Searchers vs. Planners
by Virginia Postrel • Dec 28, 2007 at 5:05 am
In the December Atlantic, Sarah Chayes tells the fascinating, frustrating story of her Afghan adventures in entrepreneurship--and the utter lack of interest she encountered from U.S. funders charged with aiding Afghan economic development. Her business idea was brilliant--high value, low weight products that play perfectly into the U.S. aesthetic economy.
Chayes's story is a must read. (The magazine must think so too, since this is a free link.)
Former World Bank economist William Easterly put his finger on the problem in The White Man's Burden (which I reviewed here). Aid agencies reward "planners," who work from the top down, while effective aid requires "searchers," who rely on trial and error and local knowledge. Chayes adds another dimension, suggesting that aid agencies also like to make really big grants, which tend to favor those planners. Her enterprise is probably better off without the bureaucratic entanglements that come with large-scale aid--but not if it fails for lack of capital.
One reason I support Spirit of America is that it gives U.S. military personnel deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa the small-scale, private funding they need to meet local needs, without a lot of bureaucracy.
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