Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Should people working in development have developing country experience?" Not even a question, to me

Ken Banks asked the question, and I had to add my two cents' worth (in comments).

"YES to developing-country experience for development workers - ideally in the same countries/regions they will work in - and with the demographics they will be working for (note I didn't say "with"). I firmly believe you need to feel the mud between your toes and get to know at least a few members of your demographic on a personal level. That empathy and depth of understanding can change what you do - and how you do it." Maybe it just seems more obvious to me because I come from a developing country myself - and have seen too many projects that fail to account for even the most basic local appropriateness - e.g. in Sri Lanka, lovely, airy buildings with tiled floors and wood panels - which become roosts for hundreds of crows, in the intense heat and humidity end up with warped grouting and paneling, and come the two monsoons, cannot be navigated without gumboots and umbrellas. The saddest thing about that example is that just because you donate a building, should not mean you cannot hire a local architect at least as a consultant, if not your main architect.

Ideators - Apprentice-style show with some twists

As I type I'm watching British and Sri Lankan university students in a Sri Lankan Apprentice-style show sponsored by the British Council (on ETV, for those in SL).

Yes, I cringed, more when watching the old-school corporate guys trying to tune in or - alas - communicate (through no fault of their own - will save that for a later rant).

But hey, they were out there on the streets, the corporate guys obviously had to wrap their minds around something new, and the presentations seem to have had some good analysis behind them - profit margins, demographic preferences, lateral thinking. The Sri Lankan students more than held their own - and this experience will hopefully stay with them as they go out into the workforce - hopefully the Sri Lankan workforce (separate rant alert)

Beating malnutrition - it takes a village

Nicely done video, although it's focused on India - which makes sense I guess, if you apply the Pareto rule.

Question is, why is Sri Lanka, which is the best among the worst (see the graph) sliding back up in the numbers for stunted growth?

Welcome to a country with first-world health indicators and third-world "leadership." I only hope we can prove conclusively that maintaining good health indicators is not an either-or choice for a developing country while it gets the rest right. Along with all the other interventions (Embrace is part of it, as are the many nutrition efforts) increasing incomes - sustainably - has to be one of the ways to help break the nutrition trap at the bottom of the pyramid.

Community-Driven Development

We've had a name for it for a long time - "Shramadana" (lit. "donating one's labour") but it's good to see that people still see it as an option. Of course it can get messy and political, but that's a function of the group involved and how serious they are about the issue that needs fixing. A little principled leadership wouldn't hurt, though that seems a precious commodity these days

Save him from the White Vans

One could laugh at the "hypothetical" situation of the minister of agriculture controlling the biggest rice mill, or the opposition protesting fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget... but for how long?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sabbe Sattha Bhavanthu Sukhi Tatta - May all beings be happy

I was heading home after an early morning friendly water polo match today. My wife wanted me to pick up 2 'Maalu Paans' (triangular buns with a fish-based stuffing) for the daily help who would be coming to help clean house. As it was on the way and, I thought, an opportunity to feed someone without perpetuating the cycle of killing some poor animal to replace the flesh I might otherwise have to buy, I stopped at the hole knocked into the wall of the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) on (of course) Baddhaloka Mawatha ("Buddha's Light" avenue).

Diya Rakusa: You have veggie stuff, right?
Salesperson: No, everything's non-veg except for the seeni sambal buns.
Diya Rakusa (after taking a step back to check the shop sign): This is the Buddhist Congress, right?
Salesperson: Yes, but evryone asks for fish...

Of course if that shop is supposed to make any money for the ACBC they must respond to the market. Right? But what about the basic principles of non-violence or the First Precept of not taking life? I don't consider myself any great Buddhist - I'm still working on the basic first five precepts - but shouldn't the patrons of that ACBC shop think twice before going there looking to lock not only themselves but the salespeople, bakers and fishermen into the same karmic cycle that they then spend a good amount of time and money trying to pray their way out of?

Don't even get me started on the buses proclaiming "mey Bauddha deshayai", the clerics who don't seem to preseve the first five precepts let alone their stricter super-set... Wake up and smell the holy abattoirs

Start somewhere!

Been too long avoiding blogging etc - felt it a distraction from what I should be doing but something happened that I thought deserved a little rant.

As an update, back in Sri Lanka for ~2 months now, working on a Social Innovation Fellowship from Stanford's Center for Social Innovation. More on that later - when we're out of stealth mode.