Monday, December 19, 2011
Jong has been leading the socialist country since 1994, and has had an array of health problems. Officials state that Jong suffered "great mental and physical strain," suffering a heart attack on Saturday that could not be salvaged.
The people of North Korea appeared starry-eyed, as they learned the news about their "dear leader."
"My leader, what will we do? It's too much! It's too much!" one person sobbed on state television. "Leader, please come back. ... You cannot leave us. We will always wait for you, leader."
Set to take over is Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, a four-star general that has received increasing responsbilities from his father.
But, North Korea isn't the only civil society under strain and devastated about the news of their leader's death.
As North Korea silences itself, struck with grief, South Korea is tightening security in preparating for an unpredictable North Korea. Officials are placing the region on emergency alert, prepping them for overtime shifts.
Obama stated that President Lee of South Korea and he have spoke about staying in touch as the situation develops. Lee has advised his people to "go on with their lives." I, for one, really hope that we do not send out troops to the region unless needed. I don't feel it is right to Americanize them. (Similar to this debate is the US's Role in Africa in African Security and the African Command.)
"For the sake of the future of the Republic of Korea, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is more important than anything else. It should not be threatened by what has happened," he said.
Former U.N. Ambassador, Bill Richardson of the United States stated that the humanitarian efforts should remain there for the people of Korea, but to keep a watchful-eye. I feel there must be a fragile balance between politics and humanitarian concerns. We, as the U.S. should aid them in food and security, but we should not control their political endeavors.
"People are starving there," stated Richardson.
Will North Korea embrace South Korea or push them into further war? Will North Korea talk about nuke control with the United States? Deep questions like these hope to be answered over time.
Monday, December 12, 2011
To survive and succeed in this environment, individuals must understand the driving forces of globalization and the trends that are likely to shape our future. Employing an accessible "connect-the-dots" metaphor, Kumarian Press publication, Coming of Age in a Globalized World pulls together the threads that link humanity.
Our Modern Age may seem bleak to some, but it must be better than the past, with technology, democracy and civilization. Sure, we have to deal with change, both good and bad, but change inspires progression. And, we are working on building peace with our international comrades. Don't believe me that we have it better than our relatives in the past? Read on.
During routine maintenance on a reservoir today, engineers uncovered an artifact from one of Britain's most-famous witch trials in Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England. But, unlike a sterling-silver fork, or glimmering sapphire, a once-feline friend was found hidden in the walls of the old-age withc trial cottage.
The cottage is known for housing trials in the 1600s for 10 women and 2 men suspected of using witchcraft to murder.
"It is thought the unfortunate feline may have been buried alive by the cottage's superstitious inhabitants, in an attempt to protect them from evil spirits." (Read more at CNN - Mummified cat walled up in 17th century 'witch's cottage'
How do you feel now? And, we thought we had it rough.
Monday, December 5, 2011
"There has been progress in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in the wake of the hijacked plane attacks on the United States," he said.
President Karzai stated that much help is needed in the fight against Terrorism - and the Taliban - but will need at least a decade's worth of committment and assistance by outside military forces, including the United States.
During a conference to discuss the U.S.' role in Afghanistan (and whether we will pull a troops out by 2014), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that the United States was "prepared to stand with the Afghan people for the long haul."
Iran's Foreign Minister spoke out against having troops in Afghanistan, and stated that the country should discard any outside foreign military bases.
"We believe that any international or regional initiative to restore peace and security in Afghanistan could only be successful if they discard the presence of foreign military forces and especially ... the founding of foreign military bases in Afghanistan."
I found this statement intriguing, as African Security and the African Command's contributors discuss the U.S.' right to "assist" other countries in times of warfare. Are we westernizing the countries? Or, are we just acting as bullies to show our role as a supreme power?
But, although I feel that we should not interfere in other countries' policies, I do feel the timing is appropriate to "assist" when the welfare of the world rests on our helping partners shoulders. If we all work together, then we can build peace, not just for Afghanistan, but for the international community.
Monday, November 28, 2011
When I began research among international aid workers in Cambodia in 2007, I hadn’t quite realized what a diverse and complicated, transient and highly mobile world it was. Among the people I spoke with were high-school leavers who had their first experience of riding on the back of a pick-up truck through the Cambodian countryside wedged in between piles of agricultural produce (strictly forbidden by their organization), who were trying to figure out if they could imagine a life in development. There were those who had only planned to come for a year to support a local NGO, and who had found themselves extending their contracts, extending them again, and then applying for a follow-on job in Lao PDR. Some people that I encountered early on had left by the time I returned half a year later – they were fed up with their organization and infuriated by what they saw as mind-boggling aid bureaucracy and incompetence. Their departure was sometimes commented on: ‘well if you can’t deal with that, you won’t last...’. Others yet had begun working in the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian borders in the late 1970s and were still here, thirty years later.
