Most attempts at scientific communication are unscientific

Don’t remember if I’ve posted this piece before, but it emphasizes something I’ve been trying to draw attention to for some time now.

Simply: scientists wishing to communicate with the public effectively would do well to engage with the science on how to communicate to people. It seems like scientists in my field (ecology) tend to fall into the well-worn trap of thinking it’s just about getting the hang of the right techniques, because clearly once the right information is presented in the right way, people will “naturally” believe it. This is inherently problematic (as Bernhard Isopp explains in this post, assuming people believe true things because they are true, but reasons must be investigated for why people believe things that are not true is intellectually problematic and arguably irrational).

Rather than just trying to think of the right ways to get the public to believe truefacts

science communicators (and, let’s face it, any scientist who wants to communicate effectively) need to treat their communications interventions scientifically — as hypotheses. To work with social scientists on experimental design.  To collect data and measure their results. And to publish their results so others can learn from them. – See more at:

In other words,

“Genuinely evidence-based science communication must be based on evidence all the way down,” says Kahan, without pity. That’s strong beer to a lot of science communicators and scientists. It means we can no longer just be factory-style communicators — getting our findings out, getting a little media and social media attention for them, maybe generating some buzz on, and then moving on to the next paper with little or no metrics to measure our impact outside being asked to testify at a policy hearing. Science is slow, and alongside the very real need to address climate change has arisen a culture of rhetorical urgency that will resist waiting years to assemble data. Do we have the patience for this kind of long game?

It’s clear from his new paper that Kahan doesn’t think we have much choice…”

- See more at:

There’s more to the story than the models Prof. Kahan offers, but it’s a good start, and I have long agreed with him: communicating science should be based on science and evidence “all the way down”. This is not something I have seen an eagerness, or even understanding of, from many scholars–a phenomenon that I myself have found confusing, and don’t have a completely satisfying answer for…

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Pieria: The Rise and Fall of Piketty Critiques

Originally posted on Unlearning Economics:

I’ve been dragged back into the Piketty melee by a review of Piketty from ‘New Institutional’ superstars Daren Acemoglu & James Robinson. Unsurprisingly, they focus on the institutional aspects of Piketty’s work, charging that his framework doesn’t pay much attention to institutions. I disagree:

The claim that Piketty’s work is ahistorical and ainstitutional is an odd one which is easily belied. For a start, Piketty states that the truth of r > g “depends, however, on the shocks to which capital is subject, as well as on what public policies and institutions are put in place to regulate the relationship between capital and labor.” Piketty’s obvious awareness of institutions is presumably the reason he spends four chapters documenting the kinds of political institutions that might be put in place to counteract a rise in inequality.

They dispute Piketty’s use of ‘general laws’, but they misinterpret the laws in numerous ways –…

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The Right to Farm Right


GDS on recent and ongoing “Right to Farm” battles, including what he calls the “Right to Farm Wrong” as opposed to the “Right to Farm Right.”

Originally posted on fieldquestions:

I’ve got an idea: why don’t we Missourians follow up on passing our ALEC-supported ag-gag law with a full-blown amendment to the state constitution to shield industrial agriculture?  That way, even if someone risks being officially listed as a terrorist and exposes factory farm conditions, it might be unconstitutional to force them to clean up their act.

Damn, they beat me to it: we’re already voting on an amendment that would guarantee the right of “farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices.”

First, wherever you stand on factory farming, agribusiness, or ALEC, this is the most idiotically vague wording I have ever seen in a law (again, I’m not making it up — here is the text).  It manporkyages to say literally nothing, because anything a farmer does in the operation of a farm is a farming practice.  Until farming itself is outlawed, farmers by…

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Economists Dissing Economics

Originally posted on Unlearning Economics:

For whatever reason, I found myself compiling a list of 20 or so quotes, mostly from well known economists, criticising mainstream economics. What’s most interesting is that although the quotes come from a wide range of economists, with different political views and from different times, they seem to have a lot in common.

