Rachel Schaffer's Weblog

Bio: Rachel Schaffer is in her final semester at CCT. While working full-time for the Center for Peace and Security Studies from 2006-2009, she attended school part-time for two years. Finishing her final year as a full-time student, Rachel completed an internship at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program during the Fall 2009 semester. During the Spring 2010 semester, she will work as a TA for Dr. Garcia's "Networks and Creativity" course and complete a social media internship for a small nonprofit. Rachel received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in May 2005. She spent a semester in Poland and has traveled throughout much of Eastern Europe. She expects to complete her M.A. in May 2010.




Jun 11 2009

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


                  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 09 2009

Oh, Doha: Where do we go from here?

My boss has a bumper sticker on her bulletin board.  Mimicking the popular “I (heart) NY” logo, it declares “I (heart) Doha.”  While I know reading too much into a bumper sticker is silly – how many people actually believe everything they place on their bumper? – I think the significance in this instance is the international presence in Doha’s souvenir.  With a relatively short period of time, Doha, Qatar has completely made over its structure – from financial structure to social norms.  Tied to the outside in innumerable ways but grossly successful, I think Jane Jacobs would be baffled about the development strategies adopted by Qatar over the past decade and a half.  While Jane Jacobs would be critical of many of the ways Qatar developed Doha, I think we can find hope in identifying efforts to correct their hasty development – though perhaps too late in the game.


When it comes to development, Jacobs discusses the need for a sequence of events to occur in a necessary order:  generate markets, job availability, transplants, technology and capital.[i]  I would argue that Qatar did not so much generate their own sustainable market, but instead concentrated its efforts into Doha and tapped into resources they can offer the rest of the world (oil and natural gas).  In a quite opportunistic way, the nation recognized its ability to provide a precious resource and has built its economy heavily on those two factors.   While I am certainly not an expert on Qatar, the history that I understand is not unlike that of the story Jane Jacobs tells of Uruguay.  The once-prosperous land relied on the need for leather elsewhere for their continued growth.  Not building from the ground up in a sustainable and sequential manner, they lost their wealth when demand for their resource diminished due to circumstances beyond their control.[ii]  While demand for oil/natural gas will (unfortunately) not disappear in the near future, Qatar’s fate will waver should the market for these natural resources change.



 Much of Qatar remains concentrated in Doha – perhaps a city structure Jane Jacobs would applaud – with ties to the outside extend beyond the market for oil and gas.   While creating links to other entities is certainly a positive, development according to Jane Jacobs must not rely on the resources of other locations.  Perhaps the factor most unfortunate for the development of Doha (and, ultimately, Qatar), is that of an expatriate-laden labor force.  Echoing the forces that played on Jacobs’ Bardou “like a toy on a string,” I suggest that the expatriates in Doha that have driven it to such success may very well abandon the area once the resources (or the demand) are no longer there.  The lack of a focus on developing from within can be dangerous, as discussed throughout Jacobs’ work. 

 Object Localized, www.neuroinformatik.ruhr-uni-bochum.de

While Jacobs would criticize the sequence of development, I think that efforts are beginning to address those mal-timed projects.  For example, Qatarization[iv] is the name of a program specifically designed to incorporate more local Qataris into the workforce.  The program seeks to train both men and women in skills from maritime disciplines (men) to clerical expertise (women).  Yet, the program is again centered on building a workforce to support the market as it exists with their current level of oil production.  While building a local workforce is indeed a step toward recovering from the fallacies Jacobs would point out, building in such a way that perpetuates the path-dependency reduces the positives.  In that realm, perhaps efforts to branch out of the oil production – such as calls to create a “knowledge economy”[v] – are more sufficient attempts at a structural shift away from natural resources.   But, one must wonder, could a second-thought piece of the economic architecture really offset a massive decline in the global oil demand?  Probably not.


In applying the development of Doha and Jane Jacobs’ ideas to efforts to help other areas, I am again drawn to the idea that an organic effort must be driven by those with permanent ties to the land.  I, and likely Jane Jacobs, would not be so critical of Doha had the impetus for development come from Qataris themselves instead of outsiders.  Were I to develop a program in any region, the first line of action would be to understand what the area needs, what it can innovatively create to offer and how the people of that area envision the development going.  In the end, it seems again the running themes revolve around localization.  Perhaps some day, even bumper stickers will evolve a local flair – instead of adopting the oh-so-New York “I (heart)…”

[i] Jacobs, Jane.  Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  Vintage Books: New York (1984).  P 44.

