Posts Tagged ‘conflict/dispute resolution’

Voice in My Throat

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

The song from which the title of this post, by the adorable Pearl and the Beard, is really worth checking out.

Ezra Klein had a provocative piece in the New Yorker last month about “the powerless presidential bully pulpit.” We think of the President’s main power as that of persuasion. But political scientists have found that having a President speak out on an issue may actually make it less possible for them to get legislation across on that issue, because having a President, associated with one party, take a stand means that the opposition consolidates along party lines – a Republican can’t support Obama’s stated policy preference because that cedes ground to Democrats – even if the individual Republican happens to agree with Obama on that position.

[Political scientist George] Edwards’s work suggests that Presidential persuasion isn’t effective with the public. [Political scientist Frances] Lee’s work suggests that Presidential persuasion might actually have an anti-persuasive effect on the opposing party in Congress. And, because our system of government usually requires at least some members of the opposition to work with the President if anything is to get done, that suggests that the President’s attempts at persuasion might have the perverse effect of making it harder for him to govern.

Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, takes Lee’s thesis even further. “The more high-profile the communication effort, the less likely it is to succeed,” he says. “In education reform, I think Obama has done brilliantly, largely because it’s out of the press. But on higher-profile things, like deficit reduction, he’s had a much tougher time.”

[I reversed the order of these paragraphs from the original article to make them make more sense out of context.]

The song from which the title of this post, by the adorable Pearl and the Beard, is really worth checking out. This is troubling enough on a political level. But what if this finding is more general? What if any use – or even most uses – of the bully pulpit actually makes it harder to persuade people?     

I of course wonder if this applies to philanthropy. There are two worries. One is that foundation attempts to influence public policy may have counter-productive effects, particularly among local or state officials. Does lack of transparency help get things done? The other is that nonprofit attempts to promote greater philathropy actually make people less likely to give. Does more face-to-face outreach make people more likely to give?    

Well, let’s think about the mechanism. This dynamic applies to presidential politics, per Klein’s interpretation of the literature, because a president is also a party leader, and the opposition is from another party. Those are competitive, zero-sum positions – one loses, the other wins.   

Are foundations ever in such a situation? Well, they can be when they start working in support of particular public policy issues. Laws place restrictions on the amount of lobbying nonprofits can do – generally the guideline is, raise awareness of issues, don’t support specific pieces of legislation or candidates. But there are generally policy aims – pass healthcare reform, abolish the death penalty, restrict gay marriage – and in those, someone wins, and someone loses.     

The mechanism in the Klein article seems to hinge on publicity and visibility. This suggests that funders may have a better chance advocating on local and state initiatives than national or federal ones. Sounds like a hypothesis worth checking out….


This Blog is Just Six Words Long

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Trayvon. Trayvon. Trayvon Trayvon Trayvon. Trayvon.

What the hell, people. What the EFFING EFF.

In good news, Leah Hunt-Hendrix is awesome. I can’t wait to read her book on the “genealogy of solidarity.” And she’s stirring things up within philanthropy among individual and institutional donors. Go Leah!

#Kony #Kony the remix

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Can’t stop thinking about #Kony2012, I’m surprised not to see more about it in the philanthropy blogosphere. Anyway, a few pieces have cleared things up for me. Somewhat.

Communicopia educated me about the work that Invisible Children has been doing over the past eight years to build their constituency that made the video go so viral. Though they appear to have come out of nowhere, IC have actually been slogging in the trenches for years. This article is pure gold, the insight-to-length ratio is off the charts. Go read it.

You’re back? Good. Now, this puts it all into perspective. Girls 13-24 are the ones sending around the video because they’re the ones that IC has been targeting and seeking to empower.

Ethan Zuckerman brought me up to speed on the most thoughtful critiques of IC’s strategy, and they are many and persuasive. Go read that one, too, but wait a minute, because it’ll take a while, and you should especially read the comments, which are bubbling with vitriol. Drama!

Which brings us to Dan Pallotta, who in typical pugnacious style, comes out swinging. A friend pointed out that Jason Russell of IC was going to be on Lawrence O’Donnell, so I DVR’d it. OMG – So. Smarmy. I had a viscerally negative stylistic reaction. I do it myself sometimes, but male upspeak is not a great look for anyone. Again, maybe he’s speaking the language, literally, of the people he works with, but it grated with me. But Pallotta takes it to another level, accusing – particularly in the comments on his post – critics of being jealous of IC’s success. “The criticism is largely based in envy at Invisible Children’s success.” Yeah, that’s gotta be there, but “largely based in envy”? Come on now.

