by Kate Belohlav, research associate, International Programs
On the opening day of Seventh Annual PopPov Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development, Hans Rosling gave a presentation on a “Fact-Based Worldview.” After having watched several of Rosling’s TedTalks and having heard about his dynamic presence, I was excited to finally see him in person. Rosling, co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation and award-winning lecturer, calls himself an “edutainer,” but still I wondered if I would be entertained in an hour-plus talk at a research conference. Of course, I was proven wrong, and the dynamic Rosling left me both entertained and educated.
Be prepared. In essence, this boils down to knowing what the key supporting points of your argument are and having this information ready in an easily understandable form. Also, it means being prepared to offer the information when asked for it, not before.
Find common ground. There may be some difference between what you believe personally, the position officially supported by your organization, and the opinions held by professionals whose actions you are trying to influence. Rather than focusing on differences, focus on common values in order to make advances on the issues on which you agree.
These guidelines are encouraging because they seem doable. But they also imply a certain amount of reflection and thoughtfulness: It is important to have figured out what is important, both in your eyes and in the eyes of those with whom you must work.
Make decisions about how to design and implement policies and programs.
First, in the problem definition phase, policymakers construct problems based on their understanding of the world. This understanding may be influenced by research results. For example, in the case of high fertility, research findings could influence whether the problem depicted is: (1) high fertility produces poor health outcomes, (2) fertility is higher than women actually want, or (3) high fertility endangers the economic future of the country.
Second, in identifying a possible set of solutions, policymakers look for solutions that align with social values and an acceptable policy timeframe for producing results. Research can make a difference in what policymakers decide is a worthwhile action to take. For example, does it make more sense to work on reducing the number of adolescent pregnancies or reducing the dropout rate?
Finally, in planning the details of a policy or program, decisions have to be made about who should receive the services or information, and what activities to put in place. Rigorous evaluations are necessary to learn from what has already been done and can provide timely feedback on programs.
Levine also suggested how researchers could be more effective in communicating with policymakers:
Simplify the message.
Make information easy to access.
Keep in mind that your objective is to convince others about the truth and importance of your message.
by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
Although many countries have had long-standing population policies, one of the challenges facing their implementation is that they can be very comprehensive, addressing a wide range of population-related issues. In commenting on the first day of the PopPov annual research meeting, Dr. Frederick Mugisha talked about the fact that the population policy issue receiving the most attention these days is family planning—ensuring that women and couples have a choice in contraceptive methods so they can time and space their births as they want. It strikes me that even though family planning programs are still insufficient to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of women and couples, this aspect of population policies receive a lot of attention, at least in comparison to other parts of the policies. The reason may be that family planning provides a near-term solution to a large, complex issue. Helping women and couples achieve their desired family size through access to effective family planning can be looked at from the perspectives of health, human rights, and development.
Several weeks ago, I had the new experience of spending a week in Kerala, India. Kerala has long been one of India’s most educated and progressive States. That is evidenced, among other things, by its very low total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.7 children per woman, a distinction it shares with its neighbor Tamil Nadu and a TFR lower than the U.S. and many European countries. The state, with a 2011 Census population of 33.4 million, grew only by 1.5 million since the 2001 Census and will likely grow very little in the future. Kerala occupies a narrow strip of territory along India’s southwest coast; it has little open territory between cities and towns, at least in the southern part, and the driving is a bit slow. Kerala is also unusual in India in that it has labor unions, largely due to the ruling Communist Party of India. As a result, few companies wish to locate there so many workers opt to leave to work in the Gulf and send remittances home. The movement is so great that a large, and very modern, airport was built outside Kochi where we landed to accommodate it. Our trip began in Kochi, about midway down Kerala and a center of the spice trade from the 15th Century, and concluded at Cape Comorin at India’s very southern tip in the famous temple town of Kanyakumari.
A typical Keralan village overlooks a tea garden. Photo: Carl Haub.
The Women’s Banks, featured in my previous blog post, emerged largely thanks to Mariam Ndiaye, my counterpart while I was working in Mali, and my friend for life. Mariam was born in 1942, when French colonization was still firmly established throughout Africa. When she went to primary school, at age seven, Malian children were sitting in the back of the classroom, while the children of the French butcher, baker, and hairdresser occupied the front rows. Students of both groups considered that this was the “normal” societal order. However, the Malian children that made it to school, especially the girls, were usually descendants of forward-looking and highly motivated families who encouraged their children to learn as much as they could to help their society change for the better. As a consequence, they were the children who were consistently on the honor roll. Already at a young age, Mariam liked the “hard sciences” such as physics and biology. After completing secondary school, during the period that Mali became independent in 1960, Mariam enrolled at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENSUP) in Bamako. After obtaining her first degree, she was admitted to graduate school at ENSUP, section biology, as the first Malian woman in science.
