15 December 2012

Foreign Policy Top Global Thinkers: Relevance for Development?

Every year Foreign Policy (FP) produces its list of top 100 global thinkers. OK, so FP says that "policy making is more or less the opposite of thinking" nevertheless many of the thinkers caught my attention. They fall into two categories: the insiders and the refreshers. 

The insiders are already part of the development firmament and are making huge contributions: Esther Duflo (poverty experiments and impacts), Bill and Melinda Gates, Joyce Banda (new Malawian President, taking on vested interests to reduce poverty), Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (Nigerian Finance Minister, taking on vested interests to help more oil income go to poverty reduction), Bjorn Lomborg (Copenhagen Consensus etc,), Sri Mulyanai Indrawati (former Indonesian Finance Minister, now Managing Director at the World Bank, for fighting Indonesian corruption), Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, for "turning around India's poorest state" and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson on Why Nations Fail (extractive institutions which are used by those in power to create poverty for many and wealth for themselves).

But it is the refreshers who I found most interesting. The refreshers are those who would not frame themselves within the development community, but whose work may have nonobvious but potentially huge and relevance for development. They include:

  • Shai Reshef, Founder of University of the People in the US (tuition-free, first rate university education to anyone who speaks English and has an internet connection) and Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng founders of Coursera (1 million students online from 196 countries, linked to 30 universities). Will quality tertiary education access become a reality for hundreds of millions in this way?
  • Michael Sandel on the moral limits of markets. The more we commodify everything and put a price on anything, the more we generate inequality (the rich can now buy them) and the more we devalue the social value of what we commodify. We are surely going through a period when we are thinking hard about what markets can and cannot do and what they should and should not do. Sandel's thinking should will help.
  • Kiyoshi Kurokawa, author of a report commissioned by the Japanese government on the meltdown at Fukushima. The report boldly criticised groupthink and collusion. The report says that Japanese culture is particularly vulnerable to this, but I have seen plenty of it in international development (e.g. the risks of resilience bandwaggoning). Orthodoxy creeps up on us and we must always be open to having it challenged.
  • Ruchir Sharma on Breakout Nations. The emerging markets of the last decade will not be most likely to drive growth in the next one--we need to look to the next breakouts: Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Poland, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. Do the BRICS already need re-pointing?
  • Ricken Patel, co founder of Avaaz, a transnational activism movement with over 16 million members, supporting gay rights, evacuate journalists, break prostitution rings in international hotel chains, and coordinating assistance in a guerilla war. Why isn't there something like this for hunger reduction?
  • John Coates, exposing how biology affects Wall Street--as profits mount, so does testosterone and irrational exuberance (and you know the rest). Solution? Hire more women and older men on the trading floor and delink massive bonuses from short term profits. Does something similar happen in development agencies on spending targets and promotions?

The insiders are good value, but perhaps the refreshers can be even more transformational.


David Rieff said...

Dear Lawrence,
I find it hard to believe that you truly think Bjorn Lomborg, a man who, by simultaneously conceding the "probable" truth of anthropogenic climate change but arguing the world would be much better served by expending resources on combating other things, and thus has done more to shore up 'moderate' climate change denialism than almost any other public figure in our time, has made, as you put it, a huge [positive] contribution to development.
Best, as always,

Lawrence Haddad said...

David, the only reason I included him is for his Copenhagen Consensus process which I feel has been helpful in raising the profile of costs (including externalities). Best as always. L

Unknown said...

Dear David,

Great to distinguish between insiders and refreshers on the recent FP top 100 list. But I'm surprised you didn't identify Nadim Matta and the Rapid Results Institute (number 25 on the list) as one of the refreshers. The rapid results institute, which I've seen successfully applied in a number of World Bank projects, shows that getting providers and consumer together to agree on stretch goals and then encouraging them to pull out all the stops to acheve them in 100 days is a great management intervention. Nadim's approach is very focused on the doing part of learning by doing, and is clearly a refreshing and signficant addtion to any developmentarian's tool kit. Highly recommend you review the RRI website for some examples -- refreshing and innovative, and well deserving of FP's recognition. Thanks

Mirza Ghalib said...

Breakout Nations is a book the like of which comes but once very twenty or thirty years only. It is a tour de force as well as a collective pen sketch of most nations of which we can learn so many things from the Author of this work. It reflects his deep learning, acute observation and unbiased are his policy prescriptions. The book should be compulsory reading for all parliamentarians and bureaucrats. The prose is chiseled, racy and often reads like a crime thriller. The book covers every country barring the well known west that wants to grow with the world and enjoy the "goodies' of world trade. His prescription do not offend and his cautionary pleadings are well worth listening to. The central lesson he draws is that no nation can continually succeed without attracting investment, without being innovative and putting in place facilitative systems for growth. I enjoyed reading this Book. A landmark Book indeed, if you are a serious thinker and not the sort who reads Mills & Boon type fluff and is done with book-reading.