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Rising Powers at the DSA 2016: China and the rising powers as development actors

By Corinna Braun-Munzinger, PhD researcher at the Global Development Institute 

cspjazxxeauhtmeThe Rising Powers Study Group of the Development Studies Association (DSA) and the ESRC Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme jointly convened a full-day panel at the DSA annual conference in Oxford on 13 September, titled “China and the rising powers as development actors: looking across, looking back, looking forward”. These issues were approached from various angles – ranging from a macro perspective on fundamental shifts in the global world order to the micro-level perceptions of individual development workers in South-South cooperation.

The discussions began from a broad perspective on how the rising powers influence development prospects globally. Rory Horner, University of Manchester, started out by tracing how the traditional distinction between developed and developing countries has become blurred as a result of the emergence of the rising powers, calling for more research on a beginning new era of more universal, global development. Albert Sanghoon Park, University of Cambridge, complemented this forward-looking perspective by taking a look back at the historical geopolitical patterns underlying the developed-developing country dichotomy since the 1940s. Seen from this angle, possible tensions between the ideals and the geopolitics of development are neither new, nor are they likely to disappear with the rising powers taking on stronger roles in shaping global development. Following from these broader thoughts, Anna Wrobel, University of Warsaw focused on trade policy as one specific aspect in which China engages in shaping the global economic order, both through the WTO and through bilateral agreements.

The main theme discussed throughout the day focused more specifically on rising powers’ engagement in South-South cooperation, in particular looking at China and Brazil. One particular strength of the panel was that it brought together diverse primary insights from interviews with individual practitioners engaged in such South-South cooperation projects that again help looking back and looking forward.

Looking back, South-South cooperation continues to be influenced by the past. Susanne Ress, Humboldt University Berlin, and Katia Taela, University of Sussex, showed how transatlantic slavery and the historically complex relations between Brazil and Mozambique still affect Brazilian development workers’ perceptions and discourses today. Juliet Lu, University of California, Berkley, discussed how China’s own development experiences shape Chinese investment in rubber in Southeast Asia.

cspsj9txyaaginfLooking forward, new principles of international cooperation seem to be emerging with the rising powers. Looking at Brazil and Venezuela’s engagement in Caribbean countries, Bethany Tasker, UCL, found that the rhetoric around new principles of solidarity, respect for sovereignty, mutual benefit and partnership was generally believed and seen in South-South cooperation on the ground, even though frustration could emerge in instances where these principles were not met. Similarly, in Chinese cooperation with Tanzania, Xiuli Xu, China Agricultural University found a new paradigm of South-South cooperation based on mutual learning and sharing of development experiences.

However, despite these new principles of partnership, asymmetries between cooperation partners remain. Examples of these appeared in several presentations on China’s interactions with individual countries and with regional institutions on the African continent. On the one hand, Folashade Soule-Kohndou, Sciences Po Paris, discussed the challenges small African countries like Benin face in negotiations with China as a much larger partner and highlighted how and when smaller partners can nevertheless exert agency in such asymmetric relations. On the other hand, contributions from Georg Lammich, University Duisburg-Essen, and Han Cheng, Cambridge University, both highlighted a shift in China-Africa cooperation from the bilateral to the regional level, in particular through the African Union, potentially creating different types of asymmetries of country-to-continent cooperation.

Finally, another aspect that was apparent throughout several presentations is the wide diversity of actors engaged in South-South cooperation. While public discussions of South-South cooperation often paint a straightforward picture of state-to-state cooperation, a closer look shows that things are much more complex. Not only does cooperation take place between government agencies at regional, national and local levels, but also private sector and civil society are playing an active part. For example, Wei Shen’s, Institute of Development Studies, case study highlights opportunities and challenges of private Chinese investment in the South African renewable energy sector. Adding further to the complexity of actors involved, Timothy Hildebrandt, London School of Economics and Political Science, offered a conceptualisation of government organised non-government organisations (GONGOs), which are important in Chinese development cooperation but may not be unique to China.

Overall, the panel highlighted various way in which the rising powers are actively engaging in shaping the landscape of development globally. Nevertheless, presentations also cast some doubt on whether rising powers are necessarily different from established Western powers in all aspects of development cooperation. On the one hand, paradigms seem to be changing, emphasising the mutual learning and partnership aspects of international cooperation, at a time where the distinctions between developing and developed countries are increasingly becoming blurred and new institutions of South-South cooperation are emerging such as FOCAC. On the other hand, some patterns seem to persist, for example geopolitics seems to be an important driver for international engagement for rising powers and Western countries alike, and rising powers are participating in dialogue on global rules in existing fora such as the WTO. Time and further research may be able to tell to what extent the emergence of the rising powers as development actors changes the nature of development and development cooperation that we have experienced so far.