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.

― Joan Robinson

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

― John Kenneth Galbraith

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.

― John Kenneth Galbraith

…the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.

― Thomas Piketty

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Stick to Physics


Excellent analysis of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent foray into commenting on GMOs.

Originally posted on Farming Pathogens:

xjrf95-neil-degrasse-tyson-cosmos-gif-gbfaThe stranger promises to return. They both know they’ll never see each other again. Alone now, and before he puts out the lamp, [Jorge Luis Borges's] Paracelsus scoops up the ashes and utters a single word in a low voice. And in his hands the rose springs back to life.Roberto Bolaño (2004)

Neil deGrasse Tyson has parlayed his sudden Cosmosfame into succinct and biting critiques of anti-intellectualisms of a variety of stars and stripes.

On creationist notions of the age of the universe,

If the universe were only 6,500 years old, how could we see the light from anything more distant than the Crab Nebula? We couldn’t. There wouldn’t have been enough time for the light to get to Earth from anywhere farther away than 6,500 light years in any direction. That’s just enough time for light to travel a tiny portion of our Milky Way galaxy.

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The Sad Science: Depression is an illness; you can’t fight it with “success”

I wasn’t really going to comment on the sad passing of comedian and actor Robin Williams. But just yesterday, at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in Sacramento, the Chair of our Student Section momentarily “dressed as a student” by taping a sign that said “Impostor” on her forehead. (In reference to the “impostor fallacy/impostor syndrome”, which especially occurs in women, graduate students, and minorities–the sneaking idea that you, secretly, are FAR less qualified than those supposed peers around you, and you are a fraud, an impostor, always on the edge of being “found out”.)

Depression and the impostor fallacy are not the same thing, but they have an overriding similarity that compels me to discuss this in light of Williams’s apparent suicide. The issue is this: depression is an illness, and the impostor fallacy a psycho-social effect, that are NOT due to personal weakness, to a lack of ambition or competence, or anything else one can “fix” just by working hard, accomplishing, or just pushing yourself to be better or happier. In any serious manifestation, they require help, therapy, and appropriate support from friends, families, and mentors. Williams is a sad example that success, acclaim, hard work, “paying your dues”–they’re not enough to get you through, because the afflictions are not some logical error, they’re deeper than that and must be faced as such.

You will not “success” your way out of most depression, or the impostor fallacy. Williams was arguably one of the most successful men alive–an innovative and acclaimed comedian, an acclaimed actor, and a beloved public figure. His death shows us that mental illnesses and serious issues of self-doubt cannot and should not be swept away easily as something to barrel through, as something that working harder, succeeding, or excelling will fix–they are afflictions that require help and can, and so many cases, be improved and significantly relieved with appropriate help. We should remember that any person, in any position, may need this help and may be suffering. We can’t wave it away as undeserved self-pity or an argument to be countered with evidence. We need to help and support those in our own lives, and as a graduate student of color once said in a conference, just because someone is excelling, “don’t assume we’re okay.”

I say all this as I’m surrounded by hundreds, thousands of scholars in a competitive and often dispiriting set of professions. (One booth had a “paper rejection bingo” coaster.) Everyone who is here is, by all measures, already in a very rarified air of scholarship and achievement in global (and national) terms. But many or most of us feel like we’re at the bottom of the rungs, or an impostor amongst real achievers.

