Syndicate content

capacity

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Why and How Cities Need to Learn Better

Christine Fallert Kessides's picture

During the recent 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, the talk was not just about the hundreds of millions of people coming to cities—but also the tens of thousands of city managers and local governments who will need to manage cities more effectively to unleash the promise of urbanization.  The WBI urban team, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies and UN-Habitat’s Capacity Development unit, convened over 40 partners for a day of reflection on this challenge. 

Such a gathering had happened twice before— in preparation of Habitat II in Istanbul (1996), again in the run-up to the third WUF in Vancouver (2006)—and now on the cusp of the next milestone (Habitat III  in 2016).   It is helpful to consider where we have been and where are we now on this critical (and somewhat slippery) subject, given the 20 years’ worth of perspective in this area.

Redefining the Roles of NGOs

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

NGOs must strive for scale if they want to fulfil their roles as enablers and incubators in striving for development

As small but key players in the social development space, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often worry about scaling up. If you have worked in this space, you’d surely agree that models of development interventions promoted by NGOs often remain small islands of success (if at all they do succeed). NGOs themselves are aware of the limited traction they achieve with policymakers due to their inability to influence or demonstrate change at a larger scale. Also, often organizations that are effective at a certain scale falter as they attempt to grow bigger in size. In this column, I restrict myself to service-delivery organizations—those that work in the areas of livelihoods, basic services, etc.—and not those that are involved in activism or rights-based social mobilization.
 
One view is that the very nature of a development NGO sometimes limits its ability to grow. The objective of an NGO should be to demonstrate: (1) proof of concept of their model; and (2) that implementing this through a government agency is indeed feasible. The latter is especially important, given that key stakeholders in the sector have by now realized and acknowledged that the state/government is at the forefront of the development battle. Scale is crucial in a country like India—it is expected of organizations that they will demonstrate consistent results over a long period of time, and at the same time, reach out to large numbers of people.