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As Egypt's younger generation mount million-strong demonstrations for "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" -- as one protester's sign read -- the shockwaves from the uprising have reverberated through the government of Hosni Mubarak, the White House, and the digital tentacles of students and other pro-democracy sympathizers in every corner of the globe.
On February 7 & 8, 2011, NYU Wagner and its Research Center for Leadership in Action(RCLA) launched public discussions illuminating some of the less-visible aspects of the revolt, its better-known causes, and where this history-changing moment may lead.
In the first of these two events, which drew nearly 150 students altogether, Natasha Iskander, assistant professor of public policy, and Waad El-Hadidy, senior associate for RCLA, began by showing photos and YouTube videos capturing the good cheer and thoroughly Egyptian-style humor on display on the streets of downtown Cairo -- such as many makeshift hats worn by demonstrators, fashioned from chunks of asphalt or plastic water bottles, and fastened with scarves.
Another video showed a young Egyptian woman's impassioned plea for reform of the country's political process.
Remarkable, said Iskander, was the nonviolent nature of the demonstrations, a feature she called "historic in its own right," especially given the distributive, leaderless character of the protests.
"The protesters are everybody," she said.
And the issues animating them transcend lines of religion, class, and generation, Prof. Iskander and El-Hadidy said. Even in the wake of the Mubarak government's unleashing of thugs on camels and horses to storm the crowds, the police kidnap and detention of journalists and activists, and the sewing of civilian chaos to erode the movement's public support, the protesters as a whole appeared free of bitterness toward the Egyptian authorities. It's a reflection of the socially intimate nature of life in Egypt, a place, said Iskander, where police and army personnel live as neighbors with the people now taking to the streets, and their families.
"This is a real turning point in the history of Egypt," said Iskander, speaking of the spontaneous mass movement, although she cautioned that knotty issues will require negotiators to emerge, and negotiation, such as election reform. These matters go beyond the immediate question of Mubarak's hold on power, and are more complex.
Still, the uprising beginning Jan. 25 " took the world by surprise, it took the people of Egypt by surprise, it also took the demonstrators by surprise," said El-Hadidy.
On Feb. 8, the second discussion, moderated by El-Hadidy, featured: Mona Eltahawy, a frequent CNN guest analyst on Arab and Muslim issues; Karim Tartoussieh, who is writing his dissertation at NYU on digital disobedience, culture, and citizenship in Egypt; Omar Youssef Cheta, a PhD candidate in the joint program in Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, and History at NYU; and Rania Salem, a doctoral candidate at Princeton. Joining Wagner and RCLA in sponsoring the panel discussion was the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Program at the College of Arts and Science at NYU.
The day's speakers described the sparks precipitating the protests, ranging from the government's growing use of summary arrests and police brutality, to the lack of good prospects for younger people, who represent a third of the population, to the Tunisian revolt that toppled that country's longtime ruler. Facebook and YouTube, too, brought people out to the streets, and Eltahawy noted that Egypt's release of Google executive Wael Ghonim, a key figure behind the Facebook and YouTube push, was galvanizing the movement as she was speaking.
"He's a 30 year old who scared the crap out of a 30 year old regime," Eltahawy said, predicting Ghonim could become one of the pro-democracy movement's most important representatives in the tense and uncertain days to come.
The Financial Access Initiative (FAI) at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service has launched an important new study to better understand the financial lives of low-income Americans.
FAI, in partnership with Bankable Frontier Associates and The Center for Financial Services Innovation, will track families in four geographic regions in the U.S. over 16 months and collect highly detailed data on household financial activity. The study promises a timely and independent look at how low-income Americans are managing their financial lives. The $3 million project is supported by a grant from the Citi Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
FAI's managing director discusses the launch of the U.S.-centered financial diaries project in this video. The managing director is Jonathan Morduch, professor of public policy and economics at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.
The "Financial Diaries" methodology employed to conduct this research has been successfully applied in Bangladesh, India and South Africa. The results of that FAI research were detailed in a groundbreaking book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day (Princeton University Press, 2009). Instrumental in broadening conceptions of global poverty, the book revealed that poor households lead surprisingly active and sophisticated financial lives, driven by the need to cope with irregular and unpredictable incomes but few reliable tools to absorb economic shocks.
"Improving access to reliable, flexible financial products and services is an important step to help poor and low-income households better manage their economic lives," says Professor Morduch. "The Financial Diaries research has proven to be an effective means of gathering important information to inform the design of these kinds of financial tools."
"The findings in Portfolios of the Poor provided an eye-opening look at the financial lives of the poor in other countries, and we're excited to use this lens in the U.S. context," says Brandee McHale, Chief Operating Officer at the Citi Foundation. "This research can fill an important gap in the current data on how low-income families in our own backyards are making ends meet and help reduce the barriers to financial well-being that these families currently face."
In the U.S., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) found that some 17 million adults live in households without any bank accounts. Another 43 million have accounts but are "underbanked," relying on non-bank services such as pay-day lenders and pawn shops. Yet, there is little concrete data about the needs, preferences and use of financial services by low-income families.
"Remarkably, more than 30 million low-income families across the U.S. lack access to traditional banking and financial systems," says Frank DeGiovanni, director of financial assets at the Ford Foundation. "This landmark study will help us to better understand their financial lives, greatly improving the ability the financial industry of nonprofits, and policymakers to meet their needs and increase the quality, affordability, and accessibility of financial services."
To conduct this groundbreaking research, the U.S. Financial Diaries team will spend one-and-a-half years with 300 families, distributed across 4 research sites-in the South, the Northeast, the Midwest and the West. Researchers will meet with families every two weeks to collect highly detailed data on household cash flows.
This methodology of regularly observing household finances over long periods of time allows researchers to identify often-overlooked strategies of financial management, such as the use of informal borrowing and lending with neighbors and family members. The study is designed to capture spending and savings habits that often remain hidden in large surveys. The findings will be published in a series of reports beginning in mid-2012.