If you had millions in cash and a team of some of the most brilliant minds in development, could you transform a poor African village's extreme poverty to a viable economy in five years?
The Millennium Village Project (MVP) is trying to do just that. It is the ambitious, high-profile development initiative spearheaded by economist Jeffrey Sachs in 2004. Today the Millennium Village Project operates in 13 sites across sub-Saharan Africa. Each site has tailored projects aimed at improving health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and commercial business, and relies heavily on local participation. According to their website, MVP says that by 2011 their role will shift from financing and implementing projects, to a more advisory one.
Jeff Marlow, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, recently visited one MVP site comprised of 11 rural villages in the Koraro region of Ethiopia. While he was there he wrote about his experience for the Nicholas Kristof's On the Ground blog.
Of the several posts he wrote, the "Sustainability Factor" was by far the most interesting to me. The MVP acknowledges that sustainability is crucial to success, but these villages aren't self-sufficient despite several years of support. Though Marlow found that huge gains were made in education and health, economic sustainability remains elusive:
What began as a five year initiative to end extreme poverty and send the Millennium Villages on their way toward further economic development has now ballooned into at least a 10-year program with no clear end in sight....
It’s hard to deny that the quality of life in Koraro has increased substantially: disease rates have plummeted, crop yields have gone up, and children are attending school at unprecedented levels. Does this mean the Project will accomplish its lofty goals and, as Sachs puts it, “end the dependency on help and create the kind of breakthroughs that will have a transformative effect on the world”? ...The Project faces fundamentally different challenges in scaling up and moving out than it has seemingly overcome in raising crop yields and cutting disease rates.
It looks like the millions in cash, brilliant minds, and local determination haven't succeeded in creating sustainable economic growth for these 11 villages. Maybe another five years will make the difference? We can only hope so.