And this gets to one of the things I found troubling in both sets of comments section (Ethan’s and Pallotta’s): the *extreme* thin-skinnedness of IC supporters. Any critique is to be not only repudiated but denounced as mean-spirited, unfair, or futile. “Go fix things in Uganda if you’re so smart” is the essence of one refrain in the comments. Really? The message is that delicate that it needs to be protected from any negativity? It’s one thing to pulsate with the energy of youth, it’s another to quaver with its fragility and, well, insecurity.

But then I watched the actual Kony2012 video. (Except the parts where he explains Kony to his 5-year-old. I find that nauseatingly manipulative, and skipped over those few minutes.) The first several minutes aren’t even about Uganda, or Kony. They’re about this moment in time, about what can be achieved by the many coming together on Facebook. He explicitly talks about this being an experiment, to see if something huge can be achieved. God love ’em, there’s even a visual depiction of a theory of change that’s as clear and simple as I’ve ever seen. (That’s the kind of thing I do all day at work, and I have to say, pace Dan Pallotta, that my emotion on watching it was excitement – there’s a way to do what I do better! Awesome! Let me learn how!)

I for one am really excited to see the first Kony2012 copycats that actually have success. Because that’ll be one of the true measures of impact, is if this does prove a successful experiment, and shows a different way of doing things.

A final note: I also learned from a website I hadn’t heard of before called Talk2Action that Invisible Children is funded by a number of evangelical Christian organizations. Knowing this, seeing the part of the Kony2012 video where the student activists are chanting IC slogans in unison made perfect sense, and also sent a little shiver up my spine. Perhaps it also explains the fervor of some IC defenders in the comments section? (Yes, that was upspeak.) I don’t really know how to parse the intersection of evangelical Christian missionary impulses, social-media wizardry, youthquake mobilization, and working on the front lines of international human rights work. Yet another reason this is fascinating and worth watching as it evolves.

#Kony #Kony

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

There’s so much going on with #StopKony I barely know where to start.

I spoke with a funder once whose range of investments included support for private security forces seeking out a war criminal. Philanthropy is institutional but it’s strangely chained to the raging id. You have the money, you have the autonomy – let’s see what you can do. Most wouldn’t do go that far, but some small number do. In some cases, no one knows, you like it that way, you keep it that way. In the case of Invisible Children, an NGO that raises money, you decide after years toiling in the shadows (well, relatively speaking, they’re actually fairly known on the international NGO scene) that it’s time to go viral. The theory of change is that you need political will to keep U.S. military advisers in country to keep the hunt for Kony on, so you tap your skills in video/media production and create a video designed to go viral.

And the cycle of backlash is just so fast. One of the people on my blogroll, Chris Blattman, has come out against the campaign, as have others. (Nice compilation here.) Invisible Children seems to have done an exhaustive job of responding to critiques, worth a read. Any opportunity to give a wider audience more nuance about how to think about NGO effectiveness is a positive in my book. For example, IC talks about how they get a two-star rating from Charity Navigator on transparency because they don’t have at least five independent board members. They have four, and say they’re interviewing for a fifth. It’s like buying a car, people, do your homework. But look beyond the rating systems, dig into the assumptions, learn some of the lingo. If you can spend 29 minutes watching the video….

Then again, as the caption says on a slide on my corkboard at work, “There is no such thing as boring information; there is only boring presentation.” Maybe someday someone’ll find a way to sex up the nuance of NGO accountability ratings. Until that day, put on your green accountants’ visor and start clicking. And if you have questions, I’m always here; this is what I do for a living….

It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

“As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe”

So goes the front-page headline in today’s NYT. The gist is that Millennials around the world, from Spain to Israel to India, are rising up in direct protests within regimes that were meant to have afforded democracy. “They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”

All right, it’s time to review the difference between procedural and substantive democracy. Procedural democracy means that the rules are in place that can guarantee fair outcomes, substantive democracy means that fair outcomes do happen. It’s no accident that procedural democracy is the version that people have in mind when they talk about “democratic capitalism,” as the NYT article does. The heart of procedural democracy is free and fair elections. (Don’t get me wrong – this is a huge achievement in human history. The voting booth is like a pew, you should be reverent and grateful in there.) Freedom of expression, freedom of religion. But that’s basically it.

