Posts Tagged ‘international’

Dancing in the Dark

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Hopefully it’s not too disrespectful to begin back up with song-title-as-blog-post-title when writing about Japan. My friend Scott Kuhagen points out a fascinating NYT article about the challenges of post-disaster communication in a conflict-averse culture:

But as is often the case with cultural explanations (of which I have in the past been a fan, or at least not an automatic opponent), there are institutional factors close at hand. In this case, it’s a “leadership vacuum” created by a recent change in the ruling party after 50 years of LDP rule. The Times article is worth quoting at length, as there’s a lot of substance in the analysis:

“The close links between politicians and business executives have further complicated the management of the nuclear crisis. Powerful bureaucrats retire to better-paid jobs in the very industries they once oversaw, in a practice known as “amakudari.”…Postwar Japan flourished under a system in which political leaders left much of the nation’s foreign policy to the United States and domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats…. But over the past decade or so, the bureaucrats’ authority has been greatly reduced…. Yet no strong political class has emerged to take their place. Four prime ministers have come and gone in less than four years; most political analysts had already written off the fifth, Mr. Kan, even before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Two years ago, Mr. Kan’s Japan Democratic Party swept out the virtual one-party rule of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had dominated Japanese political life for 50 years. But the lack of continuity and inexperience in governing have hobbled Mr. Kan’s party. The only long-serving group within the government is the bureaucracy, which has been, at a minimum, mistrustful of the party. “It’s not in their DNA to work with anybody other than the Liberal Democrats,” said Noriko Hama, an economist at Doshisha University.”

There’s so much going on here that as a political scientist I don’t know where to start: the parallels to 70 years of PRI one-party rule in Mexico and it’s relationship with the civil service, the analogies to the revolving door between Congress and K Street in the US – and above all (and I think that’s where I’ll start), the question of Japan’s political economy and the idea of “varieties of capitalism” that I’ve written on extensively on this blog.

Coordinated market economies are good at generating high-quality, well-engineered products through a system that features close coordination between labor, capital, and education. In the Japanese version, they feature cozy relationships between companies, particularly in finance, with lots of overlapping board seats and other forms of governance that would look odd in the context of the US, a liberal market economy.

And here we see a dark side of that coordination – a lack of willingness to point the finger of blame, to name a problem and respond nimbly in the moment. And this has to do with the flow of information.

So when we’re thinking about “varieties of philanthropy” analogous to varieties of capitalism, an important piece to look at is the flow of information, and how different institutional arrangements incentivize different information flows. Given what problems philanthropy has with good public information flow, this question seems particularly relevant.


Helping Japan, continued

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

As my Argentine friend Sebastian would say, “FahseeNAting.” Felix Salmon over at Reuters titles a post, “Don’t donate money to Japan,” and the comments absolutely explode at him (hat tip to Tactical Philanthropy). Yet he’s making much the same point as the folks at GiveWell, whom I cited last time. What gives?

Part of it is that you’d expect an economist to have a better handle at the importance of signaling. Many of the comments take umbrage primarily at the title, finding it offensive in the extreme, poorly chosen, and poorly timed. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution observes that it’s important to signal solidarity with one of the U.S.’s closest allies.

Which gets me thinking about giving as an expression of personal values – as opposed to giving as an effort to solve a particular social problem. The beauty of “small” philanthropy is that it’s a way for all of us to signal our allegiance with certain causes, whether our not our $10 makes a difference “at the margin,” as economists say.

The difference happens when hundreds of thousands of people make that choice at the margin to give. And what generates that – the aggregate of those hundreds of thousands of decisions – I feel is poorly understood. And yet, a valuable natural resource – not infinitely renewable, but pretty reliable in disaster situations.

There is much to be understood about motivations for giving and how to channel them. People are capable of such generosity and yet also such indifference. The furor over Salmon’s piece puts these issues into sharp relief for me.

Helping Japan

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

No song-title-for-blog-post-title today…

Remember what we learned from Haiti last year about giving in disasters:

  • Give cash, not goods. (Because where do you store the goods, who decides who gets what – it adds another layer of complication for first responders and recovery workers who are overwhelmed enough as it is.)
  • Support organizations that have existing relationships on the ground. It makes the process more efficient and means that more relief gets their sooner.
  • Give to the long-term recovery effort, not just immediate relief.
  • Be OK with the fact that because of what it costs to have an effective on-the-ground response, your dollar now may get into the field weeks or even months later, or on another disaster. Relief orgs need revolving sources of funding, and it’s not like you’re going to say, “no, don’t help those other people in the next disaster.” It’s like providing general operating support, give the organization that’s proven its ability to get help to those who need it the latitude to use the funds in the most effective way.

GiveWell has an interesting take (hat tip to the Foundation Center, whose post is also worth reading). They’re saying (as of last Friday) “hold off on giving for now” because it’s not clear what the needs are. They also suggest that local presence is not as important in this disaster, because most international groups don’t set up shop in wealthy countries.

And here we come to the crux of disaster response as a field. (I did some research in this area for a client.) One important definition of a disaster is a situation that overwhelms the ability of the local authorities to respond. In the U.S., a disaster can be “declared” by the President, which allows federal resources to go in. But they have to be invited in; the governor of the state has to request that relief.

