Press Review June 2013: First Impressions

Our internal press review features the latest publications by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance: from working papers to policy reports to entire books.

Our June output includes a handbook, a PhD thesis and nine working papers, covering half the globe from Canada through Latin America to Western Europe to Iran. We focus on topics including the impact of infrastructure on trade; child deprivation and poverty; location advantages for new multinationals; and microeconometrics for innovative activity.

Innovation for economic performance: The case of Latin American firms’ analysed a raft of indicators to capture the innovation behaviour of manufacturing firms in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. Using the Enterprise Surveys 2010, this working paper explored differences in innovation performance and effort by country, sector and firm characteristics, such as being a multinational or exporter. The authors identified top R&D performers in LAC and what features they share. By researcher Pluvia Zuniga, PhD fellow Ezequiel Tacsir, et al.

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Walk the Line: How to Reclaim our Public Spaces?

At some point every day, we use the most ‘human’ form of urban transport: our feet. Walking has always been the basis of human mobility and even now, in our mistaken belief that ‘development’ has to mean cities filled with highways and polluting vehicles, pedestrians are still fighting for recognition.

For many, this battle has intensified since the 1960s, thanks to Jane Jacobs’ book The Life and Death of Great American Cities. This challenged the US model of towns built for cars while criticizing previously ‘untouchable’ architects such as Le Corbusier and Robert Moses. Indeed, Jacobs’ public protest against Moses’ plans to build a highway over Washington Square Park in New York City is now legendary. Frustrated by the protests, Moses declared: “There is nobody against this. Nobody, nobody, nobody but a bunch of, a bunch of mothers.” In the end, the mothers won!

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AlumniWatch: New Governance Insights from Jordan

For the latest in a new series featuring top alumni, we asked Dr. Zina Nimeh to share her impressions of the PhD programme and how it has shaped her career. Zina speaks of what brought her to Maastricht, the challenges of gathering data in the Middle East, and the poignancy of completing the course during the ‘Arab Spring’.

I joined the world of academia a bit later than the average academic. My professional career in policy making was fulfilling and rewarding, but I somehow felt that it lacked the depth and academic rigour that would make it truly meaningful. This is why when I learned of the launch of a new PhD programme in Maastricht, backed with funding from the Marie Curie Research foundation, I was intrigued!

Set to begin in the fall of 2005, the interdisciplinary programme offered a state-of-the-art curriculum taught by prominent scholars in a wide scope of fields ranging from economics, to sociology to political science. It promised to equip prospective researchers with an all-embracing combination of theoretical education, technical skills and personally tailored areas of knowledge which would be utilized through “evidenced based policy making”.

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First Impressions: Press Review March 2013

Welcome to our monthly internal press review, featuring the latest publications by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance: from working papers to policy reports to entire books.

Our March output includes 10 working papers, four journal articles, two PhD theses, and two research reports for the European Commission and United Nations Development Programme. For innovation, topics range from the aerospace industry, to nanotechnology, to R&D patents and productivity. For governance, we look into urban sustainability, economic vulnerability, and communities of learning. Geographically, the focus spreads from Latin America, through Europe and the Arab world, via Singapore to China, drawing on real-world data from more than 160 countries.

Students from the Khan Younis Training Centre in Gaza, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), test drive a Formula 1-style car they have built, mostly out of recycled parts. Continue reading

Hybrid Political Orders and Fragile States: Lessons from Lebanon

Intervention in fragile states will increasingly form the centre of the discourse on aid effectiveness, humanitarian relief and regional and international governance. Since the start of the Arab Spring and following on from the global economic crisis, we have seen various strategies of intervention in various fragile states – from Cote D’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, DRC and more recently the question of how to design and execute intervention in Mali.

In Syria, where UN Security Council support for intervention, even for creating a no-fly zone over Syria for Assad’s air force, is absent, the model of intervention has been to isolate the regime financially and politically – as was the case in Libya and Cote D’Ivoire. But whereas in these cases military intervention was sanctioned by the UN, in Syria the absence of a UN sanction has lead to intervention strategies, at least at the time of writing, limited to supporting the creation of a more unified  (and pro-Western) opposition.

In this photo taken by a UN observer, a shell lays in the middle of the street in Homs, Syria, a remnant of the heavy attack levelled on the city.

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Do We All Now Live in Fragile States?

Guinea-Bissau is a small country in West Africa, which rarely catches the eye of the global media. But it is a classic ‘fragile state’, presenting many of the problems of state fragility that so bedevils development. It is a coup-prone country. According to the New York Times, “In the last three years alone, there have been at least six political assassinations, including of the president and the army chief of staff in 2009, and three attempted coups”.

