TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | The big and scary stuff
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  • The big and scary stuff
  • Digital heaven or hell?
  • It’s all rigged
  • From reckoning to change
  • Funder watch
  • Lessons the COVID-19 crisis can teach us about data-driven storytelling


The big and scary stuff

Image by Shutterstock via Aged Care Guide

We start with the big picture. Martin Wolf reminds us of the centrality of accountability and the rule of law to global power trajectories. The U.S. seemingly intent on undermining those qualities, while in China, their absence, “makes the state too strong and civil society too weak.”

Meanwhile, Phillip Alston sends out a warning in his final report as a UN rapporteur: “the UN and its member states are sleepwalking towards failure and five years after their adoption, it’s time to acknowledge that the SDGs are simply not going to be met” and the “international community’s abysmal record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life” far precede COVID-19 that has exacerbated concerns.

What might help? Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, long time transparency champion, calls for government to “open up” to fight COVID and its aftermath. She argues that we won’t see sustained economic recovery without “a new social compact between governments and citizens based on transparent, accountable and trustworthy governance.“ A well-timed piece amid her candidacy to lead the World Trade Organization.

Any revisions to the social contract won’t come without a fight. So, perhaps encouraging that despite the seemingly unfavorable conditions for protests, recent update to the Global Protest Tracker shows mass demonstrations are surging back.  From the Black Lives Matter Movement to street protests regarding Kyrgyzstan internet gagging law,  Thomas Carothers and David Wong shares where and why these protests are happening and caution there may be more socio-political turbulence in the month ahead.

To give us further evidence, the European Union and International IDEA have launched a new tool for monitoring the impacts of the pandemic on democracy and human rights. It’s designed to be “a one-stop-shop” on all measures taken in 162 countries. Meanwhile, Global Integrity launches Outside In, a series of reflections on US governance challenges from experts working on governance issues outside of the US, to promote cross-country learning, and solidarity.

Digital heaven or hell?

Image via: The University of Texas at El Paso

The OECD’s dig into digital transformation and how it may shape the trajectory of civic space to 2030 – good to see they also cover policy implications for OECD and DAC members. On the bleaker side, Beijing’s new national security law and ensuing crackdown for Hong Kong raises questions about the global fight over digital rights and internet freedom. Does it signal a new phase in the rise of digital authoritarianism?

Is the internet a democratizing force, or is it becoming a source of new challenges for democracy?  Jennifer Forestal uses Hannah Arendt’s writings as a framework for assessing how well the digital world supports democratic politics.  Forestal uses Facebook as a key example – a timely case study, given that Facebook’s own civil rights auditors criticized the company’s practices on free speech and disinformation in a scathing report this week.  

In what has been called the “post-truth era,” there are concerns about the quality of open data as well.  Adrienne Colborne and Michael Smit go deeper into various disinformation risks that arise when it comes to collecting and using open data.

As COVID19 tracking applications become more widespread and sophisticated, the UK government faces a court case over questions of data protection and privacy.  In the spirit of their Call for Action earlier this year, GovLab has launched a new hub for #Data4COVID19 efforts at data4covid19.org

In light of emerging technologies and pandemic-related threats, the UN’s Secretary General’s refreshed Data Strategy explores unique opportunities to advance global “data action,” while the European Statistical System is heralding a “fundamental paradigm shift” in the way official statistics are produced. Their new statistical concept, currently under development, stems from a consideration of new technologies, new digital data sources, and new behaviors in modern democracies.

Changes are clearly not exclusive to government use of data. OpenCorporates has released a new report on access to company data in the EU – and notes some disheartening results.  Among their takeaways: low access to company data contributes to widening inequality.

Essential Read: A1+1 Shaping our integrated Future

For a broader look at one formidable technology and its potential impact on society, the Rockefeller Foundation’s latest publication on artificial intellgience is a must-read.  As Foundation President Raj Shah notes: “Our charge is to ensure AI solves problems instead of creating new ones.” This collection ranges from AI to aid information access for accountability to the morals of AI to the myth of full machine autonomy to the importance of inclusive data standards for inclusive AI benefits. 

It’s all rigged

Bryan Harris details how COVID corruption cases are on the rise in Latin America (further evidence to TAI’s Michael Jarvis’ call to invest in good governance in the region’s fight against the pandemic). More specifically, Transparency International President in Panama, Carlos Barsallo, worries about adjudication of corruption cases  when there is already a backlog of cases of traditional political corruption pending in the judicial system.

Switching regions, traditional, largely punitive, anti-corruption measures will not do the trick in Dubai, argue Matthew Page and Jodi Vittori. Thriving gold and property markets and many free trade zones are among the factors to consider in mitigating the illicit financial flows, which some Emirati officials consider to be a strong suit for their economy.  Speaking of property markets – a hotel tied to an enormous foreign bribery case, seized by the US government, is now on sale and authorities are targeting a sale of greater than $100m, a bargain, considering the fugitive owner put in $40m of renovations and the average room price is north of $600.

Coalition for Integrity’s Shruti Shah suggests measures to strengthen oversight of US stimulus funds as Casey Michel and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira takes an incisive look back at the BCCI scandal in the 1990s which foreshadowed modern transnational kleptocracy that has taken root worldwide over the past decade.

Talking of kleptocrats, interesting to read the Financial Times series on the need for a new social contract this past week, including a warning of worsening “rigged capitalism” if we don’t all learn to act and think as citizens, plus how the financial crisis born of the health crisis will make governments more intent to squeeze money from multinationals and – perhaps – clamp down more seriously on tax avoidance. 

