For those of you who are as word weary, as I, of the blathering of a bombastic billionaire, here is a welcome column by Nicholas Kristof about benevolent billionaires, Bill and Melinda Gates. In this New York Times discussion, Kristof recounts interviews with Bill and Melinda as they reflect on their 15 years work in the developing world. Here is the text to link to:
The Gates talk about what they have learned and how they have adjusted their thinking about what works and what is problematic. Their efforts are tremendous and valuable. From the article:
“So what mistakes did they make in their philanthropy? They say they started out too tech-focused. Now some of the measures they promote are distinctly low-tech — like breast-feeding, which could save the lives of more than 800,000 children worldwide each year.
Likewise, they say, they didn’t appreciate how hard it was to translate scientific breakthroughs into actual progress in remote villages. The challenges of delivering real impact, in environments where nothing works as anticipated, were far greater than expected.” (Bold face, mine)
The Gates do not mention the Peace Corps. And, why should they? For over fifty years, more than 230,000 Volunteers have worked in the developing world. But nowhere is there a historic record of those efforts. Nowhere is there a place where anyone entering into the developing world, for whatever reason, could learn about “the challenges of delivering real impact, in environments where nothing works as anticipated.”
My rant is not because Peace Corps doesn’t get public acknowledgement of its decades work. What concerns me, so much is what what has happened in the developing world. It is not fair to all the host country people with whom so many of us worked. So many of those host country people lived in or still live in remote rural villages and are very poor. They gave of their energy and their time, incredibly valuable resources, on projects that were introduced and promoted as ways to improve their lives and the futures of their children, by Peace Corps.
How great it would have been, if the Gates Foundation had been able to access immediately information about low tech projects that Peace Corps could demonstrate had been successful. How much it would have meant to people living in “remote villages” not to see money spent on projects that they knew from experience had little chance of success. I believe that Peace Corps has an ethical and moral obligation to make available to the world, as complete as possible, a record of the work done over more than five decades.
Of course, now, the important thing is that planned monument. If only stones could talk!