Understanding China’s approach to international development

A great piece was published in The Guardian a few days back on SaferWorld’s report on China’s influence in conflict-affected states. The most interesting part is the insight offered by Dr Xiao Yuhua, from the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University in China.

Speaking in the context of  the North’s decreasing leverage in the global South, he argues that it will have to better understand the mindset that drives and moulds China’s development work in Africa:

“The thing that is misinformed about China and Africa is that China’s presence in these countries is not imposed on these governments, it is rather a reflection of the development agenda of the countries themselves,” Yuhua said. “China does not have a values-driven approach to development like the west, but we understand the desire to develop and open up to new markets. There is a cultural misunderstanding there that must be addressed if there is going to be greater co-operation between all players in the future.”

via Can China bring stability to conflict-ridden states? | Annie Kelly | Global development | guardian.co.uk.

Mobile technology, participation, gender (and a dodgy stat)

I somehow missed this UNDP report “Mobile Technologies and Empowerment: Enhancing human development through participation and innovation”. It’s important to note the mobile specific aspect of current and future technologies being addressed in detail as for all the media talk of Twitter and Facebook revolutions pretty much everything I’ve heard those in the know say is that it has been mobiles that have provided much of the newfound empowerment whether that be in recording video or co-ordinating an escape from approaching government forces.

I’m not sure when I’m gonna find time to read the report but from my days of running a fact-checking organisation there’s a few howlers in the executive summary that beg further investigation. e.g.:

“Given that entire villages in poor and/or rural communities will often share one or two cell phones, it is also estimated that 80 to 90 percent of people in some poor countries have at least minimal access to a cell phone (Zuckerman 2009).”

Now that’s an, at best, opaque or, at worst, entirely useless statistic if ever I saw one. What sections of the population are included in this? Adults or the entire “people”. Which poor countries? What defines a poor country? And what on earth is meant by “minimal access”? Arguably my definition of minimal cell phone access would differ markedly from one given by 79-year-old grandma who lives in Grenada.

Anyway the main point I wanted to make is that the front cover of the report features a group of women, possibly protesters, holding mobile phones which drew my mind back to two great posts by Melissa Albricht at MobileActive.org (shared via Panos) which address the positive aspects as well as the challenges for ensuring that the penetration of mobile technologies reflects and addresses the needs of women and girls too.

Listening to the real drivers of development


Imagine if a group of medics turned up at your door, set up an operating table, performed surgery and proscribed you a course of medication without finding out from you any details of your symptoms nor any discussion as to whether the proposed method of intervention would have any positive effect on your wellbeing.

Such an absurd scenario is in fact pretty close to the daily reality of the supposed ‘beneficiaries’ of development interventions. Pick a development project and chances are the people it’s supposed to serve will have had precious little to do with defining the projects aims, objectives or methods.

While empowering the poor by placing them in the driving seat on their own development journey has been an aim in aid effectiveness agreements and has featured as a key issue in campaigns like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, questions remain as to the extent to that this strategy really improved for the poor (a term I hate so if anyone has a better suggestion please comment).

A recent Devex article on this very issue mentioned the Listening Project set up by CDA Collaborative Learning Projects in the US. Given that this is an area of development that I’m passionate about I decided to check it out. I was bracing myself to be critical but despite its ancient website I think the organisation and its project really are the real deal.

Through visiting 20 field sites and engaging with over 130 local and international NGOs in collaborative “listening exercises” the project explores “the experiences and insights of people who live in societies that have been on the recipient side of international assistance efforts (humanitarian, development, peacebuilding, etc.)”

What do these conversations reveal? Ultimately what people want more ownership and to have a greater say in their own development. Here are a few snippets:

How assistance is provided is just as important as how much is given. People have suggested that donors work together more to address poverty and other systemic issues rather than fund individual projects or short-term interventions.

Accountability is still weak. There continues to be more focus by governments and aid agencies on being accountable to donor countries than to aid recipients. Despite efforts at improving transparency, local people have said that they often lack access to the information needed to hold their government and aid agencies accountable.

All the information gathered to date, including examples of the evidence, the analysis and lessons learned, recommendations will be released in a publication later this year. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the results…