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Stupid contest identifies confusion: World’s top 40 development innovators

Which 40 organizations are most innovative when it comes international development?

An organization called Devex (which appears to be a jobs network for aid and development workers) said it polled thousands of people working in foreign aid and development to answer that incredibly vague question.

It’s incredibly vague because the words “innovation” and “development” can be taken to mean almost anything.

But lack of clarity didn’t stop them from declaring the Devex Top 40 innovators in development.

Among the winners: Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deloitte Consulting (the tax and financial advisers), an international construction consulting firm called AECOM (which recently took on Col. Gaddafi’s son as an intern), Booz Allen Hamilton (which mostly works on defense and homeland security stuff)…. What the hell?

Notably absent from this list is, uh, our nation’s (and, arguably, the world’s) foremost aid and development organization, USAID. Off the top of my head, I’d also say Seattle-based PATH is perhaps more innovative when it comes to fighting global poverty and disease than the tax advisers at Deloitte.

You can probably think of other notables missing from this list.

So, yeah, it’s a stupid and meaningless contest and list. So what?

I mention it only because I like words to mean something.

Innovation is a term used a lot these days and yet nobody seems to know what it means.

More importantly, if accountants and advisers to defense contractors can win a contest aimed it identifying innovative leaders in international development, the field of development needs better definition as well.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.