China, Hong Kong, and Basketball: How One Tweet Started a Firestorm in the NBA

by Nicholas Kishaba

Staff Writer

In March, demonstrations began in the streets of Hong Kong, largely in protest against a bill which would essentially allow the Chinese government to extradite fugitives from regions they do not currently control, such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong City Leader Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the bill, however, as protests have increased in both frequency and violence, protesters’ demands have consolidated into a call for democracy. Among other demands such as amnesty for arrested protesters, and an inquiry into police brutality, there are also demands for the resignation for Lam, who is believed by the protesters to be a pawn for Beijing.

The constant tensions between protesters and the Chinese government, as well as the global focus they have received, have forced many American businesses to pick a side. Choose Hong Kong, and accept the fiscal repercussions of going against the Chinese government, or choose China, and suffer the social backlash in the United States of aligning with a country that has often “undermined people’s rights to free speech and political participation.” One organization has taken center stage in the Hong Kong dilemma: the National Basketball Association. 

Demonstrators in Hong Kong protest the new anti-mask law, despite heavy rains.

The NBA, which is the most notable basketball league in the United States, has grown to be one of the most popular and profitable sports leagues in the United States, but much of this growth was done on the back of the Chinese television market. In June 2019, the NBA announced a five-year extension of the partnership with the league’s current partner in China, Tencent,  worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars. According to the NBA, roughly 640 million people watched some form of NBA programming during the 2018 season. In essence, basketball has become the biggest sport in China, and the NBA is China’s most popular basketball league. For the NBA, its stake in the Chinese market is notable, and the downfall of losing access to it would be steep. Yet on October 4th, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted an image stating “Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong.” The Chinese consulate in Houston reacted swiftly, quickly denouncing him. However, more surprise was yet to come as Morey was forced to tweet an apology while the NBA declared his statement as regrettable. While many understand the NBA’s fiscal relationship with China, distancing themselves from Morey and his statements appeared to many as tolerance for the Chinese government, if not outright support. 

For nearly 60 years, the NBA has been characterized as a league of free speech, protests, and social activism. From Bill Russell becoming the black coach in American Sports in 1966, to players and coaches openly criticizing Donald Trump’s policies, the NBA has been identified as arguably the most progressive sports league in the U.S. But the conflict between China and Hong Kong has shown a lack of confidence in the players, owners, and league towards activism. The league which has never punished someone for expressing their views is speculated to have pressured Daryl Morey to publicly apologize. Even LeBron James, a player who in the past wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, opened a school for underserved children in Ohio, and called Donald Trump a “bum,” criticized Morey for his tweet, arguing that he wasn’t properly educated on the situation. 

While it is likely that the NBA leadership would have preferred to remain neutral in the conflict, James, as arguably the most notable basketball figure of the 21st century, has chosen the side of the NBA, irrespective of the views held by others in the organization. It doesn’t matter that Kyrie Irving, a player for the Brooklyn Nets, gave his support to Hong Kong in a post-game interview, nor is it of any consequence that former player Shaquille O’Neal had outrightly declared that Daryl Morey was right. The public image of the NBA has suffered in both of its biggest markets. Some players have quickly sided with Hong Kong, while others  are attempting to maintain business ties with the Chinese market. The rest are caught in the crossfire, avoiding choosing sides, and citing a lack of knowledge on the situation to provide comments. The most recent official comment by the NBA, made by the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, is that the NBA would support freedom of expression. But for many fans in both the United States and Hong Kong, this public expression of support is just not enough. Bipartisan pressure from Congress is pushing the NBA to change its stance on Hong Kong, as senators and congressmen are pressuring U.S. companies to confront China. However, the threat of action from the Chinese government looms large as well. The NBA has already faced consequences, as Tencent, the NBA’s streaming partner, has cut off Houston Rockets’ games from their platform. Further statements on Hong Kong would likely see more stringent action being taken against the NBA. Seeking to satisfy fans in the United States in this controversy would undoubtedly hurt their relationship with the Chinese government and the market under their control. Unfortunately for the NBA, it’s nearly impossible to satisfy all sides of the equation, and the statements which have been made have already hurt its image, reputation, and revenue.

Photos courtesy of:

Etan Liam

Piotr Drabik


by Pankhuri Prasad
Staff Writer

There is no denying that technology has transformed every aspect of our lives; the government sector has been no exception. In 2018, we saw tech-giant Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, face a series of congressional hearings where he had to answer for Facebook’s problematic data policies and entanglement with Cambridge Analytica. According to U.S. intelligence leaders, ‘social media disinformation’ practiced by Russia still remains a major threat to future elections in the United States. Beyond just social media, other technologies pose a challenge to governing practices across the world. Cryptocurrency and new financial technology (“fintech”) applications threaten to uproot traditional central financial units such as banks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could displace thousands of workers.

