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New Swimwear for Plus-size Women in Brazil

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Brazil is well known for its stylish swimwear, with styles usually targeted at young women and those with more conventional, media-friendly body shapes. But now a company is making visiting the beach more comfortable and empowering for plus-size women.

Prior to the arrival of plus-size swimwear, women turned to over-sized tshirts and baggy shorts to hit the beach. Now, Brazilian companies are pioneering fashionable and sexy swimwear for women of all sizes.

Brazil has a well-known beach culture – a culture celebrated over the years in popular pop tunes like ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_from_Ipanema). The country has successfully turned its alluring beach culture into lucrative businesses,including fashion enterprises that have become global brands. The global hit brand of beach flip flops Havaianas (havaianas.com) is a good example.

Lehona (lehona.com.br) makes ‘Moda Praia’ – plus-size – swimwear for women. The swimsuits are specially designed to flatter larger body shapes and give women the confidence to go back to the beach. It is seeking to end the discrimination inherent in beach culture that favours the “thin, the rich and the chic.”

Body shapes have been changing in Brazil – as they have been across the world and the global South. While one cause is the global obesity crisis -ballooning as diets change with rising prosperity – there is also another, more positive cause: greater access to nutrition and increasing consumption of milk and meat tends to lead to larger body shapes. This has happened across the world and in many countries irrespective of the racial and ethnic background of the people. Norwegians in Northern Europe were once some of the shortest people in Europe and suffered from poverty and malnutrition. But, as food security increased and nutrition improved, they have over time become the second tallest people in Europe behind the Netherlands (The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition,and Human Development in the Western World since 1700).

For Brazil, malnutrition was widespread until recently. Records show 10 per cent of the country’s rural northeast in the 1970s was considered underweight.

The Brazilian statistics institute has found the past decade’s economic boom has had another consequence as well as lifting many millions out of poverty. It has found 48 per cent of adult women and 50 per cent of adult men are now overweight. This compares with 1985, when 29 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men were overweight.

Diets have changed in the intervening years. Rice, beans and vegetables are now in competition with potato chips, processed meats and sugary soft drinks.

And apart from nutrition and diet changes because of increasing incomes,there is also a cultural change. While the wealthy are more used to lifestyles with plenty of exercise, newly prosperous people do not necessarily have the fitness habit. One study found just 10 per cent of Brazilian teens and adults exercise regularly.

The Lehona brand has become a quick hit and receives many telephone calls and emails from would-be customers, its owners claim.

The Brazilian cultural expectation for women’s beachwear is skimpy, showing more rather than less. This prejudices women who do not have slim body shapes or who are not under 30.

Started in 2010 by clothing designer Clarice Rebelatto and run by her son Luiz Rebelatto, Lehona was started out of personal need.

“Honestly, the problem went way beyond just bikinis. In Brazil, it used to be that if you were even a little chunky, finding any kind of clothes in the right size was a real problem,” said Clarice Rebelatto, a size 10, to The Associated Press.

“And I thought, ‘I’m actually not even that big compared to a lot of women out there, so if I have problems, what are they doing?’”

The approach to the swimsuits is counter to many other brands targeting plus-size women. They are bold and emphasize the shape rather than try to cover it up and hide it.

The brand sells itself through specialty stores for large and tall women in Brazil. A bikini sells for around 130 reais (US $66).

“Some brands, they don’t want their image to be associated with chunky women= Only the thin, the rich and the chic,” Luiz Rebelatto told The Associated Press.

“We’re working from the principle that bigger women are just like everyone else: They don’t want to look like old ladies, wearing these very modest, very covering swimsuits in just black.”

The plus-size market has even been taken up by conventional Brazilian swimwear manufacturer Acqua Rosa (http://www.acquarosanet.com.br/site/). It released its plus-size line in 2008 and claims sales now account for 70 per cent of their total sales.

One woman frequenting Copacabana beach copacabana.info) in Rio de Janeiro is Elisangela Inez Soares. She is happy and confident with the new swim suits.

“It used to be bikinis were only in tiny sizes that only skinny girls could fit into. But not everyone is built like a model,” concludes Soares.

Resources

1) Start a Fashion Business: A website packed with step-by-step advice on starting a fashion business. Website: startafashionbusiness.co.uk/

2) A website compiled by an American fashion expert on how to run a fashion business for profit. Website: http://fashionforprofit.com/about-us/

3) The catalogue for the Lehona swimsuit line. Website: http://www.lehona.com.br/pdf/lehona_moda_praia_plus_size.pdf

4) Miss Brazil Plus-Size Beauty Contest: Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHLflIgXqgM

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

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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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The South has a Good Story to Tell

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The fast-changing modern world is raising the living standards of billions in the South – China alone has lifted 400 million people out of poverty since the 1980s – but it is also risking the loss of many rich cultural traditions. One of them is storytelling.