[ii] Ibid 62

[iii] Ibid 34

[iv] http://www.qatarization.com.qa/Qatarization/Qatarization.nsf/en_Index?ReadForm

[v] http://www.itp.net/news/515085-qatar-sets-out-vision-for-knowledge-economy

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Jun 08 2009

Lessons from Failure: Charting a New Course

Unemployment.  Foreclosure.  Credit crisis. 

As a 20-something, college-educated, middle-class American, such words did not resonate within me as personal threats until quite recently.  Yet, recent history has demonstrated to us all that no nation (or citizen) is immune to failure and the need for realignment.  The United States stands to learn much from the causes of the market crash, the reaction from those involved and the debate surrounding chartering a new course for our nation.   Avner Greif’s various works reflect the lessons learned by the US, including: the need for protection against mal-intentioned individuals; a subsequent necessity for efficient counter-balancing mechanisms; and a view of institutions as ever-evolving beasts.   In truly internalizing these lessons, we must also apply them to strategies directed at bettering the situation of the developing world.


Perhaps one of the more disappointing lessons that we have learned from the economic crisis is the importance of trust and the need to be weary of the not-so-trustworthy.  In “Commitment, Coercion, and the Markets,” Greif introduces the concept of morals and trust.  He notes that “because some agents are bad types [those more likely to cheat], each agent is motivated to ‘test’ new partners in exchange to discover their types.”[i] When applied to the market system in America and the global financial crisis, Greif’s observation serves as a warning that there are indeed more Enron-esque executives waiting to gain power, poisoned with the desire to help themselves over the broader society.   Gone are the days we have discussed in class in which the local banker is plays a trusted role in our lives.  Instead, customers must wonder about the credibility of those seeking to “help” them reach their dreams.  While we may not be able to fully avoid corruption or regain trust in leadership (in both the private and public sectors), the need to be weary of motivations has been moved to the forefront.   


Along with a highlighted weariness of the potentially less-trustworthy, the United States has learned that a counterbalance and regulation is not only “ok,” it is necessary.   Allowing the “market” to decide our fate is dangerous due to the motivations of those behind market decisions – and, further, “a state strong enough to protect rights is also strong enough to abuse them.”[ii] Greif discusses the ability for a state’s administrative capacity to play a role in providing “a balance of coercive powers within a polity” and providing a screen for power abuses.[iii]  We have learned, and as discussed Greif’s works, that a lack of moral leaders exists throughout the system.  Providing checks and balances is indeed necessary, but we must ask under what circumstances can those providing the balance be kept in line themselves.  Once the American people became educated and enraged about the current market crisis, change was introduced in the form of legislation such as the recent limitations on the credit industry.  Thus, I echo Greif in suggesting it is necessary for the public to remain engaged and aware of what is happening around them – and to make sure the checks and balances are operating as necessary. 

 balance.  www.socialdemocraticpartyofamerica.org

A third lesson that I think America has learned –e and actually begun reacting to – is the need to change and adapt where necessary.  Greif discusses the need for an evolving system in saying that “gradual and unanticipated consequences implied by existing institutions lead to institutional change.”[iv]  The concept of being able to adjust in the face of failure is, to me, a key characteristic of success.  Jane Jacobs perhaps says it best in Cities and the Wealth of Nations by claiming that “failures can help set us straight if we attend to what they tell us about realities.”[v]  However, as she points out, there exists a tendency to not want to recognize those realities.  I would suggest that Americans have reached the point of anger necessary to recognize and react to the way things were in years past.  The sweeping support for the concept of “change” indicates a new kind of culture perhaps more welcome to altering the institutional structure in regard to regulation, leadership and economic forces.


