Saturday, 19 July 2014

"Bigger the better" or should it be "Value for money"

I have been having a conversation with Jamie Enoch, Research and Policy Analyst at the UKCDS, on a study that the UKCDS did for DFID on Mapping Infrastructure Research for Development.  You can read the exchange of words  on the Linked In AFCAP (African Community Access Programme) group if you are a registered member of Linked In, and are inclined to join the group. . 

Much of it is show casing the work of the International Forum for Rural Transport and Development (IFRTD), which, though supported by DFID for several years, received no mention in the report’s chapter on transport.   Despite this omission, it is good to know that another analyst, e.g. Steven Jones, an Associate Professor at the University of Alabama, working with AFCAP on identifying " rural transport issues in Sub-Saharn Africa (SSA) to be targeted for future research... aimed at developing a more comprehensive understanding of the overall health impacts (crashes, polllution. healthcare access etc) associated with rural transport provision" has found IFRTD' work to be "very helpful. In fact, I included material from several papers/reports listed there into my AFCAP final report".  [Here he is talking about IFRTD’s work on mobility and health]. 

Jamie tried to justify UKCDS omission on the grounds that though the work was very relevant "it might be slightly out of place in this mapping exercise, given its primary focus on ongoing rather than historic programmes".  The financial support to IFRTD was however reflected in the graphs in the UKDS report, and the SEACAP programme was mentioned, though it was significantly more historic than IFRTD in the DFID funding time line! The justification for the inclusion of SEACAP was the it was a £8 million programme!

This is the point of this blog.  Yes, IFRTD was definitely a smaller investment of the British Tax Payers' money than SEACAP, but what if the impact of the pounds was greater?  Should that not be be the criterion by which development assistance is evaluated? Surely, the British Tax Payer is interested in value for money?  And what if, just what if, smaller programmes like IFRTD that had potential to build capacity and make lasting changes in the minds of professionals and the public in more than 27 countries in the global south, gave higher returns for the bucks spent? Is this not something we would want to know?

I was reminded of the 1990s campaigns against the big dams (which incidentally are coming back - the dams that is, not sure about the campaigns!) One such that halted the construction of the Arun-3 dam in Nepal was vindicated by the fact that the projects that replaced the controversial big dam "provide a third more electricity at almost half the time it would have taken Arun-3 to come on line, and at half the cost".  What does it take to learn that bigger/larger/more is not always better?

Friday, 18 July 2014

A refreshing meeting

The Association of Women Affected by War (AWAW) launched the AWAW-FOKUS advocacy road map “What the Women Say – ACTIONS- not Words Count”  - at Earls Court, Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo, this evening.

None of the sophistication of most Colombo book launches, but extremely well put together, and an occasion to catch up with some key people working with women – Shyamala Gomez, Nimalka Fernando, Kamini Vitharana,  Mrs Sumana Sumanasekera formerly Women’s Bureau and newly appointed as Chairperson of the National Committee for Women (NCW, or as my aunt, Manel Abeysekera,  would have said during her tenure as chair, NATCOW), as well as Rajiva Wijesinha, Jehan Perera,  and (not in my league)the British High Commissioner, the Norwegian Ambassador and other MPs.

We learned from the Chief Guest , the Hon Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga (confirmed later by others) that  1325 advocate and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) Sanam Anderlini   was prohibited to speak, and that the organisers were prohibited from having press coverage at the event. 

The Hon CBK gave an interesting, what was in her words  a  ‘non-political’, political speech!!!!  Some memorable quotes from my notes (not verbatim, unfortunately).

  •  Patriarchy, male domination and the concept of exclusion (introduced in 1956) reason for women’s oppression and the oppression of ‘others’ who are different. 
  •           Refusal to accept women in decision making positions is an integral part of this exclusion
  • Hate speech is influencing moderates, who are now beginning to sway to the extreme
  • Those of us who love freedom and respect democracy need to advocate for different order
  •  We have defeated terrorism, but we haven’t begun to find peace

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Path

Yesterday,Ragi Kadirgamar ‘did a session’ at our work place, which unfortunately I was too late to attend.  What he  offers is Satsang, or spiritual talks based on Advaita teachings.  See below an excerpt from his flyer

Talks & Meetings.

“What are you seeking?”

 If you don’t clearly know what you are seeking,
HOW can you find it, or know it?

And what specifically are the causes of suffering that apparently prevent people from getting
what they want in life?

“How can you live your daily life, in peace and harmony?”

Like his Guru, Ragi guides spiritual seekers away from simply accepting the profound conceptual truth,

Consciousness is I  -  I am Consciousness’,
towards an understanding and acceptance of
manifested life itself –  Acceptance of What Is.
If the reactions of my colleagues, and previous sessions with Ragi are anything to go by, they do a lot for one’s well being.  

But  I have a problem with the question  “What are you seeking?”

Why should you be seeking something?  A  higher goal, a meaning of life.  How about you just make choices about the paths that you wish  to travel in your life’s journey.  Just make a conscious effort to avoid the asphalt, with the steel and glass buildings, and the traffic fumes, and just choose the gravel path, with its green borders , its flowers, its  birdsong.... and then what does it matter where it takes you?