Zero Rupee Note: Dev Blogosphere Meme?

For several weeks the “zero rupee” note made its way around the development blogosphere. The 5th Pillar, an Indian non-profit, started distributing these notes several years ago to “shock & awe” bribe-seekers in Tamil Nadu. The note is an intriguing idea for battling corruption (impact evaluation anyone?). However, what interested me was why prominent bloggers picked up the story now, whereas the note itself has been around for a while.

In fact, Ethan Zuckerman and Chris Blattman mentioned the zero-rupee note back in 2008,  after picking it up from the Great Indian Munity. The Mutiny post in turn quoted a news story published in an Indian English daily shortly after the launch of 5th Pillar’s campaign in Tamil Nadu.

In late 2009, the World Bank’s CommGAP blog highlighted the “zero rupee” campaign, after the 5th Pillar presented at a CommGAP-UNODC event, held during a UN corruption conference. After that many others, including Oxfam’s Duncan Green, wrote about it. Then in late January this year, the Economist ran a report about the note, using many of the same stories in the World Bank post:

One official in Tamil Nadu was so stunned to receive the note that he handed back all the bribes he had solicited for providing electricity to a village. Another stood up, offered tea to the old lady from whom he was trying to extort money and approved a loan so her granddaughter could go to college.

Those links only provide a brief timeline of when the story moved between different blogs and finally into the Economist, not why. Well then, what is the moral of the story? When you produce an interesting idea, be sure to dazzle people from some important organizations, especially the World Bank, and your efforts will end up on the (web)pages of the Economist. Sweet!


How Not to Help in Haiti: Don’t Try to Steal Their Children

In the weeks following the January 12 Haitian earthquake, the intertubes have been clogged with news-stories, blog posts (also tweets and whatever else exists as virtual debris) about rescue and reconstruction efforts in the country. The development blogosphere, too, has been fairly engaged with:
thoughts on Haiti’s poverty and criticism of lazy efforts to make sense of the same
– guides to Haitian culture and society
– arguments for and against turning Haiti into a charter city
– and a successful campaign to grant it TPS status (a form of temporary humanitarian immigration that gives Haitian nationals in the US temporary work authorization)

All these posts were enlightening, thought-provoking, yada yada. Amongst them all, I really liked Alanna Shaikh’s post on the Aid Watch blog on why Haitians don’t need old shoes (not just because the sizes don’t match) and old stuff in general.

Well, she should have added another tip to her list of don’ts: Don’t try to steal their children!

“Breaking news” from the island (that probably has been or will be blown out of proportion States-side) says that 10 Americans, affiliated with a Baptist church in Idaho, were arrested at the Dominican border “as they tried to take 33 Haitian children,” whose ages ranged from 2 months to 12 years, out of the country “without the right documents.”

The details are at best sad and at worst infuriating: When the children were taken to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, “at least 10 told aid workers that they had surviving parents and knew their contact details.”

“One girl was crying, and saying, ‘I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.’ And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that,” said George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children’s Village.

What is mind-boggling is not just that what these do-gooders tried to do was illegal but also willfully so. See, for example, the response of the leader of the group to a Haitian American human-rights activist who tried to warn them their plan was illegal: “We have been sent by the Lord to rescue these children, and if it’s in the Lord’s plan we will be successful.”

One of the arrested “church volunteers,” as she was being treated for extreme dehydration or some kind of flu, managed to utter the last defense of those who are willing do wrong while trying to do good: “I’m praying that we’ll be able to take these kids out, that we’ll be able to provide a safe and loving home for these kids who have nothing … and that all charges will be dropped and they will see our hearts.”

Oh, the road to (development) hell is indeed paved with such good intentions!

“What if these were your children?” asks the aptly named Good Intentions Are Not Enough blog.

New Year’s Resolutions

I know I’m a month late. But I need to, at the very least, make these resolutions before failing to keep them. So, here are my resolutions for 2010:

◘ I will stop stalking Chris Blattman and his blog.
◘ I will try to write long, thoughtful posts, such as those at Aid Thoughts, at least occasionally–maybe once in 2010.
◘ I will post often, and not simply dump links onto this blog. Instead, I will try to add value with witty remarks, selective quotes, and pop culture references. (Wait, that’s Bill Easterly’s day job.)
◘ I will not just make fun of Bono and others for their efforts to help the world’s poor. Instead, with this little blog, I try to hold accountable the big actors in the field of international development and their efforts to aid the world’s poor. (That too is Easterly’s job, but we can’t let him fight the good fight for aid accountability all by himself.)

◘ Finally, I will stop doing things a month late, hopefully.

Survivor: USAID edition

The murky complex world of development aid works in strange ways. But a reality TV show to identify a country’s future leaders? Funded by USAID?

The makers of “Hunt for Youth Leaders” received a US government grant last year for a show that would allow young people in the troubled South Asian country [to be revealed shortly] to develop leadership skills.

I would love to read the proposal for that grant. Want to bet that it contained the magic word–“empowerment” (as well as “engagement” and “entertainment”)? Anyway, this ambitious attempt at social engineering came to an abrupt end when Chemonics International, under contract with USAID to fund the program,

announce[d] that it is cancelling funding… after determining that contestants’ scores were manipulated

So, USAID (indirectly?) funds a reality show to aid the personal/professional development of future leaders in a country undergoing political (and possibly social) transformation. And that program is suspended, due to vote-rigging? I should find something in there funny, but I don’t know what part to make fun of, or even how. As if there are not enough bad ideas in development aid already.

Please post if you managed to catch an episode? Youtube links, anyone?

And we’re off!

At some point, I tired of sending email links about all the awesome (-ly funny, sad, inspiring, terrible) things in the ever-expanding, ever-evolving field of international development. So I decided to put them up on this blog, for the benefit of one and all.

For those who don’t know me, of which I doubt there are many, I would like to welcome you to just another blog about international development.

Full disclosure: I’m in no way and capacity an authority on international development. Continue reading