Friday, 25 February 2011

Launch of UN WOMEN: taking the first steps…

With all the attention on UN WOMEN these days, an article from the Guardian caught my eye. It is titled “Send a message to UN WOMEN” and invites readers to express their voice by sending a photo illustrating their opinions, hopes and expectations of UNWOMEN to a Flickr group created for the occasion.

On February 24th 2011, UN WOMEN, the new United Nation’s entity solely dedicated to promoting and enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment was created. Coinciding with the week long 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, the launch was celebrated with a big bang by political leaders, women leaders, media personalities and celebrities. These celebrations fit in perfectly with the upcoming next few weeks of attention on gender equality, as the current CSW will continue until March 3rd only to be followed by International Women’s day on March 8th. In preparation for this launch and to comment on the first steps of this new agency, journalists and bloggers have been vocal in expressing their thoughts, expectations and even their doubts on this new UN “superagency”. This is a good thing, as it attracts attention to important issues relating to gender equality. However, what happens when all of this will die off in a few weeks’ time when the party’s over? Hopefully the creation of UN WOMEN will be able to keep the momentum on women’s advancement going, even after this month’s frenzy of activity on the topic.

The Guardian’s initiative is a great and original way to keep people involved and ask them what they think about UN WOMEN. It keeps attention on the issue of women’s empowerment rather than on institutional and bureaucratic questions. Others express concerns on the lag it took the Agency to become operational and also on its financing. But for an organisation that was long awaited by gender practitioners and advocates this seems normal, as any transition phase usually can be bumpy.

A more important concern is that by merging four international agencies and offices and centralising gender issues in one organisation, the risk is to overshadow other organisations that have projects and divisions working on gender. The biggest risk is mostly for NGOs and grassroot organisations – will they still receive adequate support and funding? Or will it all go to UN WOMEN? It is important to have one strong entity focusing on this topic but also to keep the light on other very important projects and initiatives led by more technical and specialised organisations.

Let’s wait and see….

Nejma Bouchama

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The land will belong to those who fight for it: The increasingly visible hand of immigration policy in the South

In the last few years, political developments in Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa have forced the world to face a new reality: people are moving more often and easier than in the past. But in comparison to the glorified age of migration of the mid-19th century when many Europeans fled to the New World, this migration era is different. This migration is about flexible mobility.

For one, people are now moving for shorter time periods and returning or moving on to other places, at least when migration policies are relatively open. The temporary nature of these movements is associated with an increase in communication technology but also a drop in the cost of transportation. This is unlike population movements in the mid-19th century when people moved for longer periods. Second, the rise in short-term migratory flows continues despite the fact that many governments are raising barriers to enter their country – a phenomenon which did not exist during the migratory movement to the new world when labour was openly sought. The barriers are not stopping people from leaving their countries however. Instead, they are merely contributing to the development of new routes to other countries – sometimes to countries that have no recent past experience with mass immigration. Without first acknowledging the lack of clear policy in many of these countries, the levee has to break. And in many places it already has.

In one of the worse cases, the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire -largely spurred by debate over who belongs in the country- has left about 2000 people dead. Other cases have only uncovered the potential consequences. In May of 2008, a series of xenophobic raids in South Africa left 62 people dead. Similar cases have surfaced more recently in Mexico and Morocco.

Many, if not most countries have taken a very intolerant stance on immigration. In fact deportations, while usually highly mediatised in the richer countries, are on the rise everywhere. In 2005, Malaysia ordered the mass expulsion of more than 400 000 illegal immigrant workers, mainly from neighbouring Indonesia. The United Nations estimate that in 2009 Angola expelled 160 000 Congolese, while the Democratic Republic of Congo expelled 51 000 Angolans. South Africa (165 270) and Libya (53 842) also figure at the top of the list.

Without a proper policy of integration, the world’s new countries of immigration walk a fine line between social cohesion and outright civil disorder. Côte d’Ivoire is still feeling the repercussions. Many argue that the seeds of the current conflict, which has existed on-and-off since 2002, were planted when policy in the 1960s encouraged immigration, but did not set the basis for integration or access to citizenship. The country found itself with one-quarter of its population foreign-born when Ivoirité took center stage in the country’s politics – and an air of xenophobia ensued.

Interestingly, many of the Gulf countries find themselves today with immigrant populations totaling up to 80% of their total populations. One has to wonder whether the recent Arab revolutions can be successful in these countries without the support of immigrants.

