Does International Development Aid work? - a review of recent books

I'm a big fan of books, and related to this blog, in particular books on intentional development and law work. Here in Uganda, in one of the better foreign-friendly bookstores, I see an abundance of aid-related books, focusing on many different topics. One thing that surprises me is the number of books on aid in general, trying to answer the question of whether international aid works. 

On that very topic alone, you will find a spectrum of views varying from aid euphoria to skeptism to downright contempt/ridicule of aid. Over the last few years alone, some books I've come across in the spectrum from 'aid is bad' to 'aid is good' are:
  • The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, R. Glenn Hubbard (2006) - Not surprisingly, these authors from the Columbia Business School, make the case that current foreign aid and Third World projects is not working because the general strategy for aid is it creates a charity trap, instead of promoting real growth through cultivating a functioning business sector. 
  • Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang (2007)- An effective critic of globalization and a protectionist on the side of the free-trade debate, the author considers the first world to be bad Samaritans because they had used the same unfair protectionist approaches to improve their economies and now are in fact advocating for free market and free trade to the poor countries in order to capture larger shares of the latter's markets and to pre-empt the emergence of possible competitors. 
  • Aid and Influence: Do Donors Help or Hinder?, Stephen Browne (2006) - Examining bilateral donors, the author concludes that on balance, aid seems to work, BUT there is at the same time so much aid that is seemingly ineffective (significant part of the causes can be traced back to the main donor governments).There needs to be more coordination of bilateral aid, possibly through multilateral organizations. For more details, read this review by Roger Riddeil (another aid author, see below)
  • Does Foreign Aid Really Work?, Roger C. Riddell (2008) - I'm personally a big fan of Riddell's previous books, and his current book does not disappoint as one of the most comprehensive, scholarly and objective on the subject. He undertook a massive literature review of aid (although some have criticized that they are mainly inherently biased donor reports). Combined with his own long personal experience as a practitioner, concludes with something that sounds like 'yes, aid is working, but not as well as it should'.
  • Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics, Carol Lancaster (2006) - looking at bilateral aid from both a seasoned practitioner and academic point of view, this former USAID administrator looks at the motivations behind aid in the biggest donors- United States, Japan, France, and Germany, and Denmark. She shows that bilateral aid is neither purely a tool of diplomacy or altruism towards developing countries, but it is really used for a combination of reasons. From this point of view, aid then makes sense, because it at least fulfills most of these goals of the donor countries. 

The Big Picture: Law and Development, Legal Empowerment and the Microjustice Movement

I was recently asked by the wonderful folks at Microjustice4All to write a short introductory article about how microjustice fits into the bigger Law and Development context. I revisited some content of this blog and realized that, while I have been blogging about Law and Development, Legal Empowerment and Microjustice for a while now, I don't yet have a post on the big picture context. So I'm reproducing my article as follows:

The Big Picture: Law and Development, Legal Empowerment and the Microjustice Movement

International Development is a relatively new field of practice, and even newer still is the Law and Development field, which began in the 1950s. For many years, Law and Development projects have been highly criticized as being ineffective, and even today, there continues to be many debates (both between academics and practitioners) about whether law has a role in bringing about international development, and if so, what that role is. The international community is still continuing to find new and better ways to old problems. Might microjustice be an answer?

While many smaller grassroots NGOs have always focused on concrete ways which law can be used to benefit poor people in their own countries, donor countries and large development agencies like the World Bank have concentrated on big, top-down law reform projects such as law-making, court reform and legal training. However, in the 1990s, these expensive programs appear to have made little to no impact on poor people at all. Along with a bigger movement to focus on the poor (spearheaded by the UN though the Millennium Development Goals), the Law and Development industry started to focus on the people who matter the most- not the judges, lawyers or formal legal departments, but marginalized, unempowered poor people.

Initial discussions among passionate people resulted in the formation of the United Nations ‘Commission on the Legal Empower of the Poor’ in 2005 to examine this issue. After three years of research and the publication of their report in 2008, ‘Legal Empowerment of the Poor’ soon became a new way to think about Law and Development. While there are still debates about the details of the UN report, most practitioners are relieved that, finally, the concept of bottom-up legal work focusing on the poor has been recognized in the international arena. In particular, grassroots organizations that have done legal empowerment work for as long as the big agencies have on top-down reform are the first to celebrate. Still, their work is far from over, because billions of people are still without basic rights, access to justice, and legal empowerment.

It is within this context that an organization started to explore innovative ways to bring justice and legal empowerment to poor people. Instead of the traditional donor-based approaches, Microjustice4All wanted to find a way to bring relevant legal services to the poor in a way that is truly sustainable and scalable. Its founder, Patricia van Nispen, who was nominated by renowned Utne magazine as one of 50 Visionaries who will change the world, pushed the envelope with a visionary concept called Microjustice, premised on the dignified belief that poor people are willing and able to pay for services that they need and want. With the creation of Microjustice4All, then MJ Bolivia, MJ Peru, MJ Argentina and now MJ Uganda, we are all together riding the exciting beginning of a big, unprecedented movement in the Law and Development field.

