Saturday, August 10, 2013

Well I am sad to have left good friends and interesting experiences in Ghana but Janna and I have been enjoying our return to Canada and our re-connection with friends and family. We had a surprise welcome at the airport from our daughter Regan (who had told us she couldn't be there) who came up with my mother in law Lisa. Wonderful to see them and the great signs that Regan made. :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Are there different ways the non-profit sector could or should work?

This TEDx talk from Dan Pallotta has been garnering some interesting discussion and soul searching amongst those in the non-profit sector. Worth a watch, you may disagree but there is a lot of food for thought.

One Hundred Percent American

Following on my discussion of globalization and development in my last post I thought I would post this entertaining article written back in 1937 detailing even then how connected we are as a globe. If one looks at  federalist countries like Canada and the US we see examples of what were once separate political entities working together in a way that works. Maybe globalization can be done in a similar way, where development is the focus, and the elimination of inequity.

Enjoy the article

One Hundred Percent American
by noted anthropologist Ralph Linton
The American Century vol. 40, 1937

There can be no question about the average American's Americanism or his desire to preserve this precious heritage at all costs. Nevertheless, some insidious foreign ideas have already wormed their way into his civilization without his realizing what was going on. Thus, dawn finds the unsuspecting patriot garbed in pajamas, a garment of East Indian origin; and lying in a bed built on a pattern which originated in either Persia or Asia Minor. He is muffled to the ears in un-American materials: cotton, first domesticated in India; linen, domesticated in the Middle East; wool from an animal native to Asia Minor; or silk whose uses were first discovered by the Chinese.
On awakening he glances at the clock, a medieval European invention, rises in haste, and goes to the bathroom. Here, if he stops to think about it, he must feel himself in the presence of a great American institution; he will have heard stories of both the quality and frequency of foreign plumbing and will know that in no other country does the average man or woman perform their ablutions in the midst of such splendor. But the insidious foreign influences pursue him even here. Glass was invented by the ancient Egyptians, the use of glazed tiles for floors and walls in the Middle East, porcelain in China, and the art of enameling on metal by Mediterranean artisans of the Bronze Age. Even his bathtub and toilet are but slightly modified copies of Roman originals. The only purely American contribution to the ensemble is the steam radiator, against which our patriot very briefly and unintentionally places his posterior.
Returning to the bedroom, the unconscious victim of un-American practices removes his clothes from a chair, invented in the Near East, and proceeds to dress. He puts on close-fitting tailored garments whose form derives from the skin clothing of the ancient nomads of the Asiatic steppes and fastens them with buttons whose prototypes appeared in Europe at the close of the Stone Age. He puts on his feet stiff coverings made from hide prepared by a process invented in ancient Egypt and cut to a pattern which can be traced back to ancient Greece and makes sure they are properly polished, also a Greek idea. Lastly, he ties about his neck a strip of bright-colored cloth, which is a vestigial survival of the shoulder shawls worn by seventeenth-century Croats. He gives himself a final appraisal in the mirror, an old Mediterranean invention and goes downstairs to breakfast.
Here a whole new series of foreign things confront him. His food and drink are placed before him in pottery vessels, the popular name of which - china - is sufficient evidence of their origin. His fork is a medieval Italian invention and his spoon a copy of a Roman original. He will usually begin his meal with coffee, an Abyssinian plant first discovered by Arabs. The American is quite likely to need it to dispel the morning after affects of over-indulgence in fermented drinks, invented in the Near East; or distilled ones, invented by the alchemists of medieval Europe.
If our patriot is old-fashioned enough to adhere to the so-called American breakfast, his coffee will be accompanied by an orange, or orange juice, domesticated in the Mediterranean region, a cantaloupe domesticated in Persia, or grapes domesticated in Asia Minor. From this he will go on to waffles, a Scandinavian invention, with plenty of butter, originally a Near-Eastern cosmetic.
Breakfast over, he sprints for his train - the train, not the sprinting, being an English invention. At the station, he pauses for a moment to buy a newspaper, paying for it with coins invented in ancient Lydia. Once on the train he settles back to inhale the fumes of a cigarette invented in Mexico, or a cigar invented in Brazil. Meanwhile, he reads the news of the day, imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites by a process invented in Germany upon a material invented in China. As he scans the latest editorial pointing out the dire results to our institutions of accepting foreign ideas, he will not fail to thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is one hundred percent (decimal system invented by the Greeks) American (from Americus Vespucci, Italian geographer).

