Development’s a Circus
Imagine hordes of 35+ year olds wearing obscene paper hats they’d just stapled and colored with sharpies, wearing party hats with feathers, or wearing Halloween-esque hats ranging from rubber masks to cone-shaped witch hats. This was yesterday afternoon… and it was the town hall for our division at the World Bank.
Why did the vice president make us all do this? To laugh at us? (Probably.) Supposedly, it was also because we had cause for celebration: for the first time in a long, long time, we as a division no longer needed to defend our existence and were finally contributing something useful to the Bank. Sure, that’s definitely cause for celebration–but to think that it took this long? That’s a bit scary.
I wonder how many organizations have these identity crises. How much more efficient would they be if they were to coordinate, collaborate, merge, share resources–without trying to assert their individuality? This issue is coming up now in the form of whether to have a [new, better] version of the UNEP or [an improved, better-funded] UNEP or [the same, underfunded, under-respected] UNEP we currently have, because many countries want to see more action taken to protect and enhance the state of the global environment, and whatever we’re currently doing (hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations all trying to work on the same issues separately) isn’t working.
The bigger question I keep asking myself is in regards to development agencies in particular. Fifty years ago, they were mostly run by former colonial powers who felt morally bound to help the countries they often indirectly destroyed (i.e. the DRC). Ten years ago, they were still mostly run by the same developed countries, now with different organizational names, but still pursuing the global version of Congress: giving money in exchange for enforcing whatever they think is best. Today, the World Bank and other huge development/ lending agencies finally have competition (like the African Development Bank, among many others), driving them to become more efficient, effective, and innovative. The question is: are they too late in reforming themselves, and if not, what role can they play in the future global arena to stay useful and add value?
On a side note, I had lunch today with an alum who worked on a study, publicized in the Economist this week, about cash transfers to girls and young women in Malawi. The researchers randomly gave money to some of the young girls and their families and saw significant decreases in the rate of HIV/AIDS and herpes infections. While I’d need to read the study more carefully (and it doesn’t seem to be double-blind), the concept sounds like a promising conclusion! (And supports the fact that HIV infection is preventable given behavioral shifts.)