By: Lykke E. Andersen*
There are many ways for a country to develop, but there is no way to develop a country: Development has to come from within.
Just as you cannot help a child develop by doing his homework, giving him all the toys and candy he wants, and protecting him from all potential dangers, you cannot help a country to develop by giving it money, writing its poverty reduction strategies, or protecting it against basic market forces.
You don’t help a child develop by constantly telling him that he is stupid, ignorant, retarded and helpless, just as you don’t help a country by labeling it poor, underdeveloped, indigenous, and hopelessly indebted.
The country has to find its own way to make money in the globalized world; otherwise it will end up on international aid forever. It doesn’t matter if it takes time and the country makes a lot of mistakes on the way, as long as it is its own mistakes and it learns from them.
Just as it is difficult, and usually undesirable, to speed up the development of a child, the development of a country takes time and patience. With an extraordinary parental effort you can sometimes speed up the development of some specific skills in the child (for example gymnastics or chess), but it will usually be at the expense of other skills and a balanced development. The same holds for a country. With an enormous international effort, you can get all kids in primary school, but that may not help those kids – or the country – if the demand for primary school qualifications does not increase correspondingly.
So, is there anything you can do from the outside to help a poor country develop? Plenty.
First of all, you can be a good role model, showing how to develop good incentives and prosperity for all inhabitants without violence and environmental destruction. Good role models are as important for countries as they are for children. And they are in short supply. In order to be a really good role model you would have to be open to visits from students and workers from poor countries, because how else could they learn from your excellent example?
Second, you can remove some serious external obstacles to development, such as trade barriers (especially agricultural subsidies in rich countries) and transmittable diseases. Just as a sick child needs extra care, those transmittable killer diseases deserves special attention from the international development community.
Finally, you could help correct the highly misleading image of widespread desperation, starvation, hopelessness, helplessness, backwardness, danger and ignorance in poor countries, which prompts rich people immediately to discard these countries as travel destinations and instead send food aid (which ruins the rentability of local agriculture, making the poor even poorer). If the inhabitants of rich countries knew more about all the positive aspects, the hospitality and the spectacular features of poor countries, these might attract more tourists and international business, which would stimulate the creation of a large variety of local jobs, thus alleviating poverty rather than reinforcing it.
(*) Director, Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La Paz, Bolivia. The author happily receives comments at the following e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.