It’s a sham. When the outcomes don’t go your way, that is. Substantive democracy means that the rules point in a certain direction. (You know, toward justice.) There’s an analogy to dimensions of human rights. Just as democratization has generally meant the installation of procedural democracy, the most progress on human rights has been on civil and political rights – the right to vote, etc. But many human rights advocates have been pushing for while for a further dimension of human rights: economic and social rights – the right to a living wage, health care, etc. These are part of substantive democracy.

Again, don’t get me wrong – go procedural democracy. One thing at a time, gradualism, politics as the art of the possible, etc.

Except, bullshit. That’s what the people on Wall Street and in the tent cities in Israel and Spain, and the hunger striker in India are saying. Bullshit. Why wait? Justice now, economic and social rights now, substantive democracy now. Especially when the capitalism side of “democratic capitalism” is so manifestly rigged. Makes the other side feel rigged too.

Who are we to say any different?

Two Become One

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Did I just use a Spice Girls song title for the title of this blog post?! Saints preserve us…

I was talking with a colleague who mentioned the complicated nature of a particular government form, where documentation had to be obtained in triplicate. In wondering about why people hate the government so much, it occurs to me that we need a more integrated perspective on government action. One part is something I’ve mentioned previously, the need for non-anti-governmentalists (in other words, people who see government as something other than an automatic force for bad, maybe even potentially a force for good) to recognize and work on the very real experience in people’s lives of government incompetence and waste. You can’t look credible defending government action in principle without addressing government inefficiencies in practice.

Another part of a more integrated perspective on government action has to do with the economic function of government action. The root of one form of anti-governmentalism lies in economics, a discipline conditioned to see government action as inherently less efficient than private action. The concept of “rent-seeking” is a way of talking about corruption – a “rent” is some economic gain, whether a sweetheart deal for a relative or a straight-up bribe. Government contracts offer rents, and politicians, in the economic model, are seen primarily as rent-seekers. (Political science differs in also seeing politicians as motivated by maintaining office, not just to preserve access to rents, but as an end in itself – because people love power.)

On the other hand, sociologically there’s something interesting about government as a potential guarantor of equal opportunity. Transparency in public proceedings is meant to make decision-making more fair. Many public funding agencies have to have some of their meetings open to the public. (Good luck proposing that at your typical private foundation!)

So, two visions of government action: rent-seeking and fairness through transparency. What if it’s both? What if the application form is in triplicate both to give someone a job or an economic rent and to be more fair/accountable? This is what I mean by a more integrated perspective on government action. I don’t think we have it, and it would be helpful in talking about the role of government in society.

Soldier of Love

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Continuing from yesterday on some issues in the current news from the Middle East about which comparative political science has something to say. Today, more on the role of the security forces.

Interesting article last week in the New Yorker about the unexpected link between Tahrir Square and the Army:

On January 30th, I watched a column of tanks advance into the sequare. Protesters blocked their wa while two F-16 fighter jets buzzed, lout and intimidating overhead. ‘The people and the Army are one hand!” the crowd chanted, climbing on top of the tanks, scrawling “Mubarak Must Go!” on their flanks, and engaging the soldiers.

“We are your brothers,” people said.

“We will not harm you,” one soldier said.

“Will you shoot at us?” people asked. “You will shoot at us if you are given the order.”

“No,” a soldier replied. “I will never do that. Not even if I am given the order.”

In the standoff between the regime and the protesters, the Army was bound to be crucial. The Egyptian Army commands enormous respect among civilians. The military establishment has long been the most powerful institution in the country and controls not just security and defense but also a huge economic sphere, including factories and road building and housing projects.

“The people and the Army are one hand.” What can that possibly mean? Isn’t the military government the problem? Are people just delusional from having been under the military’s thumb for so long?

Who knows – but there’s something more going on here. Two things: military service and citizenship actually have a long and complicated mutual history. In Western Europe, “states made war, and war made states” – the classic story of Western European state formation from Charles Tilly and others is that in a Darwinian struggle for territory, individual states needed soldiers, and to avoid mass desertion, incentivized people to join by giving them some basic citizenship (voting) rights. Citizenship in exchange for military service.

