Our Perspective

Poverty

Sustainability is the only choice

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Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies, businesses and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric. Photo: UNREDD

The term “sustainability” is increasingly being used among NGOs, governments, public sector and civil society, but unfortunately there is a huge gap between what is being said and what is being done. Looking at the most basic meaning of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations - the list of individual, collective, private and public activities that could be considered completely sustainable in this day and age is rather short. Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric; it involves a social change based on an active, forward-thinking approach, which in turn drives a significant increase in the empowerment of all stakeholders. Besides improving their reputation, which also results in better yields and prosperity, both public and private organizations that include sustainability as an inherent part of their operations establish stronger, trust-based links with their stakeholders and partners, thereby ensuring loyalty in the medium and long term. How can we bring these same principles to the field of human development? What impact would this have on our societies? The concept of “strategic planning” has not... Read more

Translation’s broader purpose

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In Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right. The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible. As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian). Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic... Read more

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs?

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

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Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate... Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

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The Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran

According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental... Read more

The intertwining nature of national and international agendas

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Paraguay is working towards inclusive development and improving the living conditions of people in extreme poverty. Photo: UNDP Paraguay

Following more than a year of intense consultations and discussion, the Open Work Group (OWG) finalized a draft Post-2015 development agenda - an agenda to be examined by the UN General Assembly in New York. The OWG agenda sets out 17 objectives and 169 goals as key elements defining development on the international arena in the near future. The OWG proposal is quite ambitious in nature and constitutes a marked departure from the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): for instance, definition of the issue of inequality is very explicit, and there is an objective dealing with the promotion of peace and good governance for all countries. In August, I attended a retreat on the Post-2015 agenda organized by the Government of Paraguay. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Technical Planning Secretariat invited all government entities operating in the country to come and discuss the drafting of the proposals, as well as similarities between the OWG (the international agenda) and the draft National Plan currently under debate in the country. More than fifty institutions attended the meeting. The workshop enabled participants to confirm the similarity of both proposals, as well as to further reinforce action taken by the Paraguayan government... Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

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The provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live... Read more

Crowdfunding for development: fad or future?

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Children picking olives at Ostrog Primary School which was made energy independent, through a crowfunding campaign supported by UNDP and the Kaštela Energy Cooperative. Photo: Marina Kelava/UNDP Croatia

Steady growth and, for now, no end of the trend in sight: the crowdfunding market keeps expanding across the globe. Crowdfunding describes the practice of securing funding for a specific project or business venture by a dispersed group of people with some shared interests, “the crowd”. Most crowdfunding initiatives are dependent on whether they raise the targeted amount from the crowd. If the funding goal is not met, the project will not take off. It thus differs to charitable donations which usually support the respective organization’s general mission without knowing exactly how the money will be spent. UNDP has been experimenting with philanthropic crowdfunding and has had some early successes. For example, colleagues in Croatia successfully raised $10,000 for an energy-independent school in Croatia. The sum might be fairly small but the experience showed: crowdfunding can create a buzz for development work and social causes as the unwritten rules of crowdfunding require development organizations to communicate constantly and in a non-technical jargon what concretely was achieved. UNDP has also had some experience ‘failing’ with crowdfunding initiatives. As the saying goes: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. Based on lessons thus far, we developed guidance document for UNDP... Read more

The Ebola crisis: reversing development gains in Liberia

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Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: UNDP

As the Ebola crisis continues to take a toll on people’s lives and livelihoods in West Africa, the focus is increasingly not just on the health aspects of the crisis, but also on its social and economic consequences. Sure, the human and medical aspects of the crisis are still on the front burner, as they should be. The public health care system has all but collapsed, while the number of Ebola cases is increasing exponentially. Before the current crisis, Liberia’s economy experienced impressive growth rates of up to 8.7 per cent (2013). Future growth figures will now have to be revised, as economic activities have slowed down dramatically in most sectors. But the impressive recent growth in Liberia has not been equitable or inclusive. About 57 per cent of the country’s approximately 4 million inhabitants live below the poverty line and 48 per cent live in conditions of extreme poverty. The lack of equitable, inclusive development means that more than half of the country’s population—especially women and children--is particularly vulnerable to shocks and crises, ultimately making the whole country less robust, less stable, and less able to handle a crisis of any magnitude. Reduced tax revenues as a result of reduced... Read more

