I’m on Coursera! President Roth’s interview with me for this week’s lecture

Wesleyan President Roth interviewed me (and World Bank President Jim Kim) for this week’s Coursera lecture. The course is entitled “How to change the world” and this week’s lecture is on “Poverty and Development”.

You can find it here: https://class.coursera.org/changetheworld-001

There are clips of our interview in the first segments of his lecture.

Africa Notes: Regional Trade and Integration

There has been some interesting online commentary on intra-regional trade in Africa.

Trade between African states may be increasing.
It is commonly observed that trade between African states is below what is typically seen in other regions of the world. However, as noted over at tralac, this might be changing. They quote Aileen Kwa:

In terms of non-oil exports Africa’s internal trade is almost on par with its exports to the EU. Furthermore, the trade growth rate within Africa is the second highest after China and before the United States and the EU. Therefore, it is very promising, also in terms of the quality of exports.

Europe should focus more on regional blocs in Africa
Paul Collier suggests that this might be a good time for Europe to reconsider some of its trade strategy with African states, which has often involved individual trade deals with African governments rather than more efficient engagement with Africa’s regional blocs.

And, as I note in my post on the WTO today, there may be more that Africa’s regional blocs need to do before regional integration succeeds
[Africa Notes: WTO Roundup]

South Africa’s attempt at being a gateway to Africa might be underscoring the need for greater regional integration.
Some discussion has been had regarding whether South Africa is–or can be–a gateway to Africa. Clearly it would like to be in that position. Last month, South Africa launched its Dube TradePort, a new international passenger and cargo airport. According to its website it can handle 7.5 million passengers per year right now and will eventually be able to handle 45 million. Its cargo terminal can handle 100,000 tons per year and eventually will handle 2 million tons (more than what LAX currently handles). However, some say this is not enough. Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa and Charles Wachira have a nice critique of the argument that South Africa is a gateway and note there are other competitors (including Angola) for that title in the near-future. TRALAC reports that SA’s most recent Industrial Policy Action Plan has some clues to some of the key challenges:

trade barriers are not the main impediment to raising Africa’s intraregional trade levels, which remain almost trivial when compared with goods and services flows in other territories.
Instead, the main constraints relate to the absence, or inadequacy, of the physical infrastructure linkages required to facilitate trade flows, as well as the continent’s under- developed production structures, which decreases the opportunity for trade in complementary value-added products. (tralac)

Africa Notes: News Around the Continent

All Africa
Several African women make Foreign Policy’s list of “The Most Powerful Women You’ve Never Heard Of”: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Fatou Bensouda, Fayza Abul Naga, and Lindiwe Mazibuko.

The World Bank forecasts faster growth for sub-Saharan Africa based on high commodity prices and investments in mining. Growth should be about 5.2 percent this year for the region as a whole (Reuters).

Ghana, which has increased its borrowing of late–including recently asking for a 6 billion-dollar loan from China (Reuters)– apparently has some reason to think it can handle the debt. Vice President Mahama disclosed at the Third Ghana Policy Fair that Ghana should earn 1 billion dollars per year from gas (Samuel Obour).

Guinea-Bissau’s Coup
Coup planners are finding themselves in trouble with, well, with just about everyone. David Stephen has a nice discussion of the international community’s reactions to the coup (African Arguments).

On Thursday, we will hear the verdict for ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, currently on trial at The Hague (Reuters).

Oil rights may be a new source for conflict between Kenya and Somalia (Reuters). Some cynics might even wonder whether this has been an impetus for Kenya’s recent military interventions in Somalia (which I have no evidence of!).

The crisis in Mali continues. Many of the top politicians have been arrested (Sahel Blog). “Loyalist” soldiers are apparently on their way north to try to reclaim territory from the Tuaregs (Reuters).

CNN has a special report on slavery in Mauritania (Global Voices).

Sudanese War
The conflict in Sudan shows no signs of letting up. Bashir reportedly has vowed not to negotiate:

We will not negotiate with the South’s government, because they don’t understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition (Reuters)

Lesley Warner has a nice discussion of the reasons why Uganda might intervene in any Sudanese conflict (Lesley on Africa). I think the security concerns are probably the most important immediate impetus with economic concerns not far behind.