Given the disruptive nature of technology, where does Techplomacy fit in?

“Techplomacy”—a “portmanteau” word—refers to the combination of technology and diplomacy, as foreign and security policies embraced the digital age. This concept acknowledges the key role that data-driven innovation and giant tech companies play in today’s society, reshaping the way we think about diplomacy in the 21st century. Techplomacy was initiated by Denmark in 2017 when it appointed the world’s first-ever “Tech Ambassador”, who enjoys a global mandate and splits his time between Silicon Valley, Beijing and Copenhagen.

Techplomacy initiative in Denmark

The first Tech Ambassador of Denmark, Casper Klynge, holds a Masters degree in Political Science (International Relations) from Copenhagen University. He has held many positions in his years at Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including serving as the Ambassador of Denmark to Cyprus, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and ASEAN. In interviews, Klynge notes that his job requires a lot of traveling to cities across the world and meeting members of tech companies, civil societies, and governments. He urges other nations to also explore techplomacy and hopes to see more counterparts in his branch of diplomacy. He argues that techplomacy is not a disruption of traditional diplomacy but is actually complementary to it. In an interview with the World Economic Forum (WEF), he mentions, “We are bringing back diplomacy to its roots. This is about having a forward operating post in areas where things are happening.” After the appointment of the Tech Ambassador in 2017, the Danish Government launched their new ‘Foreign and Security Policy Strategy 2019–2020’. In this strategy, they have highlighted plans to strengthen Denmark’s cyber and information security through international engagement, promoting EU leadership in a new digital world order. Denmark wants to continue building alliances with the global tech industry and wishes to engage the United Nations to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds..

What is different about Techplomacy?

Techplomacy differs from simply creating regulatory policies about usage of technology or operations of tech companies. Instead, techplomacy aims at creating new avenues for dialogue

and collaboration between the tech industry and government. It recognizes tech companies as active stakeholders in forming policies. This concept is challenging the traditional notions of what constitutes a foreign policy. Foreign policy can be considered the patterns of interaction between governments and external entities; techplomacy challenges this by adding tech companies, their research, their products, and the consumers into the fray of policy-making interests.

Data Diplomacy

An article in The Economist calls data “the oil of the digital era” and discusses how tech giants have paved the way for a ‘data economy’. Private sectors have been quick to adopt and integrate big data into their mechanisms. However, governments and public sectors have yet to catch up. This can be particularly surprising when considering that diplomacy and crafting foreign policy are functions of careful historical analysis of patterns of human interaction. Using big data will not only accelerate this analysis but also make it more applicable. Commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the DiploFoundation recently presented groundbreaking research on ‘data diplomacy.’ The report stated that data diplomacy can be looked at as an interplay of three dimensions—data as a tool for diplomacy, data as a topic for diplomacy, and data as something that changes the very environment in which diplomacy operates.
Data diplomacy differs from techplomacy, as it focuses on the application of technology to diplomacy rather than the introduction of new participants in the diplomatic process. Although this difference may make the two new branches of diplomacy seem mutually exclusive, failing to integrate technology into diplomacy means the relationship between the tech industry and foreign policy will not evolve. One can only talk so much about technology without understanding its impact on his or her own field. In this case, without recognizing the role of data, tech-plomats would not be successful in acting as a liaison to industry actors who own much of the world’s proprietary data. Therefore, in today’s digital era, diplomacy must continue to evolve, integrating technology while simultaneously recognizing the changing role of non-traditional stakeholders.  

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by Gabriella Fleischmann
Contributing Writer

A policy proposal directed towards Mrs. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Women Africa

Executive Summary

I propose that the UN Women Africa make a partnership with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) to ensure that their services are extended to disabled women in Kenya. Targeted efforts need to be made to reach and educate disabled women about how to access and successfully use microfinance. Disabled women are particularly vulnerable, and have less economic security than non-disabled women. While there has been an emphasis on using microfinance as a tool to empower women, disabled people have been left out of the promise of microfinance to uplift disadvantaged groups. The UN Women Africa should partner with microfinance institutions that serve women, beginning with the KWFT as a flagship program, to implement the following policies: (i) incentivizing the KWFT to hire qualified disabled women as credit officers, (ii) ensuring that the KWFT provide disability-friendly materials and services, (iii) partnering with disabled women in the community to provide leadership training and to understand the needs of disabled women, and (iv) outreach to disabled women to help them understand how they can take advantage of microfinance.

