Waylaid Dialectic

April 27, 2011

Read About it Here First! The Next Big Thing in Aid!

Filed under: Aid,Development Theory,Social Justice — terence @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s hard to escape the fact that we development folks are, at times, awfully Charlie Brownesque. Like Charlie Brown, who was forever being fooled by Lucy’s promise to hold the football while he kicked, we keep falling for things we shouldn’t. We’re suckers for the Next Big Thing all the while forgetting how the last big thing left us in the lurch, or how the the big thing before it did the same too.

And so we have, Cash transfers (either conditional or unconditional – CCTs and UCTs) and Cash on Delivery Aid (COD) lining up as the latest Big Things offering to hold the ball for us. Micro-finance, the last big thing, is looking rather bruised, while ICT for development has got to be feeling even less loved these days.

I’m no fan of COD aid, but I’ve got nothing against CCTs and UCTs. They were introduced to South America by the Worker’s Party, who I still kindof idolise, and there’s good evidence that they really have worked well in some places. But I’m deeply sceptical of their potential as panaceas. Which is another way of saying I completely agree with Laura Freschi’s measured scepticism at AidWatch.

The good news here at least is that Freschi is making reference to recent DFID funded research. DFID, it would seem, have learnt a few lessons and seem to be systematically gathering evidence before hopping on the Cash Transfer bandwagon.

Which is kind of cool. Imagine if the next big thing in development wasn’t a thing at all, but rather an approach: move slowly based on the evidence you can use. And consider context before adopting stuff which worked elsewhere. Even this wouldn’t be unproblematic but it would surely have to be better than falling for the latest fad time and time again.

On a completely different subject, but linked by the theme ‘these are people are I don’t normally agree with’ I reckon Jonathan Glennie is almost word perfect in his critique of Zizek.



  1. Why the skepticism on COD aid?

    Comment by Matt Morris — April 27, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

  2. Thanks a lot for those links, Terence. In the Milford Bateman article on microfinance, the stuff about market saturation by microenterprises is very much in line with the findings of my thesis (to be posted online once I get it back from the markers) and in fact what I have written about in relation to Peru for some years — see:

    http://www.andean-observer.com/working-hard.html (from 2007)

    NOne of this would come as a surprise to the structuralists or writers on the articulation of modes of production (the “competitive sector” and the “monopolistic sector”), although ahistorical neoliberalism seems to have colonized the world so thoroughly that few people probably read that stuff these days.

    Comment by Simon — April 27, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  3. And that article on ICT4D is great as well.

    If I were to summarize everything I learned through research in ICT4D, it would be this: technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute.

    So true, although I’ve always been puzzled why anyone would think differently.

    Comment by Simon — April 27, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  4. Hi there Matt,

    I’m instinctively sceptical of COD aid, because it seems so neat and tidy in a ‘Provide the structures and the incentives will do the work kind of way’. This has been the nature for a lot of development policy over the last couple of decades (big, simple idea, based on a stylised, a-contextual reading of development problems) and that particular intellectual approach hasn’t worked yet. Which is why my instinct is against it.

    In terms of my more practical reasoning self. I just that, for it to work, it would need there to be almost no unintended consequences and it would need aid recipient states/govts to be in possession of much, much more agency than they have. In reality I think the political economy of most aid recipient countries is actually really complicated and that it is unlikely that their governments will be able to respond to the ‘incentives’ of COD aid in the way envisaged by its supporters.

    Of course, as with all these things, I could be wrong.

    Hi there Simon,

    Thanks for the comments. I agree: Micro Finance places a lot of faith on the ability of change at the micro-level to aggregate up to change at the meso and macro levels. Where, as you say, true poverty reduction probably starts with larger scale structural change.

    Comment by terence — April 28, 2011 @ 9:35 am

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