation outcomes to be achievable and sustainable. The problem with naive forms of graduation thinking is that is tries to propel people out of poverty simply by throwing cash and assets at them, while leaving them trapped with the adverse personal characteristics (illiteracy, etc.) and structural constraints (weak infrastructure, imperfect markets, etc.) that constructed their poverty in the first place.

Beyond these economic “enablers or constrainers”, if the socio-political context is unfavourable to the extent that it is driving poverty, then no injection of cash or assets is going to lift people out of their poverty trap. Social exclusion of minorities, discrimination against stigmatised groups, xenophobia – these are all social rather than economic drivers of poverty and vulnerability, and they require interventions at the social and political levels – social transformation, not income or asset transfers.

“Transformative social protection” recognises that social change and political interventions can remove the structural barriers and trigger virtuous cycles of income generation and poverty reduction. Progressive legislation or anti-discrimination campaigns could be enough on their own to “graduate” entire sections of society. One example is abolishing discrimination in the labour market against persons with disability or HIV-positive job applicants, thereby “graduating” those who can work, from social grant recipients to wage-earning employees. We could go further and argue that, where socio-political constraints are significant drivers of poverty and vulnerability, transformative social protection is the only assured pathway to “transformative graduation”.