Statement of Issue/Problem

Microfinance is a type of banking in which small amounts of money are made available, often in the form of low-interest loans, to poor people and businesses who usually would be denied credit. Microfinance has been identified as a possible mechanism for poverty alleviation in Kenya by allowing recipients to participate in the economy, smooth income and consumption shocks, and grow businesses (Kiiru, 2007). Making microfinance available for disadvantaged groups has increased the opportunities for disadvantaged people to participate in the economy (Ibid). Many MFIs have directed their efforts and services towards women in particular, including the Kenya Women’s Microfinance Bank (KWFT). However, disabled people are still largely excluded from microfinance, due largely to discrimination by MFIs or self-exclusion due to low self-esteem (Mersland and Martinelli, 2010). The heightened vulnerability of disabled women, and their continued exclusion from markets, has received very little attention from women’s organizations. Nowhere on the websites of UN Women Africa or the KWFT are disabled women acknowledged. Many microfinance institutions seek to empower women, but need to recognize that disabled women are further disadvantaged compared to non-disabled women. It will take a concerted effort to help integrate disabled women into the economy.

Microfinance institutions have made a pointed effort to extend their services to women for several reasons. Women often are excluded from market participation, and thus giving them credit through microlending gives them an opportunity to participate in the economy and in some cases “increases their bargaining power in the household” (Vonderlack and Schreiner, 2002). This is both beneficial from a social justice standpoint and an economic standpoint. Secondly, women are more likely to invest loans in household and family consumption, such as food, health and education, and have better rates of loan repayment (Sooryamoorthy, 2005; Brana, 2013).

While microfinance in Kenya has made efforts to include other disadvantaged groups that often are “excluded from the traditional banking system,” such as the poorest people and rural-dwellers, it has done little for disabled people (Brana, 2013; “The Link Between”). Labie et al. (2015) found that disabled people were more likely to be discriminated against by MFIs. Many may argue that disabled people are less capable than non-disabled people and thus are unable to pay back loans and are not worth the risk (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010). However, there is evidence that disabled people are able to leverage microfinance successfully, save regularly, and overcome obstacles to running their businesses in creative ways (Bwire, Mukasa and Mersland, 2009; Martinelli and Mersland, 2010; Lewis, 2004).

It is imperative that women’s organizations recognize the heightened discrimination and vulnerability that disabled women face. A United Nations document on the link between poverty, gender and disability proposes microfinance as a possible method of integrating disabled women into the economy. Bwire, Mukasa and Mersland (2009) found that influencing MFIs to work with disabled people required individualized partnership, and disabled people often were misinformed about MFIs. Thus, in order to successfully reach out to disabled women in Kenya, the United Nations Women Africa should partner with the KWFT to promote outreach and education as well as eliminate discriminatory practices. While limited access to microfinance for disabled women is an issue in Africa in general, partnering with the KWFT in Kenya can serve as a valuable flagship program.

Origin/History of the Problem and Current Context

Disabled women are multiply disadvantaged, experiencing discrimination for both their gender and disability. Compared with disabled men, they experience higher rates of unemployment and less access to services such as education and rehabilitation (Parnes et. al, 2009). Compared with non-disabled women, they are less likely to get married or receive inheritance (Ibid.). Disabled girls are the most likely to be abandoned by their families, the last to get family resources, and last to be employed (Lewis, 2004). However, both the United Nations Women Africa and the KWFT currently do not have an agenda for reaching and empowering disabled women.

Martinelli and Mersland (2010) define microfinance as “the supply of financial service to micro-enterprises and poor families” (218). This can take the form of microcredit (or small loans) as well as savings, insurance, and other services (Ibid.). Many MFIs are convinced of the potential of microfinance to empower women, rural-dwellers, and other disadvantaged groups, and have a socially benevolent mission. The KWFT website claims that the bank’s mission is the “empower” and “uphold the dignity” of women (“Kenya Women”). The Kenyan government has even acknowledged the potential of microfinance to uplift disadvantaged groups, first providing credit to a struggling agricultural sector, and then broadening to provide credit to “individuals involved in both small and micro- enterprises like handcrafts and home based business” (Kiiru (2007), 2). However, disabled people have largely been left out of microfinance, due both to self-exclusion (disabled people are less likely to seek microfinance services) and exclusion from communities and institutions (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010).

