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Indiana University

Student-run graduate conference explores international policy issues

June 3, 2009

The student-run International Pubic Affairs Association of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs recently conducted its second annual conference -- titled "Multidisciplinary Perspectives on International Public Affairs: Bridging the gap between theory and practice." It included a full day of presentations by faculty and graduate students on topics ranging from social inclusion to sustainable development.

Feisal Istrabadi, formerly Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations and currently a visiting professor at IU's Maurer School of Law-Bloomington, provided the keynote address, "Iraq: Policy Making in Transition," based on his personal experiences in Iraqi politics and policy development.

Attendees of the conference, which took place on the IU Bloomington campus, were supplied with three to five page "policy briefs" summarizing the major conclusions of each work. Perspectives on Policy has selected a few of these briefs to share with readers:

Is there a relationship between level of education and attitude toward war in the Middle East?

This study examines the relationship between educational attainment and attitude toward resorting to war in four predominantly Muslim countries facing potential war: Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey. Holding all other characteristics constant, the statistical analysis provides no evidence that those with greater educational attainment are supportive of obtaining United Nations approval before engaging in war. The study does find evidence, however, that respondents with greater educational attainment in Lebanon and Turkey are more likely to believe that war is justified as a means of obtaining justice.

Does religion and culture have an effect on an individual's entrepreneurial activity?

Scholars have long speculated that religious beliefs and practices significantly influence the economic behavior of societies. However, no one has empirically applied statistical analysis to establish the relationship until recently. New research in India analyzes the effects of religion and culture on an individual's choice to engage in entrepreneurial activities. Hinduism and its lingering caste system seems to engender a focus on casual labor for individuals under its religious influence, while Muslim and Christian populations are more likely to start their own small enterprises. These findings indicate the need for innovative social programs and policies to mitigate the effects of religious perceptions in order to foster entrepreneur-led economic growth.

  • Religion, Culture, and Entrepreneurship in India -- David Audrestch, Distinguished Professor of Public & Environmental Affairs and Ameritech Chair of Economic Development, IU Bloomington; and Nancy Meyer, IU Bloomington SPEA MPA candidate, 2009

Is microfinance the solution for a developing nation like Uzbekistan?

Despite its considerable importance for Uzbekistan, the microfinance sector remains at a nascent stage of development and requires further improvements in both quality and quantity in order to be a successful tool of economic development. In order to attract both national and international investors to this sector, it is necessary to establish a financially sustainable and efficient microfinance market. Local financial institutions must also be attracted, as their involvement would enhance competition, reduce interest rates, and promote economic development in Uzbekistan.

What can the international community do for Sudan?

Political and economic conditions in Sudan and particularly southern Sudan and Darfur have not improved despite the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the northern and southern areas of Sudan. During this civil war, it is estimated that about 2 million lives were lost with 4 million people displaced. Current developments in Sudan have revealed that the CPA is unstable and can collapse at any time.

Are current international development programs ignoring the real needs of developing poor?

A new approach to development must involve practical policy that will serve the needs of those on the ground in underdeveloped nations. This policy approach must shift from its current viewpoint of absolute liberalism to one that does not completely abandon liberal ideology, but that also embraces a "basic needs" ideology infused with modern liberalism. This policy study critiques current approaches to international development and argues that "macro" approaches ignore the "micro" issues within underdeveloped nations. Furthermore, it argues for an adjustment to current "macro" development policies, beginning with a ground-level analysis of local conditions prior to implementation of development policies.

Does minority political representation matter for peaceful resolution of social conflicts?

Western European countries are host to numerous minorities. These groups identify themselves by their distinct religion, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, immigrant status, etc., and most are characterized as 'disadvantaged' by socio-economic and political criteria. Recurring riots, violent backlashes and increasing religious extremism demonstrate that the accommodation of minorities is a pressing issue for West European governments. This study investigates the dynamics of minority political representation in British local government, and seek to answer the question: Does minority political representation matter for peaceful resolution of social conflicts? It focuses on the political experiences of Muslim city councilors across 32 London boroughs.

The International Pubic Affairs Association conference was entirely student organized and run by the IPAA graduate student group. Sponsorship came from SPEA, the Western European Studies Title VI National Resource Center, the East Asian Studies Center, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, the American Society for Information Science & Technology student chapter, and the Indiana University Student Association AID.