I am not sure I can speak rationally about Melissa Fleming’s “A hope more powerful than the sea: The journey of Doaa Al Zamel” given how much I cried reading it. Fleming walks us through Doaa’s life from the teenager in Daraa, Syria witnessing the Arab Spring and its violent repression; to the young woman who flees with her family to Egypt where they are first greeted with compassion but soon threatened daily; to the determined woman who tells her fiancé that “it is better to have a quick death in the sea than a slow death in Egypt”; to the amazingly strong and selfless human being who survives 4 days in the sea holding on to a plastic ring and two babies while 500 people drown around her. In a strange way, I was less shaken by Doaa’s own story than by the atrocities she witnesses. Maybe because I knew from the outset that she would survive or because it was not her own voice sharing the story? The worst parts of that story involve children. Their fate throughout the book is simply unbearable: from the small group of boys, as young as 12, who defy authorities and get arrested and tortured, igniting the revolution; to the unborn child whose pregnant mother wearing a fake life vest boards an unsafe dinghy desperate for a better future; to hundreds of horrified children being moved by smugglers from one boat to the next before all drowning. Fleming, UNHCR chief spokesperson, wanted to raise awareness about the global refugee crisis. She was searching for human stories that would “build bridges of empathy to the public” and give readers real insights into the Syrian war and the lives of refugees. She succeeded. It worked on me, but I was already on the right side of the crowd. Could this book change the perspective of someone who in principle opposes granting asylum, resettlement or work visa to refugees? How does individual storytelling lead to action beyond the life of the protagonist?
Will 2017 be the year of universal basic income (UBI)? As flagged over a year ago, a growing tech crowd argues that UBI is an effective response to the rise of robots, and could capture support from liberals and conservatives alike. In 2017, a good number of countries, from Finland to India, are piloting UBI schemes or considering replacing welfare programs with UBI. Last week end, Annie Lowrey’s “The future of not working” got the development crowd going on the web about the pros and cons for developing countries. World Bank quants said interesting-but-get-your-methodology-in-order, cash-transfer gurus said no-way, and development philanthropists said not-quite-yet. A fun debate to watch.
My graph this week is from the Varkey Foundation’s “What the world’s young people think and feel” and shows that on average young people are pessimistic about the future. Labelled “the most comprehensive and up-to-date attempt to understand the lives of Generation Z”, the paper presents results from a representative survey conducted with 20,000 15-21 year-olds in 20 countries in late 2016. It tells us that Indonesia’s youth is super happy while Japan’s is very unhappy; that young people do not think their leaders are doing enough to help refugees; or that young people are very supportive of the rights agenda in general but maybe not free speech (!).
My quote this week is from David Cameron’s “Even in an age of austerity, aid works. We have to keep giving”: “There are huge gaps in our understanding of what makes states fragile. That is why I am chairing the new Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development. My co-chairs will be Donald Kaberuka, the special envoy of the African Union Peace Fund and the former president of the African Development Bank, and Adnan Khan, research and policy director of the International Growth Centre.”