Jun 14 2009

A “Corps” Network to Peace

by at 11:28 pm

Throughout my undergraduate career, I have always been attracted to the idea of joining the Peace Corps. Continue Reading »

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Jun 12 2009

Where Does Religion Fit In? … And other questions I have to answer

by at 11:35 pm

I had hoped to start this last blog more confident in my final paper and with a clear idea of where I’d be heading as I look at girls’ education in Pakistan. Alas, writing this post has forced me to admit I still feel quite lost on my paper. Ever since I hit on a paper topic, I’ve read our readings with an eye toward “how will this help my paper?” and, more often than not, felt like I was missing something.

Although I still feel adrift, now I see more connections than before, namely that it is key to turn seemingly disadvantages into advantages. I’ve come to believe this is of the utmost importance when it comes to religion’s influence in Pakistan.

First, a reminder of my paper topic – I’m looking at how creating and strengthening networks helped establish accepted, thriving girls’ schools in Pakistan and how those networks helped spin off further development projects in communities. I’ve identified three potential disadvantages that must be used as an advantage to create thriving educational opportunities for girls in Pakistan: religion and extremism, the country’s government and security concerns. Continue Reading »

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Jun 12 2009

Triadic Relationship Between China, North and South Korea

by at 3:39 pm

In my final project, I will take a look at a triadic relationship between China, North Korea and South Korea, and how each dyad relationship influences to the relationship with the third party.  I will use Simmel’s Triad Theory to measure the relationships of these three countries and how this theory fits in the reality.


According to the Simmelian Triad model, three actors who are connecting throughout a mutual friend tend to maintain stable relationships.  Within this triad relationship, if A and B, and A and C are connected to each other, the relationship between B and C tends to connect to each other with either a week tie or a strong tie.  For example, A is not a big fan of Obama and his friend B is.  Then, they can be friends without changing their minds.  However, both of their friends, C, is also a big fan of Obama, A tends to follow the way of his friends think on certain issues.

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Jun 11 2009

questions on educational development

by at 4:59 pm

My final paper will ask what development strategies can implement best practices of education for the least advantaged students around the globe. The paper will have to address some basic questions. First, what do we know? Second, what don’t we know? Third, what changes can and should we make? Fourth, how can we make those changes? And fifth, what theory could support or challenge the strategies we would set out? In this post, I will outline what each of these questions might entail.
A global map, arranged by the "education index", provided by the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program

A global "education index", provided by the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program

So, what do we know? This question will have to be answered in several different ways. For example, we know that educational institutions often reflect the social organizations in which they are embedded. We also know that educational models provide some of the most effective means by which young people are socialized into cultural patterns. Since culture directly influences institutions, and therefore markets and politics, we know that culture and institutions form a reinforcing feedback cycle. Thus, we know how hard it is to change the practices of cultural institutions, and we can also infer how effective small changes can become over a long duration. Finally, we know which practices work, and which do not — to which we shall return.

Then, what don’t we know? We cannot know all of the externalities that also affect culture and institutions, nor can we predict what externalities will arise from small changes in those systems. We do not know the depth or complexity of each individual who participates in these educational systems. Most importantly, we do not know what form the most effective innovations in education will take, nor from where they will arise. However, all of these uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge can be harnessed productively.

What changes can we make, and what should we do? Here, the questions lose some objectivity and blend into subjective, cultural territory. We can say, generally, that we should aim to change educational practices from worse to better, and there are already measures that can help us direct those efforts. For example, we can look to previous research that indicates effective educational models, like Japan, Denmark, India, Finland, and South Korea. We can also seek out failing or defunct educational institutions, like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Mexico. Finally, we can look at the relative efficacy of international, national, regional, and local educational institutions to determine what our strategy should be.

So we come to the question of strategy. This involves determining both what opportunities we have before us, as well as what challenges. Once the research indicates some particular, concrete institutional models, how we go about instituting the necessary changes will be radically contingent on the culture and the model in question. This blends into the theoretical aspect of the foregoing research, since the cultural, economic, institutional, national, linguistic, and many other networks that affect education itself will require analysis. We can say, however, that if we identify some interstitial, as-yet-untapped resources, like the apparent multilingual advantage of those in less-developed regions, then we can target our strategy to those advantages, and at the same time, minimize resistance to the small changes that will likely lead to structural revolutions.

