Category Archives: development

Change & continuity in global Development

A report published recently by the Brookings Institution entitled “Global development disrupted: Findings from a survey of 93 leaders” (by George Ingram and Kristin M. Lord, March 2019) “reveals a global development sector in transition and perhaps even turmoil.” This post will look at how the report uses three specific terms – culture, language, and localization – and draw some inferences from those.

Context

This is obviously a high-level report, but I approached it with an eye to some issues identified from years working on or close to the grassroots level – issues that I see as key underpinnings to successful work in support of development at all levels.

Philosophically, I also see “development” as fundamentally a process of “unfolding” and “revealing of potentialities” (its core meaning, related to its etymology),1 which the material and learning foci of development programs and projects ideally facilitate.

Over the years that I’ve moved in and out of international development work I have, of course, been cognizant of changes in the field. These changes, which are part of the background for Brookings’ report, include, among others: changing funding equations; new technologies; evolving socio-economic contexts; different actors on both the international level and within the countries where work is done; and a nexus of security issues and responses.

There are also constants in the field, of course. beyond the general mission.

In addition, there are deeper questions about what international development is and could or should be. The three terms that I key in on here – culture, language, and localization – could be doors to considering those.

Culture

My early years in development practice and study were during the period when the field both recognized the “cultural dimension of development,”2 and almost simultaneously critiqued that concept with the idea that maybe culture is so integral to development that it can’t be separated out.3

So it was somewhat surprising to me that In this report, culture refers mainly to the “organizational culture” of development organizations or the related “professional culture” in the field of international development (11/12 uses of “culture”; 3/3 of “cultures”; 0/1 of “cultural).

There is nothing inappropriate with those topics. As a sometimes student of organizational development, I also find them interesting and as relevant to international development as they are to any field. Indeed, a concern with internal processes (related to the focus on organizational culture) in development organizations has had positive aspects, in the form of efforts to evaluate efforts and improve practice.

However it seems strange – even allowing for the fact this is a high-level analysis – that the cultures of the places where international development works are relegated to two (of 16) mentions – an observation concerning how “cultural issues” may limit host country government attention to gender issues, and the following general statement:

Expatriate experts lack the depth of understanding of the local culture and how it works. Better solutions will be offered by local actors. 

The latter seems to imply that the whole topic of culture outside of the organizations (reduced to “local”4) is taken care of, having been filed under another term and theme in the report, “localization” (which theme is discussed below). If it’s simply that “better solutions” are local, then what is the role of the expatriate there anyway? Shepherding funds and filing reports?

While it is certainly true that someone from a “local” culture generally has greater depth in it than an outsider ever will,  it is also true that someone from outside any culture (whether that be ethnic, national, organizational) can see things and ask questions that those who know it best might not see or ask. Think forests, trees, and cross-cultural complementarity.

Could it be that the “best solutions” in development come from local actors interacting with expatriate development experts who, for their part, have developed more than a passing familiarity with the cultures of the places in which they work?

In fact, the field offices, at least, of development organizations generally include expats who have some level – sometimes considerable – of cultural knowledge about the places they are assigned to. And at some level the development organizations value this. Yet this important factor, and how it might be enhanced, doesn’t emerge in this document.

International development has become ever more of a business, and a very large one at that, such that a significant part of its attention is now necessarily devoted to its own functioning. And that includes, as reflected in the report, the culture or cultures of donor and development organizations – and how that works or how those interact. Judging by the preoccupations of leaders of development organizations, it seems the center of gravity, as pertains to the spectrum of cultures of all parties involved in development programs, has thus shifted away from focus on the cultures of the “beneficiaries”5 of those programs.

What is lost when the original “cultural dimension” of development is effectively relegated to the margins of the business of international development?

Language

The high water mark of discussion about the “cultural dimension” of development stopped short of encompassing its “linguistic dimension.”  This was an opportunity missed. In the context of the focus on organizational and professional cultures reflected in the “Global development disrupted” report, one gets the impression that language has receded even further from active consideration as a key factor in development.

The document includes a single mention of “language,” and that is in “natural language processing” (NLP), which appears in a list of technologies6 about which development leaders “express broad excitement.”

I’ve had a long interest in language and technology, and certainly believe that NLP could have potential in development – especially to the extent it can be used in first languages of beneficiaries. It’s not clear that development leaders are thinking in this direction, but the fact that languages get no other mention reflects what I’ve come to see as the usual disconnect between development (theory, practice) and language (as a factor fundamental to communication, learning, and indeed culture, in development).

