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Weekly Roundup: politics and social enterprise, famine in Somalia, and Murdoch, Murdoch, Murdoch

   /   Jul 22nd, 2011Africa, East Africa, Europe, Famine In Somalia, Government, News, United Kingdom, Weekly Roundup

Didn’t have time to read the news this week? We’re reporting on the conversations surrounding the world of social entrepreneurship and innovation. This week was all about Big Structures and Systems, and ultimately pointed to one question–without political action, are social enterprises mere Band Aids, or truly harbingers of change?

We’re still test-driving this editorial feature so suggestions or additions are welcome – add them in the comments.

Politics and Social Enterprise

Anan Giridharadas kicked off the discussion on social enterprises last week with his New York Times Op-Ed, Real Change Requires Politics. He argues that social entrepreneurs need to fight for structural, political change and claims that social problems aren’t simple inefficiencies, but rather policy failures. In other words: all the brilliant ways we can come up with to bring solar lamps to Indian villages won’t change the fact that the government fails to provide electricity.

On Twitter, @lpolgreen and @azthedance agreed, noting that social entrepreneurship has obvious limits. However, several commenters bristled at Giridharadas’ argument noting that as social enterprise innovations start to work, politics will likely follow.  Others pointed out that the best social entrepreneurs do involve government or business in their solution, and that’s the most sustainable model.

Meanwhile, several nascent change-via-politics movements–the kind Giridharadas advocates for–bubbled up across the globe. Australia generated buzz with a comprehensive Carbon Tax on the countries’ 500 worst polluters. China will pilot a carbon emissions program. And the UK is implementing similar legislation, though some people do see contradictions in the policy.

The debate about how to affect change also entered UK Parliament this week, as a House of Lords committee bluntly stated that nudging people into healthier behavior won’t work without the threat of regulation. Their statement came in response to a government policy based on “nudging”– a theory of behavior change that suggests that small actions, like setting a minimum price for alcohol, will subtly urge people to change their behavior. The committee is vying instead for “traffic-light” nutrition labels and restricted advertising on both children’s and adult’s television shows.

But they also voiced their concern that governments simply don’t know enough about how to change people’s behaviors. ”It’s exactly this kind of evidence – evidence about how to bring about change on a large scale – that is most relevant to what governments do,” said committee chair, Baroness Neuberger. ”The fact that not much is known about how to change the behaviour of a population is a real cause for concern and means the government still has quite a lot of work to do.”

Murdoch, Murdoch, Murdoch

The dominant news this week, by far, was the phone hacking scandal surrounding Murdoch’s News of The World. The story broke in early July that the UK tabloid had illegally hacked thousands of private cell messages, from Prince William’s  to those of 9/11 victims and a murdered 13-year-old girl. As the case unfolds, it has rippled out to Scotland Yard and politics. Disputed testimonies will show how many towering British political and media figures will fall, and in the meantime, ProPublica breaks down the numbers: 10 arrests, 7 resignations, one 3.5 million pound payout and one pie slap-down spectacle.

As expected, the media heavyweights opined. Carl Bernstein said only those who have been “willfully ignorant to that empire’s pernicious influence on journalism in the English-speaking world” should be surprised. Jay Rosen postulated that NOTW top brass, sadly, really thought they practiced good journalism. Jeff Jarvis saw the Murdoch trial as pure public relations trying to cover up close ties between institutional journalism and institutional government.

Slate also stepped into the good-journalism-is-dying meme by reminding us that scandal has peppered the media’s history. Our American journalistic heroes, like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were not any better than Murdoch. Their tabloids faked deaths, investigations and missing and found body parts, all to terrorize the public and of course, sell papers.

But what’s less discussed is that, in this case, journalism was the vehicle for social change.  Many argue that newspapers aren’t what they used to be, but as the New York Times’  David Carr noted, in the end it was newspapers that exposed the corruption that permeated NoTW and reached the highest levels of Britain’s government. Ultimately, a multitude of media innovators, like the Pulitzer CenterProPublica and the UK’s Centre for Investigative Journalism are working to ensure that journalism-as-public-trust stays alive.

