What Makes a Development Expert?

by Amy Reynolds

With discussions currently underway, the World Bank is expected to name a new president next week.  Three candidates are being considered for the position:  Nigerian Finance Minister and managing director at the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala;  Columbian professor and former Colombian Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo; and Dartmouth University President and medical doctor Jim Yong Kim.

The two institutions that make up the World Bank—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA)—have the goal of reducing poverty and promoting development.  As stated on their website, “The IBRD aims to reduce poverty in middle-income and creditworthy poorer countries, while IDA focuses exclusively on the world’s poorest countries.”

What are the qualifications most important for leading an international development-focused organization? Reading through the various articles supporting (or pointing out flaws in) the different candidates, the debates over their qualifications raise at least three important questions about economic development and poverty more generally.

1)  Who should hold the power within a development organization?  The World Bank (headquartered in D.C.) is largely controlled by Europe and the U.S.(based on money invested into the bank). From the bank’s founding in 1944, it has always had an American president. In fact, this is actually the first time that non-U.S. candidates are being considered, even as many predict Kim will be elected because he was nominated by Barack Obama.

Should those putting in the most money have the most say? Should each country have an equal vote? Or should those countries most affected by the policies of the bank be given more weight?

As nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests in an opinion piece,

Since expertise on development by and large lies within the emerging and developing countries—after all, they live development—it seems natural that the World Bank’s head would come from one of those countries.  While the US, the international community, and the Bank itself repeatedly emphasize the importance of good governance, a selection procedure that de facto leaves the appointment to the US president makes a mockery of it.

2)  What is the end of development?  Economic growth is often seen as central to the

equation, alongside issues such as life span and quality of life. The World Bank uses the Human Development Index (HDI) to take into account a number of factors.

As someone who studies the underlying values of markets, I reject the notion that markets are simply efficient structures for the allocation of goods. Likewise, I would argue that development is too often equated with economic growth, and more important than measuring development is figuring out what it entails. Our current markets (and development paradigms) often value individualism over the community; efficiency over equity. We must acknowledge that assessing how to define and measure development is an ethical, and not merely technical, process. As I find in my own research, economists and theologians rarely provide similar answers over the central aspects of development.

3)  Who is an expert in development?  I find this to be one of the most interesting questions in the current discussions, perhaps because the answers are so different.  Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo are economists; Kim a medical doctor with a doctorate in anthropology. While Forbes and the Economist, alongside a cadre of World Bank leaders, seem to be endorsing Okonjo-Iweala, other development economists have endorsed Ocampo.

What are the most important skills we want a “development expert” to have. Is having experience on the ground important?  Being able to design economic models? Evaluating the data produced by those models? Having experience making economic policy decisions? Understanding the interaction of a local culture to development programs?

While this debate is currently being followed in the media, it is not that dissimilar from those being held in boardrooms in the religious development world.  A number of Christian relief & development organizations have selected as recent presidents those with expertise in the financial and business world; others value someone who has spent time in various parts of ‘the field.’  As a recent post on this site highlighted, when Christianity Today asked what development initiatives were most (cost) effective, it was the economists who made that evaluation.  Kim’s nomination, at the very least, challenges the notion that economic expertise is the most central development-related skill.

Given the current power structures, it seems likely that Jim Yong Kim will take over from current president Robert Zoellick later this month. As someone who spent time with World Relief (a Christian relief and development organization) in El Salvador, I will be watching for the announcement.  Yet to be honest, I’m perhaps equally interested in the responses of both friends and public leaders, to better understand how they think about poverty, development, and power.

12 Curious Statistics about Today’s Young Adults

I hope to blog next week, or sometime thereafter, on the subject of affordable housing. But it’s just not on paper yet, so in lieu of that, I decided to just crunch some numbers from a very recent nationally-representative survey of 18-39-year-olds in America. Here are 12 interesting (to me, at least) statistics from that survey. What you read below is what a large population-based, random-selection survey says about young adults today. Why these 10? No particular reason. I just sat down with the questionnaire and started crunching away. Survey nerds love to do this sort of thing. We’re learning about America, after all. These are simple statistics, by the way. They’re not meant to imply causation, but rather to arouse your attention.

1. Bullying appears to be diminishing: whereas 31 percent of 18-23-year-olds reported having been bullied during their youth, the same is true of 36 percent of 24-32-year-olds and 41 percent of 33-39-year-olds.

2. Just over 20 percent of the sample said that they were currently receiving some form of public assistance.

3. Just over 31 percent of the sample said that during the past year there was a time when they did not have health insurance.

4. Only 26 percent of young adults said that their current or most recent primary job “is achieving my long-term career or work goals.”

5. The modal answer to a question about how much sleep do you get on an average night was “7 hours.” Indeed, 78 percent of young adults said they get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night. Good to hear, I guess.

6. Just under 15 percent of young adults said they were “nothing/atheist/agnostic” when asked about their religion. That’s pretty much in keeping with General Social Survey estimates of the same, if I recall.

7. When asked to compare their activity level in organized religion today with while they were growing up, 51 percent said they were less active than before, while only 13 percent said more active. The rest reported a comparable level.

