What works, and what should change?

As part of an interview process recently I was asked to name things in development that I think work and that should change. Since this blog is mainly a way for me to keep a record of my ideas & how they’re evolving, my answers below, slightly modified for this format:

Things that work

Things that should change

I do believe in the power of financial inclusion. Access to appropriate financial tools, and better access to markets, can create wealth and value for “base of the pyramid” individuals, families and communities in all corners of a country. These changes may be in small increments, but they are more likely to be well-distributed. This is not to say that these initiatives are always well-designed or implemented, and certainly there can be harmful side effects, particularly of large, “one-size-fits-all” strategies. However, my study and experience have led me to believe that financial inclusion initiatives can be among the best approaches to increasing opportunity, agency and dignity for people. Learn from failure! Development organizations are often afraid of admitting failure, which deprives them of a great learning opportunity. Because of this, similar issues can arise in many initiatives, again and again (as noted by Ashley Good in her forward to EWB Canada’s 2012 Failure Report here). Learning from failure in development was the topic of my graduate thesis, which I’ll post a summary of soon.
The increase in evaluations of development is a good trend, on the whole. It’s definitely good to the extent that these evaluations are a) rigorous and b) used to improve programming and policy. Of course, there can always be too much of a good thing, and I do worry about both the purists in the field (especially over-reliance on RCTs) and the tendency of large projects to gloss over the negatives (see the first thing that should change). Still, there are definitely examples of evaluations proving a concept, stopping a harmful practice, or most importantly, adding nuance and depth to the implementation of an idea. Ultimately, the more evidence that is available, both qualitative and quantitative, the better project and policy design can be. Information is too unidirectional. This includes data, analysis, evaluation reports, success stories, etc – all tend to flow out of Africa and other poorer countries towards the richer ones. But the communities in which development organizations work, and the people they work with, deserve access to this type of information too – in a medium and a language they can understand. This might help make development organizations a little more accountable to the low-income, low-power people they’re trying to help, which would be one step towards tipping the balance of power slightly more towards these communities. (More of my thoughts on this topic here.)

And, one more thing to change coming soon… big development, small development.


About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

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