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18 December 2015.

[Useful feedback on last issue: While I had found Tim Urban’s “From Muhammad to ISIS: Iraq’s full story” clear and useful, our colleague Abdul Alim found it “too narrow and simplistic", in particular on its analysis of the initial Shia-Sunni split. Abdul is the scholar that I am not here, so take good note. He also shares his top reads on Muhammad’s life: Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad’s Life of Mohammad and Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. And he has plenty more references to share so feel free to reach out. Thanks Abdul!]  

Tis’ the season of “best-ofs”. Falalalala, lala, lala.

Analysts are selecting their books of the year (See here for lists from finance and economics gurus). I am finishing Tetlock and Gardner’s Superforecasting: The art and science of prediction which is on top of several lists and look forward to telling you what I think. Editorialists are picking out their favorite long essays (see here for David Brooks’) of which I recommend the WeChat piece showing how it is shaping the future of mobile payments. Journalists are electing their women of the year (see here); and their person of the year (see here for the FT and here for Time) and end up choosing the same woman: Angela Merkel. Linguists are picking out their word of the year (see here for Oxford and here for Merriam-Webster) which are not even words. Bloggers are counting their clicks and ranking their posts.  

In the spirit of the season, here is What I read’s 2015 best-of. As of today, there are 571 subscribers to this mailing list. And based on the number of clicks, here are your top fives:
  1. Bevington and al’s “A multitemporal, multivariate index to dynamically characterize vulnerability of children and adolescents in Nepal: Using science in humanitarian response” (5064 clicks: yes, this went viral). While the title is a mouthful, the map distills all this complexity to show children vulnerabilities at the village level, in real time. You can zoom in and out, you can map specific vulnerabilities (displaced children, available schools, functional healthcare facilities) or specific hazards (landslide from rainfalls, landslide from earthquakes, landslide post-quakes), or you can combine all this together in one map.  The architecture behind the interactive map triangulates data of different nature and frequency from the Nepal National Census to NASA’s high-resolution satellite imagery. This work was done by our Nepal CO.
  2. Gonzales and al’s “Catalyst for change: Women and tackling income inequality” (1873 clicks) is the latest Staff Paper in the IMF series on inequality and growth. It looks at the links between gender inequality and income inequality in 140 countries over two decades. It shows that an increase in the UN multi-dimensional gender inequality index “from zero (perfect gender equality) to one (perfect gender inequality) is associated with an increase in net income inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) of almost 10 points”. This is true for all countries, rich or poor. The paper also proposes policy recommendations from tax reform to improved family benefits such as parental leave and affordable childcare.  
  3. A quote from Nesta CEO Mulgan in “Meaningful meetings: How can meetings can be made better?”: “Some of the best meetings don’t happen.” (291 clicks). And let me expand a little: “Often people feel uncomfortable cancelling meetings, for fear that it implies that no work is being done. Similarly people feel uncomfortable in big bureaucracies not attending meetings - for fear that they may miss out on vital decisions, or be seen not to be a team player. The opposite would be a better approach - with cancelling or shortening meetings being taken as a sign of effective day to day communication and coordination that renders the meeting unnecessary.”
  4. Ausubel’s “Nature Rebounds” (215 clicks) presents positive trends with the combined effect of restoring nature. Farmland and forest use are reaching peaks; water, petroleum, and transportation uses are plateauing; and green vegetal cover expands.  All this alongside a population growth slowdown. The paper concentrates on the US but Ausubel argues that “within a few decades, the same patterns, already evident in Europe and Japan, will be evident in many more places”. The only dark spot in this bright picture is oceans and fisheries damage.
  5. Peleah’s “SDGs as a network of targets” (140 clicks) captures the intrinsic connections among SDGs and their targets. Click and play with it: grab one target, say gender disparities in education, and drag it around to see how it pulls a huge part of the network with it. It shows how progress in some key targets will generate progress across the whole set. It illustrates the sectoral integration and complexity inherent to the SDG agenda.
Thank you for all the fruitful discussions initiated around your and my 2015 readings. They broadened my horizons and enriched my work.
Happy holidays, all the best to you and your loved ones, and see you in 2016!



Katell Le Goulven
Chief, Policy Planning
+ 1 917 246 2236 (c)

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