What they had in common, despite their utter diversity in many ways, were their full-time jobs as aid workers. As my research progressed, it became clear that there were a wealth of issues that they were contending with: work and personal life were closely intertwined; development practice harbored, perhaps unsurprisingly, many frustrations, as well as unexpected social and emotional rewards. Yet, the rich and complex lives of these people who were so central to delivering aid, seemed comparatively invisible in existing literature on development: official reports, the bulk of development studies are focused on ‘the world’s poor’, the recipients of aid, leaving out those without whom things would not happen. In order to help putting aid workers themselves onto the agenda - of researchers, policy makers and practitioners - my co-editor, Heather Hindman and I collected studies on national and international aid workers from across the world, which make up our edited volume, ‘Inside the everyday lives of development workers: the challenges and futures of Aidland’, which came out in paperback earlier this year.
We thought it was time that development workers were given the attention they deserve, rather than being treated as mere ‘implementers’ or ‘brokers’ for overseas aid programs. It is evident that they themselves are keen to tell their stories: the numbers of aid blogs, practitioners’ network forums, and even aid memoirs is forever increasing. But how does this matter for development studies, and for aid practice? As the different case examples in this collection show, neglecting the professional and social beliefs and practices surrounding aid work may be detrimental to the overall project of development. As becomes clear from the chapters, it is useful to know who joins the aid sector, the values and attitudes they hold - and what makes people leave their jobs. Rather than portraying them in a permanent present, our aim is to capture them as people with a past- and a future, for which they are constantly trying to align their personal and professional aspirations. Issues such as maintaining personal relationships, constant mobility, increased outsourcing practices, and safety and security issues are important for many - yet these concerns, and their consequences, have not yet received the wide recognition in the development literature or in policy and practice that they deserve.
The reasons for this relative invisibility are manifold, and likely deep-rooted: if development is thought of as a ‘helping’ profession, then it would appear unseemly to spend too much time navel-gazing and pondering the fate of the helpers, since the needs of aid recipients are clearly paramount and more urgent. And yet, such considerations have not hindered the establishment of a solid body of research for example in nursing and social work on practitioners beliefs and motivations, and their working experiences, knowledge which feeds directly into training initiatives and better recruitment and retention policy and practices. At the same time, one could argue that excluding aid workers from analytical view may hide a multitude of sins, such as the considerable salary differentials in the sector between national and international staff and the detrimental effects this might have for aid delivery, or the daily tensions and frustrations which are inherent in aid work, but which aid workers are usually expected to ‘get on with’, without particular support from their employer. We thus hope that looking at aid workers’ everyday lives can be a first step to raise awareness of these issues, including the flaws and ambitions that characterize them as human beings, the challenges they face, and what this means for everyone else engaged in their shared project of overseas aid.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
We met a variety of individuals at ASA, ranging from your everyday professors to historians, researchers and development workers. We appreciate book ideas, and are working hard to implement these ideas for our readers.
I would also like to thank Lou Picard, author of KP's African Security and the African Command and A Fragile Balance. For two days, he welcomed our guests and signed copies of his two books.
Our trip to ARNOVA was also a hit, where our authors were found meeting and greeting our readers and attendees. Chris Corbett, author of Advancing Nonprofit Stewardship Through Self-Regulation, spoke at the conference, while Susan Ross, Shae Garwood and Jennifer Brinkerhoff promoted their new and upcoming titles.
We are thankful for our readers and their continuing support; and we look forward to seeing them next year at ARNOVA and ASA 2012.
NOTE: ASA and ARNOVA attendees - Do not forget about your post conference discounts. Source code is located on the top right corner of the order form. Valid for one month.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Joe Paterno was fired this past week because he did not report the sighting of former assistant Jerry Sandusky raping a child in a shower. He should have reported what he thought he saw. Maybe he would have kept his job and this disgusting individual would be in jail. But unfortunately, child abuse happens in all communities in all parts of the world, and many do not report such sightings. Fear perhaps?
Since the allegations, Paterno himself has been called a child abuser, and has left Penn State. He now deals with a tarnished reputation along with constant humiliation- and people could care less about his coaching abilities.
Because of the recent Penn State Scandal that has rocked the mindsets of football fans nationwide, multiple advocacy leaders from all over the nation have come out against Paterno, and have voiced their opinions on the subject. Advocates wish that children would be left as children, and not violated or forced to work in child labor or harmful environments. (To learn more about child labor rights, read Shae Garwood's Advocacy Across Borders.)
