Overcoming Obstacles

When considering Earth's potential to sustain growth, the case is often made that the rich and affluent need to reduce their consumption of resources in order to make room for increased consumption by the world's poor as they climb out of poverty. (See Chapter 4.) This proposition stands on its own merits, but it also suggests international action is a zero-sum proposition. Yet poor countries need not repeat the mistakes of the rich or emulate their overconsumptive lifestyles. Sustainable progress on global poverty need not rest on economic growth and resource consumption alone. Attacking poverty as it is conceived by the poor themselves opens up a wider range of possibilities for action.

But for globalization to allow these possibilities to be pursued, the rules of the game need to change at all levels. Needed reforms of the global development architecture of trade, aid, investment, migration, security, and rich-country environmental policies are well documented. For example, international trade rules are not designed to enhance opportunities for the poorest countries. (See Chapter 14.) In fact, many rich-country policies do just the opposite. U.S. and European Union agricultural barriers and subsidies deny market opportunities to poor countries. Not only do such impediments need to be removed, but Paul Collier, former head of research at the World Bank, argues that the most destitute nations actually require some trade protection (from Asia) to get their economies started.36

International aid, held up as a symbol of rich-country concern and generosity to the less fortunate, is hardly accountable to those who receive it. Many rich countries recycle a large percentage of their aid back to influential constituencies of NGOs, consulting firms, and universities. Current estimates are that as much as 57 percent of U.S. development assistance comes back to the United States to pay for good and services. This "tying" of aid reduces its value by up to 25 percent and closes off opportunities to support businesses in poor countries.37

A good deal of donor assistance bypasses governments in the name of avoiding corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, targeting beneficiaries, and supporting civil society. While these goals and concerns are worthy and often legitimate, it means that donors miss the opportunity to build state capacity to deliver services effectively. In an age when the international community is trying to build democratic states that are accountable to their people, the persistent channeling of aid through scattered projects of myriad donors breaks the link between citizen and government. Donors recognize this, and in countries that are reasonably well governed they are attempting to channel more of their aid into budget support rather than stand-alone projects.

If donor nations are to make this invest

Mobilizing Human Energy ment, developing countries need to make changes too. In return for investments in government capacities, there must be strong efforts toward decentralized and open governance. Deepa Narayan, lead author of the World Bank's Voices of the Poor, highlights four priorities: enabling citizen access to public information, promoting policies of participation and inclusion, ensuring democratic and client accountability, and enhancing local organizational capacity. These will help provide the enabling environment.38

These and many other systemic changes are critical for unlocking the potential for home-grown development. Development economist Bill Easterly describes it as the need for more "searchers" and fewer "planners." Empowerment frameworks such as Seed-Scale argue for a change in mindset from control held by experts and officials to one of learning and experimentation among partners. This is often antithetical to the "results-based" mindset that insists on getting things right the first time.39

Yet around the world there are many who will be left behind because even the basic conditions for change are absent. Collier argues that the growth engine in many of the more advanced developing countries will eventually pull the poor out of poverty, but it is the weakest states—many caught in conflict and bad governance, where growth is not happening— that need attention and support. The "bottom billion" of the world's poor live in such countries. Perhaps it is here where empowerment-based approaches hold the most promise. Why? Because little more is required to start than a little capacity to aspire.40


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