Blog posts I am apparently never going to write

Linus Pauling Photo

I have started all of these posts more than once, and I never seem to get them fully written up. Therefore, some half-baked ideas for your consideration.

1. How I learned to love the MDGs

I used to think the Millennium Development Goals were a cruel cheat. I thought that since they were set too high to actually achieve, they were dooming developing country governments to failure and disillusionment. It turns out, though, that governments are used to missing their targets. And the MDGs make sure that everyone is aiming for really good targets. So I take it all back. The MDGs are pure genius.

2. Why I don’t hire development studies majors

Because the degree doesn’t leave you with any actual skills – maybe it would be useful for someone who’s been working in development and needs a frame. But it is not preparation for international development work. Learning a whole chunk of development theory has remarkably little to do with the actual work of improving lives and creating better opportunity.

3. All volunteers are not the same

Whether or not you get paid has nothing to do with your skill set. Volunteers are capable of doing vital work extremely well. However, they may also be unskilled, unqualified, and damaging to the programs and communities that take them on. It is very hard to use volunteers well because they tend to want a short-term commitment so you lose a lot of time training and integrating them, and because often people with relevant skills get paid jobs in development. Long-term volunteers are more likely to be useful than short-term volunteers.  Volunteering has more impact the closer to home it gets, because the learning curve gets shorter and shorter.

4. International development is difficult

It’s hard, it’s expensive, and we have trouble knowing what works. We make the same mistakes over and over. I have seen individual projects that actually succeeded but I honestly don’t know what theory of development is most likely to be true. (Though I do think people believe anything they see in a soap opera. Is that a development theory?) This field feels sometimes like medicine back in the age of leeches and bloodletting and I have no idea if Jeff Sachs, Paul Collier, or Bill Easterly is going to turn out to be Louis Pasteur or Linus Pauling.

5. The official list of crushes on development thinkers, as confessed to on Twitter:

  • Hans Rosling
  • Mohammad Yunus
  • Amartya Sen
  • Ruth Levine
  • Robert Chambers


Photo credit: Wikipedia – Doesn’t Linus Pauling look handsome and idealistic? No clue at all he’d turn into a Vitamin C quack at the end of an illustrious career.