I hope to engender a better understanding of economics, economic development, and the developing world. In particular, I hope to stimulate public understanding of the challenges that face developing countries and developing country governments in stimulating development. I am also keen to support the coming generations of development economists in entering the profession.
Those investing large quantities of time and money in an economics education fail to realise what "you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late charges at the public library" (as noted by Will in Good Will Hunting). If you want to understand the basics of economics, it doesn't take an undergraduate degree; just a will to learn (the undergraduate degree is also good). So here is an Amazon.com Listmania! list for aspiring economists with a library card (or credit card and an amazon account) and a little time on their hands.
You can also find free economics courses at the novel 'Marginal Revolution University', the aim of which is to make economics tuition a freely available good.
We should all know something about how 'the other half live', and there are plenty of ways to learn about the developing world online. Save the Children have brought to life a slum in Sierra Leone called 'Kroo Bay' through a series of videos, photos, and stories. You can use gapminder to sort through some of the most important development statistics (check out their 'Dollar Street' presentation on which live families of every income in the world).
My own contribution to the better understanding of the developing world focuses on my topic of research interest, public goods. There are wide disparities in the availability of public goods (like good quality roads, electricity, and healthcare) across the globe. This video compares the public goods available on an average street in California with those available on an average street in Nigeria.
For those interested in becoming a development economist, here are some tips. I give an occassional seminar on preparing for, entering into, and developing a career in development economics. A recording of one of these seminars is available below and you can also access the associated handout with my top tips for development economics careers. (The video has had to be split into a number of parts due to its length. Find the other parts in the associated videos.)
Complementing these thoughts, I provide some general steers:
Get skilled: Be an economist first and a development economist second. The more skilled an economist you are, the better, as this is what differentiates you from other development workers. Of course, you must then be ready to shape your understanding to the institutional context in which you find yourself.
Watch TV: Try to catch films on television about development, or see the IRIN film database for a range of fascinating short films on all aspects of development.
Undertake relevant study: Whilst at university, take course options that focus on development issues. Choose a dissertation topic related to development (although don't forget the economics). If you're not at university, many universities do summer or part time courses, which may be a useful signal of the breadth of your skills, as well as providing you with new knowledge.
Get experienced: Spend time working, studying, or travelling in the developing world. Start early; World Challenge provides educational expeditions for secondary school students in the developing world. Idealist.org is a good site to start looking for voluntary work. I volunteered with Dakshinayan (India) and Convive (Mexico). You can also express an interest in development closer to home by working for an NGO you are interested in. I worked for Jubilee (in its various forms) and Action for Southern Africa. Consultancy work in international development (such as that done by Oxford Policy Management or Mokoro - there are many others) is one way for more advanced economists to get experience. Of course, working in a firm or organisation of any kind that has dealings with the developing world provides experience (for example the bank Standard Chartered, or the British Government's Department for International Development). An excellent entry point to becoming a development economist is the Overseas Development Institute fellowship programme.
And of course, let everyone know about your interest. You never know where an opportunity may arise!
Having done the above, what jobs can get you on the career ladder of development economics? Here is a list of some of the roles friends and colleagues have taken on their entry into development economics (the list may be a useful inspiration for your own route):
Regional representative, Pressureworks, Christian Aid
Assistant to Secretary General, Alliance for Rural Electrification
Notes: * Citizens of the developing world have a clear advantage here. Try to gain high level experience in private and public organisations in your country of birth, and combined with a strong academic record, this will give you a unique selling point; ** With large multilateral organisations, always check the possibility of work at regional or country offices that may have less competitive entry requirements than central institutions; *** Many NGOs do not have a specific entry point for interns or researchers. Try to contact members of the organisation to enquire about whether they could use assistance and potentially suggest ways in which you might be useful to the organisation.
For those interested in gaining a sense of the academic literature in Development, I have compiled a spreadsheet of abstracts for every paper published in the Journal of Development Economics up to 2008.
I believe the current state of the literature does not adequately investigate the internal workings of government in the developing world. Much of my work focuses on this. As an introduction, I have written 'Water Get Enemy: The Story of Delivering Public Services in the Developing World' (see below) that sketches the passage of a public project through a developing country government, aiming to give the reader a sense of the challenges of that process. An audio version of the story is available in mp3 format.
Ever wondered what goes on inside the bureaucracy of a developing country government? Ever pondered why it is so difficult to implement government projects in the developing world?
We'll, in 'Water Get Enemy: The Story of Delivering Public Services in the Developing World' I've tried to hint at a few answers to those questions. The story, set in the fictional country Banglageria, sketches the passage of a public project through a developing country government. The piece brings together my experiences working in and with governments in the developing world and messages from my discussions with civil servants, consultants, and ODI fellows from across the developing world.
In collaboration with UCL Union's Global Development Initiatives, I have organised a number of workshops on policy making in the developing world. The aim is to give students an understanding of what it's like to have to make policy in a typical developing country government. Here's the introduction:
Participants are tasked to come up with five strategic recommendations on how to reduce rates of child and maternal mortality in Nigeria and build on recent successes in the sector.
If you are a student or professional interested in the process of policy making in the developing world, you may find holding a similar workshop useful. As a policy maker for the evening, you must assess what the priorities are for development in Nigeria, identify the key constraints to overcoming these challenges, and provide recommendations for achieving the goals. Some resources prospective participants may be interested in are provided below:
Worksheet for the event is available here (a broader worksheet focussing on the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals is available here)
For me, public servants who work in the constraints of a developing world government, and still get done what needs to be done are the unsung heroes of development. Contact me if I can be of any assistance to you in that task.
For those interested in how Nigeria managed its debt relief savings, and for thoughts on how other countries can manage theirs, please see the publications under 'OPEN' at my Nigeria page.
Whilst working in the civil service in Nigeria, I compiled the following 'Tips for Civil Servants'. It gives my 'top ten' ways to perform better within the service and within life in general!
I went to Dame Alice Owens for my secondary school, and continue to hold it very dear to my heart. I return each year to give a lecture on development economics. The presentation (available here) is a brief introduction to development economics.