Advice, Projects, Support

Help us put together a list of Higher Education institutes, departments and courses that focus on global development.

It’s not always easy to know which course is right for you or even to really know how many choices you might have. We want to put together this list to make that simpler and help you make better choices about where you want to study development.

We also really welcome reviews of courses from students who are either already finished with their course or who are currently doing one. We’ll call this series ‘Bottom Rung Reviews’ – take a look at the Submissions page for more information on how to get involved.

Currently, we are running a series at the moment on the online Jeffrey Sachs course The Age Of Sustainable Development which you can read checking this tag. Also, we’d like to draw everybody’s attention to the new globaldev subreddit (which the link at the top of the page will send you to), a great place to discuss and share interesting links. Development didn’t have much of a footing on Reddit before this new sub came about so, hopefully, more development types will start embracing this wonderful platform.

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Learning

Jeffrey Sachs Answered Questions On Reddit, Here Are The Highlights

Recently, the online community of Reddit provided us with yet another great opportunity to question one of today’s top minds in a social-convention-free zone. On January 15th, Jeffrey Sachs took part in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session where hundreds of Reddit users were able to ask him educated and insightful questions about his work, beliefs, and opinions.

If you’re wondering what Sachs could possibly be doing on Reddit, or what Reddit even is, be sure to check out this great article by Rowan Emslie which should help to clear that up.

Part of Sachs’ motivation for doing the AMA was likely to promote his upcoming free online university course ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’. This 14-week course begins on January 21, and if your interested you can learn more or register for it here. Sachs encouraged many of those participating in the AMA to take the course and “join the generation-long quest to achieve sustainable development”.

For those of you who may not have the time to read this entire (rather long) article, here are some of the main takeaways from the AMA:

  • The importance of public health and environmental sustainability dominated the discussion
  • Sachs stood adamantly behind his views about foreign aid (as expected)
  • He often used the AMA as a vehicle to help plug his main causes and give them more exposure

Over the course of the AMA, Sachs also expressed his opinion on some topics you may have not expected, including the recently leaked draft of the TPP´s (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Environment Chapter, how automation and robotics will affect development, and even Sachs’ favourite novels. While these were definitely interesting insights, below I will focus mainly on recapping the main themes and top comments for anyone who missed the AMA.

What is Sustainable Development?

“We’ll discuss that at length in class. I am using the term “Sustainable Development,” meaning a holistic approach that combines economic, social, and environmental goals.”

Enough said. 

Global Health as the Key to Development

Public health and economic development have always been key components of Sachs’ policy and academic work. He makes it no secret that he views global health as the first stepping stone towards development.

Prioritizing development goals:

“I’d start with the health goals, since those are life and death. And then (or simultaneously) the hunger goal (obvious reason) and then education. Of course once people are alive and properly nourished, education becomes the KEY!”

On strategies to end poverty while increasing sustainable development:

“I think that the key to ending poverty and increasing sustainable development is “investment-led growth,” with investments in people (health, nutrition, education, training), plus investments in infrastructure (such as low-carbon energy), plus investments in “smart” systems using information technologies.”

The Great Aid Debate

As a champion of foreign aid and constant presence in the great aid debate, it was inevitable that the effectiveness of aid would be questioned and that some of Sachs’ top critics would come up in the discussion.

On Dambisa Moyo:

“Unlike Dambisa Moyo, I believe that aid is needed and can be organized effectively and respectfully. I am very happy with the successful scale up of aid for public health in the past decade. It has saved millions of lives and helped to promote economic development.”

Describing his relationship with William Easterly (with a passive aggressive smiley):

“There are days when I’m happier and days when I’m less happy. We’re colleagues and friends, but sometimes I’m simply amazed (and not happy) when he declares that “aid has failed.” This is simply NOT RIGHT!!! :-)”

On ‘The Great Escape’ by Angus Deaton:

“I did not agree with his very blanket statements against aid. In my view, such statements are contrary to the evidence. When somebody declares so categorically that all aid fails, raise your doubts. Such generalizations are not accurate. Much aid is very important. We need to understand why some aid succeeds and other aid fails, so that we can improve the design of aid programs.”

The Millennium Villages Project

The Millennium Villages Project has become one of Sachs’ most controversial endeavours, and has been the source of heavy criticism. This contentious debate arose following the first independent evaluation of one of the villages, and erupted in a series of online articles and duelling editorials. This past September, the commentary resurfaced with the release of Nina Munk’s book The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. Despite this, Sachs is quick to challenge any criticism and stands firmly behind his project.

