“Special report: China and the internet; China’s internet, A giant cage.” Thirteen years ago Bill Clinton, then America’s president, said that trying to control the internet in China would be like trying to “nail Jell-O to the wall”. Economist. April 6, 2013. At the time he seemed to be stating the obvious. By its nature the web was widely dispersed, using so many channels that it could not possibly be blocked. Rather, it seemed to have the capacity to open up the world to its users even in shut-in places. Just as earlier communications technologies may have helped topple dictatorships in the past (for example, the telegraph in Russia’s Bolshevik revolutions in 1917 and short-wave radio in the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991), the internet would surely erode China’s authoritarian state. Vastly increased access to information and the ability to communicate easily with like-minded people round the globe would endow its users with asymmetric power, diluting the might of the state and acting as a force for democracy. Those expectations have been confounded. Not only has Chinese authoritarian rule survived the internet, but the state has shown great skill in bending the technology to its own purposes, enabling it to exercise better control of its own society and setting an example for other repressive regimes. China’s party-state has deployed an army of cyber-police, hardware engineers, software developers, web monitors and paid online propagandists to watch, filter, censor and guide Chinese internet users. Chinese private internet companies, many of them clones of Western ones, have been allowed to flourish so long as they do not deviate from the party line.
“In France, Foreign Aid in the Form of Priests.” By Maia de la Baume. New York Times. April 7, 2013. In Togo, the Rev. Rodolphe Folly used to conduct exuberant Sunday services for a hundred believers of all ages, who sang local gospel music and went up to him to offer what they had. In this quiet town in Burgundy, he preaches to a more somber audience of about 40 gray-haired retirees in an unadorned 19th-century church that can accommodate up to 600 people. “In my country, we applaud, we acclaim, we shout,” said Father Folly, a Roman Catholic priest who spoke in the living room of his modern, modest house. “Here, even when I ask people to shake hands, they say no.” Father Folly, 45, has settled in this town of about 9,000 residents, assigned to replace an aging priest. He has brought his jovial smile and good heart to a place where religious practice is weak, as it is in many other areas of France. He is part of a battalion of priests who have come to France from abroad — from places like Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon but also Vietnam and Poland — who now represent about 10 percent of France’s declining clerical ranks. The Catholic Church in Western Europe and the United States has been coping with a severe shortage of priests in the last few decades, as many abandoned the priesthood or passed away. So bishops in the developed world have been reaching out to their counterparts in the developing world to bring priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the priesthood is still an appealing prospect and vocations are booming. The flow of priests from the developing world to wealthier churches in the West amounts to a brain drain within the church. The ratio of priests to parishes is just as bad, if not worse, in the developing world as it is in the West, but the Western nations have the resources to relocate and support these foreign priests. Bishops from Europe and the United States recruit priests from the global south in ad hoc arrangements with local bishops and religious orders, usually without any involvement from the Vatican. The flow of Catholic missionaries, who used to leave France, Italy, Ireland and the United States for the developing world, has now been largely reversed.
“Pope Francis Names Advisory Panel at Vatican.” By Gaia Pianigiani and Rachel Donadio. New York Times. April 13, 2013. In his first significant decision since becoming pontiff — and a radical step toward more democracy in the Roman Catholic Church — Pope Francis on Saturday named a group of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him in governing the church and overhauling the troubled Vatican hierarchy, which has been rocked by scandals. Although the group will not have legislative power, Vatican experts said the move was a strong sign that Francis was eager to consult widely and promote greater dialogue between the Vatican hierarchy and churches worldwide. The eight cardinals named include the archbishop of Boston and prelates from Australia, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Honduras, India and Italy. “It’s an epochal shift because it brings the Vatican closer to a more collegial governance,” said Paolo Rodari, a Vatican expert with the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica. He was using a term meaning a greater sharing of power between Rome and local churches in governing the Catholic Church. That concept was central to the liberalizing changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, but critics said both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI consolidated more control with the Vatican. Francis’ new advisory group reverses the trend.
