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High Impact Communications In A Major Crisis: UNDP Mongolia 1997-1999 | 18 February 2016

I was head of communications for the United Nations mission in Mongolia from 1997 to 1999. The mission had to primarily tackle three major crises: the country’s turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy, the social and economic crash this caused, and the Asian Financial Crisis (Pomfret 2000) (Quah 2003)*.

Richard Pomfret said in 1994 “In 1991 Mongolia suffered one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).”

From Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah: “The combined effect of these three shocks was devastating as ‘Mongolia suffered the most serious peacetime economic collapse any nation has faced during this century’. Indeed, Mongolia’s economic collapse ‘was possibly the greatest of all the (peaceful) formerly'” Communist countries. 

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

Writing in 2018, author John West  found, in a chapter titled Mongolia’s Corruption Curse (Transparency International and the World Bank had found corruption worsened in Mongolia after 2001), “In many ways, Mongolia has everything going for it. After being a satellite state of the former Soviet Union for much of the twentieth century, Mongolia regained its independence with the end of the Cold War. A relatively peaceful political revolution in the early 1990s ushered in a multi-party democracy and open society which have remained in place. … And it is blessed with vast reserves of copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, fluorspar, uranium, tin and tungsten deposits. True, Mongolia experienced great upheavals as the breakup of the Soviet Union saw its trade decline by 80%. But Mongolia was also perfectly placed to benefit from the commodity super cycle driven by China, which is now the destination for the vast majority of its exports.

“However, despite much hype about the Mongolian “wolf economy”, this country of so much promise is being dragged down by massive corruption. …

“Mongolia’s corruption is greatly weakening its attractiveness as an investment destination, is fracturing society and weakening its fragile political institutions. Its culture of corruption has also fed its love-hate relationship with foreign investors, which has destabilized the economy.” Asian Century … on a Knife-edge: A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia’s Recent Economic Development by John West, Springer, 24 January 2018.  

In this role, I pioneered innovative use of the Internet and digital resources to communicate the UN’s work and Mongolia’s unfolding crises. The UN called this work a “role model” for the wider UN and country offices. A survey of United Nations country office websites in 2000 ranked the UN Mongolia website I launched in 1997 and oversaw for two years (1997-1999), third best in the world, saying: “A UN System site. A very nice, complete, professional site. Lots of information, easily accessible and well laid out. The information is comprehensive and up-to-date. This is a model of what a UNDP CO web site should be.” (https://www.scribd.com/document/35249986/United-Nations-2000-Survey-of-Country-Office-Websites)

As part of a strategic plan to raise awareness of Mongolia’s development challenges and to spur action on meeting them, a Communications Office was established for the UN mission in 1997. Acting as a strategic hub, the Communications Office and its dynamic and talented team, were able to leverage the existing budget to spur action on many fronts, including: 

Media

Working with journalists and media both within Mongolia and outside, the Communications Office was able to significantly raise awareness of Mongolia and its development challenges. This was reflected in a substantial increase in media coverage of the country and in the numerous books and other publications that emerged post-1997. The book In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) archived the stories by theme.  

Top journalists covering Asia in the late 1990s contributed to the book.


Ger Magazine

Ger Magazine (the Mongolian word for home and traditional tent dwelling) was published as the country’s first e-magazine in 1998. There were four issues in total from 1998 to 2000. The launch issue was on the theme of youth in the transition. Mongolia was transitioning from Communism to free markets and democracy and this had been both an exhilarating time and a wrenching time for young people. The magazine drew on talented journalists from Mongolia and the handful of international journalists based there to create a mix of content, from stories about life adapting to free markets to stories on various aspects of Mongolian culture and life. 

The second issue of the magazine proved particularly effective, with its modern life theme and cover story on a thriving Mongolian fashion scene.

Archived issues of the magazine can be found at the Wayback Machine here: https://archive.org/. Just type in the UN Mongolia website address for the years 1997 to 1999: http://www.un-mongolia.mn.


Blue Sky Bulletin

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter was launched in 1997 initially as a simple, photocopied handout. It quickly founds its purpose and its audience, becoming a key way to communicate what was happening in the country and a crucial resource for the global development community, scholars, the media and anyone trying to figure out what was happening in a crazy and chaotic time. Blue Sky Bulletin was distributed via email and by post and proved to be a popular and oft-cited resource on the country. The quality of its production also paralleled Mongolia’s growing capacity to publish to international standards, as desktop publishing software became available and printers switched to modern print technologies. Blue Sky Bulletin evolved from a rough, newsprint black and white publication to becoming a glossy, full-colour, bilingual newsletter distributed around Mongolia and the world.

