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Development Works

By Paul Guenette, Chief Communications Officer, ACDI/VOCA

Excerpted with permission

[Editor’s note: ACDI/VOCA leads the international development community in developing ways to measure results of its programs. Outcome measurement carries significant weight with prospective donors. We hope this post will encourage other NGOs to do likewise.]

I recently passed my 40th anniversary of joining the Peace Corps and going off to discover Africa. Ever since, I’ve been fortunate to continue leading that development adventure …

Nicholas Kristof wrote recently in The New York Times:

Polls show that 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact… [e]very day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.”

But why is this beneficial reduction in the very poor happening, is the world’s economy changing and is international development a contributor? Simply put, it’s both. There are some new global economic drivers, AND international development has become much more effective …

Economic Drivers: The World is Changing

post-development-worksMarkets: Consumers want quality products, and governments are responsible for ensuring safe food. Wholesale markets require minimum volumes and competitive prices. Increasingly stringent product standards in more formal markets threaten to exclude smallholder farmers (ed: that is, farmers supporting a single family with a mixture of cash crops and subsistence farming) and disenfranchise them from their own developing economies …

Youth: The majority of populations in developing countries are young. According to World Bank figures, nearly 70 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 30. This abundance of youth will persist as a demographic bulge. It can energize an economy with entrepreneurs and creativity. But if the environment doesn’t nourish young spirits, it breeds dissatisfaction with the status quo, leading to unrest and civil disobedience.

Urbanization: Recent figures from the World Economic Forum indicate that Africa is urbanizing twice as fast as Europe did. For the first time in global history, there are now more people in urban areas in developing countries than in rural. Big cities are driving these economies forward and modernizing technology, communications, and commerce. The danger is that the rural poor miss out on development’s benefits.

Money: Capital flows have radically changed in the past several decades. As development assistance has plateaued, private investment (foreign and domestic) has risen. This investment ratio has actually reversed from 80-20 to 20-80 now in favor of private capital flows driving discipline and business. The ripe environment for private capital flows reduces risk for new entry investments and builds further momentum for private capital investment. Food supply has become business!

International Development is Better

The international development process itself has significantly evolved, and its practitioners have greatly improved how they operate. Poor performers went out of business. In an increasingly competitive industry, innovators succeed by working smarter, leveraging donor funds with private sector investments, and creating (and documenting) sustainable change.

Learning: … Approaches and programs have become more “big picture.” A more collaborative approach including more stakeholders from the public and private sectors…civil society means that more team players are involved in … program planning and execution.

Light Touch: Development models or theories of change have grown more sophisticated. Assessing functioning market systems enables programs and interventions to be less intrusive and more catalytic. These approaches of course improve the odds of success.

Resource Synergy: … Private-public partnerships are growing quickly as countries discover that parties working together can better capitalize on their respective strengths. Private investment is growing smarter at using its investment power together with government incentives and in tandem with economic development programs. Financial institutions get help from governments to buy down risks to invest in rural agricultural and food sectors.


The world has changed greatly since I joined the Peace Corps…From my vantage point, international development is … helping build economies and food security. Development, diplomacy, and defense are working well together.

Ultimately, that builds peace. The number of the world’s very poor drops by 250,000 every day. Let’s not lose sight of what’s at stake.

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