Foreign Aid (Part II)

While I agreed somewhat with the problems posed by Easterly and Moyo, I tended to agree with the solutions of Collier and Banerjee and Duflo more. Collier, a professor at Oxford, argued several policies in response to some of the pitfalls of the way we do aid today. For example, rather than providing money, he suggested that many situations instead might be better suited for resource aid, sending experts to help train locals in solving their own crises. He framed much of his discussion around the concept of four different types of poverty traps that were also compelling as reasons for economic stagnation.

Overall, however, I still left these courses without a clear idea of how to solve these greatest problems of our time. The problem is obvious—1 billion people in extreme poverty and not necessarily on the ladder of development to escape it—and all of the experts wanted to see poverty eradicated in their time. However, unlike some economic issues here at home, we have not seemed to crack the perfect answer.

If there was one author I did agree with, however, that would be Amartya Sen and his definition of poverty and development. He framed poverty as an issue of lack of freedom and capability, and argued that we should think not of economic development as a means of achieving freedom of education and good health, but rather these freedoms as the means to achieving economic development. While lofty, these goals in my opinion should be the ideals that guide any policy aimed at eradicating global poverty.

Foreign Aid (Part I)

            This semester I enjoyed taking two courses focused on development. Both featured lengthy discussion on the effectiveness on foreign aid. I was excited when I originally signed up for these courses about this topic in particular given my interests in the World Bank, but I was surprised by the answer I received. Unfortunately, after reading some of the major scholars in the field—Sachs, Collier, Easterly, Banerjee and Duflo, Singer, and Moyo—I was left somewhat befuddled by the immensely complex challenge of foreign aid. I found that all of the authors had somewhat compelling arguments. To my surprise, I think that Easterly had me the most convinced with his theory of planners vs. searchers. He argued that “planners” are those who through conferences and grandiose plans believe that with the right (and large) amount of money, we can achieve a multi-pronged assault on poverty in the world. He found that these plans were unrealistic and often did not work at a micro level, instead arguing that “searchers,” who act on a much smaller scale, see more success because they are intimately close with the specific problems they are trying to solve, and, more importantly, they can easily be held accountable for success or failure. I was also swayed by Moyo’s argument and the idea that infusing too much capital into a country without strong political institutions can actually hurt rather than help it because of the potential for corruption of leaders and a decline of state capacity. Especially because of some of the poorly functioning governments and decidedly low ability to tax, and because of the entrenchment of aid in many countries that she would call “dependency,” her argument was interesting and different from others.

The Great Convergence

In my Honors Reading Group, my co-moderator and I chose an internationally focused book that focused on the phenomenon of globalization. The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin described a new wave of globalization that is affecting global trade and economics. Where globalization used to be simpler, involving entire products or services, huge decreases in the costs of information and communications technologies have made it more complicated and more difficult to predict and control. Today, international companies must compete at every step and stage of the manufacturing process, as more and more jobs can be exported easily without disruption to the supply chain. So long as we have open trade, we sacrifice economic sovereignty for economic benefit. Baldwin ultimately argues that the benefits are true—they are just widespread and constantly changing, and they do of course create losers as well as winners.

Our group enjoyed discussing these trends as technology allows the world to be more connected than ever. One of the topics that we discussed was how we should think morally about these benefits when they help those in developing countries at the cost of workers in the US. There were mixed emotions, and politically, it is a complicated issue. Still, we all agreed that we were glad that we read this book to understand the history, driving factors, and details of modern globalization, as well as a prediction from Baldwin of how it might look in the future. For anyone studying economics, it is hugely important to understand trade.

Dr. James Ferguson and Social Obligation

Another event that I attended this semester was a lecture from Stanford anthropologist James Ferguson. He researches how development and modernity intersect the lives of ordinary people, and he has focused much of his work on southern Africa. He spoke on the topic of social obligation and how it is politically difficult to give to those who are outside of our nation-state. He differentiated between membership and presence, arguing that other people in the world, while they might not be members of our nation-state, are still present by simply being human somewhere on Earth. He has researched why we feel this way, why it is so politically difficult to give to those who are not members.

