The voices I want to hear

I started this year traveling across Africa with Bono visiting places we hadn’t been for nearly a decade. One of these was northern Ghana. Ghana is often held up as a success story of development. It has a stable democracy, fast growing economy and has already met the Millennium Development Goal to halve extreme poverty. There is a buzz about the place –- they are on the road out of aid. But this success has not reached everyone and northern Ghana in particular feels left out of the countrywide progress, just as it did a decade ago.

On this visit to the North we teamed up with Jeffrey Sachs and visited the West Mamprusi District where we met Fatahiya Yakubu, a 24-year-old nurse working hard to help the community. She is one of only two nurses serving 30,000 people from her clinic. She plainly could do with some help, as could the whole community.

That is why I’m excited that the UK’s Department for International Development has started to work in the West-Mamprusi and Builsa Districts of northern Ghana as of this week, working through the Millennium Village method and with the regional Savvanah Accelerated Development Authority. The Millennium Village project is an important experiment. Taking one village and district at a time and working across sectors –- investing in education, agriculture, health, governance -– at the same time.

The approach has not been immune to criticism and many lessons have been learned over the course of the Millennium Village projects in other parts of Africa.

Building on this work, it’s also crucial that this latest program for West Mamprusi District will be rigorously independently monitored through randomized control trial, publicly available data and the results published so British taxpayers can see how their money is being spent, and what results it is and isn’t achieving.

Aid alone is not the answer to development -– policies that promote transparency, good governance, trade, investment and inclusive growth are just as important -– sometimes more so. But smart aid, strategically used, can save lives in the short term and help catalyze communities and national economies to thrive in the medium to long term.

The kind of independent monitoring this Millennium Village project will be scrutinized by should become more widespread practice right across the development sector. Overall, the development community needs to become more like the corporate sector in the way we experiment, face both success and failure bravely, take risks, be entrepreneurial, learn lessons and adapt. Smart aid, the kind that we advocate for at ONE, is an investment that measures results, that holds itself accountable for delivery, that offers the best independent evaluation of what works and, more importantly, honors these citizen’s real struggles by being open about what doesn’t work.

As part of our own commitment to this we are going to follow the progress of West Mamprusi District and Fatahiye and other communities and individuals across the continent. We want to know what heroines like Fatahiya do next, and how they will seize and own the opportunities that should come about as a result mainly of their own efforts –- backed by British and other nations’ aid programs and other polices covering things like trade and transparency. And we want to hear their concerns and criticisms of the project too. We will publish their stories on this blog.

We want to give these vital voices a platform so we can take their views directly to leaders such as those gathering at the G8 or the annual African Union Summits, to give the poorest people a chance to tell leaders what they should be doing to help end extreme poverty and hunger.

These are the voices I want to hear. I hope you do to. So stay tuned to the ONE blog for more.