Lewis (2004) asserts that “[microfinance lenders] assume that, by virtue of their disability, women with disabilities are not appropriate for microcredit or business services, or that they are adequately and better served by rehabilitation programmes and charities” (31). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) further that many MFIs argue that lending to disabled people is too great a risk. Many of the women in Zambia and Zimbabwe whom Lewis (2004) studied reported being denied loans, oftentimes “explicitly on the basis of disability” (34). One woman reported being told that “[a disabled woman] is always a beggar” when she applied for a loan (33). While there has been less research in Kenya about disability-based discrimination in microfinance specifically, there is evidence of disability-based discrimination generally in society in Kenya. In a study of disabled people in Kenya, 86% reported unequal treatment, oftentimes even exploitation from family members, and “80% claimed having experienced segregation, isolation and lack of support for their needs on the grounds of disability” (Parnes et. al (2009), 1177-1178). Thus, it is likely that disability-based discrimination extends to microfinance in Kenya.

The primary stakeholders in expanding access to microfinance for disabled women are the MFIs that will expand their services and the disabled women who will be offered microfinance. Disabled women benefit by being included in the local economy and gaining access to markets. For MFIs, there may be costs associated with expanding their services to disabled women, including translating materials into braille, hiring interpreters, hiring more disabled women, and spending  time and resources finding potential clients whom may be less likely to come to the MFI themselves. Even though disabled women may represent an untapped potential market of capable entrepreneurs, MFIs may not see the benefits as being worth all of the associated costs.

Critique of Policy Options

There have been limited attempts to target disabled women through microfinance. There have been several attempts to use microfinance to target disabled people in general, but this has been largely unsuccessful or unsustainable. Alternate policy options include: partnering with non-profit organizations and disability-focused groups rather than MFIs, and using wage incentives and training to encourage credit officers not to discriminate on the basis of disability. However, both of these policy options are flawed.

Partnering with non-profit or disability-focused organizations makes sense in theory, as helping disabled women is explicitly in line with the goals of these organizations (rather than maximizing profits, the ultimate goal of most MFIs) and thus they may be more receptive or fully invested. Martinelli and Mersland (2010) claim that these attempts were unsuccessful, in fact, because they were carried out by non-profits and disability- focused groups rather than MFIs. These groups had limited understanding of microfinance and could not afford to provide more than one loan; oftentimes the first loan is not enough for an individual to see a marked change in her life (Ibid.). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) argue that the necessary conditions for a disabled person to successfully use microfinance are no different than those for a non-disabled person: a good MFI and sufficient willingness and capacity to repay on the recipient’s part. With full information and no discriminatory biases, a good MFI should be have no reason to turn away a disabled woman who is a good candidate for microfinance, and the disabled woman should not need anything from the MFI that a non-profit or disability-focused organization would provide. Thus, the emphasis should be on eliminating biases from the side of the MFI, and finding and attracting good candidates for microfinance amongst disabled women.

In a study of MFIs in Uganda, Labie et. al (2015) find that credit officers are the most likely staff members to agree that the MFI discriminates based on disability, controlling for belief about the credit risk of a disabled person. Given that credit officers grant loans at their own discretion, Labie et. al conclude that credit officers may be “a key channel through which discrimination may operate” (4). However, they note that even a socially benevolent MFI may not wish to use wages to incentivize credit officers not to discriminate, because the more that is spent on officers’ wages, the less that is available for loans to help the poor. “Aiming for optimal mission fulfillment may drive the MFI to tolerate some discrimination,” and so wage incentives for credit officers may not be an optimal solution (Ibid., 10). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) argue for better training of employees, but this is also costly and could result in continued discrimination for the same reason. Thus, it is likely that investing in employee training or incentivizing client officers not to discriminate through wages would not be cost-effective.

Policy Recommendation

The United Nations Women Africa should partner with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank to help it extend its services to disabled women in Kenya. If the program is successful, the UN Women Africa should replicate the program with other MFIs, as the problem is widespread. The KWFT is appropriate for a flagship partnership because it is an MFI that has been successful in reducing gender-based discrimination in a country where disability-based discrimination is still a persistent problem (“Kenya Women”; Parnes et. al, 2009). The KWFT is the only bank in Africa specifically for women, and claims 800,000 clients (“Kenya Women”). The KWFT has the institutional knowledge, expertise, and security to implement a program to target disabled women. Furthermore, it understands the needs and special considerations of women that other MFIs may not be as sensitive to. Success can be measured by the number of disabled women who are granted microfinance relative to the current level, their ability to repay loans, and differences in these women’s livelihoods following receipt of microfinance.

