Back in high school, I used to run track, or as we call it in Australia, “athletics.” I was lucky enough to have morning training sessions around Sydney’s famous harbour. We ran over the Harbour Bridge to the Opera House and back. At the last bridge pylon on the return leg, our athletics coach, Mr. Bookers, would be waiting for each and every runner. I can still remember him exhorting us on, pushing us to finish strong. Mr. B. also used to persuade me to finish weekend race days with a 400m after just running the lung-bursting and lactic acid-building 800m (and usually after just having thrown up–a race day ritual). He was my first mentor both on and off the track.
Welcome to the United Nations International Year of Soils and of Light. No, the UN hasn’t opened an Astrology department or adopted the Chinese zodiac calendar. (Next year is the Year of the Green Wooden Sheep.) The Year of Soils is, according to Dr. Richard Doyle of the University of Tasmania, about getting youth excited about soils. “Get them off their iPads, out of playing video game Mine Craft, which are about imaginary mining and imaginary soils. Actually get them out there feeling soils, feeling the texture, smelling the soils.” So, get off your phone, turn off your lights, and go get some soils.
This year at WhyDev
It is an exciting year ahead for WhyDev. We’re entering our 5th year of operations, and will soon hit 500 blog posts. Our original mission has not changed all that much – to foster and provide an online community for those committed to getting development right. This year, we’re hitting our stride, and building this community through AidSource, partnerships and service delivery. Not only are we aiming to foster a collaborative and critical community, but also a healthy and supportive one.
This year on the team
To achieve this, we are very happy to have three more committed peers join our gang. And, they couldn’t be more over-qualified and amazing. Alysia Antonucci will be managing AidSource, Jessica Meckler will be leading our partnerships, and Nicole Tooby will be helping us engage youth.
This year in globaldev
In the tradition of New Year posts, it’s customary to predict trends for the coming year. Is Baghdadi 2015 the next Kony 2012? What is Bono planning for Africa? When will Kanye and Kim take a step towards philanthropy and world-saving? I wish I had the answers. In the meantime, a few items to keep track of, which we will evaluate in at the end of this program cycle:
1. Post-2015: The difference between ‘promote’ and ‘ensure’.
As we move closer to the end of the Millennium Developments Goals (and head towards the Quantum Development Goals? The Millennium Falcon Development Goals?), what our focus needs to be on are these two verbs: promote and ensure. Whether nations agree at the UN Summit in September to promote certain goals or to ensure them is too important to overstate, and it’s a political rodeo that will be largely closed off to the 99%.
2. Too many do-gooders, not enough jobs.
Exit your degree like I exit the turn-pike / Dicing development like dyn-o-mite. If you are not a Fugees fan, then I apologise for the lost reference of the preceding sentences. If you are a Fugees fan, then I apologise for the hatchet job of Pras’ lyrics. We’re entering an unprecedented era in do-gooding aspirations, with more Development Studies degrees than the Bible has Psalms. Although we don’t have any data, the number of under- and post-graduate degrees in Development Studies is growing, but the sector they wish to enter is perhaps shrinking.
3. Social enterprise is the new MONGO.
#2 then leads to #3, in which we will see a shift away from My Own NGO towards My Own Social Enterprise. MOSE. This phenomenon has already been documented in Bloomberg, and I believe it will only continue to grow. Conversely, and despite the pushback from WhyDev and others, we will see a growth in voluntourism, with more and more travel companies putting poverty on the list of attractions and itineraries. You can just imagine Contiki offering an all-inclusive Africa Slum + Party Package for 14 days, in which the young traveller gets down and dirty in the slums and clubs of Nairobi.
4. Beyond aid: Remittences, private sector and impact investment.
This is a trend we trot out at the beginning of every year, but this time it is different. Since its inception, foreign aid, as in Official Development Assistance (ODA), has been relatively flat in terms of growth. It has also always been subject to donor’s national interests. So, I don’t believe we will ever see substantial increases across the OECD family that are sustained and committed. Yet, development doesn’t begin and end with ODA. Remittences, private sector, concessional loans, foreign direct investment and impact investing are more significant in terms of volume and poverty alleviation than ODA. We need a wholesale re-imagining of what ODA can achieve, and how it can achieve its purported aims.
5. “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man / So let me handle my business, damn.” – Jay Z
NGOs and international development agencies are increasingly adopting the nomenclature and discourse of business and the private sector. And, it doesn’t look to be slowing down. Whether this means the actual practice of development will be done differently is an entirely other matter. Beneficiaries may become customers, but if they’re treated like Comcast customers, then god help us all.
6. Last but not least, Kanye and Kim will become the Bill and Melinda Gates of hip-hop and Hollywood.
Yo Geldolf, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish. But, Bill and Melinda had one of the best campaigns of all time.
Kim and Kanye are yet to fully submerge themselves in global development, advocacy and celebrity intervention, but I have a good feeling that this is their year to shine and commit themselves to eradicating something somewhere in Africa.
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Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.