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What is the point of the development sector? Unmediated support is the future

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I gave a speech at the ACFID Universities Network’s conference in Sydney in late November that challenge the need for an Aid, or Development, Sector.

This is not a word for word account of that speech but rather an edited version of it, written afterwards, and with the support of very useful comments provided by some of the participants; e.g. via Twitter:

There was also a pre-confernce heated debate with some ACFID staff members at the famous BBQ King over delicious crispy duck. So I thank them for that.

The point of my speech, an idea that is still ‘work in progress’, was to argue that the development sector, the aid industry, has developed into such a separate sector, sometimes claiming to be a profession and a discipline, that now bears little resemblance with other sectors and professions from where it should (or at least did) draw its legitimacy. As a consequence, international development policies are not designed and implemented by, say, education, public health or energy experts, as would be expected in developed and developing countries alike, but by a motley crew of individuals who have little more than the study and knowledge of ‘the aid industry’ to claim as their expertise.

I say this knowing that it is a bit of a generalisation but I still feel that many of the most prolific ‘development experts’ would not be trusted with policy in their own countries but are still free to logframe the lives of millions around the world.

Discovering the development sector

I studied a BA in economics in Peru. After university I worked for a Peruvian think tank and at the Andean Community looking first  at trade policy, then competitiveness and trade in services more specifically, then child policies and social protection, and afterwards focused a bit of my work on people with disabilities. My colleagues at the think tank worked in other areas: regulation, macroeconomics, monetary policy, infrastructure policy, health policy, etc.

In 2002 I travelled to the UK to study an MSc in Social Policy and Planning (it is now called Social Policy and Development -as if to stress my point). It was a few months into the course when I discovered the ‘Development Sector’. Back in Peru, whenever I had searched for literature to inform our work I sought out mainstream journals such as the NBER (this was our first point of call at the time –this is pre-Google, by the way). My colleagues and I looked for information and ideas in the literature of specific professions and disciplines or in journals or other publications specialised on a policy issue or even a geographic region or country. But in the UK, the literature I was asked to read at the course came from Development Studies sources: journals focusing on development, NGOs focused on development, think tanks that only worked on development policy, etc.

I took a credit on urban development (and rural development) but the literature focused almost entirely on developing countries. There was little, nothing really, on urban development in the UK or in the US (or other more urbanised countries in Europe); nothing on the challenges that London had faced over its long history and how they city, in its many reincarnations, had managed to overcome them –or not.

I found out, to my surprise, that development urban experts didn’t hang out much with non-development ones. The development sector, with too few exceptions, is separate from the rest.

But this separation is only possible in donor countries where there are different teaching programmes, NGOs, think tanks and consultancies dealing with domestic (or the developed market) and developing countries. In developing countries, where, ironically, they are supposed to be relevant, it makes no sense. While in the UK, for instance, international development policy and the policies of developing countries are marginal political issues (and nobody really cares about them except for the industry itself), in developing countries these are mainstream politics. Cash transfers for developing countries in the UK pass as a technocratic issue that can be resolved by a few randomized controlled trials but in developing countries they are political interventions, highly politicized and laden with value and ideology.

You only need to look at the debates around Obama Care or the changes to the welfare system in the UK. These are not small marginal technocratic decisions. They are the big political arguments of their time; evidence plays a role but only a small one.

Last Thursday, the Lowy Institute in Sydney hosted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was asked about her status as an icon. Her response (from the Sydney Morning Herald) provides another illustration of the separation between development and the mainstream:

“I always thought that I was a politician, I look upon myself as a politician, not as an icon,” she said. ” I always object to word icon, because its very static, it stands there, sits there, hangs on the wall, and I happen to work very very hard.”

We like icons in the development sector. And we like to lift them above their politics: people like Mandela, Johnson Sirleaf, Chavez, Kagame, and Morales come to mind. But by removing them from their politics we hide the unavoidable messiness involved in the lives of anyone attempting to change the world. After all, their actions are not value free. That messiness needs to be principally comforted in the same way that it is in developed countries: domestically.