Archived issues can be found online here:

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 1

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 2

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 3

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 4

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 5

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 6 

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 7 

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 8

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 9

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 10


Publishing

MHDR 1997

The Mongolian Human Development Report 1997 (MHDR), the country’s first, placed the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years (post-1989) at its heart, using photographs, stories and case studies to detail the bigger narrative at play.

This groundbreaking Mongolian Human Development Report went beyond just chronicling Mongolia’s state of development in statistics and graphs. Designed, laid out and published in Mongolia, the report broke with the practices of many other international organisations, who would publish outside of Mongolia – denying local companies much-needed work and the opportunity to develop their skills. The report’s costs helped to kick-start a publishing boom in the country and significantly raised standards in design and layout in the country. The foundations laid down by the project producing the report ushered in a new age in publishing for Mongolia.

The report’s launch was innovative, not only being distributed for free across the country, but also part of a multimedia campaign including television programming, public posters, town hall meetings and a ‘roadshow’ featuring the report’s researchers and writers.

The initial print run of 10,000 copies was doubled as demand for the report increased. To the surprise of many, once hearing about the free report, herders would travel to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to pick up their copy. The report proved people cared passionately about the development of their country and that development concepts are not to be the secret domain of ‘development practitioners’. The report also became an English language learning tool as readers compared the Mongolian and English-language versions. 

You can read the report’s pdf here: http://www.mn.undp.org/content/mongolia/en/home/library/National-Human-Development-Reports/Mongolia-Human-Development-Report-1997.html

Mongolian AIDS Bulletin

Assembled by a team of health experts after the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the Mongolian AIDS Bulletin was published in 1997 in the middle of an HIV/AIDS crisis. It provided timely information and health resources in the Mongolian language and was distributed across the country.
 
“Mongolia’s first AIDS Bulletin marked the beginning of the UNDP Response to HIV/AIDS/STDs Project back in the autumn of 1997. Over 5,000 copies of the magazine were distributed across the country, offering accurate information on the HIV/AIDS situation. The project has been pivotal in the formulation of a national information, education and communication (IEC) strategy, bringing together NGOs, donors, UN agencies and the government.”
 
Source: YouandAids: The HIV/AIDS Portal for Asia Pacific 

Green Book

In the Mongolian language, the Mongolian Green Book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies.  

EPAP Handbook

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.

In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than $5,000 each) which taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.”

Mongolia Updates 1997, 1998, 1999

Mongolia Update 1998 detailed how the country was coping with its hyperinflation and the Asian economic crisis.

The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_Financial_Crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history (http://www.jstor.org/pss/153756).  

Mongolia Update 1998 – Political Changes

1998 proved a tumultuous year for Mongolia. The country’s existing economic crisis caused by the transition from Communism to free markets was made worse by the wider Asian Crisis. The government was destabilised, leading to an often-confusing revolving door of political figures. In order to help readers better understand the political changes in the country, a special edition of Mongolia Update was published that year.  

UNDP Mongolia: The Guide

The Guide, first published in 1997, provided a rolling update on UNDP’s programmes and projects in Mongolia during a turbulent time (1997-1999). The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.

Each edition came with short project and context summaries, key staff contacts, and facts and figures on how the country was changing. For the first time, any member of the public could grasp what the UN was up to in the country and be able to contact the project staff. An unusual level of transparency at the time for a UN mission.

Memoranda of Understanding

Three Memoranda of Understanding were negotiated with the Mongolian Government to help focus efforts and aid the attainment of internationally-agreed resolutions. This was affirmed by a series of youth conferences, One World, held in 1998 and 1999.

Strategy and Leadership in a Crisis

The scale and gravity of the crisis that struck Mongolia in the early 1990s was only slowly shaken off by the late 1990s. The economic and social crisis brought on by the collapse of Communism and the ending of subsidies and supports from the Soviet Union, led to a sharp rise in job losses, poverty, hunger, and family and community breakdowns. 

The challenge was to find inspiring ways out of the crisis, while building confidence and hope. The sort of challenges confronted by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office included: 

1) A food crisis: agricultural production was down sharply, and the traditional nomadic herding economy, while at peak herd, was failing to get the meat to markets and to a high enough standard to restore export levels to where they once were. As a result, a cross-border trading frenzy became the solution to falling domestic food production and availability.

