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.

Book Giveaway #1 – Dani Rodrik

I’ll be doing some book giveaways over the next few months, featuring books on various international development topics. Just comment and I’ll enter you into the drawing. I’ll use to generate a number and pick the winner.

I’m kicking it off with a short book by Dani Rodrik, a hero of mine and an international economist, Harvard professor, and superhero. (It’s possible I made up the superhero part.) He’s also an excellent writer with a gift for making difficult topics understandable.

I’ll be giving away “Has Globalization Gone Too Far?” published by the Institute of International Economics. Leave a comment below to enter the drawing. I’ll ship anywhere in the US and Canada, but we’ll have to talk if you’re on another continent.

ETA: It occurs to me I should have a closing date for this – I will close the comments on Friday the 18th and pick a winner then.

Doing US assistance better

The Center for Global Development has a new (well, almost a month old now) report out on improving foreign assistance. I am really glad to see so much attention being paid to how to do this kind of assistance. As I may have expressed by now, international development is too important not to think deeply about.

Edited to fix the typos – no more posting after midnight.

Girls in the developing world are in trouble

The Center for Global Development (which I worship like an obsessed fangirl, really all I need at this point is to be scribbling “Mrs. Alanna CGD” on my notebooks) has a new publication on girls in the developing world.

From the publication’s description page:

“…girls in developing countries are in trouble. They face systematic disadvantages over a wide range of welfare indicators, including health, education, nutrition, labor force participation, and the burden of household tasks. Because of deprivation and discriminatory cultural norms, many poor girls are forced to marry at very young ages and are extraordinarily vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, and physical exploitation. Lacking a full range of economic opportunities and devalued because of gender bias, many girls are seen as unworthy of investment or protection by their families.”

The Nonprofiteer

I love The Nonprofiteer. She is full of useful advice on running a non-profit organization. At lot of her ideas apply as much to a major NGO doing international development work as they do to the kind of domestic nonprofits she focuses. I especially love her advice column, and they way her answers are detailed plans you could act on. This post, on finding board members, is especially helpful.