Globalization is Not New, and if We Work at it, Maybe We Can Make a Better World

‘Globalization’ emerged as an increasingly discussed term in the 1990s. Despite this there continues to be a lack of clarity over the term. Any look through contemporary media and one will find numerous references, debates and diatribes for or against “globalization” yet despite this upon analysis it is a difficult term, and subject to nail down. Even a mildly diligent search finds a plethora of definitions, often sharing common elements, but often not. Maureen O’Neill, president of the Canadian federal government’s International Development Research Centre captures it succinctly when she says that "globalization is a phenomenon of paradoxes”, “it is a force of integration – whether in the WTO, or in the protocols of the internet, or in the worldwide audience for Hollywood movies”, “at the same time, it divides us: generation from generation, fundamentalists from modernists, secessionists from centralizers, rich from poor" (CBC, 2006, 11th paragraph). What is necessary in order to be able to discuss the topic at all is too explore the various concepts and ideas. Is globalization an open ended trend or is it only a set of narrow economic and political activities? Is there a systemic character to it is it just a collection of diverse but separate items? These are the questions that will be explored in this blog.
A definition one finds from the Canadian government and used by Canadian media states that globalization "describes the increased mobility of goods, services, labour, technology and capital throughout the world"(CBC, 2006, 2nd paragraph). Institutions of global governance such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization define it as follows, “globalization is generally used to describe an increasing internationalization of markets for goods and services, the means of production, financial systems, competition, corporations, technology and industries. Amongst other things this gives rise to increased mobility of capital, faster propagation of technological innovations and an increasing interdependency and uniformity of national markets” (Eurostat, IMF, OECD, UN, UNCTAD, WTO, 2002, Annex II, Glossary). While these are workable definitions they only capture globalization through an economic lens, while there are many other sides that can be looked at, often depending on your academic discipline, philosophical worldview or political ideology.
In order for us to move forward on our exploration of globalization it is necessary to define what it is that we will be exploring. I contend that the economic focused definitions above are too narrow to capture the depth and breadth of the topic at hand and instead propose to work with Pieterse’s definition, “globalization is an objective, empirical process of increasing economic and political connectivity, a subjective process unfolding in consciousness as the collective awareness of growing global interconnectedness, and a host of specific globalizing projects that seek to shape global conditions” (Pieterse, 2009, p.16).
A key argument from globalization sceptics is that there is nothing unprecedented going on today compared to the past, whether it be Victorian era capital flows, or global trade routes. In the Middle Ages the famous Silk Road joined Europe to China, and all points between as can be scene on the Silk Road trade route map on the cover page. Later the European colonial empires created international good, capital and cultural flows so what is it that is different today? Two main elements are behind the difference that is seen today, one is the near global institution of similar free-market policies, and the other is the impact of technology on shrinking geography and time. Thomas Friedman contrasts this new globalization from what has occurred in the past by saying that today’s changes go "farther, faster, cheaper and deeper" (CBC, 2006, 14th paragraph).