Ultimately, he argued that the solution should focus less on how to increase political support for giving to those who are “not present” (e.g., people who might be suffering in a poor country) and rather changing how we see others so that we do not see them as “not present” in the first place. He gave an example with the book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies and how the author evoked empathy for the migrant workers and made them “present” to the reader by connecting their labor to our food, in this case the berries we eat daily. However, with a rise in unemployment, migration, and refugees—many without labor as in the example—Ferguson argued that we need new strategies to form this connection. He specifically cited shared need, shared vulnerability, and shared suffering as potential options.

While the language was somewhat dry and academic in this lecture, I really enjoyed listening to it, because I am a strong believer in understanding the innate causes and ethics of our feelings before strategizing solutions. He dove deep into human nature with his theory and provided an argument that any policy makers should understand, as the psychology and ethics of these problems and solutions are likely more important than any other factors, whether economic or judicial or political, because they are so foundational.

Indonesian Consulate General

One of the international events on campus that I attended this semester was the visit of Dr. Nana Yuliana, Consul General of Indonesia in its Houston post. She gave a presentation on the country of Indonesia, including basic facts and cultural information about the country, and she also even brought some tourism-focused materials. I really enjoyed this presentation of course because I was able to learn more about the country. But I thought that the visit was important more broadly because it showed some of the diplomatic actions that countries can take to extend their influence and image in the world. Several people from the consulate accompanied Dr. Yuliana, and this number showed the commitment that the country has to building bonds even in Oklahoma. I think that this display of foreign courtship is especially relevant in today’s time given the current state of the US State Department. While one of the OU members in the audience studied Indonesian history as her area of expertise, most of us likely knew little about this majority-Muslim country, and this meeting gave us the chance to learn more and inspire us to visit one day. This talk is just one of thousands that must happen across the US and the world by nearly every country, and it shows the benefits of making investments in our diplomatic missions.

Global Engagement Day: Non-Traditional Study Abroad

Another panel that I attended for Global Engagement Day was for non-traditional study abroad experiences, “non-traditional” meaning those to places outside of western and central Europe. I really looked forward to this one because I had been to both Brazil and Zimbabwe with OU and was eager to hear how my experiences compared with others’. Among the panelists, places traveled included Tanzania, Ecuador, Uganda, Israel, and Cambodia. Besides Australia, all of the habitable continents were covered. All of the trips were short-term, mine included, with the exception of my friend Holly’s semester in Ecuador. It was interesting hearing about how different everyone’s trip was, especially in terms of accommodations. In Tanzania, my friend Hannah said that they had to use buckets for showers and use the restroom in the woods. These methods contrasted sharply with the hot showers and zippy plumbing my CCEW team and I enjoyed in our hotel in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. And I think all of our short-term experiences paled in comparison to the months-long tenure that Holly had in Ecuador, especially since she lived with a host family and spoke Spanish most of her trip. It made me aware of the vast differences in study abroad opportunities that OU offers. It also made me anxious to return to Brazil, Zimbabwe or somewhere else for a longer stint of time–maybe something that a Fulbright could provide!

 

Zimbabwe, Part I

Each semester, the Ronnie K. Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth (CCEW) assigns high impact projects to interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate students, one of which focuses on social entrepreneurship. During the Fall 2016 semester, CCEW’s Social Entrepreneurship team was tasked with facilitating the expansion of the Zimbabwean company Educate. Educate provides Zimbabwean students with needed microloans for the tuition and fees to attend school. Educate’s business model is built for the typical Zimbabwean: it caters to the informally employed (over 70% of Zimbabweans), and relies on flexible payment plans for families with irregular income, like farmers. Over 60% of Zimbabwean students attend private school because government schools are sparse and of poor quality. Culturally, education is considered of the utmost importance. Thus, quality private schools pose a significant but necessary cost. As a direct result of said cost, more than 40% of Zimbabweans drop out between primary and secondary school. Zimbabweans also experience serious liquidity problems; frequent bank runs prevent families from withdrawing more than $50 at a time from ATM machines, and not without fees. Educate’s unique financial services allow students to receive the valuable education that will help spur social and economic growth within the country.

Our project focused on developing a growth plan for Educate, which addressed internal changes and new relationships with schools. Internally, we recommended new marketing strategies that Educate could use to reach a wider audience. Externally, we created a focused list of new schools with which Educate could partner. Additionally, as part of a wider financial expansion plan, we contacted regional investors with whom Educate can potentially partner for new capital. These recommendations were based upon an entire semester’s worth of research, including interviews with NGOs, embassies, schools, banks, and MFIs. We compiled our recommendations into a thirty-page document, so that Educate could reference our research in the future.

A trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was extremely helpful in verifying our recommendations and their implementability. In fact, experiencing the economic environment was the final seal of validity we needed for our research. During the semester we could communicate frequently with Educate, contact several of their partner schools, and research the Zimbabwean education system online and by phone, in-person conversations are infinitely more valuable for such detailed research. In Bulawayo, we were able to meet with the other members of the Educate team to walk through our final report and discuss the specifics of the growth plan. We had the opportunity to meet with 12 partner schools and conduct in-depth interviews, which led to new recommendations, and improvements to original ones. Not only did these visits strengthened Educate’s relationships with their partnering institutions, but several schools also gave our CCEW team very frank feedback, which they surely would have never told Educate’s own staff.

Among the schools we visited was Whitestone primary school. We interviewed Cleo, the school’s bursar. She described the standard financial situation of her school’s families: parents will be a late paying tuition, because their paychecks are late, because their employers are waiting to be paid, and so on, and so forth. Cash is limited, and with sixteen currencies in the country, a solution is anything but simple. Financial difficulties piggy-back, until families are eventually incapable of affording their children’s school fees. During our interviews, we observed a remarkable patience in the Zimbabwean people, particularly in their schools. Cleo expressed trepidation in regards to the recent introduction of the USD-based bond note, but with a persistent hope for improvement. We observed consistently impressive curricula despite the surrounding difficulties. Girls College, an all-girls secondary school, teaches their fourteen year olds Python in their computer science courses. Students prepare for top universities in China, the United States, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

As a result of these extensive interviews and first hand experiences, the trip to Bulawayo added significant value to our project with Educate. It thoroughly validated our already extensive research, and we are confident that Educate will enact our recommendations and consequently experience substantial and efficient growth.

The trip also added value to our own education by providing us with a truly unique international experience. None of us had ever visited any country in Africa, and our daily interactions in Zimbabwe introduced us to countless political and cultural differences. After stepping off the plane outside the Bulawayo airport, immigration almost refused us entry into the country because of suspicion regarding our trip’s purpose. The government is wary of foreigners and their power to produce “propaganda.” An airport employee instructed us to step aside, while he investigated and confirmed our trip’s purpose. This exchange was an introduction to the intense presence of a dictatorial government. A portrait of President Mugabe hung in every business and school, even though many in the country oppose his rule. President Mugabe is entering his twentieth year in office. The people’s frustrations amplify in the midst of an economic crisis in which people have little to no access to cash, jobs are scarce, and those who do have jobs hardly receive paychecks on time. Rampant corruption means police roadblocks around every corner, with officers demanding petty fines for doubtful violations. The only people who seem to be secure are those employed directly by the government.


Zimbabweans’ patience is interesting; through various conversations with Zimbabweans, we learned that most would rather wait silently and hope for change than protest and risk conflict or war. They attribute their prioritization of peace to education. Their powerlessness certainly shed a new light on the current American political conflict. We were in Bulawayo during the Presidential Inauguration, and consequently we had the opportunity to hear a lot of Zimbabwe’s perspective on the transition of power in the United States. Needless to say, visiting a country that has endured colonization, several severe economic crises, and the regime of one, unending President provides a certain level of perspective for those of us who have been privileged enough to live in a far less volatile environment.

Rhodes and Marshall Meeting

While I plan to apply for the Fulbright next year and enjoyed listening to the panel of past winners at Global Engagement Day, I am also looking forward to applying for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, both of which provide study for students in the United Kingdom. Just as I had to do some soul searching and reflection to decide which Fulbright to apply for, I had to do a similar process for determining which types of master’s programs to apply for in the UK. However, that is not an easy decision. Fortunately, I was able to meet with a past Rhodes winner from OU to learn more about his process and studies, and to ask him questions about how his degree will fit into his career. Mubeen, the former student, studied anthropology while at Oxford, and also received a master’s in public policy at the relatively new Blavatnik School of Government. I found his choice interesting since he is now earning his medical doctorate, and he studied hard science. However, he said that his master’s degrees fit more into what he would like to do in the long term, involving studying and shaping how policy and medicine interact in our immensely complex healthcare system. He encouraged me to think more about what I would like to do in the long term, which I found very helpful, since it is difficult to think about the short-term benefits and effects of a master’s degree, as opposed to seeing it in the broader picture. Thankfully, his encouragement of reflection helped me think a lot more about what interests motivate me, how those might coalesce into a career, and which programs might help with that goal. I have not made a final decision as to degrees, but this meditation did help influence me to change my major to economics for my final year in undergrad, and it helped me realize my interest in understanding global economic trends and financial systems, as well as how economics and capitalism affect developing communities. Regardless of whether I win either award, I am incredibly thankful for the advice I received in this meeting, and excited to pursue study and work in these fields, either directly or indirectly, one day.

