A Complex Thing! Are measures of complexity an end in themselves to address extreme poverty?

CARE MOZToday’s post is from Emmanuel Asomba, a consultant working on poverty reduction, human development and systematic reviews of development polices and programs.

The most prominent goal of development has been to eradicate extreme poverty. Both literally and figuratively this goal has been part of a prescriptive stroll over the past two decades, moving in a linear fashion. However, along the way, it has become clear that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon changing across context, thus requiring multiple correspondence analysis and interventions. This is far more amenable to adaptive solutions in social change. It underlies a different vision to address, among others, the interactions between inequality and poverty, primarily to share approaches in different domains, and ultimately to enhance the interconnectedness between institutions to balance social outcomes.

With a number of components, such as behaviors and organizational parameters, needed for development to work, it is important to capture the variability of desired outcomes to adapt social and economic interventions. Proclaiming that social protection programs and job promotion have to “accommodate specificities” is not enough. The transition is to consider how aggregation happens, widening the scope of change by reviewing the relationships between cause and effect to discern how emergent practices can blend to improve rights-based/social justice platforms. This view stresses how change can unfold across converging organizational contexts.

To alter the balance more effectively, interconnections among intervention designs can boost the possibility of generating multidimensional development systems. The idea is to bring about empowerment and cooperation across several sectors and stakeholders, all of them identifying and differentiating the causes of change to come up with more than mere technical fixes. For instance, the ultimate objective of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) has been to promote sustainable development across the board. The broad effort of the development community consistent with the post-2015 agenda is to avoid fragmentation. This can be most apparent if human development, food security, access to education, health care, etc, can scale up, increasing relationships, operationalization, transparency and compliance across life-cycle development approaches. These elements are states of matter stemming from observations and applications of qualitative differences in social systems.

Extreme poverty and inequality are complex issues; we have good reasons to think that integrating a mix of alternatives in programming is a constructive route to support the expansion of “ecosystems” or networks of change. This outlook is a way to set the focus on context and variation (see Tony Pike). As a step forward we can test the viability of diverse approaches through the tweaking and sequencing of activities to achieve robust feedback systems.

In the world of complexity as outlined by the DAC Network on Gender Equality, the pragmatic case of Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) shows how we can reconcile opinions to combat the isolation caused by extreme poverty, and consequently the deprivation feeding women’s unequal control of assets and income. By emphasizing the improvement of standards of living, especially for low-income women, this concept can approach social-economic programs from a systems-perspective, i.e., adapting and iterating solutions to build local expertise and knowledge to reduce their vulnerability. In tandem with consistent policies, principles of equal rights and equity can help map new conceptions of relationships and interactions between various actors, thus shifting measures of initiatives and ownership in gender relations.

The transition moves away from simplifications, adapting organizational levels and flexibility in interventions. This approach contrasts with conventional approaches to programming by capitalizing among other things on the existence of different feedback loops to recalibrate for instance, women’s bargaining power, or their mobility. So, the idea of cause and effect is brought under new light with pathway models telling the stories of key outcomes and relationships that can generate change or be measured.

An illustration of this complexity paradigm is the way CARE shifted its corporate processes and strategy to grapple with gender equality for its agricultural portfolio targeting high-poverty households in Latin America and Africa. A critical juncture was the need to streamline operational links through gender-sensitive policies as part of the Women Empowerment in Agriculture (WEA) framework. Primarily set to encourage the role of women and girls in leadership by using adaptive paths, the emphasis was on an organization-wide change process to build a collective approach on individual rights. CARE called for the understanding of ecosystems of equal rights to adjust their poverty profiles and policy interventions.

A case in point is the implementation in 2008 of their Income Smoothing through Agricultural Marketing Interventions (ISAMI) in Uganda, involving male decision-makers in supporting women across agricultural networks. Seen through a multidimensional lens, this initiative threw a strong light on the pertinence of joint distribution of disadvantages to address women’s participation in household and community-level decision-making. By engaging local groups to address the nature of the gender division of labor, time poverty, or the gender control of labor and products of labor, this project triggered the emergence of implicit causal pathways that led to robust strategic programmatic shifts.

It evolved around three dimensions and sub-dimensions of women’s empowerment in collective marketing, namely, agency, relations and structure. Out of them came forth, a responsive logic model. It broadened feedback loops on connections and practices (cause-effect chains), thus completing CARE’s multidimensional approach with poverty income measures. The true explanation is that these parameters mapped-out a resilience ecology (Circle of Learning) changing old patterns out of emerging practices (gendered allocation of resources) regulating women’s decision influence in household, market accessibility, or the pursuit and acceptance of accountability.

Global development has to move away from linear restrictions treating complex problems in separation. Fulfilling this objective is likely to create significant advances to meet the challenges of extreme poverty. The extension of multiple perspectives can target inherent complexities, making experimentation and learning mainstream adaptive policy tools.