I touched on this gap in an earlier posting on this blog – “Visualizing language, development, education & ICT connections” – in which the language↔development connections are portrayed as “largely ignored.”

The language↔ICT (information and communication technology) links mentioned in that post are also relatively undeveloped in places receiving international development interventions. If this assertion is accurate, one could assume that interest in NLP is not thought of in multilingual applications.

It is important to remember that development organizations function in a limited number of globally dominant languages, and in some cases “local” languages of certain wealthy countries, while many development interventions happen in places where an entirely different set of languages, and often many languages in a given location, are widely if not predominately used. This linguistic juxtaposition should be at least as apparent as the cultural one. And because it involves relative neglect of the less “powerful” languages, it has important implications for the outcomes of development interventions.

However, this “linguistic dimension” is absent from the concerns expressed through this report. In that respect, unfortunately, international development doesn’t seem to have changed that much at all.

Localization

“Localization” has a number of meanings across different contexts (from medicine to geography). Over the years I’ve used it mainly in connection with translating software and content (per “L10n,” and in this context basically the same as the language↔ICT connections mentioned above). 

“Global development disrupted” uses this term frequently (16 times), but always in a different sense: that of shifting responsibilities and initiative closer to the beneficiaries. i.e., national and local institutions and leaders. This is a logical and positive direction in which to move, but not a new idea.7 It is interesting, however, to note the prominence of this concept in the responses by development leaders.

What does the emphasis on localization in this sense mean ultimately? That’s an interesting question that gives rise to others:

  • If localization in this sense were pursued to its logical conclusion, where would that leave international development organizations?
  • How would roles of international donors and local/national authorities change?
  • What might be the result of localizing development programs also in cultural and linguistic terms? 

Conclusion

The report itself offers useful insights into the thinking of those in high positions in development organizations. The content of that thought, however, along with what I see as a persistent gap, has helped give new form to an evolving set of impressions I have about the current state of the field of international development.

The way “culture” is discussed implies a subtle but fundamental change in preoccupations. The way “language” is not discussed reflects a constancy in priorities (specifically what’s not there). And the way “localization” is treated points to an ongoing shift, potentially major, in terms of the structure of the field (e.g., who the actors will be, where the initiative resides).

In general, the report confirms a sense that a large part of what originally attracted me to this field – being outside a corporate structure and focusing on efforts and processes that assisted people and their communities – exists less than it may ever have. (The old format of the donor agency having bureaucratic approach

In general, the report confirms a sense that the field has become:

  • more corporate,  which in turn is related to demands of the system of development contracting, involving competition for bids and reporting requirements of donors, and
  • less concerned with cultures, not to mention languages, of places they work, and that under the cover of localization.

Where is international development headed? Part of the answer would be in the localization piece. Another part probably in factors not directly related to the field as we have known it.


Notes:

1. “Development” in this field is usually defined in terms of economic growth and improvement of standards of living. These are of obvious importance to materially less well-off communities. And they are measurable via quantifiable metrics, which is important to donors.

2. For those unfamiliar with this topic, the first two (free) pages of this article give an intro:  Pierre Pascallon and Clermont-Ferrand. 1986. “The Cultural Dimension of Development.” Intereconomics 21(1):38–45. A longer treatment, with focus on environmental knowledge is offered in: D. Michael Warren, L. Jan Slikkerveer, David Brokensha, and Wim H.J.C. Dechering, eds. 1995. The Cultural Dimension of Development. IT Studies in Indigenous Knowledge and Development.

3. My first encounter with the notion of a centrality of culture in the development process was a statement in a 1981 interview of then former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella that the problems of development are first of all cultural problems (Jeune Afrique #1072, 22 July 1981). That view never intersected, as far as I’m aware, with academic discussions of the period about culture and development, but it could have.

4. I find the use of “local” to be tricky. On the one hand, it is a normal descriptive, but on the other hand it may imply a minimization of the “other.” I’ve noted this particularly in the are of languages, per “local language.” One way to disarm that impression is to couple it with something broader, like “national” or “regional.” That way you acknowledge the range of cultural contexts.

5. “Beneficiary” is the term long used in international development for people its interventions are intended to help in one or another way. Its use is also criticized as implying a passive or inferior status. See for example Wayan Vota’s “Please Stop Using the Term ‘Beneficiaries’ in ICT4D” (2013) and Pete Vowles’ “Why I Hate The Word ‘Beneficiaries.’ But I don’t know what to replace it with” (2018). I use the term here without endorsing it.

