Collect Poverty DataIn order to provide an impoverished area with the necessary aid, extensive and detailed data needs to be collected. Data can identify specific regions in poverty along with the types and causes of poverty in those vicinities. Yet, traditional pen and paper data collection is time consuming and error prone. Using technologies such as mobile phones and tablets as well as developing new information-collecting technology is a way to collect poverty data that can solve the glitches data collection has suffered in the past.

In the past, enumerators, or data collectors, would travel house to house and conduct paper surveys in order to acquire information on those living in poverty. These answers would then be manually transferred onto a computer.

Now, enumerators are using tablets that send survey answers to a centralized system. The tablets also have a GPS system that tracks the enumerators’ processes and makes sure they are in the right area. The tablets also allows for enumerators to record video interviews. This provides a visual context for the living conditions in certain impoverished areas.

Mobile phones are another great resource for data collecting. The World Bank’s Listening to Africa initiative uses cellphones to send out surveys as well as to monitor crises. The initiative plans to pass out phones and solar chargers to all respondents who don’t already own them. Mobile surveys provide a cheap way to gather frequent data from a large amount of people. Crises such as famines and natural disasters can be reported and monitored in real time as well by calling those in affected areas.

New information gathering technology is also being developed to make data collecting easier. Satellite imagery is being used to measure how many people live in poverty in certain areas and assess living conditions of these populations. Likewise, Smart Survey Boxes are being installed in households to automatically monitor power outages and energy quality in areas like Tajikistan.

With extensive data that’s up to date, the causes of and solutions to poverty can be better understood. Using technology to collect poverty data may be the solution to providing better aid to the world’s poor.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Flickr

data_standardsSetting higher standards for data reporting and compatibility is essential to track and foster progress in initiatives all over the world. That’s why two networks, Development Initiatives and Publish What You Find, are heading a project to develop more universally applicable data standards and help organizations and projects transform their data to match the new standard.

Improving data standards for organizations, particularly those administering aid in countries abroad, will help elucidate the work being done and facilitate collaboration and communication between groups in different sectors. These standards also allow for interoperability, which is defined as the ability for technology and software systems to communicate, exchange data and use this data for researchers to draw conclusions about projects.

Needless to say, higher standards for information will improve the efficiency and speed with which organizations analyze and improve their efforts and also allow them to share their efforts with other groups who can replicate them. Doing so will not only improve the way information it is collected but it will also make it more widely available — improving access to and understanding of the latest projects organizations all over the world that they are engaging in.

In investments directly related to foreign aid, such as those in healthcare, education, agriculture and water access, higher data standards will allow organizations to share the outcomes of their projects with donors who can track the flow of their funding. They can also publicize their findings with other organizations that can then compare and collaborate to find more efficient, cost-effective solutions.

Something as seemingly small as transforming and improving the way with which organizations report their statistics can make drastic improvements to people’s health and way of life all over the world. Examples of this are logging administration and efficacy of immunizations, schools or communities with the highest risks, spread of disease and robustness of food resources. Interoperability allows organizations and donors to link up and improve the work they are doing.

Development Initiatives and Publish What You Find hope their data allows people to make more efficient use of data, whether by directing the flow of funding or improving aid projects. Efforts like these will improve access to information on development flows and therefore their efficiency. This project is ambitious in its design of overhauling sector-level systems, but the change it will bring about will be much broad, influencing the lives of people all over the world.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: Omidyar, Devinit
Photo: University of Mary Washington

Poverty Advocacy
With a staggering amount of global poverty, was established as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization striving  to help lend a strong hand in the battle against destitution. Co-founded by U2 front-man Bono in May 16, 2004, the ONE Campaign strives to end extreme poverty and reduce the prevalence of preventable diseases, especially in Africa.

The roots of the ONE campaign lie in a previous organization created by Bono called DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa), which also strove to raise awareness about AIDS and other social issues in Africa. However, in 2008, DATA and ONE united simply as the ONE Campaign. Since its engenderment, ONE has already garnered the support of 3.5 million advocates.

The methods that ONE employs to fulfill its mission of eradicating global poverty and disease involve educating the public about such issues, raising awareness among politicians to push global poverty to the top of political agendas and collaborating with African policymakers rather than simply directing them. By raising awareness about global poverty among the general public and among politicians and policymakers, ONE makes global poverty more relevant and urgent in the eyes of individuals who may not have previously been concerned with such global issues.

Although ONE headquarters are currently located in Washington, D.C., London, Johannesburg, Brussels, Berlin and Paris, the message of the campaign permeates through any global boundaries, bringing the organization closer and closer to fulfilling their goal of assuaging poverty. Due to support of volunteers, ONE has been able to help reduce extreme poverty and preventable diseases.

