I spent this summer in perhaps the most overwhelming of places in the field of global development: Washington, DC. While it may be far from the ‘developing world,’ this monumental city is at the very center of the ‘Development World.’ A vast network of donors, implementers, contractors, consultants, think-tanks, and policy-makers have converged in this city to set the agenda of this great ‘machine.’ That is not to say that these organizations’ agendas are defiantly divorced from those of developing nations, as we often imagine and lament in our critical development classes. These groups are populated by veterans of the Peace Corps; by those that love to travel and that live for cultural exchange; by multi-linguists and multi-culturalists; those that seek authentic global impact.
So what’s up? Why do we continue to want to change ‘development infrastructure’? Why does development move too slowly and why do we think that little has been achieved? Why do we imagine that giant INGOs and Banks do not care for true impact, sustainable and community-driven change?
Here’s my hypothesis: They do care. But they follow a system and a method, and these are hard to change.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the complexity of development contracting, so here is an attempt to transcribe what I am hearing and observing every day. American aid is ear-marked for projects that serve our security interests. (That’s not new, Obama makes that point repeatedly, and Clinton (if elected) is expected to continue that trend). A lot of that money is packaged in a USAID contract (or a cooperative agreement), and that contract sets the rules of implementation (like priority issues, partner groups, delivery mechanisms, methods of measurement, etc). An implementing agency (a group responsible for carrying out a development project) writes a proposal and forecasts a budget to achieve the aims of that contract. Competing contractors enter a bidding process, and the winner (the prime-contractor) becomes responsible for managing the delivery of that project. That means: hiring consultants, buying necessary materials, delivering programs, measuring progress, reporting outcomes to the donor, and then preparing for the next contract. Rinse and repeat! (Note: this is extremely simplified).
Problem: the process is rigid and timelines are tight. The traditional contracting mechanism leaves little room for iteration and creative, critical thinking. It limits the number of actors and the types of actors that can be involved in a program’s design. It limits the amount of time that practitioners have to deeply understand certain realities and deliver accordingly. As described to me by a colleague, contractors, despite their extensive technical and in-country experience, act as passive implementing agents, operationalizing projects that major donors seek to establish.
Sometimes a contractor will be granted the flexibility to change the direction of a project, even mid-way into implementation. In other circumstances, donors choose to stay course, even if a project is delivering zero positive returns. As with everything in development, It Depends. And, to me, this is deeply dissatisfying and quite confusing.
Luckily, things are looking up (maybe). According to an interviewee at USAID, the agency is filled with “internal optimists” working to change how things operate. I invite everyone reading this post to look up a few things: USAID Forward, Local Solutions, and CLA. These are initiatives from the system to change the system; to make aid and development more adaptive and responsive; to place resources directly into the hands of local civil actors, to reduce the influence of massive contractors; to breathe innovation into old development structures. USAID Forward is 5 years out, and it has faced challenges (many challenges) along the way, to which I’ve been lucky to gain some inside exposure.
Also, the extent, availability, and purposes of data are changing. Traditionally, USAID required contractors to collect data on the successful implementation of a project (did we follow the steps, did we implement as we said we would?). This is related to a track of M&E called Fidelity of Implementation, which monitors the adherence of an organization to its plans of execution. And this is evolving. With the advent of the Open Government Initiative, USAID now requires the M&E teams of contractors to make publically available all the data collected during an implementation. There’s a lot of interest in using data to make informed, evidence-based recommendations that improve future programming. And people are jumping on this opportunity to collect new non-routine data during project delivery that can drive new insights and begin to change how we do things.
In conclusion, I think it’s an exciting time to be in development. Yes, things move slowly, but even the largest agencies and organizations are considering new practices that (I hope) will create more flexibility, creativity, and opportunities for authentic local ownership in major development initiatives
While it’s not an easy time to be living in the United States, as our country appears to be falling apart, being an American abroad presents its own unique set of challenges. Here are five crucial phrases you might want to memorize if you find yourself traveling south of the border:
1. Soy de los Estados Unidos. (I am from the United States)
Own up to it. Don’t be a wimp and pretend to be Canadian to sidestep the negative stereotypes associated with Americans. Do your part to improve our reputation.
2. Tengo mucho miedo, y tengo mucha vergüenza. No se porque Donald Trump tiene tanto éxito. (I’m very scared and I’m very ashamed. I don’t know why Donald Trump is so successful.)