Pharmaceuticals and the Global South: a healthy challenge for development theory?

world-1185076_1280 Dr Rory Horner, Lecturer, Global Development Institute 

With the potential to ameliorate pain and even save lives, pharmaceutical products can have greater impact than those of almost any other. Yet, in overviews of research on development, somehow the pharmaceutical industry does not feature as prominently as, for example, extractive industries or textiles.

In a new article in Geography Compass, I argue that the pharmaceutical industry can tell key stories for development – in particularly highlighting the need to bridge the oft-present dichotomy between the economic and industrial or social aspects of development.

For a long time, it appeared that there was little positive to say about the pharmaceutical industry in relation to its contribution to development. Post-independence, most developing countries found themselves relatively dependent on multinational companies for the imported supply of medicines and the sector was widely viewed as exemplifying the problems of dependent development. In the 1970s, the establishment and promotion of local pharmaceutical production attracted considerable policy interest among developing countries seeking to overcome the dependence on multinationals from the global North, with some support from United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Yet, many countries, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, faced a backlash from multinationals and few succeeded. Even in those limited cases where efforts to promote local industry did succeed, such as India and Argentina, the immediate benefits for health were questionable. Particularly from a public health perspective, the struggles with the pharmaceutical industry ranged from questions of production to such issues as essential drugs, marketing, quality control, price control, pooled procurement and the utilisation by health workers and patients.

As the policy momentum in support of local production in the Global South declined and as neoliberalism became more ascendant with the onset in the late 1980s of Washington Consensus liberalisation, research on pharmaceuticals shifted towards patent issues, a crucial aspect of the institutional environment for the industry. Considerable attention surrounded the World Trade Organisation Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement, finalised in 1994, and which came into being in 1995. This controversial agreement required all World Trade Organisation (WTO) members to sign up to standard minimum patent protection, with developing countries allowed a 10-year transition, and least developed countries a further extension to join. The agreement echoes key trends in the wider field of development in demonstrating the institutions-led agenda of global governance bodies such as the WTO and in reflecting the influence of Northern multinational corporations and states in pushing policy changes in much of the Global South. The issue could be characterised as one of institutional monocropping – importing institutions from the global North to developing countries with little sensitivity for differences in context.

addiction-71574_1280More recently, however, a growing body of research has now begun to identify some positive connections between health and industry. The availability of underlying industrial capacities to produce generic medicines has been essential for the success of international political mobilisation to promote access to medicines. This notably also includes the influential Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. Indian companies have played a key role in supplying a large share of the global purchases of anti-retroviral medicines, particularly for donor-funded purchases. Indeed, the humanitarian medical activists, Médecins Sans Frontières have even pointed to the key role of India’s “pharmacy to the developing world”, which has been a crucial industrial support for the global access to medicines campaign. A somewhat autonomous local pharmaceutical sector has pushed for public-health oriented reforms in Brazilian patent law.

To be clear, major challenges remain for fulfilling the health possibilities from the industrial capabilities of the pharmaceutical industry. Particularly in relation to new product development, an enduring question is the persistent challenge of medicines for neglected populations, where limited market incentive exists for investing in R&D and where consumers have limited purchasing power.

A long standing characteristic of development has involved negotiating between economic, or materials goals, and the social, or human, dimensions. Within development studies, both have often been presented as antithetical, or at best compartmentalised. Improved development outcomes related to pharmaceuticals often appear to draw both on an underlying material base, promoted through industrial and health policy interventions, and on civil society mobilisation over health and access to medicines. Building, and understandings connections between the economic and social aspects of development is not unique to pharmaceuticals, nor to the Global South.

Yet arguably research on the pharmaceutical industry provides a challenge particularly in relation to understandings of the conditions under which economic and health, as well as wider social goals, can be complementary. In doing so, crossing disciplinary boundaries may provide a necessity. Given ongoing challenges for global health, as well as the industry, pharmaceuticals will continue to be crucial for development outcomes globally.

These are issues I will seek to engage with in my new ESRC Future Research Leader funded-project on ‘India’s pharmaceuticals and local production in sub-Saharan Africa’. This will involve a comparative study across different African regions of the engagement of what has been referred to as India’s “pharmacy of the developing world” and its implications for efforts to promote local pharmaceutical production

What does Habitat 3’s New Urban Agenda mean for the displaced?

luis-200x300By Luis Eduardo Perez Murcia is a PhD researcher at The Global Development Institute 

This month more than 25,000 delegates meet in Quito, Ecuador, for the Habitat 3 conference which sets out the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda – a guide to policies and approaches for the sustainable development and planning of cities and towns across the globe for the next 20 years. As part of The University of Manchester’s research beacon for Addressing Global Inequalities, we bring you a special series of blogs from some of our leading researchers.