6. That this list was generated by a question on “the most exciting new initiatives or new directions in their own organization or international development more generally” – in other words blurring any distinction between those presumably intended more for an organization’s operation, and those more directly affecting beneficiaries – is itself telling.

7. When I first joined the Peace Corps almost four decades ago, an early take on this was the slogan, “working yourself out of a job.” Over the years, greater emphasis in development has been given to partnering with local organizations. All that seems to have resulted in changes in types of jobs on the international side.

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Assimilation – in the 21st century?

What does “assimilation” (in its socio-cultural sense) really mean in an age of globalization, easy digital communication, international integration, migration, and recently in the wake of recrudescent nationalisms?

Source: “The Forced Assimilation of Native Americans,” Gwich’in Steering Committee

On a vary basic level, we know that assimilation refers to a process by which individuals of a more or less distinct group (perhaps indigenous, immigrant, or formerly enslaved) are integrated or subsumed – willingly or by force – into the identity of a larger society or dominant culture. As such it has long been a goal of many plural states, and also of many immigrant groups settling in different countries.

Beyond that, the meaning of the term seems to be assumed without much clarity as to what the implications are.

Many questions

The initial question gives rise to others. For example, what are the issues/differences of assimilation as national policy, as socio-cultural process, and as personal or community aspiration? Are there different kinds or degrees of assimilation at each level?

Does assimilation necessarily require sacrifice of identities? Who decides whether or not that is the case, and what is sacrificed?

Is some kind of assimilation necessary for full participation in a society? Is equal status conditioned on type/degree of assimilation? If so, at what point – if ever – might it confer status and rights equivalent to those of the rest of society?

Considering the racist and nativist streaks in at least some nationalisms, do their definitions of assimilation exclude some peoples a priori? What is the relationship between assimilationism and racism (recognizing that there have been different treatments of various racial, ethnic, and religious minorities)?

Example of racist imagery associated with assimilationism. Source: “Chinese Immigration in the Late 19th Century: Discrimination in Action – Assimilation,” LEADR, MSU.edu

What is the burden shouldered by willingly assimilating? Or the cost imposed on individuals, communities, and cultures by assimilationist policies?

What are the benefits and costs of assimilation to the society as a whole?

What do other related terms like “acculturation” and “integration” (in its socio-cultural sense) mean in this context, and how are they different? Such terms would seem essential for fuller understanding of, and clearer discussion about “assimilation.”

Assimilation 2.0?

These questions in turn bring up other issues, such as:

Does it make any sense to talk of assimilation as we advance into the 21st century? If so, how and in what ways? If not, is there another term/concept that is more appropriate and productive for the changing realities that peoples and nations are living today?

Are we now defining an “Assimilation 2.0”? Or perhaps more fortuitously, new ways of thinking about how diverse peoples come to live together in peace, and with mutual respect and amity?

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The text of this post is adapted from the description of an email list with the same title that I ran in the mid 2000s.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Symposium on multilingualism in international organizations & cooperation, 10-11 May 2018

Taking the opportunity again this year to publicize the latest in a series of annual symposia in New York on language issues in international contexts. The last two dealt with language(s) and the Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s edition, to be held on 10-11 May 2018, has as its title, Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation.” It is sponsored by the Study Group on Language and the United Nations in cooperation with The Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Birkbeck, University of London.

The organizers’ description of the event, and their preliminary program follow (the content is theirs; although not connected with the event or any of its sponsors, I’ve taken the opportunity to present this information with added links such as I could find – please advise if any should be replaced):


Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation

Thursday & Friday, May 10-11, 2018, at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (First Ave. at 44th St.)

Multilingualism in international co-operation entails both costs and benefits: costs because it requires mechanisms such as the selection of multilingual staff and the mediation of language professionals; benefits because, if properly managed, it includes all parties to decision-making, promotes consensus, supports programme delivery, and aids dissemination of results. Thus it favours social justice and inclusion. Increasingly, multilingualism is seen as a positive force, though it is not always recognized as such by all stakeholders.

Within the United Nations, for example, owing in particular to the scarcity of available data, advocates of multilingual language policies often face ideological, financial and administrative resistance, despite a growing recognition that multilingualism, as a core value of the UN, is a potential source of strength.