If this is a feeling you commonly have–not just right before a poster or presentation or work outing or some such–you owe to yourself as a person (and if you’re a scientist, as a scientist) to know that your deep feelings of inadequacy or sadness, no matter how strong, have no relationship with your true worth, your accomplishments, and say nothing about your potential. If you consistently, persistently doubt yourself, feel depressed about your life or career, please reach out to find the help–from friends, therapy, mentors, family–and DON’T STOP until you DO find those that can truly help you rise out of the self-reinforcing spiral. Don’t rely on the thought that simple hard work and accomplishment will “fix things” (especially if it then guilts you into feeling like your feelings of inadequacy or depression are rational self-evaluations!!!!) The most important hard work you can do is to find sources of support and of therapy or medication that help you start to shift your mindset. (Remember: peer-reviewed science says that you can. Yes, YOU. Yup, that’s right, you. Yes, even you, who’s thinking “except for me.”) Don’t forget–or become a tragic reminder of–the fact that “success” won’t cure sadness, and no amount of accomplishment and recognition from the outside world will “fix you”–you will need to find and get the support to see your value in yourself. That is the most important and most valuable work you can possibly do, for yourself, your career, and your loved ones.

“You are a [person] of infinite kindness, and infinite wisdom.”

–J. Michael Stracyznski, Babylon 5

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Innovating new (food) democracies

Latest blog, reposted from IATP’s Think Forward blog:

Inventing new (food) democracies

Posted August 1, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell  and  Jill Carlson

Used under creative commons license from colorblindpicaso.

Food democracy must start from the bottom-up, at the level of villages, regions, cities, and municipalities. – UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter in March 2014

Olivier De Schutter recently finished his widely acclaimed term as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During his 6-year tenure, he called for a “radically and democratically-redesigned” food system. In his closing address, he highlighted the significant changes he has witnessed: the small-scale food producers having a more visible voice in decision-making; the growing number of local initiatives that create a ‘transition from below’ for a more sustainable food system; and ‘agroecology’ becoming a part of mainstream discussions about solutions to current modes of food production and consumption. De Schutter stated, “Much work remains to be done, of course. But there are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction.”

Innovation is the key to solving so many of the problems facing us: widespread malnutrition, environmental damage, and a warming and increasingly unpredictable climate. Our need for innovation is an uncontroversial statement; something we’ve heard a million times over, from politicians, agronomists, environmentalists, and agricultural corporations alike.

They keep using this word, but we do not think innovation means what they think it means. Or at least, it shouldn’t.

Most of the time, “innovation” is being used to describe some new technology, a gadget, an app, a machine, or maybe a specific agricultural technique. And these can all, indeed, be innovations. However, this point of view reflects a “technocratic” mentality, where experts and technical wizzes toil away in their laboratories and board rooms, inventing the solutions that the rest of us can gratefully adopt. The ability of people, of citizens to deliberate and discover innovations from and for their own communities and regions is marginalized when a technocratic approach dominates, and abdicates our abilities and responsibilities in a democracy.

This is especially important in the areas of food and agriculture. In light of the clear evidence that equality, most especially equality for women, is our greatest tool for fighting hunger, it seems beside the point (if not misguided entirely) to focus on production practices and technology as our inspirations for innovation. If a lack of production is not the fundamental problem, then how will technology to increase it be “the solution”? Indeed, technological approaches have many times hurt women and the poor by replacing their traditional roles—without creating new ones—and thus exacerbating poverty and disempowerment. For example, technology that sped up and changed how rice was hulled in Java (Indonesia) “is estimated to have thrown 1.2 million landless women, who were employed in the hand-pounding of rice, out of work.”

But then, what is the innovation we’re speaking of, if not in technology? What do we think it should mean?

Simply stated, the answer is a deeper democracy. Deep democracy involves citizens coming together, sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas, challenging other ideas, and refining their own. Deep democracy acknowledges that all perspectives—whether held by a minority or majority—must come into contact with each other to yield informed decision-making and transparent policy outcomes.1 Deep democracy takes a different approach and appreciation of “innovation”, emphasizing that each of uscan and should be able to more directly engage in decision-making throughout society. Using a suite of democratic or “social technologies”, we can productively share the responsibilities to act and govern our systems in collaboration with each other, rather than through a large number of elected and unelected experts and leaders far-removed from our day-to-day realities.