Oral storytelling is a critical tool for passing on history, while teaching morals and ethics, especially in societies with low rates of literacy and little formal education. But with the rise of modern media and advertising, few traditional storytellers – many of whom are old – stand a chance. Populations are on the move like never before. As more and more people end up in sprawling cities, many are becoming disconnected from their roots.

Yet across the South, people are finding ways to re-invent story telling — and also to make money, preserve cultural pride and feed the appetite for novelty in hungry, modern media and business.

In 1997, storytelling was acknowledged by UNESCO, which pledged to back humanity’s oral and immaterial heritage, and to protect a vast number of oral and musical traditions, crafts and knowledge – plus the “living human treasures” who possess them. It backed this up in 2003 with the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It supports storytelling through its International Programme for the Development of Communication.

But what about the young – the most important generation for storytelling to have a future? In Bogota, Colombia, students have started a movement of urban storytellers. Aged between 17 and 35, they draw on the things they have learned in university. They eschew linear narration and instead adopt the popular language of films and advertising. Inspired by one television commercial, a story revolves around a drop of tomato sauce falling from a high-rise building, sparking a gun battle. The staccato narrative takes inspiration from post-modern authors like Italo Calvino. It is also the perfect narrative to capture modern, urban audiences who live in a world saturated with media.

By blending together ancestral and post-modern tales, these student storytellers are luring Latin Americans back to listening to stories. Live storytelling, when done well, has an ability to connect with other people like no other medium. This new generation also is helping make Colombia a gathering place for storytellers in Latin America, expressed in events like the Hay Festival Cartegena, a literary event that draws authors from around the world.

But is there any money in storytelling? Tale-spinners like Argentinian Juan Moreno say yes. Moreno quit teaching 17 years ago to tell stories for money in theatres, bars, universities and libraries, tapping into a contemporary marketplace for storytelling.

In fact, it is better paid than acting in the theatre, he claims, and if you are good, it comes with lots of travel. There is a global round of congresses, festivals and seminars to keep storytellers connected, inspired – and paid.

Moreno now makes money teaching many professions how to use stories to be more powerful communicators. He told the UNESCO Courier, “the value of the spoken word, words that heal and restore, that can give life but also take it away,” are key to many fields, like law and social work.

The world centres of storytelling are very much focused on the South. The International Congress of Oral Storytelling, part of the Buenos Aires Book Fair, has been running every year since 1995. At the Congress, tips are exchanged over the subtle tricks of timing and voice, gestures and facial expressions. Other Southern cities with storytelling events, include Bucaramanga, Colombia, Monterrey, Mexico and Agüimes, in the Canary Islands.

While young people are breathing new life into storytelling, Morocco’s legendary storytellers have been facing a common dilemma seen across the developing and developed world: how can they compete with flashier and more distracting pastimes like computer games and TV?

Illiteracy in Morocco affects 40 per cent of the population, so telling stories is an excellent way to reach this non-reading group. Stories and parables have long been seen as a great way to convey ideas, values and philosophies.

But Morocco’s storytelling sages, or halakis, are using their heads and turning to computers to get their stories told, and prevent their thousand-year tradition from dying out. With the help of UNESCO, the halakis have created a digital archive of their stories in audio and video.

Based in Marrakesh’s famous main square, Jemaa al-Fna, they compete in a hury burly of street entertainers and aromatic foods; it is a place where men with monkeys vie with snake charmers for your attention. Morocco’s storytellers would set up in the public squares of the cities of Fes, Meknes and Marrakesh to entertain crowds and educate about morality. These would include the ethical values of kindness, honour and chivalry. But Marrakesh is now the only place where a half dozen old men (there used to be 20 in Marrakesh) still practice this ancient art form.

UNESCO declared the square in 2001 part of the world’s “Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” Video recorders have been documenting the storytellers and chronicling them on the internet.

Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo, who spends part of his year in Marrakesh, has championed the halakis in his book, Marrakesh Tales, and in bringing UNESCO in to help them. He has defended their corner against the plans of city planners and developers.

Seventy-one-year-old Moulay Mohammed is blunt about the current state of storytelling: “Young Moroccans would rather watch TV soap operas than listen to a storyteller, much less become one themselves,” he told the BBC. Mohammed’s stock-in-trade is the Old Testament and all of A Thousand and One Nights: both tales of sultans, thieves, wise men and fools, mystics, genies, viziers and belly dancers. And he has been telling these tales for 45 years.

