Development Intern

I started this blog back in 2011 as an outlet for what I was learning/getting frustrated with in my first full time NGO job. There is a huge amount to take in and, as a lowly intern, you end up doing a lot of jobs that nobody else wants to do. As a result of this combination, starting a career in development can be at times boring and lonely as well as confusing. Spewing out my thoughts onto the internet helped me deal with that.

Now I’m (hopefully) a little further in my career I’d like to provide a similar platform for other interns and new development workers.

I have created a new website for this called Development Intern. It will feature a small group of core writers, talented young people looking to get into the development world. Click here to read About it and here if you are interested in submitting your work.

I will no longer be updating on UpLook as I’ll be acting as editor for Development Intern and generally managing the site. In time, I will establish a new blog for my own thoughts. Until then, I will be blogging bits and pieces as a guest contributor whenever somebody else fancies publishing my articles.

Thanks to everyone who read this blog, it really was a great help to me. Please check out Development Intern.

Some Highlights From The Africa Attractiveness Survey 2013


Original post on Developed Africa

It’s always an exciting time of the year when the Ernst & Young Attractiveness Survey for Africa comes out as it offers some fascinating narratives about how Africa might be going forwards and how it might be going backwards. That being said, it is pretty long and number filled so I thought I’d do a brief highlight reel for the lazy busy people out there.

Seriously though, do read it if you get the chance – here’s the link.

The 2012 edition of the Survey focused on the huge jump in foreign direct investments (FDIs) in Africa – up 27% from the original survey in 2010 – and stressed that, despite the criticisms, the narrative surrounding the continent’s rise should be told “more confidently and consistently”. The new edition continues this bullishness, it’s Executive Summary titled, “Africa’s rise is real”. Ernst & Young focus on economic facts and dismiss any scepticism out of hand – this growth is consistent, it is diverse and it should be celebrated.

The story is not totally one-sided, however, as FDIs have decreased in the last year despite the ongoing rise in global esteem that the continent seems to be going through. Greenfield FDI projects were down 12% from 2012 – although, that is in a global context where all such projects were down 15%. There are other issues, too, such as the perception of conducting business in Africa. Again, despite Africa’s rise, many foreign investors remain unwilling to do business there. As it states on page 5,

However, the big take away for us from this year’s survey is the stark and enduring perception gap between those respondents who are already doing business in Africa versus those that have not yet invested in the continent… those with no business presence in Africa are far more negative about Africa’s progress and prospects. Only 47% of these respondents believe Africa’s attractiveness  will improve over the next three years, and they rank Africa as the least attractive investment destination in the world.

As Developed Africa recently highlighted, the potential of African business is being severely limited by the lack of proper communication about how much commercial potential there is. Developed Africa seeks to directly combat that so do check out our homepage for more.

The good news is that the percieved attractiveness of various sectors in Africa has improved allowing for more diverse business models. As stated on page 41,

There has been a marked shift in perceived sector attractiveness; resources remain top of the list, but not by far, with infrastructure and some of the service sectors gaining considerably in prominence

Previously unheralded sectors like Education, ICT or Financial Services have become hugely more attractive, complimenting the long standing interest in commodities and energy related projects in the region. This is a terrific opportunity for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike to move into new and exciting ventures.

The survey ends with a section focused on how Africa can continue to grow in the next year. The first point this section makes is to stress the vital importance of FDIs to the region. These act as catalysts for intra-continental trade, improvements in infrastructure and job creation. Africa has the largest employable population in the world and will continue to grow with or without foreign investors. However, it will grow faster and more effectively with the injection of funds and the creation of international commercial partnerships.

The conclusion on page 64 puts it neatly,

Business has to be viewed as an essential partner in driving the growth and development agenda.


I threw in that Eric Hersman talk as it fits E&Y’s bullish narrative and who doesn’t need an excuse to watch it again?