Women are still being forcibly or coercively sterilized, it's time to end the practice

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A mom and her newborn baby at the Maternal & Child Health Training Institute for the medically needy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

Though voluntary sterilization is considered an important form of pregnancy prevention in many parts of the world, force or coercion should never be part of the equation. However, there continue to be cases of women, people living with HIV, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or transgender and intersex persons who are sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Our report, “Protecting the right of key HIV-affected women and girls in healthcare settings” highlights the persistence of this practice amongst women and girls in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan living with HIV, along with a range of other serious forms of abuse.  These practices are not only discriminatory, they are also violations of fundamental human rights. As reported in 2012 by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, coercive and discriminatory practices in health care settings are rife, including forced HIV testing, breaches of confidentiality and the denial of health care services, as well as forced sterilizations and abortions. Voluntary sterilization is dependent upon a legal environment and social and health programmes, policies and practices that guarantee the rights of all individuals to free, full and informed consent. To this end, countries must prohibit the practice of... Read more

Can small islands expect a sea-change from the latest UN development conference?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. Photo: UNDP/Comoros

This week, the tiny Pacific island of Samoa is hosting the UN’s 3rd international conference on small island developing states – or SIDS. It’s a novelty for sure; an island nation of less than 190,000 people suddenly plays host to over 3000 people from around the world. But the island’s embrace of the event is also indicative of the scale of what’s at stake; it’s about survival. Climate change threatens to not only undo many years of impressive development progress but to erase whole countries and cultures. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Samoa wrote simply, ‘we are drowning’. So what will be achieved this week? With small populations and limited international influence many islands often slip through the cracks in larger – and wealthier – countries’ list of priorities. Most SIDS have underscored their significant fragility and vulnerability, especially to shocks such as extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The devastation caused over US$1 billion in damages, equivalent to over 200% of the country’s GDP. In addition to the terrible human cost of such disasters, there are also significant reconstruction costs and some countries have seen their debt... Read more

One number that tells a much bigger story in the Pacific

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With support from UNDP and funding from the GEF, the Government of Samoa has stepped up to integrate climate risks into the agriculture and health sectors and into forestry management. Photo UNDP/Samoa

Small islands face big challenges. This week’s Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa probes some of the most pressing ones. How do we protect our ocean resources for future generations? How do we prepare for the destructive forces of climate change on fragile islands? How can countries find the human and financial resources to sustain productive businesses, homes, schools and health services? How can countries stem rising youth unemployment? The list is as long as the oceans are wide. There is one important, often overlooked development indicator that lurks behind these larger issues and is a pre-condition for development progress in all countries. This worrisome indicator which is under discussion this week is mentioned in a new United Nations report, The State of Human Development in the Pacific: a Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a Time of Rapid Change. The report is being launched days ahead of the SIDS Conference in Samoa. What is it? Life expectancy. It provides a simple measure of the overall health status of a population. And the picture in the Pacific is not good. An average person in New Zealand or Australia can expect to live about 10 years longer than a person... Read more

Overcoming Barriers to Poverty Reduction: A greater role for the private sector

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Luru-Dashima, a female artisan from the Mosuo community in southwest China, participated in a UNDP/private sector project focusing on improving market access and recognition for traditional ethnic minority handicrafts. Photo: UNDP/China