In applying the lessons learned by the United States to the realm of international development, I would suggest that the most important lesson is recognizing the fact that our way is not necessarily the best way.  Considering development strategies targeting the Roma that I have discussed in my blogs, I think that this sense of openness would be critical to developing localized and successful programs.  Understanding the merits of being flexible both at home and abroad reflects the need to truly grasp localities in which organizations work – instead of attempting to build institutions that reflect our own.   As Greif discusses throughout his articles, the structure of society (collectivist or individualist) and the beliefs within it play an important factor in the success of the development of its various institutions.  He says that “initial conditions, spontaneous evolution, learning and intentional design influence institutional selection.”[vi]  In this way, we are yet again faced with proof that being open to many paths may very well provide the most favorable outcome in the long run.

The citizens of America have a right to be angry about what happened behind the scenes leading up to the recent market crash.  Further, we should expect the ever-evolving structure of the world in which we live to adjust accordingly. While finding a silver lining in a situation such as the global economic crisis may label me a dewy-eyed optimist, I will take that risk and offer a rosy outlook.  I believe that the institutions in play will learn their lesson and American citizens will develop a culture more aware of economic risks.   As we learn this about ourselves and implement our own changes, we will be better prepared to help developing nations charter their own course.



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

[ii] Ibid.” P 747.

[iii] Ibid p 748.

[iv] Ibid. p 759.

[v] Jacobs, Jane.  Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  Vintage Books (1985):  New York. p 7.

[vi] Greif, Avner.  “Commitment, Coercion and Markets.”  P 757. 

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Jun 04 2009

Technology: A Role in Advancing the Roma

In my blogs thus far, I have explored various elements of the precarious situation facing the Roma population of Eastern Europe.  Specifically, my interest lies in understanding development programs aiming to enhance Romani access to health care.  Currently, there exist a plethora of organizations implementing initiatives to raise awareness of why the issue demands attention and how to make changes within the Romani community.  A key element in virtually every program is the spread of information – from informing the Romani population on how they can help themselves to educating the general community on Roma-specific health challenges.  Because of the importance of spreading information, I would incorporate a flexible and sustainable communications technology structure into program development.  More specifically, I would place special emphasis on using the Internet as a tool to spread information. Incorporating a technological component into efforts to improve Romani access to health care would require careful consideration of why such technology matters, an understanding of how to best structure the technologies and foresight into potential roadblocks. 



Technology, such as the Internet, matters to Romani health care-oriented development programs for three overarching reasons: the ability to reach across cultural groups quickly; after installation, the use of technology is relatively cheap; and the technology developed to spread information about heath care could be used for other related efforts, such as enhancing their access to education.  The ability to reach a wide audience is critical in spreading information to the right people at the right time.  Avner Greif discusses the importance of information within an economic framework and I suggest that the same applies to the role of information in development.  In this way, I echo Greif’s sentiments in claiming that “information is crucial to… decision-making.”[i]  While the initial costs of setting up communication technologies may be high, the benefit of a more informed public would outweigh such investment. Thus, committing resources necessary to create technological links matters in its ability to spread information and provide a hub for the efforts’ communication. 


Just as critical as the actual use of a technological system in the spread of information is the structure of that system.  I am an advocate for on-the-ground analysis to understand the local societal structure before delving too deep into programming plans. Greif introduces the concept of “collectivist” and “individualist” societal structures. While his discussion again focuses on the economic ramifications of each structure, the concepts can be applied to Romani communities’ relation with the general public.  For example, I would argue that the “collectivist” structure reflects the division between groups of Roma and the general public.  In this way, close-knit Romani communities exist external of the benefits they could if they were to bridge themselves to the larger public via technology.  Ties to those outside a small cluster more closely reflect the characteristics of an “individualist” structure.  Yet, such a structure has its own demerits – such as discouraging the spread of information.[ii]  As Greif notes, “even if each member of the society recognizes the inefficiency caused by individualist cultural beliefs, a unilateral move by an individual or (relatively) small group would not induce a change.”[iii]  The structure of the technologies introduced would need to reflect the goal of connecting groups in a way that continues to foster positive change.




