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Will Ghana avoid the resource curse? A new blog December 8, 2009

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The recent discovery of large offshore oil fields is a crucial moment in Ghana’s story. Will Ghana fall prey to the resource curse–the corruption, crime, and environmental calamity–that has befallen so many other developing countries that discover oil? Or will it pass the test of governance and use the revenues of such a project to raise the standard of living for its people?

While time will tell, I have decided to start a blog to track news and centralize information on Ghanaian oil development, with the hope that it may serve academics, journalists, and decision-makers and help Ghana “avoid the curse.” Check it out at http://avoidthecurse.wordpress.com.

–Jason Burwen

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Interesting recent links 18-Nov-09 November 18, 2009

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1. 30-40% of World Bank funds are stolen, challenges Stever Berkman. “[T]he pressure to disburse funds makes it easy for corrupt people in borrowing countries to divert and steal from aid programs with impunity.”

2. Do cellphones outnumber light bulbs in Uganda? While the numbers aren’t easy to find, it’s clear that cellphones are outpacing access to grid electricity in poor parts of the country–and probably sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.

3. Cloud computing + cellphones = bottom of the pyramid services. (Skepticism of BoP notwithstanding, it’s a clever connection.)

4. Mechanical Turks + P2P + refugees = the Give Work app. Now if only I had an iPhone to test it out. (Or maybe I should stop error-checking my data and outsource it.)

Sharing Educational Opportunity (or Why I’ll Give the News Another Chance) October 14, 2009

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I’ve been thinking of quitting the newspaper. Every day for the past week I’ve woken up to news that’s left me distraught, grieving and very very angry – Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize as US drones turn parts of Pakistan to rubble and terrorists retaliate with suicide bombings, photographic evidence of sexual violence and torture amidst war in Iraq. So I decided, I’m done.

But today is a wonderful new day of faith. A seemingly inconsequential link on Facebook led me to discover Babar Ali, a 16 year old boy in West Bengal, India, who is changing the world from his own backyard. By day, Babar is a diligent, high-achieving student at a formal local school but in the afternoons he is teacher and headmaster to eight hundred other children from poor families who regularly attend school in his backyard. He, along with nine other volunteers like him, teaches the lessons as he learns them in his classes. And guess what, he’s been doing this since he was 11.

For everyone who’s interested, BBC News carried the whole story here .

I’ve been trying to figure out why his story moved me so much. And no, it’s not just because it’s the highlight of a really bad week. I think what amazes me the most is this young boy’s magical, infectious optimism. When he was 9 years old he discovered two things: One, that he could teach, he enjoyed it and was good at it. And two, that he should teach, because there were so many other children who could not afford the same opportunity. So this ordinary kid from an average family, armed with nothing but a purpose, started a school.

Of course he’s had some help along the way – donations pay for books, local officials help procure food supplies as an incentive to maintain attendance, and 9 other young men and women volunteer as teachers. But at the end of the day, it’s a very simple community-based model for delivering education to the poorest, and especially to children who work to help their families get by.

As a student of public policy, though, I’m itching to ask, has the model worked? Are literacy rates in Babar’s village actually falling as a result of his intervention (as some news reports have vaguely claimed)? How consistently are the kids coming to school (apparently, there’s roll call!)? How many girls v.s. boys are in attendance? All that and then I’m thinking.. upscaling, potential for replicability. But how do you replicate a 9 year old’s sense of responsibility and community? How do you replicate an initiative that’s being driven not by compensation but by shared motivation alone?

– Khadija Bakhtiar, MPP 2010

LAN Houses and truancy in Brazil October 1, 2009

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A neat article on the explosion of LAN Houses in Brazil, and the contrasting tensions between greater digital inclusion, entrepreneurship, and education (or rather, truancy). Having visited a standard secondary school in Brazil, I can’t imagine that truancy due to LAN houses is particularly concerning–not much in the way of education is available in the public schools that poor Brazilians have access to. It seems like LAN houses could be an excellent platform for connecting educational services with children of poor families.

Randomized-control trials and the pillars of microcredit December 10, 2008

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Via the FT, a great exposition on how little we know about whether (and how) microfinance works to improve the lives of the poor. It includes a rundown of some excellent randomized-control evaluations of microcredit, sequentially taking down supposed “pillars” of microfinance as not necessarily so crucial.

It’s centered on the work of Dean Karlan at Yale, one of the Innovations for Poverty Action folks. And while randomized-control trials aren’t any sort of panacea, I’m glad to see that they’re getting more play and significance in the mainstream press…especially since Berkeley’s firing up it’s rando with CEGA.

A successful fiscal expansion in the US requires a succesful fiscal expansion everywhere? December 10, 2008

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Dani Rodrik notes that a Keynesian stimulus in the US will have extraordinarily limited impact if much of the money goes to buying now-cheaper imports. He poses a curious dilemma:

“…unless we come up with a solution to the credit constraints in the developing world, we are going to either endanger the effectiveness of Keynesian policies in the U.S. and other advanced nations, or risk a sharp increase in protectionism.  Not a pleasant choice.”

He puts out two possible solutions: way more liquidity via the IMF, or a Tobin tax with revenues redistributed to developing countries. I can’t say whether either would work, but it is definitely an interesting thought that a successful US fiscal expansion may hinge on a successful global fiscal expansion. Has the US ever before so badly needed the rest of the world to march to the same tune?

Bill Gates’ policy message to Obama on education and foreign aid December 3, 2008

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From the Chronicle of Philanthropy…

 

Gates Urges Obama to Maintain Education and International Spending

In a public-policy speech on Wednesday, Bill Gates warned President-elect Barack Obama against using the economic freefall to cut spending on U.S. schools or on health and antipoverty programs overseas. (more…)

WB develops a “Human Opportunity Index” October 22, 2008

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While I generally cringe when people try to create indices for ultimately abstract and amorphous things, this strikes me as a neat project: trying to delineate how inequality affects opportunity in countries. If robust, it can be a great counterpoint to the Gini coefficient and really illuminate what the differential impacts of inequality might be.

Have yourself a look: The Human Opportunity Index.

China to pursue universal health care October 21, 2008

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Via the WSJ:

China’s government has unveiled a controversial plan to achieve universal care that would both increase health-care funding and control prices.

…The draft plan’s overall goal is to cover 90% of the population within two years and achieve universal care by 2020. It aims to return to non-profit national health care, an idea that was largely abandoned in the country 1980s.

This all stands in contrast to China’s current system, which provides little government funding to government hospitals and requires patients to pay heavy out-of-pocket expenses. The WSJ notes that out-of-pocket payments made up more than 60% of health spending in China at the end of the 1990s.

The plan — drafted in consultation with groups including the World Health Organization, the World Bank, consultant McKinsey & Co. and a few Chinese university-based public health experts — requires all revenue raised by public hospitals to be funneled to the state. The government also aims to set pricing standards for medical services.

Financial crisis likely means Foreign Aid will drop October 16, 2008

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Interesting ideas, via the Center for Global Development: