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Monday Morning Development Newsletter:  
Doing well by doing good and doing good well
By Lykke E. Andersen*, La Paz, 3 May 2010.


“We would like to believe that we are not in the business of surviving but in being good, and we do not like to admit to ourselves that we are good in order to survive.”
Dorothy Rowe

“But goodness alone is never enough. A hard cold wisdom is required, too, for good-ness to accomplish good. Goodness without wisdom invariably accomplishes evil.”
Robert Heinlein

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right.”
Isaac Asimov

In my experience, doing well by doing good is a whole lot easier than doing good well. If you are providing good and useful goods and services to society, you are highly likely to do well, simply because the need and demand for your goods or services is high. One of my favorite examples is the founders of --and contributors to-- Google, who all deserve to be millionaires for providing such an incredibly useful service to humankind, and making it free too. Everybody who ever contributed significantly to the development of the Internet also deserves that, even if they did it for evil, military purposes. There are of course millions of more modest examples of incredibly useful goods and services. Condom and tampon manufacturers, for example, never really get any do-good credit, but they make life so much better for billions of women, and deserve whatever money they make on it. 

It is much more difficult to do good well. There are so many institutions constructed for the specific purpose of doing good and saving the planet – usually with other people’s money. But they are often shockingly ineffective and sometimes even do more harm than good. This is mainly because they are based on a distorted view of the world, an exaggerated impression of imminent environmental collapse, and/or a lack of understanding of indirect and dynamic effects of their actions (i.e. what Heinlein sums up as “lack of wisdom”). I don’t really want to point fingers here, but the hugely expensive and completely inefficient institutions set up in a futile attempt to prevent the ever changing climate from changing does stand out as a sore thumb.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to the dismal picture of aid effectiveness. I personally adore Hans Rosling and his
Gapminder Foundation, which unveils “the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view.” Knowing the facts is a necessary condition for developing the wisdom needed to do good well, and Gapminder presents huge amounts of data in a very simple and appealing way, and has helped convince institutions like the World Bank that access to data needs to be free (1). 

By simply presenting the evolution of a few simple indicators (like birth rates and child mortality), Rosling helps tear down the very damaging, imaginary wall between so-called developed and developing countries (see for example his short Lego video on population growth or his slightly longer talk “Debunking myths about the Third World”, or the famous talk “The Seemingly Impossible is Possible” where he shows how developing countries are catching up with developed countries, and he even swallows a sword during the presentation!).

Perhaps Rosling is doing good so well because he didn’t set out to do good -- just to do the right thing.

Related articles:

- The First Principle of Development
- Do Your Aid Projects Hurt the Poor?
- Poverty on a 62-foot yacht in the Pacific Ocean
Why don't all countries adopt good institutions?
Should the Aid Industry feel threatened by the increase in remittances?
- On Road Blocks and Parenting

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(*) Fellow of the Bolvian Academy of Economic Sciences. The author happily receives comments at the following address:  .
(1) h/t to Fabian Soria for pointing out the 
the freeing of the data from the World Bank (

(c) Institute for Advanced Development Studies 2010. Feel free to circulate in its original form. Past issues can be found at . The opinions expressed in this newsletters are those of the author and do not necessarily coincide with those of the Institute or of the sponsors.

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