A full migration policy needs to include clear immigration rules, facilitation for integration and a transparent understanding of citizenship rules. But this is not enough – administrative capacity in the South is limited. Policy-makers in developing countries already have their hands full and ensuring that rules and regulations on immigration are followed is often secondary priority. In short, what is written down is not necessarily reflected in reality.

Immigration policy, rather, needs to consider the realities of the country. In the South, informality prevails and administrative capacity is limited. Providing things such as freedom of association and speech, social security benefits and access to formal jobs is part of an entirely different debate. They may be viewed as luxuries even to non-immigrants.

Successful integration in the South rests on providing the basics required to live and work: adequate living arrangements, basic health services and access to educational services for immigrant children. It also rests on the perception of the locally-born. Discrimination can be the strongest deterrent for successful integration, and the onus falls on several people to attenuate potential conflict: political but also traditional leaders and migrant associations for instance.

There is no easy solution. Just look at OECD countries. A succession of countries, namely Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have recently declared that multiculturalism has simply not worked in their respective countries, after years of integration policies and debate. It amounts to perhaps yet another piece of evidence of the shift in wealth: countries in the South are increasingly facing issues which have been plaguing countries in the North since the end of the War: how to get people with different cultures to work and play nicely. And perhaps 50 years of experience on “what hasn’t worked” is a good starting point for newly emerging immigration countries.

[1] The title references Côte d’Ivoire former president Felix Houphouët-Boigny’s famous immigration policy slogan: “The land belongs to those who cultivate it”.

Jason Gagnon

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Measuring our progress: The power of well-being. The nef report.

It’s now been almost three months since the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) will measure the nation’s well-being, “measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.” Since then the ONS has been holding a national debate about what progress (‘national well-being’) means to people and how it is best measured.

An important strand of the ONS’s work on well-being involves choosing 4 or 5 subjective well-being questions to include in the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) – the largest source of UK social data after the census – and deciding how these will fit into the broader concept of national well-being. An announcement on which questions will be used in the first instance is to be made on Thursday, but as the National Statistician, Jil Matheson, has explained, the resulting data will not determine the form of all future measurement, but will be regarded as ‘experimental statistics’, offering scope for further changes to the measurement process.

As a contribution to both the national debate and ONS’s deliberations about measurement, we – the Centre for Well-being at the nef (the new economics foundation) – have published our latest report: Measuring our progress: The power of well-being.

The report begins by reflecting on the range of recent initiatives which have all aimed to redress the over-emphasis on GDP as the dominant measure of social progress. The OECD, the Stiglitz Commission, Eurostat, Beyond GDP and many others have developed measurement frameworks which attempt to capture progress more meaningfully. There has been a broad consensus among them on the need to consider the environment alongside well-being and more objective conditions. The Stiglitz Commission in particular defined progress in terms of the economy, the environment and quality of life, whilst the OECD considered the relationship between the human system and the ecosystem. The nef report develops these ideas but separates the means (resources and human systems) and the ends (the goal of high well-being for all) that, measured together, capture the progress of our nation (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Conceptual framework for societal progress

The key relationship in this framework is between resources and goals: how efficient are we at achieving the goal we want – high well-being for all – given our limited planetary resources? This will largely depend on how efficient our human systems – things like the economy, democracy, peace, and other human activities – are at using resources sustainably, and also how efficient these human systems are at delivering high well-being for all citizens.

In the UK, the immediate responsibility of the ONS is to decide how this goal – well-being – is best conceived of and measured. We argue that it is best understood in terms of the dynamic model of well-being, first developed as part of the UK Government Office of Science Foresight project on mental capital and well-being. It uses the concept of ‘flourishing’ – functioning well in interactions with the world and as a result feeling good about life. The model (Figure 2) describes how people’s external conditions (such as their income, employment status, housing and social context) act together with their personal resources (such as health, resilience and optimism) to allow them to function well and feel good. The model really emphasises the idea that well-being is about more than just happiness – it’s also about having good relationships, autonomy, competence and a sense of purpose, and this is what leads to people feeling happy and satisfied with their life. This report recommends some specific questions that attempt to capture some of this complexity.

