First World – Third World

May 22, 2009

I don’t generally have a great deal of affection for international aid workers, especially when they’re drawn from the ranks of the development programs at prestigious Western universities.  Too much academic nonsense and fruitless research, and not enough actual development work.

That’s why this guest post by Jeffrey Barnes (a self-described “veteran aid worker”) on William Easterly’s blog was particularly troubling for me.  Barnes describes a typical day working in Lagos, Nigeria, and discusses the oddities of moving rapidly from what he calls the World One (international flights, four-star hotels) to World Three (local government bureaucracies), with a brief sojourn through World Two (actual poor people).

As Barnes writes at the conclusion of his post:

Can we international travelers of World One really make the comfortable bureaucrats of World Three more responsive to the struggling masses of World Two?

Um…..I’m not sure, but might it be a good start if we stop talking about “capacity-building” and “team building exercises” for bureaucrats?  How about starting a business that actually provides, you know, jobs?