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Entries in Development-in-a-Box (3)


One Kindle per child

Interesting WSJ piece on how aid projects are working to spread Kindles around Africa much in the same manner as the recent "one laptop per child."  Many of the same problems, many of the same good intentions, but a number of deltas worth mentioning.

The laptop per kid thing always struck me as overkill amidst a cellphone revolution.  The problem I still have with cellphones is one of their great tricks: you can be illiterate and use one quite well - thus the cellphone's reputation (deserved) as the greatest economic development tool of all time.  If you could read, my God the things you could suddenly do!  And if you couldn't, my God the things you could suddenly do anyway!

But just as a lot of people worry about the poor literacy of young people in developed societies - thanks to all these devices, I worried about the same in developing.  The writing skills of Millennials is - by generational standards - simply awful.  That's why I encourage so much reading and - more importantly - writing among my kids (all of which I personally edit whenever they give me the chance, so I can impart the same basic lessons my sister Cathie gave to me when she edited all my papers in college before I turned them in).  Good writing is becoming a lost art, and good writing starts with good reading of good writers - followed by application.

That's why this article caught my eye.  I still learn a lot about writing all the time - and always will, because I still read a lot (more and more fiction).  My fear with one-laptop was that we'd short-circuit a lot of useful learning, but with Kindles, which give you access to endless books and can go for a week on a good charge, you're filling young people's time and space with material that will ultimately advance them by developing their minds. 

Plus, as the article points out, with built-in Internet, Kindles are basically big mobiles, and everyone knows where those technologies can take people in otherwise "hostile infrastructure" environments.

Having just turned 50 and thinking about what I want to do with the next five-decade tranche, I do find myself drawn to efforts that will have catalytic impact in developing/emerging economies.  I have spent a great deal of my life fretting over the have/have-not thing, which is why - as a young man - I fell in love with globalization and its capacity to fuel the "Great Convergence" that progressively heals the Great Divergence of 1800-2000 (in income globally).

No, I don't see myself in aid efforts per se (although I have grand hopes for a philanthropic career at some point), but rather in the sort of infrastructure breakthroughs (still in that Development-in-a-Box mode) that are supremely catalytic.  There's just so much to work with right now, what with all the South-South transactions taking off.

I honestly cannot understand anyone pining for a past age.  We live in the best of worlds any human has yet enjoyed.  The problems we face are the best we've ever had, and there are so many good tracks of human progress to pursue.

I feel lucky to be 50 right now - at this point in time.


Playing SysAdmin is a lot of matchmaking

Spoke to Jason Kelly for this Bloomberg piece on Pentagon work in Afghanistan to foster economic development.  Article profiles Paul Brinkley, Under Secretary for Defense and his work in Afghanistan.  Enterra had worked for Brinkley's office in Iraq.  The theme, much in line with out Development-in-a-Box work in Iraq, is that of "matchmaker."

It's a good piece overall, capturing the challenge and the efforts of one Pentagon office to which I've offered advice and help in the past.

Here's the bit where I was quoted:

Beyond Allies

Getting companies from countries not directly involved in the military effort is crucial to the long-term success of economic development, says Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst for Wikistrat Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based consulting firm.

“The guys who are going to benefit are going to be from the non-Allied pool,” he says.

Brinkley is agnostic and has recruited foreign companies, including automaker Daimler, into Iraq.

“This is not just about U.S. companies,” he says.

Another small mine project stands as a test of the viability of natural-resources investing in Afghanistan. JPMorgan Chase, based in New York, assembled investors who ponied up $50 million for a mine in the rugged fly-over country between Kabul and Herat.

JPMorgan bankers, drawing on knowledge of the country’s natural resources from its mining clients in the former Soviet Union, shared some of that intelligence with Brinkley’s team in 2008 and during the next two years worked to gather additional data. The results were presented to Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last January. With the money raised, the mining project was granted a license late in 2010.