Useful links

The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) from the OECD Development Centre is an innovative measure of underlying discrimination against women for over 100 countries. While other indices measure gender inequalities in outcomes such as education and employment, SIGI helps policymakers and researchers understand what drives these outcomes. SIGI captures and quantifies discriminatory social institutions, including early marriage, discriminatory inheritance practices, violence against women, son bias, restrictions on access to public space and restricted access to productive resources.

Applications of complexity science for public policy OECD Global Science Forum

OECD work on gender equality and development

What difference does a mobile operator more or less make to you?

Anyone remember immobile operators?
Anyone remember immobile operators?

Today’s post is by Rudolf van der Berg of the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Directorate

A new OECD report Wireless Market Structures and Network Sharing evaluates what happens when players enter or exit the mobile market. It finds that more than three Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) is often the source of innovative offers that challenge existing market wisdom and practices, and a driver for the entire market to become more competitive. If the current number of MNOs is not sustainable or new facilities-based entry is unlikely, it is worth considering voluntary network sharing agreements – either as an alternative to a merger or to allow a new player to enter a market. If Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are to provide meaningful choices for consumers as well as an additional constraint on potential anti-competitive conduct, they need to be able to operate technically and commercially independently from MNOs if they wish. Even then, without sufficient wholesale competition, it is unlikely they will be able to substitute for the role played by a “challenger MNO”. In addition if countries allow the emergence of Private Virtual Network Operators, which is an advanced version of the so-called “Apple SIM” (a SIM card not specific to one telecoms operator but to a car manufacturer, energy company or government agency) then more competition in the Machine to Machine (M2M) market is likely.

Mergers between MNOs are not that common but can have substantial implications for competition. In 2013-2014, three high profile acquisitions were under consideration: in Germany between Telefonica and e-Plus (KPN); while in Ireland, Telefonica proposed to sell its subsidiary O2 Ireland, to Hutchison 3-UK. In both cases the merged entity committed to setting capacity aside for MVNOs and new entrants. In August 2014, a possible merger between T-Mobile and Sprint in the United States was abandoned, reportedly because the players did not think they would receive regulatory approval. This appears to indicate that regulators are not convinced that a reduction from four to three operators is good for the functioning of the market. With some operators now proposing to help to establish a new fourth operator as part of the commitments to allow for a merger, the rationale behind allowing mergers from four to three operators may be reduced.

In countries with four or more mobile operators benefits to consumers are visible through more competitive, more inclusive, and more understandable offers. A reduction in prices or an increase in the content of the offer can be seen in Austria, France and Israel under four-MNO markets. Unlimited offers did not really exist in France and Israel before the arrival of new entrants and those offers that approached unlimited were expensive.

International mobile roaming is another area where challenger brands are changing markets. At the time of the OECD Recommendation on International Mobile Roaming, in February 2012, no mobile operator in any OECD country included this service as an integral part of their offer. Since 2013, a growing number of offers from MNOs that include international mobile roaming as an integral part of their bundles have been made in countries with four or more operators. Such offers have largely not yet emerged in countries with three operators.

Some financial analysts, telecommunication consultants and mobile operators have contended that a reduction in industry revenues could lead to lower investment. Other analysts state: “Consolidation is an option but there are others too: network sharing is less risky and brings large savings as well.” Across the OECD, investment in public telecommunications networks in fixed and mobile networks, excluding spectrum fees, remained rather stable between 1997 and 2011. The direct implications for investment resulting from the number of MNOs are even more challenging to ascertain. Where data are available they should be carefully assessed but generally describe a positive outcome. For example, in France the introduction of a fourth MNO has brought forward 4G investments.

Network sharing could be considered as an alternative to the concentration that would result from full mergers. The potential savings from network sharing may represent a significant proportion of the savings that are used to justify a full merger. Where there is significant competition among MNOs and new facilities entry is unlikely, the benefits of these savings are more likely to be passed on to consumers. However, regulators will need to remain vigilant because under some conditions network sharing agreements may lead to a decrease in competition similar to that experienced with a merger.

MVNOs have focussed predominantly on markets underserved by MNOs. In a few countries, where the model had not been embraced, MVNOs were instrumental in promoting pre-paid mobile telephony. A further example is MVNOs that offer services to a certain diaspora or provide service support in specific languages. Mobile roaming has also been an area in which MVNOs have entered the market, though there are limitations because they may not be able to directly negotiate roaming contracts with MNOs. If policy makers want MVNOs to play a significant role in boosting competitiveness it is important that they can choose to be full MVNOs. Only half of OECD countries currently have full-MVNOs.

An important development in this area has been the first moves towards liberalisation of access for private virtual network operators, particularly for use with M2M. This means private companies (vehicle manufacturers, energy networks, governments) have access to the IMSI-numbers necessary for SIM-cards. In March 2014, the Netherlands was the first country that enabled this form of roaming, by allowing private networks access to the necessary IMSI-number ranges. Already one Dutch energy company, Enexis, has registered as a private virtual network operator. In addition, Germany has started a consultation on whether it should allow MVNOs and M2M-users access to IMSI-numbers, in line with the initiative taken in the Netherlands.