Figure 2: Dynamic model of well-being

The ONS also has the task of deciding how survey results should be presented: as just a single life satisfaction indicator, as a composite index or as a dashboard of several indicators? And if it decides to use more than one indicator, should it use only subjective indicators or a combination of subjective and objective ones? And which ones? We addressed these questions by considering how measures can be best designed to have public and political resonance. As a result we recommend that the ONS develops a headline index of well-being , reported as the percentage of people who are flourishing. We also recommend that there is a headline measure of well-being inequality, as well as a set of objective indicators of the drivers of well-being. In the long-run we advocate a much broader set of subjective well-being questions is included, to fully capture the lived experience of people in the UK.

But to make the exercise of measurement worthwhile, subjective indicators of well-being need to be designed so that they are used by policy-makers to change the way that policies are developed and implemented. As the Istanbul Declaration states ‘[A] culture of evidence-based decision making has to be promoted at all levels, to increase the welfare of societies’. The full value of well-being measures will only be realised when they are embedded in the processes by which governments aim to improve the lives of their citizens.

Find the new nef report at and have your say in the ONS national debate at

Blog post by Laura Stoll, The Centre for Well-being, nef

The nef blog:

Film review: The Economics of Happiness

The Economics of Happiness is a film with a very passionate message about the importance of localizing economic activity in order to reduce our environmental footprints and enrich the human spirit. It was created by Helena Norgberg-Hodge and her organisation the International Society for Ecology and Culture, who have been working in the field of localization for over three decades.

A number of renowned thinkers are interviewed throughout the film including: Bill McKibben, David Korten, Vandana Shiva, Richard Heinberg, Andrew Simms and U.K. member of parliament Zac Goldsmith, among others. These interviews show the diversity of the support behind the movement for local economies and give detailed insights into the different issues faced by local communities in a globalized world.

The film divided into two main parts: an emotive analysis of the negative effects of globalisation and an urge to localize politics, economics and even the human spirit. These messages are shown through a case study on Ladakh, a region in northern India known as “Little Tibet” which Norgberg-Hodge has been studying over the past 35 years. Ladakh was once a self-sufficient community with zero unemployment, an abundance of natural resources and a rich vibrant culture. In recent years the introduction of subsidized fuel, food and infrastructure has undermined the local economy- the film shows transformation of what was an idyllic community turn into impoverished, unhappy and unsustainable society. Norgberg-Hodge says the "story of Ladakh can shed light on the root causes of the crises now facing the planet."

The film is engaging and uses a lot of personal accounts and emotive imagery to argue the case for localization. See trailer:

For more detail- see the Economics of Happiness website.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Scent of Jasmine All Over My Desk

In the blogsphere these days, everyone is talking about the Jasmine Revolution. Where Arab men and women are rising up against their governments and demanding reform in the Arab world .

In the Economist this week one of their daily charts is visualising a statistical hub for key indicators in the Arab region.

To accompany this map is a very interesting November 2010 report that landed on my desk recently. "The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs" is a project which partners Gallup and Silatech to poll youth in Arab states to focus on their outlook and that of society on job creation, access to necessary resources to find a job and the obstacles therein. The report reveals that more than 100 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29 now represent 30% of the Arab world’s total population. With two-thirds of the MENA region’s population under the age of 24, the region faces an unprecedented “youth bulge.” The largest ever in the region’s history to enter the labor market. The model relies on four main constructs mindset, policy, access and decent work with these being the main drivers for social change. Tunisia topped the Access and Policy indexes and came in second to Algeria on the Mindset index. Interesting...

Another report that landed on my desk is the 2009-2010 State of Reform in the Arab World based on the Arab Democracy Index. According to their website, "data gathered for the Arab Democracy Index cover three different dimensions: the legal aspect, public opinion, and practices of regimes. Measurement is therefore based on monitoring performance and behavior rather than just examining intentions and structures, since intentions may be good but performance poor". They set themselves apart from other indexes like the Human Development Index by stating that they take into consideration both impressions and patterns of behavior and measures the impact on the citizens daily lives.

On a scale of 0 to 1,000 points, Jordan topped the list of the countries covered in the Index, with a score of 620 points, followed by Morocco with 601 points and Egypt with 596 points. Lebanon was ranked fourth with 583 points, followed by Algeria with 570 points and Kuwait with 553 points. Palestine was placed seventh with 506 points, followed by Syria with 461 points, then Yemen with 457 points, and finally Saudi Arabia with 402 points.

