Why on earth this book?
Why would anyone want to write a book about development? There are already
a lot of books about development. Do we need another one? Is this book any
different? Does it add anything new?
This book has been more than 20 years in the making. The first draft of this book
was completed in 1987, and much of what was written then remains valid today.
It did not get to the publication stage because I wanted to propose solutions and
not just to redescribe the problems. I started to rework the manuscript after the
events of 9/11 in 2001. The failure of development suddenly became an issue
with practical security implications in the United States.
This book reflects upwards of 40 years of personal exposure to issues in relief
and development and builds on the incredible potential for ordinary people to
do amazing things.
I like to think this book reflects 40 years or more of exposure to
development. I remember however the story of an old farmer in Malawi
who made much the same claim. “I have 30 years farming experience”
said the farmer. To which the young agricultural expert replied “No sir,
in fact you have one year's experience 30 times”
I hope I have done better than the old farmer.
This book tries to go beyond a description of the result of failed relief and
development, to understand how and why and move to solutions. The goal is to
help improve the performance of development. It will have been a success if
there is significant improvement in the performance of development, perhaps
not everywhere, but in a good number of places. The book identifies initiatives
that are central to this goal. In this regard this book is very different from most
other books that address development and the related issues of globalization
I wish I could say that this book has been a “labor of love”. In fact this book is
the product of a long and profound frustration. I see many possibilities for
success in development, but decade after decade, there seems to be worsening
failure, and an official relief and development assistance (ORDA) community
that is stuck in a “business as usual” mindset that is leaving half the world poor
This book starts from the premise that “development” has failed. And because
development has failed it is time that the systems and procedures and decisions
that have produced these results are looked into and get replaced with
something that will succeed.
I used to think that more money would make development successful
until I started working in developing countries and realized that there
was a lot of money available, but none of it was getting to be used for
development priorities. The divide between rich and poor was immense,
and not closing up. And then I started to see wealth and death in the
same economic community. I saw it in India. I saw it in Nigeria. No
shortage of wealth. No shortage of poverty. In both place, people dying
prematurely because of a systemic failure of economics.
This book does not focus just on describing the poverty and the crisis related to
failed development, but asks the big extra questions of “How do we have failed
development?” and “Why do we have failed development?” The book does not
stop with the “How?” and “Why?” but keeps on going to describe how relief
and development can be improved significantly. This book is about solutions
and reflects an approach to development that is more engineering and
accountancy than policy and economics. It is a management approach rather
than academic or bureaucratic.
This book will be a success if it helps to get change made that improves the
performance of relief and development.
My father was a schoolmaster, and a believer in the value of education. My
parents skimped and saved and I was able to go to Blundell's School, a good
boarding school in England, and then, in 1958, I went to Cambridge. I did what
might now be called a “double major” in engineering and economics. My
engineering had a lot of metrics and calculation in an era before computerized
calculations. We used the sliderule and, I maintain, learned very well the
fundamentals of the calculations. My economics education had a Keynesian
slant at the hands of Joan Robinson and a fine tutor, Andy Roy. Later I got a
professional training in accountancy as an Articled Clerk with Cooper Brothers
in London ... that joined with Lybrand Ross Bros and Montgomery to form the
international accounting firm of Coopers and Lybrand and eventually merged
again to form the accounting colossus of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. I became a
Chartered Accountant in 1966. During the first phase of my career I worked in
heavy engineering construction in the steel industry, the pulp and paper
industry and civil engineering. Later I worked on corporate expansion and
profit performance improvement in consumer products, high tech products and
the implementation of best practice management systems for planning and
control. In the mid 1970s I was the Chief Financial Officer for a US based
international fishing company operating around the world in 26 separate
jurisdictions. I was part of an international team in a complex industry that did
the analysis well and solved problems creatively.
I am unusual in that I have practical experience in the corporate world making
companies more profitable and have done my fair share of assignments
associated with relief and development. I think of myself as being practical,
constrained by what is technically possible, and a believer in solutions that are
derived from not only understanding qualitative information but also the
dynamic of technology, of economics and the accountancy of financial numbers.
In 1978 I started a consulting firm to specialize in international business and
development. Since I started doing international work I have traveled to more
than 60 countries on consulting assignments for the World Bank, for the UN and
many of its specialized agencies and private organizations for sector planning,
national planning, refugee planning, famine and drought emergency planning,
national reconstruction planning, aid coordination, information technology
planning and implementation, privatization, management training, etc. I have
had the opportunity to do planning and analysis work at the national level, the
sector level and for regions and communities. My work has been done largely in
collaboration with local local staff, consultants and professional firms.
