The declaration, in 1979, of the worldwide eradication of smallpox marked a highly unusual achievement. The only human disease ever to be eradicated, the eradication of smallpox is also unusual in being an instance of successful risk management that many people have actually heard about. When it comes to risk management, there is often more attention to the failures than to the successes. While crises, crimes, disasters, and social unrest dominate the front pages, and the attention of our leaders, the champions of risk management whose foresight averts damage and destruction rarely get the credit they deserve.
That is a shame because many development problems have a basis in deficient risk management. Take poverty. While every year many families escape from poverty, others fall on hard times. Illness, for example, is a frequent cause of poverty in developing countries where most people have no health insurance and friends and family provide the only safety net. In fact, the toxic mix of high risk and inadequate risk management are implicated in a host of development problems, ranging from malnutrition, infant mortality, civil strife, crime, violence, to sclerotic private sector investment and job creation. To overcome these problems and prosper, the developing world needs champions of risk management.