This symposium seeks to focus on, and generate interest in, these issues. Contributorscription will address the challenges of supporting multilingualism in organizations and in sites of international co-operation across different sectors (e.g. business, diplomacy, economics) and communities. Included will be theoretical and methodological studies, on the one hand, and studies addressing specific practical challenges, on the other – especially papers that focus directly on the work of the UN system or other international bodies, or research having obvious implications for their work.

Among the themes that we hope to address are the following:

  • evolving perceptions of multilingualism in international settings
  • linguistic inclusiveness in multilingual settings
  • interpretation and translation in international organizations
  • speed of decision-making vs. information loss in monolingual contexts
  • language in international peace-keeping
  • language and human/minority rights
  • the economics of language regimes
  • linguistic equity in organizations
  • inclusive communication in local and international development
  • language policy in international organizations
  • language and sustainability
  • multilingualism and NGOs

PRELIMINARY PROGRAM (as of April 4)
Speakers will include:

Keynote speaker:

Michele Gazzola, Research Fellow, Humboldt University, Berlin
The economic effects of language regimes: The case of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office

Papers and presentations will include:

John Edwards (St Francis Xavier University and Dalhousie University, Canada)
Language claims & language rights

Timothy Reagan (University of Maine, USA)
Sign language multilingualism: The forgotten language diversity in disempowered communities

Emma Asonye (University of Mexico), Ezinne Emma-Asonye (University of Mexico), Queenette Okwaraji (University of Rochester, USA) and Khadijah Asili (Vizionz-Sankofa)
Linguistic diversity and the language rights of the underprivileged population in Africa and America: Towards an inclusive society in 2030

Nirvana Bhatia (Linguistic Rights Specialist)
The paper chase: A review of the UN’s recent language-rights legislation

Phindile Dlamini (University of Swaziland)
Swaziland’s dream of linguistic representation in international organisations: Will the sociolinguistic map of the United Nations ever change?

Maneeratana Sawasdiwat Na Ayutthaya (ASEAN Center for Multilingualism, Translation & Interpretation, Thailand)
Multilingualism, translation and interpretation in the ASEAN Community

Leigh Swigart (Brandeis University, USA)
English at the International Criminal Court: Working language or default language?

Beatrice Owiti (Kenya Methodist University)
Interpretation and translation in the International Criminal Court

Lisa McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), Michele Gazzola and Torsten Templin (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)
Measuring diversity in multilingual communication

Francis M. Hult (Lund University, Sweden)
Parallel language use: A Nordic solution for multilingual organisations?

Dorte Lønsmann (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) & Janus Mortensen (University of Copenhagen)
English only? A critical examination of the ‘natural’ status of English as a corporate language

Spencer Hazel (Newcastle University, UK), Katherine Kappa and Kamilla Kraft (University of Copenhagen)
Language policing in international organisations: Explicit and embedded orientations to language repertoires and their impact on professional identity

Pia Decarsin (JPD Systems Translation Services)
Language policy in international organisations: Criteria and recommendations for strategic content selection for translation

Mirna Soares Andrade (Inter-American Defense College, Washington, D.C.)
Multilingualism and language services at the Inter-American Defense College

Shana Pughe Dean (Tone Translate, Utica, NY, USA))
Creating opportunity and understanding in a multicultural world on the move: Refugee resettlement agencies

Carol Benson (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
The importance of a multilingual habitus when assessing literacy skills in educational development

Erina Iwasaki (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
Reframing multilingualism in terms of opportunity

Ari Sherris (Texas A & M University-Kingsville, Texas, USA) & Joy Kreeft Peyton (Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.)
The power of multilingualism and multiliteracy for languages and groups

Additional information and registration at http://www.languageandtheun.org


For information, below are links to posts on this blog regarding the 2016 and 2017 events:

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Concluding 2017, looking forward to 2018

This year has been one of some personal transitions, hence less posting on this blog than originally planned. As 2017 comes to a close, I wanted to touch on a couple of topics among several related to the blog content.

IY2017First, 2017 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Usually I try to get out quick mentions of such observances early in the year, but this time had planned a longer treatment mentioning two places I know in different ways – Djenné, Mali and Lijiang, Yunnan, China. That material will have to come out later in different form. However the topic of this year will remain important even as the calendar changes.

Early in the year, I posted several “why are we doing this?” (WAWDT) questions about policies that seemed ill-considered. That is, beyond the level of agreement or disagreement on particulars, but questions about the soundness of decisions from whatever viewpoint. Very quickly it became apparent that any attempt to continue such inquiries would become all-consuming. That in itself is a comment. In any event, I’m not planning any further WAWDTs for now.