For instance, over 7.5 million African residents today are able to gain access to AIDS medication whereas in 2005, only a paltry 50,000 Africans were able to access such life-saving treatments. Additionally, malaria has also been reduced by a staggering 75% within the past decade – no doubt with lobbying and contributions from the ONE Campaign.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: ONE, Look to the Stars

A web service that specializes in providing time series of development activity statistics for all the world’s countries, Gapminder is a modern museum which allows for a simple overview of overall progress among nations.

It was first formulated in Sweden in 2006 to complement the Trendalyzer software, which is the platform that puts statistics to animated images. In 2007, Google bought Trendalyzer from the Gapminder development team; they soon followed suit and joined Google in California.

Gapminder is free to use and easy to navigate. The Gapminder World section provides not only data for comparing countries; there are sections for U.S. interstate and provinces of China and India versus the rest of the world analyses. Some of the data available goes back as far as the year 1800. Data providers which supplied the information at hand are only a click away; all statistics are verified and official.

A total of 260 countries and territories are covered by Gapminder. Although they all have varying degrees of completion (based upon available data), the minds behind the website have pledged to have no less than two indicators (or categories, one of the two being population) filled in for each separate entity.

The graphs feature anything from birth/death, unemployment, aid provided rates (all conveniently categorized by age), new and fatal cases of cancer among male and female subgroups, number of people living in extreme poverty, amount of women taking birth control, and hundreds more. On the front page, a handful of links for the most important trends are conveniently placed.

The creative, minimalistic design of the charts instills a sense of clarity and order; this is especially beneficial for simplifying numerical stats. Rather than going through official records and having to fumble with digits and percentages, one can easily open it all in one place.

In an attempt to “fight devastating ignorance with fact-based worldviews everyone can understand,” Gapminder is a comprehensive website, accessible to and widely used by teachers and corporations alike. Statistics gain shape for making up a unique overview of the past two centuries. The platform leaves room for free exploration – browsing the website, one feels invited, even compelled, to look up data at random.

Focusing on a specific topic? Gapminder has a whole section of videos, some of which present curious statistical shifts while others are case studies from outside sources explaining certain phenomena.

The website itself is no longer updated on a regular basis; the blog has but a couple scarce posts since 2011, the news section is outdated, and no major changes to the platform itself have been made recently. But the innovative system is not forgotten. Gapminder has released an offline version of its web-based library; a program is available for swift download which puts Gapminder World right on the user’s desktop.

Visualization is the main strategy of Gapminder – trends that don’t seem out of the ordinary on paper will ‘pop out’ in the graphs, saving the user time while providing a fresh perspective on worldwide occurrences. An intelligent take on unifying data, Gapminder is an invaluable tool for studying causal relationships between global factors and understanding social trends.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Gap Minder, Singularity Hub
Photo: Ann Michaelson

How prevalent is anemia in children and women? Is there a good vaccine against malaria available where it’s needed the most? What are the consequences of domestic violence? And what are some complications resulting from second-hand smoke?

Seeking to provide accurate answers to these, and many other questions of similar nature, MEASURE DHS (Monitoring and Evaluation to Assess and Use Results of Demographic and Health Surveys) is a comprehensive database which employs a wide variety of household surveys and evaluation methods around the globe.

There are over 300 survey templates spread across more than 90 countries. Complementing the survey results, biological markers and GPS data are often collected together with the survey questions for maximum accuracy. Through an online platform called STATcompiler, DHS results are viewable in scatter plots, charts and maps – these are all sorted by indicator and year.

The purpose of DHS is not solely to collect and catalogue, though. Evaluating valuable statistics on disease, fertility and nutrition is crucial to solving global issues within those, and other categories.

Two kinds of surveys are utilized to ensure the most precise measuring data technique: standard and interim. The former is conducted at circa five-year intervals to allow for comparison over time, and the latter deals with key performance monitoring. Although both types are nationally representative, sample sizes for standard surveys tend to be much larger than interim.

Started in 1984 by ICF International and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), data collected by DHS is used for planning new programs in host countries and policy formation. Developing countries are specifically targeted in this long-running project, and many of the findings are published online.

For instance, an interesting trend has recently been discovered that seems to disprove the common misconception that HIV affects impoverished communities most: factually, HIV-afflicted citizens of many of the countries surveyed have a tendency to belong to the wealthiest families.

MEASURE DHS is open to communicating with the media for coverage of results and promotion of new survey distributions; this way, it becomes possible to reach as many people as possible and collect an accurately representative sample.

When new information comes to light and is indicative of a desired policy change, MEASURE DHS often forms partnerships with other organizations in order to help understand and get the most out of the results and develop new, effective programs as a response. For example, after the 2003-2004 Tanzania HIV Indicator Survey, MEASURE DHS developed a curriculum which aided hundreds of professionals in their work with AIDS/HIV, and worked together with Pathfinder, Pact Inc., and the Tanzania Commission on AIDS.

Together, they organized new training for staff working with HIV/AIDS, which lasted for three days and provided valuable insight for the future of AIDS studies, both on location and in the U.S.