Specifically in the areas of food and agriculture, we have often heard of “science-based” approaches to improving development, food security, and agricultural sustainability—which is all well and good, but the research could hardly be clearer that equality and a responsive democracy are key to food security. These two “soft” variables have a huge advantage that technological innovations do not: all else being equal, increased equality and democratic engagement improve multiple key elements of quality of life, especially for the poorest. New technologies, on the other hand, have no such guarantee: they likely will make some people better off, but their effects on the poorest and least food-secure might be positive, negative, or simply non-existent.2 For example, in discussing extreme hunger, historian Cormac Ó Gráda points to the march of “accountable government” as a key factor in averting famine. According to him, a famine-free world depends on “improved governance and peace; it is as simple—or difficult—as that”.

It’s important to point out, however, that what we’re talking about is not democracy as we in the US often think about it—at least, not just that. Rather, when we refer to it as “deeper”, we’re referring to ideas that have been variously called “strong”, “deliberative”, “participatory”, and “deep” democracy. More specifically, we mean systems that decentralize decision-making to local peoples and communities so that they are “supported, but not directed” by central governments.3 Further, the power, authority, and resources to enact the decisions made by local groups have to be present in some form. Although this kind of decision-making by citizens themselves, and not simply their representatives, will require some challenging shifts in the way we do things, examples of the improvements possible are all around—from thousands of panchayats4 in India, Citizens’ Juries throughout the United States, the more than 1,500 cities that have tried “participatory budgeting”, and the thousands more examples from around the world of effective watershed, fisheries, and forest management. Using deep democratic approaches will mean a far more engaged civic life than we’ve become accustomed to in much of the world, but it’s a challenge worth rising to: as the saying goes, you can’t fix a problem using the same methods that got you into it.

Coupling participation with power: Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre and beyond

Porto Alegre, the capital of the Brazilian state Rio Grande de Sul, is renowned for its “participatory budgeting” model that was in place from 1991 to 2004.5 Now being used in over 1,500 cities worldwide, Participatory Budgeting directly engages citizens in making priorities for spending in their communities and neighborhoods. In Porto Alegre, participation reached the level of at least 50,000 of its 1.5 million citizens. In some cities where it’s been implemented, as much as 10% of a town’s total population have participated.

It was in Porto Alegre, however, that the most advanced form of participatory budgeting seems to have developed. In their system, each of the 16 regions of the city held two annual meetings. At the first session (in some areas attended by over 1,000 people), the people elect delegates to represent specific neighborhoods, and review the budget and results from the previous year. After this meeting, these delegates hold a number of meetings with their fellow residents to set neighborhood budget priorities and develop specific proposals.6 Three months later, each region holds a second annual meeting to choose and approve neighborhood proposals, and to elect councilors to the Municipal Council on the Budget. The 42 councilors (two from each district and ten who have specialized in city-wide thematic areas) then develop criteria for evaluating proposals (including social justice criteria), develop a budget based on the proposed projects, and approve and send a budget to the city legislature and the Mayor. The legislature may suggest, but not require, changes; the mayor can approve the budget as proposed, or send it back to the participatory Municipal Council (who can override a veto with 2/3 vote), but otherwise the budget has to be adopted as proposed.

Between 1989 and 2004, the portion of the city budget decided through this process expanded from two percent to 20 percent; poorer districts saw much greater levels of investment and improvement; the percent of city residences with running water went from 75 to 98 percent; and functioning municipal schools nearly tripled. Beyond this, the process also seemed to promote more civic engagement throughout the city, the formation of more city groups, and improved understanding of the compromises and processes of city budgeting. AND, research indicated that although women, low-income, and low-educated citizens did not have representation at the Municipal Council proportionate to their slice of the city population, they did make up as much as 35, 34, and 18 percent of the councilors, respectively. So if you’re wondering how this is different than plain old “normal” representative democracy, one comparison to make is to see how many city councils are 1/3rd women, 1/3rd low-income, and 1/5th citizens without a high school diploma.7

More detailed accounts of Porto Alegre abound (for example, here and here), but researchers Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza point out that Porto Alegre maintained some very important innovations that haven’t always been translated to the 1,500 other cities using these processes. Specifically, they point out that Porto Alegre saw the successes it had in part because of the scope and importance of the PB process in Porto Alegre (eventually deciding 20% of the city budget.)

