Phil LaRocco

An Open Letter to the Development Posse: Lighten Up Already!

Guest writer Philip LaRocco has over thirty years of international and U.S. development experience. He is the co-founder of E+Co, the leading practitioner of the enterprise-centered model of investing in energy enterprises in developing countries. He retired as E+Co’s Executive Director and CEO on April 30, 2009.

An Open Letter to the “Development Posse” (of which I am admittedly a member):

The Development Posse needs to lighten up. Stop being so serious and sincere. It makes you-all (we-all?)ineffective. Being serious makes us focus on what’s the right thing to do rather than the practical things that need to be managed to make real change. Things such as vested interests, career ambitions, empire building and the regular need for certain people to attain rock star status regardless of the validity of what they preach.

Stop being so damned serious. Laugh at and openly discuss the silliness that pervades so much of development. It will make the conversation so much more interesting. Share your latest “you cannot make this sh*t up” example. I’m listening.

While you are at it, stop being so sincere. Repeat after me: nothing works as planned. Thinking it should (work as planned) leads to whining, drama and trying to make water run uphill. When stuff inevitably happens, folks, make the course correction and acknowledge it. Don’t paper it with nonsense such as “market circumstances reduced the demand for the fund-project-programme’s carefully designed products-services-intervention” – when the truth is that the investors and donors got cold feet and backed out.

The people we purport to serve – the unserved (without whom most of us would be tending bar) – really don’t want our pithy explanations. Actually they don’t even want our projects or programmes. What they want, folks, is choice. That’s job one. Not inputs, outputs, outcomes, measures, strategy, tactics or cost-benefits. Our job is to be less sincere, less certain, more agnostic and do those few things that eliminate barriers to choice. We should be avoiding the cliches (Does it scale? Hell, let’s first ask: does it work?). Let’s share stories of what works at creating choice for the poor who employ us. I’m listening.

Phil LaRocco writing as the Dark Green Geek (