The decision of the international ‘community’ to come up with a new set of development goals to take over from the MDGs in 2015 and to see us through to 2030 was not one that readily filled me with excitement. Even their formal approval at the UN General Assembly in New York in September largely passed me by. And when I discovered they comprised no fewer than 17 goals and 169 targets then, yes, it did occur to me that this might be a hugely costly bureaucratic exercise: a fable of synergy, partnership and rationality jarring against a global reality of sharp trade-offs, conflict and insanity… Continue reading
Has the word development been rendered meaningless through over-use, or does it still provide a useful discursive space within which to explore ideas about how our well-being can be improved? A short recent book by Esteva et al. (2013) reasserts the case for confining the term to history as a failed Western project. While they may struggle to predict the precise date of its demise, the authors do offer one for its birth: 20 January 1949, or the day of Harry Truman’s inaugural address as 33rd President of the USA, when he declared the country “pre-eminent among nations in the development of industrial and scientific techniques” and proposed a “bold new program for sharing these benefits “for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas” and for the people living there “…in conditions approaching misery.” The book argues that this project has mostly promoted Western interests, and perpetuated underdevelopment elsewhere. In so doing, it updates the ideas put forward in the Development Dictionary edited by Wolfgang Sachs in 1992, to which Esteva also contributed. It attacks advocates of the “social cancer” of neo-liberalism, and of state-led provision of basic needs with equal gusto; and adds global “ecological overshoot” to the catalogue of things that Truman’s vision of development can be blamed for.
Recent research has given us much better data on the difference in access to formal financial services between men and women. The figure below gives these gaps by region based on the Global Findex dataset. With this evidence for the gender gap, what we really want to know is: what it is about being a woman or man that creates the gap? That is, are these gaps the result of factors such as women having less education, lower incomes and being less likely to have formal employment? Or do they arise from legal factors such as property rights, inheritance rights, gender norms about autonomy, mobility, etc.? Or, perhaps women behave inherently differently and are more risk averse. Or does being a woman matter for another reason, even when all these factors are taken into account? If it does, then we might need to look further for other sources of discrimination in the market. These might include the behaviour of the financial institutions themselves.
Microfinance is one area of development intervention that has experienced increased use of randomised control trials (RCTs) in the last few years, now seen by many as the ‘gold standard’ methodology for assessing impact. The gold standard approach to telling us what the findings impact studies collectively amount to is the systematic review. Since great claims for poverty reduction have been made for the impact of microcredit programmes in the past, the demand for evidence in this field is very high. Two recent DFID funded systematic reviews in this field have between them been downloaded more than 15,000 times, whereas DFID funded systematic reviews on other topics have had a few hundred downloads at most. Continue reading