Millennium Villages & Scalability

I’ve received a good amount of feedback from yesterday’s blog post about the Millennium Villages, their impact, and whether or not it’s a model that can be scaled up to the African continent as a whole.  Professor Sachs and one of his colleagues from the Earth Institute even weighed in, and I really appreciate it.

I must say, this debate has made me further question the feasibility of scaling up this model. It’s not completely out of the question.  As I did state yesterday, it is in fact being scaled up, although not yet to any large scale.  I still won’t say it’s the right way to go for large-scale development — it’s just too costly and lacks evidence of sustainability — but passing the whole project off as unscalable is unjust.

Let me shine a little light on the financial difficulties of scaling up this model.

Again, here’s the financing model, from

“Funding and implementing a Millennium Village is a shared effort among the Millennium Villages project, donors, NGOs, local and national governments, and the village community itself. Each Millennium Village budgets an investment of $120 per person per year. Half of this is mobilized directly through the MVP initiative, and the other half comes from partners, including the community itself ($10), the national government ($30), and NGO partners ($20).”

In 2011, the net ODA per capita in Africa was $49.1.  11.5% of this was debt relief.  Sadly, most of this aid doesn’t reach the people who actually need it, often ending up in large development projects using suppliers and materials from the donor country.  Donors usually aren’t making these contributions purely for the betterment of recipients, there’s economic incentives in it for them as well.  To think that even half of ODA disbursements could be channeled into the Millennium Village model is a long-shot.  Yes, there’s non-governmental donors as well, but to expect them to fill the gap is also unreasonable.  If we assume that even half of ODA contributions could be channeled into the model, the remaining gap on the donor side would be over $35 billion [0.5($49.1) * 1 billion people].

Sachs is always quick to point out the developed world’s ridiculous amount of military spending and how fractions of that could dramatically improve the lives of those most in need. Of course I completely agree.  But the reality is that governments just aren’t willing to spend even close to that amount on foreign aid.  That’s a reality that needs to change, and I think it is, but incredibly slowly.

I hope the Millennium Village model proves successful.  I hope today’s Villages can be scaled up, benefit more people, and serve as examples of successful development for the rest of the continent, and others.  But the costs of the project and the lack of sizeable aid flowing to Africa leave me with hesitation.  Please see my post from yesterday, though, because despite these funding difficulties, this project should be seen from more than only a cost/benefit perspective. The publicity generated by this project and the lessons learned from its shortcomings are especially valuable to African development.

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