Every acquaintance, Uber driver, and storeowner will ask you about Donald Trump once they find out you are American. But fear not, it is almost always out of curiosity and never accusatory. Once they find out you are just as terrified and baffled as they are, that is. Pleasant responses not guaranteed if you are actually a Trump supporter, in which case, well, that's your own damn fault for going to Mexico.
3. El feminismo es la teoría de la igualdad política, económica y social de los sexos. (Feminism is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.)
The patriarchy is alive and well all over the world. There’s never a bad time to get out of your elite bubble of liberal feminist friends and start a dialogue.
4. Si, hablo español. (Yes, I speak Spanish)
People assume that Americans have deficient foreign language skills, so they will be impressed by even the broken Spanish of a gringa like yourself. Here is your chance to wow them! Although most people have learned some level of English in school, you should still do your part to try and speak Spanish. When traveling you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of being the only person in a hostel full of multilingual Europeans that only speaks one language.
5. Has oído del Brexit? (How about the Brexit?)
If worse comes to worst you can always change the subject. Luckily the U.K. briefly stole the spotlight of supposedly civilized societies making irresponsible political decisions. Thanks, Mother England!
I have now lived in a small village called Nangara for nine weeks. Nangara sits next to a trading center called Kikholo (pronounced “chi-HO-lo”), which is in Bududa district of eastern Uganda, in the mountains right next to the Kenyan border. I am interning with a Philadelphia-based (located at 15th and Walnut!) non-profit called the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) at their Bududa clinic. In my time here, I have been working on a range of projects, including training staff on Excel skills, improving community health education materials, volunteering at the clinic, and hiking out to surrounding villages to assess and develop the sanitation and hygiene situations in homes and schools.
My field manager here talks about “the first four rules,” rules that were passed on to him from his supervisor while he was doing Peace Corps in Zambia.
1.) If it makes sense it won’t happen.
2.) However long you think it will take, be sure it will take longer.
3.) Never trust a fart (because it will turn into a shart).
4.) Embrace the suffering.
When I first got to Uganda, rule number four was a particular favorite of my colleagues and mine. We would use it all the time—to complain about the lack of WiFi, the unpredictable power outages, the pit latrines, the bucket baths, the same meal of beans and rice served at the clinic every day. In hindsight, our excessive use of rule number four now seems naïve and selfish. But at the time, I think we used it because it helped us adjust to living out “in the village.”
I didn’t learn about the origin of rule number four until about three weeks in. Rule number four came directly from the Zambia Peace Corps supervisor, who spent her own Peace Corps years in a rural village where within a period of six months, the village went extinct because every single member died of AIDS.
I wish that I had some grand statement to make about international development for this blog post, but in truth this entire summer has been insanely overwhelming. Not in a bad way, but in a way that I haven’t yet been able to completely process and in a way that motivates me to want to dig deeper into ID issues and learn as much as I possibly can. I have seen (and maybe become habituated to) a large amount of suffering, but I have also seen a large amount of resilience and determination. And for me, I think rule number four means that we should not let the suffering grind us down, but really use it, and the hope that comes from it, to motivate us to do whatever we can to work through it.
In truth, I don’t know if anything I knew before had really prepared me for this experience. Not my global health classes, the SID general body meetings I’ve attended and organized, even the Harvard International Development Conference that the board and I went to last April. That is, all these experiences gave me a foundational knowledge, but it is crazy to me how new and unexpected everything feels, how much I feel as though I am just starting in square one, learning as much as I can from my experiences on the ground and the people around me.
When I get back to America in three weeks, I hope I will be able to finally process some of the things I have seen and experienced. But for now, I am excited to see how my new perspective situates itself into my everyday life, how it affects my role as a member and the Training Director of SID, and how it reshapes my motivations and goals.
When I decided I was going to write a blog post about my experiences so far this summer I spent probably (definitely) too long trying to come up with some sort of catchy opening sentence that would simultaneously 1) show that I’m funny 2) demonstrate ~all~ the knowledge I’ve learned (aka how smart I am) and 3) give other people “fomo.” Then, when I failed miserably at creating this all-powerful sentence, I decided to take a step back and actually think about how my experience interning for the US Embassy in El Salvador actually pertains to International Development. Not surprisingly (especially considering my original attitude) what kept coming to mind were two things: privilege and the White Savior Complex.
Discounting the fact that my house here does not have wifi, it can be so easy to forget that I’m living in El Salvador. I have access to the same stores I do at home, a great gym and swimming pool, and I can head to the beach for a weekend trip with minimal planning. While these perks have me counting my blessings, they also have me wondering about the extent to which I should be working to get to know the “real” El Salvador. Can I really claim to have lived in a country, to “know” a country, if I am constantly surrounded by people, places, and things that remind me of the United States? At the same time, though, I am only here for two months, and it would be ignorant and conceited if I thought any efforts made by me in this time could come close to impacting deep-rooted developmental problems, such as increasing economic disparities, gang violence, or lack of infrastructure.