Looking forward to a productive 2018, and sharing ideas and information here on Multidisciplinary Perspectives.

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CFP: Language and Development 2017

The 12th biennial Language and Development Conference (LDC) will be held in Dakar, Senegal, on 27-29 November 2017. The call for participation (CFP) deadline has been extended to 31 May (apologies as I’m just catching up on this).

The theme of this edition of the conference is: Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.

From the concept note for the conference (emphasis in original):
“Sustainable development is increasingly viewed not only from an economic perspective, but also from social and environmental perspectives. All three dimensions are important to ensure that human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality. As language and communication are crucial to how societies grow, work together and become more inclusive, the conference will seek to explore the role of language in a range of interlinking aspects of development. It will do this by focussing on three of the goals:

  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
  • SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • SDG 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies”

“The conference programme will also take into consideration other cross cutting goals, notably SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.”

The conference has 3 sub-themes:

  • Multilingualism for Quality, Equitable and Inclusive Education
  • Language, Skills and Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Communication, Peace and Justice

The British Council is hosting this conference (it apparently has been involved in almost all the previous ones), in partnership with le Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche et le Ministère de l’Education Nationale du Sénégal, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), UNESCO, the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS) and SIL Africa, along with others.

For additional information, see the website of the LDC series, and a posting on this blog about the 2015 LDC.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

“Security triangle” without the triangle

Having in the previous posting referenced the security triangle used in development and humanitarian work, I thought it would be worth taking another look at the concept. As I mentioned, the three elements in this model are (with brief definitions I adapted from other sources):

  • Acceptance: Reduce the threat by fostering acceptance and positive image in the community.
  • Protection: Reduce the risk (but not the threat) by addressing vulnerabilities – hardening the target.
  • Deterrence: Counter the threat through reliance on appropriate and legitimate force.

As I also mentioned, this model represented new thinking when it came onto the scene around the turn of the millennium – a way to reframe the traditional approach or posture of aid work – “acceptance” (and a range of positive human and community relations) – and bring in practical dimensions that were always in the background but imposing themselves to varying degrees in different work environments – “protection” (which may previously be limited to bars on the windows and locking doors to deter theives) and “deterrence” (a last resort).

Having been away from scenarios where this model was discussed, I hadn’t been aware that the triangle itself, as a way of presenting these 3 factors – which are still the basis of discussion for security in aid work – was downplayed. “Downplayed” is my term reading the Humanitarian Practice Network’s (HPN) 2010 revised edition of the Operational Security Management in Violent Environments (GPR8). HPN’s webpage about the report actually uses the word “abandoned.”

So what was the problem?

The below diagram, from a 2011 post entitled “SSOS – A Concept to Mitigate the NGO Security Dilemma” illustrates, I think, the kind of issue that GPR8 had with the triangle – that is seeing the 3 key factors in security in terms of trade-offs.

Source: Track24 Solo blog

The details of the SSOS approach illustrated in the diagram are not the issue – the question is whether and to what degree a security strategy sits in one place or can shift reliance on the different factors as implied by this kind of diagram. Which might be compared to a very different use of a triangle with three elements that indeed are in trade-off relationships: a soil texture diagram:

Source: Richard Harwood, Black Hawk College

Sand, clay, and silt are physical substances in soil that exist in different proportions with the result being different soil textures (there are more complicated versions of this diagram). So you can have a soil like sandy clay loam, which apparently has 74-80% sand and 20-35% clay. But an analogous breakdown of emphases on different security factors would be hard to imagine (protectiony acceptance safety?).

So the way I understand the current GPR8 thinking, one can accent more than one factor in different ways at the same time. Can one emphasize acceptance in a security strategy while approaching protection in a way that is effective, but relatively unobtrusive from the community point of view?

Even the SSOS example I cite can be interpreted in that way when it suggests using technology in the form of a “low profile tracking device” with a vehicle or team to effectively bring deterrence into the equation while not displaying it in the immediate picture.

In other words, the three elements of a security strategy are not mutually exclusive, as a 2015 discussion of “Acceptance strategies in conflict” also points out.

It is also worth reiterating GPR8’s observation mentioned in the previous post that acceptance turns out to be the most important factor in security for development and humanitarian work, even as protection and deterrence are recognized as also being essential.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail