Another cycle around the sun and here we are again, the season of New Year’s resolutions, the time when we resolve not to do the stuff we were disappointed that we did last year. To celebrate, I thought I would write down a suggested list of resolutions for development people, practitioners and researchers working in the global poverty. So here they are, 10 New Year’s resolutions for development people:
1. I resolve in 2018 to make the welfare of the poor the motivation and focus of my work, not (practitioners) the fiscal growth of my non-profit organization or (researchers) the journal impact factor of my publications.
2. Practitioners: In 2018 our organization will commit to truthfulness. We will not pass off outliers, remarkable anecdotes, or the best thing that ever happened to one of the people we serve as representing the average impact of our organization’s work. Researchers: I will not data-mine in order to find “statistically significant” results.
3. I resolve in 2018 to value people as individual human beings rather than (practitioners) units of success to be counted or (researchers) data points in a regression. I understand that every one of these statistics in my year-end report or summary table is a person created to live with dignity, while facing challenges that likely surpass anything I can understand from my own experience.
4. In 2018 I resolve to approach my work more humbly than I did in 2017. Practitioners: I will not presume, especially to donors, that my poverty program is more innovative, more clever, or more “game-changing” than my fellow practitioner’s program. Researchers: I will not presume, especially to academic conference participants and journal referees, that my idea is more innovative, more clever, or more “game-changing” than the excellent work of my fellow development economists.
5. Practitioners: I resolve to better understand the full and holistic nature of human beings, that economic well-being does not trump spiritual, social, and psychological well-being. Researchers: In 2018, I vow to challenge the homo economicus paradigm when it violates either my conscience, common sense, or what I empirically observe in human behavior, or perhaps all three at the same time.
6. In 2018, I will be careful to note that some things I champion as “economic development” can undermine human dignity. I will be more thoughtful about the impact of my programs/projects (practitioners) and modeling assumptions/policy prescriptions (researchers) on identity, culture, and non-material values.
7. In 2018 I will try to neither over-spiritualize or under-spiritualize poverty. Practitioners: I will not consider the poor to be more spiritually needy than the material well-off, and indeed will consider that the opposite may be closer to the truth. Researchers: I will not allow my own spiritual beliefs, or the lack thereof, to lead me to condescension toward any group of people in my research, nor pretend that religious beliefs and people’s understanding of the character and nature of God are unimportant to economic outcomes and human well-being.
8. I resolve in 2018 (practitioners) to give the poor a bigger voice in decisions that affect them and (researchers) let my research agenda be shaped by the real needs of the poor and not merely the curiosities of the academic community. I will not participate in the tyranny of experts.
9. In 2018 I resolve to be more transparent. I will allow the accounts of our organization (practitioners) to be scrutinized more easily and not try to conceal mistakes we have made in our spending and programming. I will make it easy (researchers) for others to replicate my statistical code to verify my results.
10. Practitioners and Researchers: In 2018 I will practice kindness to the people whom I partner with in the field. In 2018 I will resolve to understand that no cause, no matter how noble or just, validates meanness, stepping on others, or an unhelpful attitude, for as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “if I give all I possess to the poor…but do not have love, I gain nothing.“
Follow AcrossTwoWorlds on Twitter @BruceWydick.