2) HIV/AIDS/STDs crisis

3) A major banking crisis

4) Both the Asian Financial Crisis and the Russia Crisis.

5) An ongoing political crisis and an inability to form stable governments.

“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia

Citations

The response by the Communications Office has been cited in numerous articles, stories, publications and books. It has also contributed to the development of the human development concept and understanding of human resilience in a crisis and innovation in a crisis. Book citations include: 

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia

A more detailed list of citations can be found here: http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/about/

For research purposes, key documents were compiled together and published online here: https://books.google.ca/books?id=K76jBgAAQBAJ&dq=undp+mongolia+key+documents&source=gbs_navlinks_s

In 2001, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world” and its communications innovations, with work such as that in Mongolia being cited as a contributing factor to the awarding of the Prize

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched in a 15-year bid to use a focused approach to development centred around eight goals to accelerate improvements to human development. From 2000 to 2005, work was undertaken in various UN missions (Mongolia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Ukraine) to communicate the goals and to reshape communications activities around the goals.

*Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah, Eastern Universities Press, 2003 

Transition and Democracy in Mongolia by Richard Pomfret, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 149-160, published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/153756?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

UNDP Mongolia team photo in 1997. I am sitting front row centre left of the UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Gardner.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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2011: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

NEW: A new design template has been launched for the e-newsletter (see below). The Southern Innovator website archive of Development Challenges stories is also now online: southerninnovator.org

New magazine Southern Innovator has launched: Read and download the magazine here: Southern Innovator Issue 1 

December

Mapping to Protect Kenya’s Environment: the eMazingira Solution Development Challenges: Powerful new grassroots crowd-mapping tools have sprung up in the past few years across the global South, from Brazil’s Wikicrimes (www.wikicrimes.org) real-time crime mapping technology to the now famous Ushahidi (http://ushahidi.com) – a non-profit company making the free and open source Ushahidi software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping – from its base in Kenya. They share some common features. All draw on the widespread use of mobile phones in the global South combined with growing access to the Internet, either through 3G mobile phone services, WiFi wireless connections, Internet centres or increasingly available broadband Internet services.

Building an Interactive Radio Network for Farmers in Nigeria Development Challenges: As solar power technology has improved, new pioneers have emerged to exploit this innovation. Several decades ago, solar power was seen as too expensive for wide-scale roll out in poor countries and communities. But today, an army of solar technology pioneers has fanned out across the world to show the new wave of innovations and how they make solar power affordable.

African Manufacturing Pioneers Proving it is Possible to Thrive Development Challenges: Africa’s paradox is that it is home to the greatest share of the world’s unexploited resources, yet has some of the world’s lowest per capita incomes. History has shown that exploiting the continent’s resources alone for export markets does little to improve incomes and living conditions in Africa, which in turn does nothing to improve human development. The key to resolving this paradox is made-in-Africa jobs, in particular high-value jobs that make products.

Indian City Slum Areas Become Newly Desirable Places to Live Development Challenges: With India’s urban economy experiencing rapid growth, its slums – once seen as the most undesirable places to live in the country, if not on Earth – are attracting the attention of affluent residents and developers in India’s rapidly expanding cities. The prosperity in India’s cities has made these areas’ proximity to business and entertainment zones highly desirable. In turn, this has led to slum dwellers either upgrading their homes and in the process boosting their value, or being offered the opportunity to sell their rudimentary dwellings to real estate agents and property developers.

November

New African Film Proving Power of Creative Economy Development Challenges: A new movie is generating excitement around life in the war-torn, chaotic and impoverished Democratic Republic of the Congo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo) – the central African nation – and proving how versatile and resilient a creative economy can be in a crisis.

Recycling Waste to Boost Incomes and Opportunities Development Challenges: We all know that green is good, but often the best way to encourage recycling and other environment-improving activities is to put in place economic incentives. It is one thing to admonish people and tell them something is the right thing to do; it is another to make keeping a clean environment pay.

Virtual Supermarket Shopping Takes off in China Development Challenges: An ingenious use of technological innovation and savvy trend-spotting is radically transforming the way people do their grocery shopping in China. Busy urban dwellers with time-poor lifestyles can now do their grocery shopping as they pass through Shanghai’s subway system and have their weekly shopping delivered to their home.