Despite its small size, and apparent insignificance, the troubles in Guinea-Bissau do not end at its borders. As with most fragile states neighbours and the rest of world pay a price. In the case of Guinea-Bissau, it is one of Africa’s most notorious narco-states. It is estimated that at least 50 tons of cocaine is shipped through Guinea-Bissau each year from Latin America to Europe, and that the military-led government is the main beneficiary.

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Pink Slippers and Platinum: Governance Failure and the Decline of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in South Africa

South Africa’s national defence force was once perhaps highly rated; recently it is facing ridicule and concern. Ridicule, as a Lieutenant-Colonel was seen sporting pink slippers with her official uniform in public. According to the UK’s Guardian Newspaper, “It is not an image of top guns defending African skies that is likely to deter would-be foreign invaders”. Concern, as an officer borrowed an air force plane for personal use to visit a friend in neighbouring Botswana.

South Africa’s platinum mines were also once highly rated. Until the Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012 when the South African Police killed 34 striking workers, apparently shooting many in the back, interfering with evidence after the shootings, and charging the mine workers (the victims) with the deaths of their fellows. While it is the police, and not the mines that are now facing an inquiry, the context of South African mining remains problematic, despite a decade of the longest commodity boom in recent history.

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The Blue Economy: The Only Sustainable Option?

It’s no secret that our Earth is moving towards an environmental catastrophe. Many of us try to effect change locally in our own communities, but more powerful forces are at work. Forces that put economic gain before the health of our planet.

Let’s not lie to ourselves: this Aggressive consumerismbeautiful planet of ours is run by the forces of the market economy. Any business student can blurt out the mantra: you have to compete in the global market, produce at the lowest marginal cost, sell at the maximum possible price, focus on core competences, seek economies of scale, and destroy competitors.

The Chicago School of Economics convinced us that the government should not interfere in this perfect dance of the market. Later, marketing geniuses invented the concepts of Corporate Social Responsibility and the triple bottom line in full cost accounting; all to sell the idea that even a company which destroys moorland and forest reserves can also be good, so long as they give a little to charity.

What’s the end result of these decades of ‘economic growth’? Millions of people leaving their rural communities and moving to city slums, mass unemployment (from Colombia to Morocco), an inequity that hits us daily at every traffic light, a cult of consumerism that has created unprecedented debt, and record-breaking destruction of our natural resources. Are there still people who think this system is working?

There is, however, a new economic model breaking ground in our globalized world: the Blue Economy. Apart from proposing a radical break with the green movement, it provides a completely different perspective on the struggle for sustainability.The great green paradox declares that what is good for us and the environment is very expensive, while what is bad for us and our environment is cheap (think about sodas vs. natural juices).

Under the Blue Economy model, the idea is not to try to reduce or solve pollution after the ecological damage has been done. On the contrary, it aims to redefine the concept of waste via a self-sufficient and dynamic approach. It also aims to prevent the use of materials which can only be used once, including oil.

We’ve already seen many successes from the Blue Economy. From using coffee grounds to grow mushrooms at home (remember that in our morning cup of coffee we use only 0.2% of the actual product); to using hot water, which is normally wasted in beer production, for fish farming; to large crops of algae fed with carbon dioxide, already being generated in megafactories. Experts say this algae could become the ‘super-food’ of the future, thanks to its high content of spirulina (a nutritious high-protein food supplement).

The Blue Economy is based on the power of entrepreneurship and local creativity. It seeks to break the rules we have given the system of global competition, to convert industries considered non-competitive by the standards of the market economy into viable models which preserve our world. This involves the creation of new systems made from existing
resources in our local communities. By changing our concept of waste and resource use as complementary processes, it aims to generate multiple revenue streams which can ensure a low price for what is good, and to deliver what is vital, as free.

I had the opportunity to meet the leader of this movement during a recent trip to Hungary. Although born in Belgium and living in South Africa, this entrepreneurial genius is close to Colombia through some family ties and his work at the world famous Gaviotas Experimental Centre. Find out more about Gunter Pauli and his foundation, sponsored by the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, at

by Carlos Cadena Gaitán, PhD fellow at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and UNU-MERIT. First published in El Mundo, 16 July 2012. Image: Flickr / Burtonwood & Holmes. Translated from the Spanish by Howard Hudson.

Return Migration: A Question of Choice and Flexibility?

On 27 June 2012 the IS Academy: Migration and Development project hosted an Advanced Academic Update (AAU) on Return Migration, Reintegration and Development.