Interesting to see the more subjective measures like opinions and perception of citizens being taken into account in all three of these very different reports from the Arab region. GDP alone just doesn't get this picture. However, I wonder what will happen with Egypt/Libya/Tunisia and others on the Arab Democracy Index when 2011 numbers are reported. Will there be a note which says that "there wasn't a smooth transition" and violence broke out over 2011? I think it will take a rather long time before the Silatech index will be able to report that the youth in Egypt are working in decent jobs and/or have their dreams of owning a business or even a corner government office (most say this is the real dream). But, worth the wait and I am really looking forward to watching progress unfold. The prolific Economist paper will certainly be visualising corruption, democracy and press freedom in their regular communication of various indexes. Though, on this one, it would be nice to see a visualisation over time. So, Economist, if you are reading...

I (along with some other prog bloggers!) am currently taking Arabic classes in hopes that I may someday understand the culture better. Apparently it takes 2 years of full-time study to be able to order bread live. But there is reason to be optimistic. Inshallah.

Angela Hariche

Monday, 14 February 2011

Mobile Twitter apps won't put food on the table

The potential for Facebook and Twitter to help social activists organize and share information is well known. How important these social media tools actually are for collective action remains less clear. In 2009, many of us first heard of an uprising in Moldova thanks to Twitter. Subsequently, tweets from post-election protests in Iran were "live-blogged" on sites like the Huffington Post. Time magazine quickly labelled Twitter the "medium of the moment" after the U.S. State Department asked the micro-blogging service to postpone scheduled maintenance downtime during the Iranian protests. Social media quickly became the darling of those who supported the protests, particularly those sitting in front of their laptops in the developed world.

Watching recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, my colleague Angela asked whether these "revolutions will be Facebooked?" Social media moved directly to the fore in Egypt when the authorities detained and then eventually released Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, Wael Ghonim. Ghonim had administered a Facebook group that helped organize protesters and for a while at the height of the protests, he communicated solely through social media. Surely his detention hints to the seriousness with which regimes at risk view the threat of social media.

On the other hand, folks like Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov call those who overemphasize social media's role in civil activism "cyber-" or "digital-utopians." Gladwell argues that the revolution won't be twittered because social media build weak ties, rather than the strong ties needed to galvanize "high risk" social activism. Morozov's recent book The Net Delusion deflates cyber-utopianism differently: in every way social media empowers protesters, he says, it can equally empower the powers that be. As @nancyscola pointed out on Twitter yesterday: "Egyptian revolutionaries seemed to have been blessed with a regime extraordinarily bad at the Internet." Iran's government, in contrast, may be more internet savvy, as their post-protest crackdowns in 2009 seem to show.

Across the Twitterverse at present the debate is now coming full circle. Jay Rosen, a well-known professor at NYU, lambasts what he calls the "Twitter can't topple dictators" genre. Rosen says the nay-sayers are simplifying the cyber-utopian position. They aren't bothering to address the interesting question of how social media tools have changed the balance of power between citizens and their governments, he says. Jeff Jarvis from CUNY also criticizes Gladwell and Morozov for their "curmudgeonry." Facebook and Twitter didn't topple Mubarak, he acknowledges, but some of the Egyptians who did organized themselves with these social media tools. Much as Gutenberg's printing press empowered Martin Luther to disseminate his 95 theses back in the 16th century.

Amidst all the history lessons, sociology lectures, and name-calling (and the associated tweets, links, and status updates) a lot of web traffic has been driven to all sides of the debate... without the discussion advancing very far. Indeed, some see the glass half-empty, while others see it half-full.

Nonetheless, a few common threads are emerging from the polemic. All sides agree that social media have altered the way that both social activists and governments organize themselves and communicate. But whether optimistic or pessimistic about the democratizing potential of social media tools, everyone can also agree that a mobile phone with a Twitter app won't provide jobs to the unemployed overnight, or put food on the table of the hungry.

As Google's Wael Ghonim tweeted a few hours ago: "Just a clarification to all Egyptians: I don't belong to any political alliance. I don't support anyone for presidency. That's not my role." While the web 2.0 tools may have helped keep a crowd of unhappy citizens from becoming an angry mob, it is up to traditional political processes and local institutions to pick up the pieces after the crowd disperses. It is citizens, not Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Google, who will need to build a responsive and well-functioning government that can provide adequate services to the people. A month after the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the thousands of young Tunisians fleeing by sea to Europe remind us that picking up the pieces after the crowd disperses is often easier said than done.

Chris Garroway

Photo credit:

Friday, 11 February 2011

Making headlines...