African Land Grabbing: whose interests are served?

Now that I am based in Uganda to implement a microjustice model for legal empowerment (that includes services that addresses property issues like land titles and see these issues again first hand), I am reminded of the political economy issues as expounded in this fairly recent and readable article by Brookings Director of the Africa Growth Initiative Ernest Aryeetey discusses transnational land acquisitions in Africa.

Read the article...

Berkman Event: Modeling a Paradigm Shift: From Producer Innovation to User and Open Collaborative Innovation

In Uganda, I find myself wondering how this can apply to legal services for the poor? 

Tuesday, September 14, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floorRSVP required for those attending in person (
This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.

Both innovation by individual users and open collaborative innovation is increasingly competing with and may displace producer innovation in many parts of the economy. This represents a paradigm shift with respect to innovation research, public policy related to innovation, and innovation practice. Eric will present the basic story and we will transition to a discussion of important implications and interesting research opportunities.

FailFaire- a Discussion on failures in ICT4D projects (no, REALLY!)

My long time colleague and friend, Katrin Verclas recently founded MobileActivea New York-based nonprofit network aiming to improve the lives of the poor through technology (also known as 'ICT4D' efforts in our industry). I've seen lots of dismal results from the use of technology in development projects (most of them not due to technology, but rather politics and people), but it's true that they are not usually shared with the world (which is an understatement). So I have to love this honest and gung-ho attitude, which is only Katrin's- 
“I absolutely think we learn from failure, but getting people to talk about it honestly is not so easy,” she said “So I thought, why not try to start conversations about failure through an evening event with drinks and finger foods in a relaxed, informal atmosphere that would make it seem more like a party than a debriefing.”
(UPDATE 8/22. True to Katrin, I received this post from her to a maling list we both belong to:
"Love to see a #failtrack included in all conferences - there really is a lot to learn from other's people's #fails.  And, by the way - since this idea occurred to me in the shower, is completely unfunded, and a loss leader (good booze is expensive, you know), here are our 7 Tips on How to Roll Your Own FailFaire:"
The New York Times reports on the event as follows: (and most of us involved in ICT4D conversations will get the joke about the One-Laptop-Per-Child laptop as prize. Aside from that, I'm also impressed about the sponsorship- not the mention the candor (drinks sure can help!)- of the World Bank...)
WASHINGTON — At a gathering last month over drinks and finger food, a specialist at the World Bank related the story of how female weavers in a remote Amazonian region of Guyana had against all odds built themselves a thriving global online business selling intricately woven hammocks for $1,000 apiece.
The state phone company had donated a communications center that helped the women find buyers around the world, selling to places like the British Museum. Within short order, though, their husbands pulled the plug, worried that their wives’ sudden increase in income was a threat to the traditional male domination in their society.
Technology’s potential to bring about social good is widely extolled, but its failures, until now, have rarely been discussed by nonprofits who deploy it. The experience in Guyana might never have come to light without FailFaire, a recurring party whose participants revel in revealing technology’s shortcomings.

Community Organizing Handbook

As I evolve further from law/legal/governance reform work and get more and more involved (again!) with legal empowerment work, the bottom-up power from community organizing is becoming more important to me. I found a great wiki-based (ie you can help edit the document and make it better) Handbook For Community Organizers by Netsquared. Netsquared focuses on social web/new media/web 2.0 tools and is a project of Techsoup, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that supports other nonprofits in the use of general technology (and which I'm a fan of since the early days of NPower founded and managed by my friend Joan Fanning). 

What I like about the Handbook is that it is grounded in using both non-IT and appropriate IT-based tools for community organizing, based on concrete examples used by nonprofits (albeit in US). But I can see ways that it can be adapted worldwide even in developing countries. If anything, Techsoup (and many bay area nonprofits in general) are leading at the intersection of technology and social change. 

Visit the Handbook For Community Organizers. Being my area of interest, here are some links from segment of the Handbook on using digital tools, which are so powerful, when used approproately and in complement to non-IT tools, but which many nonprofits are quick to dismiss. (But to the technophile- I know, I know, even I at some point I will go "Oh, this list is SOOOO 2010..."): 

Berkman Conference: Media Law in the Digital Age: The Rules Have Changed, Have You?

