What do Scotland’s #indyref and #globaldev have in common?

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In a room full of development A-listers that included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Nelson’s Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar and Grameen Bank founder Professor Muhammad Yunus, it was Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who displayed the greatest passion – and drew the loudest cheers.

He’s been doing quite a lot of that recently, as anyone who observed the latter, fraught, stages of the Scottish independence referendum campaign will know.

In the UK at least it’s brought Gordon Brown something of a renaissance. It is not quite a rehabilitation – British voters have not forgotten his humiliating election defeat in 2010, after 13 years of Labour government; and few will allow him to forget the most bruising moment of that election, when he was overheard calling a voter a bigot after she disagreed with him on the campaign trail.

But, after four years in the shadows, Gordon Brown burst back into the UK political spotlight during the Scottish referendum. After a single opinion poll showed the Yes campaign ahead for the first time, panic beset the three main political parties (all of whom wanted to keep Scotland in the Union). Especially worrying for the Labour Party was the fact that its voters were the ones flocking to the Yes campaign in droves. Enter Gordon Brown – a well-known Labour bastion, respected Scot and political heavyweight.

He dominated the last days of the campaign, thundering through speeches, exhorting Scots to vote no. In the end, did he make the difference? We may never know. But, whatever you think of his political views, his achievements or his failures, on a human level this was a man rediscovered, passionate and assured.

Of course to those of us interested in international development, Gordon Brown has never lost his way. As Prime Minister, he was a champion for developing nations and since leaving office he has continued to bring great zeal to the development work he champions – especially on the issue of childhood and girls’ education, giving a nurturing and protective hand to the nascent icon Malala Yusufzai.

Now he’s enjoying a UK political revival, will he turn his back on development issues? I think not.

In a post-referendum, heal-the-divide speech, he deftly married two seemingly disparate causes. ‘What we really want,’ he bellowed, ‘is independence from poverty for millions of people and the inequalities they face!’

I watched that speech in the departure lounge at Heathrow and a few days later I saw Gordon Brown in person at the UN in New York.

In the Delegates’ Dining Room overlooking the East River I was hosting the MDG Advocates Breakfast where a new report was launched on challenges and opportunities of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. One by one I invited the Great and the Good of global development to take the stage and speak. Most read from notes and, as moderator, most made me nervous about time overruns. Gordon Brown didn’t seem pleased when my introduction to him mentioned the Scottish referendum, but he jumped up on stage and thundered once again, this time about education as a right.

While others praised progress made towards the MDGs, Gordon hammered home that ‘we cannot achieve universal education as long as 22m children in conflict-ridden countries are denied the chance to go to school!’ Cue applause.

His impassioned comments – delivered with brevity and without any notes – drew delegates to their feet. In an environment often stifled by protocol, this was genuine fire. Here – as in Scotland – was a man speaking from the heart. For Gordon Brown, campaigning against independence for Scotland or in favour of the global poor are not mutually exclusive. It’s about passion and it’s about bringing the fight.

And as a professional communicator, that is the best way to send a convincing message.

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Solutions Journalism – marrying news and activism

It’s been a depressing summer of news – even for those of us who work in the industry. Gaza, ISIS, Ukraine, ebola – any more awful things to add to the list?

Such a relentless catalogue of woes is taking its toll, according to Bryn Mooser, the co-founder of the news website Ryot.org. Young people are turned off by the news, he told me, because they feel they can’t do anything about it.

Bryn’s comments came during a stimulating panel discussion I hosted for Plus Social Good during the Social Good Summit in New York this week. The other panelists were Stephen Keppel, Univision’s Head of Empowerment Initiatives, Claire Wardle who is senior social media strategist for UNHCR, and Niall Dunne, British Telecom’s Chief Sustainability Officer. The one thing we all have in common is that we are in the business of information.

The topic was nothing less ambitious than the future of media, paying particular attention to the challenges and opportunities presented by the rise of digital communications.

I started by talking about how people are now media consumers of news as well as producers of it, thanks to smartphones and social networks. Media organizations like the BBC understand now that, in an increasingly crowded marketplace of ideas, we must offer our content wherever our audiences are – on TV, radio, online, social and mobile. The democratizing power of sharing culture also requires us to have a more two-way conversation with audiences, but for BBC news, at least, we draw the line at providing impartial, balanced coverage and leaving people to decide what action, if any, they want to take.

That’s an old model in the eyes of others. Stephen Keppel talked about Univision’s many social action campaigns, grounded in news coverage but offering advice and actions that audiences can take to solve some of the problems or issues highlighted. This is solutions journalism.

