Monday, January 17, 2011

Kalling All Development Economists: Cut the Crap

Keith Kall (@keithkall) gets to the heart of the matter with this comment re. my last post about complexity:
...Very interesting post. I was left with the thought that a lot of this rhetoric and hyperbole could be easily be dashed, if those who write about entrepreneurship would walk out on the limb and engage in an entrepreneurial venture in order to balance some experience with success and failure with their beloved theory; rather than simply nest in the comfort of observation, supposition and mathematical formulas. But then, again, that's not how economists seem to do things....
About a decade ago--having at long-last completed my doctoral dissertation involving an application of complexity theory to the economics of production and innovation--I came to pretty much exactly the same conclusion that Keith does here: since change in human societies is, indeed, increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable, maybe the best way to find out what's going on is to ask those people who spend all day making change happen themselves.

This conclusion motivated me to join forces with GrameemPhone founder Iqbal Quadir to start Innovations journal (@innovationsjrnl) an academic publication whose core mission is to feature the insights of such changemakers, a.k.a. entrepreneurs. As we wrote in the editors' introduction to the inaugural issue:
Existing institutions and incentive structures may or may not be adequate to address [21st century global] challenges. If the past is any guide, continued progress in addressing public challenges will require continued innovations—the efforts of individuals, groups, and communities who creatively employ new organizational forms, and in many cases new technology, to effect discontinuous change. This journal is about such innovations and the changes that they bring about. It is less about what needs to be done, and more about what people are doing...
Academic journals addressing public challenges typically are structured to address the general characteristics of problems rather than particulars of solutions... Important insights with potentially broad application are often lost simply for lack of a common space where they can be found. By focusing on the particulars of practice, Innovations is intended to complement existing journals, providing a common space that cuts across academic disciplines, bridges theory and practice, and links human action with global impact.
In its first five years of publication Innovations has featured the insights of a remarkable group of entrepreneurs, including Mo Ibrahim (CelTel & Mo Ibrahim Foundation), Fazle Abed (BRAC), Nick Hughes & Susie Lonie (M-PESA), Rory Stear & Kristine Pearson (Freeplay Energy), Matt Flannery  (1 & 2,, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (Birthing Project), Catherine F. LainĂ© (AIDG), Martin Fisher (KickStart),  R. D. Thulasiraj (Aravind Eye Hospitals), Karen Tse (International Bridges to Justice), and Ibrahim Abouleish (SEKEM).

Given all this, I appreciate Keith's redirection to what I consider to be the core practical implication that emerges from serious consideration of complexity and development economics (ref. also my previous posts re. Bill Easterly--1234,  5, and 6--as well as the inimitable Jeff Sachs): development economists should cut the crap, stop fixating on things that don't matter, and start paying more serious attention to the practical insights of entrepreneurs.

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