My argument is that the development sector, this industry that has separated itself from the rest, has to go. It is redundant and self-serving. It builds walls around itself to ensure, like any other professional body, lobby or industry, that its interests are protected -not the interests of the poor that they claim to defend, but their own interests.

These walls have become rather tall, lately, to mask an unfortunate reality. That more and more, its members, are generalists; specialised in the industry itself (its history and processes –its jargon and acronyms) but with only limited (mostly read about) knowledge of any one thing (policy issue or region or country) in particular.

The possibility of unmediated aid

The development industry stands in between opportunities for direct collaboration and support. It seeks to mediate all the relationships that could develop between peers in developed and developing countries –and even between developing countries.

So-called development experts (what is a development expert, by the way? How can anyone be an expert in ‘everything’?) stand between real experts: between public health professionals in the UK and their peers in the developing world, for example. They claim that they are necessary to translate knowledge and to adapt it to different contexts. They claim that this translation or brokering requires some kind of expertise that only development professionals have. They often claim (and this was claimed a few times at the conference) that a British or Australian policymaker, for example, would not be able to understand the differences between the context in their countries and those in others, say, in Malawi or Peru. By this they suggest, although would not dare say it, that Malawian or Peruvian public health professionals would not be able to understand their British or Australian peers; that they would not know what could be adopted and applied in their own contexts; that they need to be helped; things need to be explained to them; that the decade that Peruvian medical doctors need to study before they can be considered as experts in their fields is not enough; or rather, it is enough to be allowed to work in US or European hospital but not enough to make public health decisions about and for their own countries.

This is of course not true. Anyone can see this. But it is also patronising and arrogant. (The BBC’s The Toughest Place to Be a …. provides excellent example of what can happen when people rely on empathy instead of pity.)

How is it possible then for a Canadian to lead the Bank of England? Or why would top British banks hire Nigerians or Mexicans? And why would a South African or Chinese corporation hire foreigners? Are they mad? Do they not know that these economists, MBAers, engineers, political advisors, journalists, scientists, etc. are incapable of applying their knowledge in other contexts? (sarcasm intended).

I am advocating for an unmediated relationship between countries, organisations, and individuals. Or at least for significantly less mediation. In a world in which information and communication technologies make it possible to find out about what others know about with enormous ease and in which more and more traditionally recipient countries are becoming more intelligent consumers of advice and support, the days of ‘donor-driven’ (and donor staffed) solutions are over. Or they are soon to be.

In this unmediated world, donor countries (but this applies to all countries really) should seek, through more direct means, to help others but focus mainly on what they are good at. The main drive, demand, will come from developing countries themselves.

I thought of some examples of policy issues that developing countries could learn from Australia to use at the conference. I referred to Australia in my talk but I believe this could very well work for any country. And I use Peru as an example of a developing country because its the one I know best.

Urban planning, public spaces, parks: A visit to Sydney or Melbourne confirms the world rankings of the best cities to live in. Both are incredible places to live and work in. The  world (and not just the developing world) could learn much from Australian city politicians, planners, researchers, and developers. Twinning cities, encouraging staff exchanges between city authorities, and establishing scholarships to train the next generations of city players in developing countries would be excellent examples of direct support.

Australian cities could also learn a great deal about the challenges faced by cities in developing countries. They may learn about how to deal with them as they begin to appear in their own cities or even how to prevent them altogether. There is no need for an Aid Agency to get involved, or for a development studies programme, or an international policy think tank to attempt to summarise the literature on the history of Australian urban development. Nor is there a need for an Aid funded programme to implement reforms in developing countries (which no doubt involve lots of development professionals).

If cities in the developing world want Australians to help them out they can hire them. They can certainly pay for their airfares and their fees. They can prepare the terms of reference and they can monitor the delivery of the services. And if they don’t like the Australian experience they can go elsewhere: Medellin, in Colombia, is often hailed as a city to watch and learn from.