In South Africa, digital technology is also breathing new life into storytelling – and infusing the stories with urgent, contemporary issues like HIV, and domestic and sexual violence. South African women are using digital technology to preserve traditional storytelling: A collection of 15 digital stories – called “I Have Listened, I Have Heard” – made in 2006 are being distributed along with books. They assembled the stories using audio recorders and made movies of the readings with digital cameras. It was funded by the Foundation for Human Rights and made at the Women’s Net Computer Training Centre in Johannesburg.

The storytellers worked together on each script, taking a day. They would tell the group a story focusing on particular experiences or meaningful moments in their lives. The group would comment and draw out the best bits of the story. The whole process helps the story teller to flesh out the story with metaphors, narrative techniques and milestones.

Resources

  • The basics of story telling are answered in this webpage: www.timsheppard.co.uk
  • Singapore International Story Telling Festival 2008: This year’s festival also includes a new addition: Asian Digital Storytelling Festival
  • International Congress of Oral Storytelling: Held from 2-4 May 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Website: www.el-libro.org.ar
  • Folk Tales: Online project where Pakistani students and their teachers share folklore and fables with students around the world. Website: www.edutopia.org
  • Thirsty-Fish: Story and Strategy: A consultancy that helps businesses build their brands based on age-old practices of storytelling. Website: www.thirsty-fish.com

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

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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Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity). The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre (http://cd.qq.com/a/20101018/000099.htm) in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (zaha-hadid.com).

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (observerindia.com) told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company (mckinsey.com) believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”

Resources

1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website: http://lsecities.net/publications/books/the-endless-city/

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planet_Of_Slums.html?id=FToaDLPB2jAC

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sysimages/Observer/Pix/pictures/2012/01/21/urban2.jpg

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website: http://arrivalcity.net/

5) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website: amazon.com

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-pacific-13800944

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/capitalsconnected-world/

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator In Dhaka, Bangladesh: Public Service Innovation Workshop | December 2017

Southern Innovator issues 1 and 5 at the Bangladesh workshop on public service innovation, 9-11 December 2017, and the launch of the South-South Network.

The following blog report does not reflect the views of the UNOSSC or UNDP. 

Dateline: Dhaka, Bangladesh (9-11 December 2017) – From 9-11 December 2017, I participated in the Workshop on Innovations in Service Delivery: The Scope for South-South and Triangular Cooperation held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hosted by the a2i (access to information) division of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, the implementing unit for Digital Bangladesh, it was convened by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

I was asked to do a presentation for the health component of the Workshop on my past experience in public sector digital innovation. This work stretches back to the beginning of the roll out of the Internet in the late 1990s. I chose three projects I have led that had a large and significant impact in the digital public space: the UN Mongolia development web portal I launched and ran for two years (1997-1999), the GOSH Child Health Web Portal I launched and ran for two years (2001-2003) and the Southern Innovator brand I launched for the UNOSSC (2010-2015). 

I also joined a panel discussion as Senior Partner representing the David South Consulting/David South International consultancy at the end of the last day (we have worked with the UNOSSC since 2007 and with UNDP since 1997 – a timeframe which saw the rise of the Internet and the mobile and information technology revolution take the global South by storm). 

As the Workshop invitation letter says, “The digitization of service delivery, user-centric methodologies, and experimentation geared towards improvement in service delivery, and the data revolution may have originated in developed countries but is now of increasing relevance for the developing world. To respond to rapidly rising expectations of the citizens, governments in both developing and developed countries are embracing approaches and tools to adopt more citizen-centric approaches in their service delivery. These practices are establishing a culture of citizen-centric innovation within governments, breaking silos of operations and helping move towards a whole-of-government planning and execution.”

According to the a2i, Bangladesh has the “world’s largest government web portal” comprising over 25,000 government websites for 43,000 government offices (Bangladesh’s population was over 162 million as of 2016 – World Bank). Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world and is considered the 8th most populace country in the world (Wikipedia). In total, these government websites receive 60 million plus hits a month, according to the a2i, from an online population of 79.7 million people, nearly half the population.

A lot is at stake: According to the World Bank (which has been supporting the country since 1972), “Bangladesh has made substantial progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, Bangladesh reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, and is projected to decrease to 12.9 percent in 2016.

The country achieved the MDG 1 on halving poverty five years ahead of time, with 20.5 million people rising out of poverty during the 1991-2010 period. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly.  Progress was underpinned by strong economic growth, with 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.1 percent growth in 2015/2016. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2014.      

