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Hope & Progress on a Tuesday Morning

I’ve been quiet on this blog for a few days.  Last week I was in San Francisco, and this week I’m heading to Afghanistan, so my opportunities to write have been limited.  This is frustrating me because there are a few things really worth diving into.  But time’s winged chariot hurries near (in the form of iCal) and I need to run.  Therefore, let’s do this in point form:

Stoltenberg governs with iPad and big ideas.

  • Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg doesn’t just govern with an iPad, he is also saying some very interesting and important things in New York this week. Norway gives more to international aid than any one else.  But Stoltenberg has been saying that this level of generosity can only be justified if there are measurable results, and he’s not seeing that.  Therefore, Norway is calling for “results based financing“.  That is code for “measure outputs, not inputs”, in other words, what matters most is how much health indicators improve, not how many hospitals you built, or how much you spend building them.  We’ve been saying this for a long time.  And while I’m happy to have anyone agree with me, I’m delighted to hear someone like Stoltenberg saying this.  Remember the saying, “Only Nixon could go to China?”.  It applies here.  Only the most generous donor country can question whether how much you spend really matters.

MDGs: Not just another pretty icon

  • In a related matter, midtown is abuzz with the Clinton Global Initiative, and TEDxChange being held on the margins.  The news is that there’s progress on the MDGs.  Crazed statistician showman Hans Rosling and billionaress Melinda Gates discuss it in this video here.  But what they don’t discuss very much is the “why?”.  It’s fantastic news that infant mortality is falling, and other MDG indicators are improving, but shouldn’t the big question on everyone’s mind be “WHY?”.  I am guessing that where we see progress, it’s not because more money was spent, but because someone came up with a better drug, a faster program, a smarter system.

Berkeley: Where data is king

  • While in San Fransisco I spoke to a class at Berkeley taught by Professor Shashi Buluswar.  For the first 30 minutes I watched the course, and was amazed at his approach to the subject of international development.  I’ve spoken to several undergrad and graduate classes on the issue of aid, and these courses invariably focus on theory and philosophy and use words you only hear on campuses and never hear in the field (like “normative”, my favorite).  Buluswar’s class focuses on data instead, and uses it to challenge the theories and conventional wisdom of aid.  Recently I was ranting about the desperate need for aid workers to refer to Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs.  In this class, they actually were using it!  I fell in love with Berkeley all over again.

  • Finally, our team in Afghanistan just helped a group of female entrepreneurs close $54m in new international contracts.

So, taken together, those four things have put some bounce in my step.  The 34 hours of flights to Kabul will take it all away, though, I’m sure.

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  1. YAHOO for PDT in Afghanistan! Way to go! And I loved the rest as well …

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