Lima, the city where I am from and where I now live , is in dire need of help when it comes to public parks and spaces. It has embarked in a new effort to address what has now become an embarrassing lack of green space but it could use with some help from Sydney or Melbourne experts. This is something that the Peruvian and Australian embassies could handle.

The good kind of propaganda: Australia is well known for its public education campaigns. It has had great successes encouraging people to protect themselves from the sun, buckle-up, drink water, etc. This may not sound very ‘developmenty’ but changing these kind of behaviours is an issue of great concern to governments in developing countries. Our attitude towards and the manner in which we use public services, our attitude towards paying taxes, our respect for the environment, and our respect for the rule of law are important factors explaining the many challenges that our countries face.

Several local governments in Peru, for example, have responded extremely well and with great interest to the work of Peru’s probably only behavioural economist (currently not even in the country). A few more PhDs would have an impact that hundreds of development workers could never dream of having in their lifetime.

Using mining revenues responsibly: For all its troubles, Australia has managed to use its minerals and the income it gets from selling them in a relatively responsible way. Certainly much better than what most developing countries have managed to do. Well, alongside Australian investment in mineral extraction, wouldn’t it be great if countries like Peru, whose minerals Australians are digging out of the ground, were able to benefit from this experience?

Establishing or simply supporting the establishment of a centre for excellent in the study of mining and natural resource management in Peru, for example, or supporting exchanges between researchers or journalists in Peru and Australia could help develop a local expertise in the use and monitoring of mineral revenues.

Again, there is no need for an Aid industry to accomplish this. Corporations themselves, in partnership with Australian and local universities, and national mining societies or similar business bodies can do this. Policymakers at the national or state levels could also get involved and again, no intermediary would be necessary. They may need a bit of a push or encouragement but not an entire parallel sector to design and implement it.

Foreign policy: Unlike Latin American countries and much of the developing world, Australia has a lot of experience managing the tensions that arise from living under the commercial influence of China and the political influence of the United States. This experience is invaluable for Latin American countries, including Peru, who have only recently found themselves in this situation.

Aid agencies do not like to fund foreign policy. They see this as unnecessary or at least not pro-poor enough. Still, they talk and talk about global public goods and more effective participation of the ‘Global South’ in global initiatives. This requires stronger foreign policy capacity in developing countries. In 2014 Peru will host the COP20 and it is in need of some international negotiation support. Granted that Australia is not a name that comes to mind when talking about positive climate change negotiation outcomes but the need is clear and the principle stands: stronger foreign policy capacity could lead to a positive outcome for the entire world. Isn’t that worth supporting?

Investing in foreign policy think tanks and supporting public foreign policy bodies may seem like supporting the competition but it can, in fact, be the best way of creating lasting alliances.

Early childhood development, innovation and design, emergency responses, etc: Australia has many other specialisms that the rest of the world could benefit greatly from.

Education: The education sector in Australia offers another opportunity. Not only is it a great example of a policy area on which Australia could base a great deal of its support to other countries, but it is also one of the most important and effective mechanisms to achieve this unmediated future.

I was very pleased to meet an Australian Awards Scholar from Zambia studying a postgraduate degree in Education. I have worked in Zambia with several think tanks and am sure that any contribution he could make to improve Zambia’s education system –particularly at secondary and tertiary level- would have unprecedented effects on his country’s future. If only he went back to set up a research centre focused on education policy… one can only dream.

The Scholars I met at the Development Futures Conference provided the best illustration for the disintermediation power of education. The scholars I talked to were studying chemical engineering, under-ground water management, anthropology, and MBAs. They were not based in development studies programmes or schools but rather more traditional (and grounded) disciplines. As a consequence, their professors and peers were Australian and international experts and students.

These scholars do not need a development studies degree to help them understand what can and cannot be applied to their own countries. They can do that themselves.

The only value of a developing studies programme for students from developing countries is that it can help understand the industry and how it intervenes in their own countries. And maybe resist it.