This has made it possible for me to see development in ways not normally seen
by most international experts.
My consulting experience also includes work with private sector companies
based in or doing business in developing countries. These assignments included
work on management, marketing, international trade, management and
accounting systems, strategic planning, training, computerization, privatization
and arrangement of financing.
I have been associated with many planning assignments in post war and post
famine situations. I did work on Afghanistan rebuilding after the Soviet
withdrawal in 1990 and worked on Namibia's (formerly South West Africa) first
development plan after its independence in 1991. I worked in Kazakhstan as
part of the post cold war reform effort and in Africa and the Caribbean on
government financial reform. I have done planning work in connection with
refugee emergencies in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia. Malawi and Zambia. I have
done AID coordination work in several African countries as well as in South
As a young accountant I did a review of the costing of the Kariba Dam
project while I was working with Coopers and Lybrand. I was young
and naive enough to want to get it right no matter what, and rocked the
boat when I concluded that the World Bank estimate was only about half
what it needed to be. The World Bank engineers had made good cost
estimates based on the static information about costs as they were
now ... but nobody seemed to have adjusted anything for the changes
that surely would take place when a project of the magnitude of the
Kariba dam was in progress. My calculations suggested that the actual
cost would be twice what the World Bank was planning. Because I was
part of Coopers and Lybrand, the firm's name carried weight and
substantial changes to the estimates were made at the Bank, and the
project was eventually a considerable success. Even though I was very
young, within Coopers and Lybrand I had credibility because I had
already worked as an engineer in the factory environment and done
production costing work prior to joining the firm, and understood
economics from my academic work at Cambridge.
During my career, I have worked for more than 30 years in developing
countries. In 1974 I became the CFO of an international shrimp fishing company
that operated in 26 very interesting parts of the world. This was the time of the
first big oil shocks and business was being challenged as energy based cost
structures changed dramatically. Markets adjusted, sometimes quite violently.
Shrimp prices dropped by 75% while costs doubled. I became CFO when the
company was almost bankrupt, but we managed ourselves through the crisis
and eventually the company became very profitable. I learned a lot about other
international companies and how they operated. I did not like what I saw. Nor
did I like the enormous gap between the wealth of a few and the poverty of
Early exposure to World Bank work.
My interest in relief and development performance goes back a long time. The
defining moment was probably in Nigeria in late 1974.
I had a meeting scheduled in the center of Lagos at Western House, at
the time one of the most prestigious buildings in Lagos. Two kids were
dead just outside the building. Poverty and death in what was now a
very rich oil producing nation. The juxtaposition of these things was
something I had never expected. Up to then, in my youthful naiveté, I
thought that money solved problems. This was a wake up call. Money is
As a young student in engineering I learned some thermodynamics ... and
especially the concept of efficiency. The idea of small resources doing big things
was essentially a thermodynamic concept applied more universally. I bumped
into this in India more than 30 years ago.
I started doing World Bank consultancy in 1978. One of my memories
of this work is being driven in a Mercedes Benz through the center of a
city in Kerala in South India. The streets were crowded. We were stuck
in traffic and pedestrian throngs. I could feel hate from the people
surrounding the car. They were well justified in their emotions. It was
very uncomfortable. Next day ... because I was a “World Bank
Consultant” ... I was asked to make a brief presentation at a local Rotary
meeting and was on a panel with a local Catholic priest. Our World
Bank project was a multi-hundred million dollar project ... which my
analysis suggested would do almost no sustainable good ... and the
priest had almost no money and was doing quite incredible work that
was saving lives and mitigating misery. I was embarrassed ... but did
my best “cover up”!
I have not been impressed with relief and development performance from very
early on in my relief and development experience. The sort of rigorous technical,
economic and financial analysis that had been so effective when I had used it in
the corporate world to help improve profit performance was not being used in
the relief and development world.
During the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, one of my consulting
colleagues became very upset about my criticism of the development
process and the results it was achieving. As consultants, we were doing
very well. The more that development failed, the more consultants
earned. However, after working with me several weeks, and seeing the
financial analysis and economic value analysis that I was doing, he
understood why I was so very critical.
I bring to the analysis of development a unique combination of technical,
economic and accounting knowledge, but also a deep respect for human factors.
I have an appreciation of both the limits and amazing possibilities of technology.
I respect traditional values and culture that are so important in a family's quality
of life. I respect other people's knowledge.
