Lauren Burgoon's Weblog


Jun 12 2009

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

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 09 2009

Qatarization – a Genius Idea

Qatar is an interesting country to consider through Jane Jacobs’ lens because it epitomizes a nation whose capital city was born and rebuilt through innovation – but Doha’s vibrancy spun off of its colonial past. In some ways, Doha does fly in the face of some of Jacobs’ arguments, but the city’s constant reinvention and innovation follow Jacobs’ sequencing to create a successful city. I think Jacobs would be a big fan of Doha. Continue Reading »

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Jun 08 2009

American culture run amok

Where Douglass North argues the centrality of institutions in checking behavior and reducing uncertainty, Avner Greif takes the argument into the cultural realm by laying out how those institutions are steeped in cultural values and beliefs. Culture too plays an undeniable role in the current U.S. (and global) financial mess.

Piggies pay the piper for overspending

It is not only freewheeling spending and credit addiction that caused the economic downturn, though both are at fault and arguably became part of the American economic culture. Also at fault is the approach to regulation, which helped lead to poor lending standards and overspending. Rather than cut the problem off at the pass as it became apparent a market break down was on the horizon, we reacted afterward, especially with talk of more regulation. Is this our culture at work? I think so.

Let’s use a Greifian approach to look at historical economic challenges in the U.S. An NPR story reminded me of American responses to financial troubles. The Great Depression gave rise to a slew of new regulations and regulatory bodies, such as the FDIC. Trouble in the early 1900s led to the Federal Reserve. One legacy of the savings and loan crisis is the Office of Thrift Supervision. Now talking heads and politicians are bleating about more regulation. What about smarter regulation?

Continue Reading »

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Jun 07 2009

Technology shouldn’t be forced

Technology is helping widen the chasm between the haves and have nots – and is quickly becoming characterized by the “knows” and “knows nots.” That is, those who can use technology efficiently and with a purpose and those who cannot. Technology, such as e-business, has been a pet project of the development community for the past several years. Projects of all types, including rural development, agriculture, water safety and women’s cooperatives, include technology components. Sometimes this addition makes sense, but all too often, project organizers insert a technology component without consulting stakeholders because it is easier to secure money for such a project. In many cases, it would make more sense for technology to be part of a “phase 2” in development projects rather than foisting it on uninterested people. Technology is like democracy; it should not be forced on people.

Last fall I took Prof. Singh’s Technology, Culture and Development class and he recounted a story about a women’s cooperative in India. As the focus of a development project, the cooperative received funding, business training, better weaving equipment – and a computer. The weaving business took off and orders flew in. But the computer sat unused in the corner. Technology and a push toward e-business was the development organization’s idea, but the women simply weren’t interested.

Perhaps times have changed for these women. Perhaps their business is slowing down locally. Or not – perhaps they simply want to expand. Then now would be the proper time to reapproach the cooperative and begin discussing options, including an e-business. With that would come training on basic computer skills, funds for machinery repair and upgrades and opportunities for ongoing skills development to keep abreast of changing technologies. As we heard from the Apple technology in the classroom anecdote, technology without know-how and support is useless.

But none of this consultation happened in the first round with the Indian weavers. The development organization had its own objectives, and promoting e-business was a top-down decision. True, the women created their own agency by simply declining to use the computer. But time, money and other resources were lost on unused and unwanted technology.

Project organizers must remember to take a step back. While it’s admirable to make a big push initially and try for comprehensive development by including technology, I imagine it can be extremely overwhelming for the people targeted by development projects. If I was a weaver in India, my first aim would be to make enough to support my family and keep the collective running, not learning how an online business¬†may help.

Technology can be daunting and while the Internet is invaluable for many, its promise is not certain for those like the Indian women weavers. E-businesses as part of development projects are a dime a dozen, and there is no guarantee any business will attain success. More importantly, just as political or cultural changes are incremental, so is acceptance and desire of technology. This must be respected without forcing the latest bells and whistles on people just because “technology” looks good as a project keyword.

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Jun 02 2009

Lip Service at the World Bank?