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Jun 11 2009

Time Banks and Rural Communities

by at 4:40 pm

Time banking systems possess the potential to be more effective in the sparsely populated networks of rural communities than the thicker, more developed networks of urban environments.  In many ways, a time bank development project would seek to pattern its own implementation on the ways in which rural communities are already creating wealth: through the sharing of resources, the development of multiple kinds of expertise, and the cultivation of weak ties throughout a locality.  A new time bank would need to capitalize on these existing social systems to achieve successful adoption and diffusion.

Described very briefly, time banks are alternative currency systems that value goods and services by the amount of time invested in the commodity’s creation.  Participants accrue credit by producing materials for other participants in the system.  A time bank is not based on barter, in which a particular good is exchanged for another, rather it is designed to normalize the value of each participant’s contributions to the system according to their time spent.  An hour’s worth of baking a cake is valued the same as an hour of child care, or an hour of auto repair.  Time banks have been implemented in a number of different types of communities, but I believe they are most well-suited to rural communities based around small population centers.  These types of communities already possess a number of characteristics conducive to the widespread adoption and diffusion of the time banking system.

While Garcia (2006) is interested in rural communities’ survival on a world stage, focusing primarily on the role they might play in competing within much larger economies than their local one, a time bank system is primarily interested in creating wealth within the local economy.  As such, it relies very heavily on the type of social connections already in place within a small community.  Some characteristics of these connections include:

  • Social connections in the style of weak ties, that extend beyond homophylic relationships, for in rural communities, expertise might be more sparsely located and individually possessed.
  • Shared and universally recognizable opinion leaders, individuals who have many ties to many areas of a rural community have significantly more proportional influence on the rural community than even the most significant node within an urban social network.
  • Established non-monetary systems of exchange, such as networks of friends who already exchange pots of soup for help removing dead trees.

Additionally, time banks are particularly potent solutions for problems that afflict rural areas.  Especially in current times, as wallets are pinched and credit becomes more difficult to attain, rural communities might be particularly well served by non-monetary systems of exchange that value effort, time, and expertise over stable employment or prudent financial habits of years gone by.

In implementing a new time bank system, I would advise a development strategist to identify some existing social connections that are similar to those that would be present in a successful, sustainable time bank.   Examples include, groups of people, like church groups or existing cooperatives, which come together in times of duress, new businesses that are seeking to attract clientele, individuals who, because of some exogenous pressure, might look for other ways of slimming their monthly or weekly financial burden.  Each of these communities most likely shares individuals, some of whom may be recruited for roles as change agents.  These ambassadors of the system might be able to present the time bank to his or her peers as simply a more efficient way of doing what is already common in their communities.  Care would need to be taken that the diffusion of the community was not restricted to certain strata of the network, though that is an issue to be taken up at length in the near future.

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Jun 11 2009

Networks against breast cancer

by at 3:53 pm

One in 10 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her life time. Breast cancer is a disease that has global reach and affects the very make-up of societies. In some countries, breast cancer can increase poverty for women and children and terminal cases can leave children orphans. Diffusion and innovation are key factors to consider when making any development plan and perhaps most integral when examining relationships and how they effect adaptation and adoption.

Breast cancer education in Ghana, Courtesy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Breast cancer education in Ghana, Courtesy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Continue Reading »

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Jun 11 2009

Local food movement: Come and get it!

by at 3:45 pm

Every other weekend, I look forward to visiting the local farmer’s market. Bright red tomatoes, farm-fresh eggs, and the waft of spice-scented apples – it’s a veritable feast for the senses. I not only feel that I benefit from the visual feast and “local” nature of the food, I know I am supporting families and farms that care deeply about their produce and their standard of living. It’s a luxury that I can (mostly) afford; I continue to frequent farmers markets because my bounded rationality is low – I know almost everything about the products and the people.

Italy Picture © James Martin, Europe for Visitors

Italy Picture © James Martin, Europe for Visitors

This led me to wonder: Continue Reading »

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Jun 11 2009

Local Tastes Better

by at 3:36 pm

“Challenges help us more than they hurt us.” My grandfather would say such a thing whenever I found myself without a solution to my current problem. I am reminded of such a problem when I think of the complexity of third-world development. When I was around twelve, I found a relatively inexpensive computer case for sale. Without thinking, I spent my little saving on this worthless item. Of all the parts that make up a computer, the case is usually one of the cheapest. Yet, over the next year of my life I slowly built up my own computer piece by piece, problem by problem, through side-jobs, gifts from my family, and bargaining. I fixed so many little problems along the way and built up the institutional knowledge of computer hardware while expanding my social capital in order to acquire more parts. When I was done, I had something truly my own. Far from perfect, the computer was still one of the most reliable I have ever owned and the knowledge has served me far beyond my wildest expectations.

