Field Notes from the Development Industry 8/10/2013


1. More and more, I am thinking that the power of social media and new tech in foreign aid (as opposed to development in general) is in the ability to decentralize decision-making. That could mean giving more power to aid agency staff on the ground, to governments of the countries that receive aid, or (this is the exciting one) giving more decision-making authority to the people affected by aid. This blog post on consensus decision-making has me thinking about what that might look like in practice.

2. So, there’s this poor dumb kid who stole an iPhone in Ibiza. Or bought a stolen iPhone. And now the phone’s owner is posting all the kid’s pictures on tumblr and mocking them. (Do a search; I don’t want to add to the site’s google juice by linking it.) I understand the poetic justice logic. But. This is clearly a young guy and a guest worker living in Dubai. His life is pretty bleak based on those pictures we’re mocking, and the mockery strikes me as racist. I find myself unconvinced that petty theft makes it okay to humiliate someone to that degree. The fact that he is clearly poor and in a place where he has few legal protections makes it worse. Am I just a bleeding heart?

3. I leave Azerbaijan for good on Saturday. It’s been a short and fascinating experience; less than a year. I’ve never lived in a middle-income country before, let alone done aid work in one. Baku reminds me a lot of Boston, I think. Urban, by the sea, somehow both European and not. I have learned a lot from my time here, although I am still figuring out what those lessons are.