Furthermore, because I am working for the US Embassy, and not an NGO or non-profit, I think it can be easier to ignore the variety of developmental issues and moral conundrums that present themselves in countries considered “underdeveloped.” My work is so interesting, new, and focused specifically on the US-Salvadoran relationship, that it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks at hand and the United States’ foreign policy, security, and economic goals, and consequently ignore overall development trends and the United States’ impact on sustainable development in El Salvador.
I don’t really have an answer about how to balance my desire to promote all-around development with the knowledge of my limited role, abilities, and time here. I think in some situations the most we can do in the moment is start a conversation, educate ourselves, and strive to never stop learning. I’m inspired by my fellow interns who sit in the kitchen of our house with me and talk for hours about US foreign policy and the strides our generation has made towards tolerance and cultural awareness (big factors in sustainable development!), as well as by my Salvadoran co-workers at the Embassy who have taught me everything I know about both the Consular Section and the country in general. I am learning to recognize the United States’ progress – not only have the last two ambassadors to El Salvador both been female, they have also actually known Spanish, a first for the embassy – while also understanding that the United States cannot (and should not) consider itself solely responsible for El Salvador’s “development.”
I really could go on and on in a similar vein (slightly vague and inconclusive, but somehow development oriented), so instead I’ll end witha plug for my internship – I’ve learned a ton, am (usually) mentally stimulated, and the people are awesome – and a request that we all take a minute to educate ourselves on the social, economic, and political strengths and weaknesses of wherever we happen to be right now.
Currently, Bolivia has the lowest ranking health system of any Hispanic country in the Western Hemisphere. At 69 deaths for every 1000 births, it holds the highest infant mortality rate of any nation in South America. For decades, Bolivia’s quality of life has been brought to its knees by the alarmingly low level of sanitation. Recent governmental response has initiated developments that have vastly improved the health of many urbanites. Extensive research demonstrates that, while the small class of wealthy urban citizens receive some degree of regular medical care, the overwhelmingly vast population of rural poor has largely been neglected.
The indigenous population, composed of native Bolivians of 36 recognized groups, reside primarily in the rural highlands of Southern Bolivia. They make up about 85% of the Bolivian population, yet are at a higher risk of mortality in every scenario. Less than a quarter of the indigenous population has access to clean water due to the geography of the Bolivian highlands, where malaria and Chagas’ disease runs rampant. In addition to the especially low quality of sanitation in rural regions, no formal medical clinics have been established. Patients are, therefore, required to travel fatal distances to urban areas for medical treatment. Physically, the indigenous people of Bolivia are at a disadvantage in their heightened exposure to lethal bacteria and communicable diseases. Due to their widespread location, routine illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia prove deadly. Geographic isolation also means that rural women have essentially no access to contraceptives or obstetric care, which is reflected in the incidence of early and multiple pregnancies among indigenous people. Additionally, the maternal death ratio is quadrupled in rural areas.
Although the Bolivian government has responded through multiple programs to revitalize its suffering health care system, such efforts have done little to alleviate the struggle of Bolivia’s rural majority. The Strategic Health Plan, instituted in 1997, aimed to lower infant and maternal mortality rate and reduce the financial barrier to medical treatment. In the past decade, immunization coverage and birth survival rates have improved gradually, but have been primarily limited to the urban elite who can afford coverage. The few rural initiatives that have been established have been hindered by low funds, medicine shortages, and a lack of staff willing to work in the highlands.
In the midst of decentralizing health care, one of the most vulnerable groups of Bolivians has been left stranded by their nation’s social security. Unfortunately, this crisis is a reflection of a financially struggling government, which can do little in the face of such a challenge. The solution lies in potential efforts of NGOs to institute a more cohesive system to deliver efficient health care to the Bolivian highlands. Rather than focusing on availability for sporadic emergency, a system must be developed to address regular physical examination to sustain the health of indigenous citizens. The establishment of equipped emergency medical centers in remote areas of the country is no doubt ambitious, which highlights the need for regular health check-ups and more uniform knowledge of basic medicine. Prior initiatives have demonstrated the effectiveness of instructing indigenous people on sanitation defenses and alternative pharmaceutical solutions. Bolivia’s recent initiatives have been successful in urban centers as their programs rely on the large population size and geographic convenience. Thus, the solution for aiding the indigenous population must be shifted toward an expansive effort of delivering regular medical supplies to villages and offering instruction on daily health and well-being so as to minimize the need for emergency room visits.
