Global Issues

An open model for international aid: Sanjay Pradhan at TEDGlobal 2012

Posted by: Ben Lillie

Sanjay Pradhan

From Bihar to the World Bank

Sanjay Pradhan grew up in Bihar, India’s poorest state. He came home one day, at 6 years old, to find a cart of sweets at the front door. He and his brothers greedily dug in — but when his father came home, he was livid. Those sweets, it turns out, were a bribe from a contractor. His father built roads in Bihar, and he had “developed a firm stance against corruption, even though he was harrassed and threatened.”

Bihar was India’s most corrupt state, and in it, “The poor had no means to voice their anguish if their children had no food or no schooling.” During his education, Pradhan traveled to different villages to study poverty. In one, a very poor man invited him into his hut and fed him. Pradhan only later realized that what he’d eaten “was food for him and his entire family for two days.” That day changed his life.

He joined the World Bank, which sought to fight such poverty by transfering aid from rich countries to poor countries. In Uganda, he saw new schools built with funds from the World Bank — but no books; new hospitals — but no drugs: the poor without any resource.

“Globally, 1.3 billion live on less than $1.25 per day.”

The problems go back years, to the establishment of the Bretton Woods system, including the World Bank. Pradhan lists three elements that are problematic:

  • The model was built on a transfer of resources from North to South, with conditions for that aid.
  • There was little transparency.
  • The engagement was entirely with elites in the receiving countries, and little with citizens.

“Today, each of these elements is opening up,” says Pradhan, due to the transformations in the global world. This has produced 3 key shifts transforming development.

  1. Open knowledge. Developing countries will not simply accept conditions as they are. Instead, they are seeking inspiration from other nations who have succeeded.
  2. Open aid. The World Bank recently opened its vault of data for public use. They launched a global competition to crowdsource apps for this data. They are also opening projects for funding, such as geomapping to reveal problems. That project that has already had success finding holes in development projects.
  3. Open governance. Citizens are demanding more. A great example is opening budgets to the public. But “there is a big difference between a budget that is public and a budget that is accessible.” Now, citizens are able to use new tools to visualize the budget.

All of this is producing results. For example, Pradhan says, “In the Phillipines, today, students and teachers can give real-time feedback on whether teachers and textbooks are showing up in schools.” That innovation, at, is moving to other countries. As another example, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, university students used mobile phones to map the entire city and got feedback on which health and water points needed service.

Sanjay Pradhan

A picture of aid in the future

In many areas governments are not interested in helping the poor. “It is,” Pradhan says, “a real challenge for those who want to change the system. These are the lonely warriors.” The job now is to help them join hands so they can do their jobs.

Two years ago, Pradhan called his father. At age 80, he was typing up a 70-page litigation against a corrupt road project, and argued the case. That night he passed away, bookending his life in service.

At the World Bank, they are embracing the new directions. They need, says Pradhan, “to radically open up development, so knowledge flows in multiple directions … If we do, we will find that the collective voices of the poor will be heard in Bihar, Uganda, and beyond. We will find that the textbooks and teachers will show up in schools for their children. We will find that these children, too, will have a real chance of breaking their way out of poverty.”

Photos: James Duncan Davidson

Comments (3)

  • Anup Choudhary commented on Nov 24 2012

    LONELY WARRIORS & WINDS OF CHANGE IN BIHAR!……Thanks to Mr. Sanjay for the inspirational talk, very nostalgic too as coming from Bihar, I can relate with the experience of ‘opening up the development’ as shared during the TED talk. Indeed, chronically backward Indian state of Bihar is undergoing ‘de-envelopment’- a transformation with sweeping departure from business-as-usual approach. And key drivers are open knowledge and governance as shared by Mr.Sanjay. Right to information Act-2005 is slowly but firmly changing the governance landscape of Bihar as well as India by empowering common citizen to demand and enforce accessible and accountable bureaucracy and Government. These changes reflect life time passion & commitment of ‘lonely warriors’ as said by Mr Sanjay. The spirit and momentum provided by these lonely warriors is made by well-known personalities like Anna Hazare but more notably by numerous anonymous torch bearers like late father of Mr Sanjay. Armed with constitutional rights and unrestrained knowledge flow of social media, people are coming together and raising their voices for political and developmental accountability from Government. Part of the credit goes to the strategies, practises & advisory support provided by humanitarian organisations like World Bank as well as committed leadership fostering citizen responsive governance. I wish to share an experience of mine when I was part of a UN team in Bihar technically facilitating state Government in geo-mapping key socio-economic indicators in 2009. Our initiative was reciprocated with astonishing support of Government and we were able to assist the state Government in publishing a ‘Planning Atlas’ for entire state for the first time using cutting edge GIS technology. This helped the Government to identify indicator based disparities within the state and hence devise informed strategies and policies. I hope & have firm belief that this journey of engagement and empowerment of the ‘last in the line’ will continue, not only in Bihar but throughout the world where blot of poverty and powerlessness persists. Thanks again for the talk.

  • commented on Jun 28 2012

    Reblogged this on efilospoetry and commented:
    The issue of corruption has led many to believe that the world is coming to an end. But the success of every individual as well as society lies on the ability for one to use the opportunities at one’s disposal with shrewdness and a sense of tenacity, believing that the good could even come from the bad if management of the bad changes hands.

  • commented on Jun 28 2012

    This is great friend. Keep up. Actually the vice of corruption and poverty in society is growing with quite a doubtful alarm. One wonders if things were the same in the mid centuries or worse.