Bolivia Grabs World Media Attention with Salt Hotel Development Challenges: Tourism is a great way to attract foreign currency to a country and build local economies, especially in remote or isolated places. But the catch is finding a way to get people to go the distance and come and visit and spend their money.

October

Indian Mobile Phone Application Innovators Empower Citizens Development Challenges: With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous across the global South, the opportunity to make money – and possible fortunes – by providing ‘apps’ for these devices is now a reality.

Mapping Beirut Brings City to Light Development Challenges: As cities in the global South grow ever larger, their often-chaotic evolution can create sprawling urban mazes that would confuse even the brightest brains.

Putting Quality and Design at the Centre of Chinese Fashion Development Challenges: Awareness of the sourcing of materials for fashion has been on the rise in the past decade. Concerns about how the global fashion industry functions and its impact on the environment have given rise to savvy retailers who take care over the sourcing of their materials and the working conditions of their employees.

Cheap Indian Tablet Seeks to Bridge Digital Divide Development Challenges:India has had many false starts in innovating in information technology. While the country and its talented army of software engineers have a global reputation for innovation, the fits and starts that have accompanied attempts to create new hardware and devices have drawn a range of emotions, from amusement to frustration.

September

Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan Development Challenges: A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

Model City to Test the New Urbanism Concept in India Development Challenges: India’s phenomenal economic growth rate – forecast to be 7.9 percent this year by the Asian Development Bank, after averaging 7.7 percent per year over the past decade – has been the force behind an expanding middle class population, now estimated at 50 million people (McKinsey). Forecasts see it swelling from 5 percent of the population to 40 percent by 2025.

Pulque: Aztec Drink Ferments New Economy Development Challenges:Reviving traditional foods and drinks can be an income-boosting source of new economic activity. Many cultures can benefit from looking again at their rich traditions to find new ways to increase enterprise. This can be difficult at first. Big global brands have many initial advantages: they are backed by wealthy and experienced international companies and can deploy aggressive marketing and distribution power to get products into the hands of consumers. The power of Coca Cola to reach all corners of the earth is legendary.

Ghana: Oil-rich City Sparks Entrepreneurs and Debate Development Challenges: Commodity booms can seem like the answer to a poor nation’s prayers, a way to fulfil all their development dreams and goals. The reality, however, is far more complex. More often than not, the discovery of resources sparks a mad scramble for profits and patronage, as politicians and politically connected elites carve out their slice of the new resource boom before anyone else.

August

Anti-bribery Website in India Inspires Others Development Challenges: An Indian website tackling corruption has been so successful it has inspired a wave of followers in China. The I Paid a Bribe website – motto: “Uncover the Market Price of Corruption” – was set up by the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (www.janaagraha.org), a non-profit organisation based in Bangalore, India.

Turning African Youth on to Technology Development Challenges: An African NGO believes the Internet is the single biggest key to rapid development in Africa – and it is working to connect youth, women and rural populations to the web, and in turn, switch them on to the vast resources stored across the world’s Internet sites.

Pakistan Simplifies Job-matching Services Development Challenges: An innovative job-matching service from Pakistan is trying to bring together people who normally live separate lives. It is eliminating the middlemen who gouge both employers and employees for job-seeking fees and opening up a new world of opportunities for the poor.

Data Surge across Global South Promises to Re-shape the Internet Development Challenges: The deluge of data gathered by the digital revolution underway in the global South continues to offer a significant economic opportunity. How this data is harvested will forge the successful Internet business models of the future.

July

Bringing the Invention and Innovation Mindset to Young Kenyans Development Challenges: A highly innovative new way to teach the basics of electronics, computing and technological innovation is being pioneered in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Driven by the desire to counter perceptions of apathy among young people, NGO Kuweni Serious is running a training course for girls aged over 8 years in some of the poorest parts of the city to turn on a new generation to the power of technology to make change.

Arab World Domain Name Opportunity Huge Economic Help Development Challenges: With the so-called Arab Spring still unfolding across much of the Arabic-speaking world, it is easy to miss a rising new economic opportunity: The introduction of an Arabic domain name system for the Internet.

African Youth Want to do Business in Fast-growing Economy Development Challenges: Africa’s growing economy is meeting head-on an optimistic young population keen to start businesses. At least that is what a new poll of African youth says, finding that one in five Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 without a current business wants to start one in the next 12 months.

