Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

The G8 and Arab Democratic Transitions

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 27, 2011

Heads of state and world leaders arrive for the G8 summit in Deauville, France, May 26, 2011 (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday at the G8 meeting in France, the big announcement from the assembled leaders was the launch of the “Deauville Partnership” (referring to the seaside resort where the meeting was held) to support democratic transition in the Middle East through increased economic engagement.

The Deauville Partnership picks up where Obama’s speech on the Middle East last week in Washington left off, with a promise to support “partnership countries” (Tunisia and Egypt being the first two) in the “economic and social reforms they will undertake, particularly to create jobs and enshrine the fair rule of law, while ensuring that economic stability underpins the challenge of transition to stable democracies.”

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Other m-Health Developments

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 26, 2011

A mother uses a mobile phone inside a ward of a government hospital in Manila, Philippines, July 23, 2008 (Cheryl Ravelo/Courtesy Reuters).

Every week, I’m learning about new and effective ways that mobile phones are being deployed to address intractable development challenges. I’ve written previously about how cell phones are combining with mobile money to provide poor people with access to financial services, increasing savings and creating entrepreneurial opportunities even in remote areas. They are also being used to promote various health initiatives by providing information to those who most need it. Now I’ve just come across an exciting new development combining m-health and m-money to address the scourge of fistula in Tanzania. Due to limited transportation, poor infrastructure, a lack of skilled birth attendants, and poorly equipped medical facilities, thousands of pregnant women in Tanzania develop fistula during childbirth. Approximately 3,700 women are diagnosed with obstetric fistula every year in Tanzania, but only 1,000 women are treated. Although fistula surgery is free at some health care facilities, women still face daunting transportation costs. In 2009, UNFPA partnered with Tanzania’s largest provider of free fistula surgery, the Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), to use mobile technology to overcome these transportation barriers.

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Arab Reactions to Obama’s Speech

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Palestinians watch a television broadcast of a speech by U.S. President Obama, at a shop in Gaza City, Palestinian Territories, May 19, 2011 (Ismail Zaydah/Courtesy Reuters).

On May 19, I tuned in as many others did to watch President Obama’s speech on the Middle East. In the United States, much of the commentary on the speech has focused on Obama’s controversial call to restart the Arab-Israeli peace process based on the 1967 borders with land swaps. What about in the Arab world? For months, protests have been rocking the region, displacing long-entrenched governments and entrancing the rest of the globe with calls for peaceful transitions to democracy. Noticeably absent from those protests have been the usual anti-America and anti-Israel brick-bats. Based on reactions to Obama’s speech, I wonder if that is about to change.

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Egypt’s Economic Woes

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 20, 2011

In his major speech yesterday on the Middle East, President Obama acknowledged that while the protests gripping the region have been driven largely by politics, economics have also played a prominent role. I discussed some of the economic challenges facing the region in this video interview:

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The Debate over U.S. Aid to Pakistan

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds talks with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad, July 19, 2010 (Adrees Latif/Courtesy Reuters).

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan on May 2, U.S.-Pakistan relations—already fraught—are experiencing new tensions. Senator John Kerry, the administration’s go-to guy on Pakistan, was in Islamabad earlier this week telling Pakistani leaders that Washington wants to hit the “reset button.” The two sides are also publicly bickering over U.S. military support, with Washington rejecting 40 percent of the claims that Pakistan has recently submitted for compensation for military operations against extremists.

Since 2001, Pakistan has received nearly $20 billion from the United States, some two thirds of that as military assistance. The other one third has been directed to development initiatives and humanitarian relief.  (See recent accounting from the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.) Americans rightly wonder what they have received in return, especially as questions linger about the Pakistani intelligence service’s role in sheltering bin Laden and supporting other extremist groups, and as anti-American sentiments in Pakistan reach new heights. Read more »

Evaluating What Works in Development

by Isobel Coleman Monday, May 16, 2011

School children raise their hands during an activity to mark the third annual Global Handwashing Day at Thirime primary school in Kikuyu, Kenya, October 15, 2010 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters).

Which development initiatives work and which do not? It is a simple question, but there has been surprisingly little attempt to answer it rigorously. Over the past decade, some economists have been trying to change this. They are applying a tool long used in the pharmaceutical world—randomized control trials (RCTs)—to evaluate the real impact of programs intended to help people.

I hosted Dean Karlan, a professor of economics at Yale and a practitioner of randomized control trials, for a meeting last week at CFR. Karlan is also the co-author of a new book, More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping To Solve Global Poverty. In the book, he and his co-author, Jacob Appel, review dozens of RCTs—some they conducted, some done by others—that test the effectiveness of various ways to improve the lives of the poor around the world. Some of the results are offbeat: one study in South Africa showed that simply putting a picture of an attractive woman on a consumer loan brochure caused more men to apply for loans. As Karlan and Appel write in the book, “Surely no customer would say that his decision to borrow boiled down to the picture in the corner of his pamphlet, but there it was in the data, clear as day.” Other studies deal with weightier subjects: an RCT in Mexico, for example, established that the Progresa program, a conditional cash transfer scheme in which poor families receive payments in exchange for getting regular medical care, had a strong positive impact on recipients’ health.

