Duncan Green, a bigwig at Oxfam, was slated to speak on “What’s Hot and What’s Not in African Development” today at SAIS. I popped in for 50 minutes of this session during my lunch break. While he gave a very interesting and insightful talk on his international development philosophies, Africa did not feature particularly prominently.
The most interesting Africa related anecdote came on a slide that he had displayed. It showed both Uganda and Burkina Faso as ranking among the lowest income countries with an increasingly unequal distribution of income (conversely, Mali and Malawi had the most success in equalizing income). Regular Africa in DC readers should be well aware of my Burkina Faso criticisms, so I felt quite vindicated by that graph.
Green’s general point was that aid should be implemented with less linear assumptions (he wants more risk-taking entrepreneurs and fewer project managers) and he stressed that development work should be based on ‘rule of thumb’ more than toolkits and best practices. He was promoting a book, From Poverty to Power, so I’m sure you can read more about his thoughts there.
What’s the difference between a rule of thumb and a best practice? Did he clarify the two? Aren’t rules of thumb usually derived from best practices?
Good question! As far as I could tell, according to Green, best practices are abstract international development philosophies that may not apply to specific situations on the ground. He mentioned the Marines as having rules of thumb that guide them well during crisis situations and seemed to be implying that they allow for more flexibility than best practices.
I agree that the distinction seems to be pretty minor.