Five Big and Controversial Ideas that Can Transform Africa


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A big idea can be rejected. It might be illegal. It might mean political suicide. In the words of Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa, challenging conventional wisdom isn’t always easy. But in the realm of big ideas, the risk is part of the reward.

Speaking at the recent Africa Big Ideas 2014 conference, where experts from the World Bank gathered to discuss some big ideas that may change the way we think about Africa, Giugale was referring to the mother of all big ideas: conditional cash transfers. First implemented in Mexico almost 20 years ago, the idea of giving cash to the poor was considered heresy by most development experts, the World Bank included. Today, conditional cash transfers are implemented in more than 70 countries in the developing world, and evidence shows them to be effective at reducing poverty.
Among all the big and smaller ideas that were presented at the Africa Big Ideas 2014 conference, here are my five favorites:

  1. The boldest: Gambling for safe sex 
    The big idea is to use lottery tickets to incentivize safe sex. How? People who remain STD-free for four months are entered in a drawing for cash awards. The tactic has proven effective: In Lesotho, the study Safe Sex for a Chance to Win found that the number of new HIV infections dropped by 22% among participants. The lottery is clearly a better gamble than risky sex.
  2. The simplest: Stop worrying that the poor will misuse the cash
    An innovative study, Do the Poor Waste Transfer Income?: Evidence from Tanzania and Beyond, found – using evidence from around the world – that money given to poor people doesn’t get wasted on “temptation goods.” Concerns that cash transfers will be used on booze and tobacco are unfounded.
  3. The most controversial: Exploiting the power of the mine
    Two out of every three people in Africa have no access to electricity. Government and private funds are inadequate to commission the large-scale power projects needed to achieve universal access. The controversial idea is that mining can help. The Power of the Mine: A Transactional Opportunity for Sub-Saharan Africa, a recent study from the World Bank, suggests that mining will ensure an ample, steady flow of revenue to utility companies in Africa, which will deploy the funds to increase access to electricity.
  4. The fairest: Breaking the metal ceiling
    The big idea is that women should work in sectors dominated by men. Why? The answer is simple. As a recent study shows, in Uganda, women working in male-dominated sectors make three times as much as those with jobs in sectors traditionally defined as “women’s work.”
  5. The most urgent: Let’s worry more about drought and conflict
    Africa is singing the Africa-is-rising song. But what can derail Africa’s rise? Is it slow growth in BRICS¾Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa? Is it another worldwide financial crisis? The study Stress-testing Africa’s Recent Growth and Poverty Performance found that in Africa, the greatest risks to growth and poverty-reduction arise from internal shocks such as drought and civil conflict, rather than from external shocks. The big idea? To focus more on climate adaptation and conflict reduction.
What’s your BIG idea for Africa?  Tell us using the following hashtag #AfricaBigIdeas
You have missed the Africa Big Ideas 2014 event? Watch a replay:


Join the Conversation

Khanyisa Ngwenya
October 14, 2014

I actually never thought of this before, but I agree with you controversial ideas could actually make a change in the African continent. On the second point I have to agree to disagree. I come from one of the biggest townships in South Africa and it is true most poor people cannot handle their finances. They use their last cents to gamble with instead of buying food for their children. Some can buy expensive clothes and not invest it in their children's future education. They borrow money from loan sharks who in return posses their homes as part of payment or take their children for human trafficking. The poor should be taught how to handle their finances , if not the rich will still get richer and the poor remain poorer. Using controversial ideas might work in eliminating poverty and other problems and also help to grow the economy.

Benson Phiri
July 01, 2014

Africans should be in the forefront in defining their problems. They should be asked to provide at least three potential solutions of how they think and wish they can solve those problems.