In other words, this is a process where—whether it’s on your city block, in your apartment building, at the grocery store, or at a public event—you’re no more than a short walk away from someone who had direct input into the city budget. Indeed, all you need to do to be one of those people is to attend a meeting.

Deep democracy: The new hotness

Democratic innovation has been at the heart of numerous successful interventions to improve equality and quality of life, particularly for women and children. And over time, truly deep democracy must also address inequalities, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it increases the ability for individual communities to make appropriate decisions and recommendations.  This is because so many local idiosyncrasies and differences can complicate (or simplify) creating equitable management: “from a community’s culture, history and tradition to the political system in which decisions are made—…no single solution will apply.” (Judith Layzer, The Environmental Case).8   Additionally, strong local governance, such as the Panchayat reforms, has seen formerly unheard of numbers of women participating in policy. Not only can the structure allow for equal participation by gender, but issues relevant to the struggles of women and children are voiced more clearly and assertively with women’s representation.9  Also, we know that people support specific forms of egalitarianism and equality, as was discussed in a previous post: people have a tendency to trust, share and cooperate with those who share and cooperate with them, and a “virtually unconditional willingness to share with others to assure them of some minimal standard” of living, especially through the provision of essential goods. (Relative equality has been pointed to by some researchers as a requisite for deep democratic technologies.) Further, humans have a much easier time cooperating, and making mutual sacrifices for, people they must regularly interact with face-to-face, a robust scientific finding that manifests itself in many different ways. Today many of our institutions and policies do not support or encourage this face-to-face interaction nor the unconditional willingness to share, so that most would tell a different story of human behavior: one of selfish and ungenerous tendencies, one of distrust and skepticism of neighbors. We can instead, however, design different spaces for our human interactions that bring out the cooperation and mutual generosity we are biologically ready to undertake.

As Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom explained in a 2010 interview, humans are not hopeless when it comes to cooperation: 

“[W]e’ve done experiments where we create an artificial form of common [shared, resource-limited] property—such as an imaginary fishery or pasture—and we bring people into a lab and have them make decisions about that property. When we don’t allow any communication among the players, they overharvest. But when people can communicate, particularly face to face, and say, ‘Well, gee, how about if we do this? How about we do that?’ then they can come to an agreement.”

Which is not to say that creating well-designeddeep democratic processes is easy—this is precisely why we need to focus much more of our attention and support for innovation around “democratic technologies”. The exciting and heartening news is that there is already plenty to build on. There is ample evidence, for example, that participation in well-designed democratic processes increases people’s capability to effectively participate in deep democratic processes. That is, when properly implemented deep democracy doesn’t assume that everyone knows how to act collectively, truly listen, debate points, and come to agreements—but rather relies on evidence that people can learn to do all these things when circumstances permit and require them to do so. Further, there are actually many practical and innovative examples that already exist that we can learn from. For example:

As we have said, we believe deep democratic approaches have the distinction that they’re the only way forward in the face of the problems that face us.

Authors and ecological economists Prugh, Costanza and Daly succinctly cover why:

“The problems of sustainability… are not mainly technical. Nor do they affect simple linear systems… The systems involved are complex and interactive in ways that make them inherently unpredictable… Because there can be no permanent solutions in a world that is ecologically and culturally dynamic, these choices will have to be made again and again as circumstances evolve. Therefore, moving toward sustainability will require a radically broadened base of participations and a political process that continuously keeps them engaged. The process must encourage the perpetual hearing, testing, working through, and modification of competing visions at the community level.” (In The Local Politics of Global Sustainability, xiv).

