William Moseley, Professor and Chair of Geography at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota has a real great piece up on Al Jazerra here:
A couple of examples from my own experience in my little farming hamlet in eastern Europe. Cazangic, Moldova.
There has been a rash, like all of the developing world, of trends being chased by the local farmers, local government leaders and development professionals. When I was there, it was bio-fuel. The idea being that the leftovers from agriculture are 10x cheaper than the price of wood ( that is often cut illegally from protected forests ) and it just gets burned anyways at the end of harvest.
The problem is that you need an expensive pellet maker to make it marketable and transportable. I am talking $10,000-$15,000 per machine. Or 10-15 years of savings by a local farmer.
Littered around Moldova are unused or abandoned large refrigeration units for high value crops. Another trend from the past. Though refrigeration and pellet makers are awesome, they need to be approached methodically not because someone says its the “Newest AND Best Ever!”
What USAID and Millenium Challenge Corporation has done since is instead of peddling new ideas like a snake oil salesman with funding in toe- they have instead sunk most of their money into backing up loans via the local banks. While they still try to inspire local farmers with ideas- they let them choose what they want to truly do, and when they take out the loan, USAID is not only backing the loan but dropping the interest rate as well.
A second example was my computer lab. Now understand, that Peace Corps is extremely strict on computer labs. Computer labs have a sordid past of rarely achieving the stated goals. The computer lab should not the goal, it is a tool to help expand the skills and abilities of the local teachers or community. That said, it is extremely easy to fall into the trap of computer labs being the end goal.
Which is what many computer labs littered across the globe are. They sit there with no thematic programming and no real use aside from checking e-mail and surfing VKontakt or Odnoklassniki ( Russian Social networking )
After failing so many times I stopped counting, I finally settled on one goal. If I could show the teacher that these kids were super excited to use the computers and you can harness that excitement for educational uses- that would mean success. It took 6 months and only using the 4th graders but their love of “Mario Teaches Typing” finally won the day and at the end of school as we were transferring the computers over to the school permanently- the computer teacher and principal said to me that they wanted to continue the typing program and maybe some others if I could show them. Be-still my heart!
Welcome to what it takes to “change” a very small part of a very small school in a very small village in a very small county in a small state in a small region of Europe. $2,500 from USAID and 2 years of living in said community.