Monday, 28 October 2013

Urban poverty ‘without an outside’?

by Dolf te Lintelo

In recent discussions with development studies colleagues on the relationship between urbanisation and urban poverty we were often drawn to acknowledge the importance of linkages between the city and ‘the beyond’, whether that be the rural, the peri-urban or something else. However, the theoretical, methodological or practical ways of operationalising this in day to day work is not always obvious. The Flexible City Symposium at Oxford University on 24/25 October offered a chance to learn from urban theory and critical urban geography scholars grappling with this issue. What take away points resound with enhancing our understanding of the dynamics of urban poverty?

1. Contemporary urban geography perspectives are very actively seeking for connections rather than posit dichotomies between the urban and the rural, the urban and the suburban, the urban and the post-urban, between the centre and the periphery, etc – you get the point.

2. So what could such connections look like? Some excellent keynote presentations from Neil Brenner (Harvard) and Matthew Gandy (UCL) offered a glimpse. Both started off taking a long term historical perspective, to argue for breaking down conceptual barriers between the social and the natural; and the social and the technological. Brenner thus argued that urbanisation and the insatiable urban demand for energy are not just connected but constituted by the processes of dramatic environmental degradation. Provocatively offering a picture of the maimed landscapes of Canadian tar sands as an image of the urban, Brenner posits that the latter’s invisibility to the urban inhabitant’s eye does not detract from their necessity in producing the latter’s experience of the urban condition.

3. Brenner thus suggests a radical replacement of common dichotomies with the idea of an ‘urban fabric’, driven by both concentrated and extended forms of urbanisation at the global level. Gandy’s and other participants’ talks further highlighted the role of materiality in transforming as well as locking in human behaviours, social organisation, and social mores. We are all familiar with the ludicrously inefficient potable water use of the common western toilet, which nevertheless continues to get installed in places all around the world. Thus, the material itself is ‘vital’, having an active role to play as driver of urban change.

4. Classic notions of the urban and urbanisation are deeply embedded in everyday language, in policy speak and in theory, and are not receptive or suited for dealing with a more integral and connected notion of the ‘urban’. Advancing the latter requires ontological change (i.e. change in deeply held knowledge of ‘what is’), as Brenner put it, asserting ‘Urban theory without an outside’. That is: not to posit the urban against the non-urban, against the rural, against the peri-urban, and not to continue privileging the urban as analytical starting point, or as the centre of such theorisations, from which the other and the peripheral is defined.

This is not easy, because it challenges established wisdom: in the shape of common knowledge, the vernacular speech, established traditions of urban theory, and not least, public policy and essential tools of governing such as statistics, and administrative boundaries and distributions of labour. Ontological shifting sands cause discomfort, not just for some participants in the seminar (one protested against the very idea), but also for policymakers. In the world of development, the uncertainty regarding its implications for how policy data is generated, by the World Bank, UN, but also at national level, leave alone for cities themselves, would create a big barrier to change. Major questions thus remain to be answered about what such change would look like, but in fairness, this is not what the speakers set themselves as a task. Moreover, the academic world itself still needs convincing: witness the very naming of ‘Urban Studies’, ‘Urban theory’ and the ‘Flexible City’.

5. Geographers love maps. No news here, however various presentations showed that maps remain very potent visual tools for communicating complex ideas.

6. These discussions speak well to emerging, relational notions of understanding poverty, urban or otherwise. Like more ‘connected’ urban theories, relational poverty perspectives shift challenge traditional poverty analyses, whose starting point is the individual, and his/her attributes and deficits; as lacking income/skills/assets/etc. In contrast, relational poverty considers foreground how the condition of impoverished people (as groups, as well as individuals) is intricately connected with their social, political, ecological and economic environments. This means that urban poverty is no longer understood ‘without the outside’.

Whether focusing on wellbeing or otherwise, such approaches allow for a better recognition of the poor‘s ability to act creatively, bring in their own experiences, and critically do not equate the study of poverty with the study of poor people (cf B. Harriss-White). Thus, various conference presentations noted the creative yet often constrained political agency of poor urban communities. Colin McFarlane (Durham) noted the earthy example of slum-dwellers in Mumbai, who in protest to the hiked fee for toilet services, started relieving themselves in the space used by the toilet attendants. Such political agency is however highly diverse, and context sensitive, and efforts to understand the role of such ‘everyday’ politics in the production of urban poverty thus requires micro-level analysis.

