Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Baseball Can Teach Us about Development

I am long suffering fan of the Chicago Cubs and making matters worse I studied political science meaning that I also know about all their human misery and conflict that is spread throughout this world. It wasn’t until I thought about it, that I realized there are a lot of parallels between global development programs and professional baseball teams.

 Global development organizations no doubt have the greatest of intentions when they go to a country in the developing world to help the impoverished masses. The images are haunting who wouldn’t be deeply affected by the images of little African children’s malnourished emaciated bodies with ribs sticking out? Likewise, every year the Chicago Cubs ownership and fans start out every year with the undying belief that this year is going to be the year when the Cubs will win the World Series and that curse thing will be lifted, unfortunately in many cases, the best intentions end up in the greatest despair.

In pursuing the goal of winning a World Series, the Chicago Cubs and many other teams (Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies) spend a great deal of money and prospects on high priced free agents. The difference between the Cubs and those other teams is that those teams have or contend for World Series rings. The Cubs spend their money and prospects on big name free agents who either get injured or shrink from view amid the glare of the dogged Chicago media.

A similar problem plagues the world of development as many relief agencies opt for the big opulent projects that yes look very beautiful and pleasing to the eye, but do nothing about the thousands of people who just want running water, food, and a roof over their heads.

Some international aid Agencies do worse than the Cubs by putting large sums of money into the hands of the aid agencies equivalent of free agent busts: corrupt third world dictators. Who without oversight corrupt the money away or engage in these large scale wasteful rudderless projects that some development agencies are known for.

No one is comparing Milton Bradley to Robert Mugabe in terms of mass brutality to a people, but both men proved to be wastes of money and failed to deliver on promises they made to their fan bases or the international community, depending on who you’re referring to. Big projects have results that can be seen in the form of buildings and structures that’s why aid agencies love them because they can claim “See we’re doing something about ____________ whether they’ve actually done anything or not.

 In baseball, big name free agent signings energize a fan base allowing the general managers to claim “We’re serious about winning the World Series this year.

Baseball provides a ready example that development programs might be wise to follow. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins have managed to field competitive teams the last few years by spending money wisely and making good use of their prospects to fill roster holes, rather than paying six gazillion dollars for a name player who hits .240 whose best contact was with Team Gatorade dispenser.

 Aid agencies can work the same way by engaging local communities they enter into and asking them what they need, rather than operating from the center where the president/prime minister may be clueless as to rural village needs.

Also don’t pick the projects that will serve the few, look for those that serve the many. Put in baseball terms, would you rather have one good outfielder who cranks sixty home runs, so you’re perpetually waiting for the homer or nine guys who hit .320 and drive in ninety runs a piece, so that the offense is more spread out? What’s better having one big centralized hospital or five hospitals spread out throughout five rural villages? These are the types of discussions aid agencies need to have.

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