TAI Weekly | April 24, 2018
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In case you missed it…


The IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings were the prompt for an overwhelming number of panels, seminars and side events in Washington DC this past week. Of course, the topics were varied, but we pick up a few as inspiration for this Weekly, starting with corruption. This was a more prominent theme than of late, including a big name panel (watch the video) prompting Sophie Edwards’ six takeaways. Not that this was enough to prevent Michael Jarvis lamenting the failure to take better advantage of all the assembled brain power – he pleads for better dialogue (“ban the panel”).

Alina Mangui-Pippidi was among those in DC and, amid the fallout over Facebook and privacy, offered a reminder of the positive power of social media platforms in mobilizing citizen action, including against the corrupt. Government efforts to restrict public access are testament to her point. In Russia, the popular messaging app Telegram is being blocked (albeit unsuccessfully at time of writing), and Iran might follow suit. A US rights group has reported periodic internet shutdowns in Kashmir and China has ordered to shut down one of the country’s most widely used news site for “vulgar” content. More concerning cases have been documented in Iraq, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Colombia, Ethiopia and the US.

Restrictions on media and civic space continue offline, for the sake of “stability” in the case of Cameroon, and to “guard against terrorism funding” in the case of Uganda. See also cases in Georgia, Myanmar, Colombia, and Niger. In Hungary, things are bound to get worse – Orban won and is likely to pass the “Stop Soros” laws, and Open Society Foundations may exit. A new report by the Human Security Collective and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law highlights how global regulations on money laundering and terrorism financing can negatively affect humanitarian and development work (one topic of upcoming dialogues among funders reconciling competing policy objectives). 

Talking of money laundering, Max de Haldevang calls out the G7’s “hypocrisy” over North Korea’s money laundering. Will the newly passed revised EU 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive help? NGOs still point to the failure to include trusts and foreign companies under the new rules.

If 7 can be laggards, so can be 20. The latest report from Transparency International (featured at its own Spring Meetings session) shows that majority of the G20 countries are still in the dark as to who owns and controls shell companies and trusts due to weak legal frameworks despite adopting Beneficial Ownership Principles in 2014.  Just six of the G20 have central registers; only the UK’s is public. Although on that note, UK authorities just celebrated the “first ever” prosecution for filing false corporate information. Less impressive when one reads that they were notified by the defendant himself – the act of anti-fraud campaigner Kevin Brewer demonstrating how easy it was to file false information. He was fined £12,000 for his trouble.

If corporate registries have finally got global attention, so too have ideas to end arm’s length pricing in the tax world. Unitary taxation and its potential to deal with transfer pricing troubles and the like has migrated from crazy to considered judging by a full day conference on the topic Sunday at the World Bank.  Alex Cobham says it’s a long fight ahead but a progressive shift is underway.

Talking about tax crazy, here’s some comic (but still highly informative) relief – John Oliver taking a deep dive into corporate tax code and avoidance. How might we mobilize satire to do the same elsewhere? (Want to know more about the US fiscal picture? After 3 years and 11 months of work, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Fiscal Service has launched the Data Lab portal, including a revamped USAspending.gov site.)  

Key Takeaways from John Oliver’s Segment on Corporate Tax Avoidance

Our recommended long read of the moment – New Power by Jeremy Heimans (CEO of Purpose) and Henry Timms (who helped create Giving Tuesday). The authors talk about the rise of the “new power” to explain some of today’s biggest phenomena (e.g. the #MeToo movement) and offer a roadmap to building social movements and linking these to organizational objectives. For a headline take on what new power looks like see Heimans talk a couple of years back.

Our number of the week – 39. The Sunlight Foundation shares 39 fresh ideas to support community use of open data.  Meanwhile, at the other big gathering last week at TicTec, Rebecca Rumbul could re-emphasize her point for the OECD that digital skills will increasingly become as important as basic literacy. Check out the #TicTec inspirations from Lisbon here.

How can donors share data responsibly? We are keeping our eyes peeled for an upcoming resource guide by Ariadne, The Engine Room and 360Giving, on how human rights funders can responsibly share data about their grants and grantees (answer the survey – it’s quick and easy!).  What motivates funders to share data? Tom Walker cites five reasons. As a donor collaborative focused on transparency and accountability, we are continuously exploring approaches to proactive transparency among donors and grantees to boost learning and strategizing (while mitigating any potential harms.) A few examples in recent months – Open Society Foundations’ blogs on their new strategy for the fiscal governance portfolio and grants database,  MacArthur Foundation’s strengthened information sharing policy (see story on TAI spotlight below), and Omidyar Network’s (“why we invested in”) blog series.

Local funding has advantages – it can facilitate local organizations’ ownership over the agenda and strategies, and counter growing restrictions on overseas support in many jurisdictions – but Barbara Klugman reminds that there are instances where foreign funding remains vital. In those cases, how to be a better donor? Issa Cato counts (ten) ways. Perhaps this philanthropic guide to diversity, equity and inclusion will be useful too? What about being a better foundation program officer? Vuyiswa Sidzumo of Ford Foundation recounts lessons from 13 years of experience.

Finally, last week we flagged Ruth Levine’s call to stop the annual report madness.  Clearly, we are a little crazy, because we immediately released – you guessed it – our TAI annual report. Read why we did it, and dig into our biggest learnings from last year, before you decide to confine to the virtual trash bin.


TAI spotlight


Of potential interest

Swiss Banks Get Best Lawyers in Petrobras Probe, Prosecutor Say – Michael Lauber is suing at least one Swiss Bank for its participation in the Petrobras scandal. His problem – Swiss banks hire the best lawyers.

Human Rights and Internet Technology: Six Considerations Corinne Cath and Ben Zevenbergen share six considerations on how digital technology can help support the exercise of human rights

Understanding DRC’s New Mining Law Power Play – Daniel Mule asks if the Congolese power will benefit

OpenGov Week – Check what events are happening in your area

Facebook Scandal: Let’s Turn Our Attention from How Data is Collected to How It Gets Used – Amid the Cambridge Analytica, Jeni Tennison and Fiona Smith say quitting the social platform is not the practical solution. Instead, push for controls, good governance, and transparency over how our personal data is used

Watch: Aruna Roy on the Historic Journey of the Right to Information Act – The Wire interviews social activist Aruna Roy on the history of the right to information movement

I’ve Seen Inside the Digital Propaganda Machine. And It’s Dark in There – Propaganda expert talks about the results of his investigations on Cambridge Analytica, SCL and Leave.EU

The Backlash Against Sharing Social Media Data Is Bad for Science – Joshua New makes the case for the benefits of using social media data in research

Battling Misinformation: How to Fight Back Against Fake News – Webinar tackles what drives the misinformation system and what communicators can do about it