7. Finally, like ‘connected’ approaches to urban theory, relational poverty approaches posit an almost ontological challenge to how we understand poverty, and thus face significant obstacles in gaining traction. Yet both seem to be ideas whose time has come.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Can we actually measure resilience?

By Chris Bene

Resilience as a new paradigm...

There is little doubt that resilience is now part of the post 2015 development discourse. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) but also the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), the European Union, the World Food Programmes (WFP) or even the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are some of the many bi- and multi-lateral agencies which have recently embraced the resilience agenda. In parallel –or perhaps slightly pre-empting this general move-, a growing number of non-governmental organizations including CARE, CRS, MercyCorps, Oxfam, World Vision, etc. have also adopted resilience as one of their new programmatic pillars. In these conditions no wonder that resilience will be one of the key topics put forward in both the 2014 World Development Report and the 2014 Human Development Report.

... Yet we are still not sure what resilience is exactly

Some would probably see the fact that resilience is becoming the new development paradigm as a possible paradox, in the sense that no one (so far) has actually managed to propose a definition that enjoys a general consensus. How can a concept become a paradigm while it is still not properly defined? Well... when we think about it, this is not necessary so paradoxical. Poverty or even vulnerability are certainly two other examples for which many different and sometimes conflicting definitions exist in the literature. This did not prevent them from becoming central elements in the past and recent development discourse.

There are however at least two major difference between the case of poverty as a driving paradigm for development, and that of resilience. First: poverty is something we try to avoid, or to reduce; while resilience is increasingly becoming this ultimate ‘objective’ we are trying to reach. In that regard, I am not sure everyone would agree but avoiding something even if it is loosely defined, is perhaps easier than targeting something that is equally loosely defined? Second: poverty has (at least in the past) benefited from some degree of consensus around the way it can be measured/monitored. Even if the concept of income poverty and its Foster-Greer-Thorbecke metric have been continuously criticized for being too simplistic and mono-dimensional, some would certainly argue that this mono-dimensional nature is actually a strength when it comes to measure poverty (see for instance the recent debate between Sabine Alkire and Martin Ravaillon).

An urgent need to be able to monitor resilience

For resilience, however, such mono-dimensional indicator does not exist, or at least not yet. The question which one may then ask is: are we likely to see emerging in the near future an ‘universal’ indicator of resilience? If we let our pragmatism lead the reasoning, this eventuality might not be such a bad idea. Since so many agencies and NGOs are now claiming that the objective of their development programmes and interventions is to ‘strengthen the resilience of the poor and vulnerable’, it will soon become urgent to make these agencies and NGOs accountable for the money they are spending and more importantly for the ‘experiments’ they are implementing on households and communities in the name of resilience.

However, without an independent and quasi-universal (in the sense comparable across projects) indicator of resilience, we have so far no choice but to use the context and project -and often time- specific indicators that are being proposed by these NGOs or agencies which we are supposed to assess. In these conditions it may be difficult to rigorously evaluate all these different programmes and distinguish those amongst them which effectively have an impact on people resilience from those who are simply recycling some old wine in new bottles...

Some initial progress...

There is therefore a need to agree on some form of resilience measurement or indicators, and this is with no doubt one of the reasons the FAO and the WFP recently set up a ‘Resilience Measurement Technical Working Group’ under the Food Security Information Network (FSIN). In their introductory declaration the Working Group note: “Given the relatively recent emergence of the concept of resilience within the wider development community, there is an understandable scarcity of robust, verifiable evidence of the impact of programmes seeking to build resilience”. The Working Group had its first meeting this week in Rome (9th - 10th Oct.), with the firm hope to make some good progress toward the identification of some measurement principles.