Plus, citizen media now provides the public with the means to voice their own concerns and demand transparency. Want to boycott Murdoch? There’s an app for that! A Boycott Murdoch Twitter campaign also gained some steam. And in the ultimate mainstream-meets-citizen-media move,  NPR reminded us that boycotting Murdoch would be difficult: he also owns Hulu, the Lakers, The Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins books.

Though phone hacking doesn’t exactly fall under the realm of social justice, this scandal does remind us that the media can act as a vehicle for social change.  It’s a big institution that sets priorities and highlights disasters as such. The Times Of London published a controversial cartoon, asking why the media lavishes attention upon Murdoch when a famine is underway in Somalia, and though some dubbed it “disgusting” (since Murdoch owns the Times), others claimed that it makes a valid point regarding the media’s priorities.

“I don’t know why people are upset by The Times cartoon today,” wrote The Telegraph’s Rob Crilly. ”Be shocked–but not at the pic.”

UN Declares Famine in Somalia

On Wednesday, the UN declared famine in Somalia, the first in the 21st century. It’s the first in Africa in three decades, and a shocking 12 million people need immediate aid. The word famine is not used lightly, and is only applied if a crisis meets specified criteria–severe lack of food access for a large population, malnutrition rates exceeding 30 percent and more than two people per 10,000 people dying each day–and the UN estimates that a whopping $300 million is needed. For a deeper overview, check out The Guardian’s nice explainer.

The sad truth, as OxFam notes, is that famines don’t just spring up out of nowhere–they are the result of underlying political failure. The crisis was brought on by the worst drought in 60 years, coupled with battling militias that have isolated civilians and kept aid workers out of the country since 1992. It’s “the most problematic and challenging refugee situation in the world,” according to UNHCR Chief Antonio Guterres. And just today, Somali militants vowed to continue to block international aid workers from their country.

But despite the slow build, the international community has largely ignored the developing crisis. Though the Pulitzer Center did its part to keep the story in the news (check this great piece on Somali refugees in Kenya), the Guardian notes that overall the media has under-reported the food crisis.

Some countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia, have promised additional aid, but David Cameron has been blasting the EU for not providing enough support. OxFam echoed his sentiments, calling the doleful response “willful neglect” and insisting that this cannot happen again–especially when solutions do, in fact, exist.

As several noted, food aid is needed, but it’s not the long-term answer. Ultimately, famines are better prevented than cured.  Well- implemented aid that protects citizens and provides food to children, alongside long-term development programs like One Acre Fund–which supports subsistence agriculture–could have helped prevent the disaster.

Helen de Jode wrote a fascinating piece in The Guardian exploring the contradictions between the Horn of Africa’s pastoralist culture and modern agriculture, fundamental differences that must be addressed to prevent another disaster.

The discussion about how to prevent a similar crisis will likely continue for several months, but the initial search for solutions  brings us back to Giridharada’s argument that we need a multiplicity of efforts, large-scale government action, alongside nimble social entrepreneurs and innovators, supporting farmers and creating better aid products, to affect social and political change.

Random Reading for Your Weekend:

  • Is it appropriate for nonprofit funders to think of themselves as investors? A SII Review discussion
  • Science blogger Joerg Heber explores how we keep scientific innovation amid massive budget cuts
  • New studies find the drug Truvada is successful in prevention of HIV/AIDS infection.
  • American girls swept the Google Science Fair.
  • There’s a new blog on sparking social innovation in Egypt – from someone who’s actually in Egypt
  • Wired ran an extensive piece of solution journalism on the education phenomenon, The Khan Academy.
  • Jacqueline O’Neill argues in the CSMonitor that what Sudan needs now is more women.
  • It was Nelson Mandela Day this week.

And finally, just a couple new reports:

2 Responses

  1. NadePaulKuciGravMcKi says:

    Murdoch’s Andy Coulson was Cameron’s Communications Director;
    Murdoch’s Tony Snow was Bush’s White House Press Secretary

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