Niall Dunne shared the example of BT Sport, a channel which aims to encourage audiences to get involved in sport more. It is free, but only to BT customers. Still, it represents an expansion into content production, rather than BT’s traditional role as a service provider.

Claire Wardle explained that UNHCR’s role has also changed – as news organizations cut back and pull out of dangerous areas such as Syria, humanitarian groups find themselves the frontline witnesses to horrific events – and they are using smartphones and cameras to provide pictures to the outside world, which are then picked up by traditional media. This is providing a solution to the growing problem of conducting journalism in risky areas.

But the phrase solutions journalism refers more to the marriage of journalism with activism – and that was the most fascinating area of our discussion. The idea is anathema to many old school journalists. The point of the news, they say, is to help people make sense of the world, not to advocate for particular solutions. Our job as journalists has been to show the world as it is, not as we think it should be. But the democratization of news brought about by digital technology may be changing that.

Ryot.org’s click rate certainly suggests audiences subscribe to that idea – and crucially, the site attracts a high proportion of millennials – the future consumers. The disruptive technology of digital communications is having a profound effect not just on how we produce the news but on what constitutes news at all.

Does the Ice Bucket Challenge Really Make a Difference?

It’s been great fun to see the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg pouring buckets of ice water over themselves in the last few days. I must admit to being as interested in their surroundings – was that Mark Zuckerberg’s back yard? (If so, he really needs to have the weeds in between his paving stones dealt with).

Was that Bill Gates’ private boat jetty? (Nice).

So there is the fun side and the snooping side of the challenge, both of which have no doubt added to its extraordinary viral success.

And its viral success is what has brought it to the attention of traditional media, which increases its reach.

This often happens.

Legacy media is obsessed with harnessing social conversations because it feels that is where the zeitgeist lies. Watercooler moments are now virtual, Tap into a real-time social conversation and audiences will come to you and your content.

But what is interesting about how traditional media has covered the ice bucket challenge is that the virality of the challenge has become the story – rather than the serious message at its heart.

Admittedly my N is only 1 here, but my colleagues at BBC News covered the story in the same way as I referred to it above: it’s an entertaining phenomenon in which famous people are seen in ways we don’t usually expect – and it’s also something that non-famous people are also involved in. Once again social media shows us that the rich and powerful are like the rest of us after all – they also shriek when drenched in freezing cold water (Oprah’s was the best, although Mark Zuckerberg’s somewhat Alpha-male, stoical response was a bit suspicious – was that water REALLY that cold, Mark??!).

Watch the BBC report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-28807544

However, little of the coverage of the ice bucket challenge has focused on what it is actually for: encouraging donations to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as motor neuron disease or MND in the UK). Bill Gates mentions it in his video seconds before his self-drenching, Oprah refers to it by the name of its most common form ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and MND is mentioned in the BBC report.

 

But one Facebook buddy makes a serious point: ‘I always thought finding cures for devastating neurological degenerative diseases required years of medical research costing tens of millions of pounds….but apparently all you have to do is pour a bucket of cold water on your head. Free publicity that makes you look like a caring philanthropist is obviously purely coincidental’.

 

There is insight in this – and a warning for the creators of the ice bucket challenge.

The donations made by those accepting the challenge – let’s call them the ice-bucketeers – has raised more than $15m (atow). That compares to $1.8m in the same period last year (the figures come from the ALS Association, via NBC news). That will certainly buy more publicity but will it fund enough research to find cure?

Furthermore, by accepting the challenge, is that as far as people need go? By drenching ourselves, are we absolving ourselves of any further responsibility or expectation of involvement in the cause?

Journalism suffers from the same dilemma. Thanks to social media, people share examples of amazing reporting – as they should – and more people become aware of problems/injustices/atrocities (even, sometimes, solutions – thankfully). But clicking ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ does not mean you are involved in the issue and it certainly does not imply you will do anything else about it, such as contact your local MP/Member of Congress, or take to the streets.

Similarly, a few moments of dread anticipation followed by a swift, cold drenching yields a funny reaction video and prompts some great comments online, but what else?

This campaign is about moving people along the Commitment Curve, a fundamental tool in any engagement strategy. Here’s a link from the always-excellent Global Extrovert that illustrates it:

http://globalextrovert.com/curvaceous/

The ice bucket challenge sits at several different places along the curve.

If your response to others’ doing it is just to ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ the video, then that is still a start. If you took the challenge you are at the stage of getting personally involved.