“Pope advisory group to ‘revamp’ church.” Sydney Morning Herald. April 14, 2013.
“Three approaches to evaluating social innovation – which is right for you? However much you know about the environment you’re working in, there is a way to evaluate the effects of your intervention.” By Kieron Kirkland. Guardian. April 8, 2013. What is the best way to measure social impact? People love to argue about the best way to assess social impact. For example, whether you should have an external evaluator, or do a randomised control trial (RCT). So what is the best way to do an evaluation, especially if you’re working in social innovation?
“The Blue Peter thermometer is a savvy fundraising tool; The thermometer that never starts empty is just one superb persuasive technique that also works in professional fundraising.” By Rachel Collinson. Guardian. April 9, 2013. As a child of the late 1970s, my conscientious parents forbade me from watching ITV. I think they were concerned that I might have my cerebral development stunted by junk food adverts and spurious toy promotions. At the time, all I knew was that I resented them for making me miss Art Attack and Fun House. Looking back, I’m now glad that twice weekly, the relentlessly wholesome propaganda of Blue Peter influenced my value system to include philanthropy, craft and cultural understanding. A staple of this was the Blue Peter Thermometer, charting the viewers’ progress towards a fundraising goal. Whether it was collecting stamps or milk bottle tops, children throughout the UK scrambled to collect enough to reach the top of the thermometer. In some schools, being the one to collect the most became a badge of honour every bit as worthy as the Blue Peter badge. It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand why this device was so successful in spurring us on in our fundraising efforts. Growing numbers of psychologists are confirming (and debunking) various persuasion techniques. Nonprofit organisations are finally applying the knowledge from these studies to their campaigning efforts on the web. There are some very good reasons why we’re still seeing the thermometer everywhere.
“Donations to universities hit record high; Charitable gifts soar to £774m as universities adopt US-style approach to fund-raising.” By Richard Garner. Independent. April 11, 2013. Philanthropists provided record levels of funding to British universities last year, as institutions increasingly tap wealthy alumni and corporate sponsors for donations. A study of charitable giving to universities reveals they have received £774m in donations in the past year – a rise of 14.4 per cent on the previous year’s figure, itself a record, and 33 per cent up on two years ago. Researchers say universities are adopting a US-style approach to fund-raising. In the States, Ivy League universities such as Harvard rely heavily on donations from former alumni and sponsors. The lion’s share of this year’s increased funding – 45 per cent – is going to Oxford and Cambridge universities, both of whom have reached £1bn targets for fund-raising in the past two years. Other members of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the most research-intensive higher education institutions, were also prominent among those raising the most cash. A breakdown in the report – prepared by the Ross Group in conjunction with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) – reveals that, in addition to rising corporate donations, the number of individual donors (former university alumni) increased 5 per cent to 170,000.
“Come on, graduates. Give back.” Independent. April 11, 2013.
“Social impact measurement: time to admit defeat?” Guardian. April 11, 2013. Albert Einstein’s great breakthrough came when he put known measures to one side. The notion that time and space were regular and linear was entrenched in science, and had led to an impasse which prevented it from making sense of the universe. By seeing that time and space might flex led to the Theory of Relativity, and led Einstein into a realisation that philosophical steps must be taken if breakthroughs were to be made. This philosophical context for his science led him to see that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. My wife and I recently took our children out of their local primary school to travel in the former Transkei for seven weeks. We thought that this would be a wonderful experience for them, experiencing life on the road in a completely different culture. Their school was programmed to see it differently. Its Ofsted rating could be adversely affected by the absence, and by the prospect of a six-year-old and four-year-old performing slightly less well in their assessments. The scientific culture of measurement risks so narrowing the concept of education that the system becomes unable to see any benefits (which cannot be directly measured) of such a trip. Social or ‘impact’ investors, such as Panahpur with whom I work, try to achieve their purpose by blending the art of achieving their social goals with the science of managing their funds. They make financial investments for social, as well as financial returns. The key challenge of doing this is understanding if, and how, the art of achieving social ‘returns’ can be measured in any scientifically robust way.