After spending a lot of time in African rural communities I commented
that 'the fact that I do not know something, does not mean it is not
I concluded a long time ago that the capacity of the international community to
achieve relief and development progress required a new development
When I read Professor Jeffrey Sach’s book “The End of Poverty – Economic
Possibilities for our Time” in May 2005, as I was in what I thought would be the
the final rewrite of the manuscript for this book. I realized how well qualified I
am to write this book. Compared to Professor Sachs I have a broader education
and training, a longer and wider experience, and a very different perspective of
I have been working in “relief and development” for about thirty years. So while
I am pleased with the work I have done, the real results of my work have been
inconsequential. The needed paradigm change has not happened. Up to now I
have been totally ineffective, just as much of the other work done in the name of
Development has failed
Socio-economic progress in the SOUTH and especially in Africa is a failure.
Relief and development has been in a failing mode for years, as long as three
decades. In the post war 1940s, 50s and 60s there were huge changes and a
colonial world became independent. A new world order came into being. The
pre-independence expectation was that post-colonial independence would result
in socio-economic progress with peace and prosperity.
As it turns out this was wishful thinking.
There has been little success in relief and development. There has been a huge
amount of death and destruction: more in the second half of the 20th century
than in the first half of the century which included two World Wars and the
Holocaust. There have been changes, but the aggregate result has been
continuing, actually growing, poverty and hunger around the globe. Rich parts
of the global society have been able to increase their wealth and make use of
modern technology to create even more wealth and wonderfully productive
industries, more and more are left out of the success.
Over the years, I have kept coming across little things that make me very
optimistic that relief and development can be a success. I have also become very
determined to get the message out that the way relief and development
resources are now used means that development will never be successful. What
is being done now just does does not work. The “numbers” set out in the annual
reports of all the major ORDA organizations show that today’s global society is
just one huge big disaster.
Taken as a whole, the work done in the area of relief and development has
resulted in an aggregate disaster. The following are some key big issues that
show the scale of the failure of relief and development:
These few “big issues” incorporate hundreds and hundreds of other discreet
issues. They all add up to a global picture of failed development. But there is a
pattern that emerges and a way to look at the problem in a way that could result
in reform and success.
- Hunger and famine (food, water and basic necessities)
- War, insecurity and violence (refugees, IDPs and victims of trauma)
- Poverty, economic value destruction and the unequal distribution of wealth
- Balance of trade, currency crises and government insolvency
- Health pandemics
What emerges are problems related to people, resources, the process and the
information. In all of these areas there are major constraints to success.
Why and how development has failed
We really need to know why development has failed. If we do not know why
development has failed. We also need to know how it has failed. When we know
why and how, then we will know what to fix.
There is an enormous need to get answers to these questions. Almost all the
writing and analysis of relief and development describes the status of
development and confirms in no uncertain terms that development has failed.
But none of the writers and analysts seem to want to explain why it is that
development is such a failure or how failure came about.
As long as the why and the how are missing, a complete understanding of
failure is impossible, and the errors of the past will be simply repeated.
The sad fact is that few in the ORDA community understand and accept that
relief and development has failed. In the broadest sense the ORDA paradigm
that has prevailed for the past three or four decades just does not work. Bits of it
are functional, some of it is excellent, but most of it consumes resources and
destroys economic value.
But it is not easy to get the ORDA community to answer these questions. The
culture of the ORDA organizations has evolved in a way that makes it
impossible to get a straight answer. Individuals may acknowledge the issues of
failed performance privately, but the organizations themselves never answer the
tough questions. This is not a failure of people, but a failure of organizations.
The system is just not structured to allow performance question to get answered
because it puts into focus too many issues that are best, for the organization, left
undisturbed. Do not open “Pandora's” box. People know the answers, but they
cannot put their careers at risk by raising questions about failed relief and
Development performance is not going to get addressed within the ORDA
organizations. The phrase “conspiracy of silence” is a good way to sound bite
Over and over again in my experience with development there were
cases of complete ineptness. There were cases of outright fraud. But the
system protects its own. And the system does not force these incidents of
failure to be addressed. The system makes it difficult to be efficient while
allowing incompetence and fraud to survive.
Until the questions of why and how development has failed are asked and work
is done to get answers, there is going to be a continuation of development
practices that have produced “failed” results in the past and will do so again and
again until they are fixed.
Criticism of development is not coming from the experts and organizations of
the ORDA community but is coming from others who can see what is going on,
and do not like what they see. Consultants will not put their fee income flows at
risk. Staff will not put their salaries and pensions at risk. Someone else is going
to have to take on the task.