The changes necessary to make these kinds of systems work are numerous, and the challenges of implementing them on a larger and more systemic scale are immense. They don’t work automatically, or without struggle. But rather than focusing on how hard and different this kind of democratic involvement is, we would turn it around: the challenge of creating and sustaining deep democracies is the challenge before us, and our responsibility is not to quail in the face of its difficulty. We admire and eulogize technological innovators; it’s time for panchayat reform to be as well-known as Gates Foundation initiatives; for participatory budgeting to be spoken of as much or more than micro-finance; for existing projects like the Dudley Street Initiative to be carefully supported, and new projects based on and in community conversations to flourish. This will require increased autonomy and resources for local governance; it will require us to do less impersonal railing on the internet and suffering from partisan gridlock among elected figures, and more talking directly to fellow citizens and going through the long, difficult process of hashing out our differences ourselves.

In concluding, a favorite phrase is appropriate here: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” The necessary social change will not be easy or instant, but at IATP we take the long view—social change always happens, the important part is who is involved in making the changes. Deep democracy—and its close cousin, food sovereignty—will not come tomorrow. But to get there, we need to talk to each other, work together and build together, today.

At IATP, we’re currently exploring how to build a deeper democracy and spread the word of how democratic innovation can advance us toward a more sustainable future. You can read about our most recent effort, the Rural Climate Dialogues with our partner The Jefferson Center and look for a new report on deep democracy and how it can help us achieve a food sovereign, just, and sustainable world in the coming months!

[1] See our recent blog posts about IATP’s first Rural Climate Dialogue, an example of this type of process in action with partners from the Jefferson Center and the residents of Morris, MN!

[2] One quite notable example is geographer Raju Das’s analysis of the Green Revolution in India. In a 2002 paper, he wrote: “the very fact that the [Indian] state could not rely on the [Green Revolution] for poverty-reduction and thus started a ‘direct attack’ on poverty through [other] policies is an indirect indicator of the limited impact of the GR… technology is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for poverty reduction. If the lack of technology was a necessary cause of poverty, one in seven people in the United States of America would not have to live below the line of absolute poverty.” Interestingly, at least two other papers have also tied inequality and biodiversity loss.

[3] The quoted phrase and subsequent sentence draw on Baiocchi and Ganuza, “Participatory budgeting as if emancipation mattered”, available here.

[4] Panchayats are decentralized forms of village self-governance that can be found in parts of India, as well as parts of Southeast Asia.

[5] This section on Porto Alegre relies heavily on pieces by Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Baiocchi and Ganuza.

[6] There are also parallel “thematic” meetings where delegates consider problems that affect the city as a whole.

[7] Some might question whether the latter two numbers—low-income and low-education participation—are not bad things. To me, this jibes rather uneasily with two other deep American tendencies—skepticism of authority and supposed respect for those who have gone through the “school of hard knocks”. I’d argue that low-income and low-education citizens deserve as much direct representation as anyoneeveryone else. Also, we strongly disagree with the idea that you can solve problems like poverty or lack of education by developing solutions “at” people, rather than with them.

[8] Layzer was here referring to common property resource systems, but the admonition clearly applies beyond this specific form of a resource system.

[9] Local governance structures can facilitate more equitable inclusion amongst women and the marginalized. Women face many barriers to entering political office, including lack of time, information access, child care, and transportation. Local participation can abate these barriers. (

- See more at:

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Another great job opportunity: Policy Coordinator with the Berkeley Food Institute

Berkeley Food Institute News

BFI is Now Accepting Applications for a Policy Coordinator Position

I’m not a jobs blog, but I play one on TV…

I have a lot of respect for and excitement about the Berkeley Food Institute, which involves people I hold in great esteem, like seminal agroecologist Miguel Altieri, my friend Alastair Iles and his faculty co-director Claire Kremen, and BFI’s Executive Director Ann Thrupp. An exciting Institute amidst a lot of exciting thinkers doing great work. SO, take your opportunity to work for them and apply!

