Author Archives: Owen Barder

Can aid agencies help systems fix themselves?

This essay first appeared on Duncan Green’s blog, From Poverty to Power. It was a follow up to a lecture on complexity and development which I gave to Duncan’s international development course at the LSE. Duncan wanted me to explore the “so what?” for development agencies in more detail, so here are my thoughts. You can read comments and discussion about this essay on FP2P. If economic development is a property of a complex adaptive system, as I’ve argued elsewhere, then what, if anything, can development agencies and NGOs do to accelerate it

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The CGD Rule

I’m jealous of the brilliant name recognition that the Chatham House Rule gives Chatham House (an international affairs think tank), so I propose “The Center for Global Development Rule”: “On any panel of two people or more there will be at least one woman on the panel, not including the Chair.”

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Behavioural economics meets development economics [podcast]

What is behavioural economics, and what does it have to do with development? In the latest Development Drums podcast, I discuss this with Varun Gauri, who was co-editor of the recent World Development Report, Mind Society and Behaviour, one of the most accessible and widely-read World Development Reports of recent years. According to Dr Gauri, economists recognise that many resources are scarce (labour, capital, land etc) but fail to acknowledge that cognition is also scarce. And because of this, people routinely make decisions which are bad for them. Dr Gauri argues that these problems affect people living in poverty at least as much as everyone else, and probably more

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Episode 45: Mind, Society and Behaviour

Behavioural economics is hot. In this edition of Development Drums, I talk to Varun Gauri, Senior Economist with the Development Research Group of the World Bank and Co-Director of the World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior. Varun explains the principles of behavioural economics, and discusses how they apply to development economics. He also discusses how these biases also affect development agencies and their staff, and the implications of behavioural economics for development agencies themselves. Varun Gauri

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Aid 2030

This essay, first published at The Center for Global Development, is based on remarks Owen Barder delivered at a breakfast discussion on April 10, 2015, hosted by Russell Reynolds Associates. It draws on work submitted as written evidence to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee inquiry on “Beyond Aid: The Future UK Approach to Development.” This includes analysis of the future of the UK’s Department for International Development as an independent aid agency (joint with Alex Evans, published here), a paper summarising the UK’s performance on CGD’s Commitment to Development Index (joint with Petra Krylová published here), and work summarising the rigorous economic evidence base on the potential development impact of “beyond aid” policies (joint with Theodore Talbot, published here). The views expressed are those of the author alone. I’m going to talk about three big trends in development that are going to make the next 15 years very different from the last 15 years. I’m going to suggest four significant implications for development policy, including for the future role of development agencies like DFID

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Fixing Windows drivers for my iPod

I use both Microsoft and Apple products. My MP3 player of choice is an Apple iPod nano.  Sometimes the Windows drivers seem to get messed up, and iTunes gives me a message that my iPod has not been recognised. I’ve tried Apple’s solution, which includes a fresh installation of iTunes. That doesn’t work for me

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Pull Yourself Together

Walking back from dinner in London’s South Bank on Friday night, we stumbled across this installation by Alex Chinneck in the Hungerford Car Park. It is a Vauxhall Corsa, apparently suspended on a piece of tarmac that has been upended. Pick Yourself Up and Pull Yourself Together by Alex Chinneck. Hungerford Car Park, South Bank, London. Photos by Owen Barder, February 2015 The post Pull Yourself Together appeared first on Owen abroad.

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Blog revamp

Observant readers of this blog will notice that I’ve done a little spring cleaning around here. I tried to make the design feel more contemporary by making it simpler, and more readable, especially on a mobile phone or tablet.  I’ve also tried to make the site load much faster.  I’ve tried to make it easier to leave comments. And I want to do a better job of managing photos: to ensure that pictures have credits and text alternatives for people whose sight is impaired

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Zero inbox – an update

I was told recently by a senior DFID official that my greatest contribution to DFID so far has been my system for managing email overload, which apparently has been widely adopted. (I’d like to think he was joking, but I fear not.) If you missed my 2012 previous post about managing email, here is a summary. Without wanting to sound smug, I normally have zero inbox. I achieve this by triaging my inbox several times a day into three categories: (a) I deal immediately with anything that can be answered in a few minutes; (b) things that will take longer, I defer to the day on which I plan to do it; and (c) I file the things that need no further action.  Then I leave my (empty) inbox and look at my Today folder, which contains the things that I have previously tagged to deal with today

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A twenty-first century development policy

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This blog post first appeared on Views from the Center.  It drives me crazy that so many people equate development policy with foreign aid. That’s why I welcome this week’s landmark report from the British parliament’s Select Committee on International Development. As the UK nears the end of a five-year parliament, this well-respected cross-party committee has delivered its legacy report, which argues that development is about much more than aid. As Alex Evans and I argued in evidence to the committee, the three key tasks of development policy are now to help fragile states become stable, make growth in middle-income countries more inclusive, and address cross-border problems that affect us all. Yes, aid is needed for all three of these tasks, but aid isn’t the answer to any of them.  Nor is the new development agenda merely a matter of finding new sources of finance to replace or supplement aid.

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The Pledge

At CGD Europe we try not to organise any men-only panels (I regret to say we ended up with one such panel when our star speaker could not join us at short notice). I’ve taken the further step of making a pledge not to appear on any panels of two or more people without at least one woman. Scott Gilmore puts it well: As the audience patiently waited for us to answer the question, “Why are there no women on stage?” I thought of my friend Owen Barder, a well-known economist and a world-class mind. He once told me that he refused to join all-male panels.

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No smoking gun – DFID and the surge in spending

This blog post first appeared on Views from the Center. The UK development agency, DFID, was mauled by the famously easy-going British press this weekend after an apparently critical National Audit Office report. “[I]n Dfid’s imposing new headquarters off Trafalgar Square, the big worry was how to shovel money out of the door,” said David Blair in the Telegraph. “[C]ivil servants are spending vast sums of public money with no assurance of serving either the world’s poorest people or the interests of taxpayers,” said The Times. The Daily Mail characteristically played the man rather than the ball with a savage attack on Mark Lowcock, the exceptionally talented, hard-working, and widely respected senior official in DFID.

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Migration and Development: Small Tweaks for Big Benefits

This blog post by me and Theodore Talbot first appeared on Views from the Center. Britain’s highly charged debate about immigration means that migration systems and policies are potentially in flux—a chance, perhaps, for innovation. We believe there are opportunities to tweak these policies so that they deliver big benefits for poor people, avoid the most harmful unintended consequences, and make British people better-off. Granted, development is unlikely to be at the front of politicians’ minds as they weigh up the options for migration policy, but now is exactly the right time for a discussion about how to shape immigration policy for development impact within the bounds of the current political agenda. We put our heads together to come up with thirteen innovations for immigration policy to deliver meaningful benefits for international development.

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Thirty years a vegetarian

I became vegetarian thirty years ago today. I was living in Ethiopia, and we had bought a sheep for the Embassy Christmas barbecue. It was tied up outside my bedroom window. We hoped it would fatten up on the lush, watered grass of the Embassy lawns. It didn’t: instead it wasted away

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