I wrote this about two 2 months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. The ideas
still apply years later.
History seems to show that terrorism happens when there is a high
degree of hopelessness and it is quite clear that the power structure has
no intention whatsoever of a meaningful change in the status quo. These
were arguments expressed over a century ago. Dickens did not like what
he saw in the 'justice' of the capitalist society of the day. Nor did Karl
Marx who argued that the capitalist system could only be reformed by
revolution. Most of the terrorist situations we are looking at today have
this element. Nobody needs terrorism. But sadly, we have got it and it
will not go away until there is some positive and creative new thinking
about how the global economy functions.
Is development failure a matter of resources. If we think of resources in terms of
money, the poor developing countries do not have enough. But the problem is
not simply money. But it is more than that.
Many of he problems of development are blamed on lack of resources,
especially financial resources. There is a lot of dialog in development
about lack of resources, and the inability to achieve sustainable
development because of resource constraints. Every needed resource is a
constraining factor. Human resources are not good enough.
Organizational arrangements are not good enough. Infrastructure is not
good enough. Natural resources are huge, maybe, but that is not
important for local development progress. Machinery and equipment is
inadequate. Working capital in business is very limited. Financial
resources are short. Knowledge is irrelevant.
What needs to be done?
Simply put, it is time for Turning Development Upside Down.
Development needs to be done to get progress that reaches the bottom of the
economic pyramid. There needs to be progress from the perspective of the three
billion or more who are terribly poor, hungry, diseased and dying, from the
perspective of those that are affected by famine, disease, war and disruption.
The major ORDA institutions have talked about making substantive changes in
the way they approached development for decades, but the reality that
substantive changes have never been made. The problems that were in place in
the 1980s are largely still in place 20 years later The problems continue on and
on and on.
There needs to be substantially new approaches and ways of doing things. There
needs to be a respect that development is a complex process, with a lot of
linkages and interrelated elements.
After 40 years of post-independence development, ways to make development
successful should be known. And they are. The problem is that the ORDA
organizations as they now are, are not needed to make relief and development
successful. Decision makers need, more than anything else, to fire themselves.
And, of course, this is not going to be done as part of an internally generated
process of reform, though it certainly can be done by indpendent outsiders.
But this requires more than just advocacy. It requires development of alternative
organizations and structure, alternative systems and processes and procedures.
It requires new ways of mobilizing resources and flowing the funds to relief and
Nothing in the way forward requires any breakthrough in science or technology.
All that is required is getting the resources available to be used much more
effectively. Everything we will talk about can be done, and in a modest way is
already being done.
Time to make waves, time for change!
As a practical matter the need for change has been recognized for as much as
thirty years, but change has not been achieved. This book shows how relief and
development can be changed. This book is about systemic change that will
improve development performance by an order of magnitude. Over and over
again, the opportunity for change has been missed in favor of continuation of
the failed status quo. Later on we will explore why and how.
I expect there will be many critics of this book. My work in development was
never easy, because not many development experts want to work with hard
numbers and do the accounting and accountability of development. People do
not want to face up to the fact of failed development that good accounting in
relief and development will reveal.
There are a lot of vested interests in the status quo. Doing development right
will not be comfortable. My hope is that by trying to organize my thoughts
about the relief and development sector into a “book”, my arguments will be
better prepared and my goal of an effective change that improves relief and
development performance will have a stronger foundation.
Nobody seems to be willing to take on the challenge of writing about critical
change. Most of the writing about relief and development is by people who have
been paid to do the study and write the report, maybe as part of of a consulting
assignment, or as part of “academic” research work funded by some “grant
program”. These writers cannot afford to upset the people that are helping to
pay the bills.
Changes should have been made long ago. Relief and development was already
in a failure mode in the 1980s, two decades ago. The need for change was clear,
but the changes that were made aggravated the situation rather than making it
Now I am at a great advantage. At my age I do not have to reflect my
employer's views and I do not have to safeguard a pension, or be careful
about my next career step. I have the unusual freedom to write what I
It is time to try again. This book aims to help make changes. This book starts to
describe ways out of the mess. The book is about people and resources and
process and information. This book is about planning and organization and
implementation and measurement and feedback. The book is really very basic.
The ideas are not knew. They are all very basic concepts of organization and
management, and all have value in the relief and development context.
It is time that the ORDA community and the financial and economic and
political leaders of the NORTH are challenged about the failure of development
in the SOUTH. Every year millions of people are dieing prematurely because of
failed development. It is time to do the accounting and reengineer and
restructure the relief and development industry.