The structure of a new technology thus greatly alters the landscape on which the program is taking place.  Taking the “collectivist” and “individualist” structures into consideration, the technological structure would have to respect internal culture of the Romani community while simultaneously connecting them to the outside.  It is this necessary balance that perplexes me the most when considering how to structure advancements.  Developing a connection via technology to bring unite Roma to outside their comfort zone while maintaining their unique culture presents a delicate situation.  In order for technologies such as the Internet to be implemented most efficiently, the structure would need to reflect an “adaptively efficient” framework.[iv]  An adaptive framework would allow it to be continuously altered – expanded if well-recieved or restructured if not welcomed, for example – as necessary to reflect local needs.   


As with any development project, the design and implementation of technology such as the Internet in a program aimed at improving the situation of a group of individuals will inevitably experience roadblocks.  The barriers necessary to consider in the use of technology for improving the situation of the Roma include initial costs of setting up the technological infrastructure, training users, ensuring maintenance of the system and psychological resistance to changing deep-seeded ethnic dividing lines.  While the obstacles may seem daunting, it is necessary to put forth effort for change.  The ability to change can be made easier through the spread of information – which can, in turn, be made possible through technology. 



[i] Greif, Avner. “Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders.”  The          Journal of Economic History. Vol 4, No 4. December 1989. p 880.

[ii] Greif, Avner.  “Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflectoin        on Collectivist and Individualist Societies.” The Journal of Political Economy.  Vol 102, Issue 5.  October 1994. p  923.

[iii] Greif, Avner.  “Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflectoin       on Collectivist and Individualist Societies.” p  925

[iv] North, Douglass.  Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance.  Cambridge University       Press: New York, NY (1990)., p 82.


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Jun 02 2009

Solidarity… Again!


Ah, Solidarność

In Poland, this term (“solidarity”) conjures nostalgia for a labor union in the 1980s that empowered laborers in the then-communist nation.  Bringing together the union interests and government officials, Solidarność sparked the Round Table Discussions and subsequent semi-free elections.  In a feat previously considered unattainable, the union brought about a structural shift within the institutions of communism. 

Fast-forwarding to the contemporary trials facing Eastern Europe (including Poland), particularly in regard to the ethnic division among the Roma and the general population, the concept of “solidarity” again provides hope for adaptable institutions that can be adjusted for enhanced performance.  Through trust-building and the creation of stronger ties between groups, perhaps the schism between ethnicities can be patched in the name of a more united.  The building of these links could adjust the institutional flaws that perpetuate ethnic strife – such as the alleged institutionalized discrimination keeping Roma from obtaining proper health care.  As Deepa Narayan states, “solidarity within social groups creates ties (social capital) that bring people and resources together… [Those] ties that cut across groups (bridging social capital) are essential for social cohesion.” (1)Further, as Robert Putnam notes, “much of the [economic] backwardness in the world can be attributed to a lack of mutual confidence.”(2) I am optimistic that that by building ties between the Roma and the general population, the two groups can reach a constructive understanding of how their different cultures can trust and compliment each other.   In the end, this trust and understanding can be translated into a common goal of better the situation of all people. 


 While there are indeed examples of failed attempts at bridging cultural and ethnic divides, I argue that we must again return to the largely existential belief that deep-seeded discontent between groups can be overcome.  By building the ever-important “weak ties” between members of varying communities as discussed by Putnam (3), I think that adapting today’s institutions to reflect a common cause is indeed plausible.  Such ties encourage a degree of civic involvement necessary to care about – and, more importantly, understand – what is happening in the institutions around you.  Further, understanding how the ramifications of those institutions cut across “social cleavages” may encourage civic involvement toward fixing flawed institutions.(4)  In the end, adaptation of those institutions – such as the rules of the game blocking Roma access to health care – would have a positive impact of the performance of the given society. 


In considering the situation of the Roma as an excluded population, I am particularly interested in impact of information communication technologies on the ability for various populations to build bridges and, in turn, increase the possibility of institutional change.  As discussed by Narayan, civil society organizations can aid in promoting government programs targeting enhanced connection between groups and individuals.  The (hopefully) subsequent “government investment in physical infrastructure can play a critical role in supporting connectivity across space and social groups.”[5]  The role of IT in building bridges to between the Roma and others can reflect other programs such as:  using public media announcements to raise awareness in both communities; using the Internet to encourage communication between individuals of various backgrounds; and allow civic-oriented organizations to implement development programs in a more efficient manner. 

