Category Archives: development

“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.


CFP: Language, the SDGs, and Vulnerable Populations

SDG logoThe Study Group on Language at the United Nations, in cooperation with the Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems and the Center for Applied Linguistics, will again this year hold a two-day symposium (11-12 May 2017) on language and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I reproduce below the call for participation (CFP) based on versions seen on the Language Policy List and Linguist List. The contact person is Prof. Humphrey Tonkin. Note the call deadline of 28 February.

This blog previously featured the CFP for the April 2016 Language & SDGs symposium and its program. The Final Report of that symposium is available on the Study Group’s site.

Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations

New York, NY, USA • Thursday-Friday, May 11-12, 2017

What issues of language and communication are raised, or should be raised, by the efforts of the United Nations to reach the most vulnerable populations through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN in 2015? Particular attention will be given to language issues surrounding refugees and their children, migrants, and minority communities.

When the UN General Assembly unanimously approved the 17 SDGs 2015-2030, proponents foresaw a comprehensive and cooperative effort extending beyond the United Nations and its Member States to incorporate civil society in general. The SDGs, they said, should “leave no one behind” and should emerge from a dialogue in which all parties collaborate in a spirit of equality. Moreover, the most vulnerable populations need to be first on the agenda.

These vulnerable populations speak a multiplicity of languages often little understood by development specialists, and they are often isolated or neglected, and unconnected to those who seek to help. Reaching them requires reaching across languages, and it implies listening to their concerns, freely expressed. Is the UN ready for such an effort? Though the SDGs are largely silent on language issues, sustainability requires two-way, democratic communication in multiple languages.

The world is witnessing the largest population movement since World War II: refugees who must be returned to their homes or resettled, displaced children who need education, migrants who must acquire new languages to become productive in new circumstances. In negotiating their way in foreign environments, they must deal with officials who often do not know their languages. The SDGs identify problems but say little about reaching these populations.

To carry out the SDGs through dialogue and understanding, we must reach vulnerable populations in languages they understand. Preserving cultural identity while communicating across languages must become a recognized issue: we must educate through languages young people understand, deliver health care comprehensibly, and reach refugees and migrants through comprehensible dialogue. Attaining all seventeen SDGs requires mutual comprehension at every level.

The Study Group on Language and the UN drew attention to the absence of language issues in formulating the SDGs through a symposium it organized in April 2016 and a subsequent report. We return to this topic in our 2017 symposium, but with special stress on vulnerable populations.

The organizers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers on topics linking the SDGs with vulnerable populations, such as:

  • Language as a factor in sustainable development
  • Language policy for refugees, migrants, and displaced populations
  • Language & migration
  • Language as it relates to race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, economic status, or other factors
  • Language & education of refugees and migrants
  • Language & quality education for vulnerable populations (Goal 4)
  • Language & mother-tongue education (Goal 4)
  • Language & gender equality (Goal 5)
  • Language & economic growth (Goal 8)
  • Language & reducing inequalities (Goal 10)
  • Language & peace & justice (Goal 16)
  • NGOs, language & vulnerable populations
  • UN language policy & implementation of the SDGs
  • The role of regional or minority languages
  • Language & stateless nations

Please send proposals (200 words or less, accompanied by a biography of approximately 50 words) to the chair of the symposium organizing committee, Prof. Humphrey Tonkin, at tonkin (at) hartford (dot) edu, by February 28, 2017.  The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by March 15.


International Anti-Corruption Day 2016

IADC 2016 logoInternational Anti-Corruption Day (IACD) has been marked annually on December 9 since 2003, the year in which the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Having just returned from a short term contract with an anti-corruption effort in Mali, I thought it worth highlighting this issue on this day.

IACD was actually designated as Dec. 9 by the UNGA at the time of adoption of the UNCAC. It figures as part of a global anti-corruption campaign led by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the U.N. Development Program. IACD’s dedicated website is at

What is corruption?

