“What Obama Got Right about Development”

Over on the AidWatch blog–aid critic Bill Easterly’s blog–a guest post by Lant Pritchett explores four areas where President Obama’s new Global Development Policy achieved great wins in the overall development debate.  Pritchett argues that it’s easy to get bogged down in the architecture debate, but from a policy perspective, the Global Development Policy embraces principles of effective aid.  He identifies the following four “big ideas” where the new policy is successful:

  • Placing an emphasis on economic growth;
  • Avoiding stovepipes and instead adopting a holistic approach to development;
  • Encouraging innovation and supporting rigorous evaluation; and
  • Simply changing the way we do business.

Pritchett notes that it will be interesting to see how these policy changes are implemented, dependent upon the findings from other reforms including the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), but for now, we can celebrate.  Read his full blog post here and see some key excerpts below:

The paradox of the external organizations that attempt to support development is that people tell them “we’ll give you budget if you tell us for sure what you are doing will work.”  This leads to a powerful culture of pretending that much more is known about the “theory of change” that leads to development that really is known.  The fact that the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world has just spent eight years devoting fantastically high level of resources to “develop” Afghanistan (with security as one element of that) with results that range from mixed to shambolic should make it obvious that we need much greater openness within the development community to an approach of structured experimentation–on all fronts.

Fourth, one thing the speech gets right it does so by omission.  There is no dollar figure.  The message “lets do more” is always popular because it also means “business as usual” for what is already going on.  “Let’s do better at what we are doing”–that is a tough internal sell, but one that is useful–including I believe to people who are actually on the ground, doing the work.  Anyone who has actually worked inside the development industry knows how much better things, at least potentially, could be, but how tough achieving that will be given the inertia of massive organizations.  So while tackling policy and “architecture” might seem arcane relative to the apparent obvious gain of spending more money.  More is better, but better is better too and more is even better after better is better.

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