Jeff Sachs is NOT a Real G

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One prolific literary connoisseur of our time eloquently said: ‘Real G’s move in silence like lasagna’.

No, I am not talking about Chimamanda Adichie— that was Lil’ Wayne.

And even if you cannot appreciate his foray into devil worship music videos, you can appreciate how real those words truly are (unless you didn’t know that lasagna had a ‘g’ in it… but I digress).

People who are out there making an impact are not the ones wearing neon socks and gold teeth while twerking #noMiley. There are countless people who have dedicated their lives to ‘Saving Africa’ one village at a time. But there is only one man who gets any credit (or blame) for what has happened over the last 12 years: Jeffrey Sachs.

For those of you who do not know Jeffrey Sachs, let me give a brief synopisis:

  1. Was a child genius.
  2. Had PhD by the age of 28
  3. ‘Solved’ International crises by mid 30’s (some might beg to differ)
  4. Vowed to end poverty by 2015 (in 1999) and is the mind behind the Millenium Development Villages
  5. Is (and has always been) a white man.

I am not going to rant about how its annoying that everyone else wants to ‘fix’ Africa (while ignoring COMPLETELY the ways in which it was broken in the first place… thank you for handing us the shattered glass and selling us the glue at hyperinflated interest rates and with impossible conditions. We really are grateful for your considerations).

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I am also not going to rant about the ridiculousness of eradicating poverty in fifteen years in the developing world as if poverty has a) been eradicated in the developed world and b) has. been. eradicated. in. the. developed. world. ever.(because Louisiana has been ‘impoverished’ since the civil war but I aint seen no MDG’s for them— just a useless governor making useless laws about teachers and twerking).

I will just focus on the ways in which Sachs should have used his celebrity to help people on the ground already getting their hands dirty like my newest development crush: Chris Blattman— another white man associated with Columbia University. But he is cooler. I assure you. We can give him the pass. Here is why. He commissioned a study on cash transfers in Uganda. He found that literally giving money out to rural Ugandans with no conditions, actually bettered their situation because— get this– they KNOW how to actually use the money to benefit themselves **GASP**. Chris is also wise enough to know that though he found this to be true in Uganda, he recognizes that for many reasons it may be difficult to scale this to other African countries. (I know half of ya’ll are like— this man giving out free money in my hood?! Naaaaahhhh… gold chains and new sneaks, NO one is being productive— haha!). I think what is really important about this is that it finally highlights that people in poor situations can actually make wise decisions if they are given extra income. Blattman didn’t go to the villages and tell them that he would solve their problems in 15 years by giving them all kinds of things that he thinks they need. He went in and said, here’s some small cash (from the government mind you)— figure it out. And that’s what they did.

 

In what world is it acceptable for someone to come into your community and literally redesign the entire operation?!  No wonder there was all the infighting over free goods and the dependency. I usually hate when people talk about welfare mama’s and how welfare creates dependency. No one is out here trying to sit at home to get a check that barely covers living for one person, much less a family. But when you are literally willing to take care of ALL of my needs, of course I will abandon my farms and just wait for your shipment of goods. Even here in Ghana, whenever I go to the North I am reminded of how the international NGO’s have literally added a different dimension to livelihood in the North. Aside from being greeted by NGO sign boards when you leave the airport, people have a very specific understanding of what an NGO should and should not do for them once you enter a village. There is literally a secret manifesto of ‘How to Get the Most of Your NGO Experience’ that has circled a number of Northern communities. It’s largely problematic because this manifesto is a list of demands that makes overhead for NGO projects so bloated, and it also pushes the burden of development away from the government and on to these donor-funded projects that can not sustain themselves for more than 5 years at a time. But the NGO’s aren’t the problem. Though there are problems with them… they are not at the heart of the issue. The crux of the issue of ‘alleviating poverty’ rests squarely on celebrity economists like Sachs who have a cure-all.

So then you are probably saying ‘Well at least he was willing to try… and he brought so much aid’. And to this I say… you’re right. He did bring so much aid and no one is faulting him or taking that away from him. But as they say, team work makes the dream work and so here is the version of J. Sachs I would have preferred:

Hi… I am Jeffrey Sachs. I am well connected to a number of rich people in need of direction with how to spend the millions of dollars they can no longer use for food, shelter and entertainment (because really, what does one ACTUALLY do past $999,999,999.99?! I really need to know…). I have amassed a great deal of research on things I think will be successful based on books I have read and regressions I ran on my latest Stata upgrade. Instead of combining just my experience (as a white savior man in Africa— because let’s be real, the Africa I get to experience after the PhD level is a completely different one from anyone else’s experiences) and my knowledge, I will add to this a search for people on the ground (literally at the village level) who will be able to give me information on the realities of their experience with NGO’s, aid, paragovernmental organizations— oh, and their own lived experiences. Since I know that NO ONE will give me money for the fact finding mission, I will pay for this with my own money that I earn for speaking for about an hour and a half at various economic events. During this mission I will identify key stakeholders and the network of practitioners who are ALREADY doing the on the ground work and who have ideas that mirror the research that I have found. I will then use my celebrity to generate funds that will support these efforts to scale. I will, however, not promise to eradicate poverty. I realize that it is important to set goals and benchmarks, and I am happy to do this with my (locally acquired and assembled) fact finding team. When it is all said and done, I hope that I can be a vessel of problem solving, and not the answer in and of itself. I hope that I can use my position of privilege to attract the resources necessary for facilitating local solutions to local problems.

Look, I am no genius. I don’t have all the answers. And even with my SIPA education, I still feel like I left there with WAY more questions than answers. But I am ok with that. I am ok with having more questions that will fuel ideas and innovative responses to global needs. That is what I feel I am doing in my work with Innovations for Poverty Action (yup, I just outed myself). We are continually asking questions about our approach to improving quality of education, and I think that eventually we will reach a good place to start partnering and making inroads (no it actually wasn’t a plug for IPA— and yes, I am aware of all of your critiques of the organization— every Heaven has a ghetto, said TuPac to the world, so we’re still figuring it out, ha!).I am not disillusioned. I am not trying to completely eradicate poverty in 5 years… or 10 years… or even 100 years. I am just hoping to give people more choices to make the decisions they want for themselves.

Jeffrey Sachs isn’t a real ‘G’ and Lil’ Wayne would likely agree.

Sachs is walking around screaming he has answers, when in reality all we have are the questions. And we need to push the questions that will empower local actors to come to their own conclusions— for better or for worse. Nina Munks’ recently published book entitled  The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty has been quoted as a ‘a devastating takedown of Mr. Sachs’s technocratic fantasies.’ Which is actually quite funny considering she worshiped at his feet and was contracted to follow him in order to write his gospels.  She, however, changed her mind once she actually saw the villages and engaged the people. Funny how that works eh? I don’t actually dislike J. Sachs and I think he could still be an asset to the cause… I just think he needs to switch up his approach.

So look… J.Sachs… from one Afrophile to– er— you… real G’s move in silence and it would probably be best if you lowered the volume on your mic and actually listened to the audience. Focus on the questions, and let them give you the answers. #yourwelcome

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**PS… here is the rest of this AWESOME comic on the value of questions. Literally explains everything I believe about the best way to move forward. http://comicsthatsaysomething.quora.com/A-Day-at-the-Park?ref=fb

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