20 October 2010

The Future of Aid and Development?

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has written an article for NYT Magazine called D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution.  He features Elizabeth Sharpf, Lisa Shannon, and Maggie Doyne.  A few excerpts:
And so Scharpf joined a revolution, so far unnamed because it is just beginning. It’s all about what might be called Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid, because it starts with the proposition that it’s not only presidents and United Nations officials who chip away at global challenges. Passionate individuals with great ideas can do the same, especially in the age of the Internet and social media.
Well-meaning individuals like Doyne help at the edges but don’t fundamentally change the nature of the challenge; indeed, charitable construction of schools and hospitals may sometimes free up governments in poor countries to use their money to buy weapons instead. 
All that is true — but it’s equally true that if you happen to be that drop in the bucket, Doyne is transforming your life. And afterward, you may become an education advocate as well, transforming other people’s lives.
“The aim is to inspire the everyday person,” Eugene says, summing up the rise of do-it-yourself foreign aid. “We’re trying to communicate that you don’t have to be a rock star or a millionaire to make a difference.”
To follow up to the article, Kristof wrote the post “How to Change the World” with suggested ways to engage and, as the title says, change the world.  In addition, the post includes a small video highlighting some of the works that Sharpf and Doyne are doing, their thoughts, and Kirstof’s comments.
It is not fair to have a complete opinion on the growth of these projects.  One thing that is of interest, which Kristof notes as well, is that these projects are mostly started by women and for women.  I think this will be an interesting trend to track over the next few years.  Can this cause a positive shift in development? Or, could it create new problems which need to be addressed?

One thing I did not read, that I wish was written, is that doing something is not enough.  Doing something can cause harm as easily as it can create good.  So, let’s encourage people to be bold and get involved, but not to just do what they want without consideration to the most important people in this entire process: the recipients.
What do you think? Is Kristof on to something? Is he making a big deal out of a small impact group?  Is this the future of aid/development?  How can the movement be harnessed for sustainable development?