Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Foundation Learning I

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a unique organization for a variety of reasons.  One in particular is their commitment to personal growth and learning.  Although I tend to ridicule self-reflection, their dedication to their Junior Fellows is pretty inspiring.

One of the first assignments we had was on the concept of development.  We were given some videos to watch and questions to answer.  Below is my response.  Please be warned that it was written at midnight the night it was due, so you’d probably be better off watching the videos than reading my last-minute answers.

 

Assignment: watch four of the six videos below and answer the following questions:

  • For each video, based on what was said, how do you think that individual defines development and therefore what needs to happen in order to progress towards development?
  • For all videos you watched, where do the individuals’ viewpoints diverge? Converge? (That is, on what do they agree? On what do they disagree?)
  • After watching the videos, what information do you think was missed? What wasn’t discussed that you think is important for the debate?
  • After watching the videos, how would you define development? Is this the same, or different, from how you thought about development before?

Videos:

(I watched Jacqueline Novogratz, Dambisa Moyo, Jeffrey Sachs, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala)

For each video, based on what was said, how do you think that individual defines development and therefore what needs to happen in order to progress towards development?

Jacqueline Novogratz’s definition of “development” implicitly means “economic development.”  For Africa to progress and lift people out of poverty, the west needs to invest patient capital into innovative entrepreneurs.  We need to transform our view of Africans as people who need charity to individuals who can create, consume, and scale small innovations to meaningfully large enterprises.  Although she argues that we should invest in businesses for their social impact, all her examples of company success hinge on financial success.

Dambisa Moyo also views “development” in term of economic development, although she believes democracy and government accountability are necessary to advance capitalism.  If African leaders relied on their citizens instead of foreign doors, they would be incentivized to create wealth and jobs for the African people.

Jeffrey Sachs’ definition of development is intrinsically tied to technological advancements.  He thinks that most development tools are in place, we just need to use them better.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the other hand, defines development on the individual scale at a more personal level.  Ultimately, however, she uses economic justification for her claims.  To move forward she argues that we need partnership between donors, governments, and local African people.

For all videos you watched, where do the individuals’ viewpoints diverge? Converge? (That is, on what do they agree? On what do they disagree?)

Novgratz, Moyo, Sachs, and Okonjo-Iweala all agree to a certain extent that the current aid system isn’t working, however they all have different solutions.

Novgratz thinks we need to revitalize aid by combining government money with market systems to create patient capital.

Sachs believes we need to invest smarter in proven solutions.

Okonjo-Iweala argues that the African people, particularly the African leaders, need to coordinate so that they can help the west help them.  She believes that historically aid has been used by development organizations who are more focused on their development than the African people’s.

Moyo, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in aid at all.  She thinks Africa needs to utilize market systems to pull itself out of poverty.

After watching the videos, what information do you think was missed? What wasn’t discussed that you think is important for the debate?

I think the debate needs to expand beyond economic development.  While a thriving economy is a necessary part of healthy systems, it is simply one tool.  We also need to discuss social, political, and environmental implications.  In today’s world, can an economy thrive when women’s opportunities are severely limited compared to males?  How does environmental degradation disproportionately affect the poor?  How can we claim to have decolonized Africa when some leaders feel more accountable to international organizations or western states than to their citizens?

After watching the videos, how would you define development? Is this the same, or different, from how you thought about development before?

I define development as improving the lives of people – however they think is most important.  For some women, they may think political representation is more important than having a job that fits into the world’s neoliberal economic system.  For some, improved quality of life may mean safe drinking water.  We need to work with people to understand how they want to better their communities instead of assuming, “If everyone had a job, they could pull themselves out of economic poverty.”

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