Kenyan Safari Begins Minutes from Airport Development Challenges: Many people find the prospect of staying in airport hotels dreary at best. They tend to be located in industrial parts of cities or far from city centres. They can be surrounded by roads and highways and are built to move lots of people, not to look nice. The surrounding areas can be very common to all nations – warehouses, office parks, nondescript restaurants and hotels – and give few clues to where you are apart from the weather and the languages on the sign boards.

June

Brazilian Restaurant Serves Amazonian Treats Development Challenges: The vast Amazon rainforest has inspired a cuisine pioneer in Brazil. Combining the sensual pleasures of fine dining and the joy of tasting new flavours with a pursuit of sustainable and profitable local farming, a chef is inventing a new Brazilian cuisine and showing the way to create sustainable incomes.

Civet Cat Coffee Brews Filipino Opportunity Development Challenges: In the Philippines, one animal’s call of nature has become a business opportunity.The civet cat, a member of the mongoose family, ingests the fruit of coffee plants, and expels the beans. This has created an unexpected by-product – a prized beverage for the world’s savvy coffee drinkers seeking the next taste sensation. The partially digested coffee beans are gathered from the faeces of the cat and used to make a much-coveted, smooth-flavoured cup of coffee.

Indonesia Best for Entrepreneurs Development Challenges: A global survey has unearthed hotspots across the global South for start-up businesses and private enterprise. It shows there are now many places in the South where people are actively encouraged to start businesses and engage in innovation and enterprise. The top place in the world for entrepreneurship, according to the survey for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is Indonesia.

The e-Reader Battle Reaches India Development Challenges: The rise and rise of e-books and electronic publishing has prompted the development of e-readers: handy, portable devices that try to mimic the reading experience of paper books while offering the storage and navigation capability of computers.

May

African Botanicals to be used to Boost Fight against Parasites Development Challenges:  More than 1 billion people in the developing world currently suffer from tropical diseases, which leave a trail of disfigurement, disability and even death. Yet only 16 out of 1,393 – 0.01 percent – of new medicines marketed between 1975 and 1999 targeted tropical diseases (International Journal of Public Health).

Floating Bank Floats New Dreams for Brazilian Middle Class Development Challenges: Brazil’s booming economy has seen a dramatic increase in the size of its middle class. More and more people have been lifted out of poverty as a growing, stable economy overcomes years of political and economic instability. In 2010, Brazil’s economy grew by a record 7.5 percent, surpassing a previous peak in 1986 (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) (IBGE) (www.ibge.gov.br/english). The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) reached 3.67 trillion reais (US $2.21 trillion) in 2010, making it Latin America’s largest economy.

Indonesian Food Company Helps Itself by Making Farmers More Efficient Development Challenges: The current global economic crisis is taking place at the same time as a global food crisis. Food inflation took off at the beginning of 2011. This is having a devastating affect on countries dependent on food imports and experiencing decreasing domestic production capabilities. The least developed countries (LDCs) saw food imports rise from US $9 billion in 2002, to US $23 billion by 2008 (UNCTAD), prompting Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, to say “the import dependence has become quite devastating.”

Indian Toilet Pioneer Champions Good Ideas Development Challenges:Access to adequate sanitation and toilet facilities is critical to making development gains. Yet this simple fact of life often gets overlooked, especially in fast-growing cities where populations are on the rise or in transit. Out of an estimated 2.6 billion people in the world without toilets, two-thirds are in southern and eastern Asia (World Toilet Organization).

April

Solar Sisters Doing it for Themselves: Tackling African Light Famine Development Challenges: A social enterprise is seeking to capture the power of the sun to bring light and economic opportunity to women in Africa. Using a direct-marketing distribution system, it sells solar lamps and lanterns to some of Africa’s remotest communities. Solar Sister (www.solarsister.org), launched in Uganda in 2010, is hoping to do for power generation what mobile phones have done for communication in Africa: make a technological leap to a model of grassroots power generation, rather than waiting for large-scale power schemes to eventually reach the poor and rural.

South Africa Innovates Healthcare with Prepay Phone Vouchers Development Challenges: Pioneers in Africa are experimenting with new ways to fund the delivery of healthcare that is affordable and sustainable and not dependent on foreign aid and donations. A South African company is prototyping the selling of pre-payment healthcare services through mobile phones with a range of vouchers that can be bought and downloaded at the tap of a keypad.