What has the world come to when children are used as sex slaves, tormented and abused? (Reluctant Bedfellows discusses this issue in finer detail.) And, why aren't adults holding their responsibility to report these sightings to authorities? Both sides seem to need a lesson in social justice and advocacy.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
We will be attending ARNOVA in Toronto and the ASA Conferernce in DC, both starting and ending on the same date.
We will be at ARNOVA highlighting our NGO/nonprofit and government titles. This conference is a must for us, as many of our authors will be in attendance including Christopher Corbett (who will be speaking at the event), Shae Garwood, Jennifer Brinkerhoff and new KP author, Susan Ross. These authors can be found at Author's Corner where they will have a booth available with flyers and copies of their publications. If you are attending, be sure to stop by and meet our authors.
KP is excited to attend the ASA Conference, as well where we will showcase our African Studies titles. We will have plenty of books to show along with brochures. We are pleased to have Lou Picard, author of the recently released KP publication African Security and the African Command join us at our booth for a book signing and podcast segment. For those of you who miss our interview, we will post it.
We are very excited to be a part of these events and look forward to meeting our readers.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
But, out of all of the people I had met, I was surprised to speak with a few development workers who wanted to learn about the advancement of medicine in different countries (mainly Third World). This turn-out was a pleasant surprise, as I never would have expected them to show up at a medical convention.
What surprised me even more was their interest in our own KP title, Anticorruption in the Health Sector. One medical professor I met, even said he used the book in his law class!
This conference was worthy of our time, not just for our own titles. It shows that our titles do not only appeal to one group of readers, but to workers in the field of International Development (for example), as well as in classes such as nursing, medicine, law and ethics.
Monday, October 24, 2011
The 7.2 magnitude quake, which struck on Sunday morning, had the most severe effect in Ercis, a town of around 75,000 people.
"It is a very urgent situation," Hakki Erskoy, a disaster manager for the Turkish Red Crescent, told the Guardian. He said his organisation was dealing with 40,000 homeless people, adding: "Right now, we are facing a race against time to provide shelter for people."
Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who toured the devastated region by helicopter - told reporters that the buildings in the area are made of mud brick, and are therefore more prone to earthquakes.
Although 24 individuals were rescued from the rubble within the first two hours of the quake, many of still missing including many university students in Ercis.
"University students are said to be living here," Mustafa Bilgin, a mine rescue expert, said. "We don't know how many of them are still inside – we've reached their computers, clothing but we did not see anyone."
A number of countries have offered assistance with both relief aid and search and rescue efforts. This immediate reaction is appreciated by the people of Turkey, and shows how government assistance can change when a natural disaster occurs. This response can be viewed in Jennifer Hyndman's new book Dual Disasters when she describes what happens when “man-made” and “natural” disasters meet.
As of yet, there have been no talks about civil wars breaking out since the quake, as those fight for their safety, homes, loved ones and own lives.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
From its beginning in 2008 the United States African Command (AFRICOM), part of the American geographical defense system has been controversial and it remains so. Initial concerns focused on the impact of AFRICOM on African conflicts, on African sovereignty and debates about human security. This was followed by the increasing debate about the special forces of AFRICOM and its increasing involvement in Somalia and the fight against Al Shabaab, and Al Qaeda linked organization. It has also been engaged with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, parts of West Africa and especially in Nigeria (with Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group). AFRICOM also brought us the first ten days of the Libya invasion. Now the African Command is to engage in the struggle against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To gain a better understanding of the complexities of the African Command and African security read African Security and the African Command by Terry Buss, Donald Goldstein, Joseph Adjaye and Louis A. Picard.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
For those that have not been following the news: Washington, DC has received another tirade from angry protesters ( “October 2001/Stop the Machine” ) fighting with those that will listen, in an effort to end all wars (ironic, isn't it?). This only came two weeks after the NYC protest which lead to 700 arrests.
But, 2pm yesterday marked the end of the protesters' alloted time to stand blocks away from the White House gates to fight for the freedom of our troops.
Police were ready to arrest yesterday at 2pm - and the protesters were ready to be arrested - stating that they would fight for their cause. But, protesters received an offer yesterday from police announcing that the protesters would be allowed to march for another four months. And, after hours of consideration, they politely accepted.
“It was a no brainer,” said Mr. Kauff, adding that protesters are willing to share with such groups as those participating in the dedication this weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. However, he was unsure how long protesters would stay.
Margaret Flowers, another organizer, called the offer a “transformative moment.”
“And I mean that 100 percent,” she said.
These anti-war advocates won the battle this week; but what happens when advocates fight for a cause such as anti-sweatshop labor which should be heard across the globe? We don't hear about it much in the States, but it is common in Asia and in Central Asia, mainly used on child workers and women. Advocacy Across Borders reveals the relationships that Northern-based NGOs forge in order to exert influence on powerful actors in the sweatshop industry. Shae Garwood’s study of these organizations points the way forward for civil society actors reaching across borders to advocate for a better world.