If someone where to ask me what I learned in “Networks and Development,” I would point them to Jane Jacobs. Her explanation of cities as nodes of economic development and currency as the primary feed-back system of economies (albeit now flawed feed-back system) perfectly sums up the challenges of complexity in development. Her case-studies also illuminate the benefits of a complex system. One decision can have externalities completely outside of all expectations. Yesterday I was remembering an incident my freshman year of high school. I had gone to audition for a play and I was practicing my audition piece minutes before I was to be called on stage. I distinctly remember how I wanted to just go home and forget about it. No one would have cared and my family would have understood. There would always have been another play or club to occupy my time. But for whatever reason, I stuck it out. I was cast as the lead in that play which led me befriend a teacher who became a mentor for me in competitive speech contests. Those contests paid for much of my first year of college and may have been the deciding factor for why I was accepted at Georgetown. Because I went to undergrad at Georgetown (and because of my computer knowledge from a rash decision as a twelve year old) I worked at UIS and attend CCT. And because of that, I am now learning about complex systems and the challenges of development and writing this blog post. The externalities of life, much like economies, can seem completely random.

What does my life lessons have to do with development? Economic development is much like personal development. It doesn’t come cheap. One doesn’t expect to give their children strong characters; we all know those must be earned. Just as I had to sweat through the difficulty of building my first computer, developing nations will face my challenges of their own on the road to strong economies. Putnam and Narayan explain how the networks of cooperation are fundamental to success. Without using every resource at my disposal, my computer would never have been built. It was a combination of work, charity, and trade that led me to acquire all the pieces of the puzzles. Developing nations will need all the same avenues of support. North shows that agglomeration makes everything easier (and cheaper) than going after everything as individuals. I could have ended up here in CCT through other paths, but by working with my personal resources instead of others expectations, I succeeded. And Rogers says that diffusion can be used to spread positive behaviors through social norms. My personal journey may have inspired others just as others inspired me. All of these lessons were present in my own life and in the economic life I hope to work for in the developing world.

“Local” is the new buzz word in the food industry. Just a few years ago, “local” might have sounded cheap and unappealing. Why not “foreign” and “exotic” foods? Recently my sister and some of her college friends went to Nicaragua to work on houses. I computed that they had spent around fifty dollars per man-hour when costs of travel were included. This did not incorporate the lost wages for local workers. The lesson is that we cannot expect gestures of support to be good enough. We have to analyze the true costs and benefits whenever we deal with economies that are not functioning well on their own. My sister’s group failed to take this into account.

“Theories are like clothes. Try them on and see how they fit.” Professor Garcia’s advice is a sound method of interacting with theory. I hope to follow this as I work on my paper concerning the digital divide. My story of building my first computer reminds me of the lofty aspirations of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project. The thought was that the children of the third world will learn from each other in their own networks and dramatically alter the knowledge divide that technology creates between the wealthy and poor. Yet it has failed. Private interests have taken over the “market” for computers to the poor. The lesson of this class have shown why OLPC was destined for failure. It failed to act locally for global change. Sustainability was never considered. And wishing that the project would be immune to market forces was naive. The question now is how to apply the lessons of agglomeration, externalities, and networks. I think no single theory will be the key for success.

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Jun 11 2009

Bringing it together: the Roma, health care and theories of how things are.

by at 3:11 pm


                  commons.wikimedia.org                      pro.corbis.com          


As a cat lover, I have always cringed at the phrase “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” In considering the problem of Romani access to health care, however, I can think of no better way to put it other than that dreaded saying.   There are a number of ways to approach this project, depending largely on the exact location and resources.  My research question can be narrowed to asking: under what circumstances can the majority population and the marginalized Roma of Eastern Europe work together to enhance Romani access to health care?  Put differently, I will draw from the readings for our class to explore the factors leading to poor Romani health care and suggest possible solutions to overcoming those barriers. I suggest that, in drawing from many of the readings, three main themes can be identified throughout and appropriately applied to this quandary.  The three overarching themes related to helping the Roma are:  effectively developing the means by which the programs are communicated, considering the role and structure of networks, and adapting each program as necessary when necessary. 