Indian ID Project is Foundation for Future Economic Progress Development Challenges: India is in the midst of the biggest national identification project in the country’s history. The aim is for every Indian to receive a voluntaryelectronic identification card containing his or her details and a unique number. Called an Aadhaar, it is a 12-digit unique number registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (http://uidai.gov.in) (UIDAI). The project joins a growing trend across the global South to map populations in order to better achieve development goals.

Ghana’s Funeral Economy Innovates and Exports Development Challenges: The West African nation of Ghana’s funeral economy is attracting innovation and grabbing attention outside the country. The nation’s elaborate – but expensive – funeral rituals provide craftsmen with a good income. And new products are being introduced to handle the financial consequences of this unavoidable fact of life.

March

Bolivian Film School’s Film Scene Paying Off Development Challenges: A film school in Bolivia shows how a creative hub can become the start of something much bigger. The school is inspiring a new generation of young people to get into filmmaking. And one of its lecturers is already experiencing global success acting in an award-winning new Spanish film.

Happy Nigeria: West African Nation Has Good Attitude Development Challenges: In the last 10 years, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to the concept of national happiness. The notion was first developed in the tiny Asian Kingdom of Bhutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan), whose advocacy of ‘gross national happiness’ (http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/) as a measure of national achievement just as important as Gross National Product (GNP), has been met with equal parts ridicule, respect and research.

Cambodian Bloggers Champion New, Open Ways Development Challenges:  The Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia has had a very difficult history over the past few decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was seen as a glamorous and vibrant place. Dynamic, ambitious and newly independent from French colonial rule, Cambodia embarked on an extensive programme of building that is now called “New Khmer Architecture.” It is the most visible legacy of this modernizing time.

China Consumer Market: Asian Perspective Helps Development Challenges:The rise of China since 1989 has been the most remarkable development story of our times. The number of people lifted out of poverty is historically unprecedented: 65 percent of Chinese people lived below the poverty line in 1981; in 2007 it was 4 percent (World Bank).

February

Disaster Recovery, Ten Years After: The Gujarat, India Experience Development Challenges: In the past decade, there have been many devastating natural disasters, from Iran’s 2003 Bam earthquake and the Asian tsunami of 2004 to Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. All of these events received extensive media attention and drew a large aid response. Those who track natural disasters have noticed a serious increase in frequency over the past decade (http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article26290.html).

Chilean Eco-Buildings Pioneering Construction Methods Development Challenges: Across the global South, the search is on for new ways to build without extracting a high price from local environments.More and more people are recognizing the advantages of energy-saving methods like prefabrication. Prefab building techniques involve assembling a structure from pre-assembled parts or modules made in a factory, or transporting a completed, factory-made structure to a site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefabricated_building).

Model Cities Across the South Challenge Old Ways Development Challenges: Pioneering thinking about how resources are used and how people live their lives is taking place in the dynamic economies of the global South. Facing a vast population surge to urban areas, these include attempts to build “green” cities and low-waste, smart and digital communities.

Indian Newspapers Thrive with Economy Development Challenges: The onslaught of digital media in the developed countries of the world regularly brings pronouncements of the death of the traditional newspaper. But this assumption of digital triumph misses out on the reality in countries across the global South.

Extra story: 2011 Trends for the South Development Challenges: The world has been through a dramatic and fascinating period since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008. While the wealthy, developed nations of the North have been pitched into one crisis after another, the countries of the global South (many of whom are well accustomed to crises) have been part of a powerful new economic phenomenon: the rapid growth of South-South trade, investment and exchange. Its effects include stronger ties between Asia and South America and between China and Africa.

Download the February 2011 issue from Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49693714/Development-Challenges-South-South-Solutions-February-2011-Issue

January

Africa’s Consumer Market in Spotlight for 2011 Development Challenges:While other parts of the world will spend 2011 worrying about their debt levels and how to spur economic growth, many factors are pointing to Africa potentially following a different story. A frenzy of activity has been building around Africa’s market opportunities and its growing middle class consumer population.

China’s Booming Wine Market Can Boost South Development Challenges: A great South-South opportunity has emerged with the recent boom in wine drinking in China and the pursuit of quality tastes. Matching high-quality wine producers from the global South – including South Africa, Chile, Morocco, and Lebanon – with China’s thirsty wine drinkers could deliver a major income boost.