Our right to protest comes with its own cost. Protesting ignites the fire and only spreads the flame. We seem to be the cause of our own war. African Security and the African Command discusses how the US created a new military presence in Africa, thus taking it upon ourselves to help Africa by enforcing our own ways of thinking. Some would suggest we only made the Africans more westernized, spreading our way of life onto them. But, does this make Africa better, or were we only trying to act as the Supreme Power?
Overall, protesting may make leaders listen, but is it worth having a civil war to end the ultimate war?
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
These groups, like everyone on the planet, need fuel, lightening, affordable heathcare and more; but sadly they do not have the means to do anything about it. With numbers this high, are Impact Investors not doing enough to reduce global poverty? After all, most government agencies are corrupt, with leaders stealing money from their patrons. India, for example, has had approximately 50-70% of welfare stolen by selfish government officials plaguing individuals to receive quality [health]care services that were promised to them. (Upcoming Kumarian Press book, Detecting Corruption, talks about how corruption can be eliminated for the benefit of the citizens. More on that coming soon.)
But, when government officials fail to meet the needs of citizens, who best to turn to but the Impact Investors. So, why aren't they doing enough to hault corruption and help reduce poverty?
The microfinance industry is known by many as a loans savior to those living in extreme poverty, or to those in need. The industry started in ther late 1980s in Bangladesh, India by Microfinance Legend, Mohammad Yunus and his founding of the nonprofit Grameen Bank. But recently, despite many successes, the Microfinance Industry has been under scrutiny, tackling concerns about where the industry's money is going; and who it is most benefiting. Not surprisingly, exploiting the poor is one of the main concerns. In India, credit histories cannot be shared, and "appropriate consumer-protection code and a nationwide regulatory framework are still lacking." (The Microfinance Catalyst, Project Syndicate) Confronting Microfinance talks about the recent concerns in the industry, and discusses the sacking of Yunus from the Grameen Bank, which lead to a huge uproar.
Now, NGOs supporting microfinance loans are under the gun, gearing up for high supervision by government officials."Although impact investors can lay the groundwork for commercial investors, they must also work in unison with government authorities to ensure well-functioning market systems. Only when such systems are firmly established will the poor be able to participate in today’s vast global economy." (The Microfinance Catalyst)
Until this gets more mediated control by the government, what can we do but ask: Whose sustainability really counts?
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Through the clothes we purchase, and the choices we make as consumers and suppliers, we can live in a world where sweatshops cease to exist. Organizations such as Green America provide programs, suggestions and new ideas that allow our voices to be heard, encouraging companies worldwide to come on-board in the fight for fair labor rights.
Kumarian Press' recent release, Advocacy Across Borders focuses on this cause and the role of globally Northern-based NGOs in transnational advocacy networks who aim to provide fair working conditions for everyone. The book includes case studies of four NGOs and highlights their link with the anti-sweatshop network.
Learning about fair trade will educate us and others to do the right thing for labor workers worldwide.
Monday, September 19, 2011
On August 4, 2011, the Cambodian Ministry of Interior suspended Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), one of several involved with monitoring the resettlement of residents displaced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID-funded rail project. At first, talks of suspension were due to inconsistencies in the group's paperwork, but later we found out the truth.
"STT operated and incited people to oppose national development by the government in order to make the development partners suspend or stop the project," the ministry said in an August 14 statement.
Since the suspension of STT, the government has warned NGOs about making "false" claims, such as the death of two children last year.
These NGOs have received criticism that marks them as using a project that will only benefit their career by exploiting others. They stay firm though stating that they are not opposed to national development.
But, since the United Nations "mission of the early 1990s seeded Cambodia with a vibrant civil society sector, NGOs here have had an ambivalent relationship with the government." (Asia Times Online) This, until recently, made Cambodia a safe and welcoming place to hold an NGO.
Some NGOs in Cambodia, such as VBNK- an NGO founded by Kumarian Press author Jenny Pearson - hold no responsibility in this debate, but still have to worry about more government interference. Like many NGOs, they choose to do business in a truthful way that will positively affect those in the country.
However, with the new regulation on the horizon, this may change things for NGOs, favoring more government involvement. If NGOs were honest, and handle their business practices with integrity, there, most likely, would be less government interaction. (Read Chris Corbett's new read to see how to create an honest nonprofit organization.)
These projects must be sustainable and help the people of Cambodia and if the government must intervene in order for this successful transition, then so be it.
