Tag Archives societal

Celebrating a year of blissful blogging: ISS Blog Bliss turns 1!

Bliss, the blog of the ISS on global development and social justice, turns one this week. Although the blog is still in its infancy, it is already showing great promise. The Bliss Editorial Board here reflects on the reasons why Bliss should be celebrated and outlines their wish list for the year to come.

Bliss, our blog about global development and social justice, celebrates its first birthday today. We don’t really have a frame of reference for thinking about whether we are doing a good job, and can thus only share why we have come to like the blog.

In the first 12 months of existence of our blog, 68 posts have been published. Two-thirds of these were written by staff and students of the ISS. The breadth of topics mirror the lively diversity in the institute, with topics ranging from economic diplomacy, humanitarian aid, women’s rights, epistemic diversity, deglobalisation, the Orphan Industrial Complex, populism, and much more.

We know our stats. We have had 13,000 visitors in the first year—more than 1,000 every month. Is this good or not? It pales in view of the intimidating numbers one has become used to for web-based platforms. But what do we compare the blog to? When we think of the average number of students in a classroom or participants in seminars, we are extremely happy and impressed if indeed 13,000 people have bothered to read at least one of our posts!

Making our research known

What inspired the blog is an urge to open the windows of our building and reach out about pressing issues that our research sheds light on. We defined our audience as people in policy, practice and the public at large. We are particularly pleased that we have had 1,000 visitors from India, and another thousand from South Africa and Kenya! We have actually had visitors from across the world due to the diversity of our articles.

ISS staff and students have also gotten to know each other’s work better through Bliss. We see each other every so often over lunch or in meetings, and we usually know the kind of project or topic colleagues work on, but rarely do we know the specifics of the research. It is really wonderful to get the occasional glimpse of what your neighbour at work has been up to and what insights she or he reached and wants the world to know about.

Pursuing social justice

One blog will not change the world, but it is wonderful that we can add our voices to the critical streams for positive change, global development and social justice that keep up and manage to trickle through all the often depressing layers of naïve, selfish, blinded, devious, scared, evil, commercial, unthinking, or fanatical messages that continue to condone inequality, violence and threats to our climate.

Our first year has brought some evidence that blogging can be fun and powerful. Dorothea Hilhorst, one of the Editorial Board members, wrote her first post for Bliss about a report on transactional sex in the DRC that she was quite proud of, but that had not gotten much traction in the two years after its completion. However, Bliss helped her to make known her work on transactional sex in the DRC. The topicality, the title, and the picture related to the blog article all added to the cocktail that made the post one of the most popular on Bliss. It importantly led to different follow-up requests for lectures, blogs and even an invitation to contribute to a special issue on sexual abuse in the aid sector. This just shows what impact Bliss can potentially make if it reaches the right audiences.

The year ahead

It would be tempting to present you here with links to our favourite posts, but there are too many, and each has its own merits. We invite everyone to identify their personal favourite and tell us in a comment. So, instead of listing our favourites, let us rather share with you our wish list for the year to come. Here are five things that we hope to see in the coming years:

  1. More series. We have had several series this year on deglobalisation, epistemic communities and humanitarian studies. Series have turned out to be an effective way of disseminating fresh messages while creating a continuing conversation about different faces and shades of an issue.
  2. More responses on topical issues and news related to our academic work. Many things happen in the world that our research directly speaks to, so our research can feed into ongoing debates. Just recently, for example, we had a wonderful post on the recent elections in Brazil.
  3. More frequent use of blogging to increase the societal relevance of academic work. ISS places a high premium on societal relevance. Although there are many meanings of and approaches to societal relevance (a blog article on the topic is to be published soon), blogging is definitely a wonderful way to go the extra mile and tell a wider audience about relevant findings from an academic publication.
  4. More discussion about issues that matter to academic work in a world where the nature and status of science and evidence is increasingly under discussion. Confusingly and interestingly, these discussions take place in different corners. They come from places that favour fake news and like to see science as just another opinion. But they also come from within the academe where we wonder how inequality and a lack of recognition of the value of diversity biases our work. There is lots of space for debate on our blog.
  5. More stories that give voice to people that may not easily be heard. To paraphrase comedian Hannah Gadsby: it is not laughter or anger that connects people and communities, but stories. Let Bliss be a place where connecting stories are being told!

The Bliss Editorial Board members are Sylvia Bergh, Dorothea Hilhorst, Linda Johnson, Rod Mena, Matthias Rieger and Christina Sathyamala.

New cabinet, new direction? ‘Building blocks’ for new Dutch minister Sigrid Kaag by Linda Johnson

About the author:

DSC01062 (1)Linda Johnson is currently the Executive Secretary at ISS. She has been involved in international relations in higher education since 1988, holding a variety of posts in the field, including Head of International Office, Head of Educational Affairs, Director of an American Study Abroad Programme and Head of International Relations. She speaks and writes regularly on topics pertaining to the internationalisation of higher education and research and on diversity.

