Op-Ed: UN’s New Development Challenges – It is not about Aid but Policy Space

New World Summer 2014Op-Ed published in the Summer 2014 issue of New World published by the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) .

Two factors work against the UN’s current approach to international development. First, most countries no longer look to the Organization for aid and technical assistance. National governments, civil society organisations and private sector have far greater resources and agility to deliver assistance. Second, as countries develop, their aspirations change. They want to safeguard and further their interests in agriculture, industrialisation, technology transfer, trade, environment and finance. Incidentally, in many of these areas, UN has lost policy space and struggles to have an influence.

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Development 2.0: We Need Hacker Mindset, Not Aid

New age calls for creating, coding, commercialising products

Hacker Mindset: Conceiving, Coding and Commercialising Ideas

For developing countries to break free from poverty, aid and dependence trap, they need to focus on development through technology, talent and innovations.

At present there is overemphasis on trade. Trade is meaningless if developing countries do not have anything to sell. And where it is not matched by transformation in domestic education system that prepares youths to innovate, create products of tomorrow and compete in global marketplaces, we are simply raising a new generation of consumers for products being sold by multinational companies. The benefits to developing countries remain minimal. Continue reading

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Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013): He sacrificed his freedom so others could be free

mandelaNelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the last of the giants who led South Africa’s struggle against colonialism, is no more. “White supremacy implies black inferiority.” His words were truth to the powers. It made him the most recognisable icon of struggle against oppression, injustice and discrimination all over the world.

Mandela, or Madiba as he was popularly known to fellow Africans, was a qualified lawyer who later became the first black president of South Africa. More than just a politician, he was a  political activist. Mandela truly believed in the cause of freedom, democracy and justice. He experienced first-hand how apartheid had stripped black South Africans of their dignity and was holding them back, and took up the cause for equal political rights for blacks. Continue reading

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Warsaw Climate Talks Outcome: Lowering Commitments, Not Emissions

UNFCCC-logos11Everyone agreed on the need to act, but the willingness to take action was absent in Warsaw. Talks verged on lowering commitments and ambitions to reduce emissions. Developed countries that have consumed more than their share of climate space, refused to commit to higher emission reduction targets commensurate to their responsibilities and levels recommended by the UN scientific panel on climate change, unless developing countries accept binding commitments.

Developing countries – especially emerging economies – refused to agree on a framework binding them to strict commitments to cut carbon emissions. They insisted that only developed countries should have firm commitments while emerging economies are expected to “enhance action” supported by finance and technology. They want industrialized countries to act first and meet their commitments and provide assistance to developing countries in making a transition to low carbon economies. Continue reading

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United Nations: New Issues, New Ideas, Not Enough Financing

unDespite the ever-increasing demands and mandate given to the UN to be the key global driver for development, resources available to implement the development agenda have become more constrained and unpredictable. While the UN is getting better at tackling more and more development issues within the multilateral framework, there is no link between multilateralism, agreed goals and the availability of funding. This means many of the goals and strategies agreed upon at the multilateral level, fail to operationalize and deliver results in absence of funding. But this was not always so. Continue reading

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Warsaw UN Climate Talks: What is there to negotiate?

WarsawWeak link between multilateral negotiations, agreed goals and financing is stalling the talks.

The persistence of climate change negotiators huddled together in Warsaw from over 190 countries is laudable. Even when countries are failing to reign in their greenhouse emissions that is causing a rise in global temperatures, the negotiations keep going. This is their 19th attempt under the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which meets every year to get member countries to take action on climate change. But ‘action’ seems to be an elusive and a constantly receding goal as the link between multilateral negotiations, agreed goals and financing is weak.