    (Silk Road Project, 2012).
For many economists, political scientists, and sociologists it is a process that has been occurring for about the last thirty years, while other disciplines, such as historians and anthropologists see a much longer trajectory (Pieterse, 2009, pp.15-16). The historians and anthropologists are correct that many of the elements of globalization such as international trade, migration, and cultural spread have a long pedigree. Homo erectus after arising in Africa spread throughout Eurasia as long ago as 1.8 million years ago, this was followed in more recent pre-historical and historical times by modern Homo sapiens population movements across and between continents. Global trade is also not new, having occurred for over a millennia all while religion, empires, and technologies have spread from one continent to another (Pieterse, 2009, p.26). This proves that the process of human (and pre-human) integration is an ancient one whether one calls this globalization or not. Robert Clark calls this a global imperative; at least since the days of Homo erectus and that “the essence of the human condition is a fundamental connectedness with parts of the universe across time and space” (Pieterse, 2009, p.27).
This view is much deeper than the Euro-centric view that sees human unification as product of modernity and globalization as an post World War II economic project. In many ways these ideas aren’t new to us, prophets, leaders and writers have conceived of utopias of human unity from the Book of Daniel in the Jewish Tanakh, Fiore’s third age, to Alexander the Great’s encompassing empire (Pieterse, 2009, pp.27-28).
This deep historical perspective is important as it places the changes occurring in a context that is part of, is an extension of human culture. Globalization is not something new, but it is part of a continuum that reaches back into the distant past. Yet being on a continuum does not mean that the slope of the line is constant. What we do see is that there is a difference with regard to the speed of the current change and the depth of the integration.
Having accepted that globalization exists, and is different than earlier phases does not mean though, that all who look at the problem sees it with one lens. While it is not possible to define and understand the current phase of the world in “non-global ways there are different ways to conceive of the changes. How one sees globalization depends on ones methodological approach. Globalization has become the “prism” where disputes are refracted. Questions of development, hegemony, capitalism, politics, inequality, and many others are bent towards the approach one brings to the debate (Pieterse, 2009, p.7). This same refraction holds true depending on the political view one brings to the puzzle.
Those firmly entrenched in the capitalist camp, neo-liberals, and those associated with the third way and the post-Washington consensus see globalization as a win-win.  The basic premise is that if only governments would adopt the correct policies then each country would exercise their comparative advantage, maximize their potential and every nation state would win all while global output is increased (Kiely, 2007, p.13). Others hold an opposite view of the potential for globalization, seeing it not as a win-win but rather as a zero-sum game (CBC, 2006, 6th-7th paragraph).
Unlike those for globalization who tend to be a variety of capitalist, there are a variety of positions opposed to globalization from schools of thought including neo-Marxism, anarchism, feminism etc. all with broad variations in their analysis. What is common is the view that globalization is a largely malign force presaging a return to imperialism. Based on neo-Marxist theories including underdevelopment, dependency and the world system they argue that at its heart globalization is a system set up by the powerful, to reward the powerful, where the growth in one area can only occur through the impoverishment of another (Kiely, 2007, pp.16-17).
There is a deeper and better-theorized space that can be found between these two strongly divergent positions though. That is the idea of globalization as a force of development, but as practiced an uneven development. This position argues that neither of wildly divergent positions above are well theorized, and it recognizes that there is some truth in both schools of thought. Importantly this view retains the questioning of hegemony, power and imperialism. The uneven development position accepts that there is a dynamism to capitalism but that this is an uneven dynamism that can have pockets of winners and pockets of losers but it rejects out of hand that what is occurring is a zero-sum game. What it is also key though is that it rejects that any such unevenness is a result solely of market imperfections (read government) but that these imperfections are a very factor of the capitalist system itself (Kiely, 2007, p.18).
So, despite the range of views, theories, political and academic lenses that can be brought to bear on the question of what is globalization? there are some conclusions that can now be safely made. First and foremost is that globalization is not solely a win-win or a zero-sum game but rather is a more complex system/process that leads to dynamic, yet uneven growth. This uneven growth is not due to market failures but to rules inherent in the neo-liberal system itself. Also important to remember is that while important globalization is about more than economics, but rather it is the latest, albeit accelerated phase of a process that reaches back 2 million years. Key is that what this is really about is the spread, mixing and ultimately the hybridization of culture, whether it is technology, economics, politics, pop culture or philosophy/religion.
It remains to be seen whether there are ways to smooth out the unevenness of current globalization in order to create a more equitable, less hegemonic world. If that is what we want, then there is a good chance that together we can make that happen.


CBC News. 2006. What is globalization? March 30, 2006. CBC News Online. Accessed November 12, 2012.

Eurostat, IMF, OECD, UN, UNCTAD, and WTO. 2002. Manual on Statistics of International Trade in Services. United Nations.

Kiely, Ray. 2007. The New Political Economy of Development: Globalization, Imperialism, Hegemony. Palgrave MacMillan. Great Britain.

Levin Institute. 2012. What is Globalization? State University of New York. Accessed November 24, 2012.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. 2009. Globalization and Culture: Global Melange. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. United States of America.

