Thoughts on Data and International Cooperation
Pau Garcia / Founding Partner of Domestic Data Streamers
This year we started an exciting new partnership with Anna Lindh Foundation, an organisation focused in the de-radicalisation of the mediterranean countries and the decrease of polarisation from far-right communities to extreme islamic groups. Undoubtedly, data can be of great help when it comes to re-shaping society’s perception of the regions on which the Foundation is active (South Europe, middle east and North Africa). With the right data and open information it’s possible to see how, despite our differences, we are all trying to build a future for us and ours (it’s funny to see how such a simple statement now sounds like a quote from John Lennon, especially after the narratives that governments from countries like Hungary, Great Britain or USA are using today).
Even though the importance of facts and data has been proven highly effective when deconstructing fake narrative and misconceptions — for example, breaking the myth that all Arab countries are ruled only by men (Tunisia holds 31.3% of the national parliament representation by women, followed near by Germany 30.7%, Ireland 22% or USA 19,6% font) — it’s also true that we’ll need a good amount of empathy and humanity in order to make sense of the numbers and, hopefully, learn from them.
We, the Domestic Data Streamers, have landed in the land of International Cooperation not long ago. During our first 7 months we’ve learned a series of important issues that, if not addressed quickly enough by those involved, can break people’s trust and jeopardise work processes. Considering that the International Cooperations sector holds the power of preparing the planet for a potential social clash, that’s a pretty serious issue.
In the effort of shedding light on these challenges, and aware that we are just beginners in the sector, we have summarised the main thoughts from our first immersion. Here they are; we hope they help spark new debates and conversations.
Wikipedia defines the word “cooperation” as:
Cooperation (sometimes written as co-operation) is the process of groups of organisms working or acting together for common, mutual, or some underlying benefit, as opposed to working in competition for selfish benefit. Many animal and plant species cooperate both with other members of their own species and with members of other species (symbiosis or mutualism).
Following the logic, International Cooperations is the aim to cooperate between countries for a common benefit — which is not the same as making a few donations to NGOs from regions under crisis. The International Cooperations sector has a huge impact on geopolitical and economic development, with European Union as the biggest money investor (you might see the word “donor” used to describe its role, but again, cooperation is always about common benefit) with €75.7 billion invested in 2017. United States comes right after with $34.6 billion the same year. And that’s just the beginning of the sector’s impact in both political and economic worlds.
With these numbers in mind, let’s get into the three main challenges we’ve found (so far):
1. Making public tenders to be really public
As you can imagine, such a big amount of money needs a very strong and serious organisation — plus strict processes for sharing it and distributing it in a proper way. This means a lot of intermediary work in order to get the right part of the cake divided and audited properly before finally being addressed to what is called Civil Societies. Of course, the big amount of intermediaries also means more control, which translates into more rules, laws and assessments related to how the money is distributed. A quick research through United Nations and European Commission project proposals’ marketplace shows us how complicated the process is, and how people and organisations that could actually solve some of the world’s most alarming issues are not able to cope with so much paperwork and bureaucracy.
We wanted to help, and applying for a tender seemed the way to go. Although we are an organised and structured company, with enough legal resources and advisors, the amount of time it took us to understand a standard process for a tender in Botswana was about 2 months — even counting with a multidisciplinary team of 8 members. A time period like this means costs that most creative industries and innovative organisations wouldn’t be able to assume. More than a money investment, these paperwork limitations result in a big thick wall that appliers would only be able to cross if they are able to go through the bureaucratic hell it represents. On the other side of the wall, one of the sectors with more potential social impact in the world remains isolated, accessible only by those with good lawyers and lobby expertise. We do realize that some restrictions are necessary in order to protect us from fraud, but if that means the loss of a huge potential of participative and technological innovation, freshness, and time efficiency, we better find an alternative.
We believe that the digitalisation of the official marketplaces should be planned to empower individuals, small institutions and organisations, and offer easier access to the projects without the penalty of expensive costs, unnecessary bureaucracy or administrative blockers. We need to harness technology for the good, simplifying processes and talking to the people who want to help in a better, more clear, and more responsive manner. We need the International Cooperations sector to become more human, accessible and transparent.
