Should the Foreign Aid Industry and the African Digerati Work Together?

The foreign aid establishment and the African Digerati are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Africa. USAID, the World Bank and other anchors of aid are consolidated, lethargic and rooted in a command economy that Breznev would be proud of. The Digerati: engineers and entrepreneurs solving problems via the medium of mobile phones and the Internet, are decentralized, innovative, energetic and generally suspect of any bureaucracy.

One line of thinking says that getting these communities to even talk to each other is a waste of time. I'm not so sure. I've made the argument that the Obama Administration should think carefully about concrete ways to leverage technology in international development.

I just wrote a short article called Searching for Innovation in Foreign Assistance in the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. Its a review of the economist Bill Easterly's most recent book, but its also a first attempt at introducing the reform minded flank of the aid industry to the dynamism and energy of the Digerati. I'll be on the hunt for anecdotes of the Digerati as I romp through Kenya and Uganda this summer.

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  • Is there an open-access version of the article?

    By Blogger David Sasaki, at 1:16 PM  

  • I agree with the general point, but think the large donor agencies are doing some good work. USAID's Global Development Commons and WBG's Development Marketplace are two good programs.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 10:01 PM  

  • The Digerati should only work with the establishment to further their own interests. The waste and damage that the current foreign aid establishment is wrought with and produces will only end if that system is defeated. An insurgency (many many individuals all committed to an idea and not bound by the traditional rules of the industry) can beat the flawed establishment.

    Read Malcolm Gladwell's most recent article about how underdogs can beat overwhelming favorites.

    By Blogger mgaske, at 9:47 PM  

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