Photo: Gizmodo

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gross national happiness

As world leaders come away from the UN in New York following this week's MDG summit and opening of the General Assembly, is anything likely to change for the people whose lives the MDGs are intended to improve? Let's be honest, given that the community of nations pledged 10 years ago to, "spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty," they were hardly likely to shrug their shoulders and back away from such promises. But are we any closer now to delivery on these promises?

What positives can we take away from the summit to reassure people across the world whose lives have gone unchanged, or become more difficult, since 2000? Aside the usual rhetoric of "must do better", there were some departures from the standard script. Presidents Sarkozy and Zapatero spoke passionately about the need to introduce a tax on international financial transactions to fund progress towards the MDGs. But with the continued lukewarm response from the US in particular, this is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon. The Swiss government's representative focussed on the need for a human rights approach to achieving the MDGs, a tool woefully absent from the framework to date. And there is finally some mention in the summit's outcome document of the need to respect, protect and promote human rights in order to reach the Goals. But no mention of how this will be fulfuilled.

My highlight though was the speech from the Prime Minister of Bhutan. He called on the voluntary adoption of a ninth MDG: happiness. Bhutan has long rejected mainstream development paradigms, opting to meaure its country's progress not by improvements in Gross National Product, but Growth National Happiness. Interestingly, the Bhutanese rightly point out that the MDG framework does nothing to tackle poverty and inequality in the developed world. Goals towards achieving happiness, they point out, would be equally relevant and valuable for the global north.

Below you can view the Bhutan Prime Minister's address. This concept is not to be dismissed out of hand. The wonders of economic growth, even before the crisis, have been unable to eradicate poverty and achieve full enjoyment of all human rights for all. Despite the laughter in the General Assembly from some quarters that accompanied Bhutan's idea, there is surely something to gain from taking a closer look at Gross National Happiness.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The science of motivation

Just came across a great post on the Owen Abroad blog. It's a presentation by the economist Dan Pink about the science of "motivation".

Two interesting things emerge for me. Firstly in the NGO sector, we should traditionally be solely driven by purpose rather than financial reward. Rather than salaries being high enough that people don't need to worry about the money and thus perform better, they can also be low enough (especially in the case of volunteers) that financial again is completely removed from the equation. But what happens in the new era of NGOs where CEOs are paid $150,000 and upwards? And even if there's no danger of a profit motive becoming detached from a purpose motive, does financial reward in the NGO sector introduce other dangers?

Secondly, what can this science tell us about policy-making that is driven by a carrot and stick reward system. "Conditionality" is a major driver of social welfare in both the global north (receipt of welfare being attached to a commitment by the beneficiary to seek work for example) and south (entitlement to conditional cash transfers dependent on children being in full-time education).

From this study, should policy-makers' use of motivation to get the best outcomes (for beneficiaries and taxpayers) also be challenged?