Friday, August 21, 2009

Learning as a proxy for effectiveness

When people ask us how we evaluate projects on GlobalGiving, they often hope we will give them some big set of definitive metrics. Instead, we explain the algorithms that we use to determine the rank of a project on a page. One of the key factors we use is whether the project leaders show evidence of being able to learn from their experience and from feedback loops.
Often, we get perplexed reactions to our response, and someone asked me recently, "Why don't you just say what works and what doesn't?" So I was very happy to see this recent post by SHEHERAZADE HIRJI:
Evaluation evolved to include the ability to generate learning and build capacity to improve, rather than just prove what was working and what was not.
If you are interested in evaluation, you should read this.

(Thanks to Sean Stannard-Stockton for the tip).

A "lust" for making meaning

Here is a nice video of one of the world's great venture capitalists, John Doerr, talking about the different motivations for entrepreneurship.  Drawing on Randy Komisar's The Monk and the Riddle, John contrasts the "mercenary" to the "missionary" approach to launching a new business or initiative.

Randy's book was one of the things that gave me the courage to leave the World Bank and co-found GlobalGiving, and Randy has been a steadying influence all these years.  I have benefited greatly from his optimism tempered with realism.  In his book, he notes: "Success, even on your own terms, entails sacrifice and periods of very hard work."  Amen to that.

(Thanks to Paul Kedrosky at Growthology for the tip.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Innovation increases quality of life even when incomes lag

Global improvements in quality of life have been fostered by the spread of technology and ideas. Very cheap health technologies that can dramatically reduce mortality have spread rapidly across the world. The proportion of the world’s infants vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus –the DPT shot—climbed from one fifth to nearly four fifths between 1970 and 2006. And ideas that save lives –wash your hands, don’t defecate in the fields you eat from—are increasingly accepted.
That is from the summary of a forthcoming book by Charles Kenny. Charles argues that the standard of living in developing countries has increased much faster than growth in income because of innovation, which has driven down the cost of goods and services that contribute to quality of life.

There is plenty of bad news about development, including the sharp divergence in incomes across the world, yet there is also much progress:
The book argues that ideas and technologies are the driving forces behind progress. And it suggests what the success of development and the importance of innovation to that success mean for policies in and policies towards the developing world.
The other good news is that innovation can be much less expensive than massive aid projects. Yet official and other large aid agencies struggle to find ways to support innovation because catalyzing innovation requires a different mindset and different tools.

I strongly recommend reading Charles's summary (it is only one page) if you want to get a quick overview of what we know about development.

And thanks to Bill Easterly for the tip - see his blog post on it here.