From C.K. Prahalad’s thought provoking call for eradicating poverty through profits to the newly coined words ‘reverse innovation’, various schools of thought have emerged recently to make a case as to why the private sector could and should do more towards poverty alleviation. Naturally, that case was incubated in business schools—a case for the business community to do more to eradicate poverty needs to be commercially viable. But we, at UNDP’s global policy center for private sector in development (IICPSD), opened the dialogue further and looked outside of the business schools to tap into the wealth of knowledge developed by poverty experts and learn more about various factors that lead to and perpetuate a life in poverty. Our efforts culminated in a recent conference about “The Role of the Private Sector in Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion”, where we disaggregated poverty data to a basic set of tangible disadvantages that sustain and perpetuate socioeconomic exclusion. We identified five overarching barriers to poverty reduction: Early Developmental, Health, Skill, Social, and Decision-making barriers. The rationale behind this approach is based on the premise that private companies first gather in-depth understanding of the needs and challenges facing their potential consumers before presenting innovative solutions... Read more

Boosting resilience in the Caribbean

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Investing in the resilience of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with climate change is crucial. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/UNDP

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise. Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23. Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position. In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which... Read more

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

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A PARTICIPANT in A WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME IN UPPER EGYPT. Photo: HEEWOONG KIM/undp.

‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims... Read more

Financing Post-2015: A quick run-down of the expert committee’s report

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Drip irrigation system introduced in the farmlands of Akmola region in Kazakhstan. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

The UN’s inter-governmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing met for the last time this month to put the final touches to their much anticipated report on how the world should finance the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs. I’ve had the opportunity to attend many of the committee’s sessions, and they’ve had a mammoth task. So what have they come up with? You can read the full report here, but below is a quick heads-up. The range of issues they’ve had to cover is massive: from assessing how much cash is needed to finance sustainable development to thinking about where the cash could come from and where these funds should be directed. The report draws up a ‘menu of options’ for the financing of sustainable development. This allows policymakers in different countries to make choices as to what policies and financial instruments are most suited to them. That makes perfect sense of course; the strategy that will be best for a climate-vulnerable small island state such as the Maldives won’t necessarily be the same for a larger resource-rich country such as Kazakhstan. On the other hand, it could also lead governments to ‘cherry-pick’ among the ideas presented, and... Read more

Africa is transforming itself: How do we turn intentions into reality?

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Better investment in infrastructure could help Africa's transformation. Photo: Benoit Almeras Martino/UNDP DRC

Recently I attended an event from the Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Entitled "Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership", it was held for the first time in Africa, bringing over 300 participants together from businesses, Global Compact networks, UN agencies and governments. Africa's economic transformation with various partners from China, Europe and the US was among the key topics discussed. But, while multinational companies do play a role, it is increasingly clear that African policy makers and business people are setting the continent’s agenda. Participants largely agreed that Africa’s transformation requires investment in better infrastructure, education, skills, jobs, policies and more. The WHAT was better articulated than the HOW. Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, this transformation goes well beyond economic growth. Development practitioners talk more and more about ‘inclusive growth’, agreeing that businesses should go beyond philanthropy and corporate social responsibility towards making their core activities better suited for societies and the environment.  As UNDP's Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu stated: "Inclusive... Read more

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa

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Despite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live. Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that? A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market. With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped... Read more

Consumption and well-being: What are we missing?

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“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. Photo: Mauricio Martínez/ UNDP in El Salvador

Slavoj Zizek tells a joke that was popular in Eastern Europe in the sixties. A man enters a grocery store and yells, “Surely you don’t have any soap, right?” The shopkeeper replied halfheartedly: “No, sir, we’re the shop with no toilet paper; the shop with no soap is further ahead.” In Latin America, something similar is happening in discussions on progress and development, and we usually think we are the society that is “missing something”, or is “incomplete”. We are interested in exploring the particularities of what’s desperately needed, the necessary data that will enable us to better visualize our unsustainable pattern of consumption. In other words, to examine the aspects of multidimensional poverty that we still have not been able to define. A couple of weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published new data on consumption, spending and borrowing. The initial findings are as follows: “The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. The richest 20 percent of Latin Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all household spending. The poorest 20 percent accounted for about 7 percent of total household spending. Furthermore, the findings show a transition in the nature of spending.... Read more

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