However, sustained growth has rapidly increased the demand for energy, transport and urbanization. Insufficient planning and investment have resulted in increasingly severe infrastructure bottlenecks.”

Arriving in the capital, Dhaka, on the 9th of December, it was clear to see what the World Bank is highlighting: the “severe infrastructure bottlenecks”. Just like other megacities, Dhaka is clogged with traffic and suffers from the air pollution this causes (one of the worst cities for this in Asia). But these are just the visible signs of success if you think about it (as frustrating as that might be), as booming economies combined with rapid urbanisation, if not planned well, tend to lead to traffic congestion and high levels of air pollution. 

The country’s rising living standards since 2000 and impressive gains in the provision of information and mobile technology services and connectivity, reveal a country brimming with potential and capable of getting a handle on its many development challenges. The streets are visibly lined with small and medium enterprises and there are construction projects in various states of completion all around Dhaka. At the airport, glossy posters advertise many real estate developer’s dreams and show-off the heavy construction equipment for sale or lease from China and Russia. 

The population no longer suffers from food crises such as the 1974 famine, which killed 1.5 million people (Christian Science Monitor). According to the UN, Bangladesh cut chronic hunger by half since 2000 and is considered one of the success stories from the past 10 years that the rest of the developing world can look to as they push to eliminate hunger by 2030 as part of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2015/0617/From-famine-to-food-basket-how-Bangladesh-became-a-model-for-reducing-hunger). Clearly, Bangladesh is a country that can get things done when it draws on the power of its population. 

According to Digital Bangladesh, with a deadline of 2021, it has achieved half its goals to get the population online and its economy and government services online. In 2017, the country made US $800 million from exporting ICT (information and communication technologies) products and services. It is currently building 12 hi-tech parks with the ambitious goal to export US $10 billion in ICT services from them by 2030 and make US $5 billion by 2021. 

The streets of Dhaka.

Workshop

Sharing ideas at the Workshop.

Speaking at the Workshop, Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister’s Office, believes the concept of South-South Cooperation (SSC) is about enlightened self-interest but at present there is no framework for SSC in Bangladesh and most cooperation is ad hoc. If global South countries are not cooperating, then they are just re-inventing the wheel, he added. SSC is about avoiding feeling each country has to make it own their own: SSC can facilitate development leapfrogging and prevent leaving country success to chance. However, there needs to be better ways to communicate Southern solutions.

And Bangladesh has a good story to tell to the global South: To date, Bangladesh’s digital public service delivery has saved the country US $2 billion in cost for government services plus 1 billion man days in time spent trying to carry out tasks using government services, according to the a2i. With this success under their belts, the hope is to market Bangladesh as a world leader in innovation. To go from MDGs poster child to leader of the global South. 

UNOSSC Director and Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on SSC, Jorge Chediek (https://www.unsouthsouth.org/about/unossc-director/), emphasised the need to tell stories of how South-South is changing the world; the pressing need to change the narrative around the global South in order to be able to achieve the 2030 agenda.

It was an honour to be invited to present my three case studies on public sector digital innovation (GOSH Child Health Portal, Southern Innovator Magazine and the UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal). All three share the same characteristics: a public demand for digital resources and a need to create high-quality content on limited budgets and to build public confidence in those resources. These projects were also engaging with enormous complexity and needed to find a way to simplify this for online readers.

I was impressed by the level of debate at the Workshop, and how Bangladesh’s digital initiatives are communicated (the excellent use of infographics and simple step-by-step explanations), and the overall excitement and energy around digital and the digital economy in Bangladesh. But, importantly, the foresight to give attention to the coming wave of automation and robotics (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) and how this will affect Bangladesh. 

In the health workshop, we shared two projects for the reverse engineering component: the GOSH Child Health Portal and the magazine Southern Innovator (link to PowerPoint). Using the Reverse Engineering tool (see images below), each project was broken down as to how it worked and also what was its contribution to South-South Cooperation. 

I shared experience from the early days of digital public innovation in the late 1990s. This has included applying digital to crisis recovery, healthcare modernisation in the early 2000s, and the campaign to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), as well as during the mobile/information technology and social media revolution in the global South, which took off after 2007. 

Reverse Engineering

GOSH Child Health Portal (2001-2003)

Issues discussed here included the recent online fake news scandals and how important it is for the public sector to offer the antidote to this with quality, factual digital information and resources. The GOSH Child Health Portal was one good example, where it entered the crowded online medical and health information marketplace and succeeded in drawing a large online audience by offering high-quality, peer-reviewed resources, thoroughly fact-checked and proofread and presented using high-quality online design. By the end of the project’s two-year timeframe, it was receiving over 7 million hits a month and was acknowledged as a trusted global source in child health. The content is cited in many books and papers, as well. 

