I spent the 4th of July weekend watching television. The weather was muggy, we all had colds, my dad can’t walk much, and my car is on summer vacation with my mom. That translated to a weekend spent sleeping and staring at the box. I didn’t expect to get anything out of my three days off except eliminating a sleep deficit. It turns out, though, that you can find insight almost anywhere, even on “The Next Food Network Star.” I did promise, after all, that I’d look everywhere I could for ways to do international development better.
This is what I learned: It’s all about relationships. Even when people are competing head-to-head, they still want to like others and be liked in return. Everyone wants a human connection, even when that desire works against their immediate self interest. It’s an obvious lesson, but one that’s easy to forget or ignore.
What does this mean for development projects? Well, when you are working to improve health care, you’ll see better outcomes if people have the same doctor every time. Teenagers are more likely to use drugs (or condoms – it goes both ways) if they believe their friends are doing so. People repay microfinance loans, and stand fast in the heat of battle, so they won’t lose face in front of their peers.
Lesson: When you are designing programs, take relationships into account as a major motivator.