Food Inflation: Ways to Fight It Development Challenges: Food inflation has taken off at the beginning of 2011. As the global economic crisis enters its next phase, both developed and developing countries are experiencing inflation. There are many factors fuelling the rise in prices – inefficient distribution and storage systems, lack of investment in agriculture, devaluing currencies, high demand, natural and man-made disasters, use of food products like corn to make biofuels – but there are also ways to counter the effects of food inflation that have been tried and tested across the South.

Turning Animal Waste Into Paper Development Challenges: Animal waste is a messy fact of daily life in rural communities across the global South. This byproduct of life has many uses – but an ingredient for making writing paper is probably not the first that springs to mind.

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An Abuse Of Privilege?

Police say the wealthy and eccentric owner of a Bedford Road museum and rooming house sexually assaulted young men over a period of 17 years. Others say he is a victim of unfair persecution. Norman Elder isn’t saying anything.

By David South

Annex Gleaner (Toronto, Canada), May 1997

The tattered sign on the door is barely noticeable, and its message gives little away: “Dr Elder has moved to Fort Torrance, Ontario. Sorry no tours.”

I peek in the window of the Norman Elder Museum on Bedford Road and see the eyes of a zebra staring back at me. To the left are formaldehyde jars filled with oddly shaped objects.

While Norman Elder, amateur anthropologist and full-time Annex eccentric, may be hiding at his Muskoka cottage, he has left behind a community stunned by police allegations that he sexually abused young men. His story is one of a man born into wealth who cultivated an image of eccentricity as carefully as he surrounded himself with the things he loved.

According to police, the assaults took place at Elder’s 140 Bedford home – a brooding Victorian mansion that’s one part rooming house, another part museum holding his large collection of artifacts plucked from the world’s tribes.

Detective Robert Mann of Metro’s 32 Division Youth Bureau says Elder has been charged with 12 counts of indecent assault/male, spanning 1972 to 1989.

“Some were minors, some were adults over the age of 16. Most were adolescent and teenage males between the ages of 15 and 19.” While the charges laid were at the end of February, police have still not disclosed the details. Without that information, Elder hasn’t entered a plea.

Last Wednesday, I walked past the gravestone that marks the front yard and approached three young men having a cigarette outside the house. Two of them said they lived in the house. One man with a skinhead hairstyle who looked to be in his mid-20s nervously said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He admitted he was taking messages for Elder from the answering machine and had passed on my numerous calls. Calls to his cottage weren’t answered, and none of Elder’s friends and acquaintances contacted by The Gleaner wished to comment on the charges.

Mann alleges that Elder’s modus operandi was to offer homeless youths a place to stay in return for sexual favours. The multiple charges stem from men contacting police after reading articles in Toronto’s two dailies about the first charge, which was laid in February.

Elder’s trip to the cottage isn’t a case of spring fever; he is out on bail and has been court-ordered to not return to his house.

Off the record, several sources suspected that some of the young men living at the house were involved in the sex trade and weren’t innocent of trading sexual favours for a place to stay. In the language of the street, they say, Elder was a sugar daddy. Some acquaintances of Elder felt he was being unfairly persecuted by police for sexual acts that took place between consenting adults (though, legally, the homosexual age of consent is 18, while for heterosexuals it’s 16). They also questioned the validity of charges that are in some cases 25 years old and only ferreted out by police during the Maple Leaf Gardens scandal.

Elder may be an eccentric, but he is not a loner; nor did he keep a low profile. Elder was born into wealth and attended Upper Canada College with the likes of Conrad Black, whom he once called a friend. He is listed in the Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in Canada. He financed his globe-trotting expeditions by selling artifacts collected in the Amazon, Africa and Borneo to museums, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He filled his house with exotic animals, including a 20-foot, 400-pound python called Peter.

As a one-man National Geographic magazine, Elder has self-published several books on his travels and made documentaries. His house served as location for David Cronenberg’s The Naked Lunch. He once told a journalist. “What bothers me most about going to zoos is that I’ve tasted most of the animals in there.”

In 1979, an article in The Toronto Star weekend magazine described Elder as a “slightly balding, surprisingly genial guy, who looks a bit like Jack Nicholson … and speaks a bit mezzo forte for a 20th-century Victorian.”

The former Olympic equestrian rider has had a long association with running rooming houses for youth that dates back to the 60s. When he was a social worker in Yorkville’s hippie days, Elder boasted of having 6,000 kids crash at his place in 1969.