The other thing is that a professional army doesn’t want to play a police role. This is part of what my dissertation’s about: the army and the police are both security forces, but they have very different roles, in principle. The army defends the nation against external enemies, while the police keeps the peace internally. But what happens, as in Latin America, when you don’t really have external enemies? Latin American countries haven’t fought each other very often, especially compared to Western European countries. So what does the army do if they don’t have foreign wars to fight? Unfortunately, they start to bleed over into police functions, and then everything gets screwy.

So there’s something profound to that chant in Tahrir Square, “The people and the Army are one hand!” While a despotic regime has set them against each other, the behavior of the individual soldiers quoted in the New Yorker article suggest a potential bond that transcends such barriers.

Again, the role of elite factions in elite-popular coalitions that can form a bridge to democracy looms large. Another quote from the New Yorker article is suggestive:

“The military is a black box, and no one knows what happens inside,” [said George Ishak, the head of the opposition movement Kefaya].

As we start to see inside the black box, the possibilities of coalition politics will become clearer….

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

…or maybe it is.

I was in DC for work last night and stayed with a classmate from my political science doctoral program at UC Berkeley last night. We were talking about how the current moment is when comparative politics, which I was trained in, really has something to say. As I’ve observed based on a great piece published in Alliance magazine, there are a variety of factors that influence why certain regimes are toppling in the face of popular revolt and others aren’t.

So let’s clarify a couple of issues in the current wave of revolt/potential democratization in the Middle East that poli sci can tell us something about:

  • The role of elite-popular coalitions in democratic transitions: Power isn’t given, it’s taken. And one of the ways it’s taken – and kept – is when there are fissures in the elite coalition that help a regime maintain power. Popular movements can ally with elite dissenters to form coalitions that can help democracy to emerge. What those elite factions might look like in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere is an open question, as is what organizational forms their popular counterparts will take when the hard work of negotiating governance begins.
  • The difference between democratic transition and consolidation: When is a democratic transition “done?” “Consolidation” is the problematic but basically helpful concept that tries to describe this condition. It may be a certain numbers of peaceful transfers of power – in which case, we can’t tell what really will stick in the Middle East until we see a new post-Mubarak regime peacefully transfer power via elections. Or it may be an episode – like Argentina in 2001 – when the military could intervene during a democratic breakdown but elects not to do so. I think new chapters in the story of this concept will be written in the Middle East….
  • The varieties of authoritarian regimes: Some regimes are propped up by oil, others by superpower patrons because of their geopolitical importance. But not all dictatorships are of a piece, and not all authoritarian regimes are built the same way – which means that they don’t all fall apart the same way, or leave the same kinds of fragments behind. Understanding better the variety of authoritarian regimes in the region is important.
  • The role of security forces: They’re not unitary – the police and the army (not to mention navies or air forces) often developed differently, may have different institutional affiliations (Ministry of Defense vs. Ministry of the Interior – which is not about the environment like the U.S., but is more like a catchall domestic-governance portfolio in many countries), and may react differently to rebellion – see my conversation with Greg Hoadley about the role of the police vs. the army in Egypt.
  • The nature of political “contagion”: This is one of the most distinctive parts of the current situation – that rebellion has spread so quickly and so far from Tunisia in such a short time. Political science will be figuring this out for a while to come. Usually the study of “diffusion” or “contagion” – for example, of environmental standards – is of phenomena that evolve over years and decades. We’re talking weeks and months here. Much to be learned.

So given that my two questions on this blog are about philanthropy and democracy, I’ll want to look at how philanthropy can play a role with respect to these different issues.

To be continued….

Good Golly Miss Molly, what’s that you say donors outside Egypt can do to help?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Sorry, with my shtick of using song titles for blog post titles, this one was too easy, I couldn’t pass it up….

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, transitions, and philanthropy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Molly Schultz Hafid, who recently spent time in Egypt as part of a research fellowship. Her project was on social-justice philanthropy in Egypt, a very timely topic given the recent uprising. Check out her paper here, well worth a read.

In the paper, Molly zeroes in on some of the key opportunities and challenges for the development of social-justice philanthropy in Egypt. On the plus side, there’s a long-standing history of charitable giving in Islam: zakat or tithing is one of the pillars of that faith. In addition to that obligatory giving, there’s also sadaqa, voluntary gifts. And finally there’s waqf, a venerable tradition of individuals setting up charitable endowments – never mind a tax deduction, this was all about having an ongoing means of performing sadaqa and zakat.

