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How online conferences can contribute to social justice: lessons from organizing the EADI ISS Conference 2021

This post was first published as part of the EADI/ISS Blog Series.

“Let us be honest to you from the beginning: we have never organized an online conference before. We feel like we are inventing the wheel in many ways, because many things are absolutely new to us. We’ve never had to do this. But now that we have organized the EADI-ISS Conference 2021 #Solidarity2021, which is to start in just a few days, we know one thing for sure: we will never organize a conference again without providing substantial online participation facilities.”

In March 2020, nobody had any experience in online conferencing

Of course, we did not realize this over a year ago when the pandemic emerged and the conference was postponed by one year. In March 2020, nobody had any experience in online conferencing. We believed that the pandemic would be over in a few months and that the conference could still be held in The Hague.

“How naïve we were! By October 2020, it was clear to everyone involved that the pandemic would last much longer than a few months, and for many people worldwide probably more than over a year. So we decided to cancel our preparations for a face-to-face conference which would have taken place in five different venues, all closely together and located in The Hague’s city centre, with the ISS hosting the conference. This also meant no visits to peace and justice organizations in The Hague, no massive information market with our international Master’s students, and no gala ‘beach party’ to show off The Hague’s in all its splendour. Everything was going to happen online. And we had to make peace with it and work with it.”

Read about the key takeaways and lessons learned in the full article.

This post is written by Kees Biekart, Basile Boulay, Susanne von Itter and Sushrutha Vemuri for the EADI/ISS Blog Series.

Africa does not have a homogenous, progressive and fast growing middle class

This article was first published on D+C.

For more than a decade, there has been much talk of middle classes in the global south – including in development studies regarding Africa. But who exactly is middle class? Henning Melber explores the concept in this blog post on D+C.

“The middle classes of the Global South became a focus of attention mainly because of the changes economic growth brought about in the social structure of developing countries. In East and Southeast Asia (especially in China), progressing industrialisation rapidly lifted ever more people out of poverty. However, a precarious minimum income was all it took to be considered middle class. The fact that groups in the lower rungs of this broadly defined middle class live in anything but stable circumstances is often ignored. Raphael Kaplinsky of the British Open University dryly remarked in 2014 that the middle class now seemed to include anyone not suffering hunger.”

“However, the soaring expectations turned out to be wishful thinking. The reality is a far cry from the myth of a large, cohesive and progressive middle class.”

What are the key characteristics of a middle class? The term is not clearly defined. Playing statistical games with income data is all too simplistic.

“Regardless of many valid objections, it makes sense to pay attention to Africa’s middle classes. Their actual size and substance need to be examined more closely from both an economic and political angle. For doing to, inspiration could be usefully drawn from Marxian class theory. Its focus is on who owns the means of production – and that determines who depends on whom economically. Tackling this matter would help demythologise the concept of middle class.”

This article is written by Henning Melber for D+C.

Empowering African Universities to have an impact

This article was first published as part of the EADI/ISS Blog Series in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”.

“Discussions on the impact of higher education and research have increased, together with the rise of strategic thinking in the management of universities during the last decade. Governments, taxpayers and private funders want to know which benefits they get from universities. Academic Institutions, in turn, want to prove how their work is beneficial to society in multiple ways. This tells us much about the global management culture in public services – and about a new pressure against the academic authority and standing of universities.”

“The rhetoric of the importance of industry and ‘value for money’ invested in universities and the simultaneous cuts in their public funding resonates both with the technocratic and populistic views of higher education, if not reactionary voices against educated elites all over the world.”

Calls for decolonisation in the aftermath of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ and ‘Fees Must Fall” student uprising at the University of Cape Town have drawn attention to the fact that a decades-long evolution of higher education in independent South has not abolished global asymmetries in knowledge production.

“What does this rhetoric mean for the production of scientific knowledge in different disciplinary fields and in governance and development studies in particular? For medical sciences or engineering, identifying and measuring their impact and relevance can be quite straightforward. But for sciences focusing on policies and their critiques, such a task is complex, as their impacts are diverse, often indirect, slow and long-term.”

This article is written by Liisa Laakso for the EADI/ISS Blog.

COVID-19 pandemic highlights urgent need to scale up investment in lifelong learning for all, says OECD

This article was first published on OECD.

“Countries must step up their efforts to enable people to continue learning throughout their lives to navigate a rapidly changing world of work shaped by globalisation and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new OECD report.”

OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning for Life says that public policies should play a key role in facilitating effective and inclusive lifelong learning, but much remains to be done. It will be crucial to invest part of the resources devoted to the recovery to lifelong learning programmes, involving all key stakeholders and with a focus on vulnerable groups, particularly young people, the NEET (neither in employment, education or training) and those whose jobs are most at risk of transformation, says the report.”

““It’s essential that lifelong learning becomes a reality for everyone since the crisis has further accelerated the transformation in our economy and skills needs. Today, too many adults do not participate in workplace learning and the pandemic has further reduced their opportunities to do so,” said OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, launching the report in Paris.”

“Even before the pandemic, only two out of ten low-educated adults took part in formal or on-the-job training, compared to six out of ten high-educated adults. The pandemic may also affect the learning attitude of children and youth. The disruptions to regular schooling led many children to progress less than expected in skill development. In the short term, the pandemic could lead to increases in early school leavers. In the medium and long term, lower engagement could result in the current generation of students failing to develop positive learning attitudes, at a time of profound structural changes that will require individuals to upgrade their skills throughout their life, warns the report. Furthermore, the report identifies potential cause of gender inequality in training opportunities. Up to 28% of “inactive but motivated” women mention family obligations as a barrier to participating in training, compared to only 8% of men. The gender gap widens when children appear in the family.”

On coloniality/decoloniality in knowledge production and societies

SweDev Steering Committee member Henning Melber writes about colonial power structures and the fundamental transformation of societies necessary to decolonise knowledge production.

This blog post was first published on EADI Blog.

“Social organisations tend to be based on asymmetric power relations – almost always, almost everywhere. Inequality characterises interaction both inside and in between societies. Class-based hierarchies, peppered by gender imbalances, sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and many other forms of discrimination are the order of the day, both nationally as well as internationally. Colonial power structures and mindsets – understood as a hierarchical system imposing normative values which exclude and discriminate – remain almost always an integral part of any form of social reproduction, even when we believe that colonialism as a system in which foreign powers occupy and execute rule over other territories and people, is a matter of the past.”

Not all that is based on knowledge counts, and not all that counts is based on knowledge.

“Educational systems as the institutionalised form of transmitting  knowledge are substantial elements of social reproduction. They execute colonial functions in the sense of domestication by affirmatively entrenching dominant value systems and norms for internalisation. While being a student at the German private school in Windhoek during Apartheid days in the late 1960s, Namibia was a South African occupied colony. Our rulers which were a gift from a local branch of an international bank carried the slogan “knowledge is power”. I only realised much later its true meaning: that only certain knowledge is power, and that the power of definition is the decisive element. In other words: Not all that is based on knowledge counts, and not all that counts is based on knowledge. In our case, the transmitted knowledge cultivated the firm justification of inequalities as naturally given order. Colonial racist knowledge in perpetuation of white supremacy – barbarism taken for granted as a form of civilisation.”

“Decolonisation remains work in progress and requires more than a focus on curricula. Addressing institutional racism understood as racism in certain institutions is a necessary but not sufficient step. Fundamental transformation of societies must embrace all forms of discrimination and “othering”, but also material aspects of transformation.”

This blog post is written by Henning Melber for EADI Blog.

Hundreds of smallholder farmers queueing for climate-smart agriculture technology

This article was first published by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

“Researchers are testing new climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies in a semi-arid region of Zimbabwe. After a field day the local team was overwhelmed by the response of hundreds of smallholder farmers. Their request was simple: “Register our names for the installation of the Subsurface Water Retention Technology (SWRT) in our fields”. SWRT, one of the CSA technologies being investigated in the project, improves soil water and nutrient management and has shown phenomenal yields during the last two maize growing seasons.”

“Since 2019, the researchers have been conducting on-farm experimentation of different climate-smart agriculture options in Zimbabwe.”

“In 2019, SLU, The Alliance and MSU built on the existing knowledge with an additional technology, SWRT, that allows further harnessing of soil water whether from rainwater, irrigation or harvested water. While very low rains were received during the first maize growing season, in the second season (December 2020 to April 2021) average to above-average rains were received. However, under both conditions, the benefits of investing in SWRT were visible to the farmers who expressed their interest in the technology on the spot.”

“At the end of field day, with the leadership of the Chief of Marange district, a long list of more than 300 smallholder farmers registered to be considered for new installations of the technology on their farms if resources are available. The farmers also indicated that they are ready to co-invest in the installation of SWRT. While the testing of the technologies continues for another cropping season, the team is now exploring opportunities to make the technology accessible for resource-poor farmers that have also expressed a willingness to play their part.”  