The Polish labor workers in the late 1980s likely did not have much faith in the adabtability of state and global institutions.  However, once Solidarność connected them to the right networks within other groups (that is, Communists), they achieved monumental changes.  I think that Eastern Europe must not lose sight of such successes at altering institutions and bettering their performance.  As ties between the Roma and the general population become more common and constructive, I hope that the social networks will turn the tides of institutions to serving each constituency – and excluding none.


1 Narayan, Deepa.  “Bonds and Bridges: Social Capital and Poverty.”   

2[2] Robert Putnam. Making Democracy Work, Chapter 6, “Social Capital and Institutional Success.” P 170.

3   Putnam, p 175.

4 Ibid.

5 Narayan, p 39.

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Jun 01 2009

Devising an Development Plan : What to Consider?

          My approach to development policy would appear quite different if I were sitting at a desk in Kabul versus one in Pristina or one in Kigali.  As we have discussed in class and read in various documents, the creation of a single catch-all development policy can have dire ramification.  Therefore, I would attempt to exclude nothing from consideration and include a myriad of issues – from the nation’s history to its recent political history to cultural norms of the constituents – when constructing a development policy.  Throughout the process, three main overarching themes I would consider at each decision-making point, large or small, would be:  the evolving nature of the project; the potentially widespread and long-term implications of each decision; and the culturally-specific informal constraints surrounding each rung of the development ladder.   While I will use the development of Romani access to health care as an example, these themes could be identified across the development spectrum.  

                The evolving nature of development programs involves allowing room to expand and contract when necessary, as every issue exists in conjunction with many other factors – such as the economy, global political landscape and evolving inter-cultural affairs.  Douglass North discusses the need to be “self-conscious about the consequences of ongoing marginal changes that are continually occurring.”[1]  While North focuses his discussion on economic matters, I think taking such self-consciousness into any development project is necessary to achieve an “adaptively efficient”[2] framework.  For example, if I were developing a program to enhance the Romani access to health care in Bulgaria, I would need to consider the possibility of altering my focus in the event of an unanticipated pandemic.  Being able to swiftly and efficiently change courses or adapt my team of medical experts as necessary would allow me to address the ever-evolving health threats more efficiently than building in such a way that prohibits me to change with the times.           

                Along with considering the need for adaptability in my program, I would take into account the potential long-term and wide-spread implications for all decisions tied to the development program.  As we discussed in class, the nature of networks is such that a change at one node can greatly affect others in the system.   Henderson captures this in introducing the implications of policies made overseas on domestic affairs of the South African wine industry – for a lobby for increased labor standards in one nation must also be considered on the international stage.[3]  North furthers the idea in calling for economic theorists to cast a wider net of variables, pointing out that “modern macro economic theory will never resolve the problems it confronts unless practitioners recognize the impact decisions made by the political process have on the functioning of economies.”[4]  Keeping with the need to consider a wide breadth and depth of factors, I would assume a holistic vantage point of development projects related to Romani health care.  For example, in making a decision of where to build a health care facility, I would need to consider elements such as: the long-term impact on how access to health care will impact the building of future communities in proximity to the site; potential political impacts of one area having better health care than others; and economic sustainability of introducing clinics.

                A third element of consideration for the creation of development programs are the informal constraints as introduced by North.   While formalities such as laws indeed must be considered, it is the informal culturally-oriented constraints that I find particularly interesting – and important.  North frames the necessity of cultural awareness in development by drawing attention to the ways in which societal norms persist even after structural changes, as well as how informal constraints provide “sources of continuity in the long-run societal change.”[5]  In addressing minority-oriented programs such as those working toward Roma health care, cultural factors and informal constraints become particularly important.  For example, framing the need for health care within the context of Romani belief system would be necessary to make the program reflect a set of values and norms that would resonate within the targeted constituency – and, hopefully, render more effective results.

                While devising a development project would require consideration of issues across a wide-range of subject matters, I think it is important to continuously return to these key themes.  In keeping the idea of an ever-evolving landscape, considering long-term consequences and preparing for cultural constraints, my goal would be to devise a sustainable, adaptable program.  Further, taking these into account identify will aid in identifying potential roadblocks early in program development.  In the end, the key to my strategy would center on looking far and wide for answers – instead of boxing myself into a single theory or “tried and true” way of approaching problems.