Read more about this issue now.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
I was in Canada attending the CIVICUS World Assembly (http://www.civicusassembly.org/) during the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The assembly, a gathering of NGOs, civil society activists and youth from all over the world, stood in silent prayer and reflection as a mark of respect for those who died on that horrendous day as well as those who have died since as a consequence of the “war on terror.”
A common question during those sad and confusing days following the events of September 11th was “Why do they hate us?” They, being for the most part, a homogenous and poorly conceived Islam with its faceless (especially women “hiding” behind the veil or chador) Muslim adherents. A facile and misleading answer to this question was, “They hate us for our values and our freedoms.”
The dead should be honored and the perpetrators of this crime against humanity need to be brought to justice. I am being deliberately ambiguous here because without doubt those who funded and organized the crime and those who commandeered the planes that day were criminals, but to my mind, so too are the members of the US government who sanctioned and supported a response that has resulted in two wars, countless thousands of deaths and maiming, not to mention the considerable damage to the US as an upholder of democratic and respectful human rights values.
It is easier to rely on technological, military and economic might and reality TV visions of warfare and “shock and awe” than to tackle the complex factors that contributed to 9/11. It is also easier to mask rank opportunism—control of vital oil resources, for example—behind the rhetoric of patriotism and freedom.
Many commentators, Juan Cole (http://www.juancole.com/) and George Packer among them (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/09/12/110912fa_fact_packer), have noted what has been lost since 9/11. As editor for Kumarian Press, I have been fortunate to work with two authors who have also looked sensitively at a society which in many respects seems to have lost its moral compass (and I am not talking about those in the Middle East many of which have shown, through the “Arab Spring” a much firmer grasp of concepts such as democracy, freedom of expression and social change than we in the US have at the moment). Robert Ivie’s brilliant book Dissent from War (http://www.kpbooks.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=187285) addresses how words themselves are weapons of war and offers suggestions for transforming words from swords into ploughshares. Lyn Boyd Judson encourages us to never lose sight of the humanity of our enemies in her passionate examination of the ambiguities of diplomacy and morality in her book Strategic Moral Diplomacy (http://www.kpbooks.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=208807).
Both of these authors hope that their books will help readers of any ideological stripe or religious faith to think about not only who and what they are, but more importantly, who and what they can become, help us to loosen the shackle of despair, fear and hatred and open ourselves to the truly infinite possibilities for good that we intrinsically possess.
Friday, September 9, 2011
The objective of this two semester-long program is for students and professionals alike to gain a better understanding of NGO management by exploring common principles and practices used by today's leading NGOS.
NGOs, such as VBNK, have made a name for themselves -by building from the ground up with integrity, courage and committment. VBNK, for example, is a well-known, Cambodia-based NGO started by Kumarian Press' Jenny Pearson, author of the new NGO management book Creative Capacity Development. In Creative Capacity Development, Pearson outlines how she started VBNK, and what priniciples she used to build-up her name, now recognized by many in the business.
But, why is it important in today's world to know about NGO Management?
Fardeau says: "NGOs have become key players on the international scene. Growing out of an understanding of democratic action that is rooted in citizens' concerns, they aim to express the values, ideas and commitments of civil society."
To learn more about the Program, read on.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
"Trouble started when Muslim faithful of the Izala sect in their numbers were trooping to the prayer ground along Rukuba road Jos, to celebrate the Eid el-fitri Sallah and were allegedly challenged by the Christains who accused them of spoiling their Christmas last year by bombing their homes." (Daily Champion)
The situation soon got out of hand, as gun-fire spread. Special military ops took charge and scared away young fighters, leaving at least five dead at the scene.
"It took the combine efforts of members of the STF, members of the state security outfit code name operation rainbow to rescue those trapped at the prayer ground with armoured vehicle as they hurriedly escorted them to safety."
This is not the first time military ops were forced to intervene an out-of-control battle, and it certainly will not be the last. The question to really ask is: Is the military really helping? After all, at least five people were killed.
African Security and the African Command by Kumarian Press discusses this when the editors of the book showcase Bush's AFRICOM project as a way to "better" African security in the midst of war. But, is AFRICOM causing more harm than good? Some would say that placing our troops into Africa has helped Africans, leading toward democracy, freedom and human rights. Others would suggest that the African people are losing their identity and being forced to do things the "American way."
But, like the battle in Nigeria, my opinion stands that without intervention more harm could have been caused. More people could have died, and we need the government to step-in to regulate us. Without the authority, crisis will sweep the nation, and therefore the world.
What do you think we should do to increase national and international security?
Monday, August 22, 2011
Critics say that the new law regulation in India could cripple microfinance firms, stating that the collection of dues has already fallen around 10%; but to "backers of the law, it's an attempt to rein back the worst excesses of an industry, which it is claimed, is charging exorbiant interest and is responsible for an increasing number of suicides because of heavy-handed debt collection methods."(Poverty Matters Blog: "Development Panacea or Exorbiant, Ineffective PovertyTrap?")