            I think that this problem is largely an issue of communication between the Roma and non-Roma – not only regarding this specific question of health care, but also a broader disconnect that perpetuates a history of discrimination.  Therefore, Everett Rogers’ discussion of diffusion applies beautifully to programs designed to introduce the “innovation” of health care into the Romani communities.  His diffusion model would suggest that a sequential process ranging from introducing the system through actual successful adoption of the new system would be critical for success.[1]  In this way, an important factor in a Romani health care program would be not to simply devote monetary resources to building a clinic, but would instead begin with working to introduce the concept of why health care is important and how to go about building a health care system.  Efforts such as the Tanzania project discussed by Rogers could be very useful in reaching a wide-range of audiences with messages specifically tailored to the local needs.[2] The ideal communications would be aimed at both the Romani population as well as the general public, for a critical piece of building this program would be to enhance communication between the general and the marginalized to make each internalize the need for Romani health. 



            In introducing health care initiatives to Romani communities and encouraging an understanding in surrounding majority areas, development programs would be working toward the development of a network.  Mark Buchanan discusses the various structures of networks, a concept that surfaces in various other readings as well.  The role of networks in Romani health programs is seen in the creation of ties within the Roma community and expanding the network to the outside.  In this way, Buchanan’s discussion of the importance of having both strong and weak ties is greatly applicable to my research. Recalling that “bridges are almost always formed by weak links,”[3] the focus discussed above regarding Rogers’ communication model to connect the Roma and the general public is directly tied to Buchanan’s ideas.  Further, the importance of strengthening internal network ties among the Roma regarding the issue reflects Jane Jacobs’ focus on building locally before extending outward.  In this way, programs enhancing Roma health need to be incorporate internal networks led by Romani leaders on the ground as well as bridges to others outside their own community.  Creating these networks can also help identify anomalies in the relationship between the majority and the minority – or, alternatively, between the state and the Roma communities.  The connection between the local and the distant is discussed by both Jeffrey Henderson (in his discussion of how policies made abroad can impact domestic production[4]) and Jane Jacobs.  Finally, as discussed by Anver Greif, the creation and maintenance of networks must take into consideration the role of trust and the need to be weary of ill-intentioned nodes.[5]




            Perhaps the most important overarching theme in effectively diffusing the idea of enhanced access to health care is that of the need to adapt each program according to the time and space in which it is implemented.  Drawing upon Douglas North’s focus on creating “adaptively efficient”[6] institutions, it is critical to create programs that are adaptable to a given community.  In this way, catch-all development policies such as those criticized by Joseph Stiglitz should not be deployed into the communities.  Instead, efforts should consider individual Romani communities across the continent.  For example, a Romani settlement in Slovakia may require programs focused on different health issues or diffused through different channels than required in a Hungarian community.   Because of this, it is important to re-adapt even programs deemed successful in one area to suit the needs of the societal framework of another area. 


            Exploring the issues of enhancing Roma access to health care includes a multitude of issues, players and potential paths.  Throughout the readings for this class, I have gained exposure to the complex nature of development – from the impact of actions taken far away to the negative externalities possible despite the best of intentions.  While the goal of increasing a populations’ access to health care may seem daunting, breaking down the steps to addressing individual communities makes success perhaps more attainable.  Learning lessons and adapting programs as necessary will show that there is, indeed, more than one way to skin a cat.  Yet, the “best” way will very well vary from location to location. 




[1] Rogers, Everett. Diffusion of Innovations.  5th Ed. Free Press: New York (2003).  p 169.

[2] Rogers, Everett. p 200.

[3] Buchanan, Mark.  Nexus.  W.W. Norton and Co: New York (2002). p 43.

[4] Henderson, Jeffrey. Global Production Networks, Competition, Regulation and Poverty Reduction: Policy    Implications.  Centre on Regulation and Competition.  Paper No. 115. June 2005.  p 5

[5] Greif, Avner.  “Commitment, Coercion and Markets.”  in Handbook of New Institutional   Economics, C. Menard and M. Shirley (eds.).  Springer: 2005.   P 733. 

[6] North, Douglass. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance.  Cambridge University         Press: New York (2008).  p 82.  

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Jun 10 2009

Qatar You Doing?

by at 6:48 pm

Oil, natural gas, and lots of sand—these are the things one may think of when Qatar comes to mind.  But what else does it have to offer? Continue Reading »

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