However this is where it could falter unless the purpose of the campaign – the substantive content – is not communicated effectively. Those engaging with the campaign – in whatever way – must understand more about what it is actually for, otherwise once it loses momentum, as it inevitably will, the world will be only a tiny bit closer (approx. $15m closer) to finding a cure. Effective communication tools must reflect solid content in order to generate continuous engagement.

I really hope the ALS Association spend some of the money raised on a concerted educational push. The next step must be to galvanize the extra support achieved via the entertaining ice-bucket meme into vocal communities of support that apply pressure in the right places to enable effective research and to, eventually, find a cure.

That really would send shivers down the spine.

Tackling Inequality is a Requirement for Development, not a Result.

‘Zero draft’ is not a phrase that inspires confidence. It suggests that what is included is very far from a final version. How would editors react if authors submitted zero drafts of novels? What trepidation would parents feel if their darling little ones began with only zero drafts of letters to Santa?

Development campaigners fear the same of the Zero Draft of the Sustainable Development Goals, released recently by the UN. On the face of it, this list of 17 targets seems gratifyingly comprehensive and water-tight.

This is especially important as the Millennium Development Goals, which the SDGs will replace after 2015, have been criticized for being full of holes, such as ignoring climate change. 

Best of all, for many development campaigners, is Goal Number 10: ‘reduce inequality within and among countries’.

So what’s the problem?

Campaigners tell me that during the latest round of UN Open Working Group sessions on the SDGs, several nations argued that later drafts should not include a separate target to reduce inequality. Rather it should be an overarching goal that is arrived through success on other targets, e.g. increasing access to education.

Better, the thinking goes, to have inequality reduction as a general aim, than a quantifiable target that is politically-charged, hard to calculate and easy to miss.

Focus on economic growth that lifts all boats, the politicians say, and inequality will necessarily decline.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) begs to differ in its new report ‘Economic Inequality as a Sustainable Development Goal: Measuring up the Options for Beyond 2015’, the launch of which I chaired in London this week.

Firstly, simply, it suggests reducing inequality reflects core principles of the Millennium Declaration that led to the original eight Millennium Development Goals. In addition, as the MDGs reach expiry next year, governments have already agreed that future development targets must address three cornerstones: poverty reduction; sustainable production and consumption; and inclusive and equitable economic growth. Surely, therefore, reducing inequality should be an obvious, tangible goal?

NEF refutes the argument that success on other goals will help reduce inequality. It gives the UK as an example, where access to health care and education are universal, yet inequality rages. Equality of opportunity, NEF argues, just means people can access the same rights and services – it doesn’t loosen the structural strait-jackets that underpin economic inequality (I see definite shades of Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ here).

When it comes to economic growth, China’s success has led to less inequality there (although huge disparities exist between the rich cities of Eastern China and the poor West), but India’s once-booming economy has failed to lift many of its millions out of poverty.

Reducing inequality, NEF says, should be seen as an ingredient for development, not an outcome. This brings to mind the brilliant Politico article by billionaire Nick Hanauer last week who argued for higher wages for ordinary workers, saying that trickle-down economics doesn’t work and that a strong, stable middle class boosts the economy and shrinks government, by reducing the benefits bill.

He and NEF make the point that societies with less inequality grow faster, in a more stable way and are better insulated from economic downturns.

This is a key reason, NEF argues, that there should be a specific SDG target to reduce inequality. It also recommends that each country should consult its own population to set its own targets. This not only makes the goal more localised, but it also gives each country a real stake in the outcome. Problems it acknowledges include massive holes in data collection in many countries, which makes quantifying the problem of inequality – let alone a solution – much harder. 

Credit Suisse and Oxfam’s report earlier this year that just 85 people own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population reminds us how shocking the problem of inequality has become. Nations say they are serious about tackling it. How they choose to do so may be a sign of their real intent.

 

Why Doesn’t India See Corruption as a Human Rights Issue?

More than half a billion people voted in India’s giant general election. Many were, no doubt, motivated by the rise of the anti-corruption movement in recent years and the emergence of the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi party as a political force.

Corruption is regarded as an obstacle to growth and therefore to development.

Statistics bear this out. Compared to other major democratic economies, India has the lowest development indicators (based on the Human Development Index) and the worst corruption profile (according to Transparency International). In addition, recent World Bank calculations may have ranked India as the third-largest (PPP-adjusted) economy in the world but hundreds of million of Indians still live in poverty, more than any other nation on earth.