Conservatives embrace "new" idea of SysAdmin's responsibility for "expeditionary economics"!

From the panel reports from a conference jointly put on by the Kaufman Foundation (focus on free enterprise) and the Command and General Staff College Foundation (Leavenworth), via John Richardson at Esquire's The Politics Blog (to whom the ideas here are radical and "new").

First, Richardson quoting from the conference and/or report or just feeling like he should italicize:

Too often, in both the military and the international development spheres, there has been a failure to consider the postwar economy is any strategic sense. Military doctrine has usually treated operations other than war as secondary matters to be handed off to other agencies. These agencies, USAID in particular, have rarely conceived of their work as part of  a larger strategy for the country in question or for promoting U.S. interests. One-off projects and bureaucratic delays — due in no part to congressional constraints on USAID - have created the impression that dependence and subsistence are the inevitable future for countries such as Afghanistan. Economic growth is rarely even considered a posible goal ... yet economic growth plainly is a positive force in society and for governments; it is no coincidence that most conflicts today, most of which are civil wars, occur in countries with weak or stagnant economies.

Dare we say, "disconnected" from the global economy?

From the future panel report:

Most people agree that the concept of “expeditionary economics” needs to play a greater role and be incorporated into doctrine in future stabilization and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict countries. The questions are “How do we get there?” and “Who should do it?” Answers to these questions vary. While there is a general consensus that the United States is not adequately nurturing economic development in places where security and engagement requires it and that we are not adequately stimulating the entrepreneurial dynamism that has produced global economic prosperity, there is audible disagreement over whether these responsibilities should fall to the military.


Key Takeaways:

• In an ideal world, economic development in post-conflict situations lies within the purview of civilian organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, USAID, and Department of State. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these institutions often lack the requisite resources and capacity for post-conflict economic development. As a result, responsibility for the economic dimension has fallen to the armed forces; yet, the military also lacks a guiding doctrine for such work. For future operations, we must develop doctrine for both the military and civilians, as well as consider new ways of implementing expeditionary economics.

• The primary objective of a stability operation is different than that of a development imperative. When you build a water plant, the secondary objective is to bring clean water to people in the town. The primary objective is the psychological change that reduces violence as a result of building the plant. But if we are not measuring for and evaluating the right things, we can’t determine if the $50 billion that’s been spent in Iraq could have been better spent. We’re scratching our heads because we haven’t won over hearts and minds, and we don’t know why. We need to find better ways to measure the psychological impact of stability operations and, more specifically, economic development efforts.

• When assessing the economy of a country in which we might engage, we can’t fall into the pattern of merely looking at the absences. We must pay attention to the assets that do exist—natural, physical, and human assets that can anchor future economic growth. Moreover, our view must be a regional one as opposed to just local or national. In considering how to stabilize failed states, we need to consider what is the right balance between the state, the market, and civil society 

• When considering who needs to lead to economic development in failed states, the tendency is to look to the State Department and USAID. But the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States also should play a major role in investing in and underwriting risk.

• The U.S. preference is to separate political, economic, and military concerns when dealing with states abroad. An imperial approach is well understood, and less complicated than our democratic approach. However, it’s more difficult when the objective is to leave once enduring conditions are set so we don’t have to intervene again. Rather than continuing our tendency to view things in a two- to three-year thought cycle, we need a longer-term approach.

• In war, just as there are human casualties, there also are financial casualties, and we need to accept this reality. Some dollars will be misappropriated, and some will go to the enemy, to criminal networks, to ineffective local leaders, and to bad projects. This doesn’t make it okay, but we need a productive dialogue to determine what is a reasonable level of these financial casualties.

• The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 defined foreign aid as a State Department function because it was a tool of public diplomacy geared toward poverty alleviation and moral good. But the problem with public diplomacy as an imperative is there’s a need to take credit and ensure people know about it. In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, we’ve learned this can generate ill will and be counterproductive. We need to sacrifice public diplomacy to be more effective at counterinsurgency and long-lasting and effective development.