Through education, Australia (and many other donor countries) have the greatest potential to contribute to the betterment of other societies. Scholarships are often criticized as being too elitist or better serving of the host countries –after all, a lot of the ‘aid money’ stays in the donor country.

However, as one of the participants acknowledged, the elites are, whether we like it or not, those who wield power in their countries. Through education, Australia has the opportunity to influence their beliefs and behaviours in favour of more inclusive societies. Even supporting MBAs and other business degrees can have a positive effect in developing countries. Graduates are likely to put into practice the lessons learned in Australia or from Australian professors, including the transfer of ideas and technologies, opening new trade avenues and networks, improving business practices (including good business practices), and develop a more responsible business community.

Practical steps

What does this mean in practice? What can the new Australian aid do? Could Australia make a positive contribution without a Development Industry?

I think it can. The first thing we all need to do is stop calling it ‘development’. Let’s call it by what it is: education policy, public health policy, community development, human rights, regulation, banking, business development, manufacturing policy, etc. The only different is the context. Times have changed. Is Indonesia, a member of the G20 deserving of a ‘developing’ label? Should they be treated any different to the other members?

This means that those currently working ‘in development’ need to take a hard look at their networks and contacts and try their best to break away from the grip that the sector has on them. If they are not already well connected to their own peers in Australia then they ought to make an effort to do so. They could, for instance, start attending local conferences dealing with the challenges or policy issues that they work on. I am sure there are education policy or community development conferences in Australia –about Australia.

For those who are about to join, my advice is that they stay out of the industry and pursue careers that allow them to maintain an interest and attention for the needs of developing countries. They should also take a longer-term view to development and their contribution. Say goodbye to illusions of making poverty history (we know they are not real) and focus first on developing your own expertise before attempting to help others.

More tangible and larger interventions will be necessary, too. Instead of trying to influence other countries on everything there is under the sun, maybe the Australian government, universities, think tanks and NGOs could aim to develop centres of excellence (which can be virtual research networks, no need for new buildings and organisations) focusing on the issues and sectors in which Australia excels. These centres of research networks could help showcase Australian experiences and expertise and thus make it easier for developing countries to decide whether Australian help is of use to them and choose what aspects of it may be more valuable.

Many of these centres do not have to be invented. They exist already across Australia’s universities (see, for example: Centre for Design at RMIT). And their counterparts in developing countries would not be difficult to find –and where there aren’t any they may need to be developed.  But that is something that developing countries themselves can do (and certainly pay for).

But rather than attempting to plan and control the formation of these new centres, Australia should take a different more long-term approach. I have argued, for some time now, that Peru needs at least one centre of excellence in mining. It is inexcusable that Peruvians have to travel to Australia, Canada or Britain to learn how to dig-up minerals from their own country. They should be learning about it back home. And others should come to study in Peru.

One way to achieve this is to encourage (but only encourage, it is not Australia’s (or anybody else’s responsibility) the development of a knowledge sector focused on mining and natural resources more broadly by supporting the long-term development of a new professional cadre of researcher, experts, and policy makers. By ensuring that Peruvian graduates of Australian universities understand and value the importance of knowledge for the development of their industry Australia may be able to do more, in the long run, than any direct short term effort could. Australian mining companies could play their part by funding local research, using, when possible, local contractors, supporting long term relations between Australian universities and their Peruvian counterparts, or funding postgraduate scholarships.

Beyond research and academia, new and stronger links could be promoted between professional bodies in Australia and elsewhere: engineers, lawyers, economists, doctors and nurses, teachers, etc. Chambers of commerce present another opportunity for peer to peer support.

In the public sector, government departments (agriculture, energy, mining, trade, transport, health, etc.) could seek out links to their counterparts in developing countries. Opportunities for internships, secondments, joint trainings, and other means of exchange would be immensely useful for both a developed country like Australia and its developing country partners. City planners and managers could follow the same path by means of good old traditional city partnerships.