Sachs’ response to those who criticize the Millennium Villages Project:

“The project has had enormous positive impacts, way beyond the villages themselves. Governments have taken the successes of the villages as a basis for national policy, e.g. the control of malaria and the scale up of community health workers. There were originally 10 countries in the program, but its so useful for governments that the program is now operating directly or indirectly (through policy advice for example or as a template) in 23 countries. Please see www.millenniumvillages.org. By the way, there will be a comprehensive evaluation of the project, and a comparison with other places nearby, in 2015, to be reported in 2016. It will be interesting for all, including of course the project participants, to learn from these results!”

On the Millennium Villages Post-2015:

“The MVs will be evaluated at the end of 2015, and we will make course corrections and improvements as needed in several national programs underway to scale up the MV model. So the basic notion of using community-based rural development will continue past 2015, for sure. It’s working in many powerful ways, but will have even clearer evidence in 2015 on many important detailed issues.”

The Global Fund

In 2000, Sachs worked with then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to design and launch the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and has worked to support the organization ever since. Last month, Sachs called to task many developed countries for failing to come up with the necessary $5 billion to maintain the momentum of the Fund. He continued his campaign to gain support for the Fund through his AMA.

On using empirical studies to evaluate aid programs:

“We need to be smart in our aid policies, using knowledge, experience, and EXPERTISE outside of economics (such as in public health). The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and GAVI are examples of aid success. We should measure and evaluate programs, but use methods that are appropriate to the circumstances. There is too much of a one-size-fits-all strategy to evaluation these days (too much on randomized trials, excluding other means of evaluation).”

On the continuation of the Global Fund agenda:

“The Global Fund is still trying to close the $5 billion. I’ll be speaking with several governments over the next few weeks as well to help close the deal. The name of the game is PERSISTENCE. It takes time to convince governments!!!”

On getting governments to work in the interest of their people:

“I believe that aid can be designed in ways that promote accountability and transparency. This is how the Global Fund has worked most of the time. It’s been a good and successful model. Yes, we should promote a high degree of transparency. Remember that much of the corruption starts from the side of the rich countries and their companies.”

Throughout the AMA, Sachs maintained his idealistic persona and most of his responses had an upbeat tone to them. While he frequently spoke about the success of his projects, he often rebuffed any commenter who brought up critiques of his work. One thing that I found particularly interesting was that Sachs often lumped those who disagreed with his work into the same category as those who simply didn’t ‘understand’ or ‘get’ his work and ideas. A little condescending don’t you think? That being said, what really shined through for me was Sachs’ talent as a campaigner, as it’s undeniable that he is quite effective at garnering support and drawing attention to his principle causes.

So what did you think of Sachs’ AMA? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!

Editor’s Note: Two of our new writers – Michelle Gonzalez Amador and Holly Narey – are taking Jeffrey Sachs’ new online course and will be blogging about their experience. We’ll be using the tag ‘Age of Sustainable Development’ for all these posts so check back on that in the coming weeks for more.

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Learning

Top Five Posts Of The Year

In a time honoured blogging-in-December tradition, here is the run down of our five most popular posts this year in order of hits.

  1. We Need To Do Something About Television – a post on a shocking Italian reality TV show filmed in a refugee camp. Yes, seriously. [Written by Rowan Emslie]
  2. Working For The Poverty Barons – a look inside the oft-misunderstood world of development consultancies. [Written by Julia Lipowiecka]
  3. Networking: A guide for interns – a somewhat snarky take on the difficulties of networking for bottom rungers. [Written by Iris Leikanger]
  4. Optimism In Africa – an examination of polling and the importance of governance in measurements of optimism. [Written by John Favini]
  5. Before The Internship: What I’m expecting – useful for prospective interns and employers alike, some nice insight into what expectations first-time interns have before entering an NGO. [Written by Ben Butcher]

We’re delighted to announce that we hit our first 10,000 hits late last month. For those of you who were interested in this whydev.org published article by me about how useful Reddit is for development organisations/blogs/websites, more than 40% of those 10,000 hits were generated through the so-called ‘frontpage of the internet’. Ignore it at your peril, particularly as it seems that Facebook has begun its inevitable decline.

We’re excited to develop this site as we continue to work out exactly where we fit in the wide world of the development blogosphere. We’d like to thank our good friends at whydev.org and Aidsource for support and feedback in the last few months.

Finally, we’re always looking to publish new writers (our No 2 most popular post was written by a guest writer) as well as invite people to join our core team of talents.

Go ahead and take a look at the Submissions page – we’re excited to hear from you.

Here’s to more posts, hits and voices in 2013.

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Commentary

Reddit & Why NGOs Need To Pay Attention To It

Originally published on Whydev

I interned in a communications department for an international NGO for a year. I spent a lot of  my time proof reading or frantically trying to get the website to work properly when my colleagues wanted to release a document or a report to the wider world.