India’s increasingly wealthy and aspirant middle classes have reacted vociferously and electorally, but the disenfranchised poor continue to be trapped in grinding poverty because they are obliged to pay out bribes for services to which they are entitled.

Entitled is the key word here.

Backhanders divert scarce income away from things like food, water, education, health, shelter – things that Indians have a right to expect and to enjoy. These are not just worthy ideals, but hard facts.

India is not only a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption (ratified in May 2011), but it also signed up to one of the key human rights treaties, the 1966 International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, a legally-binding treaty that guarantees a wide range of rights, including labour rights, the right to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living.

Simply put, India has a legal obligation, under international treaty law, to protect, provide and promote economic, social and cultural rights for all its people. By failing to act firmly to stamp out corruption in public office, India is failing in its obligations.

Corruption denies human rights to Indians. So why isn’t corruption presented as a human rights violation?

If anti-corruption campaigners adopted a human rights narrative, in addition to the current frame of corruption as a hindrance to growth, it might help to galvanise even more support. After all, this general election’s record turnout of 66% shows that Indians at least take their right to vote seriously, so perhaps we can assume they believe in this whole raft of other rights and fundamental freedoms too.

It’s fair to say the world’s largest democracy does enjoy an extensive catalogue of human and civil rights legislation, both domestic and international. However, India has also passed several laws that raise serious questions about its credibility in this area.

Two in particular, the 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the 1978 Public Safety Act (PSA) have led to egregious violations of human rights – including thousands of deaths – in the name of national security. These have mainly been in the disputed Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir where India says it is fighting a Muslim insurgency, against Maoist groups in central India and in the volatile northeast. Security forces have sweeping powers to crack down on opponents and detain individuals under these laws – and substantial impunity too.

While international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International decry these violations, within India opposition seems more muted. The national security argument is strong and India’s vibrant civil society seems unwilling – or unable – to acknowledge that its military carries out human rights abuses against its own people. India’s social contract, agreed by both its government and population, seems to be that human rights are important but the priorities are national security and economic growth.

Perhaps it is this lack of a human rights vocabulary that also prevents Indians from seeing corruption as the violation of rights that it is. It might be a powerful narrative but one that India is not well-placed to articulate. Furthermore if corruption were to be presented in a human rights framework it might force Indians to look more closely – and more uncomfortably – at other actions carried out in their name.

Sharing Stories to Tackle Corruption in India

Today a senior citizen in Andhra Pradesh state in India admitted to paying bribes to local officials so they would not pursue court cases against him regarding an unrenewed land lease. Nothing newsworthy about that, true. But this gentleman ‘fessed up to graft on the website http://www.ipaidabribe.com and he is one of more than twenty five thousand Indians who have owned up online and gone public about corruption. Between them they have admitted to under-the-counter payments totaling more than Rs 71 Crore (1 crore = Rs10m) or almost US$12m, which in India is still a lot of money. The website has had more than 4.5m visits.

Corruption is a major theme of the country’s mammoth general election, taking place right now. While Congress and the BJP will slug it out to be the biggest party, the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man Party) is the protest vote of choice and its main campaigning issue is corruption.
Young ex-pat Indians I recently spoke with despair that their country’s standing in the world – both morally and economically – is damaged by corrupt practices that seem to pervade every aspect of public life.

India has, of course, enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years and this has itself fuelled both their frustration and the anti-corruption campaign. With rising incomes, millions more Indians have ascended to the ranks of the middle class – with that status comes higher expectations of governance. But it’s advances in technology that have really allowed India’s modern idealism to flourish because the Indians who have benefited most from rising incomes are largely younger, well-educated, English-speaking and tech-savvy. They can easily access the internet to see that people in many other countries do not suffer the same realities of ingrained corruption that Indians must endure.
The tech-driven India Against Corruption campaign of recent years has succeeded in strong-arming the government into promising to act and one of the key figures in the anti-corruption movement was Arvind Kejriwal, who now leads the AAP. This is already a success.

But while technology has been a catalyst for India’s anti-corruption campaign, it is also a limit.

