June 4, 2008

Technology Driven Development?

Short piece in the Christian Science Monitor on a possible shift in the WFP from dispersing aid in the form of foodstuffs to dispersing aid as cash.  Economists, of course, posit this as the most efficient means of providing emergency relief and those with an eye towards farmers in the developing world advocate it as well for sustaining, and in some cases bolstering, their local markets.  Of nearly equal interest to me is the technology being used to disperse aid money via SMS on cellphones.  Safaricom is the operator mentioned in the article being used by Concern, but Celtel is another one.  One of the arguments long posited by those endorsing the dispersal of aid as food over aid as cash is that cash has a way of finding itself into coffers and not onto plates - not that food aid is immune to the effects of political maneuvering or cronyism.  In The Bottom Billion, Collier estimates that "something around 40 percent of Africa's military spending is inadvertently financed by aid" (p. 103), so there has traditionally been good reason to be skeptical about where aid money ends up once it hits the ground.  However, this could be a case where technology provides a delivery method that circumvents the traditional hurdles to getting capital into the hands and bellies of those who need it most and thus provides a spring board for development.  

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