It is interesting to see “Social Protection” take the fore in discussions of the Millennium Development Goals at the UN this week (see Jamie Holmes’ piece on the Huffington Post, for example).
Over the past several years, evidence has continued to accumulate that it makes a lot of sense to give money to poor people in the form of social grants (See for example the wealth of research available at Wahenga.net).
It has all sorts of benefits – from giving people money to buy food, giving them more choices, to improvement in education and nutrition levels, to the growth of local economies and markets. The evidence in favor of this type of social protection is really overwhelming and yet many governments and many voters, continue to resist the idea, being concerned about creating dependency through ‘hand-outs’.
On Monday, I participated in a TEDx Change satellite event in the Flatiron District in New York. The meeting I attended was hosted by the Fledgling Fund. In the group were film makers, philanthropists, and development experts from the UN. The discussion was fascinating. Two of the participants talked about their film, called Good Fortune, which looks at some of the unintended negative consequences of large-scale development projects, by focusing on the lives of two Kenyans “battling to save their homes from large-scale development organizations.”
Now of course governments and large international organizations are important and have their place–and they can do a lot of things that private business or individuals can’t. But we make a big mistake when we think that technology can solve all our problems; that big institutions and expensive experts always know better than ordinary poor people, about what their problems are and what they need to solve them.