September 25
Atlanta, Georgia
Visit the conference website for more information on the conference agenda, registration and logistics
We're pleased to announce that the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center and the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University are co-hosting a conference on September 25, 2010 entitled "Media Law in the Digital Age: The Rules Have Changed, Have You?" in Atlanta, Georgia.
If you are a journalist, blogger, or a lawyer who works with media clients, the conference should be at the top of your schedule. This will be a fantastic opportunity to learn first-hand the latest legal developments and to get your questions answered by our panel of experts.
The program will bring together panels of legal practitioners, journalists, and academics to discuss the latest legal issues facing online media ventures. Topics will include: libel law, copyright law, newsgathering law, and advertising law, as well as the legal issues arising from news aggregation, managing online communities, and business law considerations for start-up online media organizations. Small-group workshops will focus on strategies for accessing government information and understanding legal terms in content licenses, freelancer contracts, and website terms of service and privacy policies.
If you need personalized legal assistance before or after talking about these media law issues, contact the Online Media Legal Network, a legal referral network for independent online media administered by the Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center.
Funding for the conference is being provided by the Harnisch Foundation, which has been a long-time sponsor of the Center for Sustainable Journalism and recently provided a grant to the Berkman Center to support media law education.
Visit the conference website for more information on the conference agenda, registration and logistics.

Visiting the Hague- Tilburg University and TISCO

Being in the Hague, I got a chance to visit Tilburg University Law School (which I have blogged previously many times such as here) and TISCO, along with the many institutions in the Hague and Holland in general, are great proponents of justice. In fact the concept of microjustice originated from a partnership between Tilburg University and and the ILA (see previous post on microjustice here). I'm just amazed at how advanced they are relatively to the US, on the issues of justice and law and development. Perhaps it is their location at The Hague, City of Justice and Peace. ;)


Berkman Event: Hacking the Casebook

Ahhh... memories from Law School days and the 200 page casebook:

Tuesday, September 21, 12:00 pm 
**Please note earlier start time for this week only**

Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor
RSVP required for those attending in person (
Traditional law school casebooks are expensive, bulky and stagnant.  With the support of the HLS Library, Berkman has been updating our suite of classroom tools, H2O, to create an online alternative to casebooks that are free, online and remixable.  H2O includes our new tool Collage for editing down and annotating cases, Playlists for aggregating materials, the Question Tool for in-classroom back channel, and the Rotisserie for out-of-class discussion.  In this lunch we'll demo some of the tools (all still in alpha) and show how Jonathan Zittrain's Torts class is using them this term.

About H20

H2O is an open source, educational exchange platform that explores powerful ways to connect professors, students, and researchers online. There are four tools within the H2O platform:  the Question tool, the Rotisserie, Playlists and Collage.  

The question tool is an organized backchannel for conferences and classes that allows participants to submit, answer, and vote on questions. It’s an effective way to keep feedback focused, direct speakers to audience interests, and potentially prevent the mic from being hijacked by that weirdo.

Rotisserie discussions represent an innovative approach to online discussion that encourages measured, thoughtful discourse in a way that that traditional threaded messaging systems do not, in the process solving some of the universal complaints about online discussion boards: that the substance of discussions is poor, that participants post quickly rather than thoughtfully, that participation is uneven (most people lurk, and a few posters dominate the rest), and that discussion forums are segregated into balkanized communities of people with similar thoughts and beliefs. 

An H2O playlist is a shared list of readings (links to books and articles) and other content about a topic of intellectual interest. It is a simple yet powerful way to group and exchange useful links to information -- online and offline.  It can be used as a syllabus or reading list for a class.  The playlist items can then be remixed by other authors, lending influence to the items themselves and their original contributors.

Finally, Collage is the newest tool being added to the H2O platform.  Collage is an annotation engine for online materials.  It allows for tagging text, annotating it, and hiding portions of text without changing the original document.


Law and Development Institute (LDI) Inaugural Conference (focused on Trade Issues)- 16 Oct 2010

The Law and Development Institute (LDI) is an international academic network established as a non-profit research institution in Sydney, Australia, with an objective of promoting law and development studies and projects. Law and development concerns the impacts of law on economic and social development, and the LDI aims to become an international centre for law and development studies. LDI will be hosting its innagural conference, which will focus on trade issues (see after jump)

Law and development studies concern the impact of international and domestic legal orders on economic development, which has become increasingly relevant to our economic lives due to the rapid globalization that has taken place in the recent decades. Law and development issues have become a subject of considerable attention in the recent Doha Round negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in relation to international trade law. The Doha Round was suspended because of the large gaps between the developed and developing countries in their positions on key international trade law and development issues. There are also many unresolved issues about the role of domestic laws and regulations as well as international law in economic development.

The LDI addresses those issues and seeks to help find solutions to poverty issues around the world by clarifying the impact that law has on economic development. Currently a number of preeminent scholars and professionals from several countries, includng the United States, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), Japan, Australia, Korea, Israel, and Singapore, are participating in the LDI.

LDI will be hosting its innagural conference, which will focus on trade issues (see agenda after jump)