 

Global Engagement Day: Study Abroad Story Time

The final panel I attended for Global Engagement Day was for students to tell stories about their times abroad with OU. I attended this session last year as well and thought it was fun to hear about each other’s travels, even though I am not nearly as good at recanting stories as some others present. My favorite one was from Louise, who ran a 50K race while in China. She expected it to be intense but “typical” fifty-kilometer race (whatever that means). However, after signing up through some friends in a running group she had discovered in her town, and after running a few kilometers along the route, she realized that she had enlisted in a much more extreme trek than she had thought. Louise said that she would approach nearly vertical rock faces with arrows directing her to scale upward, and have to run along the eaves of hills that would mean death if she had slipped. My favorite part of the story was when she arrived suddenly at a temple, deep into the journey, that had a very large statue of Buddha. She said it was beautiful, but in her daze she focused more on a group of fish in a courtyard fountain. Ultimately, she ended up finishing in a close fourth place, and she now has a great story to tell friends at parties. Her story also really made me want to explore rural China, which has been on my bucket list for several years. I will not, however, be running any 50Ks!

Fulbright Panel

As part of Global Engagement Day, I attended a discussion with a panel of four Fulbright winners. I was surprised by the variety of experiences of the panelists, and it helped me get a better idea of what type of Fulbright I want to apply for. One of the panelists did an English teaching fellowship in Germany, and she enjoyed her experience and living in the country for a long period of time. While I originally thought I would dislike that type of Fulbright, her experience seemed really positive and influential, although I probably would be better suited for other fellowships. Another one of the panelists received a master’s degree fellowship, and she pursued a degree in European Studies at a university in Belgium. When I entered the meeting, I too thought that I would apply for the Fulbright to receive a graduate degree at a university in another country, likely in Europe. Her experience seemed very positive, and her degree was free of course. Two of the panelists conducted research, and it was really interesting to hear their stories, since research was a little vaguer and hard to picture. One did research in China and another in India. It was interesting to hear how they were able to set up these projects and coordinate letters of affiliation. At first I thought that research would not apply to me since both of the panelists were already in graduate school and getting their masters, but I ended up meeting with the coordinators of the Fulbright program at OU and they convinced me that research was actually possible, especially with my research I already conducted in Zimbabwe. I will talk more about my application and research proposal in a later post.

Overall, I was happy to see in all of the experiences the level of immersion that the panelists had during their Fulbright year. While each of them said that the time passes by too quickly, I could sense that each of them truly lived in another country, and brought part of that culture back with them, which is partially what the Fulbright is for in the first place.

Non-traditional study abroad: with Holly Crawford (studied abroad in Tanzania and Ecuador), Kayleigh Kuyon (Israel), Felicia Padilla (Uganda), and Tanner Satterthwaite (Cambodia)

Another panel that I attended for Global Engagement Day was for non-traditional study abroad experiences, “non-traditional” meaning those to places outside of western and central Europe. I really looked forward to this one because I had been to both Brazil and Zimbabwe with OU and was eager to hear how my experiences compared with others’. Among the panelists, places traveled included Tanzania, Ecuador, Uganda, Israel, and Cambodia. Besides Australia, all of the habitable continents were covered. All of the trips were short-term, mine included, with the exception of my friend Holly’s semester in Ecuador. It was interesting hearing about how different everyone’s trip was, especially in terms of accommodations. In Tanzania, my friend Hannah said that they had to use buckets for showers and use the restroom in the woods. These methods contrasted sharply with the hot showers and zippy plumbing my CCEW team and I enjoyed in our hotel in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. And I think all of our short-term experiences paled in comparison to the months-long tenure that Holly had in Ecuador, especially since she lived with a host family and spoke Spanish most of her trip. It made me aware of the vast differences in study abroad opportunities that OU offers. It also made me anxious to return to Brazil, Zimbabwe or somewhere else for a longer stint of time–maybe something that a Fulbright could provide!

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