Development in an Imperfect World: Lessons from the Field Part 2

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ImageTo follow up on my last entry, I'd like to highlight a few more lessions I've learned in my five years at the Bank and share some aspects of the "inner workings" of my job in development. Click here to read the introduction and the first three lessons.

Let me spell out a few more of these lessons that I've learnt as a Health Economist.

4. Don’t be “means” wise and “ends” foolish
No matter where you are along the results chain at any given time, it’s important to keep an overall perspective and stay focused to reap the payoffs at the end. This is necessary so that no input, activity or process blocks or slows down your movement along the chain. The further you go along the chain, the more compelling it becomes to cover the remaining distance. For example, having achieved a policy change for introducing new technology, hired the personnel, provided them training, straightened out logistics and supply issues, it becomes all the more necessary not to hold up supplies for some silly procurement procedure.

Typically, a team of different specialists is involved in ensuring progress along the chain. Even the most successful of projects would have stalled had the standards or guidelines been applied too stringently at any stage. It is therefore in the collective interest to stay focused and work towards the end results.

5. Don’t give up – follow through
Often, as an individual or an organization you’ve been given a clear mandate and terms of reference (TOR) on which you’re expected to deliver. In the absence of an enabling environment, it is easy to give up. In such situations it is alright to step out of your given mandate to create an enabling environment and deliver on your TOR, all for the cause of development. For example, the WHO’s mandate is to provide only technical assistance to its member countries and not involve itself in implementation issues. But often it is also asked to provide human resources for implementation of a program, to which it agrees in order to improve public health outcomes.

6. Common sense is needed in abundance
Finally, a word on the personality traits required to be successful in the development sector. In the business of accelerating development, one must be considerate of others. Often, you deal with people with variable commitment to the cause. Systems are inefficient, institutions are weak, and capacities low. For example, if you’re invited for a 3pm meeting which finally takes place at 4pm, you cannot blame the other person for making you inefficient. You need to be smart enough to know how to use your time in the intervening period.

Furthermore, the development sector requires people who feel strongly about results and are impatient to see them achieved but, at the same time, are patient with the time consuming process that underlies it. Sounds contradictory? If some people have learned it, so can others. And, last but not the least, although frameworks, principles, and theories are needed to guide one’s understanding, in the end, development is all about being pragmatic. Rugged common sense is needed in abundance.

What do you think? Do comment and share your own lessons and experiences.


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