8. When asked whether “single mothers do just as good a job raising children as a married mother and father,” 44 percent of young adults agreed, 29 percent were unsure, and 23 percent disagreed.

9. But when asked whether “it is better for children to be raised in a household that has a married mother and father,” 65 percent agreed, 20 percent were unsure, and only 11 percent disagreed, indicating that while younger adults continue to think that this arrangement is optimal, they’re also quite comfortable saying it’s not necessary (or something like that).

10. While there may indeed be a Democratic party preference at work today among young women, the inclination doesn’t show up when asked, “In terms of politics, do you consider yourself very conservative, conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal, or very liberal?” When sorted by gender, the results are nearly indistinguishable. The parties should fight over the middle-of-the-road folks, because 50 percent of the respondents selected that category, compared with only four and five percent (respectively) who selected “very conservative” and “very liberal.” Perhaps this is why it feels like there is more “spin” these days, since so many moderates are at stake.

11. The modal category of “number of Facebook friends you have” is between 100-200. Only about 10 percent say they have more than 500, while 19 percent said they weren’t on Facebook at all.

12. Finally, 15 percent of young men, when asked when they had last masturbated, said “today.” Which is an answer category that is distinctive from “yesterday,” which was selected by an additional 19 percent of men. I guess that tells us at least one thing: that most of the men who completed the survey probably did so at some point in the evening. If most had completed the survey before noon, one should expect the “today” number to be much closer to, say, 10 percent.

What would a Regnerus blog be without some reference to sex, right? There you have it.

Time to be present

In the rush of the spring semester some professors (ok maybe it’s just me) reach a point of exhaustion. We see the mountain of research analyses that have yet to be completed and shipped to academic journals or to book presses, the ungraded papers, the unmodified lecture notes created back in 2007 (can you believe that was 5 years ago now?). It’s tiring to even think about what’s left to do and what little time we have to do it. It’s times like this that I seriously contemplate new approaches to minimizing sleep that Thomas Edison and other famous types have been known to employ. Just think: 30 minutes of sleep every 3 hours would result in something like 3.5 hours of sleep instead of my usual 7!  [Read more...]

Who Experiences God’s Presence and How Often?

Who experiences God’s presence the most often? It turns out that the General Social Survey (GSS), in 2004, included questions from the Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale. Coupled with the powerful sampling procedure used by the GSS, it allows for basic analysis of the experience of God’s presence.

To start with, here’s a table of respondents’ self-reported frequency of experience God’s presence, as it varies by religious tradition. As you can see, there’s a lot of variation, with Evangelicals and Black Protestants scoring highest and Jews and the religiously unaffiliated scoring the lowest.

From here, I selected out the Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), and as a group here are their experiences:

Gender seems to matter with everything religious, so I analyzed it as well. Perhaps no surprise, Christian women score higher than Christian men.

Finally, I examined the experience of God’s presence by frequency of church attendance, and it’s good news, probably really good news, for churches in that people who attend church the most often also report experiencing God’s presence the most often. (Obviously this doesn’t tell us if church leads to experience or if people who experience God’s presence attend church more often, and so it’s far from definitive).

Thoughts?

Testimony from Cuba: The Pope’s Visit was an Oasis

Part 2 in a series. Click here for my podcast interview on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, hosted by Research on Religion.

As I explained in a previous post, I have traveled to Cuba multiple times to visit family members. During my visits, I became close friends with a group of young Cubans who are very active in a parish in Santiago de Cuba. Anxious for news from my friends in Cuba about the Pope Benedict’s visit, I emailed this group of friends in Santiago to tell them I would be thinking of them during his visit and to ask them to send me news of their experiences.

One of them, who I will call Laura, wrote me a beautiful testimony of her experience of Pope Benedict’s visit. Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, communication between Cuba and the outside world, especially the “imperalist” northern neighbor, has been limited. Laura now has occasional access to  email, and given that the connection is dial-up (if you are even old enough to remember those days) she typed her message in Word and sent it as an attachment. Her words are so beautiful that I want to share them with you word for word.

First, let me tell you a little bit about Laura. She works as an accountant in a government job and in her free time, she teaches the Catholic faith at a local parish and visits the sick in her neighborhood. Being a practicing Catholic with a government job is challenging for her, given all the pressure to conform to ideology, not to mention that most people steal from their jobs to sell things on the black market. Laura sees her vocation not only in teaching her faith, but in living her faith by being  a good example at work, such as by not stealing.

However, when another friend of mine in Santiago de Cuba landed in jail for stealing from his job (he stole a few bags of soy), I knew she would help. I sent her one email gently suggesting she go visit his house to see how he was doing. I could tell by her reply she didn’t get the gist of my email, so I sent another more urgent message saying “Alejandro is in jail. Would you please go visit his family and see if you can help?”

