One of the fun parts of doing the job hunt/grad school application thing is that it gives you a structured opportunity to articulate what you’d like to see the development community doing, and how you’d like to participate in it. After straining out all the things that will actually be going into personal statements, everything that’s left is being added to my only moderately unrealistic economic development wishlist:
- I want to see more economic development practitioners talking to economic historians. There’s a strong share of immediacy in much dialogue on international economic development – the demand to stop dithering and end poverty now. I think this is a moderately useful moral statement, and a nearly useless policy formulation for engendering broad & sustainable increases in the incomes of the poor. Frankly, it promotes a strain of analysis that approaches successful, present-day Western economic policies as if they developed in a vacuum, and often gives short shrift to the historical quirks, accidents, and forethought that went into their development – the messy, long-term process of actualizing beneficial policy. I’d love to see more practitioners drawing from research into historical processes of economic development (such as De Soto’s work on the Homestead Act in the US), and much less poorly-considered application of Western present-day policies to non-Western situations. (Another great example is Roodman’s work on microfinance in Europe & the US as long ago as 1800. Which brings me to my next point…)
- I want to discourse on innovation balanced with discourse on not reinventing the wheel. I’m obviously not anti-innovation. People are doing some great thinking on how the constraints of poverty both necessitate and facilitate innovation. But I’ve also come to realize that, if you’re a smart & dedicated person and have an innovative idea, there’s a significant chance that at least one other smart & dedicated person has had a similar idea. At this point in your promotion of said innovative idea, you (generally) could A) seek out other people working on it and collaborate, B) learn about the shortcomings of the other idea and compete with an improved product, or C) independently develop & fund multiple small duplicative non-competing projects based on the same idea. I don’t mean to pick on stove projects uniquely – I think they’re tackling an important issue, and they were the first example that came to mind rather than the most egregious. But I do wonder how much of the time & how many of the resources spent on social enterprise product development (or program development more broadly) is genuinely productive, and how much goes to needlessly reinventing the wheel instead of learning from existing examples. (See also Easterly’s critique of learning in aid programs since 1938.)
- I want to see less programmatic emphasis on solving every problem simultaneously, and more on sequential implementation in increasing order of difficulty. You could equally rephrase this as, “it’s not always wise to do the hardest thing first.” There’s a lot of value in starting with a feasible goal, learning by doing, and expanding into implementation of more complex or wide-ranging programs later – and it’s much more likely to be successful.
I’d love to know, dear readers: what’s on your wishlists?