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AidGrade’s site launches!

There’s a new site up with data on aid effectiveness. You can also do your own analyses of the data online using a meta-analysis app! A lot of work went into this – good job, everyone!

What effect will the internet have on development?

Tough question – who could have predicted the way the internet would go in the last 15 years?

Currently, it’s more reasonable to talk about mobile phones than about the internet in many developing countries. Everyone gets a phone who can afford one, but the internet has been more out of reach. Some stats (bearing in mind significant noise):

In 2000, the U.S. had 38.75 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 individuals, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Of the 195 countries for which they have 2011 data, only 21 countries were below that level. At the bottom of the list are North Korea and Myanmar.

Algeria went from less than 1 mobile phone per 100 individuals to 99. Congo: 2 to 94.

Botswana comes 23rd in the world on this scale.

The 2000 U.S. sits around the 2011 Rwanda, Madagascar, and Sierra Leone.

As for the internet, 43.08% of Americans used it in 2000. In 2011, Seychelles, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Panama are at around that level. Seychelles is the only African country that has caught up yet.

But smartphones might pick up faster. Some predict that in five years’ time, most sub-Saharan Africans will have a smartphone!

I might give it ten, but the fact remains that this *could* change a lot. Microwork, education – more importantly, perhaps, access to information. I will write more about this in a later post.

My Favourite Development Stories — Part 4: Doubling productivity.

This is a difficult story to write, because I do not want anyone to come away making sweeping generalizations based on it.

I was in a Berber village in rural Morocco, up in the Atlas Mountains. To construct buildings, people would ideally make bricks using cement, sand/soil and gravel. Cement, in practice, was expensive and in short supply, and the last time a bag of cement was obtained for the construction of a public good, a classroom, portions were siphoned away until so little cement remained for the bricks that the room ultimately collapsed. Building public goods like roads and schools was a task assigned to teams of local men, in rotation.

Now a new classroom was being built, and I saw the bricks being made. The crew it fell to had brought out wheelbarrows, shovels, and two old, metal molds – boxes with two sides cut out. The molds were of the same size but had different sides cut out, giving them a slightly different appearance.

A lot of concrete had been mixed and was waiting to be shovelled into the molds. However, only one mold was being used, causing a bottle-neck. I inquired why.

The villagers were unaware that their two molds – that they had been using for construction for as long as anyone could remember – were the same size.

When I think of productivity gains, sometimes I remember this story.

My Favourite Development Stories — Part 3: Careful where you place your toilets.

This story was also told to me at Oxford and may be somewhat famous:

An aid group tried to ensure that the toilets it was building would be used by everyone in a community in India. This meant that they carefully mapped out where members of different castes lived. They put the toilets right in between two groups, reckoning that it might be a neutral area and members of both castes could then use the toilets.

The opposite occurred: the members of the upper caste did not deign to use the toilets, and the members of the lower caste avoided them as well out of propriety.

My Favourite Development Stories — Part 2: Building a school to get running water.

This story was also told to me at Oxford:

An aid agency wanted to listen to the needs of the local community. It invested a great deal of effort into holding village meetings and trying to elicit what villagers thought of potential projects.

The answer was unanimous: build a school.

The school was built in the centre of the village, right beside the village chief’s house, which happened to also be in the centre of the village.*

Later, it was discovered that the reason the village had requested a school was because the villagers had seen the aid group work in nearby areas and knew that when it built a school it would seek to pipe running water to it. The village chief, of course, wanted running water by his house, and the other villagers went along with his desires.

*I may be mis-remembering the story; it is possible the scheme was discovered before the school was built. Maybe someone out there has better knowledge than me.