As a rule, all taxis in Bamako are beaten up and about to fall apart. I am sitting in one of those when I ask the driver, Souleymane Togola, if he is setting aside money on a regular basis (a typically European or American question, by the way!) so that he will be able to replace his taxi one day in the foreseeable future. He explains that there is no way that he will be able to do so, since every cent he earns goes into the basic necessities for his family. His “family” being his wife, three children, and four students–close or distant relatives who have come to Bamako from their native villages to complete their secondary school education since the schools in their own villages do not offer the complete cycle of secondary education. Souleymane takes care of most needs of these students such as food, lodging, and transport, and sometimes clothes, school supplies, and pocket money. At present, there is very little reciprocity by the students’ own families. Souleymane’s wife transforms peanuts into a paste that is widely used in the Malian daily meal, which she sells in the neighborhood market, to supplement the family income. Souleymane hopes that in the future the students he supports will help him buy a new taxi, after they have finished school and hopefully found well-paying jobs.
My wonderful friend Boubacar Macalou met me at the airport in Bamako upon arrival in Mali. I have known Macalou, a.k.a. “Monsieur SAGA” (Mr. Social and Gender Analysis) for the past 15 years. During that period we worked together on different World Bank projects related to agricultural development and environmental management in Mali, and in the West Africa region at large. Macalou received the nickname “Monsieur SAGA” when he worked as the Director of Training at a natural resource management project in Mali where he organized three training sessions on social and gender analysis in environmental management. To do so, he mobilized over 100 high-level civil servants—all men at that time (1995)—of the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment. In the process, he managed to raise awareness and, I might say, great enthusiasm for the subject as I witnessed in person when I was a guest speaker in his training sessions. He undertook this initiative in spite of initial widespread skepticism from his colleagues because of a genuine conviction that the exclusion of women and some social groups from the means of modern agriculture would be detrimental to the development of his country.
by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
On December 6, I attended a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center that examined new insights into the population growth and development in Africa. One of the issues that struck me again is how rapidly the population of Africa is growing. In 2010, the continent had a population of just over 1 billion; by 2050, that number is expected to exceed 2 billion—based on the UN’s medium variant projection, which makes optimistic assumptions about fertility reduction. However, if fertility does not drop as much as the medium variant assumes, then Africa will be a lot more crowded, with as many as 2.3 billion people—the extra 0.3 billion is roughly the size of the population of the United States.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much, because there are plenty of issues about Africa’s population today to focus on. Dr. Eliya Zulu noted that urbanization in Africa has led to a doubling of the number of people living in slums in only a 20-year period. In 1990, just over 70 percent of urban populations lived in slums, and although the figure appears to have dropped to 62 percent by 2010, the absolute number living in poverty has increased to 200 million. The challenges of providing education, health care, and employment to this burgeoning urban population should loom large in the minds of Ministries of Planning—and other parts of government—throughout the region.
Yet it isn’t clear that it necessarily does. The speakers on the panel are all sounding the bells trying to get the attention of policymakers in the region. Many leaders still think that big populations are good. Dr. Jotham Musinguzi noted that Uganda’s population has doubled in 20 years—from about 17 million in 1990 to about 34 million in 2010—and is likely to reach 55 million in the next 25 years. And a big population isn’t necessarily bad—if there are opportunities for people. And opportunities arise when populations are educated, healthy, and have needed skills. And when there is infrastructure to get people from place to place. And when there is enough investment to create the needed jobs. You get the picture.
Population growth needs to be managed like any other asset, and one message that appears to be resonating with policymakers in the region is that by managing population growth, countries in the region may stand a chance of a demographic bonus that contributes to stronger economic growth—like the experiences of the Asian Tigers that now have strong, dominating economies. But what the Asian Tigers did back in the 1960s is what African countries also need to do today—recognize that their economic progress is not just about reducing fertility and slowing population growth; it’s also about making wise investments so that the nations will be able to take advantage of opportunities that come along.
To make the most of this opportunity countries need to invest in education—especially for girls—and family planning, which according to Dr. Malcolm Potts are the driving mechanisms of development. Contraception—because it can slow a nation’s population growth rate—can be a powerful force for providing economic and social stability and for slowing environmental degradation. Potts noted that the cost of waiting to make these investments will be overwhelming for many countries—citing the example of Niger, with a population of 15 million in 2010, but that could reach 50 million by 2050.
