Quote of the Week from Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail

The people who suffer from the extractive economic institutions cannot hope for absolutist rulers to voluntarily change political institutions and redistribute power in society. The only way to change these political institutions is to force the elite to create more pluralistic institutions.

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Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail

This April we are reading Why Nations Fail, a well known book by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. The authors incorporate more history than any global development book so far. In just the first few chapters they use history to explain how different colonization tactics informed the current political systems in the USA and Mexico. They also explain the shortcomings of economics and the need to study political institutions.

The book dispels different myths surrounding why nations fail. For example, popular reasoning argues that geography and culture are some of the reasons for wealth disparities between states but Acemoglu and Robinson combat these misconceptions right away.

I sat down to read the preface and was still reading 2 hours later. This is a captivating book with a lot of information.

We will argue that to understand world inequity we have to understand why some societies are organized in very inefficient and socially undesirable ways. -Why Nations Fail

Happy Reading!

Read On! Taking Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Seriously in International Criminal Law



Evelyne Schmid, Taking Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Seriously in International Criminal Law, Cambridge Studies in International and Comparative Law, 2015.

At least sincoverpictce Amartya Sen’s economic research, it is well-known that many of ‘those who fall victim to adverse human agency are not injured by proximate violence but as a result of being compelled to live in subhuman conditions’. To address this fact, scholars and practitioners have been debating whether the mechanisms commonly used to address legacies of widespread abuse could engage with economic, social and cultural abuses. Should they be encouraged to do so? And can international law(yers) be of any help in this regard?

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More About “Building Social Business”

Building Social Business

Muhammad Yunus shows how the social business model can harness the entrepreneurial spirit to address global problems.

Microcredit? To Him, It’s Only a Start  NY Times Book Review

It’s hard to fault Dr. Yunus’ intentions and his optimism. Those things have already taken him awfully far. But it’s a bit premature for him to assert that his social business movement is on the verge of reshaping the world economy.

Hear, Hear for Profits Sanford Social Innovation Review

We peer into the mind of a visionary thinker who sees boundless possibilities and constantly enables and energizes those around him—he was one of the first to see the untapped potential of those living at the bottom of the pyramid.

Quote of the Week

Building Social Business

The more time you spend among poor people, the more you become convinced that poverty is not the result of any incapacity on the part of the poor. Poverty is not created by poor people. It is created by the system we have built, the institutions we have designed, and the concepts we have formulated.

-Muhammad Yunus, Building Social Business

Career Profile: Gina Cosentino

Career Profiles
Gina Cosentino and UN Special Rapporteur Jim Anaya

Gina Cosentino and UN Special Rapporteur Jim Anaya.


I am a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. I am currently working on a paper assessing the study on extractive industries by Professor James Anayas, the former UN Special Rapporteur of the Indigenous Peoples Rights. I argue the regulatory framework he’s advanced should also be applied to the conservation sector. Conservation NGOs, like businesses, should have clear guidelines and principles that outline their responsibilities to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples when working with, on, or near their territories.

I’ve been a conservation and human development practitioner for a while, so now I am taking time to get back to writing which is essential for advancing what I’ve learned and applying it more broadly.  Being able to publish allows me to use my years of experience to contribute to shaping practices and ideas in this field. It’s a time to reflect on my work with Indigenous peoples, the various international and regional policy forums I’ve participated in, and other trends, opportunities and challenges.

My career and interests lie at the intersection of human rights, global development and conservation. My focus is on the questions we should be asking about how to ensure alignment with theory and practice for better compliance, accountability and inclusion.  Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in how we can advance environmental conservation in a way which meets the needs of people such as achieving health goals, poverty alleviation, gender equity and so on. How do we put these goals together with innovative conservation programs that protect the environment and include people in a meaningful way too so we can help tackle some of the world’s most vexing global challenges?

Governments need to provide services for people and we need to demonstrate that by safeguarding and conserving forests or investing in wetlands, you can provide water for an entire city.  As many of the world’s biologically important places are on Indigenous territories, it is essential to work with Indigenous peoples in a way that respects their rights to their lands, territories and natural resources and ensures tangible benefits of conservation that they want. In other words, going beyond environmental outcomes to benefit people as well.

This includes respecting and promoting the human rights of Indigenous peoples. They should be in the driver’s seat of conservation and development programs and not be merely responsive to what others want.  Conservation and development organizations must invest in capacity-development, among other things, so Indigenous peoples can lead and be included at the decision-making table as equals with industry, global financial institutions, governments, conservation or development organizations.


I have always been interested in questions regarding citizenship.  That is, how do we build a more inclusive society? How can a diversity of voices not only get to the table, but be heard and effect change?  As a result, I studied constitutionalism and federalism and looked at ways in which different societies structure and organize diversity, respect human rights, and govern complex societies. Indigenous peoples in Canada as in other places in the world were excluded from nation-building. Their ways of life were either destroyed or devalued, they were pushed off their lands, etc. Indigenous peoples need to be included in decision-making and their inclusion is essential to good governance, sustainable livelihoods, and conflict reduction.

Throughout university I participated in events where I was exposed to Indigenous politics, which intersect with the very issues I work on today: global poverty reduction, environmentalism, equity, and social justice. I got to know key players and kept in touch. I also did a lot of volunteering, and pro bono work as the President of my own public affairs company. During graduate school, I became a course instructor as a way to earn extra money for my research and gain extra experience. Part of my studies took me to the United Nations when the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was being drafted. I first went as a researcher and then as part of Indigenous delegations when I was working with Indigenous organizations. Same thing goes for field research in Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia where living in other countries allowed me to expand my network and my thinking. My graduate work really shaped how I think and work and had a profound impact on my career development and trajectory. I’m very lucky to be doing what I’ve studied and what I’m most passionate about. I have experience in different levels from community, to national, regional and international.