In between these flurries of activity, I’d try to keep all the specialists working in their respective departments widely informed about what was going on in the news that could relate to our mission. It’s remarkable how much people can know about something completely obscure and have very little idea what’s going on in the news – the news that most people saw and talked about.

One day, my supervisor came over to me and presented me with a copy of the Financial Times. This conversation took place in 2012.

“Do you know about memes?”

“Um, yes?”

“I just read this article about internet memes. Very interesting.”

“Really?”

“You should read it. It’s this new way that people are sharing information online. Perhaps you could come up with one for us?”

Luckily, she walked away after delivering this task and forgot all about it. At the time, the idea of creating an Advice Animal for a legally focused human rights advocacy charity struck me as being particularly ridiculous.

Let’s leave aside the bastardisation of the term ‘meme‘ for now (stand down, internet pedants) and follow how something becomes popular/viral on the internet.

1) Some kind of content, usually an image, gets created and shared around a small but very active group of heavy internet users. 4chan is the typical starting point.

2) A larger aggregator/online community picks up on it and re-shares it. In the old days this was done by Digg, now it is usually done on Reddit.

3) All the heavy users normal people have in their Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr feeds re-share this new, hilarious or profound content to impress normal people.

4) A stuffy broadsheet newspaper does a half-hearted column on the phenomenon and it dies through overuse.

Why does this matter?

Around two weeks ago Ted Chaiban, Director of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF, did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. Reddit is divided into subreddits that deal with specific types of content or subjects – AMA is a particularly large one and has had a wide variety of contributors such as Bill Gates, Louis CK, and even Barack Obama. People like Mr Chaiban go online for a few hours and respond to as many questions from the Reddit community as they can. Very simple.

The community itself is, by any measure, massive. At the time of writing there are 4,300,272 users registered to the AMA subreddit. Chaiban’s session generated 650 comments (including his 17 answers). Communications and advocacy people should be getting excited right about now. When is the last time, for example, an article about humanitarian aid generated more than 600 comments?

Take a look at some of these questions:

bumblebeesbummy: I’m thinking about donating through UNICEF but since this would be my first time donating internationally, I’m not very familiar with it. Could you tell me how much, say, $50 would translate to in terms of different kinds of aid that UNICEF will provide, for how many people and how long etc, so I can decide how much I would like to donate?”

ckellingc: What percent of all money donated goes directly to relief efforts? Whats the usual breakdown of funds (x percent to food, y percent to medicine)?”

flippityfloppityfloo: I have two questions for you regarding relief aid:

    1. What more can be done to stomp out fraudulent aid relief funds or “organizations” who seek to profit from horrific tragedy?
    2. Where do you see the future of aid relief heading? For example, do you expect more international cooperation, foresee organizational mergers, etc.

Please tell all of your employees how much their work is appreciated”

These are engaged, smart questions from people with a sense of some of the major issues with humanitarian aid. These are the sorts of questions mainstream journalists ask, not just some geeky online community. More than that, isn’t it incredibly useful to know what people are concerned with and thinking about regarding your work? The great thing about an AMA is it allows campaigners to directly engage with the very people they’re looking to get on board.

As mentioned above, Reddit is probably the online community most responsible for shaping online trends and virality. Comms departments, I am hoping you know the difference between ‘lurkers’ and ‘active users’ is (you really should) but here’s a brief explanation: lurkers are users who take from social networks and/or online communities without giving anything; active users typically give more than they consume. While Reddit is used by around 6% of American adults whereas Facebook (52.9%) or Twitter (15%) have much larger total audience, Reddit users are much more active than other communities. It’s that high activity level that makes Reddit users the gatekeepers of internet popularity.

Reddit users are more likely to click through to your campaign, to your story, to whatever content you are pushing than other social media sites. They want to find and promote the most interesting content on the web so will do more to seek it out. In terms of funneling traffic, this is a site that can easily beat out Facebook or Twitter. Which is a pretty big deal if you are trying to promote campaigns or ideas with a very limited budget, as most NGOs are. This blog has received over a third of its hits from Reddit. The next highest share is Facebook with ~5%.

As I’ve written about before, the sharing function of the modern internet is becoming increasingly important in shaping public actions. People want and expect to be a part of the process, to be communicated with on a more immediate level and to be able to get involved if they want to. There is no point in lamenting this fact; the third sector needs to engage with this new reality, just like the media are.

We cannot continue to either be ignorant of what people outside of the development bubble are engaging with or to allow that engagement to exist outside of development. So, the next time you want to spark attention of your work don’t bother with memes – ask them about Reddit.

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