Silk Road Project. 2012. Silk Road Wall Map. Accessed on November 24, 2012. The Silk Road Project Inc.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Building from the Inside Out

Arriving in September 2012 for a 10 month Uniterra II assignment I was excited to be once again returning to the continent of Africa. My first WUSC experience was under Uniterra I when I travelled with my wife and daughter to spend a year in Malawi in south central Africa in 2008 for 13 months. That experience was rewarding and transformative for all of us and my wife and I vowed that we would return to do further development work in Africa.
Once again both my wife and I had secured separate Uniterra placements, but this time our daughter, now in her third year of university did not travel with us. Janna and I were excited to each find placements in Accra, Ghana, Janna found a placement with Child Rights International while my placement was with the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC).
GNECC had recently participated in two separate reviews of their capacity as an organisation and from that they had created a Step Change Plan in order to build themselves with a focus on long term sustainability. I was asked if I would be willing to tackle the actions planned for in their step change plan given my background in project management, and I agreed.
The first step needed was for me to get up to speed on who GNECC is, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. GNECC was established in 1999 and is a network of education stakeholders with over 200 members including civil society organizations, professional groups, education and research institutions, and other individuals interested in promoting quality basic education. Their focus is basic education spanning from nursery to junior high school, with members countrywide. With over 10 years of research and advocacy experience, GNECC is a well-recognized and respected voice in the promotion of education for all in Ghana. Despite their successes though, there were still areas where GNECC had recognized that they could be strengthened in order to ensure their positive impact continues into the future. The three main areas to be tackled were GNECC’s “Vision, Mission and Strategy”, “Program Delivery and Impact” and “Resource Development” with on support and funding provided by STAR Ghana.
While there have been many, many activities taken to build GNECC some of the successes I have been involved in include strengthening the knowledge management skills of the coalition. This involved a two pronged approach, first training the staff in the importance of protecting, nurturing and backing up the knowledge they and the coalition creates. The second involved creating a cloud based storage system that can back up all the coalition’s documents and pictures online. This is a free system, and even if every computer was to be destroyed, GNECC will still be able to retrieve all its materials from any computer. This will increase GNECC’s effectiveness and better enable them  to tell their success stories to stakeholders, advocacy targets and current and potential donors. After presenting this online cloud storage system to our donor and sixteen other grant partners, such a buzz was created that GNECC will now be the trainer of trainers for other NGOs on how to set up their own cloud storage system.
In the above picture my colleague Fred Amo Otchere is introducing me at the beginning of our advocacy training.

To improve the coalition’s program delivery and impact I created a series of advocacy training materials and held a workshop over two half day sessions, that through interactive and collaborative sessions walked the participants through how to create their own advocacy plan on the issues that matter to them. The workshop was a huge success, and the participants left eager to use their new skills towards their own advocacy issues.
Lastly, in order to improve the financial resources of the coalition and to reduce dependence on donor funding I worked to bolster the collection of membership fees. These actions were in some ways simple, but from simple actions can come great results. The first step was to create an online registration system so that we could get an accurate database of who and how many members we had. From there we sold them on the value our members have enjoyed in being members of GNECC, (the carrot) with a reminder that under the Constitution that they created, without due payment, one cannot be a member (the stick). It is important for the coalition to broaden beyond donor funds, especially to pay for internal governance activities and to support goals and activities that matter to the membership and to become truly sustainable.
My experience with GNECC has been rich and rewarding. Being a volunteer cooperant is not without its challenges and frustrations, but with flexibility, a good attitude and perseverance real development work can be done. While I am returning to Canada, I will continue to promote the program from there, and who knows, maybe I will be back for Uniterra III.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Better Life Index

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has developed a really interesting data visualization tool that allows you to rate by importance 11 factors that are often considered important to a person's quality of life. By playing with the different factors you can see how your values rate to the values measured in other countries in the OECD (which is restricted to developed countries). The OECD has embarked on an interesting attempt to come up with other measures beyond the classic economic ones such as GDP in order to inform better policy decisions that actually capture what matters most to people. Try the index out, it is simple and a great way to show data in a visual way.