The American Red Cross has only just been asked to help. They made their first donation, of $10 million to the Japanese Red Cross Society, today. This is as it should be. It’s up to the local authorities to determine what help is needed and when.

And this brings us to another principle that may be emerging from the current situation:

  • Pay attention to what local authorities are asking for. Have they invited international organizations in? Are they asking for specific kinds of help? Who’s in a position to provide that help? (See the previous principles). Obvious caveat for non-democratic regimes; when Burma was hit by a cyclone, giving to NGOs with strong local presences made sense – local authorities weren’t necessarily trustworthy.

I know this doesn’t sound easy, but hey, how often is what’s right really easy?

Stay tuned, keep paying attention, look for the right opportunity to give. (But give!) You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people who benefit on the other end.

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….

Tea in the Sahara

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

OK, this is really stretching my shtick of having blog post titles be song titles – a song by The Police for a post about the police in Egypt (groan)….

All Egypt, all the time continues here on DPQ. More from my interview with Greg Hoadley, doctoral candidate in political science at UC Berkeley who spent last year in Egypt and Lebanon doing fieldwork, on what led up to the situation in Egypt and what’s coming next:

Greg and I got to talking about our dissertation projects. Mine was on the relationship between the police and the military in Latin America. He picked up on this topic to make an observation about actors in the current situation in Egypt:

You mention the police. Egypt had robust repressive forces to protect the regime from the people, but the police melted away after the 28th – a day or two after that, the cops just disappeared. There was this sense that this tool that the state has relied on for so long might no longer be effective, although there were always fears as to the regime’s repressive intentions with the ongoing attacks by pro-regime thugs (who were often police in plain clothes) and Mubarak’s defiance.*

So how do you explain how all this happened so quickly?

It’s a whole host of things. Everyone apart from a very few well-connected segments of society were alienated from the Mubarak regime. The mobilization quickly spread to all major groups; no one was excluded – Christians, Muslims, laborers, peasants, everyone – we’ve never seen that before in modern Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian development policies had led to the creation of social groups that had aspirations of advancement but no avenue to advance except perhaps through emigration. Meanwhile neoliberal economic policies were reducing the standard of living of workers and the rural poor. People had grievances across all sectors of society, so once it became clear that the protesters were able to hold some ground against the state’s repressive capacity it snowballed very quickly, especially in light of the recent popular success in Tunisia.

So what do you see as the most likely scenarios?

There’s the one I fear and the one I hope for. I fear the old regime reconstituting itself through the military in the guise of some phony civilian government. Such a regime wouldn’t make needed changes like a new development policy, real political representation, real freedom of expression, and removing the repressive apparatus of the state from daily life.

The scenario I hope for is that the military brass see what happened to Mubarak and get the message that Egyptians want a new relationship with the state. There are great resources in the country, but it’s been terribly, terribly mismanaged, so there is a lot of potential there.

Thanks again to Greg for sharing his insights on the situation. I wrote earlier this week about the elite-popular coalition that will need to form to achieve a sustainable transition. Given the security forces’ central role in the Mubarak regime, trying to figure out the nature of factions within that elite, and which ones might be amenable to working with a popular movement, will be a key task for the kind of organizing that Molly Schultz Hafid talked about in our interview.

* This sentence edited February 25, 2011 with updated information from Greg.

Don’t Fence Me In

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

If it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, it must be Egypt here on DPQ. Back with more from Molly Schultz Hafid, whose 2009 piece on social-justice philanthropy has gotten some nice exposure on PhilanTopic, the Foundation Center’s blog. Here’s more from my interview with Molly on what foundation folk outside of Egypt can do to support the movement for democracy.

It’s important for those of us who support democracy to support open and pluralistic values. There are a lot of configurations of what it could look like; to use our simple US labels of young, establishment, religious, etc. – it’ll be more complicated than that. If we’re not of Egypt, the best thing we can do is to support the development of an open space for the organizing of an agenda to happen – hopefully a social justice one. If we do too many shortcuts, we’ll get something that preserves too much of what people were protesting.

As people in philanthropy, we should be talking about and thinking about how to distribute resources in what in the US we’d call a nonpartisan way. It’s going to look different than the nonprofit infrastructure in the US, or the political party infrastructure – there may be hybrids. We need that opening up and that space – for people to try different things, and to try corrective action. If we commit to something too quickly…there has to be room to make adjustments.

[One of the key points Molly makes in her paper is that the NGO sector in Egypt faces a lot of obstacles, including a lack of public legitimacy.]

The one caveat to this, which is very important, is that the aid infrastructure and the US support have used a civil society framework – there’s a lot of mistrust of that framework in Egypt…. I think we have to be careful about what we call the youth movement. Billions and billions of dollars have been poured into Egypt to build “civil society,” and most of it ended up in Mubarak’s pocket. If people reading your blog are wanting to reach out, don’t worry if people flinch when they say “civil society.”