Open Government: What does it really mean?

open government sort of means anything - Sudden Clarity Clarence

I have been researching open government schemes in recent weeks, specifically the way in which open government and open data is reported in the media. While I was perusing The Reboot website (HT @dalgoso) I came across a cracking blog post titled ‘Is Open Government Working?‘ It’s all worth reading but I was particularly interested by the following extract:

Part of the problem is the woolly, shifting definition of “open government,” which now seems to encompass any ‘innovative’ use of technology by the public sector. We need greater precision in our use of language. Are we trying to make public agencies more efficient, hold elected officials to account, tackle corruption, influence policy, or achieve any number of other objectives that fall under the open government umbrella?

I have been compiling examples of reporting on all things ‘open’ for weeks. Reading this gave me one of those rushes of recognition – I knew this already but I hadn’t put words to it yet. What I was reading time and time again were vague reports that are really about people talking about open government or open data, not really engaging with any of the data and making use of it. Coverage is rhetoric heavy – as one paper points out, that’s because of how ideologically constructed the ‘open movement’ is – and pretty thin on substance. This could well be because the entire concept of the ‘movement’ is way too vague to be useful.

I have read some supporters of the open movement who stress that the broadness of their interests is a strength: being encompassing allows different people to work together to create something really excellent. While this a noble aim, perhaps the lack of direction is holding back the real application of the open principles. It’s no good getting a bunch of data out there if nobody knows what they’re supposed to do with it.

No Child Left Offline

Originally posted on Developed Africa

In his successful run for the presidency of Kenya earlier this year, Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to deliver one laptop per child to those attending primary schools from January 2014. This scheme has been met with some scepticism, not least for the potential cost as this article from one of Kenya’s largest daily newspapers put it,

However, given the cost implications, the ministry has proposed to roll out the project in three phases. According to the estimates tabled by [Education Secretary] Kaimenyi, each laptop will cost Sh28,000, a sum that may be out of reach of many parents in public schools whose children are covered by the project.

There are other criticisms out there. A recent excellent blog post by Will Mutua (co-founder for Nairobi’s Open Academy) summed up the main areas of concern for such a scheme very succinctly,

Lack of Supporting Infrastructure: Many schools in rural areas have no access to electricity, some have dilapidated classrooms and other amenities, not to mention some extreme cases where learning does not even happen inside a classroom. What’s the point of giving these students laptops? Their schools have other more pressing needs.

Lack of Capacity: There are teachers who are computer-illiterate. What happens when computers break down, who will have the technical skills to troubleshoot these laptops?

Timing: It’s just not the right time for such an initiative. There are other pressing matters that can be dealt with instead of ‘throwing away’ money in an impractical project. How about jobs, healthcare etc.? And even if it is a matter of enhancing education – why not first hire more teachers, there’s clearly a shortage of them, or pay teachers better?

It is interesting that such problems have been highlighted for a government project – if you didn’t know what they were about you would be forgiven for guessing that Mutua was criticising a poorly planned charitable project. It lacks sustainability, it lacks a proper appreciation of local context, and seems to seek headlines more than anything else. These are all classic complaints of donor-driven development models.

Promoting computer literacy is a great project, particularly for Kenya as it looks to become the tech hub of Africa. Giving a laptop to every child is something that has been attempted before (see Mutua’s article for some good examples of similar schemes in East Africa in recent years) but often falls on the tertiary aspects of promoting computer literacy – you can’t just give the equipment, you have to support that equipment and its users as well. Governments and NGOs can start projects like this but it is through commercial partnerships that African nations can really build a lasting, economically functioning tech sector. The talent is there, schemes something like Kenyatta’s one laptop per child can open up the opportunity – now it is up to business investors to bring those things together.

Unpicking The 0.7% Aid Target

Original posted on Developed Africa

For many years campaigners have fought to set the minimum level of aid spending in the UK at 0.7%. This target was promised by the Cameron government but has yet to be delivered leading many to criticise the current UK government. But where exactly does the figure 0.7% come from and why has it become such a focused target on third sector pressure?

Richard Thomas at African Arguments has recently written a fascinating piece on the history of this target. This particular aspect of the aid agenda stems from the Pearson Commission, a World Bank investigation into the history and future of aid led by Nobel Prize winner Lester Pearson. In 1969, the report ‘Partners in Development’ was released. As Thomas explains it, this report set out a new paradigm for aid:

Pearson concluded that initially 0.7% should be official (government) aid flows and that approximately 0.3% should come from the private sector. The first part of this formula (0.7%) was adopted by the UN and later by the major donor countries.  Pearson expected that this ratio of 2:1 (government: private) would, within two decades, be reversed. He felt that a more natural relationship was 0.3% from government funded aid flows and approximately 0.7% or more from the private sector. Reducing poverty in Africa and Asia depended on investment, trade, better health and education, adding value locally to primary products etc. Not, in other words giving developing countries fish (aid), but giving ‘them’ a fishing rod so that they could develop themselves.

Private investment would flow, they believed, when internal capacity and investment-friendly institutions had been developed – partly by aid. But it was necessary to begin with a front loaded ‘Marshall plan’ approach, hence the 0.7%. The long term need for 0.3% was to help build and sustain local capacity.”

Private sector investment was always intended to become the major influence in development models. The huge amount of aid assistance currently offered is, as Thomas describes it, a misunderstanding of what Pearson recommended for long-term development in the Global South. Thomas argues that an enshrined governmental aid budget of 0.7% will almost inevitably fuel some of the major criticisms of aid – for instance, the problem of dependency and bad budgeting in recipient countries.

Unlike some critics, Thomas argues that cutting the aid budget isn’t the answer; promoting greater private sector investment is.

The piece on African Arguments continues:

A new Paradigm for Aid and Development assistance is needed. The 0.7% model encourages donors to focus on quantity rather than quality and discourages the kinds of reforms which would engender sustainable growth. The Chinese alternative, which is just as exploitative as the western neo-liberal model, appeals to many African elites who are neither reformist nor pro-poor.

Pearson’s expectation that the educational and structural investments achieved by aid would trigger increasing investment and trade has, thanks to the Chinese, been realised (although probably not in ways he expected). But bulk or wholesale aid, whether 0.7 or 0.3, is no longer the key to African development. It could be argued that small scale initiatives which act as a catalyst (adjusting the ‘rules of the game’, removing log-jams, increasing the role and influence of civil society, improving the capacity to audit flows of funds etc) are both cheaper and much more useful to developing countries in the long run.”

Governmental aid might serve a purpose but it is not the real solution to long-term development. The 0.7% debate should be diverted to reflect this – the UK government can and should fight for greater investment from British private sector organisations, bringing beneficial partnerships to everyone involved.

Partisanship & Transparency: A modern lesson

“I have always had a propensity to justify my action. Not to defend. To justify. Not to insist that I was right but simply to explain that there was no perverse intention, no secret scorn for the natural sensibilities of mankind at the bottom of my impulses.” Joseph Conrad

The NSA leak scandal is rumbling on and the critics of Edward Snowden and the revelations in general seem to have begun to land some blows. They are also rather catty – Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker sneeringly referred to Snowden as a “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” The man is a criminal, fully aware of the illegality of his actions, unlike Obama and the NSA who have committed no crimes – that seems to be the counter-narrative to this story. It is also one that, full disclosure, I don’t buy into. In the words of John Oliver on The Daily Show, “we’re not saying anyone broke any laws, we’re just saying it’s a little bit weird that you didn’t have to.”

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has broken most of the major stories, yesterday released a rather tetchy article responding to these critics, describing them as ‘partisan’ Democrat pundits and more or less accusing them of hypocrisy. It seems to me that Greenwald, while being a little angry at the criticism, was merely trying to clarify his positions – justifying, not defending.

While the whole scandal is interesting I want to look at the question of partisanship. Greenwald has been described as untrustworthy as a journalist because of his open political agenda. He identifies Obama-ite Democrats as the most rabidly critical of his exposure of the NSA programmes in question – they’re only attacking the leaks because they hurt the President. NYU Professor Jay Rosen’s piece on the matter addresses the issue of partisanship in the media, making a distinction between neutrality or opinion in journalism as different types of persuasive techniques:

Politics: none is what most of the editors and reporters at the Washington Post practice and preach. (But not all.) It is not the natural, inevitable or “right” way to do journalism, but rather a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account of the way things are by foreswearing any political commitment, avoiding overt displays of opinion, and eluding strong conclusions via quotation or summary of competing arguments.