Partos* and SAIL**, two umbrella organisations for development knowledge in the Netherlands, presented a number of urgent recommendations to incoming Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag in December 2017. The two organisations hope to inform the minister’s new policy by means of a number of policy recommendations framed as ‘building blocks’. ISS, as a member of SAIL, co-created the building blocks in line with its vision of ensuring the societal impact of its research and of deepening collaboration with partners in the development sector.

A New Cabinet – and New Opportunities

The Dutch elections of March 2017 resulted in a protacted period of negotiation between Dutch political parties before sufficient agreement was reached for a new coalition government to be formed in October 2017. Incoming Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Aid, Sigrid Kaag1, an experienced diplomat and a member of the political party D66, now faces a number of challenges in deciding which direction the Dutch developmental policy will take over the next five years.

Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag.

The new policy is expected to be revealed in the coming months. For this reason, SAIL and Partos as platforms representing expertise in the development field, worked together on formulating a document for Minister Kaag that could help shape her new policy. The document highlights six key areas of the Dutch development policy requiring attention: Development Cooperation and Forced Migration; Humanitarian Action; Trade; Shrinking Civic Space and Human Rights; Partner Countries; and Climate Support to Developing Countries.

Development Cooperation and Forced Migration

The new cabinet’s goal is to focus on the prevention of migration and the return of migrants and refugees to their countries of origin. One strategy for doing this is to address the root causes of migration to reduce the number of people seeking refuge in Europe. SAIL and Partos recommend that the government focuses on tackling the root causes of forced migration (as opposed to voluntary migration), such as climate change, exclusion and violence, and argue that the positive aspects of migration should also be acknowledged.

SAIL and Partos recommend the avoidance of conditional aid, which has proven to be ineffective, and underline the fact that the purpose of development cooperation and development aid is to further social and economic development. They also warn that the ‘ring around Europe’, which currently receives most attention, should not prevent a focus on other regions where help is desperately needed.

Humanitarian Action

Partos and SAIL praise the Netherlands for its leadership in taking humanitarian action, but recommended that its aid financing mechanisms should be flexible, independent, unconditional and multi-year in order to better handle the increasing complexity and extent of humanitarian disasters and conflicts. They furthermore stress the importance of ‘localisation’, and stated that the Netherlands’ extensive experience of network governance and localisation should be put to good use. They also reflect on the importance of focusing on gender through providing increased protection to women and children, and the need for attention to be paid to the conditions in camps housing Libyan refugees.


The coalition agreement highlights the government’s desire to further combine trade and aid. SAIL and Partos warn that trade should be an instrument serving development and should not be an aim in itself. They also call for the creation of a good investment climate based on a ‘do-no-harm’ principle in developing countries and for support of local SMEs in developing countries.

Shrinking Civic Space and Human Rights

The coalition agreement emphasises the Netherlands’ support for human rights and its pledge to increase the budget for its human rights fund. Partos and SAIL call for steps to be taken to strengthen civil society to help create the conditions for a well-functioning, free and democratic society in which a sustainable and inclusive economy can flourish.

Partner Countries

The two organisations argue that migration issues should not inform the Netherlands’ choice of its partner countries. Partner relationships should be based on long term cooperation, and on enduring global challenges such as climate change, poverty and population growth.

Climate Support to Developing Countries

The coalition agreement reveals the importance assigned to sustainable development. The new cabinet announced its intention to start a national climate fund, but no concrete financial commitments to this fund have been made as yet. Could this point to lack of commitment?

SAIL and Partos call for a concrete financial commitment to be made in line with the Climate Law for the periods 2020-2025 and 2026-2030, and for financial flows to be targeted towards lower income countries and used for the support of vulnerable groups. Moreover, they recommend that the Netherlands should commit itself to making international funds such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund2 more accessible for developing countries and the organisations combating climate change within them.

Concluding remark

The collaboration between Partos and SAIL was an interesting and highly rewarding learning experience. Scientists, policy-makers and practitioners work together less frequently than they should. Our experience of co-creating the ‘building blocks’ for Minister Kaag made it eminently clear to us that creating spaces in which the worlds of evidence and practice can meet and debate things that matter is very worthwhile indeed. We plan to continue the collaboration and hope that the ‘building blocks’ will be the start of a good conversation with Minister Kaag.


*Partos is the association for development cooperation, with more than 100 Dutch organisations active in the field holding membership to this association.
**SAIL is the platform for international knowledge institutes in The Netherlands, with the ISS as one of the six members.
1Dr. Sylvia Bergh, Associate Professor in Development Management and Governance at the ISS, in 2016 interviewed Minister Sigrid Kaag regarding her work at that time in Syria, where she was a United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (watch the video here).
2The Green Climate Fund is a global fund created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change. The Adaptation Fund is intended to help developing countries to adapt to climate change.