27 September 2012

Livelihoods 2.0

Duncan Green outlines an emerging new approach at Oxfam;
how do these projects differ from traditional income generation? For decades, NGOs have been showing up in communities and persuading people to raise chickens or rabbits, open tailors, or plant the latest new wonder crop. The record is decidedly mixed. What’s different about this latest round? 
- Involve local government and private sector from the outset – they are the only long term guarantors of ‘sustainability’. 
- Scale – it’s no use just running a pilot and then crossing your fingers. From the outset, you have to think how your intervention needs to be designed to benefit 100,000s of people, rather than 100s 
- It’s about value chains, not just production. Often the real barrier is not growing or making stuff, but finding the credit you need to keep you going between planting and harvest, getting the product to market (the roads here are terrible, gulleyed by rain and gouged by illegal logging trucks), or finding a reliable buyer who pays decent prices. Multiple actors need to be involved – it’s no use just funding a local NGO to hand out seedlings. Systems analysis is essential 
- Advocacy: a systems approach resembles a micro version of Dani Rodrik’s bottlenecks to growth. Resolving one bottleneck (eg supplies of decent seeds), allows the effort to move on until it hits the next one (roads, access to finance, quantity and quality). Some of these can be incorporated into the programme, but many require local level advocacy (eg lobbying the public works department to do something about the roads, or the state bank to start lending to long gestating crops like rubber).

26 September 2012

What are the policy research priorities for South Sudan?

There was an interesting session at the IGC Growth Week at the LSE today on South Sudan, with speakers including the President's Economic Adviser Aggrey Tisa Sabuni (also doing a public lecture at LSE on 2 Oct), former Minister Luka Biong Deng, IGC Juba staff Peter Biar Ajak and Utz Pape, and trade economist Pierre Sauvé. You can read my notes on twitter under the hashtag #growthweek.

One thing that stood out for me were the suggestions for policy research priorities by Utz Pape; land rights, mobile money, the labour market, macroeconomic management, and oil management. For me, the economics of the macro and oil issues are fairly straightforward, the question is the politics of implementation. The questions on land rights (would improved private land titling increase agricultural investment?), mobile money (what is the best regulatory system to encourage development?), and the labour market (why is it so dominated by foreigners?) are all interesting.

Any other ideas for important research questions?

25 September 2012

Dowden on DFID

Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society on the new DFID Ministers. Interesting stuff.
How does it look from Africa? Two things matter for African presidents and ministers. They like to establish personal relationships and trust in face to face talks with the same people over a long period. Secondly they like to deal with people who know something about their country’s history. They do not like ministers who talk down to them (as Mitchell did) or those who just read a brief on the plane as they fly in (as Douglas Alexander did). 
The recent reshuffle ignores these aspects and casts doubt over how much this government cares about development and its relations with Africa.
[Greening] talks of a line by line investigation to ensure value for money which sounds good, but is actually nonsense. How can someone with no experience of development, with an annual accounts mentality, judge the value of long term development projects?
although the indications are not propitious for a dynamic team working creatively to help get Africa nearer to the MDG targets in the next three years, I will not write off any of these appointments. But they look more like internal political expediency than what Africa and the rest of the developing world needs right now.

War and Peace

Presidents Bashir and Salva Kiir met in Addis yesterday to finalise a peace deal.

Just two days earlier, Sudanese planes airdropped supplies, possibly weapons, to an anti-government militia deep within South Sudan. UN troops provided confirmation that planes dropped packages in the area. The Small Arms Survey also confirm the pattern through 2009-2012 of Chinese-made arms being supplied (in contravention of a UN embargo) by Sudan to militia in Darfur and South Sudan. 

Either Bashir is not serious, or perhaps more likely, he is not in control.

21 September 2012

How do we scale up personalized support? (policy response to heterogeneity)

The CGAP Graduation pilots seem to be getting good results (evaluations with Esther Duflo here and Dean Karlan here). My instinctive reaction is that personalised, individualised, tailored support may very well be successful, but is it possible to set up systems to implement this routinely at scale?

The need seems to be clear. Perhaps the key bottom line from the microfinance impact literature is heterogeneity - people are different, their needs are different, and one-size-fits-all policy has all sorts of different impacts, both positive and negative, on different kinds of people.

