Thursday, December 01, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why not to Publish What You Fund

How much money does the US give away each year in foreign and military aid? To whom? For what? And with what results? Well, we don't really know. Last week, the Global Campaign for Aid Transparency published the first Aid Transparency Index, scoring and ranking USAID, the Department of Defense, the World Bank, and other international aid agencies on how honest they are about where the money goes.

I wondered aloud (on Twitter) why no one has done this before. The folks at the Aid Transparency Index asked me what I think. Shooting from the hip in two parts, with an eye on incentives:

Part I : Why wouldn't governments want aid transparency?
- Some kinds of support--to opposition groups or militaries--don't lend themselves to transparency (right-o, @mickeljen)
- Transparency is the first step toward accountability, which is annoying.
- Tracking every dollar spent uses up dollars that could be spent elsewhere.
- Transparency may put a spotlight on politically sensitive programs, such as family planning efforts.
- Not trusting recipient governments to spend money well could be spun as pedantic.

Part II: Why hasn't anyone done this before?
- It sounds quite difficult, really.
- Aid workers are incentivized not to stir up trouble, limiting the push for transparency from within organizations.
- From top to bottom, success is measured by funds dispersed rather than results achieved.
- Too few bosses of politicians (voters) care about aid transparency relative to other electoral issues.
- No one thought of it before.

Thanks, @aidtransparency. If you have other ideas, please share!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

She came, and traffic went

"Bombblast today," I said to the Delhi taxi driver as we sat in traffic. His placard read Sain, Kanwar.

"Yes. Bombblast. High Court. Today." This morning, a bomb outside of India's High Court building killed eleven people, according to the last news report that I saw before boarding a plane in Mumbai. I didn't know if there had been more attacks--I hadn't seen any TVs on my way out of the Delhi airport, and my mobile wasn't working.

"One attack? Or many?"

"One only, sir."

I had spent the plane from Bombay reading articles and reflections on 9/11. "In four days, Kanwar, is September eleven. Ten years my country attacked."

"My country attack ten years also. Parliament attack. Terrorist name is Ajmal Kasab. Ajmal Kasab. 2001. Ajmal Kasab. Twenty five soldiers, they die."

"Your country very strong, Kanwar."

We sat quietly and still in the gridlock, as Kanwar occasionally rolled down the window to spit or defog the air-conditioned glass.

"Traffic bad for bombblast?" I asked. My Delhi colleague had warned me that it would take some time to get to the hotel, given the road closures following the attack.

"No, bombblast, no. VIP woman coming, traffic stop. Minister Parliament woman, very important. She come that side, and traffic go."

She came, and traffic went.

Location:Abdul Rahman Marg,New Delhi,India

Monday, September 05, 2011

Why I am Not in Business School

I first applied to business school at the end of 2009. One school, Oxford's Said Business School, said yes. Not anticipating the sort of career path that might justify $90 Gs of debt, I applied for the Skoll Scholarship. No dice. The Rotary Foundation did offer me a scholarship, however, covering about a third of the total cost of the MBA--but I would have to defer admission until 2011-2012 to apply it.

So, thinking back to that $90K of debt business, I waited. And while I did, I conned First Light to keep me on full time by never quite finishing that one impact assessment project I started as an intern. Occasionally, Big Boss Bob would send me Economist articles comparing MBA programs to Ponzi schemes or linking the spectacular ethical failings of big-name MBA grads to the programs they passed through. But I was Oxford-bound, Lord-willin'-and-the-Creek-don't-rise and all that.

On June 1st, my immediate boss John gave me details of a potential partnership between First Light and Shell Foundation. "If it goes through on June 16," he said, we're kind of in a bind--nobody else will go. You're the last one left. If you'll do it, First Light will buy you an iPad."

"John--man, I can't do that. The deposit at Oxford was outrageous, and I slept through that econ class about sunk costs so that still affects my decision-making. Plus, the Rotary scholarship is important to me and to my family. Out of curiosity, though, would it be the new one? With the front-facing video camera?"

"Yep. Think about it."

I called Rotary, which happily deferred my scholarship by a year. I called Oxford, which did not. So: to go to business school or not to go to business school? I went back to my initial reasons for applying to reassess.

1. To move out of non-profit work and into a for-profit company that addresses poverty in emerging markets (or the developing world, or whatever). Check--having worked at Gray Ghost and First Light for a year, I'm in exactly the spot I'd hoped business school would take me.
2. To be taken seriously by my sister. I'm not sure how this works yet, but I'm pretty sure business school is what lawyers call not outcome-determinative.
3. To stay ahead of and contribute to degree inflation. There may be some moral hazard here, but I'm fine with that.
4. To learn how businesses fit together so I can start one. Will business school actually help with this? Many, including Gal Josefberg, argue that it will not.
5. I told my grandmother I would. One does not renege on promises made to a Southern grandmother. That said, I only promised I'd get a graduate degree--she hasn't yet made me specify which.

Then, on to the reasons other people go to business school:

1. To switch careers. No thanks. This stuff is pretty fun.
2. To break the mysterious MBA ceiling at big companies. I'm less than interested in big companies, except as a path to starting stuff.
3. To drink for two years. I can probably figure this one out on my own.
4. Networks, prestige, and other sundry nonsense.

In the end, even business school students, professors, and alumni told me to come to India, put business school on hold, and re-apply later. What started out sounding pretty far-fetched turned into a near non-decision, and two months later I flew to London and Mumbai.

Will I go to business school? That's the plan. My assigment here is for a year, after which I'm meant to hire my replacement and go off to Oxford, where I'll reapply this October. I did meet a chap from Jersey last week, though, who came to India for three months, six-and-a-half years ago. He seemed quite happy and at home. Perhaps I could m--nah, I can't do that. I'm Oxford-bound, right?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad 2

(Photo Credit: Ravnen, via Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Al Idioma Mío

Remaba bien, una vez.

Remaba con hombros tensados y manos callosas, trazando un plan recto, si no sin falla.

Remaba bien, una vez.

Remaba con toda la concentración que sabe dar un hombre. Y de pronto--casi sin darse cuenta--sentía más cómodo remando en aquél río que andando de pié en su propia tierra.

Remaba bien, una vez.

Pero ahora, anda por otra tierra con sus propios corrientes. Los hombros se han atrofiados, las manos ensuavizadas. Puede que jamás vuelva a remar con tanta certeza, en aquél río o cualquier otro. Pero vuelve a intentar.

Porque una vez, remaba bien.