Weekly Roundup: Upbeat News to Start the New Year?

January 3rd, 2012 10:30 AM

The Christian Science Monitor did a series recently, citing all the trends that are making the world a better place — yes, it may actually be getting better. Contrary to the news of environmental disasters, crazy weather patterns, global demonstrations against inequality, and worries about famine, the CSM reports that we might be able to fulfill MDG goals in the near future, that wars are a less likely occurrence, that the gender gap is narrowing, and that democracy is spreading itself across the world.  Let’s look at two of these and see if CSM’s optimism is warranted.


While the World Bank forecasts that poverty numbers are dropping (for those who live under $1.25), do the “unquantifiable” elements of poverty illustrate a similar picture or are the numbers hiding other realities?  Because much of the data in this field is fixated on number crunching, let’s also consider some qualitative data from India, one of the big winners according to the World Bank with approximately 50% poverty reduction in the last 20 years.  The country has seen a frustrated populace over the government’s new plan to subsidize food in order to feed its poor, the government’s inability to swiftly pass an anti-corruption bill, and a decline in foreign direct investment(FDI) causing worries in the business community about India’s ability to sustain its growth rate in 2012.

To illustrate the complexity of the issue, the New York Times ran a piece highlighting the intricacies of the economy of Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia.  Though it looks like a flurry of economic activity on the surface, it still struggles with the harsh realities of poverty that its residents face daily.  Ultimately, it asks the question that speaks of a larger truth about the country: Is all that glitters gold?

Meanwhile, famine, drought, and instability continue to press on in Somalia, forcing the UN to make a plea for an additional $1.5 billion in funding.  On Christmas day, the AFP reported on stories of hunger and illness, in the fight for health.

“Malnutrition rates are still very high — this is still an emergency situation,” said Voitek Asztabski, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the camp.  “It’s not over, and it could continue for several months before we reach the control level,” Asztabski added.   – AFP

Thus, while the WB’s estimates on poverty show a decline, it’s important to question if (a) the measurement of $1.25 is still accurate in our measurement of poverty and (b) if the economic success has accounted for disparity on other levels – in agriculture, health, and other significant social issues.  Also, it simply begs the question, are numerical metrics enough?


At Dowser, we’ve tried to cover the demonstrations, especially those in the US with a close eye. The global movement to fight corruption, inequality, and undemocratic systems has, undoubtedly, been an inspiring one.  But has it led to the change that protesters called for?

According to CSM, the Middle East has played a significant role in creating a domino effect.  But to what degree can we call them successful revolutions?

But will the Arab awakening revolts lead to a spread of democracy throughout an arc of former autocracies? That’s far from clear. In most of the nations involved, basic institutions – courts, law enforcement, and regulatory agencies – have been corrupted by years of strongman rule. Rebuilding governments and civil society will take years.  – CSM

CSM takes a more balanced approached on the uprisings in their series, State of the World, coupling skepticism with optimism.  And rightly so, as just days after the article came out, Egyptian NGOs were bombarded, raising questions about the army’s ability to take Egypt into a democratic society peacefully.  UNHCR retorted, saying that it was far too “heavy-handed” with pro-democracy activists and organizations in the raids.

In Syria, the situation was much more severe this week.  In fact, the new year began with more reported deaths of protesters, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star. And a new desire to get Arab monitors to do more in the country to stop the violence or leave.

Tunisia, as CSM writes, is perhaps the only nation that’s shown concrete results and a transition into a more democratic state.  Even democratic nations like India, the US, and UK have struggled to keep the conversation and momentum alive of their respective movements against income inequality and corruption.

So, how do you do it?  Perhaps, consult Indignez-Vous (or under its English tile, Time for Outrage),  a 13-page essay, written by Stephane Hessel, an elderly Frenchman, recounting the French resistance, a metaphor in many ways for today’s outcry against inequality.  The book, which was published by a small French press has become a global sensation.  Because it’s tapped into a world of frustration.

Worthwhile Reads:

Is profitability the biggest marker for a successful social enterprise?  Patrick FitzGerald suggests that it is in the Huff Post.

Acumen Fund reflects on SOCAP 11 with a special edition of innovations that looks at impact investing.

“So you made a profit. Yawn. Did you actually have an impact?” – Umair Haque writes on how businesses need to do more than just make money.

Can PBS take on quality programming and sustain itself through tough economic times.  According to the NY Times, PBS is beginning to look more like HBO.

Finally, Pico Iyer reflects on the joys of a quieter life in a tech-driven world.

This originally ran in Dowser.org.


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