Friday, February 20, 2015

Thoughts on international development and "The White Man's Burden"


My college major at UNC-CH was Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on International Development. It was mainly a bunch of courses that I took because of my own interests, and International Development happened to be a good theme for them. But I did always have a special interest in International Development.

Now that I'm working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest non-profit foundation in the world, that interest has been reawakened. I've read up on the topic, and about some of the controversies that have come up recently about how effective aid to third world countries actually is.

The book The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly, a former officer of the World Bank, was one of the first to promote an alternative view of the effectiveness of aid to third world countries. His basic premise is that the intelligent, well-meaning people who work in the field of international development are fooling themselves when they think that their knowledge and experience can improve things for people on the other side of the world. His point is that it's not the knowledge of development professionals that is going to improve the lives of poor countries. It's the knowledge and insights of the people actually living there, who know what their real needs are - assuming they have basic economic and political freedom. Which they usually do not.

Also, he makes the point that their basic economic and political freedom can be threatened by aid. For instance, in some of the worst governed countries in the world (Haiti, Zaire, Angola), foreign aid has actually intensified the suffering of poor people, by propping up their incredibly corrupt and repressive governments.

It's certainly far, far more comfortable to believe that our good intentions always or even often result in good outcomes. It's just not true.

1 Comments:

Blogger Judy said...

My favorite of the last three posts.

5:12 PM  

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