Lant Pritchett and the hot Indian shower

A great story from Lant Pritchett, writing in the comments section of David Roodman’s blog, about how the development industry sets goals and targets. The way we articulate our goals affects how we set about achieving them.

I was living in India and discussing arrangements for household water supply with some development colleagues of mine. After about half an hour of pretty fruitless discussion I said, “Let’s step back. Tell me your long-run vision of the household water sector in India.”

They said “Our vision is that India meets the target that every household lives within half a kilometer of an improved water source capable of providing 40 liters of safe per person per day.”

I said, “I see the problem. My vision of success is that every Indian can take a hot shower inside their own home.”  The difference is that one can imagine meeting the first goal “programmatically” or with a series of “interventions” while the latter clearly requires endogenously functional systems.

No one I know wants to have to go to a group meeting to take a hot shower. They want to turn the tap and it works.

Their whole discussion, on whether microfinance is an example of “aid building a thriving, disruptive industry that enriches the institutional fabric of nations” or “an unfortunate work-around for the failures of mainstream financial systems to serve the poor,” is worth reading.