Overall, MEASURE DHS provides essential data from the past few decades which supports and shapes the partner USAID’s (and others’) global work. First-hand quantitative and qualitative questions on the surveys allow for unique and accurate depiction of an entire country’s population. Although the project itself tends to be somewhat underappreciated in social media, it has since its start been the sturdy backbone of humanitarian workers across the nation.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Measure DHS, ICFI

hunger book_optBehind the stories and images that are associated with global hunger issues, there are hard facts that underscore how pervasive the problems are, and how workable proposed solutions may be. Sometimes personal stories give rise to more questions than answers.

Data and numbers are becoming an important part of efforts to bring attention to global hunger and other challenges faced by poor communities. Internews argues that using numbers to tell compelling stories is a critical part of providing people with the information they need to both understand and take action on important global issues.  The organization supports several global projects focused on fostering data-driven journalism.

Accurate and accessible data can provide concrete answers to some fundamental questions. What is hunger? How widespread is it? How many undernourished persons are there worldwide? Where are the most undernourished people living? Which countries are struggling the most? How many calories does one person need to eat in a year? How should those calories be divided between the main three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates and proteins)? If most of the world’s hungry have access to some food, how many calories are they short?

A new book, “Hunger Math: World Hunger by the Numbers” is seeking to answer many of the data-driven questions that arise about hunger in a useful way. The book’s author, Ronald L. Conte Jr., also blogs on a site with the same title that highlights the book.

According to Conte’s site, “Hunger Math is a resource book for persons working on the problem of world hunger. It is not light reading. There are no photos. There are no inspirational stories of persons overcoming hunger. This book is filled with pedantic data and tedious mathematical calculations – used to answer questions pertaining to hunger.”

These calculations provide useful information, as several chapters of the book analyze a variety of staple crops and break down which ones would be most effective in alleviating world hunger based on the amount of macronutrients they supply.

The book also includes an overview of the forces contributing to world hunger such as food waste, insufficient agricultural production, unequal food distribution between rich and poor countries, and other factors.

Conte includes a chapter on possible solutions or steps individuals can take. The book’s proposed solutions are divided into three categories: developed nations, all nations and developing nations. Suggestions for developed countries like the U.S. include growing food instead of biofuel, using money from wealthy nations and reducing food waste. In developing countries the suggestions include using irrigation and fertilizer to increase crop yields, employing philantrocapitalism for agriculture development and education for both children and adults. All countries could help the problem by simple steps such as devoting more land to growing food, increasing the production of protein and fat and developing and using a protein concentrate. The book is currently available for Kindle, or by downloading free reader software.

– Liza Casabona

Source: Hunger Math, Internews
Photo: Action Aid

History of the World Bank

For those who think the history of international institutions is boring, it’s time to think again. The history of the World Bank is full of scandals, contentions, failures, and successes, all impacting millions of people. This is part one of a three-part blog about the history of the World Bank. Before discussing the contentions and failures in the next part, it is important to give a brief overview.

The 1944 establishment of the World Bank has its origins in the need for post-WWII reconstruction of Europe. Initially founded as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), at the Bretton Woods Summit in New Hampshire, the purpose was post-war reconstruction and development. Initial projects ranged from industry to reconstruction of roads, bridges, and buildings.

A shift in focus came during the 1960s with re-energized focus on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. The basic-needs approach to development is premised on human resilience and desire to contribute to growing societies. The World Bank’s focus on environmental issues in the 1970s reflected social movements at the time demanding higher accountability of human impact on the environment. The first World Development Report was published in 1978 reflecting a growing demand for transparency in the institution and publicly available data.

Through the 1980s, as international development as a whole was being disputed by practitioners, recipients, and academics, the World Bank was pulled in many different directions. The first was macroeconomic failures mandating debt rescheduling. Later that decade social, environmental, and civil concerns vocalized criticisms over the quality of the World Bank’s projects. An investigation panel was set-up, reports were written, and reform was made in the early 1990s.


History of the World Bank


Through the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s the World Bank sponsored programs and reforms in many industries and focused on all four of the established priorities: basic-needs of health, education and livelihoods; economic development through construction projects; improving the environment; and data collection and research.

The World Bank still builds infrastructure, but now has a more holistic approach. At conception, the IBRD was a homogeneous organization based solely in Washington DC. Now it is a complex bureaucracy with diverse professions and 40% of the staff based internationally. The five institutions that constitute the World Bank Group of today are IBRD, International Development Association, International Finance Corporation, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The Bank’s performance—efficiency and efficacy—have generally improved and, according to the World Bank, clients are satisfied with the level of service, quality, and commitment. The Bank is an important actor in shaping global policy in the arenas of poverty reduction and disaster (both natural and man-made) recovery.

Katherine Zobre

Source: World Bank
Photo: Bretton Woodsk