The Warsaw gathering is not expected to lead to immediate actions that everyone is hoping for, namely collective and concrete measures, and financing to bring deep reductions in the global emissions. Instead it is expected to lay foundation for a global pact to deal with climate change beyond 2020. Continue reading

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What comes first: E-Governance or Good Governance? (Reflection from Economic Times E-Governance Forum)

e-Governance-logoA bigger question remains. Can e-governance improve the lives of common people? And the answer is not as easy as it may seem. While making government services available online certainly saves time, drudgery and costs incurred by people in accessing them, it may not necessarily improve lives of the majority. E-governance makes it easier to pay electricity and water bills online but can it provide assured electricity and water supplies to everyone? Providing assured water and electric supply, basic health, education and other infrastructure facilities assume precedence. They have to be provided as pre – requisite of e-governance and not as outcomes. Continue reading

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Cleaner Politics, Power to the People, Political Start-Ups Or None of the Above (NOTA)

notaWhen it comes to democratic societies, where voting is an affirmation of one’s freedom and equality, and is the cornerstone of democracy, the freedom to abstain from making a choice is often missing. Citizens are given the freedom to vote for any candidate standing for elections, but few democracies give voters the explicit right to reject all the candidates, if they find no one suitable. In effect, citizens are given the freedom to choose but not to withhold making a choice. Continue reading

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e-Governance Forum: The Economic Times, 24 October, Delhi

e-Governance-logoVikas Nath, Founder of DigitalGovernance.org will give the Special Guest Address on Sharing ICT Experiences Across the World. See more at: http://www.et-egovernance.com/

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Interview at the Sankalp Unconvention Summit 2013

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Made in Bangladesh: Profiting from poverty

BangladeshMap“The disastrous garment industry in Bangladesh is a perfect example of capitalist expansion to the Global South where labour is cheap and abundant. But such foreign investments, now highly sought by governments of poor countries, often mean deplorable conditions of work and high profits for the companies.”

Some terms in our vocabulary are all powerful. When used they have a numbing effect and can overpower any argument. ‘Win-Win’ is one of them. Make any scenario a win-win and what is there not to like about it?

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Reaching the Unreached – Ideas matter but vision even more

not-free-01In mid-April 2013 over a thousand people gathered in Mumbai for the annual Sankalp Forum organised by Intellecap. Refreshingly none of the social entrepreneurs present talked about providing products and services for free, and for the right reasons – to engage with the unreached and the poor in a relationship which is equal and business-like. They did not find it incongruous to talk about creating business solutions which work for the poor and creating profits in the same sentence. They are focused as much on creating income inflows from year one of their enterprises as they are on reaching the unreached.

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Panel Discussion: South-South Collaboration in Impact Investing: Relevance of India’s Experience

sankalp-summit-2013Sankalp Forum, 16-18 April 2013. Mumbai. India

When we talk about impact investing, our focus invariably turns to “investing” and in particular to investments which involve capital flows in form of loans, equities, grants or other financing options. We end up ignoring two other forms of investments, namely technology and skills which end up increasing the capacities and efficiency of workforce, and leverages the impact of any other investments being made. Technology and skill based investments may not have the liquidity of capital flows, and precisely so the benefits of these investments remain in the country and the impact is more long lasting.

India is emerging as a leader in making such investments within the South-South collaboration framework in the area of agriculture, energy, health and information technology, says Vikas Nath at the plenary discussion at the Sankalp Forum.

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How Relevant Is the Development UN?

Stephen Browne and Thomas G. survey2012Weiss (with Vikas Nath)

Extracts from the 2012 Global Perceptions Survey: The survey underlines two challenges currently facing the UN’s development activities: the lack of system-wide coherence; and the possible increasing irrelevance for contemporary development problems.

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I – Power: Using Crowd Support, Not Bribes, to Redress Public Grievances

mybannerMost people in developing countries are hesitant to engage with governments and avoid getting entangled in government affairs. They do not trust the public servants to act honestly and resolve their public grievances quickly. Many end up paying bribes, using unscrupulous middlemen, or currying favours for government officials to get their work done quickly. Continue reading

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