#bringbackourgirls – Arab Spring or Fleeting Clicktivism?

Akintunde Oyebode and Gerald Caplan face off in this debate.


My assessment: Gerald’s argument is much more compelling.

History matters. Change only happens when you have really well organized, knowledgeable, and fully committed activists and organizers who work for this change over a long time. And then sometimes change doesn’t happen.

Every complete description of the Arab Spring shows this to be the case. The compelling social media campaign, the act that sparked a revolution in a moment; these were all useful and ripened the moment, but change happened because courageous people were organizing for those moments for years. Perhaps that has also happened in Nigeria in this case, but let’s not over-attribute the importance of the #bringbackourgirls clicktivism. The risk is that a whole generation will think that’s all that’s needed.

End of stuff envy?

“Twice as many people (46% vs. 22%) said they personally would rather share things than own them.”

If this shift is underway in the way this article claims, it’s truly disruptive for our economic system. But I remain unconvinced:

  1. How different is the reaction of GenY in their 20s and 30s to the Boomers, peace not war, change the world, etc? Is this just a case of a new generation expressing their idealism and distinguishing themselves from the prior generation?
  2. What’s going on in the larger and faster growing economies that will largely drive economic trends globally in the next 50 years (i.e. India, Indonesia, Kenya, China, etc.)? Is there a similar shift?


How our stereotypes of Africa are reinforced, even in serious literature

In short, the covers of most novels “about Africa” seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.

This article and the image below from it are striking. It also got me thinking about how my own storytelling, presentations and other actions are reinforcing these same stereotypes about Sub-Saharan Africa?

Time to challenge my behaviours.

Be wary of managing by numbers alone

More agency autonomy translates into more empowered in-country personnel. The fewer individuals on the ground that are required to defend their decisions to distant supervisors, the more creative and less conservative they will be — taking smart risks, rather than acting to ensure that they never make a mistake.


I wonder if the conclusions are perhaps making a logical leap and conflating management by numbers and management by activities?

It strikes me that it’s likely not the concept of holding people/projects/investments to goals that is the problem, instead, the research seems to show:

1) The goals must be the right goals, and they often aren’t.

2) The accountability mechanisms should be at the outcome and learning levels, rather than the activity/workplan level.

Thanks to @amirallana for this.

More or Better Aid? Or both?

Thanks to @Amir Allana for starting this discussion:


Hey EWB, just to throw a different viewpoint into the ‘better/more aid’ debate, check out this (in my opinion, excellent) piece from the Springfield Center. As EWB staff, in the field, working on aid reform, this resonates with me more than I can describe. In fact, I think this piece touches on most of what I rant about in the office here in Uganda on bad days!


My response: 1) Every single country context is different. Drawing lessons that advocating for more aid from the UK and applying it broadly, for example to Canada, without asking about the country context (about DFATD and the Canadian government) is a risky way to advocate for good policy.

As a couple of examples:
a) In 2012, UK aid flows were $14b per year and 0.56% of GNI. Canada it’s $5.6b and 0.32% of GNI. Is the distortion argument in the article equally valid with $9b less spending?

b) The UK spends twice as much in relative terms (and 4 times in absolute terms) on Country Programmable Aid as Canada does. This, in theory, is a lot more negotiation between the UK government and recipient governments — and according to the OECD DAC and Paris principles a good thing. How does this affect the core task of facilitating development?

So, who’s going to do the Canadian version of the Springfield Centre analysis?

2) I think this article makes some great points, but the most powerful ones about the quality of aid fail to convince me that AND is not possible. Why is it so much harder to challenge the idea of direct deliverables and value for money when spending $9b as compared to spending $14b? Linking the two is a logical leap that I’m simply not willing to accept.

I think the direct deliverables and value for money pressures, at least in Canada (where these have become more prevalent, even with declining aid spending), are more a function of other forces. Open government, less trust in government, more power for citizen action, less patience with social media, the cult of applying “business thinking” to everything, etc.

I certainly believe in many of the arguments about the quality of aid. But there’s nothing to suggest that these are better achieved with either a stagnant or declining aid budget. And I haven’t heard a good arguments saying that a smart, sophisticated, scaled-up and relentless set of advocates — which we have yet to fully establish on a Canada-wide basis…but we’re working on that! — can’t say both more and better aid.

Social intelligence and intrapraneurship

“Insurgents accomplish their goals by identifying like-minded allies in key functional positions and persuading them that it is in their own interest to take action by demonstrating the value in sustainability,” says Unruh.

The key ingredient is “social intelligence.” Social intelligence involves the embedding of social and environmental responsibility into every level of decision-making. And it can be a valuable corporate asset. For example, “knowledge of the Millennial Generation’s greater expectations about social responsibility can be key in attracting, motivating and retaining the next generation of employees. Understanding activist and shareholder demands for transparency in political contributions can avoid damaging revelations about your company’s lobbying policies.”


What a great articulation of the value of social intrapraneurship.

The proposition that I’m least convinced of in this article is the idea that “once line managers know the personal and business value” then change and implementation will happen quickly. The questions for me are:

  • How much value needs to be demonstrated? 20% more? 10%? Measured in what way?
  • What leading indicators of line manager capacity and interest are there to understand when execution will happen, and when it will get stalled/hung-up?
  • What if the new business practice is an innovation that the line manager either will mess up in the implementation (i.e. not achieve social or business value) or not be able to get started because it requires skills or ways of thinking outside of his/her capabilities?

Also, if you’re interested in this stuff, check out EWB’s intrapraneurship fellowship: http://pivot.ewb.ca

Dealiest animal in the world? The Mosquito!

The Deadliest Animal in the World … the Mosquito!

What makes mosquitoes so dangerous? Despite their innocuous-sounding name—Spanish for “little fly”—they carry devastating diseases. The worst is malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people every year; another 200 million cases incapacitate people for days at a time. It threatens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. Other mosquito-borne diseases include dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.