Reverse engineering GOSH Child Health Web Portal, 2001-2003.

Southern Innovator Magazine (2010-2015)

Throughout the Workshop, I heard over and over again about the urgent need for a more cohesive platform for sharing Southern innovations and initiatives. Many complained this was currently very fragmented. While there are many media and development organisations documenting innovations and stories, there is no one-stop shop for countries to go to. 

The Southern Innovator brand (incubated and developed by the UNOSSC) is a good example of what can be achieved with a more cohesive and strategic approach. Southern Innovator, first launched in 2011 by the UNOSSC, was able to leverage its limited resources to reach a large global audience via the web and social media. The brand became established with innovators and five issues were published (from 2011 to 2015). An Action Plan for scaling-up the Southern Innovator brand was also developed with the UNOSSC in 2015 (but awaits funding). 

The original Southern Innovator website (southerninnovator.org, now southerninnovator.com) did fulfil the role of offering a one-stop shop for stories on global South innovation and these stories were widely cited in websites, papers and books on the global South. But the terrain has shifted radically in the global South – and at the UN – since Southern Innovator’s launch in 2011. With the widespread adoption of mobile and digital technologies, the opportunities to communicate innovator solutions have never been better but require a more sophisticated approach to be effective. In fact, we now exist in a world where the solutions already exist to the major problems affecting the global South (and even the funding is available through many sources). The problem is not the lack of solutions, innovators or technologies and business models to resolve problems (both e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator proved this) but how people can access these resources and in a format that makes sense to them and is available when they are searching for a solution. With modern computing technologies, this is no longer an unsolvable problem. And the people to connect with to do this also already exist in the global South. What is missing is a coherent and cohesive approach. The multiplicity of development actors in this case are hampering effective action by dissecting and scattering resources, leaving end-users confused and poorly communicated with in many cases. As an example, there was a definite need to assist people in understanding how the 17 SDGs can fit into practical actions and a definite psychological need for simplicity: a problem highlighted by former UNDP head Helen Clark back in 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/07/sustainable-development-goals-will-be-hard-sell-for-united-nations).

For UNDP, with its human development approach and presence in most countries, an opportunity exists to rapidly accelerate development gains and shorten the time it takes to recover when disaster or conflict strikes. Something that came out of the Workshop is the presence of excellent examples of global knowledge sharing already underway for decades around the world. Think of the scientific community in general (working on vast projects such as the CERN facility in Switzerland), or aerospace industries, or the global adoption of the principles of air safety managed by IATA in Montreal, Canada, or sport – all proof countries do successfully share knowledge and adopt common, high standards when they feel it is a priority and necessity. No country wants to be frozen out of flight routes, for example. 

Reverse engineering the Southern Innovator magazine brand, 2010-2015. 

Panel Discussion

At the closing panel discussion, I was asked how to engage more donors to be part of the South-South Network. I said there is a need to get people excited and show why the South-South Network is different; how it is related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There needs to be a communications strategy and to establish some ambitious first goals that are original: to show that this is part of a clear trend. International aid and development is a crowded space so there is a need to show how the Network would tackle the challenges of the global South in the 21st century head-on, with a more effective solution. And of course, I championed the existing and successful Southern Innovator brand developed by the UNOSSC since 2010 as, potentially, part of this communications strategy. 

Senior Partner David South is third from the left on the panel. Photo: Yoko Shimura.
Senior Partner David South is centre at back with the South-South Network for Public Service Innovation, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2017.

Finally

This impressive embracing of e-initiatives and all things digital was visibly missing at the airport. On the way in, long lines and then a confusing scramble to buy a visa created confusion for visitors. As the first impression for visitors, this could be a great place to show-off Bangladesh’s digital capabilities. 

And finally, as the World Bank says, this all about job creation and increased living standards: “The World Bank has identified job creation as the country’s top development priority. Bangladesh needs to create more and better jobs for the 2.1 million youths entering the job market every year. But to do so, Bangladesh will need to remove the barriers to higher growth posed by low access to reliable and affordable power, poor transportation infrastructure, limited availability of serviced land, rapid urbanization and vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, among others.”

Bangabandhu International Conference Center hosting Digital World 2017 and Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport.

Further reading and links: 

South-South in Action: Citizen-friendly Public Service Innovation in Bangladesh

Digital Bangladesh: Digital Service for All

GOSH Child Health Web Portal

UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal 

Southern Innovator and Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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

© David South Consulting 2017