Similar results seem to be emerging on support for small businesses (a lit review by David McKenzie here and and evaluation from Ghana here), and in education and early child development (see this great episode of This American Life covering Paul Tough's new book How Children Succeed).

Meanwhile in the UK, Iain Duncan Smith has decided that the benefits system is far too complicated (it is complicated) and so it needs to be simplified, rolling 6 different benefits into one "Universal Credit." But maybe, just maybe, complicated people need complicated support? And is that a realistic goal for developing countries with weak government systems?

19 September 2012

Regional Integration - East African Community

I'm sitting waiting for a connection at Nairobi airport. I have about 80,000 Burundian Francs ($50) that I forgot to change in Bujumbura.

   Me: Hi, do you take Burundian Francs?

   Nairobi Airport Forex Lady: AaaaahahahahahhaHA! Nobody takes Burundian Francs!

14 September 2012

Africa Express

What to say about Africa Express? I like Simon Ayre's take:
After five days of thinking about it, it’s time to write something about the Cardiff leg of the Africa Express tour that traveled across the country last week. But what do I write that hasn’t already been said? How do I put into words an experience that left me sat down staring into space for nearly forty minutes when I got home?  
I can’t. I’ve tried, I’ve deleted what I’ve written and tried again and again. I’ve given up and come back to it- I just can’t come up with anything that would do it justice.
Here's a five star review of the Manchester show, and a detailed review of the London show. Apparently Fatboy Slim called a Mali trip "like the greatest ever edition of Later ... with Jools." Which is close but not quite right. It's better than that. The London show was more like a live 5-hour mashup-style remix. Like Girl Talk played by 50 live musicians jamming.

In any case, thanks to Damon Albarn and Ian Birrell and all of the artists for making it all happen.

This audience-shot video gives a bit of a taste (HT: Matt).

12 September 2012

First, do no harm: Post-2015 Development Goals

Some ideas from Dani Rodrik put the priority on the responsibility of rich countries to not get in the way of development, so;
  • carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change;
  • more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries;
  • strict controls on arms sales to developing nations;
  • reduced support for repressive regimes; and
  • improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.

11 September 2012

How not to market your university

From the website of the University of Burundi (with thanks to Google Translate). Where do I enroll! To make a serious point though, is this a pernicious influence of the aid industry?

04 September 2012

How to improve capacity building

Shanta Devarajan at the World Bank thinks we should be focusing on demand-side interventions (demand for improved performance, rather than "supply-side" interventions focused on training etc to improve the supply of improved performance), and then doing rigorous experiments to test these interventions (yes, RCTs).
SD: It is definitely not just about technical solutions. At the first level it is a question of incentives. And it is even deeper than that. At a fundamental level, it is a problem of politics.
Well worth reading in full. (HT: TH)

03 September 2012

Aid for Infrastructure in Fragile States

This is a guest post by Maham Farhat from OPM.

Development sometimes feel like a bit of a catch- 22. Economic growth requires decent "institutions" and political stability, but in many ways good institutions require a decent level of economic development to begin with. Nowhere is this more relevant in aid policy than large scale infrastructure development. Infrastructure projects have the potential to spur development through crucial inputs such as employment, connectivity and capacity building. But mismanaged they can do more harm than good, by fuelling corruption and environmental degradation. 

A recent report published by OPM and Mott MacDonald (funded by DFID) looks at donor engagement in infrastructure development in Fragile and conflicted affected states (FCAS). The findings of the report are striking. Donor engagement in FCAS is patchy on following the recommended OECD principles and there is surprisingly little hard evidence to support the notion that infrastructure development results in peace building and stabilisation. Or for that matter even simple and much trumpeted outcomes like employment generation are supported by little hard evidence. 

Existing evidence seems to suggest that "Quick Impact Projects" as implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan have a questionable record of achievement whereas community driven development projects have been shown to produce more lasting results in terms of encouraging peace and stability in local communities. Private investment can work wonders in sectors like power and telecom, a case in point being the rapidly developing telecommunication sector in Afghanistan, but attracting large scale private investment is difficult in the transport and water sectors where returns to investment are realised at a much later stage. A mix of case studies on South Sudan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Congo demonstrates that the effectiveness of donor aid in the infrastructure sector is highly dependent on country context. This is not to argue that infrastructure investment should be dumped by donors, just that much more evidence is needed to evaluate what works and what doesn't.