Does any of this need to be coordinated by an Aid Agency or by development experts? I do not think so. An organisation like ACFID may be enough to help develop and sustain a community of individuals and organisations interested and committed to helping others from their own disciplines, professions or sectors. And there are other networks and initiatives that can support this new approach, the UN Young Professionals Association, for example.

In conclusion…

The point is not to belittle the commitment and contribution that people and organisations ‘in development’ can make. The point is that the same or more can be done from outside the sector. A sector that has for too long focused too much on its own interests and that, for the most part, talks to itself.

Developing countries are no longer passive recipients of Aid. They have become active and intelligent consumers of ideas, technologies, and other resources with the power to shape their own futures –with the necessary mistakes included. They compete with their neighbours and not keen to be treated as voiceless beneficiaries that have to be content with what is available.

Help or support, rather than aid, is what they want. They want partners who consider them special and important; and that don’t then go and give the same help to their competitors.

They want to hire the same consultants that American, British or Australian governments use. They don’t want their infrastructure built by NGOs or their universities propped up by researchers whose only experience is in other poor countries; they want the best infrastructure firms and advice from top universities and education experts. Only the best.

And why wouldn’t they?

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Enrique, I enjoyed your article. You articulated many thoughts I have harbored about the shortcomings of the development sector. I agree that there is a need for unmediated technical assistance, and that “development” is likely to move in this direction in the future. However, as long as there is a market for north-south donor-funded projects, there will be a development sector. Developing countries are often cash-strapped and are not always able to afford the advanced technical assistance that you described. As long as donor funds exist, it makes sense to investigate how best to use them. While the development model of third-party mediation is by nature marred by inefficiencies, there is potential to direct the funds in a way which can create lasting results that improve the quality of people’s lives. The only way to do this is by working with host-country governments. Innovations for Poverty Action does this quite well and has recently begun scaling up successful programs with a sister organization, Evidence Action. In this case, donor funds were put to use to examine the efficacy of government social programs and then scale up the ones that worked. Who works at IPA? Young development professionals who were trained in economics and quantitative methods. Yes, they were trained in generalist development studies programs at Yale, Harvard and the LSE.

    And I don’t find anything wrong with that. Ultimately, it is up to developing country governments to decide how to deal with the presence of aid organizations in their countries and the capital and expertise they bring in, however disjointed that it may be. The development sector will exist as long as donors continue to donate. It is up to developing-country governments to decide how, or whether, to exploit it.

    December 2, 2013
    • Dear Ariel

      Thanks for your comments. We agree that there is a ‘development sector’ because there is a market. But I think we also agree that the existence of a market does not justify it.

      I disagree with you when you say that developing countries do not have the cash. They may not have the funds to build new ports or roads but they have the money to spend in consultants and advice. The problem is not having the money the problem is spending it well.

      I agree that it makes sense to investigate the donor funded development industry. Unfortunately, this is often done by the very same organisations and people who are funded by these donors.

      I am not accusing any one person or organisation in particular. Often international development think tanks NGOs and consultancies have fairly smart people among their staff. What I am questioning is the need for their existence (of the organisations or their jobs… I am not questioning the existence of the individuals). If the young IPA professionals wanted to make a difference they could go and work in ministries, companies and other organisations in a particular sector: education, health, infrastructure, etc.

      But yes, it is up to the recipient governments. And I think that they will want fewer and fewer aid organisations in the future.

      December 3, 2013
    • Dear Enrique,

      Interesting article. The example of Peruvian health professionals not being able to understand UK health professionals is enlightening, however, also, I think somewhat misses the point. What I mean by this is that you are insinuating that ‘development experts’ so to speak, are acting as a sort of middleman, and your argument, in short, proposes to cut them off. It is a great point from a general perspective, but I believe that the issue is more complex.