We are only mid way though the shortest month of the year and already the Wikiprogress Media Review is exploding with news articles and blog posts. We would like to share a few of the highlights with you. We have also included a new feature on Wikiprogress, the Number Crunch, which we hope will give you food for thought.

Governance and civic participation are hot topics at the moment, with protests continuing to rage in Egypt.

Number Crunch: In Egypt, GDP per capita has increased 33.7% over the last 5 years, while overall wellbeing has dropped, with Egypt falling 18 percentage points since 2005 on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Ladder Scale

In the UK, the decision to measure national wellbeing is still a buzz in the media, while Obama's announcement to measure 'real progress' in late January is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Number Crunch: In 2010 the UK ranked 21st in the world for GDP per capita (IMF), 74th on the Happy Planet Index and 26th on the Human Development Index

That's just a few snippets of what's been happening in the media. To stay up to date be sure to visit the Wikiprogress Community Portal which is updated daily. The Number Crunches can be found on the Wikiprogress homepage.

Until next time, yours in progress... Philippa

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Measuring Development Effectiveness: Measuring Progress?

A couple of weeks ago the OECD's Development Co-operation Directorate organised a meeting about how we measure the results of aid, for what purpose and for whom? Representatives came from donor country governments and developing countries, and various civil society organisations comprising both producers and users of data. It was (by OECD standards at least) a lively meeting and I am not the only there who was so pleased to see civil society and others invited alongside the usual suspects.

What was of most interest to me were several of the themes that came out of the meeting. Themes very strongly linked to the ideas of measuring progress.

One recurring theme was that those who provide money for aid want to measure the effectiveness of their aid programmes - both to account to tax payers, account to the citizens of countries who receive the aid, and also to learn what approaches work well and what don't. But there are some problems. What outcomes are donors trying to achieve for instance? Different donors have different ideas, but, really, should it not be the recipient countries themselves who decide what they want development to look like and to define the key goals they want to achieve? Should that not be the basis for the reporting system? Well yes, I think it should and so did many others there. This is the key idea behind countries designing their own (bottom up) sets of progress or development measures - which is a fundamental part of the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies' platform. Several people noted that this approach would also bring benefits of strengthening national statistical systems in developing countries.

Another theme was the difficulty different donors have in trying to demonstrate how their particular spending makes a difference. Progress in the field of health, in Uganda say, might arise from a mixture of donor aid (from different countries and NGOs), work by the Ugandan government, broader societal changes and a myriad other factors. If you are looking at a broad outcome like increased longevity it is pretty much impossible to unpack who is responsible for what. And do we even need to? I don't know the answer to this question but do think having some smarter measures of progress - measures that focus on key development outcomes that are tailored to specific countries - might inspire some cleverer, more joined up, reporting systems.

And a third theme was the poor quality of statistical reporting on all this. Users felt it was often too complicated, too detailed, over qualified and just plain badly communicated. Nothing new to those who have worked with the OECD on the statistics, knowledge, policy theme that underpinned the Palermo, Istanbul and Busan World Forums. But it was nice to see it emerge (without prompting) among a different group of users of data and policy makers.

The OECD and others are still digesting the discussion at the meeting and discussing next steps. But it does seem that the momentum around measuring progress continues to increase and spread to new communities of practice.

Jon Hall

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tunisian well-being decline revealed despite positive GDP figures

New information from the Middle East and North Africa region shows that tracking and leading societal progress requires more than reliance on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures.

Tunisian interviews held by Gallup show the section of the population self-rating themselves as “thriving” has dramatically dropped recently, during which time GDP increased steadily.

Indeed, self-rated well-being has declined at similar rates for all groups in Tunisia, suggesting that the Tunisian population, as a whole, have become increasingly pessimistic about their lives in recent times. This drop in well-being now places Tunisia among the worst countries for quality of life in the region.

Governments cannot assume that increases in recorded GDP necessarily imply betterment of citizens. The political instability witnessed recently during Tunisia’s jasmine revolution and now in Egypt (also polling a strong decline numbers of “thrivers”) provides evidence of the shortcomings of traditional measures of progress.

Changes in citizens’ perceived well-being merit close attention as they provide clear messages to government which may not be obvious using traditional measures of progress.

The Wikiprogress platform is a forum which questions how to measure the progress of societies and what factors could be taken into account to ultimately influence government policy for better well-being of society.

Gallup methodology and the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving ladder scale are explained in here. Gallup article here.