The OECD Better Life Initiative allows a better understanding of what drives the well-being of people
and nations and what needs to be done to achieve greater progress for all. Drawing upon the
recommendations of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social
Progress (to which the OECD has been an important contributor), the OECD has identified 11
dimensions as being essential to well-being, from health and education to local environment, personal
security and overall satisfaction with life, as well as more traditional measures such as income. These 11
dimensions are explored and analysed in detail in the How’s Life report, the first attempt at an
international level to present the best set of comparable and comprehensive well-being indicators.
At the same time, the OECD has created the “Your Better Life Index” to support policy making to
improve the quality of life.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Factories Inspectorate Division in Danger

For my Ministry of Labour colleagues in Occupational Health and Safety inspection I thought I would share a story showing the deplorable state of Ghana's health and safety inspectorate. They have had continual budgetary challenges and they haven't had fuel or maintenance for their vehicles for years. Below is a story detailing their challenges, note that in the story it mentions Ghanaian money named cedis, 2 cedis is worth about $1 Canadian.

Factories Inspectorate Division in danger

By Ghana |Economic Tribune

26 November 2012

One of the main challenges bedeviling the smooth operations of the country's Factories Inspectorate Division (FID) has to do with poor government funding.
The FID, mandated to inspect factories, shops and offices with the aim of safeguarding the health, welfare and safety of persons employed within or around the premises and issue licenses for the operation of business in such premises, often compromises its duty due to a lack of adequate funding, leading to disasters such as the collapsed Melcom shopping mall.
Economic Tribune's investigations revealed that budgetary allocations for the FID for 2012 were a mere GHC1, 700, even though user fees paid by applicants to the department exceeded GHC12, 000.
Compounding the challenge of inadequate funding, it was not until July that funds from government, in the budgetary allocation for the year, were released thereby hampering the timely issuance of certificates for approved applications.
'We often use our own money for our inspection rounds and have to wait for long periods to be reimbursed because our budgetary allocations do not arrive early,' an officer disclosed to Economic Tribune, who asked not to be named because she does not speak for her organisation.
Some businesses operating in Accra disclosed that their application for the Factories, Shops and Offices Certificate often took months to obtain. A certificate is valid for a year and expires on December 31, 2012 each year notwithstanding when it was issued or renewed.
Ideally, it takes about 14 working days for the entire process of application to issuance of the certificate to be completed; however, this is subject to how soon queries and recommendations raised by the directorate are dealt with by the applicant. A certificate is required before a business commences, however, if business has already commenced, an applicant may still make an application for a certificate.
The application process itself is not complicated. The application form costs GHC 5.00 and processing fee is GHC 150.00 and an applicant has to complete the form, which can be obtained from the Regional office of the Factories, Offices and Shops Inspectorate and submit same with a building or structural plan of the premises which are then reviewed by the inspectorate.
When an application is made under a situation where the business had already commenced, the inspectorate inspects the property and if necessary makes recommendations for structural changes before business can continue.
When all necessary recommendations have been made the application is then forwarded to the head office for a certificate to be issued.
The Private Enterprises Foundation (PEF), earlier this year, with support from Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Funds commissioned a study into cross-sectoral licensing and permits requirements as an advocacy action to help regulators become more efficient and proactive in the delivery of their services to business operators, so as to remove the negative impact on the operations of the business community.
The study identified a number of challenges and lapses including the fact that the FID has no online application system thus making its procedure cumbersome.
It also has inadequate offices across the country to undertake timely inspections at the local levels, which is compounded by inadequate personnel to conduct inspection of applicant's premises
There was also periodic loss of documentations due to improper record keeping, as well as, limited contacts between the inspectorate and other agencies, and virtually no public education or awareness creation.
The PEF study recommended that, importantly, the department should be allowed to keep a percentage of the user fees paid by applicants to enhance internal operations in order to provide better and expedited services to the business community but not pay 100 percent of the user fees into the consolidated fund. Secondly, review of fees should be done in consultation with stakeholders.
It also recommended a general use of technology to speed up service delivery and creation of a one stop shop portal; precisely, online application or e-application platform, the creation of data base for research and analysis, and the need for an electronic notification system of application status.
There also should be the creation of more offices in the regions and districts to conduct inspections at the local level, while the Agency must adopt a Career development programme to attract young professionals.
The PEF study also noted that the FID needs to embark on numerous public education, publicity, and training of applicants on the various application procedures so as to eliminate confusions and other reasons for compromising on adherence to safety standards, thereby exposing workers and other users of the premises to avoidable dangers.