Over the last few months Erin and I have had an ongoing discussion about longer term strategy and vision for Acara. One of the things we want to make sure all Acara participants put a lot of thought into, is namely, are we doing the “right” things. That’s a pretty big question and will require a lot of discussion, not only about what Acara’s philosophy really is, but once you know that, how do you decide what is “right”? And what does “right” mean anyway? Big questions.

We are obviously not the first or only people to think about this. Every academic, political, and development area seems to have something or someone telling the world their view of it. Actually one really well done program is the Copenhagen Consensus, which looks at it from an economic standpoint. I’m not going to review these here, but take a look at the Copenhagen Consensus if you are interested in more depth. It’s well done.
We of course want to focus our challenges in areas where we think they can have the most impact (ah, there’s another loaded word, like “right”). One way to do this, is to take a step outside the box (a really big step) and get views from different thought leaders. It’s a potentially long list, and I’ll blog about it occasionally, but starting with some Nobel Prize winners in economics, here are two interesting positions, taken from a couple books I read recently.

Joseph Stiglitz, author of Making Globalization Work. His view of measuring an economy is more expansive than just GDP. His book about globalization is very macroeconomic His view is very consistent with a view from an outside the US view, even though he is from the US. He thinks a pure focus on economic gain is wrong and that government should get involved with helping markets in developing countries. In discussing East Asia, he says “All these countries believed in the importance of markets, but they realized that markets had to be created and governed, and that sometimes private firms might not do what needs to be done”. I’d agree with this in developing markets. This was a topic of discussion at the recent BOP conference and I think that market development is complex in an emerging economy and does need guidance from a lot of major players, not just the government. From Acara’s stand point, his macro views are important and could help understand if the kinds of businesses we look at are really the best way to promote larger economic development. I’d recommend reading this book.
Amartya Sen’s book, The Idea of Justice, was to be honest, generally over my head. In many ways he is from the same school of thought as Stiglitz, his Nobel was for “welfare economics” but he is much more philosophical than Stiglitz. He espouses what he calls the capability approach to ethics and political philosophy. To quote: “..individual advantage is judged in the capability approach by a person’s capability to do things he or she has reason to value.” This relates to “what is fair” which in some ways is something that allows people to do what they perceive as “valuable” to them. In other words, if I live in a slum, fair may not be more money but time to spend doing something with my family (which i can’t now because i have to work 14 hours a day). He applies this to a variety of things like social justice, sustainability, etc. It’s not as clear to me how this fits to Acara’s philosophy but it is thought provoking about fairness and justice. It does make you think a little harder about the outcome of what you are doing.