The panel members’ insights remind me that now is the time to prepare for the future. Often we who work inside the beltway think about many of these issues in abstract terms. There’s nothing like a dose of reality from experts in the field to remind me that population and development affect every aspect of people’s well-being—and now is the time to do something about it.
Teaching an entire semester’s graduate course in three weeks at the end of the academic year seemed a dubious task under normal conditions. But teaching it at the end of Ethiopia’s long dry season with shortages of electricity and water, not to mention scarcity of recent publications and slow internet speed in the mountainous capital city of Addis Ababa, made it even more challenging.
I had taught at the Flagship University of Addis Ababa’s Institute of Population Studies for four years in the mid-to-late 1990s, and served as external thesis examiner off and on since then, but now the government really needed more Ph.D demographers as it greatly increased its student intake in higher education, even pushing to start a Ph.D program on top of an already overstretched masters degree program.
In one of the poorest countries in the world, with 13 million food insecure, the second largest population in Africa (nearly 80 million), and an annual population growth rate around 2.6 percent, we discussed theories of population and development and debated models of the demographic transition. In a secret ballot early on in the course, I was not surprised to find out most of the 22 mature graduate students were Malthusian pessimists or even alarmists.
The job of a good professor is to challenge his students into reconsidering their cynicism and, in this constrained setting, provide rays of hope that things might get better. In the past few years, my Ethiopian colleagues and I had published evidence that the country was unexpectedly progressing better along the demographic transition than most of its neighbors, and that it was surprisingly on track to meet many of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in education and health.
In just a few weeks, in spite of the lack of computers, electricity, and inability to download publications from the internet, the students were able to work in teams of two to three to read recent literature and access demographic and development data through sharing CDs, photocopies, and handouts. They closely assessed the quality of differing estimates of progress since 1990 on the MDGs: the 1993 National Population Policy and its ICPD+15 (2008) goals, and the 2005-08 Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Ethiopian population graduate students prepare outside on campus at dark when electricity went out. (Photo by Charlie Teller)
In their final exam, I asked if any had changed their minds away from pessimism, and why. To my pleasant surprise, some had after seeing progress on the some of the MDGs and social change in their own younger generation, calling themselves revisionists, neutralists,or cautious optimists. They became convinced of the importance of using rigorous research methods and reliable indicators to closely monitor and evaluate the pace of the demographic transition and socioeconomic and gender inequities, as well as capacity building in research and training.
If these keen students in such a resource-constrained environment can learn so quickly, can’t a country under population pressure use its resilient and adaptive skills to begin to believe in their capacity to accelerate the demographic transition? ?
by Bill Butz, President and CEO, Population Reference Bureau
I’ve led a relatively privileged life, never economically poor or deprived of basic needs. But I’ve been around data and research on poverty throughout my career. At RAND, I surveyed and studied how poverty, fertility, health, and economic opportunities interact in Guatemala and Malaysia. At the Census Bureau, much of the official U.S. statistics on poverty, income, education, and health were my responsibility. At the National Science Foundation, we funded much academic research on poverty in the U.S and elsewhere. And now at PRB, we turn relevant data and research about poverty and other topics into clear and evidence-based information for decision makers. So, based on a life’s experience and on the scientific evidence—if I were Lead Adviser, what would I do to substantially reduce poverty? Here’s how I’ll spend the first billion dollars:
I will spend $300 million to build schools, develop relevant curricula, train teachers, and ensure effective primary schooling—all to eliminate functional illiteracy in poor countries. In spite of real progress over the last 30 years, about a billion people, most of them female, entered this century unable to write their names or read a book. Most won’t, for this reason, use new farming techniques or work in a modern factory. They’re stuck. Based on recent progress, we know how to increase literacy through schooling.
I will spend $300 million to increase the availability of effective and affordable contraceptives to women and men who want to reduce or space their births. More children than desired causes poverty. Based on the evidence, we know how to create a more enabling environment to lower birth rates. See PRB’s policy brief, Ensuring a Wide Range of Family Planning Choices for more information.
I will spend $200 mllion to teach disadvantaged U.S. children age 4-6 cognitive skills along with noncognitive skills like motivation and perseverance, all of which are necessary for success in school and jobs. If necessary, I will pay for this by shifting resources from formal schooling and remedial job training, neither of which works without the basic skills. We don’t know exactly how to impart these skills in ways consistent with parental roles, so the first dollars will go into research and controlled field trials. See James J. Heckman’s article “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children.”
The list of challenges goes on: bad governance, industrialized country agricultural policies, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, food maldistribution, lack of employment opportunities and more. Indeed, my top priorities will not succeed in some places without complementary investments. Still, to lead is to choose. You see how this “adviser” would choose. If you were Lead Adviser instead, what would you choose to do?