And that’s because of the digital divide. Figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show that in 2011, the country had 75 telephone subscriptions (both mobile and landline) for every 100 people, which was then in line with China but lagged well behind other major democratic economies. And that 75% national figure masked huge disparities: urban subscription rates were around 165% but in rural areas the figure was only around 35%.
Internet access shows an even starker divide. In December 2010, around 48% of India’s telephony subscribers were using their phones to access the internet but only 1.6% of the population had internet subscriptions. The vast majority of Indians, then, are not online.
So, the apparent popularity of ipaidabribe.com is less impressive when you think of the enormous size of India’s population and its equally enormous problem of graft. And the political success of India’s anti-corruption movement may be limited when so much bribery goes unreported and so many Indians may not even realize they have a right not to pay bribes and a mechanism by which to expose corruption.
But maybe, slowly, change can come.
The urban, tech-wielding elites are very vocal and well-connected to networks outside of India. They are making corruption more of a story internationally and at home – India’s gratifyingly free and vocal press has jumped on to this issue as a ratings winner.
In turn, satellite TV – which is much more pervasive than the internet – allows poorer, unconnected Indians to realize that they do not have to put up with the palm-greasing status quo, which helps the anti-corruption movement to grow further. And as mobile internet rates rise – and incomes rise – more Indians will join the ranks of the middle class, their expectations will rise accordingly and they will be able to connect with like-minded others.

Let us hope this bottom-up pressure can persist and reach a critical mass. Even though the AAP seems to lack the policies and experience to govern, with sufficient votes, it could be an effective voice for real and lasting change – people-powered change – in the world’s largest democracy.

Sharing Stories to tackle Corruption in India

Today a senior citizen in Andhra Pradesh state in India admitted to paying bribes to local officials so they would not pursue court cases against him regarding an unrenewed land lease. Nothing newsworthy about that, true. But this gentleman ‘fessed up to graft on the website http://www.ipaidabribe.com and he is one of more than twenty five thousand Indians who have owned up online and gone public about corruption. Between them they have admitted to under-the-counter payments totaling more than Rs 71 Crore (1 crore = Rs10m) or almost US$12m, which in India is still a lot of money. The website has had more than 4.5m visits.

Corruption is a major theme of the country’s mammoth general election, taking place right now. While Congress and the BJP will slug it out to be the biggest party, the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man Party) is the protest vote of choice and its main campaigning issue is corruption.
Young ex-pat Indians I recently spoke with despair that their country’s standing in the world – both morally and economically – is damaged by corrupt practices that seem to pervade every aspect of public life.

India has, of course, enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years and this has itself fuelled both their frustration and the anti-corruption campaign. With rising incomes, millions more Indians have ascended to the ranks of the middle class – with that status comes higher expectations of governance. But it’s advances in technology that have really allowed India’s modern idealism to flourish because the Indians who have benefited most from rising incomes are largely younger, well-educated, English-speaking and tech-savvy. They can easily access the internet to see that people in many other countries do not suffer the same realities of ingrained corruption that Indians must endure.
The tech-driven India Against Corruption campaign of recent years has succeeded in strong-arming the government into promising to act and one of the key figures in the anti-corruption movement was Arvind Kejriwal, who now leads the AAP. This is already a success.

But while technology has been a catalyst for India’s anti-corruption campaign, it is also a limit.

And that’s because of the digital divide. Figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show that in 2011, the country had 75 telephone subscriptions (both mobile and landline) for every 100 people, which was then in line with China but lagged well behind other major democratic economies. And that 75% national figure masked huge disparities: urban subscription rates were around 165% but in rural areas the figure was only around 35%.
Internet access shows an even starker divide. In December 2010, around 48% of India’s telephony subscribers were using their phones to access the internet but only 1.6% of the population had internet subscriptions. The vast majority of Indians, then, are not online.
So, the apparent popularity of ipaidabribe.com is less impressive when you think of the enormous size of India’s population and its equally enormous problem of graft. And the political success of India’s anti-corruption movement may be limited when so much bribery goes unreported and so many Indians may not even realize they have a right not to pay bribes and a mechanism by which to expose corruption.
But maybe, slowly, change can come.
The urban, tech-wielding elites are very vocal and well-connected to networks outside of India. They are making corruption more of a story internationally and at home – India’s gratifyingly free and vocal press has jumped on to this issue as a ratings winner.
In turn, satellite TV – which is much more pervasive than the internet – allows poorer, unconnected Indians to realize that they do not have to put up with the palm-greasing status quo, which helps the anti-corruption movement to grow further. And as mobile internet rates rise – and incomes rise – more Indians will join the ranks of the middle class, their expectations will rise accordingly and they will be able to connect with like-minded others.

Let us hope this bottom-up pressure can persist and reach a critical mass. Even though the AAP seems to lack the policies and experience to govern, with sufficient votes, it could be an effective voice for real and lasting change – people-powered change – in the world’s largest democracy.