By Christopher Medrano
Many African countries are now “emigrant states” that have citizens or nationals—most of whom keep ties with the homeland—spread across the world and within the continent. African governments have come to realize the significance of this growing population of transnationals and have moved to structure the diaspora’s long-distant social, political and economic obligations to the homeland. This has been done through the creation of ministries that represent diasporic interests, extended electoral rights to the diaspora, and the aggregation of remittances for public projects.
The diaspora itself has taken advantage of its relationship with the homeland to assert its power and influence through what can be labeled as “Diasporic Lobbying.” Diasporic lobbying can take two forms:
1) Diasporic lobbying in the host country to influence the host country’s foreign policy towards the homeland.The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, founded in 1980, is an example of a diaspora lobby, which advocates for an American foreign policy in the Middle East that promotes justice and peace in the region.
2) Diasporic lobbying that seeks to directly influence the public officials in the homeland.This form of lobbying, though understudied, has become a significant phenomenon. Diasporic lobbying of this form is usually done when the homeland is in crisis. The 2012 Presidential Election season in Senegal, was the most controversial and violent in the nation’s democratic history. The current president at the time, 85-year-old Abdoulaye Wade, had proposed constitutional changes that would have ensured his victory. Senegalese people took to the streets to protest and Senegalese diasporic communities around the world lobbied the government to take actions that would avoid democratic fallback.
Unfortunately, scholarly literature that links the diaspora with democratization processes or development is limited. However, there are many policy papers that provide normative connections between the diaspora and development. The common argument across many policy papers—which are often written by large international organizations like the World Bank and the International Organization of Migration—is that the diaspora has the capacity to “develop” their homeland. And democratization is assumed to be an outcome of that development. The “migration-development nexus” is worth mention here. In 2002, the phrase “migration-development nexus” was launched in a special issue of International Migration edited by Sørensen et al. The phrase was little used before this publication. The concept argues that migration and development are linked in many ways –through remittances, investments and advocacy by migrants, refugees, diasporas and their transnational communities. A decade after Sørensen et al., Vammen and Brønden encouraged other authors to revisit the theme in another special issue of the same journal. Since then, academics have churned out books, articles and innumerable papers on the links between migration and development. New institutions sprung up such as the EC-UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative and the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which sponsored research on the topic.
Adamson argues that contemporary diasporas in general are “defined by a national or cultural identity, yet differ from nation-states in terms of their organizational and spatial logics.” By comparing diaspora mobilization in two cases, Adamson also finds that both NGOs and state elites are using “diasporic practices of identity formation as a means of generating economic and political support in an increasingly integrated global economy.” Many scholars instead have seen members of diasporic communities as “transnational communities” and diasporic communities as “transnational organizations.” Thus, the African diasporas are increasingly becoming a significant actor in international relations and international development even though they are not nation states.
Social research on this topic is significant because it explores the dimensions of diaspora-homeland transnationalism, namely the diaspora’s influence in the political development of the homeland, a topic that has solely gained relevance in international development policy research. Policymakers—regardless of where they are in the world—must now consider diasporas when making economic and political policies, particularly policies related to the sustainable development of the nation. However, inadequate data and understanding of the diasporas, especially those from the African continent, hinder efforts to increase the contributions diasporas can make to their homelands. My research and others like it would help those in the global community that are interested in harnessing diaspora political and social capital. My research paper on the topic will be published in May of 2016.
 N. Sørensen, and Nicholas Van Hear. The Migration-development Nexus: Evidence and Policy Options : State of the Art Overview. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Migration, 2002. Print.
 I. Vammen, and Birgitte Mossin Brønden. “Donor-Country Responses to the Migration-Development Buzz: From Ambiguous Concepts to Ambitious Policies?” International Migration: 26-42. Print.
 I. Vammen, and Birgitte Mossin Brønden. “Donor-Country Responses to the Migration-Development Buzz: From Ambiguous Concepts to Ambitious Policies?”International Migration: 26-42. Print.
 F. B. Adamson, and M. Demetriou. “Remapping the Boundaries of `State’ and `National Identity’: Incorporating Diasporas into IR Theorizing.” European Journal of International Relations (2007): 489-526. Print.
 R. Bauböck, and Thomas Faist. Diaspora and Transnationalism Concepts, Theories and Methods. Amsterdam UP, 2010. Print.
By Arame Niang