Existing trade and investment treaties may be standing in the way of revenue raising and pandemic recovery in developing countries, according to a GDP Center report released this week.  Tax treaties have led to revenue losses, too, and a new report on tax treaties frameworks in Africa reviews the history of tax treaties and their impact in the region.  When it comes to international tax challenges, Mustapha Ndajiwo proposes a series of solutions to African countries.

Resource rich countries face a fiscal crunch worse than most, at least for those exporting fossil fuels.  Amid that context, an expert panel, moderated by EITI, makes the case for transparency and accountability in the extractives industries as a means to maintain stability in these challenges. Sambit Bhattacharyya proposes three ways that the oil and gas industry can step up to support good governance in Africa.  In the Republic of Congo specifically, a significant oil discovery could transform the country’s economy – but is being viewed with scepticism by industry leaders and environmentalists.

Essential Listening: Maria Ressa and an attack on free press in the Philippines

In this episode, journalist Carmela Fonbuena in Manila describes the chilling effect the verdict of Maria Ressa has had on free expression in the Philippines, following the ‘cyberlibel’ conviction of one of the country’s most prominent journalists.

From reckoning to change

Amid today’s uncertainty, CSOs need to find ways to adapt and keep working. In that vein, Daniel Burwood shares Integrity Action’s success and learnings so far as they invest in efforts to improve their monitoring, evaluation and learning work. Oxfam’s new anthology shares insight from 11 nonprofit leaders on the power of narratives through their lived experiences on diverse ways of reclaiming power by amplifying and changing narrative power across the world (good to pair with TAI’s brief and blog on responsible storytelling– see TAI Spotlight below).

We recently featured survey data detailing the pandemic impacts on civil society groups in Africa. Now new data from the Center for Effective Philanthropy sheds light on impacts on those in the US. Interesting to note that those CSOs without the support of staffed foundations are much more likely to be significantly affected.

What about responses to the renewed attention on racial injustice? For a non-profit industry-wide impact, Alex Martins and Lorriann Robinson plan to launch The Equity Index to promote and evaluate equity in the UK development sector. They will be taking a holistic look at how development organizations and people within them continue to prioritize equity. Meantime, Wendy Cukier and Erica Wright shares how Ryerson’s Diversity Institute translates research on diversity and inclusion into practice by using a systems approach to address barriers for underrepresented groups, improve social outcomes, and support economic growth.

Kerrien Suarez weighs in on the ongoing racial equity “reckoning” debate, noting that the deep work is needed to make racial equity integral. She says the first step towards building a race equity culture is to understand that racism takes many form – personal, institutional, interpersonal, and structural. Also, check out Trabian Shorter’s recommendations on how not to be racist in your approach to development.

What should funders do? Melinda Tuan asked nonprofits to implement more systematic ways of listening and call for foundations to “change and become positive and supportive places for people of color to thrive and succeed.” That CEP report offers some ideas as what funders can do and Maximilian Martin list eight key ways funders can reestablish philanthropic vitality after the emergency.

Funder watch

Devin O’Shaughnessy of Westminster Foundation for Democracy highlights how DFID’s expertise might enhance UK foreign policy, while DFID veteran Graham Teskey applies his governance adviser lens to the political nuances around the demise of his old employer and flags potential next steps and five things he will be watching not least the extent of commitment to research, evaluation and learning.

Finally, DFID has always been a top performer on the Aid Transparency Index. Will that be true of the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office? It certainly prompted us to catch up on the 2020 Aid Transparency Index and note that only a minority of donors are publishing project results and fewer still publishing project reviews and evaluations, limiting the ability of stakeholders to gauge the effectiveness and value of aid spending. It’s a good prompt to ongoing conversations within TAI on how our members can make the most of such “grey literature” and assure they and their partners learn from the world of commissioned information. 

What support will help you navigate today’s operational challenges? Take this survey to gauge civil society needs in 2020 and beyond

The overlapping crises of 2020 are reshaping the way nonprofits operate. How are you responding to our rapidly changing world? What new and emerging technological challenges do you face? Share your views via the TechSoup survey. The results of this survey will help nonprofits get the training, services, and support necessary to leverage the power of technology for social good. 


TAI Spotlight: Lessons the COVID-19 crisis can teach us about data-driven storytelling

Lessons the COVID-19 crisis can teach us about data-driven storytelling | Transparency and Accountability Initiative

TAI’s Executive Director, Michael Jarvis and 3Bridges’ Jed Miller shares important lessons on the impact of data-driven storytelling on the future of civil society.

#TandCPhilanthropy Summit: Darren Walker on The 24-Hour Philanthropy Cycle | Ford Foundation

Listen to Ford Foundation President Darren Walker’s talk about why we need to reimagine philanthropy in today’s evolving world at Town and Country Philanthropy summit.

Learning with funders about diversity, equity, and inclusion in international grantmaking | Hewlett Foundation

Q&A with Leticia Corona reflects on her three year fellowship working with Hewlett colleagues to apply principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion to the program’s international grantmaking. Great to see so many of the Transparency, Participation and Accountability team so actively involved.

Will Banning Facial Recognition Solve Our Surveillance Problems? | Open Society Foundations

As debate around facial recognition technology increases, Associate Legal Officer at Open Society Justice Initiative, Nora Mbaghati warns that the problems with surveillance are much bigger, and more global, than they appear.


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