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Anne-Marie Slaughter: Elevating Development in U.S. Foreign Policy

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 13, 2011

This week I hosted a meeting at CFR with Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton and director of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State from 2009 until earlier this year. The meeting was part of our Women and Development Series sponsored by ExxonMobil. Afterward we sat down for a video interview:

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Human Rights Concerns in Post-Mubarak Egypt

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A man talks to an army officer after being detained in an army vehicle in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, April 12, 2011. Soldiers and police moved into Cairo's main square on Tuesday, April 12, to end a five-day sit-in by protesters demanding civilian rule and swifter prosecution of Egypt's former president and his allies (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday I sat down in my office with Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) who is based in Cairo. HRW has had its fair share of controversy, particularly when it comes to the Middle East. It has even been accused by one of its founders and long-time chairmen, of focusing far more on Israel’s violations of international law than on the gross human rights abuses of the dictatorial regimes in the region. But despite claims against it of imperfect and sometimes biased research, HRW plays a critically important role of shining a spotlight on human rights abuses around the world.

Human Rights Watch started in 1978 as Helsinki Watch to publicize human rights abuses behind the Iron Curtain and monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Funded and even initially staffed by the Ford Foundation, Helsinki Watch lobbied Western governments to address human rights abuses in various international forums and also encouraged media coverage of human rights issues. It played an important role in fostering the popular dissent that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the democratic transitions that followed. During the 1980s, it spawned other regional “watch” groups – including for the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, all of these groups consolidated into Human Rights Watch.

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Demography and Destiny

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 6, 2011
A nurse takes care of newborn babies at a hospital in Hefei, China, April 21, 2011

A nurse takes care of newborn babies at a hospital in Hefei, China, April 21, 2011 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).

This week, the United Nations Population Division released new projections for the world’s population. Since they were last done in 2008, the UN’s projections have been revised upwards: fertility rates are just not falling as fast as earlier predicted. The new report says that by 2050, the world will mostly likely have 9.3 billion people, up from around seven billion this year. This is an increase of 156 million people over the UN’s last estimate for global population in 2050.

Projecting population trends out to 2050 has some measure of certainty because everyone who will be forty years old in 2050 is already born. But the report also projects population out to 2100, which has much greater uncertainty. Even small variations in fertility can lead to big changes. The UN’s medium variant (the “best guess” of demographers) has global population reaching 10.1 billion in 2100. But the high variation (which assumes fertility of just half a child more than the medium variant) projects a figure of 15.8 billion. The low variant (which assumes fertility of just half a child below the medium variant) has population peaking at 8.1 billion in 2045 and then declining to under 6.2 billion by the end of the century. The difference between the high and low variants in 2100—more than 9.6 billion people—is almost 40 percent greater than the world’s total population today. Read more »

Seizing the Mobile Health Opportunity

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A baby from Kayapo tribe receives medical attention during the third day of a medical expedition of the "Expedicionarios da Saude" in Sao Felix, Brazil, April 23, 2011 (Ricardo Moraes/Courtesy Reuters).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today unveiled an interesting new public-private partnership called the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). Over the next three years, this alliance, which includes the State Department, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, USAID, and Johnson & Johnson, will use mobile phones to improve the health of women and newborns in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa by providing women with access to important and timely health information, customized to their stage of pregnancy or the age of their baby. Women will be able to use their phones to register their due date or baby’s birth date and receive SMS messages or voice recordings that are linked to their stage of pregnancy or baby’s growth. For example, expecting mothers could receive information on locally accessible foods that provide critical nutrition during pregnancy, or reminders about vaccinations their children will need as they develop. This information can empower women living in isolated, rural settings to improve their own health and the health of their families.

MAMA—and m-health (mobile-based health solutions) more generally—is another example of how cell phones are being used for a wide range of development purposes. As I mentioned in an earlier post about mobile banking, ninety percent of the world’s population now has access to a mobile network. They are using this access not only to stay connected with family members and friends, but also to manage their money, access important health and business information, and lead more productive lives.

M-health has great potential that is only beginning to be tapped around the world. In Pakistan, Mobilink and the Ministry of Health launched a program in 2008 to provide Lady Health Workers in rural areas with low-cost mobile phones to increase efficiency and patient access. This has enhanced communication between LHWs, their supervisors, patients, hospitals, and ambulances, improving the quality of maternal and infant health care services in rural areas throughout Pakistan.

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