This article was originally published as a research project news by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Scientists urge greater role for forests in policies on food security and nutrition – CIFOR Forests News

This post was first published on CIFOR Forest News.

“A new policy brief demonstrates the role forests and trees play in sustaining food production and food security and nutrition (FSN).”

“Featuring four dimensions of FSN, including availability, accessibility, utilization and stability, it aims to inform policy and decision making in forestry, while detailing actions that could help strengthen related aspects of the food system in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Published by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) to coincide with the 16th session of the U.N. Forum on Forests (UNFF16) and dialogues leading up to the U.N. Food Systems Summit during the U.N. General Assembly in September.”

“The brief aims to contribute to discussions and ensure that policies designed to achieve the SDG2, Zero Hunger goal take into consideration the many contributions of forests and trees to food security and nutrition. Maximizing these contributions requires policy coherence and landscape approaches that better integrate tree crops into farming systems, the brief states.”

Global Podd 59. Should we give aid to authoritarian regimes? – Global Bar

This post was first published on Global Bar.

“Should aid be given to authoritarian regimes if they are efficient in reducing poverty? Or do we risk that donor money will keep the dictators in power? The issue of Authoritarian aid is very much in the discussion right now. But what is the right thing to do – Should we stay or should we go when things turn bad?

In articles and in several episodes of Global Podd we have discussed the Swedish aid to authoritarian regimes in Myanmar, Cambodia, Tanzania, Belarus and other countries. As a result of our reporting, Sweden decided last year to close down the support to the regimen in Belarus.

But when can you justify development aid to authoritarian regimes, and when should donors withdraw? How do we decide when to keep relation open as a chance to influence and keep the dialogue ongoing and when should we draw the line and leave? Are we naïve, or just betting against the odds when we invest in countries like Tanzania and Rwanda with the hope to make those regimes change?

These are the topics for the discussion in episode 59 of Global Podd.

Participants:

  • Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham, UK, and the author of Authoritarian Africa: Repression, resistance and the power of ideas
  • Jonas Ewald, Researcher and Program Director for the Master’s Program in Peace and Development Work Peace and Development Studies at Linnaeus University in Sweden
  • Göran Holmqvist, Head of Department of Asia and Middle East and Humanitarian Assistance at the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Moderators: Ylva Bergman and David Isaksson”

Source: Global Podd 59. Should we give aid to authoritarian regimes? – Global Bar

How a ‘public authority’ lens can help us understand NGOs and INGOs – From Poverty to Power

This article was originally published on the Africa at LSE blog as part of a series exploring ‘public authority’ based on research at LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa.

“A ‘public authorities’ lens is useful for understanding how governance works in conflict-affected places. But how can this lens inform the way we think about the NGOs and INGOs that operate in them? Tom Kirk explains why the question is crucial to exploring the kinds of development these organisations are promoting.”

“A ‘public authorities’ lens seeks to understand the full range of actors claiming power and governing people in the world’s most conflict-affected places (CAPs). It does this by exploring these actors’ appeals to popular social norms, the provision of public goods and, sometimes, acts of coercion and violence. It includes actors considered part of the state and those seemingly far removed from or even standing in opposition to it, such as street level bureaucrats, customary leaders, civil society organisations, religious leaders, business associations and armed groups.”

Applying this lens can also be useful to those researching INGOs and NGOs. These aid and development actors regularly claim to be working on ‘governance’, ‘good governance’ or the ‘governance of’ some population, public good or area of social life.

“Furthermore, a wealth of literature – sometimes termed aidnography – has shown how even the most quotidian of programmes justify their actions through appeals to popular or technocratic notions of progress or development. For these reasons, INGOs and NGOs often work through and themselves constitute forms of public authority.”

“Viewing INGOs and NGOs through a public authority lens is not really about assessing or evaluating their performance. Rather, it provides researchers with questions that explore how the kinds of development they are promoting in CAPs accord with their practices, how they are being received on the ground and how they may be affecting local power and politics.”

Based on forthcoming empirical research – Tom Kirk explains some of the questions a researcher using a public authorities lens may ask of these INGOs and NGOs, including service provision, social norms as well as organisational boundaries. Read more about them in the full story linked below.

This article was originally published by Tom Kirk on the Africa at LSE blog.