Corruption is variously defined, but involves uses of power and/or money to achieve a desired but unethical and illegal (or at least extralegal) benefit. By its nature it involves someone in a position of authority seeking or able to confer the illicit benefit. As such it is not one thing but a range of practices that can occur in many contexts.

The simplest distinction is between a person in authority charging a fee or gift for a good or service that should be provided without charge, and a transaction between a private citizen and a person in authority to allow the former to get away with something unlawful (e.g., illegal goods, avoiding taxes or fines). One can also distinguish for example petty corruption (what an individual might encounter) from grand corruption (of the big money sort one might read about in the press), or systemic corruption (which is generalized and organized) from sporadic corruption (which may arise in diverse situations).

In fact, once one begins to consider details of specific situations, the taxonomy of corruption gets a lot more complex. Two organizations concerned with corruption offer glossaries of its various forms:

There is, as one would imagine, a significant amount written about corruption. Among bibliographies, Matthew Stephenson‘s extensive (197 page) “Bibliography on Corruption and Anti-Corruption” and Inge Amundsen and Odd-Helge Fjeldstad’s “Corruption – A selected and annotated bibliography” are of note.

Personally, having encountered corruption (mostly indirectly) in West Africa at various points over the last three decades, and trying to make sense of those experiences and qualitative data from research by the project with which I worked, I have found J-P. Olivier de Sardan‘s discussions of what he calls the “corruption complex” helpful (see for example “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?“).


Language and the SDGs, 21-22 April 2016

Having previously noted the CFP for the Language and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) symposium to be held in New York on 21-22 April 2016, this is a quick reminder that registration for the event is still open.

For reference the provisional program is copied below (NB- the keynote speaker, Suzanne Romaine, was not on that version when checked on 4/12). Hyperlinks added; any errors are mine and not the fault of the seminar organizers.


Thursday-Friday, April 21-22, 2016

Church Center for the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York

Sponsored by:


Thursday, April 21

8:30-9:15. Registration and coffee


Humphrey Tonkin (University of Hartford, USA).  Language: The missing dimension

Timothy Reagan (University of Maine, USA).  Language rights and the SDGs

Kurt Müller (National Defense University, USA).  Organization, targeting, and assumptions in foreign assistance

Lisa J. McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London, UK).  The forgotten goal – Goal 18: Building sustainable knowledge societies by addressing linguistic and digital divides through global partnerships.

10:50-11:00. BREAK

11:00-12:30. SUSTAINABILITY Chair, Kurt Müller.

Katalin Buzasi (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands). Languages and the sustainable development goals – What do we know and how to go on?

Carla Bagna & Andrea Scibetta (Università per Stranieri, Siena, Italy). Language as a factor in sustainable development: Language to reduce inequalities

Laurence Jay-Rayon & Amy R. Tuininga (Montclair State University, USA). Sustainability is a conversation

Alicia Fuentes Calle (LINGUAPAX International). Pax Linguistica and the preservation of linguistic diversity revisited.

12:30-1:10. LUNCH

1:10-1:40. Language, literacy, employability and income in the US Sarah Catherine K. Moore (CAL: Center for Applied Linguistics), Molly Fee (University of California Los Angeles), Terrence G. Wiley (CAL), and M. Beatriz Arias (CAL).

1:40-2:50. LITERACY Chair, Terrence Wiley.

John Comings (World Education). Mother tongue reading instruction: Language and mother tongue education (Goal 4)

Carol Deshano da Silva (Save the Children). The successes and challenges of Save the Children US in planning and implementing reading and writing programs in linguistically diverse contexts

Alison Pflepsen (RTI International). Improving educational quality through improved literacy instruction.

2:50-3:00 BREAK

3:00-3:50. EDUCATION 1. Chair, Timothy Reagan.

Theo Du Plessis & Colleen Du Plessis (University of the Free State, South Africa). Realising inclusive and equitable quality education in South Africa: Contributions and obstacles in language in education.

Shereen Bhalla (Center for Applied Linguistics). Examining language and the role of mother-tongue education through the three-language formula of India.

