30 June 2013

After Google Reader

I've left it to the very last minute to switch. For what it's worth - I'm now using feedbin, mostly because it lets me keep using the excellent Reeder app on my iphone. And until the new Reeder app comes out for ipad (with feedbin support), I'll be using Mr. Reader on the ipad (which is pretty decent but not quite as good as reeder). Something about feedly didn't quite do it for me.

28 June 2013

Social media and the End of NGOs?

Then of course there is the issue of whether in the future we will even need international NGOs any more. Will people just be able to use social media to directly sponsor a child in the community? 
In development there is a tendency to think about trends and gradual change but we need to be aware of the possibility of disruptive change. Development may face a complete sea change at some point – similar to what happened to the music industry where suddenly downloads decimated the CD market. However, preparing for that is more difficult: usually the change that comes is not what you put on your risk register.
Caroline Harper, chief executive of Sightsavers interviewed in the Guardian

24 June 2013

"Nature is not on our side"

I enjoyed this riposte from Rob Rhinehart to critics of his new chemical liquid food which fall prey to the "appeal to nature" fallacy;
Nature is not on our side. Most of it is trying to kill us. Nature abounds with neurotoxins, carcinogens, starvation, violence, and death. It is technology that makes our lives so comfortable. We have a responsibility to protect the environment, but it feels no such responsibility for us. Technological innovations should be thoroughly tested and verified to be safe, and they are. Besides being an arbitrary distinction, being "natural" is absolutely no guarantee of safety, usefulness, or practicality. Today it is often the opposite. I think it's a little weird to eat food that comes from a tree. Do we still use leaves for clothing? Like diet, balance is key. I am glad to drink fluoridated water for the same reason I prefer the natural sky. It's healthier.
I'm looking forward to trying some.

18 June 2013

"God must be a white man"

An excellent, heart-felt lament in the Sudan Tribune from a man with what must be an incredibly difficult job, the Auditor General of South Sudan, Steven W├Ându.
Donors beware! The African big man eats without limit. He accumulates without consideration for the needs of others. ‘Enough’ does not exist in the dictionary. Africans in power do not want to consider the fundamental zero-sum concept that the more you scoop from the common pot, the less everyone else gets. They refuse to ponder the life or death consequences of misappropriating resources intended for interventions in maternal care, solid waste management, infant vaccination, and clean drinking water. They do not feel the danger of living in a massive mansion surrounded by tragic slums. In the rare event that an African big man visits a village, he would ‘donate’ a class room, or a clinic or a road that would never exist except in the government’s financial expenditure schedule of that year. The announcement of the fake donation is proof that the big men know the needs of their people. Why they choose not to do the right thing beats imagination. But then, they are modern African big men! 
We are very efficient in taxing our poorest people mercilessly. In Africa, a woman with three chicken eggs to sell because the baby has fever is taxed in the village market. Nobody knows the destination of Africa’s tax proceeds. We only know they do not go to municipal services. Municipal services my foot! In Africa, every upper class household is a municipality with a mayor, a generator, a bore well and a septic tank. In Africa top government officials proudly import 4-wheel drive SUVs duty free. 
In other parts of the world, corrupt officials risk prosecution, fines, imprisonment or even hanging. There is a judicial deterrent to graft. In Africa, impunity is the norm. In the best case scenarios, selective justice is applied. Only the ‘small fish’ see the jail house. Reports about major embezzlement in high places only warrant inconclusive investigations. That is why African corruption is not practiced discretely. There is no need to disguise sleaze. Conversely, scruples are equated to stupidity. That is why African auditors have no difficulty reaching adverse findings.
via Abhijeet Singh 

14 June 2013

How to invest in Africa

Todd Moss and Ross Thuotte at CGD made the case a few weeks ago for investing in Africa (literally). 

The question for how best to do this popped into my head a few weeks ago at a conference on business in Africa. So what can you do? I have some very meagre savings, and interest rates are so low right now in the UK they may as well be stuffed under my mattress. Surely there is a way of tapping into the high growth in developing countries?

I asked the question on twitter and got these five responses:
‏@davidcshipley: There's plenty of options which will get you way more than 2% - EMD, AR strasts etc. (Not investment advice). for Africa specifically there are some frontier funds which directly focus there, plus EM Eqs which have some allocation 
@Scott_Gilmore:  Try http://myc4.com  
@StyledByAfrica: Check out @Homestrings about investing in Africa 
‏@tylercowen: Some contemporary African art is fairly liquid, it has a high bid-ask spread but one way to start... 
‏@RealClearAfrica:  http://investinginafrica.net/#cat-1
Anyone have any experience with any of this or any other tips?

11 June 2013

Chart of the Day: What do Africans think their governments should be doing?

