Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Showing posts for "Technology and Development"

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” and the Fight against Poverty

by Isobel Coleman
Five-year-old Ajay collects recyclables for resale at a residential area in Mumbai, India, June 14, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters).

I just finished reading the much-hyped book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which well deserves the hype. It is an extraordinary look at life in Annawadi, a slum adjacent to Mumbai’s modern international airport. Author Katherine Boo spent three years in the slum (researching, interviewing, videotaping, recording) trying to understand “how ordinary low-income people—particularly women and children—were negotiating the age of global markets.” The question that drives her is: “What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society?” It is a critical question for any society, and one that Boo has been exploring in various poor communities for the past twenty years as a staff writer for the New Yorker. The answer she paints for Annawadi makes me question my relatively bullish assessment of India’s growth prospects. The residents of Annawadi, many of whom earn a living by scavenging through garbage, are remarkably resilient, innovative, determined, and hard-working towards their goal of upward mobility. But they are also stymied at almost every turn by a corrupt system. Read more »

Honoring Women of Courage

by Isobel Coleman
Women march through central Ankara, Turkey, to commemorate International Women's Day, March 8, 2012 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This post is co-authored with Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.

The past year represented some extraordinary moments for women. It began with a revolution in Tahrir Square, where women organized and led historic protests. It ended with a Nobel Peace Prize recognizing three extraordinary leaders who have led women in Liberia and Yemen to reach for democracy and human rights. Read more »

Ethics and Accuracy in Crowd-sourced Data

by Isobel Coleman
Actor George Clooney talks to observers from Japan during the south Sudan independence referendum in Juba in January 2011 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this month, I wrote about how technology innovations are being used for humanitarian assistance, focusing on the work of the Kenyan-based NGO Ushahidi. Several readers posed some important questions about the reliability of crowd-sourced data. How can we trust information that could very well be manipulated by various groups, including government-backed groups, which clearly have a particular political agenda? (One reader noted that many tweets from Yemen last year were erroneous. There are multiple examples of this kind of disinformation.) Read more »

Technology Innovations for Humanitarian Assistance

by Isobel Coleman
On January 4, 2012, people sit outside a house that was destroyed two years ago by the January 2010 earthquake in Port au Prince (Swoan Parker/Courtesy Reuters).

Last month, The Global Journal published a list ranking the top 100 NGOs in the world – an interesting, if ambitious task, with lots of room to quibble. The top ten list included some of the biggest, best-recognized NGOs in the world – like Oxfam (number 3), BRAC (number 4) and CARE (number 7). But number 10 on the list, Ushahidi caught my attention because it is a newcomer on the scene and relatively unknown. Ushahidi is a Kenyan-based NGO that calls itself a “non-profit technology company.” It has developed mapping software that is distributed for free, and can be modified by anyone. In a very rapid way, is it democratizing how information is collected, distributed, and used. Its great innovation is to leverage the resources of volunteer curators and translators to allow data, collected from basically any source, to be posted on a map in real time. Read more »

Open Data for Better Government

by Isobel Coleman
World Bank President Robert Zoellick, a major supporter of open data initiatives, speaks in at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington in September, 2011 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters). World Bank President Robert Zoellick, a major supporter of open data initiatives, speaks at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington in September, 2011 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

Open data is the new thing in development. In the last three years, the World Bank, the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, and now the new Open Government Partnership have made raw data available to the public in forms that can be manipulated and interpreted by techno-savvy people to improve governance. The implications of this are huge, although we are just at the beginning of realizing the potential benefits. Over the long term, providing greater access to raw information – including census tallies, government expenditures, poverty statistics, draft budgets, agricultural data, and government procurement – could make the delivery of public goods far more efficient and effective, lower levels of corruption, and engage citizens in the running of their societies in profoundly new ways. World Bank President Robert Zoellick, an evangelist on the subject of open data, sees it as a way to demystify development economics and bring new brain power to bear on solving the world’s thorniest problems. As he said in a speech at Georgetown in 2010: Read more »

Three Trends to Watch in International Development for 2012

by Isobel Coleman

A female laborer sorts through a batch of potatoes laid out for grading at the Gultekadi wholesale market in Pune, India in May 2011 (Vivek Prakash/Courtesy Reuters).

As the world adjusts to seven billion people, and begins its creep toward eight billion, doing more with less will become increasingly important.  Continuing economic stagnation and budgetary concerns in OECD countries will also put stress on existing commitments of foreign assistance and hamper new initiatives. Greater efficiency and effectiveness in development is paramount. Below are three trends to watch in the coming year that can help improve development outcomes. Read more »

Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity

by Isobel Coleman

Last week, I sat down with Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, to discuss how her organization is focusing on closing the mobile phone gender gap. Cherie was later joined by Maura O’Neill, senior counselor to the administrator and chief innovation officer for USAID; and Trina DasGupta, director of the GSMA mWomen Programme in a meeting that we hosted as part of the CFR-ExxonMobil Women and Technology Roundtable Series. I’ve invited Cherie, Trina, and Maura to explain in a guest blog post how they are working together to implement the mWomen Programme to increase women’s access to cell phones. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Russia, India, and More

by Isobel Coleman

Russia's President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin walk at the residence in Zavidovo in the Tver region, September 24, 2011 (Sergei Karpukhin/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow presents another wide range of stories in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. I look forward to your views. Enjoy!

Missing Pieces: IMF Projections, Mobile Money, and More

by Isobel Coleman

Finance ministers and central bank governors of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa attend the BRICs news conference during the annual International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings in Washington, September 22, 2011 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights the latest economic projections from the IMF as well as interesting stories from Africa and the Middle East. We look forward to your thoughts as always. Enjoy!

  • The IMF’s New Projections: The IMF last week released its latest World Economic Outlook. The title is grim: “Slowing Growth, Rising Risks.” With troubles in the United States and Europe, natural disaster in Japan, and unrest in the oil-rich Middle East, “the global economy is in a dangerous new phase.” Unsurprisingly, the good news is reserved for certain emerging markets. China is projected to maintain blistering growth, with India trailing somewhat but still robust. (India does face far higher, though declining, inflation.) In Latin America the picture is split between booming South American economies, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and their northerly neighbors harder hit by the struggling United States. Growth in both Brazil and Mexico is projected to drop but remain respectable. In sub-Saharan Africa, low-income countries, largely detached from the global economy and therefore spared from the recent crisis, are expected to grow strongly. Africa’s middle-income countries (including South Africa) have felt the global slowdown more, but the IMF still projects solid average growth. The continent’s major oil exporters, such as Nigeria and Angola, are expected to continue robust expansion. Finally, in the Middle East, the outlook is unclear given political events and global uncertainty. Oil exporters are projected to grow strongly for the most part, with Qatar leading the way and Iran lagging behind. Oil importers, by contrast, are projected to achieve only slow growth. This group includes Egypt, which faces growth prospects of under 2 percent and inflation of more than 11 percent–a difficult environment in which to manage surging post-revolution expectations. Read more »

Agricultural Innovations for Global Food Security

by Isobel Coleman

A worker displays a handful of rice at a market in Hefei, Anhui province (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) wrapped up its star-studded annual meeting yesterday. As a forum to connect corporations interested in social investments, NGOs, and government policy makers working on innovative development solutions, there are few conferences to rival CGI. It attracts numerous heads of state visiting New York for the UN General Assembly meetings (Barack Obama addressed the gathering for the third year in a row); CEOs and social entrepreneurs also attend in droves. This year’s session focused on three themes: creating jobs in the 21st century, promoting sustainable consumption, and scaling up what works to empower women and girls. Read more »