Stop Trying to Save the World: Big Ideas are Destroying International Development

November 19, 2014
A close friend just yesterday forwarded an Article to me by Michael Hobbes critiquing international development efforts. I found it very thought provoking — and it is comforting to see someone put into readable words and logic much of what I myself have felt for decades now. Therefore, I think it should have wider circulation than it might otherwise receive; so here is the link and I encourage you to click and read it — Stop Trying to Save the World.
In the classes I teach here now at Armstrong State University, one of my primary messages is that all political interactions result in unintended consequences. That is so as the result of a multitude of human behaviors and environmental circumstances all interacting in ways that individually might be predictable but together are unfathomable. So one needs to pick an objective, put it out there, provide opportunities for those who share those objectives to apply them in their own idiosyncratic ways, and hope for the best — while guarding against the worst through continual assessment of “how we doing” (Mayor Koch’s measurable indicator of how “beneficiaries” thought things were working out).

I was quoted in the book “A Singular Woman” by Janny Scott to the effect that the old saw about giving/teaching a person to fish didn’t have it quite right — lots of people already knew how to fish and didn’t need us to teach them that. Instead, they don’t have access to places where they can “fish” for any number of socio-economic, political and locational reasons. Therefore, my view is that “development” — a poor term to begin with —  is more about opening access to opportunities rather than “training” or “capacity-building.” . I think Michael Hobbes’ perspective is consistent with that view.

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