This need to identify the ways of measuring resilience is also the motivation of a recent working paper “Towards a quantifiable measure of resilience” published by IDS. The main objective of the paper is to propose a new framework that addresses some of the concerns and limitations of resilience measurement as identified in that literature. In doing so it also identifies a series of key-principles which, the paper argues, are critical to build an appropriate measure of resilience. These key-principles are:

  • Multi-scale: Resilience indicators should be able to capture change in resilience at different scales: individuals, household, community, (eco)system, national levels;
  • Multi-dimension: resilience is not simply about coping strategies that help households to ‘survive’ a shock; resilience is also about adaptive strategies or even transformative strategies. It is about ex-post but also ex-ante (anticipation) strategies. An appropriate resilience indicator would be one that captures all these different dimensions.
  • Objective and subjective: resilience is as much about what people do to go through a harsh period, than about how they feel about it. Resilience indicators should therefore aim at monitoring both objective changes and subjective perceptions – including stress.
  • Generic: Although we recognise that indicators are relevant only if they can capture and reflect the specificity of the situation they are applied to, too many indicators are currently built on specific circumstances or specific agenda. An appropriate resilience indicator is one that can be scaled out and replicated.
  • Independently built: to be analytically useful, a resilience indicator needs to be defined and measured independently from the factors and processes that are (presumably) affecting its level, such as income, assets, level of participation or social coherency. Only when these factors are not incorporated in the resilience index can we explore and test rigorously the actual effect of these characteristics on resilience.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Making of 'Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights'

by Deepta Chopra

Unpaid care work:

  • What is it?
  • Who does it?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • How does it affect the rights of women and girls?

Public policy for economic empowerment of women and girls:

  • How is this linked to unpaid care?
  • How do policy decisions affect unpaid care work?
  • What does public policy sensitive to care look like?

The problem for policy makers

Imagine for one minute you are a policy maker. Imagine you have huge amounts of work to deal with, and need to provide key information about the two areas listed above. Imagine you had read something in a research report last year. Unfortunately you can't remember the details, and you definitely don’t have time to find the key messagesin a huge and complex report. Imagine you have eight minutes to provide this information, before you need to move on to the next topic.

We imagined this policy maker too. We were the authors of the research report that the policy maker had read a year ago. Our research programme is built on the critical fact that unpaid care work underpins all development policy, and is critical to ensuring sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls, leading to true gender equality. This is because of five factors:
  1. Unpaid care occupies large amounts of women and girl’s time, leading to time poverty which impacts directly on the rights that women and girls can enjoy – including the right to work, right to education, and the right to participation. These links have been made explicit in the UN special rapporteur’s report on unpaid care
  2. The lack of leisure time reduces women and girl’s wellbeing as well as impacting negatively on their health.
  3.  Women in the paid labour market may not be able to provide for adequate substitutes for their care responsibilities, compromising the human development outcomes for those that they are caring for.
  4. Any substitutes may come through pushing the care responsibilities to older women and girls, which impacts on their development and rights.
  5. Finally, the income from paid work may be eroded by payments for substitute care, which defeats the objective of economic empowerment.
While this makes clear the links between economic empowerment and unpaid care work, the question is whether unpaid care work is visible or not, in designing and implementing public policies. This question underpinned the thematic review we conducted, in which we concluded that unpaid care work was largely invisible in social protection and early childhood development policies (more details can be found  in the full research report ). We hypothesised why unpaid care work was invisible to policy makers, and are currently engaged in an action research programme to understand how unpaid care work could be made more visible in public policy.

But the problem was this key information was hidden in over 80 pages of two extensive research reports. And we know that the policy maker has only eight minutes to view the information and respond. So how were we going to make unpaid care visible?

Our solution

We imagined an animation which would tell the story of a woman living in poverty, and her daily life. We imagined policy makers making decisions without realising the implications of these decisions on the life of this woman. We imagined first the disconnect, and then through a process of immersion, the connections that could be made, the solutions that policy makers could propose to recognise and redistribute unpaid care work, and reduce the drudgery it entails.

We imagined an animation that would deliver key messages about unpaid care work in under 5 minutes, with visuals that would be striking and stick in the memory. We imagined that these visuals would cut across boundaries of geographical regions, being as valid to an East Asian setting as to a Latin American setting, as relevant to policy makers in Sub Saharan Africa as to policy makers in South Asia. We imagined music that would carry the story line with emotion. Above all, we imagined a critical message being conveyed with simplicity and clarity, without losing its nuances.

The result

We produced ‘Who cares’

The process

It took us a year to conceptualise the story line, work with an animation company to develop characters, provide constructive feedback to deliver the right messages, the right images and the right music. What you see now, is the final product of many hours of discussion and thought, always with the image of the sympathetic but incredibly busy policy maker at the front of our minds.