Applications are now being accepted for the position of Policy Coordinator with the Berkeley Food Institute.

The Policy Coordinator at the Berkeley Food Institute will be responsible for implementing BFI’s policy program activities that are aimed to increase the usefulness, application, and impact of research (and education) at UC Berkeley that can inform or support policies for sustainable food and agriculture systems. The Policy Coordinator will serve as a liaison between BFI and relevant policy organizations, government agencies, and legislators who deal with food systems. She/he will help facilitate effective multi-directional exchange of information on key policy issues, by communicating research needs that are identified by policy-makers, and summarizing and disseminating findings of BFI/UC Berkeley studies that can inform policy making or effect change in this field.

For job details and to apply visit and search for job #18300. Please submit a cover letter and resume as a single attachment when applying.

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Empowered Africa: A Progressive Dialogue on Sustainability, Peace and Democracy – Aug 4, 2014

Event coming up next week in DC. I will be there speaking on food sovereignty, trade, and the Open Source Seed Initiative.

The webpage says invitation only, but registration is now open to the public!


Click here to view the full agenda

Creating Our Own Space & Changing the Conversation

Taking place on the eve of President Obama’s African Leaders Summit, the Empowered Africa Dialogue will provide an alternative space where grassroots citizen-activists, scholars, progressive NGOs and community organizers from Africa and the United States will critique, from a progressive and proactive perspective, significant issues related to US-Africa policy.

Positioned as a counter to the African Leaders Summit, Empowered Africa will gather a broad range of constituencies and multi-issue organizations from the United States and Africa that have influenced progressive organizing on U.S.-Africa relations. These organizations include those working on human rights, conflict, labor, gender, climate justice, health and sustainable development locally and transnationally.

The Dialogue is an important opportunity to focus renewed attention on Africa by bringing in new energy from young activists and organizers on the continent. Participants from Africa and the U.S. come with many experiences and multiple perspectives on how to shape not only foreign policy agendas but also domestic ones.

Defining the Moment

In his second term, President Obama initiated three programs to demonstrate an interest in Africa. He committed $7 billion over five years to “Power Africa,” a largely corporate initiative aimed at increasing access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was established to train 500 young people from Africa in entrepreneurship and business, civic leadership, and public management. The final project is the African Leaders Summit in Washington, DC on August 5-6. Our people’s event will occur the previous day.

The heads of state summit, the first of its kind, provides us with a unique opportunity to help shape the public debate and hold the Obama administration and African heads of State accountable on critical issues of peace and militarism, democracy, sustainability and climate justice.

Our goals are to build solidarity between U.S. and African based activists and to provide a space to critically engage US-Africa policy and strategies to transform it.


9:00 to 9:30 a.m.
Registration and Resource Tables

9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Toward an Inclusive Dialogue on US-Africa Relations
Brenda Mofya, Oxfam International
Sulayman Nyang, Howard University
Anita Plummer, Spelman College, Moderating

10:30 to 11:00 a.m.
Break and Resource Tables

11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Concurrent Discussion Group Sessions

Climate Justice on Our Common Planet
Mithika Mwenda, Pan African Climate Justice Alliance
Jacqui Patterson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Brandon Wu, ActionAid
Katherine Philipson, US-Africa Network, Moderating

Militarism and Human Security
Horace Campbell, Syracuse University
Maurice Carney, Friends of the Congo
Brenda Mofya, Oxfam International
Michael Shank, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Emily Williams, US-Africa Network, Moderating

12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
(Buffet lunch will be available on site for $10.05 per person.)

1:30 to 1:45 p.m.
Please proceed to your next discussion group.