In our fourth and final post of this series,  Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia  relates the UN’s New Urban Agenda to one asylum seeker’s experience.

The lottery of life

20, 28, 42, 57, 107, 111 and 114b. These are not winning numbers. They are the numbers of the seven clauses which reference “the displaced” within the New Urban Agenda – and yet perhaps in that regard they could create winners in the lottery of life, if the agenda achieves its aspirations over the next 20 years.

Perhaps clause 28 is the strongest aspiration of how Habitat 3 hopes to aid the home lives of the displaced: “We further commit to strengthen synergies between international migration and development, at the global, regional, national, sub-national, and local levels by ensuring safe, orderly, and regular migration through planned and well-managed migration policies and to support local authorities in establishing frameworks that enable the positive contribution of migrants to cities and strengthened urban-rural linkages.”

So let’s move for a moment from the broad aims above to my research experience of one person’s reality. An area of research interest for me has been the ongoing war in Syria which has left millions of people displaced either within or across national borders.

A story of one Syrian…

Noor came to England as an international student in 2014. She is an example of how not all Syrian asylum seekers and refugees fled following direct threats and violence. As Noor’s experience illustrates, some left their country to pursue professional and academic careers but, because of war, cannot return.

Noor was accepted by The University of Manchester but was concerned about whether or not she would be able to obtain a visa, having heard that visas for Syrians – even those who are sponsored students – were being rejected. However, Noor was able to study here and upon finishing her studies she returned ‘home’ as planned.

However, after only one day at home in Damascus it became clear that what the international media called an ‘uprising’ and later a ‘crisis’ was indeed a ‘war’. ‘Home’ was no longer a safe place in which Noor could pursue her dreams and achieve her aspirations. When she returned to Manchester to attend her graduation ceremony it crossed her mind that England, a place in which she had had such a wonderful and productive time, could become her next home. She applied for refugee status and immediately shifted from being an international student to being an asylum seeker.

habitat-migration-social-media-luis-blog“Home is the place you feel you can contribute the most”

Noor’s story tells us something about what and where home is and what it means. She says that “home” is a tricky concept and one that is hard to define. Ultimately she says, “Home is neither my country nor the physical house where I was living in Damascus. Home to me is more a feeling”. Having spent a significant part of her life living in other countries including France, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and England, Noor says, “I see life as a train station. I am always ready to move”.

Noor experiences home as a mobile space. “I feel at home in a place I like. I think family is central for my understanding of home but home is also the place you feel you can contribute the most. I am volunteering as a research assistant and bringing support to refugees in the UK, so I think England could now be my home”.

This personal feeling of Noor is very much in line with Clause 28 of the New Urban Agenda which aspires to “enable the positive contribution of migrants to cities and strengthened urban-rural linkages.”

She stresses that she is an independent woman able to work and contribute to society just like other refugees. She added, “If I am granted permission to stay, I will work, I will pay taxes and I will do my best to contribute to this society”.

Papers and envelopes

However, waiting for the Home Office concerning her status in the UK is not free of tension and she is anxious about the future. Noor told me “I feel trapped in limbo. I am not saying I feel in limbo living in England. I can make this place my home. What I mean is that I feel trapped in limbo with my Syrian passport. I cannot work or move anywhere. In order to feel at home I need papers. I need the permission to stay”.

Noor’s emphasis on the need of ‘papers’ to feel at home in England can be better understood if we consider the role of the symbolic value of material things in the process of home-making. I asked Noor if she had brought anything with her to England that reminded her of home in Damascus. The answer was an envelope which Noor brought to England. It contains her academic diplomas, language test results, letters of reference and her passport. When asked why she chose the envelope she simply replied, “That is what I am. Thus, that is what I need to make a home for myself in this country”.

What will the New Urban Agenda can mean for people like Noor?

Noor’s experience is only one of millions of Syrians who have fled conflict or who cannot return to their country because of the escalation of war. Having to make a new home away is an experience shared by many of the over 60 million people currently living in conditions of displacement across the world.

Her experience helps us to unveil the multiple challenges of putting in practice complex clauses of the New Urban Agenda. How governments, policy makers and the international community can strengthen synergies between international migration and development (clause 28) when asylum seekers are not entitled to the right to work in many countries is just one issue raised by Noor. A significant challenge is therefore how to ensure that displaced persons, both those who move within and across national borders, are able not only to make a living but also to find their place in the cities where they are already settled or aspire to migrate.

Thus, rather than thinking of migration as a problem and migrants as people who need to be kept in their place, the big challenge for the new urban agenda is to understand migration as an historically constructed practice and migrants as purposive actors in the city landscape. Displaced persons, as sociologist and researcher Dr Maja Korac stresses, are ordinary human beings living in extraordinary circumstances.