I worked for two national Indigenous organizations. First for the President of the Metis National Council and then for the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. That catalyzed my work within Canada at the national and international levels and yet, I had to remain rooted on the ground and remember that it is about creating positive and tangible change in the lives of people and communities and they need to be at the center of what we were doing nationally and internationally. Moving to Washington, DC from Canada to work at a leading international conservation NGO as a global leader in Indigenous conservation was a natural progression. I’m now more focused on combining conservation, human development and human rights. Of course, I’ve missed a few steps but those are some of my career highlights!

I also built an expansive and very diverse professional network. Networks are so important and help you bring a series of relationships wherever you go. It is important to respect your relationships by being trustworthy, keeping your word, and having integrity.

  1. Be willing to take some risks outside your comfort zone… Students or young professionals often want go abroad to learn from communities in order to become an expert back home.  Remember that you need to be humble; you will not have the answers. You need to check in on your opinions and be willing to let them go so new ones can be formed.

For example when working with Indigenous peoples, you have to EARN trust.  They often see academics, scientists, development practitioners come in, they share their intellectual knowledge and then the specialists leave. Very little benefit is accrued to the community. Spend time in more than one country and in communities around you. Interning at various institutions in other countries can be good in this respect as you’ll be able to broaden your networks and gain valuable experience in working in different work cultures and styles.

2. Mix up your intellectual background ie political science, sociology, economics, biology, anthropology, etc.  Multilinear thinking is essential in this business. No field has any one answer.  You need to also think about how to ‘sell’ ideas – how to use new communication platforms effectively, how to influence for change and so on and this requires thinking about multiple strategies and tactics at once. In many respects, it’s extremely creative work.

3. Be thoughtful about the kind of conservation or development program you are developing. Spend time learning how the international system works, not just a specific regional or community focus. Look at all the things that could impact what you are doing -for example economic development, food security, and the environment. Understand your policy world in an integrated way.  This goes back to multi-linear thinking. I can’t stress that enough!

4. Relationships take time and are based on trust. There’s no quick fix. It’s about getting to know others. Offer something that can be helpful to others but recognize when they are saying “no”.  Also, it’s essential to not get caught up in the politics. Be trustworthy, honour your word, and deliver on your promises.  The key to relationships is keeping them included and informed.

5. It’s not enough to work in a community. Know relevant international human rights norms and law before you go to a community. Know also where the government stands and the gap between international and national laws.  It’s your obligation to ensure that what you do and how you do it is consistent with the highest standards and good practices in international law.

6. Ideally your time should be spent 1/3 in books, 1/3 in the field, and 1/3 to uniting those things together.

7. Read interesting news articles, documentaries, and academic scholarship so you can see how things are changing.  Stay updated. Also read for pleasure.  It’s amazing how you pick up new ideas and ways of thinking merely by picking up a book and allowing your mind to enter another universe!

This is an abridged version of an interview with Gina Cosentino.

What to Think About While Reading ‘Building Social Business’

Building Social Business, Uncategorized

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1. What is your definition of social business?

2. Do you agree with Yunus that social businesses must invest 100% of profits back into the social mission? What are some incentives beyond profit to interest investors -assuming they are not all motivated by social good outcomes?

3. Marketing: should businesses focus more on the product they are selling to consumers or advertise their social mission as well?

4. How can nonprofits and social businesses balance the expectations of donors/investors, customers, and beneficiaries?

5. Corporate Social Responsibility is a growing area many businesses are adding to their companies. In your opinion, does this count as social business?

What questions do you have about social business?

Building Social Business

Books, Building Social Business


This month’s book is Building Social Business by Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and microcredit. Social business is a growing enterprise model in which entrepreneurs and investors use profit for social good over personal financial gain.

Building Social Business draws its examples for creating a sustainable model from Grameen’s long list of endeavors, which include selling low-cost nutritious yogurt and addressing the water crisis. Part of Yunus’s definition of a social business is investing 100% of profits back into the enterprise. I wonder if asking investors to give up profits/dividends completely is realistic but I expect he will address this.

Social business has gained a lot of support recently and some (me, depending on the day) argue they are the refined, self-sustaining version of nonprofits. They are ‘all the rage’ right now (WhyDev has dubbed the phenomenon MOSE – My Own Social Enterprise), and this book will offer a good look at how they can be a part of international development…and creating a world without poverty.

A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Muhammad Yunus’s other works include Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty.

More About The Bright Continent

The Bright Continent
Ted Talent Search

Olopade’s talk summarizes the first chapter of The Bright Continent.

BuzzFeed: 11 Myths Busted By “The Bright Continent”
The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa

A review for Foreign Affairs by Nicolas van de Walle.

Book review: The Bright Continent written by Godwin Ekoriko

 But in her enthusiasm for the alternative, she often lets the state off the hook altogether seeing, for example, the explosion in private schools as a positive development.

What to Think About While Reading The Bright Continent

Discussion Questions, The Bright Continent


1. In an age where data collection and analysis are increasingly relied on, how can these informal entrepreneurial systems be measured? Do they need to be?

2. Why aren’t these stories told more often? How can we get access to them?

3. Though this book is about Africa, “kanju” is a common occurrence worldwide. What examples of hustling for survival are common where you live?

4. How do the informal networks Olopade describes complement the focus on government or aid intervention in books like Dead Aid and The End of Poverty?

Add your thoughts and questions below!