TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | The pitfalls of INGOs going local
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  • The pitfalls of INGOs going local
  • Uganda passes legislation imposing a daily tax for social media use
  • Merkel proposes to tax big data
  • India monitors foreign funding to NGOs
  • Global scan on the role of philanthropy in using data for good
  • Effective altruism – a new way of charitable giving
  • New report on creating and using stories for transparency and accountability
  • Research roadmap on digital disinformation


In case you missed it…

A few weeks back we flagged Sam Moyn’s argument that the human rights movement risks irrelevance if it cannot adequately address inequality – a critique that seemed all too pertinent for the transparency and accountability community. Now another take from the human rights world offers similar resonance – this time highlighting the perils of well-intentioned efforts to “go local.”  Mona Younis lays out how international NGOs may actually hinder the building of domestic constituencies as they scale up their local presence.

One place where INGOs (and funders) have faced growing issues is India, where the opposition is criticizing what they style as Big Brother moves by the government, including plans for a 24/7 social media communication hub labeled the “worst example of using tax payers’ money to snoop on tax payers.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has launched an “Online Analytical Tool” seeking to monitor foreign funding to almost 25,000 NGOs. Civic space tracker may want to dive into that data, plus seven years’ worth of Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) advisory opinions soon to be posted by the US Department of Justice. According to Lydia Dennet, this information should provide clarity and transparency to FARA, which has been criticized for being overly vague and broad. On the multilateral stage, landmark ISHR research outlines how states prevent or restrict civil society participation in UN processes.

Podcast of the week: The Universal Deduction Lives by Independent Sector

Podcast highlights include impact of foreign policy on the independent sector’s work and the universal charitable deduction

From organizational data to personal: Jon Fasman dives deep into the promise and pitfalls of data and surveillance for justice systems – and don’t imagine these issues will be limited to OECD contexts. Stephanie Hankey breaks down how our data are being used for political campaigns. The research found 40 data-driven methods used for political influence by over 250 companies.  Preparations are underway in countries with upcoming elections. For example, in Mexico 90 media and civil society organizations  are working on a collaborative fact-checking and debunking initiative. What are EU countries up to? Many have tried crowdsourced factchecking, but Mevan Babakar explains why it hasn’t worked.  Given Facebook’s central role in all these issues, is it time for Facebook users to organize themselves as a union? Yes, according to activists in the Netherlands who launched a “data labor union”.

If the world is drowning in data, why is the philanthropic sector behind in harnessing its potential for social change? A global scan outlines the key challenges foundations face in working with data, as well as future opportunities (look out for TAI’s forthcoming guidance on making successful governance data investments). John Oates advises – get the infrastructure right and start small in using big data for good, while Asha Curran and Julia Rhodes Davis urge social sector organizations to invest in code switchers across every vertical of the organizations.

Talking of data technologies, it’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve mentioned blockchain. Likely welcome news to Mike Pisa at the Center for Global Development whose frank take on whether a blockchain is really the answer you are looking for, includes this helpful decision tree…

For social media lovers, can you imagine having to pay every time you check Facebook or Instagram?  In Uganda, new legislation imposes a daily tax of 20 shillings (five cents) for social media use. Proponents defend the legislation saying it serves to raise revenue for public services and to combat online “gossip”; activists claim it would stifle free speech. Elsewhere, Papua New Guinea will block Facebook for a month. The government’s story – a necessary step to investigate fake profiles, misinformation and pornography. Critics are concerned it’s because the social media platform is used to expose government corruption.

Social media companies seem to be an increasingly popular source of domestic revenue as in Egypt, Australia, the UK and Pakistan.  The UK Treasury argues  it’s time digital companies pay “fair” levels of tax (note that Facebook has been accused of tax avoidance). Though in Israel, social media is utilized for the same purpose but in a different way – to track down bitcoin tax evaders. Angela Merkel’s preferred approach? Tax big data, although that prompts the question – how do you determine the value of data?

Thinking about revenues, it has been three years since countries/funders committed to strengthening tax and non-tax revenues under the Addis Tax Initiative. Oxfam’s latest report highlights key shortcomings in how both donors and governments are pursuing or supporting DRM.  By joining the Initiative Oxfam may hope to lead by example and stir the pot. Further ammunition was provided by Thabo Mbeki, who last week reemphasized the importance of transparency and public accountability in the tax realm to help reach the SDGs (view his speech).  He was speaking at the Stockholm Tax Conference – get a sense of the discussions via the twitter thread, or, top up your coffee, and watch the full set of session videos.  

Other tax updates this past week – a new legislation in the US seeks to curb tax avoidance by ending tax incentives for outsourcing or shifting jobs and profits offshore. Is Malaysia on its way to beneficial ownership transparency? A Putin oligarch has been accused of using Scottish shell companies to launder millions of dollars. And here are ODI’s latest seven things to read on public finance and development.

Long read of the week: The Open Revolution by Rufus Pollock

Envisaging a world where digital information is open to all

We’ve been featuring how evidence inform policy in previous issues, but Enrique Mendizabal offers a fresh insight, something we might be more than keen to admit –  “emotions rather than facts drive policymaking forward – or backwards”. Meanwhile, the Open Philanthropy Project is doing the exact opposite. The foundation’s approach to giving is guided by effective altruism – the idea that giving should be based on reason and evidence to do good.

Every year, the slice of revenue from online fundraising is increasing.  Heather Joslyn highlights cases of non-profits successfully using crowdfunding and giving days.

Finally, all change at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – not only are they searching for a new Chair (want the job? See here), but now a new ED, too, as Jonas Moberg announced he’s stepping down.


TAI spotlight

Report summarizes the January 2018 discussion between Hewlett Foundation and Ford Foundation on the impact of disinformation on democracy

Foundation presidents, including Ford Foundations’ Darren Walker, share insights on the role of philanthropy and the potential of impact investing, in addressing injustice and inequality

Omidyar Network partners with other funders to support 22 grants for African media groups working on various issues such as fake news among others


Read our blog

‘We’re on a quest for stories that can remake the world. But — spoiler alert — the quest often ends in disappointment. How can we create and use stories for transparency and accountability?’ Read author Jed Miller’s blog on our latest report


Of potential interest

AI is powerful, but what happens when things go wrong? Nick Diaopoulous talks about the role of journalists in holding powerful algorithms to account

EU’s GPDR pushes Brazilian authorities to take digital privacy more seriously

From one tech CEO to another, Microsoft CEO offers advice to Mark Zuckerberg

The only TV station in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s authoritarian regime was not broadcasting the real news. So, these activists made their own

President Trumps makes an average of 6.5 false claims every day since being in power

Should foreign aid be taxed? This ODI paper sets out the arguments for and against tax exemptions