Uganda: Kony 2012
Ugandan troops are also still on the hunt for Joseph Kony, who is likely somewhere in the border regions of Central African Republic, South Sudan, or the DRC (Reuters).
Meanwhile, there are some new resources on Kony. Both include contributions from respected academics.

  • There is a new ebook, Beyond Kony 2012, which may prove to be an interesting read (I have not read it yet!).
  • And there is a new website, makingsenseofkony.org, which really looks quite comprehensive.

International Women’s Day

While I “celebrate” International Women’s Day with a lunch and a talk by that famous defender of women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I thought it might be worth taking a moment to think about the broader picture. (Time: “Justice Scalia Mouths Off On Sex Discrimination“)

What does this day mean in the developing world? Duncan Green has a nice post on “what to celebrate, what to condemn“, rounding up much of what the blogosphere has been saying. I think, in short, that we have “come a long way” but there is clearly a long ways to go in ensuring women have equal rights and opportunities. And, of course, we may want to extend this category of rights to other forms of gender discrimination. We can think of the developments and trends at both the global and local levels.

At a global level, there has been the development of treaty law. In my International Law class we cover the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and I have them read Beth Simmons’ interpretation of that convention’s impacts (Mobilizing for Human Rights). She shows that these conventions have had their greatest impacts on countries that are neither strong democracies (who do much of this anyway) nor completely autocratic. The very act of ratification for that large group of countries in the middle enables activists and others in their organization and their ability to place demands on their own governments. In Japan, for instance, she shows it changed the political opportunity structure surrounding government employment practices (they began hiring more women). Last year, Nauru, became the most recent state to ratify CEDAW. (We have not.)

I had a brief view of developments in efforts to improve the opportunities for girls in the late 1990s. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that helped start a Peace Corps Ghana Gender and Development program and set-up a national girl’s education confence. (Jennifer Miller was really the leader in this, bringing her ideas from a similar program in Niger. Heather Moran rounded out the team.)

WES-FID: Some thoughts

I thought yesterday’s student-run Forum on International Development was a great success. The event was well-organized and well-attended. But most of all, I think there were opportunities for just about everyone who attended to learn something new.

Here is what I observed:

Morning Keynote
David Rice, Executive Director of NYU’s Development Research Institute, gave a nice opening keynote address, mapping out a macro-oriented perspective on development trends.

Approaches to Development
We were all invited to choose one of three presentations on “approaches to development”. I chose the Technology seminar led by Amir Hasson (Wesleyan ’98), Founder of United Villages. I thought this was a great talk about the ups and downs of being a social entrepreneur. He discussed how he began with a project developed for a graduate class at MIT to provide rural areas in India with internet access. That became an actual project implemented in Cambodia, a project which helped created UV. But today, about 10 years later, UV is doing something very different: connecting rural retailers with a more efficient supply chain. Some of the lessons: (i) you have to be ready to go when opportunities arise; (ii) you have to listen to those you want to help; (iii) technology can be an important tool for development but it comes with some caveats, including obsolescence (their technological solution for providing internet access is less useful today) and dependence on the specific development context; (iv) you need to be flexible and adaptable to take into account the above; and (v) success requires committed leadership which includes careful management at the local level.

I found it interesting that Amir did not see politics as playing a big role in their activities. Obviously, I am biased as a political scientist. But for him, the biggest issue seemed to be getting past the red-tape necessary in India for their ISP. Governance issues, in terms of their activities, were relatively unimportant. He did mention, however, that a project they did in Rwanda might have proved to be the exception to that experience. This made me wonder a bit how much the “governance” frame in development relies on a type of African exceptionalism.

Wesleyan Non-Profits
After these seminars were a series of workshops for critically assess non-profits students at Wesleyan have created. I was assigned to moderate a discussion of SHOFCO. I commented briefly about this a couple days ago. Given the expertise of our guest panelists, Harvard Professor Rema Hanna and Conner Brannen (IPA, Wesleyan ’10 and a former student of mine), we focused on the process of evaluation. I thought some of the important suggestions for SHOFCO, included:

  • Take the time to learn from the existing literature about what works;
  • Continue to build on your monitoring and evaluation program;
  • Learn from similar groups who are engaged in monitoring and evaluation (what are their best practices?); and
  • Don’t try to measure too many things with one survey.