[1] North, Douglass.  Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance.  Cambridge University Press: New    York, NY (1990).  P 110-11.

[2] North, p 82.

[3] Henderson, Jeffrey.  Global Production Networks, Competition, Regulation and Poverty Reduction: Policy      Implications.  June 2005. p 5.

[4] North, p 112.

[5] North, p 36-37.

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May 28 2009

Public Health for Eastern European Roma

The Romani Flag, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roma_flag.svg

My interest in the Roma first blossomed when I studied abroad in Poland for a semester during in 2003. More widely known as “gypsies” (a derogatory term), the Roma population constitutes an estimated 8-10% of the population in both Romania and Bulgaria.[1] When these two nations joined the European Union in January 2007, the Roma became a controversial addition to EU citizenry.  Often excluded from the broader global network and identified by some as victims of systematic discrimination, many Roma live in poverty and without access to social/civil society programs.  Advancing the Romani quality of life is important because allowing such a large population of citizens to live in poverty (and without resources for self-improvement) can ignite impacts throughout the global network – from an uneducated citizenry to cross-population health issues.  The specific issue I want to promote in this blog is the need to increase Roma access to health car, specifically in Romania and Bulgaria.  In improving their access to health care, I would like to work toward a developing a healthier life not only for the Roma, but among the general population.  In this way, I present an unhealthy and ill-fated Roma as a “weak link” of the international network and suggest that helping them can help the health of the broader global citizenry.

The key players in determining the outcome of increasing Romani access to public health include: general Romani population; Romani leaders; NGOs; the general public; leaders of Romania and Bulgaria at both local and national levels; EU leaders; and public health officials.  Through a series of educational programs and program deployments, these nodes can work together to provide better access to health care for the Roma.  First and foremost, it is necessary to educate the Romani citizens on the importance of public heath and provide them the resources to necessary to engage in health initiates.  To do so, NGOs such as the Open Society Institute (OSI) can play a critical role in the structure through raising awareness regarding the “how” and “why” of public health initiatives.[2] Outreach targeting the Romani population as developed by NGOs must incorporate trusted Romani leaders who can be educated on the topic in order to best explain the importance of public health to others within the community.  As Dr. Garcia suggested in class and in “The Architecture of Global Networking Technologies,” the issue of trust is critical in networks.[3] I believe this becomes particularly important when addressing underprivileged populations that may be skeptical of outsiders.

Continuing across the network, the non-Romani public must also grow to understand the importance of maintaining a healthy population throughout the entire nation.  In engaging the general public, NGOs and Romanian/Bulgarian leaders can help spread an understanding of how an at-risk population within a nation can directly impact the health of everyone else.  Doing so would require a structural shift within the Eastern European network regarding how the general public views the Roma – instead of as an outcast sect, a “we are one” mentality would be necessary to help view the Romani health as everyone’s health.  As Dr. Garcia discusses in “The Architecture,” networks place themselves on “path dependent trajectories”[4] and breaking out of the current societal structure will be a difficult but necessary shift.

Further, public health campaigns targeting the Roma must work at both the local levels (as discussed above with local education campaigns) and the global.  Initiatives such as the Decade of Roma Inclusion bring together leaders from individual nations as well as NGOs in an effort to display a globally-focused, united effort to address Roma issues.[5] Incorporating a regional (or even global) focus on promoting public health for at-risk populations such as the Roma can help uncover the links between individuals across the world.  The hope that international attention will bring change to individual nation-state’s dealing with Roma pubic health reflects John Agnew’s discussion of how globalization helped foster “the internationalization of a range of hitherto domestic policies to conform to global norms of performance.”[6] Finally, the critical step of putting that awareness into action would translate into bringing heath professionals to work with the Romani population, as well as encouraging the Roma to become more engaged in medical professions themselves.