      It would be great if doctors from ‘first world countries’ would lend their time and expertise to doctors in ‘third world countries’… as someone previously posted, perhaps expertise does not travel so fast… I suppose what could happen then, is to replace the ‘health experts’ in many INGOs and multilateral agencies. While I believe that it is not always the case, from work experiences with these agencies, I found that many staff that are involved in directing global projects such as Global Fund (TB and HIV), Early Childcare and Development (ECCD), MCHN (Mother Child Health and Nutrition) are in fact, qualified MDs. While they might not be the best of the best, i think the market is a bit to blame for this issue as well. Why would a successful MD leave his job to live in a third world country and make half the pay?

      I do however, take to your idea that institutions (for this case I am referring to public health care institutions) in third world countries can learn from the best of the best… Perhaps by sending staff to do more research in first world countries, or to meet industry leaders etc. that there is some sort of way to increase the speed in which expertise travels… I believe that these things can happen… but they usually happen in the private sector where monetary gain is usually the biggest incentive. Intrinsic motivation plays a big role here- in the private sector, it is monetary gain… but what about in the public sector? What would drive third world country governments to drastically improve its institutions? On top of that, it is hard to be proactive in their approach when handouts are pouring in from aid agencies.

      March 13, 2014
      • Thank you for your comment. I should clarify that is am not suggesting a flow of expertise from ‘first world’ to ‘third world’ alone. Developing country doctors, working with tiny budgets and little technology, have lots of teach their peers in developed counties… But ‘South south’ learning is also possible.

        Of course some interventions require individuals dedicated to them. I am. It suggesting we do with out everyone. But 1) most interventions out there are unnecessary (they serve the interests of the agencies and the development workers more than those of their intended beneficiaries), 2) why do you think you can speed up learning and change? And 3) what do we need a development health policy sector that is separate from a health policy sector?

        What I suggest is that developing countries should get the support they need from whoever they want to get it and not have to rely on the development industry (that has an interest to be ‘necessary’) for it. They are not just middlemen. That would not be that bad. They buffer and they delay or avoid referrals to keep themselves in the picture even when they are not the best men/women for the job.

        March 14, 2014
  2. “there is no need for an Aid industry to accomplish this. Corporations themselves, in partnership with Australian and local universities, and national mining societies or similar business bodies can do this.” Hmmm… when I’ve seen development programs driven by corporations, where they are the primary funders, I’ve seen overly-simplistic solutions proposed and jaw-dropping programming and PR missteps, both of which come from a place of ignorance and, often, arrogance. I’ve also seen projects much more focused on promoting a brand than actually helping anyone. When working at NGOs and aid agencies, I’ve had to spend a lot of time to educate corporate donors who haven’t done the research on an area in terms of power dynamics, cultural practices or history of a community or issue. In various countries, I’ve seen development projects steamrolled in by a corporate donor that fail, because the donor never talked to any development agency that could have helped provide the cultural and historical context needed to help make the project successful. It happens in the USA as well. My favorite example: corporate folks frequently decide that not enough people are volunteering, so they launch yet another “Go volunteer!” campaign, usually with yet another web site that’s supposed to help people easily find volunteering opportunities. And they’re stunned when volunteerism doesn’t increase and the web site isn’t populated with volunteering opportunities. If they had talked to NGOs and consultants that have been working in volunteerism-related fields, they would have known that one of the biggest obstacles to more people volunteering is lack of resources and capacity at many, maybe even most, organizations to involve volunteers. They don’t need hundreds of new volunteers calling and emailing to volunteer – they need money, training and staffing to involve these folks. And they don’t need yet another web site of volunteering opportunities. From the other side: I’m so weary of people from the for-profit world announcing that they know best and don’t need aid agencies, development agencies, NGOs, etc. The reality is that they do.

    And regarding Obamacare, it’s worth pointing out that all that web work was contracted out to the private sector – and the results speak for themselves.

    December 3, 2013
    • What you are describing are things done wrong. I am not suggesting that mining companies do ‘development’ rather than they can do their job better: pay better salaries for example, pay their taxes, etc.

      But they can also invest in local capacity along side universities (it is in their own best interest), for example.

