What IS Development?

I’ll be honest, I got a little annoyed with the results of my google search on this subject. Most of the sites I got to (including this potentially great one from the world bank targeted to primary school children) all basically said the same thing; Development is about rich countries giving money to poor countries to help them become rich countries. Some were full of buzzwords like sustainability and economic mobility. Some were sappy, some were dry and some were downright condescending. Most were pretty oversimplified. And none of them, for me, captured what I think development is all about.

Development to me, is about releasing potential energy. Like a drawn bow, or a loaded spring, or just an arm pulled back to throw something, developing communities (whether they’re in Bamako or Boston) are FULL of potential energy—they vibrate with it. But there are things about living there that prevent this force, this generative energy, from being released.

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Failing Forward

A friend shared a video with me (well, with the world) a few days ago, that makes some interesting connections to development. You can see it here.

The video is about failure. About its role in innovation and competition. About its consequences (both painful and productive) and about how it can transform our view of the past and shape our futures.

Easterly talks a lot about failure in White Man’s Burden. And I have to agree that most of the efforts of international aid have done little good, and in some cases, a great deal of harm. But if something as relatively simple as designing a race car entails such dramatic, such profound, such persistant failure, how can we expect something as complex, convoluted and nuanced as “development” to come without it?! Continue reading

How to “Help” Zimbabwe?

“Draft a plan to help Zimbabwe if Mugabe were removed from power and your NGO were invited in to help.”

That was the prompt for my Third World Development class final. No joke.

As of 9am this morning, cholera deaths in Zimbabwe have officially topped 1,000. UN health officials estimate more than 16,000 are infected, but hospitals have run out of medications and supplies for treatment. (Oh, and Mugabe is claiming that the outbreak—soon to become an epidemic—is the work of British terrorists.) Unemployment is climbing toward 90%, life expectancy falling toward 30 (it’s really difficult for me to imagine having 2 years left to live at this stage of my life) and the price of basic goods like bread, milk and sugar doubles every 24 hours, thanks to an inflation rate near 2,000,000%. More than 3 million Zimbabweans have fled the oppressive regime, causing refugee crises and escalating tensions in neighboring South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. And in a nation formerly known as “the breadbasket of Africa,” exporting agricultural products across the continent and around the world, 5 million people (half its current population) face eminent starvation. Short of adding systematic genocide to the rising tide of political “disappearances” and arrests, it’s hard to imagine the situation getting much worse.

What would you do?

(If I’m not still near-hopelessly behind, I’ll post some of my musings later)