Key in engaging each of these nodes would be to elicit an internalization of the issue by each.  While I would like to think that each part of the global network would work together for altruistic reasons, I do believe that there must be an identified incentive for each node to work for the common goal.  In order for each node to exert the optimal level of interest in enhancing Romani access to health, they must recognize the benefits of a healthier minority community.  As each player comes together to address this issue, it is critical to be weary of the fallacies Stliglitz discusses – from too many groups with overlapping goals to an inflated presence of special interest.  Yet, despite those precautions, I think that it is necessary to work with the existential motivation that seems to be the driving force behind making the world a better place.

[1] Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.  “Jobs Boom in Bulgaria Leaves Roma Behind.” 15 November 2007.                http://www.birn.eu.com/en/113/10/5823/

[2] Soros Foundation.  Roma Programs: Public Health.  Accessed 28 May 2009.     http://www.soros.org/initiatives/health/focus/roma

[3] Garcia p 55

[4] Garcia, Linda D. “The Architecture of Global Networking Technologies.” Global Networks, Linked Cities. Rougledge   (2002). p 42.

[5] Decade of Roma Inclusion: http://www.romadecade.org/

[6] Agnew, John.  The New Global Economy: Time-Space Compression, Geopolitics, and Global Uneven            Development.”  Working Paper No 3.  p 10.

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May 26 2009

Fair and Balanced, the Global Network Is Not.


Someone once said to me, “There are only three kinds of ‘fairs’ in the world:  the County fair, the State fair and the World’s Fair.” 

As a person who has always things to be “fair,” this statement bothered me then as much as it does now.  Yet, the older I get the more I realize the sad reality of the anomaly between the way things appear or should be and the way things are in actuality.  For example, I felt betrayed when John Edwards – a politician I knew, worked for and admired for years – was uncovered as having an affair and allegedly misusing funds.  It just did not seem fair; he had billed himself as one person but all the while lived a life like those he claimed to challenge.  Such political anomalies, among others in life, come to mind in reading about the global network thus far. I am particularly fixated on the disconnect between what I want the structure to look like (a functioning distributed, interdependent system with fair checks and balances) and how it actually exists (a hierarchical decentralized network with power distributed in a way that leads to negative externalities).  Not unlike my disappointment with power-drunk politicians, I find myself disheartened by some of the anecdotes we have read thus far in class.   Pessimistic as it may sound, I would characterize the global network as dominated by the financial institutions – but in a system that should have cooperation with checks and balances to keep the power of one node from getting to strong. 

Mark Buchanan describes a “hierarchical network” as one in which there are “a few elements … [with] especially important roles in trying the network together.”[i]  I would argue that the “financial institutions” node has amassed an artificial amount of power and an inflated role within the global structure – making itself the “especially important” node in relation to states and NGO’s.  In doing so, the ability of the other nodes becomes limited in regard to keeping the financial sector and its special interests in check.  For example, in “The Overselling of Globalization,” Joseph Stiglitz points out that “countries have been told to cede the most important economic decisions, those concerning monetary policy to independent central banks.”[ii] Such a move undermines the role of states as a node in the system for the interests of the financial side.  Yet, conventional wisdom dictates that if nations want to develop, they must remain connected to the global network.  And, there, it is the financial institutions that run the show – not the states themselves. 


Ideally, the financial system would exist in a more fair and balanced network with NGO’s and the state to work toward a global structure.  Instead, as Stiglitz suggested, the threat of cutting the critical link between nations and financial institutions ties nations to the demands of those entities.  While I would hope NGOs and “do-good-er” organizations could exist external of those financial institutions, it seems the reality is that certain money-oriented entities hold a crippling degree of power.  Money as controlled by the financial institutions (both in terms of direct assistance and money for aid organizations to function) has been solidified as the ladder to development – a dangerous connection that is difficult to undo.  It is the creation of such critical links and power dynamics between the nodes as dictated by the financial sector that is so worrisome to me. 

The impact of a structure in which one node becomes super-powerful is the advent of a hyper-connectedness.  Buchanan uses the Internet as an example countering the idea that a hierarchical decentralized network is vulnerable to attack,[iii] but I think that the recent financial meltdown shows that may be just the case.  Because the global network had grown so deeply intertwined and depended upon the financial sector node, damage to this “hub” did just what the structure would suggest:  harmed all other nodes in a devastating way.  Stiglitz touches on this in saying that “there is … a need for global collective action to overcome financial crises.”[iv]

While the concept of a “fair” international network may be idealistic, I do not think we should stop striving for a more balanced global system.  The ebb and flow of nodes may be a natural occurrence, but allowing one (the financial sector) to become too influential can be dangerous and, in many ways, irreversible. 


