How Smart Automation Can Be Used In International Development

Yes, that’s a cat in giant cat-foot slippers. Read the story to learn why it’s (vaguely) relevant to AI.

Artificial Intelligence is one of those buzzwords in tech that everyone’s heard, but few people actually understand how it can be used in practice. If you’re to believe Hollywood or Stephen Hawking, AI either means androids that are indistinguishable from humans (except for the inability to use conjunctions) or super-intelligent computers that could spell the end of the human race. After attending a Tech Salon on how AI can be used in international development, I can say with absolute certainty that it is neither of those things… yet. But the “commodification” of AI is making “smart automation” -- a term I quite liked as a useful synonym for AI -- much more accessible outside Silicon Valley. In fact, you probably already used some form of AI today without even knowing it.

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Making Science More Social: A Neuroscientist Lost in Politics

This multidisciplinary group from the Madeleine K. Albright 2017 Fellowship at Wellesley College comprised two economists, an environmental scientist, a mathematician and a neuroscientist and presented on trade-induced inequalities.

When people think about gender inequality, they very rarely think about the effects that it has on a cognitive level. In fact, the gap between the natural and social sciences has grown so wide that advancements in both fields, which could benefit one another, end up lost within their specific bubbles. Bridging the gap between these two fields makes us all better equipped to tackle the greatest challenges that affect humanity.

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Happy International Youth Day!

Happy International Youth Day! I remember watching President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he said. As a teenager, those words had a profound impact on me, and they still resonate today. Most people who dedicate their lives to public service can tell a similar story of inspiration -- an epiphany that drove them to change their communities for the better. But going from inspiration to action can be daunting. Many young people who are inspired to make a mark on their communities don’t feel like they have the support or know-how to get started.

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Inclusion Matters: From the Paralympics to NDI

Aoki at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit. Photo: Simon Bruty, Sports Illustrated

Growing up, I dreamed of playing professional sports. When I first met a person who used a wheelchair like me and was a competitive athlete, I felt like I could do anything. Even if I had not made it to the Paralympic level, knowing that there existed a place where my disability and I were explicitly welcomed was heartening. The same is true at NDI. Inclusion is at the crux of what we do, whether it be with youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, or ethnic and religious minorities. When NDI and its partners explicitly talk about the importance of inclusion, it resonates with those who often feel excluded. NDI, and organizations like NDI, that take inclusion seriously and embrace it in their work are a source of hope for those of us in the disability space who can, at times, feel invisible. I can say from first hand experience, that true inclusion really does change lives.

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Progress toward youth-inclusive politics

Today’s youth are at a critical juncture. The current young generation - the largest in global history - is disproportionately affected by unemployment, insufficient access to education, violent conflict and a number of other challenges. Eager to play a role in changing their communities and nations for the better, many young people have become frustrated with political processes that seem out of reach, out of touch and ineffective, and have since turned to other ways to give back to their communities. To encourage youth to “opt-in” to the state, governments need to give them more than a seat at the table to address matters affecting their lives. Failure to do so may further widen the growing rift between youth and political institutions, and make youth more vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups.

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Internally Displaced People and Refugees Must Take Part in Political Life

Participants in Colombia’s Victims Participation Roundtables

Arabic 

One person is forced to flee their home every second according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center. The current estimated number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) around the world is 65.3 million, a number equivalent to the total population of the United Kingdom. These numbers show that new and protracted crises are driving people from their homes at an alarming rate. Humanitarian systems devote huge efforts to ease refugees’ suffering, specially focused on providing basic needs like food and shelter. Though these interventions are crucial, political participation for refugees and IDPs is also important and can be the first step to finding viable long-term solutions for their plight.

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Mind the Gap: Highlighting Women's Representation on Wikipedia

“What will people think of us when they look back and find that in 2017, Wikipedia only had 16.97 percent of its biographies about women? They’ll say ‘shame on them,’” said Wikimedia-DC’s Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight at NDI, Wikimedia-DC and the Women’s Media Center’s first joint edit-a-thon. Wikipedia is the main online encyclopedia of our digital age. Openly sourced from the public, one might expect a nearly equal rate of women’s representation on Wikipedia—but it’s not even close. As Stephenson-Goodknight noted, only 17 percent of biographies on Wikipedia’s English site are of women, and it’s an even lower number on most of the site’s other 295 languages.

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A New Side of Skills Development

Participants in Moldova’s Challenger program canvass and get out the vote for parliamentary elections.

What helps citizens succeed as political leaders and activists? Beyond providing technical skills and tools, NDI has noted that developing certain attitudes and behaviors can help citizens participate more meaningfully in public life. Young political activists have consistently mentioned the need for improved “soft skills” to work effectively and succeed as leaders. USAID and other donor agencies are also recognizing the importance of putting these skills at the center of human development.

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Grounding Theory in Practice: Youth programs in Jordan and Kosovo

Usharek+ participants in Jordan launch their advocacy campaign with the goal of improving traffic safety. 

NDI’s new theory of change unifies important elements of youth political participation programs and depicts how they can interplay to change practices of youth participation. This theory, which I blogged about last month, was not merely academic exercise from the “ivory tower.” It draws on discussions with young politically active women and men across Africa and Latin America, collaborative discussions with democracy and governance practitioners from around the world, and deep reviews of effective youth programs NDI is conducting in Jordan and Kosovo. The Jordan and Kosovo programs show how the theory of change can play out in practice.

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Women’s Political Equality in Pakistan: Not an Impossible Mission

Sehrish Naseem gives a speech at NDI's annual Madeleine K. Albright Luncheon in 2016.

How did I come to understand what has become my mission in life? Well, I come from a social context in Pakistan where, like in all developing countries, women’s vision and committed approach to a practical life goes through tough challenges. It can even start within a woman’s own family. Fortunately, my family stood by my ambition of joining social work as a profession.

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