7 Worst International Aid Ideas

The following is a post by Richard Stupart, originally published on Matador Network, and reposted here with permission.   You can view the original post here >>

I think it’s a great discussion of the importance of thinking through consequences, even remote ones, when working toward improving lives and conditions around the world.  We should all keep trying, keep thinking, keep learning and keep striving to do better.

Like my energy drink or the kids starve. Image via Africa is a country

Maybe their hearts were in the right place. Maybe not. Either way, these are solid contenders for the title of “worst attempts at helping others since colonialism.”

1. One million t-shirts for Africa

Aid circles employ the cynical acronym SWEDOW (stuff we don’t want) to describe initiatives like Jason Sadler’s 1 Million T-Shirts project. Sadler had admittedly never been to Africa, and had never worked in an aid or development environment before. But he cared a great deal, and came up with the idea to send a million free shirts to Africa in order to help the people there.

Like some sort of lightning rod for the combined venom of the humanitarian aid world, Jason found himself pilloried across the web in a matter of weeks. Everyone from armchair bloggers to senior economists spat fire on his dream until it eventually ground to a halt. In July 2010, Jason threw in the towel and abandoned his scheme. And somewhere in Africa, an economy sighed in relief.

Why was the idea so bad? Continue reading

Poor Economics: The Family

Story time. The following is an excerpt I found particularly interesting today from Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s book, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (Chapter 5). Yes, it’s a book about economics and data, but what it does very well is tell very human stories about how we behave, in different places around the world under different circumstances. I highly recommend it. In addition, Banerjee and Duflo have created a rich accompanying website full of additional data, photos, graphics and stories, studies, teachings and resources.

The Family

For the sake of their models, economists often ignore the inconvenient fact that the family is not the same as just one person. We treat the family as one “unit,” assuming that the family makes decisions as if it were just one individual. The paterfamilias, the head of the dynasty, decides on behalf of his spouse and his children what the family consumes, who gets educated and for how long, who gets what kind of bequest, and so on. He may be altruistic, but he is clearly omnipotent. But as anybody who has been part of a family knows, this isn’t quite how families work. This simplification is misleading, and there are important policy consequences from ignoring the complicated dynamics within the family. We already saw, for example, that giving women access to a formal property title is important for fertility choices [how many children to have], not because it changes her view on how many children she wants but because it makes her views count more.

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