2. What’s next for civil society?
It’s true that NGOs are doing an incredible work making the world a better place. The issue, though, is that they are almost the only players when talking about civil society representatives. NGOs across 40 countries represent $2.2 trillion in operating expenditures (font) — two times Bill Gates’ net worth, or the equivalent of building 40.000 Eiffel Towers.
These NGOs have obviously worked their way through fundraising, especially with the European Commission and US Aid Funds. The fact that they have been able to adapt to the bureaucratic languages of the governamental organisms made it even more complex for the others social actors to reach governance, as mentioned before. It’s time to start looking at Civil Societies representation beyond NGO’s. An activist Egyptian blogger with over 150k views a month can be an important representative, as can be a tribe’s leader, or any point of power working towards the demonstration of a certain society’s interest. They, as well, can bring together opportunities and solutions to their communities. Right now, though, we’re still working under a certain type of definitions of civil society representatives that just don’t reflect the reality of our times.
A more “Glocal” approach and new valuable and updated criteria are necessary when defining today’s Civil Society representatives. We need a new system that understands the representatives’ global implications, while recognizing their integrations in the networks, values and traditions of each region of the world. The role of a global internet community and the deep impact that a chief of a tribe can have in a small region of Jordania are equally relevant, and should be treated as such.
3- Improving development: the black box approach
(Inspired by a fragment of the book Black Box Thinking):
“We all have to endure failure from time to time, whether it’s underperforming at a job interview, flunking an exam, or losing a pickup basketball game. But for people working in safety-critical industries, getting it wrong can have deadly consequences. Consider the shocking fact that preventable medical error is the third-biggest killer in the United States, causing more than 400,000 deaths every year. More people die from mistakes made by doctors and hospitals than from traffic accidents. And most of those mistakes are never made public, because of malpractice settlements with non-disclosure clauses.”
For a dramatically different approach to failure, look at aviation. Every passenger aircraft in the world is equipped with an almost indestructible black box. Whenever there’s any sort of mishap, major or minor, the box is opened, the data is analyzed, and experts figure out exactly what went wrong. Then the facts are published and procedures are changed, so that the same mistakes won’t happen again. By applying this method in recent decades, the industry has created an astonishingly good safety record being today one of the safest ways to transport your body from one place to another one.
In International Cooperation, this theory also applies. During a good discussion with a friend expert in international relations, he told us that a lot of people in the International Cooperations community are working in justice and law from an institutional standpoint, but when it comes to countries like Jordania this standpoint just won’t represent the vast majority of the population. Imagine this: someone’s son gets hurt in a car accident (or even killed). The institutionalised justice will process the responsible and apply penalties according to the laws of the country. The alternative justice — used by the vast majority of people — knows that just sending the guilty to prison won’t be enough, so it will first try to settle a monetary arrangement between the two families. The responsible for doing so is normally a tribal chief who acts as an intermediary between the families The International Cooperation sector seems to sometimes voluntary ignore these sorts of alternative justice, most of the times because they can sometimes forget the basic human rights — something very complex for western organisations to accept. Which raises a question: if this is the justice representing the population of the country, shouldn’t we focus on understanding it?
We (the western society) want to achieve the global implementation of human rights, but if we don’t even understand the justice system that go against them, it would be a lost battle. What is the plan, after all? Is it to impose the western bureaucratic justice over the organic and centenary systems that have been working for so long in other local spheres, adapted to the rules and cultures of each country and region? There are a few examples of individuals working out this spaces of social knowledge, but from a much more intellectual standpoint than an actual action-based idea.
As in any other sector, we need courage and innovation to change the status quo of the present situation of the International Cooperations field. Of course, failing here can have tremendous impact on people’s lives and there is a lot to be learned, thought and considered — but those are only more reasons for us to look at it with critical eyes. We believe in the need of knowledge-sharing and open platforms that are not only dedicated to showcase good practises, but also the bad ones. Just like aircraft’s Black Boxes. Taking a good, detailed look in whatever goes wrong can actually expose problems in a guilty-safe way and actually trigger new ideas and innovation — so we can collectively tackle and improve all cultural, ethical and legal challenges.