Our hopes

We hope this animation will provide the answers to the questions posed at the start of this post. We also hope that this animation will bridge the gap between policy makers constraints on time, and their need for simple yet useful messages backed by complex evidence on the subject of unpaid care and economic empowerment of women.

We hope that this animation will urge policy makers to put into place policy solutions that:
  1. Recognise the importance of care as work, as being fundamental to everyone’s well being, and as being critical to the realisation of the rights of women and girls
  2. Reduce the drudgery associated with care work,
  3. Redistribute care responsibilities – from women to men and from the family to the state,
  4. Reallocate national budgets to ensure support for care amongst poor and vulnerable families.
Please leave your feedback and comments below, and share the message to ensure sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Inconvenient truths for Kenya after Westgate attack

by Jeremy Lind

Two weeks after Al-Shabaab militants murdered over 60 shoppers and diners and laid waste to one of Nairobi’s smartest malls, a reckoning has begun: how could an attack of such ferocious brutality happen in the heart of one of the city’s wealthiest enclaves? Could it happen again and, if so, how can an attack of a similar magnitude be prevented? And what does the Westgate massacre say about the state and condition of Kenya as a nation and people? With the fate of 39 missing civilians as well as the number, fate and identity of the militants still unknown, these are the questions Kenyans have begun asking each other as well as the country’s divided political establishment. The search for answers will expose a number of inconvenient truths.

The first of these is that violence and insecurity are deeply imprinted in contemporary Kenyan life. Even before the Westgate attack, a number of conflicts and low-level violence were bubbling away at the margins. In recent years militants have attacked churches, bars, bus stations, and police posts in Nairobi, Mombasa, Garissa, Mandera among other towns and cities. Authorities were uncertain and feeble in responding to the violence, even as it encroached further and further into the country and claimed many lives. Yusuf Hasan, MP for Nairobi’s Kamukunji constituency, told the Guardian, “In the past two years, there have been 11 bomb attacks in my constituency. Yet there have been no arrests, and not one single person brought to court. What does that tell you about the state of the investigations? The government told us it was al-Shabaab and that that was the end of the story. It’s not good enough.” All the while, across the border in Somalia Al Shabaab was honing its capacity to execute sophisticated attacks. This year it has launched several devastating assaults, including on the UNDP compound in Mogadishu in June that killed 15.

While attacks by militants have rocked many cities, violence has continued to flare in Kenya’s north. Devolution under its new constitution was meant to devolve decision-making and resources leading to improved accountability, as well as spreading development funds more equitably between the country’s agrarian, highland core and the long marginalised dryland areas. It is still too early to tell if Kenya’s devolution experiment will be a success. So far, there has been uneven progress, with genuine innovation and dynamic leadership by governors in some counties. However, ethnic and clan fault-lines old and new have opened up in many places, leading to clashes and displacement. Hundreds are feared to have been killed in recent months.

President Kenyatta’s launch of a Commission of Inquiry
into the Westgate attack has been met with some cynicism.
A second inconvenient truth is that violence is as an effective technique and strategy to advance discrete political and economic interests in Kenya. Close and even casual observers of Kenya’s politics will recognise the simple reality that violence pays in Kenya’s broken political system. But how can this system reform itself when it harbours and provides sanctuary to people whose very position has been secured in part through violence? Some openly speculate that the Westgate attacks may in fact provide leverage to a campaign to dismiss the cases
of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President
William Ruto before the International Criminal Court.

The dismaying revelation of widespread looting of Westgate’s luxury shops during the rescue operation by Kenyan Defence Forces to free hostages gives the impression of indiscipline and corruption run amok in Kenya’s military institutions. It has been pointed out that the same structures that allow a customs inspector at the port or a border official or a policeman looking at a truck of goods on the highway to turn a blind eye for a bribe are the structures that terrorists exploit to their advantage. The Kenyan journalist Bertha Kang’ong’oi wrote, “Westgate exposed our shame. It was the most visible display of the country’s failed systems, which have been allowed or tolerated for too long.” The structures that permit ivory poaching, car hijacking, organised crime, tax evasion, and the siphoning of funds are the same ones the Westgate militants used to stash a weapons cache in a shop in the mall before the attack, to collude with a shop employee, and to otherwise form partnerships to carry out such a complex attack in the middle of Nairobi. Any meaningful plan to strengthen security needs to get to grips with Kenya’s culture of violence and impunity more widely.