Useful links

Today, the OECD is also publishing a report on the economics of IPv6. The report examines what economic theory can teach us about the reasons why the adoption of this latest Internet protocol is taking longer than was thought at its introduction.

The Perfect Life for International People? What Surveys Reveal about Life Abroad

Wish you were here?
Wish you were here?

Today’s post is from Margit Grobbel of InterNations

Back in middle school, my classmates and I used to make up a game called “Anywhere but here” to while away the time during cover lessons and study hall. It involved closing your eyes, flicking through an atlas, and randomly pointing your finger at a map. Then you had to invent an elaborate story about your life in wherever you would end up.

Obviously, most adults contemplating a move abroad would want to make a more informed decision. Expat surveys and country rankings are a handy way of comparing potential destinations and getting an idea of what the quality of life, cost of living, etc., is like. But can such surveys actually tell us where life is best for expatriates?

As the world’s largest online community for expatriates, we kicked off the Expat insider Survey 2014 to gain insights into what daily life abroad is like for our international member base. We were particularly interested in seeing how satisfied they are with their respective destination.

A pivotal part of the survey report consists of a comprehensive country ranking, based on participants’ ratings of various factors, from leisure options to childcare costs. However, once we finished analyzing the data and compiling the ranking, some results rather surprised us, sparking heated discussions on our social media channels as well.

The highest-ranking expat destination on our overall index turned out to be Ecuador. The third place went to Mexico, ahead of such presumed favorites as Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia.

At the InterNations office, we hadn’t really given much thought to Ecuador, beyond its great reputation among trekking enthusiasts and wildlife watchers. As for Mexico, we were aware of local issues with personal safety, violence, and the impact of organized crime.

Such seemingly counter-intuitive results prompted us to take a closer look at our data. The areas where Mexico (or Ecuador, for that matter) do particularly well mainly include the “soft” topics featured in our ratings: how welcoming a country and its culture feel to new arrivals, how friendly the people are, or how easy it is to make new friends abroad.

When it comes to the “hard” facts, like working hours or medical care, our respondents’ subjective ratings are less strikingly different from what objective statistics would suggest. Let’s take just one example:

We asked the participants to judge the quality of education in their current country of residence. In this category, Mexico ranks 20th out of 34 countries altogether. If we counted only the OECD member states in this rating, Mexico would rank 15th out of 21.

The OECD Better Life Index, on the other hand, uses several statistical sources to assess the quality of education: the number of years spent in education, the percentage of the population that has completed upper secondary school, and the PISA test results.

Here Mexico sadly comes last out of 36 countries. If we included just the OECD member states also featured in the Expat Insider ranking for quality of education, Mexico would still be last out of 21 destinations.

The subjective assessment in our survey is thus somewhat better than what the statistics suggest. However, our survey population is not representative of the average Mexican citizen.

Our data for Mexico reveal that expat parents are very likely to have an academic degree themselves and to send their children to private schools. It might be reasonable to assume that socioeconomic factors could compensate for some potential disadvantages when it comes to the quality of education, or the quality of life in general.

What really boosted the overall ranking of both Mexico and Ecuador, though, was the respondents’ high personal satisfaction with life abroad. Its impact is partially a methodological issue, as this question was assigned disproportionate weight in the factors contributing to the country ranking.

Interestingly, however, this observation also tallies with life satisfaction in the OECD Better Life Index. Though Mexico doesn’t perform particularly well in areas like safety or income, its life satisfaction score of 7.4 out of 10 puts it among the top 10, on a par with Australia, Sweden, or the Netherlands.

While we can’t explain the somewhat baffling contrast in the OECD index, we can hazard a guess as to why our expat respondents in Mexico might be so happy.

Our survey population in Mexico skews rather differently from the global average with regard to various characteristics. They are noticeably older than the average respondent (by about five years), and they include a disproportionate number of US nationals.

Moreover, there’s a high percentage of people with dual citizenship, who are Mexican due to family background, marriage, or naturalization. Over 80% of respondents also state that they have at least fairly good Spanish skills. Factors like these would mitigate the impact of culture shock and the potential sources of frustration with living abroad.

We have used a fairly broad definition of “expat” that includes people from all walks of life who have chosen to live and/or work abroad. In Mexico, the “typical” expat (a senior employee or manager on a foreign assignment) is actually rare among our survey respondents. They rather feature a fairly high quota of retirees, teachers, or expats in various forms of self-employment. Their choice of destination was probably not subordinate to the demands of their career.

When we look at the reasons they give for moving to Mexico, these imply a certain degree of personal freedom as well. Participants say that they enjoy living abroad in general or that they were looking for a place with a lower cost of living; that they have always wanted to live in Mexico, or even that they moved for love.

Therefore, it’s not all that surprising that four in ten respondents in Mexico consider staying forever, compared to a global average of one in four.

This case study leads us back to our original question: Do expat surveys tell us where life is perfect for expatriates? Maybe they tell us it’s time to rephrase the question: Where is life abroad perfect for whom?

Useful links

OECD Better Life Index