The White Savior Complex

TMS Ruge has an excellent and thought-provoking post about the white savior complex in Africa.  It’s provocative title is “Your White Savior Complex is detrimental to my development.”  A white colleague of his who work on microfinance in Uganda wants to be mindful of the white savior complex but also needs to have photos of her working in Uganda to make it clear to donors that she is doing her job.  She asks Ruge for advice and he provides some with brutal honesty:

“If the problem you are trying to fix over there isn’t fixed right where you are, what gives you the qualifying authority to go there? And by leap-frogging the issues in your backyard, are you really solving the problem or just moving sand grains around on a beachhead? Why are problems over there yours to fix?

You are raising funds to empower women but not raising funds to strengthen the social infrastructure that left these women disenfranchised. The skin you are in, allows you to simply inject short cut solutions to “other people’s problems.” Fundamentally, social infrastructures in your village made you a strong, independent woman with enough access to be able to think ‘why don’t these women over there have the same privilege that I do?’. You identified the illness, but opted for a corrosive bandaid instead of a difficult, but necessary surgical procedure.

There are many people in Uganda, like me, working to fix our broken social systems by incessantly petitioning our government to address them. After all, they have one job! Is what you are doing helping us strengthen our case against the government or weakening our agency and endorsing the government’s abdication of its duties? “

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade (in your pants edition)

The Pope is coming to Manila and the government has advice for everyone: Diaper up!

People, as always, I am not making this up.  Check here for 2000 diapered traffic cops, And here’s a local bureaucrat claiming the diapers he has in mind will go four rounds!

In possibly related news, Tyler Cowen will be visiting OU in February and the same protocol may well be in place then.

Infrastructure Fail, Haitian edition

@RAMhaiti has posted some incredibly sad photos of Port-au-Prince after a big rain.  Here are some of the pics along with his poignant/outraged comments about them.

Wait! This is a marketplace where people sell food????



Laurent has set up a commission to figure out why #Haiti has cholera and mosquito born illnesses



People living & working in these parts of town arent considered “people” by Michel/Laurent except during elections



When it rains in Haiti this is what happens. Infrastructure sabotage


It’s no wonder that news reports have recently been warning that “Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus Spreads Rapidly In Haiti“.  I didn’t expect the flood of international aid after the earthquake to miraculously transform Haitian infrastructure, but I didn’t expect that rain could still cause such dire circumstances.  There is a long way to go still…

h/t @alextunzelmann

Moving on up

Guest post from OU student Rebecca Stevenson:

Aid is not new, but the world is increasingly turning from charity to development projects. Why this trend? In my opinion, a lot of it is about scale. A project that trains teachers and sets up teaching support networks will usually influence more students than a handful of donated textbooks would. Focusing on projects also forces organizations to be aware of who and how many they are helping. The natural result is an effort to create as big an impact as possible.

Scaling means you reach more people, but it also means that the quality of change in individual’s lives is better. If many people’s lives are improved and many aspects addressed at once, the ecosystem of a developing country will change. A market will be created. Opportunities for people will grow. The change will be more sustainable, the improvement more widespread.

BRAC, a Bangladeshi NGO with a comprehensive set of programs to improve the lives of the poor, understands the nature of this development ecosystem and the necessity of both big and quality change. An oft-heard phrase at BRAC is “small is beautiful, large is necessary.” Today BRAC serves over 100 million people. The Social Innovation Lab (SIL) is a unit within BRAC that seeks to institutionalize innovation by nurturing new ideas and translating them into action. SIL, as part of its “Doing While Learning” project, is looking at successful programs of BRAC and other South Asian NGOs to figure out what elements lead to large-scale impact.

In a series of four case studies, SIL tracks the growth of BRAC’s Education Support Program, a system of primary schooling in Bangladesh; the graduation model for ultra-poverty, a program that pulls the very poorest around the world out of  extreme poverty; the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction Project, which focuses on empowering and enabling slum dwellers in Bangladesh; and the Rural Support Programs Network, which organizes poor rural communities and their development projects in Pakistan.

By understanding these case studies, we are learning how to scale. All of these programs had the vision of large-scale impact, capitalized on the benefits of large-scale work that could not be achieved through isolated efforts, and worked through key stakeholders to implement programs. Some expanded operations, while others organized and taught smaller NGOs to replicate the model. Some focused on increasing visibility of and support for their cause. Others provided financial support to beneficiaries. All focused on organizing the poor people that they worked to help, and on increasing the poor’s capacity to change their own lives.

As an intern this summer in SIL, I have become familiar with these four programs and been a part of understanding how we can learn from them. Their impact is inspiring, and the lessons they teach can be applied to any project. I believe others will learn as much from Doing While Learning as SIL has. Sharing case studies like this engages the development community and will allow SIL and others to build new ideas as we together learn how to scale impact.

This time is different?

No no no, I’m not jumping on or off the Rogoff-Reinhart bus, I’m asking WB president Kim Jim to get some historical perspective on the Western Messianic Impulse.

Here’s Kim, 4/17/2013: For the first time ever, we have a real opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation.


Here’s Harry Truman, 1/20/1949: “More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. …For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people

Owen Barder provides a helpful compendium of these and other similar statements through the years.