Locked latrines, meat offsetting and development apps

August 26, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

I just spent an enthralling couple of days at a get together of Oxfam GB’s country directors (CDs). A combination of group discussions and speed-dating as I talked to as many as possible of the incredibly impressive people who are on Oxfam’s frontline, lobbying ministers and officials, consulting poor communities and doing (lots of) management stuff. I picked up some examples of effective development work that I’ll highlight over the coming weeks, but here’s a few initial impressions and stories, with countries edited out just in case.

Climate change: it was striking what a mainstream part of aid work climate change adaptation and advocacy have become. Everyone seems to be doing it. Remarkable shift in just the last few years.

Driving implementation: several conversations about how, as countries have got increasingly involved in policy work, many have concluded that you can get more bangs for your advocacy buck by focussing on implementation of existing legislation, rather than demanding nice new laws that no-one takes any notice of. As one CD from Central Asia observed: ‘the elite know how to handle the expat aid consultants. You make sure they come in, employ senior civil servants, buy a new law and can declare success. Then the expat moves on and nothing changes.’

And some stories, good and bad, (and all completely unscientific and anecdotal):

In the Pakistan floods one of the reasons why people are reluctant to move to camps is fear of losing their land. People are clinging on as near as possible to their submerged plots, so that they can get back there as soon as possible when the waters recede. A stark example of the links between land rights and humanitarian work.

Ever struggled to explain the difference between outputs and outcomes? Try this. One CD in latrineWest Africa came upon a beautiful new row of shiny latrines. Padlocked. Why? ‘We wanted to keep them clean.’ Nice output (latrines) shame about the outcome (health).

In the Middle East we are doing some fascinating research on men and boys, and their attitudes to women’s rights and violence against women. What power are men willing to give up? Generally, no problems with women getting an education or a job, but complete opposition to adultery (by women, that is) or going out without permission – a man has to know at all times where his wife is. And two surprises – men don’t necessarily make better interviewers of other men, and violence often begins with mothers (not fathers) beating their sons.

And two whacky ideas:

cowsWe know that carnivores emit more carbon (loads more grain needed to produce a kilogram of beef than a kilo of, ermm, grain) and that levels of meat consumption are far greater in the rich countries. But vegetarianism by decree is never going to fly. Obvious solution? Meat offsetting. If I want a steak, I need to compensate someone in a developing country who is going to suffer the consequences, and probably eats a lot less meat than I do.

And as iPhones or similar 3 and 4G gizmos (I’m vague on the details) spread across the developing world, what would an Oxfam app look like? GPS tools for small farmers to help them reduce fertilizer or pesticide use? Ushahidi-style crowd sourcing for activists? All suggestions welcome.

August 26, 2010
Duncan Green