So, is microfinance really helping community development?
The idea of microfinance, to many, sounded promising as a savior to poor communities looking for poverty reduction, bringing in savings and loans. But, although microfinance (and microcredit) brings in huge support and praise, it also comes with an arsenal of critics who argue that it is being used as a measure of poverty reduction rather than poverty transformation. Some critics even state that small loans are only used for new businesses and not used for poor people themselves who need the money for healthcare and education expenses. (Critics of microfinance would love Milford Bateman's upcoming release Confronting Microfinance.)
This isn't the most pleasant news for small busines owners looking to self-regulate their own business. And, for authors like Chris Corbett who just released his new title Advancing Nonprofit Stewardship Through Self-Regulation - which highlights Independent Sector's 33 Principles of Self-Regulation in an effort to help these small firm owners reach success through integrity and genuine practices - this news couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.
India's news even struck a nerve with Father of Microfinance, Mohammad Yunus who stated that small companies are "misusing" and "abusing" his concepts.
Being a lover or a hater of microfinance has depended on evidence of individual lives who have played a part in this dramatic play.
Do you think microfinance is good for community development? If not, how would you control the rise of poverty?
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
However, thirty years into the microfinance movement and it is now becoming quite clear that the seductive vision elaborated so skilfully by Dr Yunus and others has turned out to be nothing more than a mirage. The evidence for this is now all around us and it is overwhelming, even to long-standing supporters of the microfinance model. And even though many microfinance supporters and institutions are desperately finding new goals for microfinance to address – notably ‘universal financial inclusion’ – or else have begun to stress the importance of other aspects of microfinance rather than just the original core idea of microcredit (e.g., micro-savings, micro-insurance, micro-leasing), it is perfectly clear that a major paradigm shift in development policy is well underway – that is, the original narrow Grameen Bank concept of ‘microcredit’ is now effectively dead in the water.
Consider first the problems that have arisen in Bangladesh, the ‘spiritual home’ of microfinance. We can do no better than to reflect upon its economic and social impact in the location it was first introduced in the late 1970s and thereafter rapidly proliferated; in and around the famed village of Jobra near Chittagong. If Yunus is to be believed, then here more than anywhere else in Bangladesh we should expect to see major poverty reduction gains registered this last thirty years. But, it is not like that at all. Instead, endemic poverty and deprivation still very much persist in Jobra today. Put simply, local demand for the simple items and services produced using a microloan does not automatically elastically stretch to ensure that everyone starting a new microenterprise will also find enough customers to earn an income and survive. Just because one basket-maker can find enough local buyers for her product and so survive, this does not mean that everyone else who then chooses to make baskets will enjoy the same outcome. Economists call this basic error the ‘fallacy of composition’, and it is this that Dr Yunus fundamentally misunderstood when formulating his plans for microfinance.
The generally finite level of local demand means that the constant new entry of ‘poverty-push’ microenterprises generally reduces the margins, wages and profits of all market participants, thanks to generally lower turnover per microenterprise. Local prices for microenterprise outputs are also depressed because of the additional (but largely unnecessary) local supply. These factors are, of course, why most existing microenterprises when asked about what would help them in their micro-business, all too often reply ‘very much less competition’. The typical snapshot of village life is that of many traders and retailers sat alongside each other waiting for hours on end for the few customers able to buy their wares. Local demand constraints are also one of the reasons why a very high percentage of new microenterprises in Jobra, and right across Bangladesh, quickly fail – they simply can’t find any customers (at least at a price commensurate with basic survival). Micro-business failure is very important to consider because it all too often plunges the hapless micro-entrepreneur into irretrievable poverty and deprivation. This is especially the case if they have had to sell their land or housing in order to repay the microloan, as is very often expected of them. Finally, there is now a serious new social problem to deal with in Jobra - personal over-indebtedness. In the last few years the increasingly commercialised Grameen Bank and its competitors have taken to hard-selling microloans in order to build and maintain market share and profitability, and as a direct result far too many poor individuals have wound up in possession of a bundle of unrepayable microloans.
Crucially, Bangladesh as a whole stands out as having been almost entirely left behind by its rapidly growing East Asian ‘tiger’ economy neighbours. This is not a coincidence, but a result of policy choice. By and large, the successful ‘tiger’ economies all opted to deploy a pro-active, subsidised, policy-based but nevertheless well-managed local financial model radically different to the Grameen Bank microfinance model that today dominates in Bangladesh. Simplifying, the heterodox East Asian local financial model is marked out by the provision of affordable financial support for scaled-up formal sector small businesses and family farms that can efficiently link up with other sectors of the economy (i.e., with state companies, large private businesses, marketing cooperatives). Consider just the experience of Vietnam. It is well known that in the 1990s Vietnamese government officials checked out the Grameen Bank with a view to replicating it in their own country. But they came home disenchanted, and decided instead to establish the Grameen Bank model’s mirror opposite. Thank goodness they made this choice, one might say, because in less than twenty years Vietnam’s heterodox local financial system has played an important role in helping propel the country out of abject poverty and into near middle income status.
Turning to the very many developing countries, regions and localities that have also deployed the Grameen Bank microfinance model, they appear to have fared no better than Bangladesh. Effectively diverting their scarce financial resources into the tiniest of informal microenterprises, these countries have generally seen little economic or social benefit over the longer term and, indeed, most eventually ended up having to deal with a destructive sub-prime-style ‘microfinance meltdown’ scenario. Bolivia, Mexico, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Morocco and, most stunning of all, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in late 2010, all are now viewed as examples of how microfinance can seriously destabilise and undermine the local economic and social structures of most benefit to the poor, not strengthen them.
Are the Western Balkans countries any different?
The Western Balkans is one of the regions where microfinance was most brought to bear under the pressure of the international development community. In the aftermath of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the vicious civil war that ensued, microfinance was seen by the international development community to be one of the main recovery policies. It would supposedly address the region’s most pressing issues - poverty, inequality, exclusion and rising unemployment. Much was expected of it, especially in seriously devastated Bosnia. Many programs got started using large amounts of international reconstruction aid. Very soon the main international development agencies and key individuals were touting the apparent initial progress as indicative of a major boost to recovery and reconstruction.
However, from the vantage point of more than fifteen years of experience on the ground, our new book out in September with Kumarian Press - ‘Confronting Microfinance: Undermining Sustainable Development’ – offers a very sobering estimation of the ultimate sustainable impact of microfinance. Put together by an almost uniquely experienced group of academic economists, enterprise development advisors, policy consultants, and high-level government officials (including several previous government Ministers), the general message that emerges from the book is that the hype and PR surrounding the microfinance model in the region simply does not reflect the reality on the ground. Going further, the accusation is raised that the microfinance model has actually been a major contributory factor in what is now increasingly accepted as a failed recovery in the region.
The book outlines the most pressing problems directly or indirectly precipitated by the microfinance model since 1995. Some contributors see the overarching problem to be the channelling of financial support to the very simplest of microenterprises, a trajectory that has manifestly accelerated the primitivisation, deindustrialisation and informalisation of the average local economy. In many of Serbia’s regions, for instance, a growing number of local communities are swiftly losing all touch with the formal sector, and are becoming resigned to a future of informal, non-tax-paying microenterprises servicing what little local demand exists. In Bosnia, the formal sector has also been ‘crowded out’ by this new microfinance-induced informalisation trajectory, especially the small-scale industry and industrial services sectors that history shows often provides the most number of sustainable and well-paying local jobs.
Another theme touched upon by virtually all of the chapters is the huge opportunity cost represented by the lack of funding for the crucial SME sector. Virtually all of the chapter contributors were at pains to emphasise that their respective SME sectors have been disadvantaged because of the effective diversion of scarce funds (savings and remittances) into the least productive informal sector, and so away from potentially more productive - and desperately needed - formal small and medium businesses. The authors all argue that such a process of financial intermediation cannot be an efficient economic development trajectory for society, no matter how profitable it is for the individual financial institutions directly involved. In fact, it took the global financial crisis to finally shake governments and the international development community into urgently providing major new programs of financial support for the SME sector. For profit-maximisation reasons, of course, the private commercial banks were simply unwilling to engage with the risky and low return SME sector, much preferring the high and relatively risk-free profits to be made by hugely upping the supply of microloans to poor households. Indeed, a noted feature brought out by several of the chapters is that the commercial banks have not been lending to enterprises of any size, but have jumped into providing simple consumption loans to households right across the Western Balkans. The result is that many local communities have been artificially pumped up with consumer demand fuelled by such household microloans, but only for things to fall apart later on when these household microloans were retired, called in or defaulted on. A great many towns across the region are now pockmarked with only recently renovated but now hastily abandoned stores and warehouses, a testament to the temporary uptick in local consumer demand facilitated by simple household microloans, but at the cost of wasted resources into the longer term.