1:45 to 3:15 p.m.
Concurrent Discussion Group Sessions

Agribusiness and Land Grabbing
Jacques Bahati, Africa Faith and Justice Network
M. Jahi Chappelle, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Scholastica Haule, ActionAid Tanzania
TBD, ActionAid USA, Moderating

Trade Unions and Democracy from Below
Bill Fletcher, American Federation of Government Employees
Able Ngigie, United Workers Union of Liberia
Nancy Parker, United Steelworkers
Oretha Tarnue, United Workers Union of Liberia
Janet Checkley, Solidarity Center, Moderating

Rising Inequality and Illicit Financial Flows
William Minter, AfricaFocus Bulletin
Alvin Mosioma, Tax Justice Network Africa
Khadija Sharife, African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting
Evelyn Sallah, Unchain Africa Press, Moderating

3:15 to 3:45 p.m.
Break and Resource Tables

3:45 to 5:30 p.m.
An Alternative Vision of US-Africa Relations
Kari Miller, US-Africa Network, Moderating
Prexy Nesbit, US-Africa Network, Moderating

Wednesday, August 5, 2014
Networking Dinner
6:30 PM
Addis Ababa Restaurant
8233 Fenton Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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Interesting Job Opportunity: Coordinator for the Global Alliance for the Future of Food?

A great opportunity to help shape an alliance of funders’ efforts on nothing less than The Future of Food. The alliance works on Agroecological TransitionsAdvancing Well-beingExternalities and True Cost Accounting, and Scaling for SustainabilityFrom what I know of their work, they support great on-the-ground work and are seriously interested in how to spread impact without losing the advancement of true social justice, agroecology, and sustainability.  See below.


Call for Applications for Working Group Coordinator 

Organization Name: New Venture Fund
Project: Global Alliance for the Future of Food
Position: Working Group Coordinator (Consultant)
Time requirements: 0.6 FTE Negotiable
Location: Negotiable
Application Deadline: Friday 12 September 2014 5:00 PM EDT

Global Alliance for the Future of Food

The Global Alliance for the Future of Food is an alliance of foundations committed to cultivating healthy,  equitable, renewable, resilient, and culturally diverse food and agriculture systems shaped by people,  communities, and their institutions. The Global Alliance represents approximately 30 foundations from 10  countries with diverse interests and expertise, spanning health, agriculture, food, conservation, cultural diversity  and community well-being. At the core of the Global Alliance is a shared belief in the urgency of leveraging our  resources to help shift food and agriculture systems towards greater sustainability, security, and equity, and in the  power of working together and with others to effect positive change. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food is  a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity that incubates new and innovative public-interest  projects and grantmaking programs.   The Opportunity  The Global Alliance is seeking a new Working Group Coordinator to support its four current Working Groups:  Championing Agro-Ecological Transitions Working Group (AETWG); Advancing Well-Being Working Group (AWBWG);  Externalities and True Cost Accounting Working Group (ETCWG); and, Scaling for Sustainability Working Group  (SFSWG). Overseen by the Global Alliance Coordinator and in close collaboration with the four Working Group Leads and  members of the Working Groups, the new Working Group Coordinator will build on the early strategic work that  has been done across the Working Groups and help the Global Alliance realize even greater impact vis-à-vis  advancing sustainable global agriculture and food systems. The Working Group Coordinator will have a broad  portfolio of responsibilities, including coordination and management of the Working Groups; strategy  development; critical thinking about issues, goals, priorities; project management; and monitoring and evaluation  of Working Group developments and the activities in which they engage.  As an alliance of foundations that aims to support the generation of new and different solutions at the global level  that take us beyond our usual strategies, we are seeking a qualified professional who can work in an adaptive and complex environment to advance knowledge and action around our four priority areas, help us to understand  each other’s activities better, and capitalize on our comparative advantages while focusing our collective energies  to influence effective change. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to help shape and support the thoughtful  stewarding of charitable, investment, and human resources for the ecological, economic, and social and cultural  well-being of the future of food.

Application at

More information on the global alliance at

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