On the challenge side of the equation, the legal and political structure for philanthropy and nonprofits in Egypt was very challenging under Mubarak. Crucially, all fundraising appeals to domestic donors had to be approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which predictably could take forever. This hampered the ability of local NGOs to raise funds from local sources. Foreign funding became paramount, which makes growth and sustainability a challenge, particularly given the fickle nature of much international-development funding.

I won’t recap the whole thing; again, well worth a read. In our conversation, Molly highlighted one thing funders outside Egypt can do to help the emerging democratic movement: create a space for young people in Egypt to learn from the rich history of community organizing in other parts of the world. Here’s Molly:

“The basic concept of how you organize people, how you create and sustain leadership, how you make sure it’s accountable to community, how you have a constructive relationship between organized masses and the infrastructure of the state – those are issues that have been dealt with all over the world, there’s a space to share ideas about what forms will allow Egyptians to get their demands met…. I believe civil society organizations have an enormous role to support in those sharing of lessons learned….how you move from protest to organizing for social change, which are really two different parts of social change. Being in the streets is one piece, getting organized is another, and ultimately when representatives are in power, what’s the relationship between those in power and those in the street.”

Funders abroad can leverage technology and social media to create a space where that sharing of lessons learned can happen. The concept of a “leaderless” movement is a problematic one, and will become more so as negotiations with the security forces advance (as hopefully they will). The regime will need interlocutors, and who steps forward and claims legitimacy and representation is a crucial transitional moment. Here’s Molly on what’s most crucial from a philanthropic perspective in the current moment:

“Anything that can immediately allow Egyptian youth that decide that they want to organize to receive resources and to raise money from others to support their work. There are probably twenty sub-bullets under that, but that’s the crux of it.”

Intellectual capital is a key part of these resources, but if as part of legal and constitutional reform, restrictions on local fundraising can be lifted, that’ll go a long way toward helping build and strengthen the local NGO infrastructure.

Thanks to Molly for taking the time to talk and for sharing her insights!

Circle in the Sand

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, philanthropy, and transitions. Been doing some reading about philanthropy and politics in the region, it’s fascinating stuff. The way the diffusion of revolt has been happening is impressive. This piece from the indispensable Alliance magazine is well worth a read, especially the fuller document linked within it, which has brief vignettes on more than a dozen countries in the region and the status of their current political uprisings, all inspired by Tunisia.

Now you see why comparative politics is so exciting! What explains the different rates of diffusion of revolt in these different countries? Common languages, similar cultural and religious backgrounds, but very different manifestations and levels of revolt. The thoughtful full piece by Ebba Augustin linked in the Alliance lays out a few different possible variables:

  • Bottom of the pyramid. This may be a worse pun than the one in today’s song-title-as-blog-post-title, but the demographics of these countries, with high levels of youth who have high levels of unemployment, crop up recurrently in the country vignettes.
  • The resource curse. My former Berkeley classmate Thad Dunning and many others have written about the paradoxical impact of having a lot of natural resources on a developing country. On the one hand, you have the potential to lift a lot of your people out of poverty; on the other hand, government control of the resource is an overwhelming temptation for corruption, and discovering a resource can lock in bad regimes because they become unassailable.
  • Factionalism. This familiar concept from early U.S. history plays out along ethnic and religious lines. Divided countries have fault lines that are more or less susceptible to political pressure and demagoguery.
  • The power of the public purse. Strategic government spending to provide needed social services to a population afflicted by high unemployment and stubborn poverty is used to foreclose revolt in some countries.

The particular combination of these variables in different countries makes the situation complicated and hard to predict. One thing I learned from comparative politics is that timing and sequencing matter. It made a difference for the development of Latin America and Africa that Western Europe developed first and colonized in the way that it did: European priorities shaped the parameters of subsequent state development, opening up some paths and closing off others. In a much shorter timeframe, sequencing will matter in what is hopefully part of a fourth wave of democratization.

Augustin alludes to the lessons Iraq has learned from a legacy of protests in the early 1990s that were not heeded internationally; that experience will color Iraqis’ take on these issues, and the speed with which they take up the torch of widespread revolt. Their attitude will in turn shape how other governments respond, etc., etc.

Back on Tuesday with some thoughts about where philanthropy fits into this rapidly evolving picture, and hopefully some special guest stars….