The purpose of the AAU was Flickr John Perivolaristo provide state-of-the-art knowledge in the field of return, reintegration and development and to engage in lively debate amongst policy makers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and international organizations, and academics. The AAU was well attended with representatives from several organizations in the Netherlands working with return migrants, policy makers, and academics.

Throughout the day participants engaged in dynamic discussions regarding key questions such as: Do assisted voluntary returnees contribute to micro level development in their communities of return? What are the obligations of receiving states in readmitting their citizens? How can programmes for assisted voluntary returnees be optimized? What is the role of research and evaluation in informing best practices in assisted voluntary return?

A key element of the discussion that was particularly of interest was the question of honesty regarding assisted voluntary return programmes. Currently in the Netherlands the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds these programmes as part of their development cooperation budget. However, there is no evidence as of yet to illustrate that these programmes contribute to development in the countries of return.

In the UK case, it is recognized that the cost to forcibly return an individual is 10 times more expensive than if the individual opts for assisted voluntary return. From this perspective, the purpose of the assisted voluntary return programmes can be viewed as to motivate people who do not have a right to stay to return, to do so in a humanitarian way, and to be cost effective for the government.

This begs the question: is development funding the most appropriate source of financing for this kind of programme?

The discussions and resulting policy recommendations have been summarized in a IS Academy policy brief that will be on the website shortly. Key recommendations noted from the day were the importance of flexibility in assisted voluntary return programmes, give returnees choices, the time to make decisions, and the ability to change their minds.

It was also recognized that there is a lack of research on the effectiveness of these programmes and further research and evaluation is required to fully understand the long-term impacts of these programmes and their effectiveness. Further events on the topic of return migration will be organized for the IS Academy project in the future.

by Katherine Kuschminder, PhD fellow, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Image: Flickr / John Perivolaris

How much of a Consumerist are you?

Some people still believe that, to be happy, we need to accumulate things. Shopping malls have become the destination of choice for human entertainment, in turn making our regions economically dependent on department stores.

Have you ever wondered where so Coltan from DRCmuch of what we buy, mostly needlessly, comes from and goes? The system of production and consumption on our planet begins with extraction. You get the necessary natural resources (minerals, water, wood, etc.) from all over the world taken to manufacturing centres. There they are combined with synthetic products, and energy is invested to produce anything from clothing to appliances. So far, so clear.

Yet there are two basic problems with this system. First, there are not enough natural resources in the world to meet the current demand of Western consumption. The USA, with only 5 per cent of the global population, uses about 30 per cent of the world’s resources. Clearly, if other countries follow these rates of consumption – and there are several that threaten to do so including India and China – our resources will run out much sooner than we think.

Second, the world’s largest corporations have amassed so much power that they’re increasingly difficult to regulate. According to the consultancy Global Trends, of the world’s 150 largest economies only 41 per cent are countries; the rest are corporations.

There are various drawbacks to this situation, from the terrible working conditions for employees in developing countries, to the destruction of valuable  natural resources without compensation. All this to produce shoes, watches and tablets as quickly and cheaply as possible to satisfy the  demand of global consumers.

Although consumption trends are high in many countries (Germany leads in  Europe, while the growth in some Persian Gulf countries is astounding), the USA has topped the list since the times of Victor Lebow. This analyst theorized that for the large US economy to maintain its robustness, it would need to make consumption a permanent part of the US lifestyle.

It is seriously difficult to understand prices in US malls. How  can a buyer know how much was earned by the Chinese boy who assembled the product by hand? If he was offered social security and health benefits? How much did the fuel cost to bring it from China to Rotterdam to Florida? If it is an electronic device, where did the Coltan come from? And how much was paid to farmers who extracted it? If this mineral – vital for cell phones and games consoles – came from D.R. Congo, did it come stained with blood?

We do not have sufficient space to address the last link in this consumer system: the inevitably gigantic quantities of waste generated. But the message is clear, responsible citizenship requires us, at the very least, to ask ourselves again and again if we really need that new item that we are about to buy.

Although modern advertising may suggest the opposite, and those who call us  ‘ecocentric’ are everywhere, it is worth pursuing sustainable lifestyles. Ultimately, parks and fellow humans are worth more than shopping malls and corporations. Because our quality of life doesn’t depend on our level of consumption!

by Carlos Cadena Gaitán, PhD fellow at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and UNU-MERIT. First published in El Mundo, 9 April 2012. Translated from the Spanish by Howard Hudson. Image: Flickr / Enoughproject