      You see, what you call development agency or development NGO or development project i just call agency, NGO or project. What you refer to is probably just an NGO with a community development focus. Or a project that deals with volunteering in communities. It is no different to an NGO working in rural USA or Australia. Somehow people think that because their are in a developing country then they fall into the ‘development sector’.

      The point about Obamacare is that the policy (not the website) is a political choice. It is laden with value judgements. In developing countries many NGOs and Aid Agencies prefer a talk of technocracy (evidence based) and so attempt to remove politics of policies.

      December 4, 2013
  3. Hans Gutbrod #

    there are many things I am skeptical about in Development, and some of the institutions on the inside have, of course, become self-serving or always been. I do think that some of the disintermediation that you talk about is already happening by itself, via the web. The old authority relationships don’t hold anymore, where development institutions had all the knowledge and you had huge assymetry.

    And so a lot of dysfunctionality is related to institutions struggling to cope with that change. It’s a reason that funding and budgets are often intransparent, and evaluations perfunctory. I think you highlight a real problem, and I am also grateful that you don’t sugar coat these points (even if the development world that I see has more shades of grey).

    I guess I’d be most curious about particular examples that you’d point to as positive exemplars, what you consider the evidence that they work better (and don’t invite worse unintended consequences) and concrete modes of delivery that you think should be experimented on.

    Again, thanks for putting this out there.

    December 5, 2013
  4. Very interesting article. However, I would argue that development agencies have a role as funders. I work for the government of a developing country and resources are very constrained. Meanwhile, development agencies like DFID and USAID aggregate funds from millions of taxpayers. These funds are not always well spent, but they do provide governments with opportunities to spend on important projects that would otherwise be impossible to fund. These agencies sometimes massively reduce efficiency by saying “we want to fund an AIDS project” when our top priority is something completely different, but if we could imagine a scenario in which the project is chosen by the developing country and is assisted by professionals from the relevant field instead of “generalist” development professionals, then development agencies could have a real role to play by providing the funds needed to make the project happen. The same could apply to INGOs.

    January 25, 2014
    • I think we agree on most things except that I feel that most development countries DO have the funds they need but they don’t use them properly. Efforts ought to focus on a more efficient/fair mobilisation of resources first before delivering services around and over local institutions. Patience.

      January 27, 2014
  5. Terrific post, Enrique. I principally agree with all of it but have one quibble: I am not nearly as convinced about the ease with which expertise travels.

    To start with, even if we accept a near-capability to know exactly what is relevant expertise in the given context by both parties, the relationship is inherently unequal, which will likely skew the knowledge transfer.

    Secondly, ‘development’ or policy is now generally perceived as institutional transformation. Institutions, however, are ambiguous entities comprised of rules, expectations, beliefs, and organisations and expert civil servants here in Denmark for example, or anywhere else I would argue, are rarely aware of the extent to which the present institutional landscape is rooted in shared expectational beliefs and past political struggles that are now taken as exogenously given. In other words, people commonly ascribe far too much importance to the observable rules – neglecting their internalised beliefs and history.

    My point here is not to argue against your general point but to emphasise that it may be one of those necessary but not sufficient issues.

    February 23, 2014
    • Thanks for your comments, Soren (and for your tweets). The point I am trying to make is that when the relationship is between peers it is more equal.

      There are many scenarios, from the developing country is hiring an Dubai based engineer to build something (and therefore has more power) to the southern and northern engineers meet at a global engineering conference (in which case they are equals).

      The same is true for economists (central bank governors are pretty competent all over the world -they would be likely to have studied in the same universities or have had similar -even if not equal- career paths). Disaster and emergency response practitioners face similar problems (albeit in different contexts) but ought to be able to work together if it were necessary.

      Also, I am not necessarily advocating for North to South peer to peer connections only. I really do no care where the expert support comes from. As long as it is real expertise.

      And I think that a key problem with the development industry is its sense of urgency, It is not capable of taking things slowly. It wants to set and meet targets rather than learn and explore. This approach makes it impossible for a meaningful engagement.

      February 24, 2014

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