Hope and hype about the World Bank’s adaptability run high. Scholars and development practitioners preach the need for bank projects to adapt to local conditions, and the World Bank has published dozens of papers and books in recent years affirming that need. In Population and the World Bank (2000), a bank publication, an “action plan” stressed “effectiveness also requires adaptation to the increasing diversity and rapid changes in demographic and related social and economic conditions in countries.” Excellent – but is the World Bank following its own prescription? That is less clear. Continue Reading »

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Jun 01 2009

A broad framework

I have argued strongly in previous posts that no one-size-fits-all development project exists because terms must be tailored to individual populations. Yet there is a broad framework that all development practitioners should abide by; doing so helps appropriately tailor projects without prescribing, for instances, steps that would work in Uzbekistan but not Uganda. Three guidelines for approaching development are: respecting the notion of incremental change; recognizing the integrative nature of development that does not ignore the reality of networks; and creating adaptive development projects that respond to changing needs of the population. Continue Reading »

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May 28 2009

Educating Girls in Afghanistan with a Network Approach

Education inarguably is key for human development, yet in many countries this opportunity is specifically denied to girls – sometimes for religious reasons, sometimes for want of laborers. When girls are cut off from education, they are kept in a cycle with fewer opportunities, less access to the legal system, worse health and other deficiencies. Yet providing girls access to education is not as easy as simply opening a school, especially where religious leaders or fundamentalists are determined not to educate women.

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

Continue Reading »

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May 26 2009

Nodes of power

There is an undeniable interdependence in the global network between states, financial institutions and NGOs, but this network is not the same internationally. Different states and regions have different connection strengths between these nodes – and some networks are more susceptible to changes from certain nodes. This comes from the uneven global development that Stiglitz writes of extensively. The divide between rich and poor countries that he writes about in “The New Global Economy” means what happens within the United States’ nodes, for example, may directly affect India, a lower-middle income country. But what happens in India may not always directly affect the U.S. It comes down to economic strength, political might and histories of power.

That said, regardless of the geographic section of the network, what happens in one node inevitably affects the others. Here the state and financial institutions seem to have more power than the NGO node, following the politics of globalization.

Consider state priorities – if a country’s foreign policy identifies another country as a vested interest, NGOs may take more notice and begin or increase work in that country. NGOs will be further compelled to do so because financial institutions are more likely to fund projects. The results are widespread, including cash and human resources capital flowing into the selected country. These resources then begin to affect that country’s network – though the results could be good or bad, as Collier and Stiglitz both note.

NGO work in Afghanistan highlights this. The U.S. took an active interest in investing in redevelopment projects and money was thrown into Afghanistan as NGOs flooded the country to build roads and schools, bolster civic society and more. These resources have helped many in Afghan society, but also have helped restart the countries poppy production. Both the good and bad have an impact on Afghanistan and its place in the global network.

The opposite also would hold true of nodes affecting each other – if a state does not hold another country as a high priority, financial institutions are less likely to fund projects and therefore many NGOs either must seek funding elsewhere or move on to another region. Cuba is a good example of this. Because of the U.S. embargo on most goods, services and travel, financial institutions would not consider funding projects by NGOs, who are not allowed to operate within the country.

Given the interdependence, the question becomes how to use the global network for good. States and financial institutions do hold much of the power, and this can be a problem if NGOs are beholden to politics and at the mercy of institutions with an agenda. Decades of top-down World Bank development projects show this is usually spectacularly unsuccessful and may be ruinous to local populations.

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May 21 2009

Different connections for different purposes

I capitalize on a combination of my strong and weak connections in my intellectual pursuits, and use my network for different purposes. I write about research at Georgetown, which spans thousands of topics and areas. Anything I want to know more about is researched here – piracy, HIV/AIDS, health economics, violence in the Middle East, dolphin communication tactics, you name it. Often my articles reflect my own interests and subjects I want to learn more about.

While interviewing Georgetown faculty (weak connections) I get to bounce my theories off of them. I’m dealing with experts, some of who have devoted their entire careers to their research areas, so I feel confident in the responses I get. I may not always agree with their opinion, but I know they’re not coming out of thin air either. These interactions help me reshape or reinforce my ideas and way of analyzing situations.

This bleeds over into my personal life, or strong connections. Most of my friends are either from international backgrounds or work in development, peace and conflict or other international affairs areas. Coupled with living in Washington, this means discussions of news of the day or debates over a social topic take an international affairs bent.

Take Somali piracy. The issue fascinates me, especially the visual of several men on small boats keeping the U.S. Navy at bay. I wanted to know more about this, so I interviewed a piracy expert at Georgetown – a weak connection in my network. We talked about poverty as a root cause of Somali piracy, but also the U.S. intervention in the 1990s, international efforts (or lack thereof) to boost up Somali government and the law of the seas.

Piracy later came up among my friends and, as inevitably happens, someone began a sentence with “Yes, but you have to consider …” and took on the topic as an examination of economic systems. Professionally and personally, connections in my network tend to approach issues holistically and I’ve been subconsciously trained to do so as well. It focuses my approach on the big picture rather than using tunnel vision. I’m finding that kind of holistic approach emerging in my class research papers, with different disciplines considered to answer questions. This can be challenging, especially with disciplines I know little about, but is helping more learn to stop favoring one discipline above all others.

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