Afrobarometer asked over 33,000 Africans between 2010 and 2012 what the most important problem facing their country that government should address is. Here are their answers. With apologies for the tiny font, but it's worth reading down the full list (I left off a few of the country-specific responses at the bottom).

Data from: Benin 2012, Botswana 2012, Burkina Faso 2012, Burundi 2012, Cape Verde 2011, Ghana 2012, Kenya 2011, Lesotho 2012, Liberia 2012, Malawi 2012, Mali 2012, Mauritius 2012, Namibia 2012, Nigeria 2012, Sierra Leone 2012, South-Africa 2011, Tanzania 2012, Togo 2012, Uganda 2012, Zimbabwe 2012 (Base=33598; Weighted results)

I'm quite surprised by how high up water supply is, but less surprised by the top 3 of unemployment, the economy, and poverty. The public policy challenge is still, first and foremost, about broad-based inclusive economic growth. Interesting to compare this with Justin Sandefur's analysis of what African researchers care about (jobs).

The tragedy is that we don't really have a clue what policy instruments can create jobs. For most of sub-Saharan Africa the challenge is a lack of demand for labour. What is needed is a way of linking African workers with consumers who have money - who are mostly in rich countries. This link could come in 3 ways:

1: Trade. Africans stay where they are and export things to rich countries. This one looks difficult in most countries, which are uncompetitive with poor Asian countries in manufacturing, and don't yet have the skills or infrastructure for high-tech service exports. Gains to agricultural productivity holds some promise, but faces serious barriers to getting going.
2: Migration. The Africans come to rich countries. An economic no-brainer, and a political non-starter.
3: Tourism. The rich people go to Africa. Tourism? Really?

There will probably be marginal improvements in all 3 areas, but its hard to see where the really big shift that could get millions of Africans up to rich country poverty lines of around $12.50 per day over the next generation is going to come from.

The very easy to use online Afrobarometer data analysis tool is here.

[and before anyone says it, of course Africa is not a country, but actually the patterns look pretty similar when you look at the country-level data, I just couldn't figure out a good way of showing that data visually - very open to suggestion]

10 June 2013

"Aren't you going to recycle that?"

I'm terrible about remembering to recycle. It's partly moving about so much and not keeping up with the different rules in each city. It's partly just laziness.

Andrea reprimanded me for forgetting last week, and after some debate I realised that though she was right about the recycling and my excuses were lame, I was annoyed about the reprimanding. Or rather interested - how and when did it became socially acceptable to reprimand people for forgetting to recycle, or for wasting food as the pope just did (by the way, it's great that this new pope is such a do-gooder, but wow is he a naive do-gooder for someone who has presumably been in the do-gooding business for... how many years?).

And why is it not socially acceptable to reprimand people for wasting money on crap they don't need when they could be giving it to charity and saving lives? Sure it's annoying, but so is being reprimanded about recycling.

In the UK at least I think a lot of this is our squeamishness about talking about money in general. As Kate Fox writes:
Our distaste for money-talk in everyday social life is well established: you never ask what someone earns, or disclose your own income; you never ask what price someone paid for anything, nor do you announce the cost of any of your own possessions. In social contexts, there is a sort of ‘internal logic’ to the money-talk taboo, in that it can be explained, to some extent, with reference to other basic ‘rules of Englishness’ to do with modesty, privacy, polite egalitarianism and other forms of hypocrisy.
But at the same time it is kind of nuts that there are such good giving opportunities out there to make the world a better place and we're not allowed to talk about them. In the UK only 39 percent of people give more than fifty pounds a year to charity (NPC 2013). Of those, the average amount for "mainstream" donors is £303 a year, for high-income donors £1,282 a year. Meanwhile, you could be saving a child's life for as little as £1500.

I have a bit of an advantage here because I'm from Yorkshire. As Kate explains:
There are pockets of stronger resistance to the money-talk taboo, particularly in Yorkshire, a county that prides itself on being forthright, blunt and plain-spoken, especially on matters that mincing, hesitant southerners find embarrassing, such as money.
Also it's much easier to type things into the internet ether than to actually say them to people in person. So consider this an annoying reprimand. We have the tools. We have efficient, low overhead, transparent, charities that have proven impact on poverty and child health. Excuses about waste and corruption just don't cut it any more. Aren't you going to recycle that?


I waste money on crap I don't need all the time, and it's annoying to be reminded of that. But is it bad to be reminded? Shouldn't I feel guilty? Andrea owes me some money, and so I'm making her give it to poor Kenyans via givedirectly.org instead of back to me, mostly just in order to annoy her or something. Which had instant positive results - she writes "excellent punishment actually. I started searching "bobbi brown cream eye shadow" and had to close it because the givedirectly page was open right next to it". How about that for a nudge - keeping a givedirectly tab open in your browser all the time?