Both Kennedy Odede and Nathan Mackenzie did a great job explaining SHOFCO’s mission and addressing some of the concerns. Both seemed to acknowledge the challenges of making the project sustainable for the long-term and the potential for mission creep. In terms of the latter, they seem to have had success thus far at finding projects that are synergistic, but there is always the concern of taking on too much before perfecting the rest. And, as Conner noted, it may be harder to measure progress in one area when one is moving in multiple directions at the same time.

In terms of involvement with the Wesleyan Community, there seemed to be a general consensus that this was a good thing that should continue into the future. As Professor Hanna noted, this is good for the students (it exposes them to parts of the world they may not otherwise visit) and for the people of Kibera (in terms of knowledge transfer). At least, I hope I am remembering her correctly! Conner and others mentioned how to them SHOFCO will always be part of the Wesleyan community. This place played a role as an incubator. Hopefully, it can assist the organization as it matures.

Lunch: Awesome food, as always, from Iguanas Ranas.

Afternoon Keynote
Nathanael Goldberg (Wesleyan ’98),
Policy Director at Innovations for Poverty Action, spoke on “How do we know what works in development?”. I thought this was the best talk of the day. Being a little familiar with IPA’s work, I suppose there wasn’t a whole lot of new information for me, but it was well-delivered and comprehensive. I especially liked how he framed what they do (randomized control trials) with the uncertain findings of past research on development projects, especially micro-finance. What I didn’t realize before yesterday was how ambitious the scope of their work is: more than 400 projects right now. There have been criticisms of their approach to development and it might have been nice to hear some of that debate flagged for our students. As they mention on their own website, there has been a little backlash. I talked recent with an economist about Randomized Control Trials and he mentioned his concern that some developing countries might be getting over-saturated with these projects. And that could become a problem. But it was inspiring to hear their mission and their success thus far. A number of our students and alumni have done work for IPA and I hope more continue to do so.

Small Lectures
There were several choices and I decided to attend Professor Rema Hanna’s lecture on “Randomized Experiments to Improve Policy”. I thought this was an especially useful talk for our students who have not been exposed to research methods. She did a great job at presenting the experimental approach that she and her development colleagues at J-PAL and IPA are using. Unfortunately…

That was the end for me…
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay until the end. And I even missed the end of Hanna Rema’s lecture. But I really came away appreciating the wonderful event our students organized. I was glad to see both of my thesis students — Rachel Levenson and Kathlyn Pattillo — playing key leadership roles alongside a host of others. I hope students consider repeating this event in the future!

WES-FID: Commenting on SHOFCO

Tomorrow (Saturday, Feb 18) Wesleyan students are hosting a Forum on International Development. And I am very excited about this event! There are a number of reasons I think this will be a great event.

  1. It celebrates some of the fantastic things our students and alumni have done. This conference really just touches the tip of the iceberg in representing the projects our students have initiated and participate in.
  2. It is an opportunity to critically reflect on these projects and experiences.
    • Students will learn from alumni that have been doing this for much longer and with great success.
    • Students will learn from outside academics and experts.

I will never forget how, in my very first year teaching at Wesleyan, I was lucky enough to have several of the students participating tomorrow present in my introductory course. Both Kennedy Odede, founder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), and Ali Chaudry, founder of Possibilities Pakistan, were in my classes. As was one of the organizers, Kathlyn Pattillo. And the next year Rachel Levenson, another of the primary conference organizers, also took that course. And I am probably missing the names of others involved in this event. It makes me think I should teach it more often!

I have been asked to moderate a panel discussing the work of Shofco. Besides Kennedy, both Nathan Mackenzie (representing Shofco) and Connor Brannen (Wesleyan ’10; current analyst at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) are former students of mine. Rema Hanna, a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will round out the panel. Our panel has been tasked with helping Shofco reflect on its development as an organization, its mechanism for evaluating its work, and the involvement of the Wesleyan community in the organization. While SHOFCO has had amazing success at attracting attention and funding in a relatively short time, I suspect the biggest questions will be about how they can build a sustainable program that stays true to its development objectives. This project represents a relatively rare collaboration between an activist in the developing world (Kennedy) and activists in the developed world (the Wesleyan community and especially Jessica Posner, yet another former student). That may be a key ingredient to their current success. But what will be important to sustaining this and how, at the end of the day, will we be able to measure their success?