Posts Tagged ‘World Bank’

How Jester Sachs Would Lead the World Bank

March 4, 2012

Inspired by an irresistibly fun-inviting move by Jeffrey Sachs last week, the Jester throws his own bell-embellished version of a hat into the ring for the top job at the World Bank.

How I Would Lead the World Bank

by Jester Sachs

My quest to help end poverty has taken me to so many countries that I’ve caused a noticeable contribution to global carbon emissions. I’ve visited really exotic places such as 7-star hotels, corporate boardrooms, business class on Emirates, and imposing Geneva buildings. Now I’m applying for the job at 18th and Pennsylvania, the presidency of the World Bank. I am doing this in the traditional way by sending my cover letter to The Washington Post.

Unlike previous World Bank presidents, but like approximately 6.999 billion other people on the planet, I don’t come from Wall Street or U.S. politics. I am a practitioner of economic development, an unrecognized genius, and did you know that I’ve also written a few books? My track record is to side with the poor and hungry, though I’m happy to take money from corporations, governments, and rich patrons. My solutions would save all of us — the poor, companies, governments and the rest of us — because I am really just that smart.

I don’t seek the bank presidency because of its financial muscle or in the vainglorious hopes of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The bank’s net disbursements were only about $16 billion in fiscal 2011, which by gosh is a paltry sum, when my calculations say $195 billion a year is necessary to end poverty.

The World Bank is potentially far more decisive than a bank. (Banks, after all, only make multi-billion dollar loans on a regular basis.) At its best, the bank serves as a powerhouse of ideas and a meeting ground for key actors (and musicians like Bono) who together can solve daunting problems of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation. The World Bank should create a truly international meeting of the minds (a point underscored by the fact that its highly esteemed lead economist is from China; so I guess, it is kind of already doing that).

I know what I’m talking about. I have been a trusted problem-solver for a lot of countries, many of whom didn’t even realize I was solving their problems – like Bolivia, for example, which would have descended into a Dark Ages without me, and Russia, which would have done a lot better had they really taken my advice. And then there’s China – they got far by doing exactly what I would have told them to do, if they had asked. My good fortune to see the world through my own perceptive eyes while working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has allowed me to understand that various regions’ challenges need tailored solutions – an entirely new idea that I came up with. This is why I’ve started exactly 14 Millennium Village clusters – once the right solutions are figured out for those 14 sites, they can be applied, cookie-cutter fashion, to the remainder of the world’s 2-3 million villages, which are more or less exact replicas of those 14. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India, which is why I recently wrote that America needs civic virtues, but those other countries don’t.

Yet the World Bank is adrift (for one thing, we’re talking about the institution that once hired people like that rascal William Easterly). It is spread too thin (like peanut butter). It has taken on too many fads (which the Millennium Villages aren’t). It is too disconnected from critical areas of science and knowledge (like my field, economics, which a science, really!). Without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank (amazing, given its name). And unfortunately, Washington has backed bankers and politicians who just don’t take me seriously. Come on guys, it’s time you let me join your reindeer games.

The World Bank presidency should not be a training ground in development – that would imply I might learn something on the job. Its leader should come to office with unshakeable convictions about what to do with flooded villages (like the one I once stepped foot in), drought-ridden farms (like the one I once stepped foot on), desperate mothers hovering over comatose, malaria-infected children (like the one I once spoke to through a translator), and teenage girls unable to pay high school tuition (translator, again). More than knowing these realities, and caring to end them, the bank president should believe single-mindedly in his own infallible theories of their causes and interconnected solutions. In any case, he should not be chosen from a pool of international candidates and through a sensible, transparent process like some have suggested.

Solutions to critical problems such as hunger, AIDS, malaria and extreme deprivation remain unaddressed because not everyone listens to me. Those who do listen include scientists who allow me to take credit for their powerful ideas; powerful bankers with ample finance who give me a little cash to play at microfinance; business leaders with powerful technologies who set up shop in the Millennium Villages; civil society with powerful community roots who fawn over me; and powerful politicians in whose constituencies I have built the Millennium Villages. Did I mention, these folks are powerful? But I also have many powerless friends who are poor, black, gay, female, disabled, and religiously persecuted – all at once, of course – we often hang out over a beer.

Finding the graceful way forward, becoming a part of my grand plan to create global change should be the bank’s greatest aspiration. I’ll stand on my record of having already gone a long way to save the world: to have written about how I would go about it; to have flown in agricultural experts to help farmers in 14 villages; to have flown in public health experts to redesign community healthcare in 14 villages; to make mobile technologies (which are absolutely not a fad) the new edge of development practice; to have accepted donor funds allocated to telecenters (which were absolutely not a fad); to have staved off all those crazy folks asking us to rigorously evaluate our approach; and to have written a book that doubles down to offer a solution not only to poverty but also to climate change.

My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to tell them what works in practice and then to bend to the will of my donors.