In the immediate aftermath of the Westgate attack, the world’s attention and that of many Kenyans focused on Al Shabaab and international terrorism more broadly. As the days passed, Kenyans increasingly looked at themselves for answers on how the attack could have happened. As questions mounted, President Kenyatta launched a Commission of Inquiry, which has been met with some cynicism. Some wonder whether the attack will give impetus to reform the country’s security architecture and culture, something advocated by members of the National Assembly. Yet, the problem runs deeper.

Strengthening security in Kenya will require more than tinkering at the edges of its security and intelligence structures, or expanding military operations in Somalia. Kenya’s military involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia, ostensibly to create a buffer between Kenya and violence-plagued southern Somalia, has failed to prevent terrorist attacks in Nairobi and elsewhere. Kenya’s political leaders should also resist the urge to rush through further anti-terrorism laws, or resort to punitive policing of its Muslim populations. Effective security requires getting the basic functions of government to work better for all Kenyans, not just its embattled political establishment. The Westgate attack has touched the very top of Kenyan society. Let us hope they will act in ways that meaningfully improve security not only for Nairobi’s well-heeled but also a wider citizenry terrorised by extremist violence and spreading conflict.

This blog was originally published on AfricanArguments

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Time to change the record on aid? Some reflections from the UK Labour Party’s annual conference

By Hannah Corbett

For the majority of party members, lobbyists and media attending the three main political party conferences in the UK, domestic issues take precedence.  Given the current climate of austerity and falling living standards that’s not surprising.  But does it also reflect a broader lack and quality of debate on international issues in the UK?  Is this having a negative impact on public support for UK international development policy? And what role do research organisations like IDS have to play in addressing this problem?

On the fringe

Discussions about international issues are mostly confined to the well-trodden fringe circuit at all three of the UK’s main political parties’ conferences. You’ll generally find them at the end of a long corridor in a too hot/too cold pre-fab conference room, with the odd cheese straw or vegetable samosa thrown in to enliven proceedings.  What I imagine a UN side event to be like (although I’ve never been).

At Labour Party Conference this year, taking place in Brighton right on IDS’ door step, there were some genuinely interesting conversations about international development happening on the fringes.  Margaret Hodge (MP and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in the UK Parliament) and Ivan Lewis (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development) spoke engagingly about the central role of tax in tackling inequality at home and abroad at the Christian Aid and Action Aid event. And ODI’s Executive Director Kevin Watkins talked about what a new set of global development goals might look like in the context of the UK at the Labour Campaign for International Development’s (LCID) reception, which was timely given the recent announcement from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 will be applicable in all countries, not just developing ones.  

What more aid?

But why do these conversations remain for the most part on the fringes?  And that’s not just at party conferences, but in parliament and the media as well.  The issue that generally hits the headlines or takes the main stage in the UK when it comes to international development is aid.

Aid undoubtedly continues to have an important role to play in UK international development policy.  But talking about the UK’s role in the world solely in terms of whether we do or don’t spend 0.7% of GNI on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) misses the bigger picture. And when polls and surveys, including IDS’ own UK Public Opinion Monitor, report that public support for aid and international development is dwindling, it’s hardly surprising given that debates on these issues have become stuck in an ‘aid’ rut. 

Changing the conversation

 So how do we change the conversation and re-engage the UK public with these issues?  Earlier this year, IDS joined forces with the International Broadcasting Trust to host an event that brought together UK parliamentarians with representatives from INGOs, academia and the media to try and answer exactly this question.  The group came up with a number of recommendations, two of which are particularly interesting:
  • We need to talk about the world as it is not as it was – this means less about aid and more about the role of emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China, about high growth rates in Africa, about the positive impact of growing domestic tax revenues in developing countries.
  • We need to link stories about poverty at a national and a global level and highlight the ways in which people’s lives are connected.

This is where the international development research community and organisations like IDS can help.  From the role of rising powers, to improving taxation systems in developing countries, to shining a light on the impact of the food, fuel and financial crises on communities across the world, to the increase in use of food banks in high-income countries – this is knowledge that we have at our fingertips. 

But we need to be willing to engage in these debates and by working more closely with the media and politicians actively seek to reframe the narrative.  At a time when UKIP are growing in popularity and with concerns about increasing isolationism being voiced, it’s critical that we start telling a different story about development that isn’t just about aid and that resonates more clearly with those outside of the party conference bubble.