In the 70s, he had political aspirations, running for city council and for the provincial NDP. He was friends with late New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, who was also dogged by rumours about his relationships with young men.

Update: “In 1998, Elder pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 10 young men between 1970 and 1980. On March 12, 1998, Judge Faith Finnestad sentenced Elder to two years less a day in jail.” 

“Elder died on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 in Toronto of an apparent suicide by hanging.” (Source: Wikipedia).

Other stories from the Annex Gleaner

Artists Fear Indifference from Megacity 

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-Privatization? 

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Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Newsletter

ISSN 2227-3905

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions is the monthly e-newsletter for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (formerly the United Nations Development Programme’s South-South Cooperation Unit). I research and write all stories (since January 2007). You can view the original website here. The stories are in English, French and Spanish.

Here is a good background article on the rise of South-South cooperation, how it is altering global trade and power relationships, and what the future holds: South-South Cooperation Defies the North. And here is some historical background from Wikipedia: South-South Cooperation.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions reaches a global audience of influential decision-makers on the frontlines of international development in the South. More than 2,000 subscribers read the newsletter every month (academic institutions, UN agencies, private sector companies, UNDP Country Offices, financial institutions including the IMF and World Bank, inter-governmental organisations, UNDP knowledge networks around the world, and all South-South focal points in West Africa).

Remember to think of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions when you have a Southern innovation to share with the world. You can read our archive of stories online here: http://ssc.undp.org/index.php?id=66

From Special Unit for South-South Cooperation: 2008 Reflections: “As part of the strategy to foster South‐South cooperation within and across regions, the Division has continued to invigorate and re‐enforce a South‐South cooperation focal point system. These efforts included the publication and distribution of a monthly e‐newsletter, Development Challenges: South-South Solutions, which presents a briefing for South‐South focal points, Southern academics and development professionals on practical solutions to development challenges found throughout the South. Over the course of 2008, twelve e‐newsletters were released via e‐mail and published on the website of the Special Unit.”

What are people saying about Development Challenges, South-South Solutions? Read some comments here.

Contact me by email about the newsletter here: developmentchallenges@googlemail.com.

Contact me by email about the new global magazine Southern Innovator here: southerninnovator@yahoo.co.uk

July 2014 issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions: The last issue is available online for download. Support the e-newsletter for 2017: we are seeking additional funding so we can improve the reader experience and frequency of the e-newsletter. Since first launching in 2006, we often heard from readers how they valued the stories in the e-newsletter and how it has helped in raising the profile of innovators across the global South (“Congratulations on another great newsletter that’s packed with fascinating information! I really enjoy getting it each month.”). Additional resources would enable us to improve the way readers can access and receive the e-newsletter, enable the e-newsletter’s contributors to travel and report on developments, and allow us to offer daily and weekly updates and a wider range of resources online and on mobile platforms. Additional funds help in maintaining the quality of the e-newsletter, something that has been appreciated by readers (“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa Renewal). It will also allow the e-newsletter to spin-off quality resources for innovators, such as the influential magazine Southern Innovator. Contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation if you wish to support the e-newsletter for 2017: UNOSSC.

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa Renewal, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information

“The reviewer observed that, although the Policy and UN Coordination Unit had produced all of the reports requested by intergovernmental bodies, especially for the High-level Committee, it had not been able to produce many of the publications (evidence-based analytical reports) that had previously been within its purview. Such publications included Southern Innovator magazine and the monthly e-newsletter “Development Challenges, South-South Solutions”. In the case of Southern Innovator, one issue (No. 5 on waste and recycling) was published during the four-year period of the framework but did not have wide online distribution, and issue No. 6 was awaiting funds for publication. The e-newsletter was last issued in July 2014 even though the reviewer found it a good way to communicate with focal points at the national and inter-agency levels. In fact, the shortage of funds for those knowledge products was the main reason that they had ceased being produced during the evaluation period.”  Final evaluation of the performance of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation  under its strategic framework, 2014-2017, in light of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Note: Unfortunately, the reason for “the shortage of funds” was down to suspension of funding to the UNOSSC in 2015 and 2016 pending two internal UN audit investigations after arrests made in 2015 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealed a bribery and money laundering network targeting the United Nations via various NGOs, including the UN-based news organisation South-South News. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Newsletter | 2011-2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Newsletter | 2007-2010

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2007

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021