On the wake of the MDG summit and the numerous announcements it left, two very different takes on the new USAID policy from Aid Watch.
First, a link to David Rieff’s article on The New Republic, and then a guest post by Lant Pritchett from the Kennedy School of Government:
“How Obama Was Brainwashed by the Microsoft Theory of Foreign Aid” by David Rieff
…The stark fact is that only if one fetishizes the idea of civil society as a kind of universal ideological solvent, and believes that, in tandem with scientific innovation, the road to our collective salvation is now open to us, can such optimism be justified.
But this was always the line at the Gates Foundation, and it is now clear that this view has won the president’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s backing. USAID’s contribution to these Pollyanna-ish fantasies is a document adorned with the title, “Celebrate, Innovate, and Sustain: Toward 2015 and Beyond…
Reading this, it is hard not to feel that just as Walter Pater famously said that all art aspires to the condition of music, for the Obama administration all development aspires to replicate the experience of Microsoft. For what is being proposed here are “solutions” in the purely technical sense. But development is not a software problem that can be resolved—as Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed new products for their corporation—by bringing the best minds together to brainstorm innovative [sic] solutions. Development is a matter of culture, of politics, and of justice, far more than it is a matter of technology or, for that matter, the technologized vision of human beings that can, without embarrassment, speak of ‘unlocking’ people’s potential as if they were seams of some precious mineral buried in the dirt.
“What Obama Got Right About Development” by Lant Pritchett
…it is worth at least first stepping back and asking where this first official US development policy came down on the big debates on development, where, I think it comes out a big winner on four big ideas.
First, the speech and policy put economic growth front and center as objectives of development and development policy. …
Second, the speech came down hard, and right, on the debate between improving systemic capability and programmatic action. … The speech clearly identified building this capability as a central (and difficult) part of development. … The MDGs are correctly interpreted as what will be accomplished when there has been development–not vice versa.
Third, the speech gets right the need for innovation, with rigorous evaluation as an important component of an environment for innovation. …
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 … More is better, but better is better too and more is even better after better is better.
The debate, it appears, is open. Looking forward to more expert commentators to share their thoughts on this matter…