• One proposal is to create a FEMA-like agency with a very modest staff, 100-150 people, that would spring into work when there’s a stability operation. The office would report jointly to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State and would have a limited, circumscribed role. It would coordinate with the chief of mission on the ambassador side and the commander general on the military side.

• It’s important to concentrate planning efforts before a crisis arises. If you are not engaged in long-term strategy and planning, you will not get it right.

• How does the military put expeditionary economics into practice? Meeting the economic needs of the populace in an area of operations is an essential task in stability operations, and the best way to do that is with business formation. An example: If a neighborhood lacks dependable electricity, a commander could provide generators to local entrepreneurs, and give them the ability and responsibility to keep them running. This eliminates the insurgent’s ability to generate public support by attacking municipal power grids and then blaming the government or occupational forces; any attack on the power supply thus becomes an attack on individual families and locally owned businesses.

• It is essential to tie the concept of expeditionary economics to the military security mission. How can the military foster economic growth to establish security? The military needs competence with expeditionary economics tools to get through the “golden hour”—the early days of a conflict when the civilian agencies have minimal or no presence, and it’s up to the military to execute.

• Some disagree that economics is not a soldier’s job. Yet, economics is required to win, and a soldier’s job is to win. The military has no choice but to use economics as a weapon in stability operations, so let’s be as good as possible at it. What we need to be thinking is, “What are the appropriate economic principles we can teach military leaders so they can use them to accomplish their mission?”

• The military lacks a doctrine to use economic development in conjunction with other elements of a counterinsurgency effort—information, security, and stability operations. The easiest way to change doctrine is by Department of Defense or commander’s mandate, but there are other requirements: A new doctrine must be proven workable and should demonstrate added value, longevity for application, and it must foster those traits the military sees as important.

• One area of debate is over the constraints on the use of Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) Funds. Those on the ground maintain that a ten-day approval process makes CERP less useful—commanders need to make investments on the spot or at worst within twenty-four hours. This assumes commanders have a high level of ability and economic literacy that sometimes isn’t there because it’s such a complicated task that requires complete attention.

• Economic development and stability is also an intelligence problem. Almost no attention is given to economic intelligence analysis. Threat Finance Cells are for threat targeting—a different function—but if you don’t understand the economies and then intervene, you are not going to be successful.

• USAID and the State Department staff are not properly trained—there is poor investment in level- and role-specific training and education, and senior leaders could be selected for their qualifications in economic development and entrepreneurship.

A call for a Department of Everything Else-like entity that reports to both SECDEF and SECSTATE and somehow bridges the "expeditionary economics" responsibilities that bind them in failed-state or postwar interventions.  

Plus, an almost exact description of Enterra's diagnostic approach in Kurdish Iraq (a focus on critical assets, creating entrepreneurial opportunities and counterparty capacity locally for deal-execution), right down to the regional focus we used in bringing in the Monitor Group to do a competitive assessment. This is Development-in-a-Box in a nutshell.  That's why I penned the self-promoting (for Enterra) section on DiB in "Great Powers."

In short, none of this is new, and much was proven our or templated in the field by Steve DeAngelis.

The SysAdmin's economic responsibilities; the need for a Department of Everything Else that focuses on the postwar reconstruction; the market-based diagnostic focus of Development-in-a-Box, which lives on in Enterra's collaboration with Pacific Command's Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance--all good stuff.

At first the ideas are ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as conventional wisdom.

Patience and perserverance are the keys, and a willingness to be told to your face--for years on end--that your ideas are bullshit, naive, and completely impracticable--never gonna happen!

Because these are not theories but inevitabilities.  There are only questions of who and when.

There is no credit sought because there is no credit to be assigned.  Everybody comes around to these realities eventually, and until enough do, it's just vision without a budget--otherwise known as an hallucination.

But yes, there is a useful role for consistent hallucinators.