Policies need to be in place to ensure that women are not discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and there needs to be better outreach to disabled women so that they know how to take advantage of microfinance. I propose: (i) incentivizing MFIs to hire qualified disabled women as credit officers, (ii) ensuring that MFIs provide disability-friendly materials and services, (iii) partnering with disabled women in the community for leadership training and to understand the needs of disabled women, and (iv) outreach to disabled women to help them understand how they can take advantage of microfinance.

It may be difficult for an MFI to incentivize its credit officers not to discriminate against disabled women if they are biased against disabled women. Thus, hiring qualified disabled women as credit officers may be the most effective method to eliminate discrimination. Most MFIs have less than one percent disabled clients, and many disabled people have reported being denied microfinance on the basis of disability (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010; Lewis, 2004). Ten percent of the world population is disabled, and they are disproportionately in developing countries (Labie et. al, 2015). One in five of those who live on less than one dollar a day are disabled, and Labie et. al (2015) claim that “the low incidence of disabilities among MFIs’ customers cannot be explained by higher credit risk only” (6). As mentioned previously, wage incentives or training for credit officers may not sufficiently eliminate discrimination. D’Espallier et. al (2009) found that female credit officers were more likely to grant loans to other females, and Labie et. al (2015) recommends the same model for overcoming discrimination on the basis of disability: hiring disabled credit officers. As disabled men may have biases against disabled women on the basis on gender, it is imperative to hire disabled women specifically.

However, this model is based on the assumption that MFIs are socially benevolent. Discrimination against disabled women may be happening because MFIs are profit-maximizing and believe that disabled women are too high risk. It is important that MFIs understand that disabled women represent an untapped market, not just a social responsibility. According to Martinelli and Mersland (2010), disabled people should be presented “as resourceful entrepreneurs” rather than as “needy” (240). Lewis (2004) studied disabled women in Zambia and Zimbabwe who were granted loans, and found that they were able to overcome additional difficulties imposed on them by their disabilities in order to repay their loans and grow their businesses. Some of these mechanisms included working from home, forming business collectives in order to pool resources and skills, and rely on family members or hired assistants for services such as transportation. Martinelli and Mersland (2010) found that, in a survey on 841 disabled Ugandan business owners, 74% saved regularly and had a month’s income worth of cash on hand, in contrast to the idea of disabled people as beggars. Profit-seeking MFIs need to be made aware of these facts in order to view disabled women as a potential source of income.

MFIs may unintentionally exclude disabled people by not providing information and services that are accessible to disabled people. Lewis (2004) argues that MFIs should reach out to women with disabilities, particularly leaders of organizations, both to understand their needs and to offer information and services. Simple disability-friendly interventions include making information available in braille and through interpreters, holding meetings in accessible locations with ramps or on first floors, or making low technology adaptations of materials (Ibid.).

MFIs need to make efforts to help disabled women overcome their own self-exclusion. While exogenous discrimination is a serious reason for exclusion of disabled people, many disabled people will not seek out microfinance services in the first place due to low self-esteem. They are often the last to receive services from an early age and “have little chance to develop the confidence and assertiveness required to succeed as a borrower and businesswoman” (Lewis (2004), 32). Thus, it is important to recognize that expanding microfinance services to disabled women may require demand-side interventions – such as making disabled women aware of microfinance opportunities and helping them most effectively leverage them – in addition to supply-side interventions.

Very few disabled women even apply for microfinance because they are unaware of the services or because they do not believe their applications will be accepted. Lewis (2004) advocates for partnerships between MFIs and disabled women in order to provide training, mentorship, and support for disabled women in leadership and capacity-building. By understanding the needs of disabled women and helping them attain positions within organizations, MFIs can better serve disabled women and provide them what they need to effectively use microfinance.


Disabled women are a part of two groups that are frequently discriminated against, but each group is served by different organizations and interests. Rather than being uplifted by microfinance with non-disabled women, they have remained untouched by it with disabled people in general. While women’s groups have acknowledged the multiple disadvantage of the poorest and rural-dwelling women, they have not extended the same understanding towards disabled women. As with other particularly disadvantaged women, special consideration needs to be made for disabled women to ensure that they are able to access services. Extending microfinance to disabled women may have immediate positive impacts by providing these women credit to grow their businesses, and it may also have long-term impacts on the social expectations of disabled women. MFIs are in a unique position to boost the confidence of disabled women: “being trusted by a credit company… can totally change a person’s self-respect. For many disabled persons this is of absolute importance” (Martinelli and Mersland 2010, 237). Implementing the proposed policies through a partnership with the KWFT will be an effective way to increase access to microfinance and uplift disabled women in Kenya.



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