Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Accra Aid conference: “priorities need to change”

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2008
Can we halve poverty by 2015?

Can we halve poverty by 2015?

I haven’t written about development issues for ages – but last week’s Aid Effectiveness conference in Ghana is a good place to wade briefly back in.

Held in Accra, it was designed to find ways of making aid from developed countries have more impact in the countries they’re supposed to be helping.

Three years after the Paris Conference – where 100 countries agreed to do more to sort this out – it is still a huge problem.

Countries like the UK, France, Italy and America all promised to donate more cash – but shamefully they’re not making good on their promises.

“In simple terms” says Professer Jeffrey Sachs in an interview on Hardtalk, “the limiting factor holding back our progress towards the [Millennium Developement] Goals is the richest countries coming up with the money they have promised.

“We live in an age of cynicism and resistance, but we are not asking goverments to do anything they have not already promised. Some countries are delivering on their promises made in  2005 but where are France, Germany and Italy? If these countries are lagging then by far the biggest lagger is the US where we are committing only 0.17% of our income to development assistance.”

There’s only seven years left until we’re supposed to have reaced the Millennium Development Goals. At this rate that won’t happen.

Meanwhile blogger par excellence in Accra EK Benah was at the conference in Accra last week – check out his posts here.

Ghana @ 50: a leading light?

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on March 5, 2007

Kids in AccraThe oldest independent nation in Africa, Ghana is – in my not very important opinion – a model for the rest of the continent to follow. A sound leadership, but backed by tangible credible democracy, and because of that a strong economy.

And best of all, peace. Whatever people say about the “gentle giant” John Kufour, he’s helped lead Ghana into an enviable lack of violence, discrimination or intimidation. And that’s in spite of sitting between two rather less peaceful neighbours – Togo and Cote D’Ivoire – and the ramblings of the old dictator Jerry Rawlings, who it still amazes me gets at least one newspaper front page a week. And this is backed up by some promising figures.

I was contacted this week by the World Bank believe it or not, who gave me some of their latest research on Ghana as she turns a golden fifty. They’ve concluded the following:

  • There’s been strong improvements in the business climate, political stability and press freedom.
  • Inflation’s decreased from 40% to 10% and the economy’s growing by around 6% a year, compared to 4% over the past 20 years.
  • Poverty’s down to 33.4%, from nearly 40% in 2000 and over fifty percent in 1990.

And most amazing of all:

  • Ghana may be able to halve poverty by 2015.

That would be a phenomenal acheivement – even Britain’s pretty poor on poverty, especially among children. The World Bank says it thinks the chances of Ghana becoming a middle-class country in the next few years as “high”. Accra street

That, I think, is down to the reasons above, but also many others. Not least the fact people in Ghana seem pretty unhappy unless they’re aiming big and changes are happening.

Check this article from BBC News’ Alexis Akwagyiram in Accra. It’s a report about a debate held between a government minister Frank Agyekum and a group of young Ghanaians. “Despite the air conditioning,” Alexis writes, “the minister is sweating”.

“Sitting amongst hundreds of young Ghanaians, the government spokesman is being forced to defend his administration’s record against a barrage of criticism. Issues ranging from corruption and economic mismanagement to the country’s education system are being held up as examples of failure.”

So despite amazing and unrivalled improvements over the past ten years, people aren’t satisfied. And that’s so important because it means complacancy will never set in. And the fact that a government minister can be held to account to without fear is almost unrivalled too:

“…most of the crowd, which consists almost entirely of people aged between 20 and 30, make it clear they disagree by murmuring and heckling.”

Ghana kings …there are some country’s where that kind of behaviour gets you in trouble.

The crowd were worried most about corruption and I seem to remember from my time in Ghana that was a problem – but tiny compared to corruption in Burkina Faso and Mali.

There are 25 heads of state plus delegates from 60 countries arriving for tomorrows jubilee celebrations. And I hope everyone else joins in as well…Ghana has a lot to celebrate!

Discrimination in the media: it’s not race – it’s money

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 27, 2007

Is radio racist?

That was the question asked at a Radio Academy event I went to last week. Arguments went round in a circles a little bit, with nobody actually producing even anecdotal evidence of any prejudice or discrimination in the line of their work.