In agriculture, several chapters outline why only the most primitive and least sustainable agricultural operations have been supported, leaving the much more efficient family farms and agricultural cooperative structures to go without any serious form of affordable financial support. The Croatia case illustrates this problem well. Several of the microfinance institutions entered into providing support for the proliferation of ‘two-cow farms’, thinking that they were doing some good in a particularly hard-hit post-war region. But this was entirely the wrong sort of support for a recovering dairy industry, and it resulted in nothing more than a wasteful process of entry and exit, and it also depressed raw milk prices thanks to the inevitable local over-supply. Several of the chapters, including a special chapter on gender and microfinance, went on to deal with the widely celebrated issue of gender empowerment. While the websites of the main microfinance institutions typically display their own ‘role models’ of success, the conclusion reached is that real evidence of ‘gender empowerment’ is simply not there. Indeed, with one of the most high-profile gender-driven microfinance institutions - Žene za Žene (Women for Women) - now having to cope with a flood of delinquent women clients, the conclusion is that the wisdom (not to say morality) of blithely encouraging poor women to supply petty items and services to already vastly over-supplied local markets needs to be very strongly challenged. Finally, the book also touches upon the impact of the global financial crisis. We find very similar sub-prime style misadventures in several countries. However, thanks to its uniquely damaging microfinance ‘boom to bust’, it is the people and government of Bosnia that have by far the most daunting set of microfinance-related problems to first overcome before they can get their economy and society on to a road leading to sustainable economic and social development.
All told, ‘Confronting Microfinance’ argues that the microfinance model has probably been one of the most damaging of the many neoliberal economic and social policies to have been implemented in the Western Balkans after 1995. These largely negative experiences therefore resonate with what is being uncovered in almost all of the developing countries in recent years, as I noted earlier, which is that microfinance simply doesn’t work.
Milford Bateman is the editor of ‘Confronting Microfinance: Undermining Sustainable Development’ which comes out with Kumarian Press in September 2012. He is also the author of ‘Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work? The Destructive Rise of Local Neoliberalism’ that was released by Zed Books in 2010. Dr Bateman is a freelance consultant on local economic development and also, since 2005, A Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila University at Pula, Croatia.
Monday, August 1, 2011
In his essay on transparency, Jonathan Fox questions the assumption that transparency generates accountability and vice versa. As he notes, transparency mobilizes the power of shame, and truth and openness do not always lead to justice. Fox concludes that the real questions to ask are what kinds of transparency lead to what kinds of accountability and under what conditions. As Jenny Pearson observes in her recent KP book, Creative Capacity Development, her study of her work on capacity building (another development buzzword) for a Cambodia NGO, the historical and cultural contexts in which transparency is constructed are extremely important.
How would you define transparency and in what ways do your organizations promote or hinder transparency? What is the role of transparency in development?
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Do I sound all too bitter? Maybe I am. But first, give me a chance to explain myself. I never minded Mondays. Honestly, not until yesterday when it finally happened...
Yesterday morning carried on without any complaints. I ate breakfast, put on decent clothes, and hopped into my car with a full tank of gas. But, as I cruised down the highway -with only two exits to go, I might add - I couldn't help (a.k.a. didn't have a choice) but to notice the dancing lights behind me. Yes, I finally got my first speeding ticket. I suppose I didn't make a good enough case because the paperwork is waiting for me back home.
Sure, I suppose it's my fault for speeding (or at least getting caught), but I really didn't need that. Money is tight for everyone, and I am no exception. I spent the majority of yesterday disappointed with myself and thought about all of the people who are struggling to make ends meet and would love more money. For me, the State of Virginia will get their money this time; but what if one day I can't make ends meet? And, even though I know I will be fine today, all I could do yesterday was whine and think to myself "Where's my bailout money; and what is Washington, D.C. (my home away from home) really doing to help me in my time of need?"
I know I sound like a Free Market Purist, although I am not trying to sound like one at all. But, in times of desperation, don't we all wonder where or to whom the government's money is going and why we can't, as individuals, get freebies from the government so we will be okay in times of need? It may sound selfish, but money is the necessary-evil that keeps us alive and thriving.
Many wonder where our money is going and how we can obtain aid - especially in times of need. I suppose that we must first find out about aid assistance and then maybe Kumarian Press authors such as Steve Berkman can provide us with some blunt truths and insight into where our money is going. For example, in Berkman's book The World Bank and the Gods of Lending, he shows the mismanagement of aid assistance for programs that were meant to improve industries including healthcare and education as well as improve the status of the poor, but aren't. Berkman also exposes several fraud projects and declares that The World Bank's money is going to programs and thieves that are not deserving.
I don't know, but when I have one of those days when I feel like it couldn't get any worse, I tend to think about those that are struggling to make ends meet and think about what we can do to help those in need, and therefore help eachother. By reading up on finance and the aid industry, I think we can all learn how the aid industry works, where our money is going, and what we can do to help alleviate poverty and control theft. Maybe then we won't have to worry so much about economical issues and focus on more pleasant things.