3:50-5:00. LANGUAGE AND INCLUSION (Goals 4 and 10) Chair, João Pedro Marinotti (City University of New York, Graduate Center, USA)

Antonio Bardawil (New York University, USA), Leveling linguistic playing fields to reduce inequalities: How language factors into Goal 10

Cassondra Puls and Mackenzie Lawrence (International Rescue Committee), Balancing social inclusion and educational inclusion among displaced learners: The work of the International Rescue Committee

Kathleen McGovern (University of Massachusetts, USA), Dialogic practice in the language classroom: Valuing learners’ voices as a means of working towards the SDGs

Jennifer C. Hamano, Christen N. Madsen II, and Gita Martohardjono (Second Language Acquisition Lab, CUNY Graduate Center, USA): Language assessment for sustainable development

Friday, April 22

8:30-9:00. Registration and coffee

9:00. Opening comments


10:45-10:55. BREAK

10:55-11:25. Rosemary Salomone (St. John’s University, USA). Educational equity, SDG’s & commodification of English

11:25-12:35. CORE ISSUES. Chair, Rosemary Salomone.

Dragana Radosavljevic (University of Greenwich, UK). Interpreting and translation in international criminal law

Aneta Pavlenko (Temple University, USA). You have the right to remain silent, do you understand?

Alison Phipps (University of Glasgow, UK). Languages under duress.

12:35-1:15 LUNCH 

1:15-1:45. Carolyn Benson (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA). Documenting international progress in addressing language issues in education

1:45-2:55. EDUCATION 2. Chair, Carolyn Benson.

Francis M. Hult (Lund University, Sweden), Christine Glanz (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning), and Ulrike Hanemann (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning). Multilingual literacy and the SDG for quality education

Mark E. Karan & Elke Karan (SIL International). The use of non-dominant languages In primary education: The key to maximizing learning outcomes for learners who speak these languages

Marguerite Lukes (International Network for Public Schools). Language acquisition & immigrant young adults with interrupted schooling.

2:55-3:05 BREAK

3:05-4:15. THE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS. Chair, Humphrey Tonkin.

– María Barros & Ana García Álvarez (Spanish Translation Service, United Nations, New York). Translation of SDGs: A tool for their implementation?

– Muhammed Raeez (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India). Arabic at the United Nations

Kathleen Stein-Smith (American Association of Teachers of French). The role of multilingualism in the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN Academic Impact).

4:15-4:25. Concluding comments by Sean O Riain (Ireland), Language and the SDGs: An Irish-language perspective.

4:25-5:00 Wrap-up and Close


CFP: Language and the SDGs

An upcoming symposium in New York on 21-22 April 2016 will address “Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.” This offers an  opportunity to address specific aspects of the importance of languages in international development.

The following call for papers is copied from the website of the Study Group on Language and the United Nations which is organizing the symposium along with the Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems and the Center for Applied Linguistics. Note the deadline of 15 February. (Minor formatting changes.)

Call for Papers:

A Symposium on Language and the Sustainable Development Goals

on Thursday & Friday, April 21 & 22, 2016

at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017

(First Avenue at 44th Street), Thurs. 1:00-5:00; Fri. 9:15-5:00

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations General Assembly for the period 2015-2030 ( replace the eight Millennium Development Goals that covered the period 2000-2015. They aim to engage not only governments, but “all people, everywhere,” at all levels of civil society. Carrying them out will require active, two-way, democratic communication, in a multiplicity of languages. Furthermore, several of the Goals imply direct attention to issues of language. Study and research on language in relation to economic and social development is a well-established field. What does this field have to contribute to the realization of the SDGs? What linguistic obstacles stand in the way of their successful realization?