So much of what’s challenging about wanting to help Egyptian youth capitalize on this movement is concern about how such outside support will be viewed. Molly’s sage advice about the difficulty of applying the labels we’re used to in US political discourse is well-taken. But as the heartwarming and amusing story about an Egyptian ordering pizza for the protesters in Wisconsin reminds us, along with Molly’s final comment, the prospect of solidarity across borders is encouraging.

Thanks again Molly for sharing your insights!

Come Together, Right Now

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

All Egypt, all the time continues here on TBBKA”DP?”, or if you like, DPQ (Q for questionmark). Interesting piece on The Monkey Cage (hat tip to Marginal Revolution) asking, “why do protests topple regimes?” Here’s Professor Graeme Robinson, via Joshua Tucker:

Why do protests bring down authoritarian regimes?…The key to answer this question, I think, is to understand the basic nature of authoritarian rule. While the news media focus on “the dictator”, almost all authoritarian regimes are really coalitions involving a range of players with different resources, including incumbent politicians but also other elites like businessmen, bureaucrats, leaders of mass organizations like labor unions and political parties, and, of course, specialists in coercion like the military or the security forces. These elites are pivotal in deciding the fate of the regime and as long as they continue to ally themselves with the incumbent leadership, the regime is likely to remain stable. By contrast, when these elites split and some defect and decide to throw in their lot with the opposition, then the incumbents are in danger….

So where do protests come in? The problem is that in authoritarian regimes there are few sources of reliable information that can help these pivotal elites decide whom to back….In this context, protests are excellent opportunities for communication….Broadly, there are two types of messages being sent. The one that gets the most scholarly attention is at the level of protesters trying to convince other citizens that “people like them” hate the incumbents and are willing to act….However, the other kind of message is the one that protests send to pivotal elites, who are weighing staying the course against the potential costs and benefits from switching sides.

In the Egyptian case, the pivotal elites seemed to have included, on the one side, “national capitalists” associated with part of the military, and, on the other side, the beneficiaries of privatization and Mubarak’s economic “reforms”, associated with his son Gamal. When the “swing voters”, the semi-autonomous Intelligence Services (mukhabarat), moved behind the national capitalist faction, Mubarak was finished. Much of the action in the last days of January seems to have consisted of various high profile figures using the protest to signal their allegiance to or defection from Mubarak.

As I was talking about last week, the key element to understand is the nature of the coalition pushing for change. And the real challenge is once a dictator has been toppled, who steps in to fill the vacuum? One piece of the puzzle is to understand which elite faction emerges victorious. Another is to look at who within the opposition might be able and willing to form a coalition to govern with them.

And it’s here that the “leaderless” nature of the revolt becomes a challenge. As Greg Hoadley points out, “who wins the revolution is an open question.” And as Molly Schultz Hafid observes, one of the key challenges for Egyptian youth trying to organize are the severe limits on raising funds for nonprofit efforts in a legal context where the government needs to approve all fundraising appeals.

What this adds up to is a challenge for philanthropy. Coalitional politics appear key to how the transition, if that’s what this is (fingers crossed), will play out. And the opposition needs to find a way to organize itself credibly, in a way that will be legitimate in the eyes of the people. Youth have a critical role to play; can philanthropy within and outside of Egypt help the youth who drove the January 25 movement to get the knowledge and resources they need to organize in a way that will allow them to form a stable, democratic coalition with elite factions that would be willing to work with them? That to me seems the crux of how philanthropy could help usher in a more democratic society in Egypt.

Leader of the Pack?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Guest Star Week on TBBKA”DP?” continues: up today is Greg Hoadley, a doctoral candidate in political science at UC Berkeley. Like me, Greg took some time off in the middle of the program, and is in the final stages of writing his dissertation, which is about the emergence of professional official statistics in Egypt and Lebanon. The ability of the state to “read” society and turn that knowledge into action is actually one of the key indicators of state capacity, the basis for so much of public policy, and something we really take for granted in the U.S. (um, who do you think measures the unemployment rate?).

Greg did his fieldwork in Egypt and Lebanon last year, and we talked about the origins of the uprising, what this might be a transition to, and who might step up to lead the process of negotiation with the regime. I’ll have more to share from my conversations with Greg and with Molly Schultz Hafid next week, but here’s a first look.

Chris: One of the memes floating around about what’s going on in Egypt is that this is a “leaderless” movement. Do you buy that?

Greg: There was an opposition made up of small parties licensed by the regime, which were to a degree complicit with the regime. They weren’t part of the January 25th demonstration [which started the uprising], but they quickly hopped on board. The same thing with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned but tolerated. They also weren’t involved at the outset, but they didn’t claim credit either. It seems that the nexus that got it rolling on the 25th was a collaboration between these young online activists and independent labor unions. But after the 26th or 27th, I don’t know that you can say who was in charge because there was a massive popular response from all segments of Egyptian society.

Chris: So who are the interlocutors during a transition?

Greg: That’s a wide open question. The established parties didn’t get the job done over the last 30 years; they don’t have a lot of credibility with the public. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that they’ll form a political party and we can expect other new parties to form. There is also an ongoing struggle for control of the Egyptian labor movement, and some young activists are starting to voice frustration with the pace of change. Who wins the revolution is an open question.

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!