Most people in Cuba avoid prisoners and their families; but I knew Laura is courageous and would try to help them. The next day I got an email from her saying, “I found out some things and I need to talk to you,” and she gave me a specific time to wait for her call. Calling from Cuba to the US (and vice-versa) is expensive and difficult, but she called me right on time and told me in less than 60 seconds that if we could send a certain amount of money, something could be done for Alejandro. After two months languishing in jail for trying to sell Cuban soy on the black market (the Cuban government sells its people soy because it’s cheaper than beef), Alejandro was released from prison. I was too afraid to ask Laura by email what she did to help him; but I knew I could count on her to risk her own safety and find a way to help Alejandro get released.

Laura is in her 30s, stunningly beautiful, and not yet married (although she would like to be). To reward her hard work, she once won tickets from her employer to go to a night club with live music. Such clubs are frequented by tourists to Cuba, but the entrance fees are out of the  reach of most Cubans, even those like Laura with good jobs. When leaving the club, Laura’s beauty caught the attention of the police, who accused her of having gone to that club to work as a prostitute for foreigners. She sobbed and pleaded with them, but under Cuba’s “ley de la peligrosidad” (law of dangerousness), you can be accused of loitering, working as a prostitute, or other offenses with no evidence. If you are stopped three times for the same offense (or in Laura’s case, unfounded accusation) you can go to jail. Unable to persuade the police that night she had just been with friends at the club, Laura went back to the police station the next day with her father so that he could give testimony that she is not a prostitute. Known by her friends as “The Black Virgin” because of her beauty and purity, I can only imagine how humiliated both she and her father felt that she was accused of being a prostitute.

Probably to counter the rampant prostitution and promiscuity in Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the importance of marriage in nearly every talk he gave in Cuba. In his March 28, 2012, homily in Havana for instance, he said that seeking the truth about the human condition “we discover a foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person.” At a panel on Catholic social teaching a couple of years ago, Duke Divinity School’s renowned Professor of Theological Ethics, Stanley Hauweras, said that the most radical element of Catholic social teaching was the idea that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society and that the state cannot violate the rights of not only individuals but also the rights of families. Knowing that communism tried to break the bonds of the family in order to make individuals more dependent on the state than on blood relations, I was not surprised to hear Pope Benedict repeat many times the importance of marriage and family to a thriving society, for it is in the family that we find and nurture the love that should permeate all our actions, both to our relatives and our neighbors. The family in many modern societies is fragile, and the state of families in Cuba is nothing less than a crisis. It’s hard to imagine sweeping change in Cuba without strengthening families.

In her email to me this week, Laura said  how elated she was that since Cuba decided to recognize Good Friday as a holiday, she can live her life as God asks. Then, in an attached Microsoft Word document, she wrote (in Spanish):

“Dear Sister,

I have so many marvelous things to tell you!!! I have had so many transforming and beautiful moments during this Lent that I have to share them with you. Every year, I live Lent in a different way and with different intensity. Well, you could say that this year God knocked me off my feet. That’s not to say I heard divine voices, but God spoke to me in the deepest part of my heart, telling me that even though I am his beloved daughter, that does not give me any privilege or advantage over anyone else, whether that person is a believer or not. Rather, I should be the humblest of all people; I should not fall into the temptations to hate, to have hard feelings, to be selfish; temptations that surround us and can trap us in this world full of competition and rivalries (we live in a world that thinks that the law of retaliation — “an eye for eye, and a tooth for tooth” — will resolve problems). That is why we need to love, it is love that unites us with God and with our neighbor, it is love that allows us to forgive others and forgive ourselves.

Pope Benedict’s visit was an oasis, for this Lenten period and for my whole life, like a spring of crystal clear water in which I can drink and see my true essence reflected.

I had the privilege of receiving the Pope when he arrived to the Archbishop’s residence in Santiago. I was very close when he arrived in the Popemobile, and my heart leaped for joy and my whole being smiled (those around me said my eyes were shining too). I only know my heart was pounding and I wanted to have wings to fly to the Pope’s side and ask for his blessing (like the sick person in the Gospel who is cured just by touching Jesus’ mantle).

On a side note, the Pope looked a bit tired.

Later I went to the Plaza of the Virgin of Charity and I was inside the rope that blocked off the entrance. His holiness arrived a little bit late (about 30 minutes after his scheduled time; maybe he needed to rest from his trip to Mexico). The entrance of the statue of the Virgin into the plaza was just as we had hoped-spectacular.  Her image moved all the multitudes of people gathered, and everyone who had taken cover in the shade ran out and the plaza filled up even more.

There were people there from all parts of Cuba and the world. Next to me were some Germans who were very proud showing their flag, but I didn’t recognize the shield on it. Everyone was very disciplined despite the sun, the threatening rain, and thankfully the lightning never came too close. Everything was beautiful and peaceful, although someone yelled some things out of place, but  everything turned out all right.

Finally, I want to tell you that you were in my prayers in a special way during that wonderful Mass.

From your friend Laura who loves you. I wish you a blessed Holy Week.”

People in Cuba like Laura and Rodrigo, who I wrote of in my my previous post, are examples of heroic virtue to me. They are examples that the Pope’s words of forgiveness and service to all people–whether believers or not–have taken root in the hearts of young Cubans. And their testimony and example continue to inspire me to imitate their virtues of generosity and humility. Gracias, Laura. Te quiero tambien.


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