Of course they also try to persuade us by pointing to irrefutable facts, uncovering new information, and being accurate, truthful and fair, but this does not distinguish them from…

Politics: some is what the journalists at the Guardian practice and preach. It is not the natural or inevitable way to do journalism, but a form of persuasion in which journalists try to get us to accept their account by being up front about their commitments, grounding their freely-expressed opinions in fact, and arriving at conclusions through the sound conduct of public argument.

Later he goes on to describe ‘politics: some’ journalists as ones who are compelled to embrace the principles of transparency in their work. This is an interesting implication – the media cannot call for transparency in Big Business or in government while maintaining a mask of ‘neutrality’. Everybody knows that media organisations have political identities, particularly the most influential of them. The media, to be properly transparent, need to show their inclinations up front before analysis. Obviously, such inclinations need to be flexible and reasonable (I’m looking at you, Fox News) and cannot be used to obscure any of the facts in the story. But to deny it exists obscures some of the truth in the story from the get-go. That’s a pretty interesting idea and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a quite an unusual position.

The Conrad quote at the start of this post comes from the Author’s Note from his 1907 novel The Secret Agent.
This is a seedy novel, focused on a series of secretive anarchists in Victorian London. On its release it was regarded as unpleasant, focusing as it did on terrorists, suspicious organisations and manipulators lying under the surface all around the public – such themes are now regarded as hugely prescient for the century of uprisings and revolution that followed it.

The Author’s Note was included in 1920 and seeks to justify the novel in the face of such criticism. Conrad starts by admitting that such an exercise is immodest and a little vain before outlining exactly how he came to produce the story and why he thought it necessary to publish it. Perhaps in this short passage Conrad was, again, remarkably prescient: his agenda is to justify his position in the face of detractors. To do so, he must reveal his own motives, not simply attack the motives of his critics. A modern lesson indeed.

Hollywood To Be More Ethical Than #Globaldev On Interns

Anyone who knows me or who has read this blog regularly will know my stance on unpaid internships. It seems some recent lawsuits in the USA might mean that employees are coming over to my side of thinking – it isn’t really excusable.

I started this blog when I was an intern (unpaid), as the URL implies, and became increasingly annoyed by the setup as time went by. I have done more than two years of interning/full-time volunteering. I appreciate you need to pay your dues and put in your time but it feels like minimum wage laws are put in place for a reason: I have only been able to rack up that unpaid experience because I come from a middle class family in London. Privilege, as well as a determination to get experience, dictates that I am now probably better placed than many of my peers to move into the job market having finished our undergraduate degrees. Clearly, that isn’t right.

So well done to those people involved in taking Fox to court over the internships offered on the movie Black Swan. Here’s a summary of what happened (via @Hanna_Schwing):

Just a month after one judge dismissed the class-action suit filed by free New York City media interns at Hearst Magazines, another has now granted the Hollywood coffee-fetchers who worked on Black Swan a precedent-setting win, ruling that the two production interns “worked as paid employees” and that Fox Searchlight should have to pay them as such. It’s a pivotal decision, says the attorney for the two young men who worked on the Oscar-winning film: “This is the first time a judge has held that interns as we know them today are employees entitled to wages and protections,” the lawyer, Juno Turner, told The Atlantic Wire in a phone interview Wednesday.

Indeed, it’s the first time a major U.S. court has ruled that zero dollars for legitimate work does not a legal unpaid internship make. “Considering the totality of the circumstances,” reads the ruling from federal judge William Pauley, the plaintiffs, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, “were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ’employees’ covered by” the the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as New York’s labor laws. The judge added: “They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and performing low-level tasks not requiring specialized training.”

Read the whole article here

I realise Hollywood has a higher profile and it looks better for any lawyers involved but am I the only one who’s a bit disappointed that the global development industry didn’t take the lead on this issue? For a sector that fights inequality and strives for fair and ethical treatment of all people, it’s a bit embarrassing that the impetus to, you know, pay their interns has to come from the outside.