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The World(changing) Bank?
Alex Steffen, 27 Dec 03

The World Bank may be taking some steps in the right direction. For decades, it's come under fire for almost exclusively backing huge megaprojects in the developing world - dams, oil pipelines, etc. - which have tended to destroy the environment, do little to improve the lives of local people, and leave their nations saddled with massive debts (debts which are often even higher after corrupt businesses and officials have skimmed their cuts). It'd be damned hard to say that the Bank has done more good than harm.

But, as I say, that may be changing. Take the new "Development Marketplace" project, "a program that promotes innovative development ideas through early stage seed funding, [linking] social entrepreneurs with poverty fighting ideas to partners with resources to help implement their vision." Some of the projects it's funded sound pretty good: spreading online access to government in Peru, helping create village banks in Nepal, and funding the installation of "playpumps" - playground devices which use the energy kids expend while playing to pump water from wells - in South Africa.

All that said, the Bank has a long way to go. The total amount of funding spent on grassroots innovation is still miniscule by World Bank standards (US$6 million out of an US$18.5 billion budget), and the project list is somewhat scattershot, with ideas that will actually empower local people mixed in with ones that seem more like pilot projects for developing new corporate markets. Overall, Development Marketplace seems long on promise and short on actual meaning.

But one wonders, what if the World Bank, with all its resources and expertise, actually got religion here? What if it followed Brazil's suggestion and devoted itself exclusively to funding microlending programs? What if it spent its money supporting those (like ThinkCycle) who are innovating solutions to the problems of the world's poor through collaboration and giving the resulting tools away? What if it funded open access to science and encouraged debt-for-science swaps, demanded the kind of high standards that lead to transcommercial enterprises, and made a real commitment to redistributing the future? What if it became not just a World Bank, but a Worldchanging Bank?

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kevin kelly had a nice list! (via boing^2)

there's also this kid :D

Posted by: smerkin on 28 Dec 03



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