[i] Buchanan, Mark.  Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks.  W.W. Norton & Co.:          New York (2002).  P 80. 

[ii] Stiglitz, Joseph.  The Overselling of Globalization.  P 232

[iii] Buchanan, Mark.  P 80.

[iv] Stiglitz, Joseph.  p 233. 

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May 21 2009

Cast a Wide Net

An officer in the UNC Young Democrats for four years. 

A student member of the ACLU in my undergrad days. 

A frequent participant in anti-war demonstrations.

A vehement campaigner for “the left.”


All of the statements above capture me (now or in the past) and the experiences that have shaped my intellectual ideas for much of my life.  A child of two liberal-minded parents, I grew up surrounded by active political minds and eventually fostered my own networks among politicos working under the ideological umbrella that I supported.   As I progressed through undergrad, I became particularly passionate in my anti-war ideas and increasingly critical of national security surveillance measures.  My network perpetuated itself and I, admittedly, did little to try to understand the other side.  In this way, I was steadfast in my ideas, but the source of my ideas was limited.

An interesting shift occurred when I moved to DC and started working at CPASS, an organization addressing both “peace” and “security.”  In my job, I accrued new sources for ideas on such matters through the people I met – professors, students, staff and visiting scholars.  Especially notable are individuals from backgrounds I never really had to get to know in the past.  Exposure to the military personnel and homeland security experts affiliated with CPASS expanded my network and thus the individuals from whom I could draw my ideas on subjects such as surveillance and war.  While I remain strong in my beliefs, I am happy to report that my intellectual ideas are more informed because of this expanded network.  By allowing myself to work in an environment where I may not agree with every opinion, I forced myself to consider the source behind other stances.  Hearing stories about what keeps soldiers motivated, talking with generals about their time in service and attending lectures by Bush Administration officials lets me attempt to bridge the gap between my thinking and theirs.  In this way, expanding my network – be it through weak ties such as attending a lecture or strong co-worker relations – can make my ideas more balanced and lead me to sympathize with positions I never would have considered in my earlier bubble.  

Reflecting upon how my experience at CPASS altered my once-unalterable stance by allowing me to gain outside perspectives, I feel particularly drawn to Mark Buchanan’s discussion of groupthink within certain networks.  Buchanan describes groupthink as an incident in which a group strives to reach a consensus and, once they do, dissenters are hesitant to voice their opinion for fear of being ostracized or anger from that group.[1]  The idea of groupthink can also be identified in how the Washington Consensus came about and perpetuated itself.  In Globalization and its Discontents, Joseph Stiglitz described just this kind of groupthink within the development of the Washington Consensus, pointing out that “alternative opinions were not sought” and that “open, frank discussion was discouraged.”[2]  Instead of opening up and learning how to improve programs, the Washington Consensus excluded the critical “outsider” and cut off links to networks outside their own.  Instead of considering all avenues and seeking input from a multitude of experts,  

As we discussed in class, the Washington Consensus and other development programs need to branch out of their cozy networks.  Instead of a “rich get richer” scenario as presented by Buchanan, in which well known sources (or “links”) are reinforced as well known as the network grows, development programs should actively pursue lesser-known sources of information and ideas.   Development programs could even follow suit of the Obama Administration’s call for public input on issues such as cyber security during their 60-Day Cyber Security study.  Casting a wide net allows may bring in a duds – but could also lay the framework for bridging gaps between key networks.  Just as I learned the merits of welcoming alternative ideas, development programs should learn from the failures of closed networks and open up in the name of innovation.

Groupthink : www.flatrock.org.nz

[1] Buchanan, Mark.  Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks.  W.W. Norton and Co.: New     York (2002).  P 115.

[2] Stiglitz, Joseph.  Globalization and Its Discontents.  W.W. Norton and Co.:  New York (2003).  P xiv.

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