I commented on NextBillion’s ongoing series responding to Michael Edwards’ new book, Just Another Emperor;<blockquote>I see the majority of this discussion as a hammer and nail problem – when you have a hammer (BoP market-based solutions), everything begins to look like a nail (maybe there’s a profitable market in humanitarian disaster-relief…?). It’s the same problem I see constantly in ICT4Dev – ICT is not a panacea, and neither is BoP solutions; even though as practitioners we are constantly tempted to apply our favorite hammer to any and all problems, and to promote it as such. We need Edwardses to keep us in check.</blockquote>
Of course, when I was speaking of ICT4Dev, I was talking mostly about the One Laptop Per Child project, which has been the unfortunate poster-child for this exact problem, and I’d like to think that OLPCNews.com helped check some of their more elaborate - and doomed to fail - plans.
The basic problem I see is ego. Big, bold development plans must succeed, and there’s no room for them not to, so you keep pushing beyond reason. William Easterly presents this argument against centrally-planned development much more cogently and with 50 years of data from development efforts to back it up in White Man’s Burden. Easterly too favors a
Collaborate, don't recreate
This is a hard problem in business, the non profit world, and, well, everywhere. For tactical and marketing/promotion reasons, everyone wants to “own” their project, product, or program; leading to multiple different donor agencies trying to do the same thing with slightly different requirements and priorities, which is at best a complete mess. Increased collaboration (and communication) between groups could drastically improve the efficiency of aid and development. Sadly, this presumes that development is the goal, and not foreign policy, nationalistic pride, or other factors.
Risk management is something the BoP model is wonderful at, and something that traditional loan-based development is horrible at. One of my core gripes against the original OLPC model was that they were demanding un-tested, sight-unseen purchases of millions of laptops at a time by governments. Even if the project ended up being wildly successful, the government would still be deeply in hoc paying for the laptops long before any financial benefits from education were boosting their economy. The BoP model rightly puts the risk on those pushing the project, as opposed to the recipients. If successful, the project pays off in social and financial benefits; if not, well, it was a calculated risk taken by people who could afford to do so.
Put yourself out of business
When I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, we were also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Corps in country. Our Country Director pledged to be there for 40 more years, and we collectively grimaced. The hope is to not need to be there in 40 more years; or at least to be doing dramatically different types of work. If we’re still there working in schools without electricity and working with squatters in extreme poverty building lean-tos on flood plains, we’re doing something wrong. For the BoP crowd, you actually want to create business naturally, but you want it to be self-sustaining, perhaps even competing with locally-created “copycats,” but no longer incubated by venture capital.
As I concluded in the longer post responding to the NextBillion series; <blockquote>There’s a lot to change globally to create a better world, and we should work on providing an inclusive model to work with and support anyone who thinks they can lend a hand instead of fighting turf wars for the dominance of any one approach.</blockquote>
Ego forces things to be “right” even if they’re not remotely successful.