Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Millennium Villages Project ... a report about progress and nothing at all about the cost!

Dear Colleagues

I guess this was meant to "make my day" ... but in fact it really does exactly the opposite. I just got the following e-mail message from the Millennium Promise organization about the Millennium Villages Project (MVP). There is report of progress, but nothing at all about the cost!
An amazing week, a brighter future
From John W. McArthur - Millennium Promise [info@millenniumpromise.org]
Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 2:52 PM
To: peterbnyc@gmail.com

Like you, we are results-driven. We are extremely pleased to share with you our first report on midterm results from the Millennium Villages project. Entitled “Harvests of Development in Rural Africa: The Millennium Villages After Three Years,” the report affirms the impacts of an integrated approach to simple, low-cost interventions on a path to sustainable rural development. Significantly, the report – the first of several related publications forthcoming over the next few months – documents the significant gains that have been made across five sites in food production, disease control, and access to basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation.

The results unveiled in the report include the following:
  • Nearly 60% average reduction in malaria prevalence, supported by a seven-fold increase in bednet utilization
  • Staple crop yields have more than doubled on average, supporting a 30% reduction in levels of chronic malnutrition among children under two years old
  • Over 80% of children receive school meals, leading to increased school attendance and better learning
  • Over 40% average increase in women giving birth with skilled birth attendants
  • More than three-fold average increase in access to an improved water source and nearly seven-fold increase in access to improved sanitation facilities
Click here to view the entire report (106pp - 2.5mb

The release of these results coincides with the visit Sunday by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Millennium Village in Mwandama, Malawi. This was the first-ever visit by a sitting UN Secretary-General to the Millennium Villages project, during which time he called upon "every country to look closely at this success. It is case study in what is possible, even in the poorest places in the world."

Thank you for your continued involvement and support.

Warm regards,

John W. McArthur
Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director
Millennium Promise
432 Park Avenue South, 13th Floor
New York NY 10016 USA
Tel: +1 (212) 584 5710 | Fax: +1 (212) 584 5720
© Copyright 2010 Millennium Promise | Privacy Policy

I had a quick read of the 106 page report and it is very nicely printed ... pretty images and some nice graphics.

Some of the graphics show some interesting progress ... and that is encouraging. As I have noted more than once, Dambisa Moyo who is the author of Dead Aid suggests that over a period of 60 years and an amount totaling around 1 trillion dollars, Africa should have some progress to show for it ... so the fact that the MVP has had some progress is good.

But I cannot find in the report any information about how much this progress has cost. In the past, I have heard Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, who I believe is the architect of the MVP, make the case that development would be successful if it were better funded ... and this project is, as I understand it, very much better funded than most development initiatives. Sadly, information about the actual cost of the progress is missing from the report. Indeed, I would say, totally missing from all accessible information! I have tried to find cost information about the MVP on a number of occasions, but nothing ever comes!

In the sort of work I do on development analysis I look for three things ... progress, cost efficiency and cost effectiveness. This report states that there has been progress ... a lot of indicators have improved. This is good ... but the report ignores the cost efficiency question and the cost effectiveness question.

My work in development that goes back to the 1970s suggests to me that development would be successful if the available resources were used better ... that is resources are used efficiently and with a focus on the relationship between impact and cost. My work on this suggests that development performance could be an order of magnitude better than it is ... if not two orders of magnitude. To have this happen requires a paradigm shift in how the donors and the implementing agencies work ... but it is possible ... and I argue should be done.

I like the fact that the MVP is multi-sector and aims to remove constraints ... but I am under the impression that the costs of this program are very very high and accordingly incapable of much replication within the envelope of available resources.

I have been told several times that a lot of good analysis is being done by the Columbia Earth Institute researchers ... and it sounds as if some material of interest will eventually appear as "scholarly papers". This will make the academic community very happy ... but the big question is how best to manage resources so that they deliver the most development progress ... and for this there is a need for management information ... meaningful metrics about the community so that all the stakeholders can be engaged and the most progress achieved.

I constantly remind myself that there are as many as 4 billion people who are poor and hungry and in need of "development assistance". From what I know, the MVP is not an approach that is going to make much of a difference ... and that is a very sad state of affairs.

I would love to be proven wrong ... but my guess is that this will not happen!

Peter Burgess


  1. I believe that the statements of Presidents of African Nations declaring that the MV's will be scaled up from 50,000 to 2.5 million is amazing.

    There are concerns I agree, but to stay so pessimistic against arguably one of the best chances and best models to achieve the bold aims of the MDGs is not particularly helpful. The data clearly shows that they are helpful and have concrete plans, from step one, to scale up and make the villages sustainable.

    Yes they may appear "expensive" but its still $120 per person per year and fits within the 0.7% GNP aid promise of developed nations. But I agree, it would be nice to see this on paper to show that it is in fact operating under those numbers. But like the report said, this is only the first in more to come.

    Thank you for the comments.

  2. Thanks Mark ... but the idea that the MV's can be scaled up from 50,000 to 2.5 million is not only amazing but realistically ridiculous ... unless one is a believer in miracles!

    One of my ongoing concerns is the posturing by world leaders ... statements that make great headlines, but never happen because they are economically and financially impossible. The G8 meeting in Scotland at Gleneagles during the Tony Blair era made all sorts of big promises ... with really almost nothing coming of it. The Presidents of the African Nations are doing something similar. The MVs have got good press ... but I have not seen anything that persuades me that this is cost efficient cost effective development!

    I would like to be proved wrong ... but have not yet seen data that show I am wrong!