Jeffrey Sachs


Can schools profit from farming? This one might | 

DSC_0169Yala, Kenya – It is not often that a greenhouse is found on the property of a primary school in Kenya. Muhando primary school in Nyanza province has one.

It is a part of an agriculture program at the school supported by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

With successful crops and involvement by students and teachers, the project holds the potential to support some of the most vulnerable. Though it is still early and the teachers are not exactly sure what they will do with the profit.

One teacher asserted that it the money made from the farm must support the needy children in the school. Another said it could be used to improve lunch. School meals are available at the school for children that pay or are determined to be vulnerable. Maize and beans are cooked in giant cookstoves installed by the MVP.

DSC_0174The MVP is the brainchild of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

The program seeks to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by tackling poverty from many different angles including education, health and agriculture. The program’s work at Muhando covers the full range of areas.

The program’s fingerprints are all over the school. It bought the cow that produces twenty-four liters of milk every week. It built the rainwater storage tank that collects rainwater from the roof of the school building. It established a computer lab by providing the computers for the school. It even used to provide kale, fruit and other foods to stimulate participation in the meal program. Continue reading

A Farmer’s Dream Conferred | 

DSC_0413Sauri, Kenya – George Aronyi dreams of one day buying a pick up truck. He is a planner who was laughed at when he told his father that he would build a nice home.

“One day I will get out and put up a good permanent house,” he said to his father.

The father of seven children managed to turn a challenge into an opportunity. After losing his job, he took advantage of the resources of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) and struck out on his own. With a growing business of selling milk and maize, he is not far off from getting that pick-up.

A telecoms worker in Nairobi, Aronyi was laid off in 2008. He returned to his home to the west unsure what to do next. His wake up call came in the form of a son being sent home for school over 100 KSH in missing school fees. Continue reading

Jeffrey Sachs 2: The man who made ending poverty not fantastic | 

This is a sequel, or maybe prequel, to yesterday’s post The man who failed to end global poverty. Humanosphere interviews the renowned and controversial economist Jeffrey Sachs, on his history of big ideas and why they seem to irritate so many people.

Editors note: By ‘fantastic,’ we intend the original meaning. The idea of ending extreme poverty is today no longer considered a fantasy – in part due to the big ideas of a controversial economist.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that Columbia University economist Jeff Sachs has done as much as anyone over the past few decades to draw public, and policy maker, attention to the plight of those who live in extreme poverty around the world. Sachs literally wrote the book on how to end poverty. As a numbers guy, he helped transform the idea of ‘ending poverty’ from a dreamy notion sung by Bono and Geldof into a real strategic vision. It is also not a stretch to say that Sachs has become a target of fierce criticism. Some of his critics simply seem to dislike foreign aid; others say his approach is all wrong. What’s clear to Humanosphere is that Sachs has long been a proponent of foreign aid, of the rich world’s moral obligation (and potential benefits) to helping the global poor and of the power of specific interventions for reducing poverty and suffering. Humanosphere thinks ideas matter and wanted to explore the history of this besieged economist’s big ideas:

Q: Over the past 15 years or so, we’ve seen major reductions in poverty worldwide, in rates of some diseases like AIDS and malaria. Back in 2000, you chaired a study called the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health that made the case for the creation of a huge Global Health Fund (which became the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria). A Lancet article from 2002 quoted a number of experts dubious this could ever work.

JeffSachsmugJS: Yes, it was not a very popular idea at the time. The health situation in Africa was especially dreadful and there had not yet been a determination to begin treating people with HIV. Millions were dying without access to treatment. Malaria was also running rampant. There was handwringing but no large-scale action or strategy … There was maybe $100 million for AIDS worldwide, a shocklingly small amount given the scope of the problem. We recommended the international community put something like $5 billion per year to address this. The purpose of the commission was to show that investing in health was very effective and should be scaled up significantly. Many responded to this proposal as totally infeasible, in part because of how weak the health systems were throughout much of Africa. The head of USAID at the time even said the poorest Africans couldn’t work with complex AIDS drugs because they can’t tell time (and properly space out drugs). Critics said the money would be wasted, basically be about as effective as running into a buzz saw. Continue reading

Jeffrey Sachs: The man who failed to end global poverty | 

News Analysis (See also Part 2 – the Prequel, a chat with Sachs about his controversial big ideas)

Jeff Sachs
Jeff Sachs
Earth Institute

Yes, that’s a ridiculous headline. Oddly enough, it’s not that different from recent headlines on otherwise serious media reports and punditry regarding the anti-poverty economist Jeffrey Sachs. To wit:

Globe and Mail How Jeffrey Sachs failed to save Africa

Pacific Standard The Not-So-Great Professor: Jeffrey Sachs’ Failure to Eradicate Poverty in Africa

Power Line How Not to Save The World

Holy Cow! I had no idea this single Columbia University academic was so powerful and that we, the world community, had entrusted him with the responsibility of eradicating global poverty. What a huge disappointment then to discover his failure. No wonder everyone is so upset. Continue reading

Learning from mistakes made: The Millennium Villages Project | 

Millennium Villages
Millennium Villages

Eds note: Updated with rebuttal and comments from representatives of the MVP.

The Millennium Villages Project, an ambitious project launched across Africa by economist Jeffrey Sachs, is once again drawing attention.

A somewhat critical book, The Idealist, by Vanity Fair editor Nina Munk describes Columbia University Professor Sachs’ sometimes brash style in convincing even his strongest opponents to follow his poverty alleviation prescriptions.

The MVP, as the project is known, was launched by Sachs nearly a decade ago to demonstrate that relatively inexpensive targeted interventions can achieve major benefits against disease and poverty. Since then, the project has been repeatedly criticized for lacking adequate measures and data to back up its claims of progress.