Then my friend Jimmy, who works at the Radio Centre, produced some yet-to-be-published statistics from Skillset, which poured a bit more fuel on the fire:

  • Averaged out, about 6% of the UK population are non-white.
  • 10.9% of the BBC’s staff are non-white
  • 3.1% of staff in the commercial radio sector are non-white.

A bit embarassing for commercial radio really, but you do have to mention that the majority of local radio staff work in regions and small towns. Compare that to the Beeb’s mainly London based staff. And in London nearer 30% of people are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

My own personal conclusion was (in regards to employment) the media industry is possibly the least racist industry there is. But it does discriminate still – against people, of all races, without money.

Greasy poles and NUJ polls

Take my course for example. To train to be a journalist at City University will set you back £5,995. Its equivalent at Westminster is £4,700 and £5,391 at Cardiff.

And on top of that we, plus anyone wanting to go into any branch of the industry, usually do at least a couple of months worth of unpaid work experience. And on rare occasions we get our travel expenses paid. That’s happened to me once.

I’m not for one second trying to moan about this or get above my station. I know I’m one of thousands clambering at the bottom of a great whopping dirty greasy pole; if I didn’t work for free, there are hundreds behind me who will. It’s part of the process.
But it’s worried the National Union of Journalists who today handed a survey to Her Majesty’s Custom and Exise highlighting the exploitation of people on work experience by certain companies. An early day motion’s also been tabled in parliament to discuss the NUJ’s findings.

They say some companies are bringing in unpaid students on work experience to fill HR gaps and sick leave. Here’s one example from the NUJ’s survey:

“At my local paper – I was given several by-lines including a front page exclusive and was not even offered payment for my travel expenses.”

Money, money, money

Again, I’m not here to moan, and a lot of the case studies in the NUJ survey seem to be just general “I didn’t get to do anything” rants. One person even complains I really had to push to get work and used my own initiative to get stuff on air”…well done mate – that’s how it works.

But they do raise a good point about the cost of going into this industry. And if you’re doing the work that a freelancer could be brought in to do, then by rights you should be paid the rates.

It’s a hugely rewarding industry when you get in and – I dearly hope – my six grand will have more than paid for itself this time next year.

But it’s cold and wet on the outside looking in. Is it surprising that people get turned off from the media when they have to sacrifice so much to get in? You need extraordinary amounts of money to get started, and it’s sad fact that most of the people who can’t afford fees or unpaid work happen to be from BME backgrounds.

But that’s a socio-economic problem for Britain as a whole – it’s not something the media industry (as powerful as it is) is not equipped to deal with.

The million dollar question (literally)

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 5, 2007

Dollar signThe big story of the day for all Claphams yummy mummys is undoubtedly the news that the education system for 11-14 year old’s to be shaken up.

“Useless” EU languages are going to be scrapped in favour of economically more fruitful ones like Arabic, Urdu and Mandarin.

Brilliant. I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin, and besides I never use my French anyway.

But seeing as we’re on the topic of economically useful subjects, here’s one that really gets me:

Why were we never taught money at school?

As I flounder in a panic-stricken state, smothered by the giant pillow of £22,000 debt beneath a 13-tog* duvet of rising interest rates and an exploding property market I’m wishing I got told how to manage my money instead of being taught William Blake was a mentalist.

I have little idea of loans, APR, taxes and I only discovered there was such a thing as a credit rating and that failing one is bad news….when I failed one. Cheers for that one education.

And clearly I’m not the only one. Personal insolvency in the UK went up by a whopping 59% last year. In 2006 a record 107,000 thousand people were declared bankrupt and probably now live on a diet of cat food and cardboard, like me.

The government moans and blames the banks. But successive education ministers have been too proud to look at themselves – schools are to blame, not banks. Well, banks are a little too.

So great, teach kids Mandarin, and Urdu and Elvish, whatever. But why the hell aren’t we taught how to manage our money in a world where money’s everything?

It’s the million dollar question.

* you need to have worked a summer selling people duvets to know that 13 tog is a really thick duvet that you have when its cold.