The organizers welcome proposals for brief 20-minute papers on topics linked to the SDGs, such as:

  • Language as a factor in sustainable development
  • Language as a factor in the realization of the SDGs
  • Language revival and maintenance in relation to the SDGs
  • Language and quality education (Goal 4)
  • Language and mother-tongue education (Goal 4)
  • Language and gender equality (Goal 5)
  • Language and economic growth (Goal 8)
  • Language and reduced inequalities (Goal 10)
  • Language and peace & justice (Goal 16)
  • Cooperation in the fulfilment of the SDGs (Goal 17)
  • NGOs and language policy in relation to the SDGs
  • UN language policy and the SDGs

Please send proposals (200 words or less, accompanied by an approximately 50-word biography) to the chair of the symposium organizing committee, Prof. Humphrey Tonkin, at tonkin [at] hartford [dot] edu, by February 15, 2016. The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by March 1.

Online Registration Form for the Symposium

Event Documents for the Symposium


Visualizing language, development, education & ICT connections

A few years ago, I came across the following “model of development communication with regard to language(s) and education” by Ekkehard Wolff, a professor emeritus and former Chair of African Studies at the University of Leipzig. It was presented in a 2006 working document entitled “Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor: A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa” (later revised and published in 2011 as “Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor“).*

What first struck me was that this simple triangular model portraying the relative strength of links among development, language, and education captures the essence of the situation as regards African languages in development and education programming in Africa.

Secondly, the model could easily reflect development communication – or extension work – in a mostly monolingual country, where almost everyone speaks a single tongue as their first language (“L1”), and those who don’t mostly have that same language as an “L2.” Language is not a factor that needs particular attention beyond the appropriate use of the common tongue.

Third, it is significant, though not surprising, that this came in discussion of education. The field of education tends to give more attention to issues relating to language and languages, for instance in research and policy recommendations on mother-tongue based/multilingual education, than does the field of development studies. (For a more complete discussion, see Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter 1 in the last version of the above-cited document).

And finally, it also occurred to me that one could readily extend this model in a third dimension by adding another factor: information and communications technology (ICT). ICT after all is (1) a more or less established dimension of development assistance (per ICT4D), (2) a feature of some projects to assist education, and also (3) the focus of a range of language technology and localization efforts. So the connections of ICT with all three are natural.

Expanding the model

The expanded model with four factors – language, development, technology, and ICT – is a triangular pyramid or tetrahedron that allows us to visualize six related pairs of factors and characterize their relative weight in development communication (programming, extension, etc.).

These six pairs with comments (those on the first three are Wolff’s) are:

  • Development ↔ Education: “Widely accepted on a priori groun ds, but with little understanding of exact nature of relationship”
  • Education ↔ Language: “Little understood outside expert circles,   particularly in terms of MoI [medium of instruction] vs. SoI [subject of instruction]”
  • Language ↔ Development: “Largely ignored”
  • Development ↔ ICT: Established in development thinking and practice as ICT4D
  • Education ↔ ICT: Established connection, often as part of ICT4D or as  local-level projects
  • Language ↔ ICT: Linkage well established for major languages as “localization” (“L10n”), but not as well supported in terms of policy or technology, for less-resourced languages

This model also facilitates visualization of other dynamics beyond the language-development-education triangle introduced by Wolff, each of which which involve ICT. Specifically:

  • Links among language-development-ICT (is L10n part of ICT4D projects? do L10n projects address development needs?)
  • Links among language-education -ICT (does use of ICT in education projects include localized content or interfaces?)
  • Links among development-education-ICT (how are ICT4D and ICT4E linked?)

Language belongs in the picture

Overall, any such model incorporating language among the dynamics of development helps expand thinking about development and learning processes. Communication is fundamental to development and education, and one of the principal uses of ICT, and language is fundamental to communication.

Why has language been so neglected in this regard (particularly in Africa)? That is another discussion. In the meantime, Prof. Dr. Wolff’s chapter (referenced above) is highly recommended as an analysis of the state of affairs and disciplinary divides involved.

* Hassana Alidou, et al. 2006. Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor:  A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Paris: Association for the Development of Education in Africa. (NB- This document carries the note that it is a draft and not for dissemination, however it is widely available on the web and has been cited in at least two published books.)
Adama Ouane and Christine Glanz, eds. 2011. Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor A Review and Analysis of Theory and Practice in Mother-Tongue and Bilingual Education in sub-Saharan Africa. Hamburg: UIL & Tunis: ADEA.