They are just people like us trying to find a safe place to live in the world.

Aspirations for a just city?

tanja_21072009_03By Dr Tanja Müller, Senior Lecturer in Global Development; Co-Director, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute

One part of the new urban agenda that Habitat III aspires to includes support of refugees for a just city that ends social exclusion. That, like many of these international aspirations usually proclaimed by UN conferences and the like, sounds a rather lofty ambition. Who would really object to a just city where social exclusion would be a thing of the past? In reality, though, social exclusions exist – and in all likelihood always will – at all levels. But probably nothing puts the quest for a just and inclusive city to the test quite as much as large numbers of new population groups arriving in the city.

This was the case in many cities in Germany during the summer of 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel decided spontaneously to open the border for stranded refugees for a brief period in time. One of the cities at the centre of what subsequently has been described as a state of great chaos was Berlin. I happen to live just down the road from what was the main refugee reception centre, the so-called LaGeSo.

The LaGeSo was in the news for weeks on end as the place at the centre of Berlin’s Humanitarian Crisis due to its inability to cope with the large amount of refugees who simply awaited registration – the very first step in a long process towards eventually becoming residents of the city.

Refugees camped in the parks and streets outside the LaGeSo often for weeks. The young and the old, the sick and the healthy. All simply to obtain a waiting number that with some luck would ensure a proper appointment, registration, and transferral to proper accommodation eventually.

But while official authorities seemed overwhelmed – the verdict is still out as to whether this was really the case, or whether there was a deliberate policy of making refugees as unwelcome as possible to entice them to reconsider their decision to have come to Germany in the first place.

Citizens of Berlin at large, and of Moabit in particular, the part of town where the LaGeSo was located, stepped in. People who often had never engaged with ‘politics’ or civil engagement of any kind suddenly appeared in front of the LaGeSo. They brought food and medicine, they started German lessons, and many who had a spare room at home simply took some of the refugees with them.

There were also those who tried to boycott or resist this practical attempt to show solidarity, but by and large – and without any political incentive – people responded as people, as fellow human beings, to the crisis on their doorstep.

Many stories have since been told on how taking in refugees has challenged and often changed people’s lives. One of the initiatives based in Berlin that subsequently facilitated matching refugees with hosts, the group Refugees Welcome, soon received requests from other citizens in cities around the world – resulting for example in people as far away as Island to offer their homes and lives to share with refugees and appealing to their government to let more of them in.

But that is only one side of a complex story. The side that may give us hope that solidarity can be created by recognising the stranger, not as the other, but as connected to our own lives through a common band of humanity.  A year later, important questions remain. Particularly about how welcome refugees really are once they behave in ways that do not comply with the image of the grateful recipient of benevolence – for example, since the so-called ‘sexmob’ attacks at New Year’s Eve.

Some of those who last year camped in front of the LaGeSo have found work and a place to live. Others were so frustrated by their un-welcome into Germany that they returned to their country of origin. Some with monetary incentives, others just by themselves.

A new refugee reception centre opened and proceedings are allegedly more efficient and smooth – but that may largely be due to the comparatively low number of new arrivals these days. This is partly a result of the deal Angela Merkel has since struck with Turkey. A deal that is envisaged to eventually extend to a number of countries in North Africa.

But more than 40,000 refugees who arrived last summer are estimated to still live in emergency accommodation. Such accommodation might in theory be quite nice and fit for purpose, but often it is not. Around the corner from the former LaGeSo is a stark reminder that often the latter is the case: A refugee accommodation camp built in form of an air-inflated tent, where entry is through a compressed air lock that allows neither fresh air in nor daylight of any kind. It houses mainly Syrian and other Middle Eastern men and families. It offers no real privacy – a particular problem for women who come from a culture where spaces for men and women are often distinct in everyday live and a prerequisite for a sense of comfort and safety.

Recently, one of its inhabitants, an Iraqi refugee, was shot dead by German police while trying to kill a fellow camp-inmate with a knife who had allegedly raped his young daughter. While a police investigation is now under way to ascertain what really happened, violence in this type of refugee camp – and sexual violence in particular – has long been recognised as a problem on the rise.

Those dynamics, coupled with the recent rise in Germany of a new political party that has as its main policy the exclusion of foreigners of any kind, but in particular those of Muslim faith,  leaves one with lingering doubts about lofty promises at international gathering such as Habitat III: If a city in one of the most wealthy Western nations cannot cope in a more human way with a comparatively low number of refugees – low in particular compared to the cities in the Global South that bear the brunt of refugee arrivals – what realistic hope is there to overcome social exclusion and live up to the promise of a just city that includes all its inhabitants?

One is reminded here of Hannah Arendt’s dictum in relation to refugee movements in the 1930s that the right to have rights relies on being a citizen of a state, thus there is no solid footing of universal rights in concrete political space. Neither in the city nor beyond.

What does Habitat 3 mean for people affected by climate change?

By Joanne Jordan, Lecturer in Climate Change & Development at the Global Development Institute joanne

This month more than 25, 000 delegates meet in Quito, Ecuador, for the Habitat 3 conference which sets out the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda – a guide to policies and approaches for the sustainable development and planning of cities and towns across the globe for the next 20 years.

As part of The University of Manchester’s research beacon for Addressing Global Inequalities, we bring you a special series of blogs from some of our leading researchers.  Here, Joanne Jordan talks about the importance of capturing local voices and ideas, if the UN’s New Urban Agenda and Habitat 3 visions for sustainable cities is to be realised.

Bold statements

Under Point 13G of the New Urban Agenda sits a very bold statement: “We envisage cities that adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change.”

23-view-this-is-a-diff-angle-than-indicated-on-mapThis is an important aspiration and one close to my heart, experiences and research in Dhaka – the capital of Bangladesh and a place on the front line of climate change. As part of my research on climate change at the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, I spent months in a slum in Dhaka talking to over 600 people in their homes, work places, local teashops and on street corners to understand how climate change affects their ‘everyday’ lives and what solutions they employ.

So what might the New Urban Agenda mean to the people living in Dhaka’s slums? Currently, most mainstream work on reducing inequality doesn’t take into account the different risks that people face as a result of climate change and this means that the interventions aimed at reducing inequality are likely to be less effective.

Most people who are adversely affected by climate change are already poor and are likely to become poorer as a result of it.  Inequality affects how people respond to climate change. My research looks at how those responses differ and why. This can point to what kinds of interventions will help even out the playing field.


Innovation and land right issues

My research found that the urban poor have been able to develop a myriad of innovative ways to respond to climate change but in many cases their efforts are constrained by a lack of land tenure rights. For example, if slum dwellers are not protected by laws and regulations that shield them from exploitative landlords, they are less likely to invest scarce resources in making their homes more resilient to climate change.dsc_0109

Limited resources can also trap the poor in places that flood most frequently because they cannot afford rents elsewhere. One slum dweller explained: ‘The water came up to my waist, our houses drown. Where can we go? The more water, the less the rent. The rent is low here. The owner is going to raise the land, but the rent will go up. This will not help me. We will move somewhere else. We are poor, wherever we can get cheap rent, we move there.’


Broadcasting local voices

Throughout my time as a researcher, I have been a firm advocate of innovative approaches that capture and share the voices of local people.

So once my research in Dhaka was complete, I teamed up with the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Dhaka to explore the findings through a ‘Pot Gan’ – a traditional folk medium that combines melody, drama, pictures and dancing.

The Pot Gan we developed was an interactive event that challenged the audience to engage with the personal experiences of slum dwellers affected by climate change.

Live performances of ‘The Lived Experience of Climate Change: A Story of One Piece of Land in Dhaka’ have now been seen live by over 600 people, including Dhaka slum dwellers, policy makers, practitioners, academics and the general public. At the time of publishing this blog, a documentary on the Pot Gan has been viewed by over 50,000 people.



dsc_0063The New Urban Agenda: time to engage?

If you look at any given intervention, its success depends on whether it fits with people’s everyday experiences and understanding of climate change. Therefore, to create effective climate resilience strategies, it is crucial that we engage local voices in innovative ways to ensure that we do not leave the disadvantaged and most vulnerable behind by predefining their ‘problems’ and bypassing their priorities and realities. My project provided a platform for the ‘voices of the urban poor’ to enter the climate change debate – challenging us to inclusive action and critical thought.

And this mirrors my hopes and advice to those driving forward Habitat 3’s New Urban Agenda. I say: do not forget to engage the very people you strive to help. As you roll out the agenda over the next 20 years, consider approaches that may be new or different for you – as Pot Gan was for me – but which give a voice and a greater understanding of the changes you seek to bring about by putting the power in the hands of the very people who are finding ways every day to “reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness.”

Whilst the New Urban Agenda must operate at a national and strategic level to bring about a greater good, let it not forget about engaging and projecting the voices and ideas of the local people it aims to serve.

A  documentary and video of the Pot Gan performance is available at

How can Habitat 3 and the New Urban Agenda turn inequality talk into action?

diana-2By Diana Mitlin, Managing Director of the Global Development Institute and academic lead for the University’s Addressing Global Inequalities research beacon.

This month more than 25,000 delegates meet in Quito, Ecuador, for the Habitat 3 conference which sets out the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda – a guide to policies and approaches for the sustainable development and planning of cities and towns across the globe for the next 20 years. As part of The University of Manchester’s research beacon for Addressing Global Inequalities, we bring you a special series of blogs from some of our leading researchers.

Ahead of next week’s conference when delegates will set out the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda, Diana Mitlin suggests three principles to aid their success.

shop-dar-2015Promising everything

The New Urban Agenda promises everything. It’s based on the three core principles of leaving no-one behind, sustainable and inclusive urban economics and environmental sustainability.

But the agenda begins with recognition of the problem of growing inequalities, alongside other obstacles to achieving sustainable development. Against these barriers, can it deliver? Will the Agenda succeed in reducing the inequalities that so many people I have worked with face on a day to day basis?

Ask anyone living in informal settlements, and they will tell you that their residency is a cause of discrimination. That’s due to the negative assumptions that higher-income people make about people who live in areas characterised by a lack of secure tenure, safe living conditions and adequate access to basic services.

This is not a problem that will just disappear. The number of people living in informal settlements is predicted to rise from just over 860m “slum dwellers” today to over 900m by 2030. How can both this rising trend, and the needs of those estimated 900m people, be addressed?

A model example?

One example of a programme that needs to be expanded if the New Urban Agenda is to be realised is Transforming Settlements for the Urban Poor. A Ugandan government programme, which is financed by the World Bank and realised in partnership with the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda in 14 towns and cities across Uganda, it involves over 14,000 informal settlement residents working alongside their local governments. The programme provides funding to construct essential services such as water points and public toilets.

shack-lthai-mandaue-2008Its progress is far from perfect – yet it is a model of the sort of alternative approach that enables transformative change by supporting the understanding of local struggles and implementing relevant action on the ground.

So why does it work? Here are three things could the New Urban Agenda learn from it.

  1. Platforms for dialogue and monitoring
    One of the most effective tools for improved governance has been the Municipal Development Forums that bring together community leaders from informal settlements, government officials and other active stakeholders in towns and cities. Forum meetings every one to three months enable perspectives to be understood, problems shared and priorities to be set.
  2. Engagement in implementation
    It is critical for community members to own the improved infrastructure. Experience has shown that community contracting ensures that local communities are involved, and that at least some of the income generated by infrastructure investments is circulated within the informal settlements, benefiting informal businesses.
  3. Agreed reporting around metrics
    What emerges from the Federation’s research work and that of an NGO in Uganda called ACTogether which facilitates capacity building at a local level and pro-poor policy promotion, is the importance of agreed metrics to report on progress made. Monitoring the numbers, using facilities such as toilet blocks, is important. But the costs of access are also critical. Equally important is understanding the value added to land because of these public investments, and making sure that the most disadvantaged citizens are not excluded as services are improved and rents increase.

cable-car-station-medellin-2014Turning talk into action

Yes, the New Urban Agenda promises much – but it is short on how delivery will happen. We need to re-orientate our discussions. What has been learned from experience to date about how progressive change happens? What do the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda see as important to reduce the growth of informal settlements? How can existing efforts being made by local residents and their local authorities be scaled up and multiplied?

Only then, and using the three principles outlined here, can we improve access to services and secure tenure. This is when we will finally put in place support measures that reduce the numbers living in informal settlements, making lives less precarious – and enabling 900m more people to receive more of the benefits offered by development.

Diana will be live tweeting from Habitat 3 at @GlobalDevInst between 17 and 20 October.

This blog post is also published by CityMetric and Policy@Manchester

Read our other Habitat 3 coverage

Data Justice for Development

By Richard Heeks, Professor of Development Informatics

What would “data justice for development” mean?  This is a topic of increasing interest.  It sits at the intersection of greater use of justice in development theory, and greater use of data in development practice.  Until recently, very little had been written about it but this has been addressed via a recent Centre for Development Informatics working paper: “Data Justice For Development: What Would It Mean?” and linked presentation / podcast.

Why concern ourselves with data justice in development?  Primarily because there are data injustices that require a response: governments hacking data on political opponents; mobile phone records being released without consent; communities unable to access data on how development funds are being spent.

But to understand what data justice means, we have to return to foundational ideas on ethics, rights and justice.  These identify three different mainstream perspectives on data justice:

  • Instrumental data justice, meaning fair use of data. This argues there is no notion of justice inherent to data ownership or handling.  Instead what matters is the purposes for which data is used.
  • Procedural data justice, meaning fair handling of data. This argues that citizens must give consent to the way in which data about them is processed.
  • Distributive data justice, meaning fair distribution of data. This could directly relate to the issue of who has what data, or could be interpreted in terms of rights-based data justice, relating to rights of data privacy, access, control, and inclusion / representation.

data-justiceWe can use these perspectives to understand the way data is used in development.  But we also need to take account of two key criticisms of these mainstream views.  First, that they pay too little attention to agency and practice including individual differences and choices and the role of individuals as data users rather than just data producers.  Second, that they pay too little attention to social structure, when it is social structure that at least partly determines issues such as the maldistribution of data in the global South, and the fact that data systems in developing countries benefit some and not others.

To properly understand what data justice for development means, then, we need a theory of data justice that goes beyond the mainstream views to more clearly include both structure and agency.

The working paper proposes three possible approaches, each of which provides a pathway for future research on data-intensive development; albeit the current ideas are stronger on the “data justice” than the “for development” component:

  • Cosmopolitan ideas such as Iris Marion Young’s social connection model of justice could link data justice to the social position of individuals within networks of relations.
  • Critical data studies is a formative field that could readily be developed through structural models of the political economy of data (e.g. “data assemblages”) combined with a critical modernist sensitivity that incorporates a network view of power-in-practice.
  • Capability theory that might be able to encompass all views on data justice within a single overarching framework.

Alongside this conceptual agenda could be an action agenda; perhaps a Data-Justice-for-Development Manifesto that would:

  1. Demand just and legal uses of development data.
  2. Demand data consent of citizens that is truly informed.
  3. Build upstream and downstream data-related capabilities among those who lack them in developing countries.
  4. Promote rights of data access, data privacy, data ownership and data representation.
  5. Support “small data” uses by individuals and communities in developing countries.
  6. Advocate sustainable use of data and data systems.
  7. Create a social movement for the “data subalterns” of the global South.
  8. Stimulate an alternative discourse around data-intensive development that places issues of justice at its heart.
  9. Develop new organisational forms such as data-intensive development cooperatives.
  10. Lobby for new data justice-based laws and policies in developing countries (including action on data monopolies).
  11. Open up, challenge and provide alternatives to the data-related technical structures (code, algorithms, standards, etc) that increasingly control international development.

This blog originally appeared on the ICTs for Development website.

How does India engage with sustainability standards?

banner_tempBy Natalie Langford, PhD research at the Global Development Institute 

In November, the Rising Powers and Global Labour Standards team will be travelling to India in order to jointly host a conference alongside Centre for Responsible Business (CRB), a prominent NGO based in New Delhi. ‘India and Sustainability Standards: International Dialogues & Conference’ (ISS 2016)  takes place from the 16-19th November. It presents an exciting opportunity for us to disseminate our research and engage to a broad audience of stakeholders involved in the sustainability field in Asia.

The broader theme of the ISS conference is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how the corporate sector can contribute towards achieving  these ambitious goals. There is a broad consensus that governments alone will not be able to meet these goals. However, our research demonstrates there are key roles that government departments and agencies need to play to ensure that businesses can operate efficiently while contributing towards sustainable development.

Our project, led by Professor Khalid Nadvi at the Global Development Institute has been concerned with how global labour standards affect production processes, and the ways in which various actors have engaged with the shaping of such standards.  Our research has important implications for how effective labour standards can foster responsible business practices.

bimalWhilst privately governed ethical standards (such as Rainforest Alliance or Forestry Stewardship Council) have become a key feature of global value chains in which goods and services are sold in Northern markets, there is a growing interest in the ways in which standards may emerge in global value chains across the Global South. Given the huge growth in production and consumption in , Southern markets, it is especially important to understand the extent to which actors in the Global South are also shaping labour standards for local markets.

India is one of the three Rising Powers (alongside Brazil and China) in which the project has conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research, in order to examine this phenomenon. Given that states, firms and civil society organisations are all recognised actors engaged in standard setting, the core research questions of the project focused upon the ways in which these different sets of actors had been exposed to global labour standards, their perspectives and experiences, and the ways in which they seek to shape (or not) labour standards for markets in the Global South.

As a PhD student on this project, I have been lucky enough to gain a great deal of insight into the ways in which Brazil, China and India have engaged with the standards agenda through my interactions with the senior academics attached to the project. Professor Nadvi has assembled a truly global team of academic experts; from local colleagues at Alliance Manchester Business School through to Professors based in India, China and Brazil who have all contributed their knowledge and experience to the project.

17My own research has focused on India in particular, and the conference is an opportunity for me to present my findings on Trustea, a new standard for the Indian tea industry which is specifically focused on the domestic market. I explore the role of both global and national actors within the development of the standard, and how the interactions between state, civil society and lead firms within Trustea has contributed to new forms of governance of social conditions within the Indian tea industry.

We’ll also be presenting our research related to Indian lead firms, civil society organisations and the state in relation to global sustainability standards. Professor Rudolf Sinkovics from Alliance Manchester Business School as well as Professor Peter Knorringa from the Institute for Social Studies (ISS), based in The Hague, Netherlands will all be discussing their latest findings as contributors to the Rising Powers project. The conference has been organised by Dr Bimal Arora, Chairperson for Centre for Responsible Business.

The conference will take place from 16-19th November at the India Habitat Centre (IHC), New Delhi.  Register for a place. We will be tweeting live from the conference using @powers_rising

‘Sustainability Challenge’ offers valuable lessons for universities’ engagement with the public

By Judith Krauss, post-doctoral associate at the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College

In the biggest-ever event on campus, The University of Manchester ran the ‘Sustainability Challenge’ for its 8,200 first-year undergraduates, encouraging students to realise their tremendous role in the University’s social responsibility agenda. I helped facilitate the challenge and think that there are broader lessons for universities’ public engagement to be learned from this experience.

12The Sustainability Challenge’s premise is that the University of Manchester’s undergraduates morph into members of staff at the fictitious ‘University of Millchester’. Diverse teams, deliberately mixing civil engineers and sociologists, medics and mathematicians, are tasked with developing a ‘Campus East’ which meets fiduciary obligations, but also complies with a hard carbon cap. Each option, for teaching and learning or accommodation, energy or transport, comes with social, economic and environmental advantages and disadvantages, the magnitude and constellations of which are based on research conducted at The University of Manchester. For instance, choosing the high-cost energy option will improve the campus’s carbon footprint, but also eat into the budget significantly. By contrast, choosing high-cost teaching and learning leaves little money for accommodation. Yet maybe the corporate sponsorship offers from a fast food chain or an oil company could offer budgetary respite?

It was a privilege and a joy to be part of the Sustainability Challenge, with far more staff than just the 160 facilitators contributing to the research, preparation and implementation of the Challenge. The six student teams I got to meet were as enthusiastic in choosing their group names – Prestigious Innovative Food Ninjas Ltd., Green Queens and The Sustainables come to mind – as they were in devising and defending their diverse visions for Campus East: one team saw no issue with enlisting the corporate support of the oil company, as long as they spent the extra money on high-quality teaching and learning and offsetting carbon emissions. Others considered all sponsorship a sell-out. One team devised an eco-science park only generating minimal carbon emissions. All sought to create benefits for Campus East’s surrounding community.

22The activity not only impressed students in terms of the University sparing no resources to put  #GetSust into practice. They got to realise that sustainability has many facets and interpretations, which require diverse skills and have to be negotiated with various interest groups. And they experienced that every individual has a part to play in social responsibility and sustainability – an insight which I hope they will take into their studies and into their future positions of responsibility in public sector, business and civil society, where each of their choices will have impacts on social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Emphasising the complex nature of sustainability, but also the imperative it constitutes for everybody is where the Challenge in my view offers broader lessons for the way universities engage with stakeholders and the public.

Given a widespread discontent with ‘experts’ in public discourse, there is much work to be done by universities to allay suspicions of Ivory Towers unrelated, and unsympathetic, to what goes on around them. Equally, there is a need to make clear how the work of universities, through research and teaching, entails benefits for all of society despite high tuition fees and often inaccessible research outputs.

What the Sustainability Challenge teaches, in my view, is firstly that it is imperative, and fun, to make research accessible, through a game, a challenge, or an engaging activity which makes palpable the outputs of research funding, and will stay with the participants for a long time to come. Secondly, building on the contact hypothesis, institutes of learning have a chance, nay an obligation, to bring together people who may never have met otherwise, offering them a space to discover and engage with each others’ diverse foci, viewpoints and motivations. Finally, setting a clear task which can only be solved through collaboration sets free surprising abilities to cooperate, innovate and trust in the jointly produced solutions which no one could have devised alone.

32I think we can go even further in terms of the Sustainability Challenge’s learning potential: I hope that future Sustainability Challenges, at Manchester and elsewhere, will not only issue an invitation to on-campus students, but use a question, format and implementation which is accessible and relevant far beyond one university or city. Evidently, there is no doubt that finding a question of interest locally and globally, a viable format, and the resources for preparation and implementation would no doubt be a mammoth Sustainability Challenge requiring collaboration beyond any one actor.

However, an even greater Sustainability Challenge would be introducing societal benefits and sustainability awareness even more systematically into universities’ fabric than Manchester has already done through. Examples could be placing social, economic and environmental sustainability at the heart of all curricula, making stakeholder and public engagement a compulsory element of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes, or requiring research outputs to be accompanied by jargon-free ‘accessible’ summaries.

Yet in my view, given the grand challenges of our time, the key role universities play in addressing them and the fundamental need to rethink universities’ responsibility towards society, the question is whether we can afford not to tackle this greatest ‘Sustainability Challenge’.

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