WASHINGTON, DC -The following is a series of updates from South-South News reporter Richard Jordan, who is on assignment in Washington to cover the proceedings.
Exclusive to South-South News: An Interview with Dirk Heine, Founder of “Yourtopia”
What happens when you blend a dedicated NGO development practitioner with an innovative software solution to understanding the non-GDP indicators of development with a World Bank Applications for Development competition? You arrive at "Yourtopia", which placed third overall in a worldwide competition sponsored by the World Bank and the World Bank Institute.
Dirk Heine spoke with South-South News about his award-winning application and its name that expands anyone's ability from a single realm (utopia) into anyone's realm (Yourtopia).
Mr. Heine told South-South News that getting out a "big message" from some of the alternative indices to development in a one-time launch really could benefit from a consistent presentation of data and connection between citizens and government.
The app has a serious application: to develop a real empirical basis for the measures of development that are used to guide policy-making. Is education more important than health issues? Is R&D more important than achieving one of the MDGs?
The Open Knowledge Foundation (www.okfn.org) has a working group on open economics, of which Dirk is the coordinator. There is an "open" invitation, most appropriately, from Dirk for anyone to participate in the followup to Yourtopia through joining the Open Economics working group on their web site.
The "personalized" approach to creating an index of human progress eliminates the arbitrary choices of indicator-weights and proxy choices.
There is ongoing work on making the language in Yourtopia constructions more simple for the non-techies in the field.
Cheif Economist of the World Bank Justin Yifu Lin was an amiable host in announcing the award winners.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick not only presented the awards but also said that Apps for Development is an important step committing the World Bank to becoming a more open institution and in making data available and easily accessible to the public as well as to specialists. The original hope in creating this year-long process was to open up the Bank to software developers who "could create applications that we could not even imagine."
World Bank President Officially Launches World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development
In rapid-fire succession, the World Bank launched its 2011 World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development.
The first panel dealt with "Transition Moments", was moderated by Riz Khan and included participants Marwan Muasher (Carnegie Endowment), Jay Naidoo (former South African negotiator), Roelf Meyer (former South African Minister), and a familiar UN hand, Lakhdar Brahimi (former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan and Iraq).
The panel dealt with topics current in the news, the "social media" revolutions in the Near East and Northern Africa. As one would expect, contributions were informative and presenters offered some keen observations.
A number of "polarities" can exist in how responses are made in the regions dealt with in this panel. "Homegrown" reform, where citizens in the countries want and know their own models of development and democracy, may be the best route to achieve results; yet previous governments have used the excuse that reform needs to be from within, and that "homegrown reform" can be an excuse for doing nothing.
In Eastern European reform movements twenty to thirty years ago, there was already an existing economic model, but in the Arab region, the situation is quite different.
Any solution to governance issues must include both political and economic reform, along with a system of checks and balances.
Additionally, education needs to deal with not only the skills marketplace, but with the concept of citizenship, since people have been accustomed to being treated as "subjects, not citizens." Brahimi mentioned Tunisia as having good possibilities, since the country is small and there is a middle class. The real challenge in the region is that there is a "change of generations, countries run by those over seventy and now governed by those who are forty".
Rolf Meyer said that 27 April 1994 was the date for transition in South Africa, but in 17 years, "we are not half way to what we want to achieve. It will take a number of decades to make real progress."
The main conclusion offered in this panel was that first there needs to be a process to build checks and balances within government, and only then should the international financial institutions should ensure that funding is provided and that it is put to the use intended.
In the second panel, World Bank President Robert Zoelleck said that the World Development Report 2011 really goes back to a subject that he thinks is essential, and a subject that he dealt with in an April 6, 2011 speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The report is a mix of research by distinguished experts and from practice in the field. Zoellick stressed the main messages: institutional legitimacy is key in building confidence in states and to prevent a downward spiral back into conflict. There is a crucial need to invest in citizens, jobs and justice and to build "inclusive enough citizen coalitions." The development process does not have to be perfect, but good enough to provide short term wins. To be serious means to stay for some time in the country.
Lakhdar Brahimi said that there are no silver bullets. His Brahimi Report in 2000 for the United Nations had emphasized integrated missions in peacebuilding, but that the approach failed. Now it is time to re-envision with imaginative ideas how to craft missions. He emphasized Zoellick's concept of "good enough."
The importance of the 2011 World Development Report will be in keeping it off the shelf and bringing it into the filed.
"Poor Economics" Book Launch Re-envisions "Lazy Thinking" About the Poor
For more than 15 years, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have worked with the poor in dozens of countries spanning five continents, trying to understand the specific problems that come with poverty and to find solutions.
The book that they have published their findings in is "radical" in rethinking the economics of poverty, with the authors arguing that it is the developed world that "gets it wrong" -- due to “ideology, ignorance and inertia."
The poor very often are characterized as lacking certain necessities, and if those necessities are fulfilled, then poverty somehow disappears. There is a psychological impact that says "pick one solution" and that that solution becomes a lever that development practitioners can push for "quick fixes."
Justin Lin, Chief Economist of the World Bank, responded in a very low-key, affable manner, with reflections on the book as dispelling stereotypes about the behavior of the poor. He said that the book allows us to see better how donor support can work, and that alone can save time and be most helpful to an institution such as the World Bank.