The book’s profile of Sachs is augmented by two new reports on the MVP. One explores media attention to the MVP in Africa. Another says that the mistakes made by the MVP provide lessons for future projects and illustrate the importance of transparency in development projects. Continue reading

Dambisa Moyo counter-attacks Bill Gates’ critique of her work as ‘evil’ | 

You will remember from yesterday, that Bill Gates is not a fan of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (see below video). Responding to a question about Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which criticizes Western aid interventions in Africa, Gates claimed the book is ‘promoting evil.’

Well, it turns out that Moyo is not happy with what Gates has to say about her book. Moyo issued a pithy response to what she described as a personal attack by Gates.

“To say that my book ‘promotes evil’ or to allude to my corrupt value system is both inappropriate and disrespectful,” writes Moyo in a blog post this morning.

Dr. Dambisa Moyo

The short blog post makes two points to refute the remarks made by Gates. First, Moyo says that the book serves as a debating point on aid. She says that both she and Gates agree on the goal to improve the livlihoods of Africans in a sustainable way. Her goal was to raise concerns about the limitations of aid.

The second point made by Moyo addresses Gates’ claim that she does not know much about aid. Moyo is quick to point out her experience in the classroom, a PhD, and out, World Bank Consultant. She concludes that her experience being raised in Zambia provides her with a unique first-hand insight into poverty in Africa and the impacts of aid. It is the very same selling point that Moyo used in promoting her book.

“To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day,” says Moyo.

Gates is not alone in claiming Moyo’s analysis is seriously flawed. 

Continue reading

Rwanda’s revolutionary prescription for health | 

Editor’s note: This is a follow up (a day or so behind schedule) to an article I did last week on what many see as the humanitarian dilemma of Rwanda – a success story in aid and development in an nation with a questionable record on basic freedoms and human rights. Since it’s original posting, I’ve made changes to clarify that everyone agrees community health workers are invaluable to success. The question is one of emphasis.


Rwanda is widely celebrated for having demonstrated that major improvements in health can be achieved in a poor country, at relatively low cost per capita, by good strategy, innovation and focusing on the best bang for the buck.

Peter Drobac
Peter Drobac

“There’s really been an extraordinary level of leadership by the Rwandan government, in terms of central planning and coordination,” said Peter Drobac, Rwanda director of Partners in Health, the health aid and advocacy organization founded by physician-activist Paul Farmer and Jim Y. Kim, now director of the World Bank.

The Rwandan government has implemented an insurance program that has covered most of the population with an emphasis on basic, preventative care that the British Medical Journal recently reported has greatly increased life expectancy, significantly reduced AIDS and TB as well as maternal and child mortality — all for about $55 per person.

“I think we’ve learned some lessons here that can be applied universally,” said Drobac.

Rwanda is being held up as a model within the global health community, but planning and coordination is nothing without execution. Digging down past all the sound-bites and buzz words, what has really made the difference?

Arguably, some of the more critical players in this scheme have been relegated to a minor supporting role when it’s possible they are actually in the lead.

Community health workers. Rwanda has 45,000 of them, or about three per village.

Partners in  Health has been a pioneer, and major proponent of the use of community health workers to extend the reach of the health system in poor countries. But Sachs thinks their role still remains underappreciated in media reports and policy discussions.

Jeff Sachs
Jeff Sachs
Columbia University

“There has been a dramatic change in terms of what you can do with community health workers in poor villages,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a leading aid and development economist who has recently proposed a massive expansion of community health workers as the most powerful means to achieve many key global health goals. Advances in diagnosis and treatment along with the ubiquitous cell phone means lower-skilled health workers have a greatly expanded care repertoire.

Rather than continue to focus on disease-specific interventions or trying to increase high-level health capacity, Sachs thinks the most obvious lesson learned from Rwanda’s success in health is that these low-level trained health workers are most powerful.

“This is a new idea,” Sachs said. “We’ve had community health workers for many years, but they are generally viewed as complementary components when what I’m talking about is making them central components in a new system of public health.” Continue reading

Rwandans fight poverty while others fight over the numbers | 

Tom Paulson

Donald Ndahiro, team leader of Millennium Villages Project in Rwanda

Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series, Metrics Mania, exploring the debates surrounding how to tell if aid and development projects are working. This is a look at one such project at the center of the debate.


MAYANGE, RWANDA — Many miles south of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ in Kigali is the site of one of the worst massacres of the 1994 Rwandan genocide where the majority Hutu ethnic group sought to eliminate their rivals, the Tutsis.

As one local, Donald Ndahiro, told me during my visit here to the Bugasera District: “This was the place they used to send people to starve and die.”

Ndahiro said this was a terrible place before the genocide — a tsetse-fly infested, hostile land of the extremely poor. And it remained a terrible place after. Only a few years ago, people were still starving — and dying — here in one of Rwanda’s poorest regions. Disease, alcoholism and despair were rampant.

It’s not at all like that today. So what happened?

Tom Paulson

Coffee farming, Bugesera District

One explanation is that a number of aid projects — including the celebrated Millennium Villages and a lesser-known but large-scale health improvement project by the Seattle-based Glaser Progress Foundation — were launched here aimed at correcting decades of neglect and to see if targeted investments could rapidly improve quality of life. Also nearby is another Seattle project, a girl’s school called Gashora Academy.

A competing theory is that the progress here is largely due to Rwanda’s overall economic improvement in the past decade.

These two views provoke fierce argument over whether foreign aid works, or at least how to measure its effectiveness. Metrics mania. Continue reading