William Easterly is a development economist who runs the blog Aidwatchers. When I read his posts, I imagine an exasperated and pragmatic man who has had it up to here with people misunderstanding and oversimplifying the problems he has devoted his life to solving. His latest post, titled “The Answer is 42! Why Development is About Problem-Solving Systems, Not Solutions” fits this category well. He explains exactly why some things work and some things don’t, and reveals the key to creating long-term solutions.
Here’s why direct solutions to problems cannot foster development. Each direct solution depends on lots of other complementary factors, so the solutions can seldom be generalized across different settings; Solutions must fit each local context. Solutions that generate the highest payoff in each setting should be a higher priority than the lowest payoff solutions. Since there is little or no feedback on how well each solution is working in each local situation, there is little possibility for any such adjustments.