I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving (after all, it’s the bank that should solve developing country problems, not developing countries themselves). I will work with industry, governments and civil society to bring broadband (another critical non-fad) to clinics, schools and health workers, creating a revolution of knowledge, disease control, quality education and small businesses (because dang it, everything else that we’ve been trying has been too expensive). I will work with agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and anyone else who is willing to join my cult to build prosperity in impoverished and violence-ridden dry lands. Yes, now I’m going to end violent conflicts, too.

I will work with engineers and financiers to harness the solar power of the deserts (because I learned on my many travels that the one thing they have in the desert is sun) in the service of hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who lack electricity (though how to connect the desert sun to those living hundreds of miles away is another issue). I will work with urban planners, architects and community organizations to help ensure that the developing world’s mega-cities are places to live and thrive like in that cool movie Slumdog Millionnaire.

This and much more is within our grasp, just like I insisted in The End of Poverty. Properly led (that is, if and only if led by Yours Truly), the World Bank can build bridges among science, business, civil society and finance, and also hopefully across the gaping canyon between my underappreciated intellect and my stunted emotional quotient. Let’s, and by that I mean let me, get started.

Random Hacks of Partial Kindness

May 14, 2011

Tate Watkins at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University prompted the Jester with the following question for a post to AidWatch: “Is it reasonable to expect that Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) and similar events will produce ‘solutions to development problems’?”

The Jester’s simple answer to that direct question, of course, is “no.” Anyone imagining that a day or two of hacking will produce solutions to development problems, even in some small part, is either a technologist drunk on her own self-image who believes that she’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge with technology, or a World Bank officer drunk on his own self-image who believes that he’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge by motivating some technologists. In any case, it seems clear they are the kind of folks who don’t learn from history.

Surprisingly, the Jester has a more complex answer to the underlying question, which might have been posed as, “Do events such as RHoK do any good?” The answer to that question is far more complicated, because these events have multiple goals, and some of the goals are not half bad, even if they could still use some course correction.

The first and most obvious surface goal of events like RHoK is to end up with a body of software that could somehow impact international development. The Jester has written extensively about this notion (for example, through his puppet, at the Boston Review), and the short answer is that exactly where we most want such technology to have impact, the required human intent and capacity to make the technology itself work is low. Combine this with the fact that very little successful software in the world gets written via a two-day hackfest, and the likely interesting impact will be zero.

The second goal of RHoK is likely to support the building of software programming capacity in developing countries. Of their currently posted 20 or so physical hosting sites, 6 or 7 are in developing countries (and of those, about half by groups well-known to the Jester), and to the extent that these events generate excitement around the ability to develop software in developing countries, they are fantastic, as the Jester implied in a previous post. Among the things that makes a country “developed” is its intrinsic capacity to create, adapt, and master technology, and to the extent that the efforts highlight the aspiration of those within country to do so, the Jester applauds. (However, as long as developer development is the goal, why not have the contest be around software that would really be useful?)

A third and less obvious goal of RHoK is to encourage software developers in the developed world to engage on problems in the developing world. The Jester has mixed feelings about this, because on the one hand, it’s great to encourage people anywhere to care about others who are in less privileged circumstances; on the other hand, further contributing to the vain belief that that intention can manifest through random hacks of software development is dubious. Good software developers would have more value by mentoring less experienced software developers in the developing world, than attempting to solve a developing-world problem through technology. The latter is still just another kind of charity, and another kind of “giving people a fish.”

A fourth goal might be build to a community around software developers in the world who care about international development. The Jester strongly believes in the value of community, and often times, the development of community — even if it for a misguided instrumental end — can be redirected later to more useful purpose. Strong communities have value, especially to the extent that their mission is really to solve development challenges. However, as with the other goals, the end impact of the community will depend on what it decides to do with its social capital.  

So, to different RHoK stakeholders, the Jester has different things to say:

  1. For budding software developers: Use the event to learn more about software development. And, for those coming from a developing country, involve more friends. The ability to write good code is exactly the kind of capacity that will help individuals earn good incomes and help countries grow economically.
  2. For experienced software developers hoping to “do good”: The intention is laudable. The most meaningful impact, though, will come not from technological artifacts, as much as from the mentoring of people in the first category.
  3. For sponsors: If the goal is practical software, the phrase “barking up the wrong tree” appears next to the Jester’s head as a thought bubble. If the goal is to help developing countries gain software-developing capacity, shift focus to the end-to-end supply chain of human capital for engineering, i.e., education defined very broadly. In the current global economy, there is no shortage of demand for capable software engineers. But, supply is hurting. And, if the goal is to kill multiple birds with one stone, try hitting one bird first; no point aiming for their empty center of gravity! (The Jester does not wish to promote violence against animals, but the available proverbs along these lines are limited.)

And, to wrap up with a single sentence: The most meaningful way for the RHoK to have impact is for everyone to focus on increasing the software-developing capacity of the least experienced developers (wherever they’re from) who come to hack.