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   What Works in Development?
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
12 Jun 2010

Ignorant armies clashing by night

A computer kiosk program for the poor had failed to work because there was completely unreliable electricity and internet connectivity in the places where they were trying to set it up. Yet, the World Bank's 'empowerment sourcebook' recorded it as a successful initiative. A bank official defended the program saying that it had facilitated greater empowerment. How do silent computers lead to greater empowerment?

Empowerment, it is said, is one such word which is used when no other excuses exist. It seems the apex bank is not unduly bothered about the absurdity of its approach, as one study had noted that 'despite the billions of dollars spent on development assistance each year, there is still very little known about the actual impact of projects on the poor'. Not without reason has eminent economist Lant Pritchett phrased the phenomenon as 'ignorant armies clashing by night'.

It is widely acknowledged that a major hurdle in aid effectiveness is lack of mechanisms for efficiency and accountability. While for-profit world has markets and competition towards accountability, foreign aid has been failing and wasting much of its resources because it's not accountable and that the existing evaluations are almost entirely self-evaluations. The book is about using randomization as a technique for assessing effectiveness of developmental projects.

The book, a collection of six authoritative papers followed by two equally scholarly comments on each paper, delves deeper into the enigma called 'development'. However, the debate between thinking big and thinking small remains inconclusive because objective analysis is obstructed by the lengthening list of factors and conditions that makes either of the two types of development achieve some degree of effectiveness, but without impacting poverty significantly.

Some of the world-renowned development analysts have contributed to addressing the crises in fighting global poverty. But what unites them is larger than what divides them. Oscillating between macro development (growth, trade & fiscal policies) and micro development (education, health & social programs), the contributors offer wealth of insights on what policy is likely to work in the future. A scholarly contribution towards making development work, hopefully!

What Works in Development: Thinking Big and Thinking Small
by Jessica Cohen and William Easterly, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 245 pages, US$16.82

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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