I went last month to a meeting of Women Advancing Microfinance (snarky comments about my gender fully anticipated) that centered on a discussion of the book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. The author, Dambisa Moyo, main argument is that financial aid from Western to African governments is actually counterproductive, and that we should replace aid with the creation of African bond markets, microfinance, foreign direct investment, and increased trade. When the book came out in early 2009, the Zambian-born Moyo became the new face of aid skepticism.
The debate about aid effectiveness is as old as aid itself, and in the meeting last week there was plenty of back and forth about what doesn’t work. Sure, plenty of aid money is wasted
. But do Moyo’s recommendations hold water? I think Icelanders would agree that there are some risks inherent in ramping up a country’s exposure to the vagaries of the global marketplace, for example; and microfinance’s status as the darling of international development is in pretty serious danger.
If there is a bright spot in international development, I think it is the potential for mobile phones to provide robust, real-time feedback from the people those development projects are to serve, feedback that has been woefully absent in international development to date. Mobile phone fever has definitely gripped the social entrepreneurship world, and mobile technology comprises a significant chunk of the investments of Gray Ghost Ventures, my current employer. But I’m still searching for a nonprofit, aid organization, or at-scale social venture that has successfully incorporated client feedback from mobile phones into its own monitoring and evaluation. Suggestions welcome!