Talk of the Millennium Development Goals at the UN General Assembly this week’s brought home one very clear fact: Western thinking about development is elite-driven.
I’m headed home from a couple of days at UN Week in New York, where I was fortunate to get to attend several events relating to a review of the Millennium Development Goals. I’ll have a lot more to say about that debate, TEDxChange with the Gates Foundation, the Mashable/92Y Social Good Summit, and the Clinton Global Initiative in the days to come. The summits and meetings are covering a huge range of topics, some of which are being honestly debated and discussed and others of which have been reduced to a series of feel-good talking points backed by questionable statistics and assertions.
This week’s events brought home one very clear fact for me: Western thinking about development is elite-driven. Almost entirely.
It’s partly understandable; the primary goal of the Clinton Global Initiative, for example, is getting the rich and powerful to make commitments to save the world in various fashions. While this work is targeted at the poor, their voices are absent in the conversation. While there is a lot of discussion of the need to capture human capital in developing countries, we didn’t hear from anyone who had actually lived the experience of escaping poverty. We didn’t learn how families survive on $1 a day from people who have no choice but to make it work.
There’s something very discomfiting about sitting in a hotel ballroom full of rich people talking about the best ways to help the world’s poorest people when almost none of the latter are present.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy hobnobbing with influential people as much as anybody.