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Aid & development: A few good posts

Notwithstanding Arab uprisings and Qaddafi rants, there has been a lot of good stuff on aid and development this week. Some of the must reads from this week. The best by far is Owen Barder’s “Eight lessons from three years of working on transparency.” It’s so good we’re re-reading and learning from it. If you care about aid and development you should too.  The remainder are all from The Guardian:

I. “New ideas can transform aid delivery” by Ben Ramalingam asks the question we at PDT love the most: where’s the innovation in aid?  It’s caught up in process and conservative approaches.  “There are many risks and ethical considerations associated with trying something new.” Few are willing to test their expertise. Guess that’s a fair point when lives are at risk. But that they are is why he draws attention to the Humanitarian Innovation Fund.

With start-up funds from the UK and Swedish governments, the aim is to develop pooled resources to catalyse new ways of thinking, new products, and new processes. The fund has resulted from work led by Alnap (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action), and is jointly managed with Elrha (Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance).

Score one for the Brits and Swedes.

II. Annie Kelly writes about microinsurance for the poor:

Microinsurance, low-cost insurance policies that cover the lives, health, crops and property of the most vulnerable, are being seen as a central way of providing social protection to the increasing numbers of people affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and drought.

It’s an important subject that our friend David Roodman at the Center for Global Development has written about (and which will appear in his book which you should pick up.) He raises important points:

I am certain that most poor people need insurance more than credit. It’s the financial service I want most, because it protects me and my family against some of life’s biggest financial risks. So the big question about microinsurance is whether it can be mass-produced in a relatively business-like way. Can a product be formulated that poor people will a) buy and b) pay enough for to cover most or all costs of delivery?

III. Andy Sumner and Ravi Kanbur write my personal favorite: “Why give aid to middle income countries?” Because that’s where most of the poor live, 72 percent to be exact. Read their piece to understand why. The point they make that I want to highlight is:

Until now, poverty has been viewed as a poor country issue, but now that most of the world’s poor live in middle-income states, new and old donors will need to rethink their approaches and strategies.

These countries still need aid, but not the same old aid. Like Ben’s piece Andy and Ravi call for new thinking about development. Amen. They have an in depth paper on the subject: Poor Countries or Poor People? Development Assistance and the New Geography of Poverty.

IV. “When aid comes with strings attached” by Jonathan Glennie is a perfect complement to all of the above.  It focuses on Mali’s cotton industry that he says is being “undermined” by rich countries, which interestingly in this instance isn’t the “west” but India and China.  He points out:

Rather than supporting development in Mali, donor countries have, in this instance, directly contributed to the destruction of probably the best chance Mali had to develop, the one industry that really had growth potential.

Instead, the very donor governments that continue to undermine Mali’s cotton industry are simultaneously telling Malians how to manage what is left of it. Ironically (dependency theorists would not see it as ironic), less money from cotton means more reliance on aid, which means more power for aid donors.

Don’t we at PDT know it.  What I like about this piece is that he doesn’t leave it at the rant, but gets to a place where solutions can be found.  Jonathan nails it with “ownership.” Whatever that means, he says.  What he’d like it to mean is a goal that the Malians and the international community can collectively pursue.  It’s nicely summarized:

The best hope aid dependent countries have of emerging from this form of foreign domination is, ironically, the arrival of more foreigners. The (re-)emergence of the new breed of government donors, such as China, India and Brazil, and even some of the massive private donors (Bill Gates, Aga Khan) may open new possibilities in economic policy-making for poor countries. They do not seem to share the “traditional” donors’ culture of imposing their ideology, and they tend to have a more open approach to economic policy-making. While they will have a lot to learn from traditional donors about some aspects of aid-giving, they will have just as much to teach.

I’d also like to give a shout out to Sasha Dichter’s post about Non-profit v For-profit. I have strong views about this, which I’ll save for another time.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott Gilmore, Peace Dividend Trust. Peace Dividend Trust said: From the PDT blog: Aid & Development: A few good posts from this week @andypsumner @GdnDevelopment @owenbarder […]

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