The CSS Blog Network

Is Anything Recession Proof?

Indian women in Akbarpura / photo: lecercle, flickr

Indian women in Akbarpura / photo: lecercle, flickr

Well, it turns out microfinance institutions and microenterprises may very well be.

In an interesting reversal of fortunes, small, flexible and locally connected microfinance institutions seem to be fairing better than their larger commercial counterparts in the current economic climate. Due in large part to flexible business models, locally connected operations (microcreditors tend to know their customers much better), low exposure to the hazy world of high-flying finance, and an attractive product, microfinance institutions are flourishing all over the world.

By lending small amounts to poor people with no traditionally defined credit-worthiness, microfinance institutions are keeping the lower tiers of the world economy afloat, even thriving in parts.

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The Power of Photography: Life in a Failed State

Screenshot of Foreign Policy photo essay on failed states

Screenshot of Foreign Policy photo essay on failed states /

In an insightful photo essay titled ‘Life in a Failed State’, Foreign Policy provides us with a sobering view on what life looks like in some of the most desolate countries in the world.

Haunting images serve as visual reminders of the failure of national governments and the international community to address the conflicts and history of instability and underdevelopment that underlies their fragility.

The 20 top countries on the 2009 Failed States Index are featured, among them: Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, North Korea, Ethiopia, Yemen and Sudan.

Further, for a rare glimpse into life in North Korea, check out a haunting slideshow by Tomas van Houtryve for Foreign Policy.

Revolution Is More Than a Che Guevara T-Shirt

“Everyone dies, but not every death has the same meaning.” (Ulrike Meinhof)

It is June. Thousands of students gather on the streets, venting their anger at the Iranian leadership which they consider to be corrupt and dictatorial. Suddenly, shots tear through the air. A young protester taking part in a political demonstration for the very first time, covered in blood, draws some last breath on an empty side road.

"Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution. There is nothing in between."

"Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution. There is nothing in between." / photo: localsurfer, flickr

That protester is not Neda Agha-Soltan, but Benno Ohnesorg. And we are not talking about June 2009 on the streets of Teheran, but rather of June 1967 on the streets of then West Berlin. And well, the corrupt and dictatorial Iranian leadership is not (yet) to be confused with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is still Persian with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi ruling from the “Peacock Throne.”

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Yelling for Understanding of International Relations

Let me say this first:  I am definitely not a fan of  the Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

When I was working for a German internet service provider, our chief marketing officer thought that showing us a clip of how Steve whips up the people at Microsoft would be a good motivator.

I wasn’t motivated. I was just shocked. This moment fixed my picture of Ballmer for the eternity.

So I was really surprised when I saw an article on this morning discussing Ballmer’s speech at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

The same crazy jumping Ballmer that shocked me some years ago said one of the most interesting things I have read about the financial crisis in traditional media in the last weeks:

“I don’t think we are in a recession, I think we have reset,” he said. “A recession implies recovery [to pre-recession levels] and for planning purposes I don’t think we will. We have reset and won’t rebound and re-grow.” Ballmer, named media person of the year at this year’s festival, also painted a bleak picture for the future of traditional media, arguing that newspaper publishers have failed to generate new revenues from the digital opportunity. He said that within 10 years all traditional content will be digital”

I have seen a lot of boring articles about Google killing quality journalism in the last months.  Some people were asking if media should be the next industry that has to be supported by the governments. There are still a lot of tradional media companies praying that the hypothesis of Wolfgang Riepl stays true. He said in 1913  that “new media never make the old media disappear”.

We need traditional media to understand the most important questions in international relations, security and foreign policy. Of course we are impressed by the possibilities of the internet and the rising influence of social media like blogs, Facebook or Twitter. Yes, these days the Tweets from Iran are amazing.  But as my colleague Rashunda Tramble mentioned in this blog:   “Tweetable doesn’t automatically mean reliable.”

Therefore I should probably rethink my picture of Steve Ballmer. Maybe a  jumping, stomping and yelling man is needed to wake up traditonal media and save their important role in our understanding of international relations and foreign policy.

ISN Weekly Theme: Nagorno-Karabakh

Landmines in Suarassy, Kashatagh Region, Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, courtesy of Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2006

Landmines in Suarassy, Kashatagh Region, Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, courtesy of Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2006

This week, the ISN focuses on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over this de facto independent territory has been running since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Mediation efforts by the ‘Minsk Group’, a group of OSCE member states, haven’t brought any substantial success. Some even argue that they’ve been counterproductive.

As other disputes stuck in a ‘no peace, no war’ situation for so long, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to the ‘frozen conflicts’ species. But the dramatic meltdown of the South Ossetia conflict last summer showed that frozen conflicts should be taken very seriously indeed.

You might also want to check our resources on the whole Caucasus region or on mediation in peace processes in general.

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