"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


everything new is old again

I've been thinking for several days about how to sum up my experiences at UN/MDG Week, but, well, everything that needs to be said has pretty much already been covered. Saundra of Good Intentions are Not Enough has done a marvelous job of collecting various posts and articles on the MDG's, the Clinton Global Initiative, the UN Summit, and TEDxChange; you should definitely check out her list. A few final thoughts:
  • As many others have noted, the ideas of the week seemed mostly recycled, but in many cases were touted as new and innovative. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, announced with great fanfare by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a prime example of this. When she announced the project, the row of bloggers in which I was sitting started tweeting, "Hasn't this been done? Like, since the 1940's?" But anyone in the audience who wasn't an expert on the minutiae of the history of foreign aid wouldn't have had the slightest idea that cook stove projects have failed time and time again for the past 70 years, because the project was presented as a solution to all the world's environmental, women's, and health and safety problems among the poor. Alanna Shaikh brilliantly parses the discussion and the idea over at Aid Watch.
  • Caffeinated high-fructose corn syrup will save the world. Or so you'd think from everything that Melinda French Gates had to say last week. Her entire TEDxChange talk was about lessons we can learn from Coca-Cola's business model, and private-public partnerships were touted over and over again as the key to development. While I'm not as cynical about Coca-Cola as some of my colleagues (they do make self-employment possible thousands and thousands of women in the developing world), I am always hesitant to believe everything that huge, multi-national corporations tout about their corporate social responsibility activities worldwide. Why? Because ultimately, a corporation's responsibility is to its shareholders, not to those in need. If ever a situation arises in which the needs of the poor are contradictory to the growth of the stocks, which do you think the company will choose? Regardless, there is much to be learned from Coca-Cola's relentless analysis of sales data and its tailoring of the marketing of its product to local circumstances and cultures.
  • Highlight of the week for me? A chat with Ory Okolloh, one of the founders of Ushahidi and blogger extraordinaire. She is just as amazing in person as you'd imagine and getting to talk with her was a treat. This was followed at a close second by the Tuesday night ICTinNY Tweetup, which was attended by a ton of awesome people, so many so that I'm afraid to list them here for fear of forgetting someone.
  • My fellow aid bloggers are awesome. Penelope Chester (who writes for UN Dispatch) and Karen Grepin of NYU and I hung out at TEDxChange, where our attempts to have a picture made with Hans Rosling (of Gapminder fame) were futile in the face of an aggressive New York Times reporter. At the CGI, I was at various times blogging alongside Penelope (who got to interview Mary Robinson), the ever-mysterious @laurenist, the fantastic Elmira Bayrasli, Aid Watch's Laura Freschi (whose post on attending summits you must read because it's hi-la-ri-ous), and, of course, the great Alanna Shaikh. These women are smart, insightful, and just as funny in real life as they are on the internet. I feel fortunate to have gotten to enjoy their company.
  • A particular thanks to Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch, who's the reason I got to attend all these events in the first place. If you're not reading his daily insights on and analysis of the UN's work, you're missing out.
  • Finally, a note for organizations wanting to host us new media types: bloggers are not like traditional press. I think it's super-cool that we were invited to attend these events, but if you want bloggers to write about your event, you need to have a setup that makes blogging 1) possible and 2) hassle-free. No one understood this better than the team at TEDxChange hosted by the Gates Foundation, who had a dedicated conference room set aside for bloggers that was equipped with more than adequate power strips, a strong wifi signal, and ample big screen projection systems. I particularly appreciate that the Gates Foundation provided us with access to the event's speakers; we got to ask questions of Melinda French Gates and Graca Machel, and Mechai Viravaidya and Hans Rosling brought us condom keychains and Gapminder maps, respectively.


Anonymous angelica said...

thanks for the sum up. will check out your recommendations. you come highly recommended yourself.

As aid worker/mom, it's funny to see the parallels between this and BlogHer (giggle giggle)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:50:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts, especially on the cookstoves initiative. I too sometimes think of this issue as one of those non-innovative innovations. However, I think it's important to acknowledge the more recent work/progress in this field. True it is an old issue but there is a lot of new research, consultation, field testing, evaluation and policy development that has moved the discussion forward considerably since the 1940s. The cookstoves initiative announced last week is pretty grounded in this new work which has tried hard to learn from the failures that you cite. More info: http://womensrefugeecommission.org/programs/firewood or http://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/wfp-launches-safe-stoves-initiative-protect-women-and-save-fuel.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 7:28:00 PM


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