Thinking of Korea in Sauri, Kenya

by |June 11, 2010

I am spending my summer in Sauri, Kenya. As a Masters in Development Practice student (MDP), we have a 12-week field training in a Millennium Village. The first 5 weeks consists of rotations in Agriculture/Business Development, Education, Health, Infrastructure, and Community Development. After the rotations, we will work as a team to draw up a project based on the community’s needs. The last six weeks are spent implementing these projects. During our time here, we are required to analyze what works, how it works and what doesn’t work.

I am not new to this part of Kenya, in 2007-08 I worked for Innovations for Poverty Action/MIT Poverty Action Lab in Busia, Kenya one hour north of Sauri. At that time I worked as a research assistant and evaluation coordinator for a team of development economists on randomized control trials for development interventions. Most of the research targeted specific interventions such as how to incentivize mothers to get their children immunized and how to increase school attendance.

Today I am only one hour south of Busia, but studying a very different approach. As you can imagine, we are learning about integrated rural development, which invests in all sectors simultaneously rather than targeting a single intervention. There is a lot of attention on whether this integrated approach is actually more effective at improving the lives of the rural poor.

And this is when I started thinking about Korea. One my classmates, Jung, is from South Korea and one morning on our way to work, we talked about whether the MVP model was the best way to go. Jung mentioned how Sauri reminded him of his village when he was growing up and that Korea had implemented an integrated rural development program during the 1970s and 1980s. And this now takes us to Mwandama, Malawi. Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon visited the MVP site in Mwandama, Malawi. It was the SG’s first visit to an MVP and he seemed very enthusiastic to see what the MVP had accomplished in Mwandama since the project started. What struck me from his speech was that he mentioned the rural development program that his country implemented in the 1970s and 1980s, the same that Jung had spoken about.

Here is what the SG said:

“Mwandama reminds me of my days as a young boy. I was six years old when the Korean War broke out. Everything in Korea was destroyed and I didn’t even have a schoolroom. I was sitting under trees. When it rained, there was no class. What you are doing in the MVP is similar to what South Korean people did in the 70s and 80s. That was called the ‘New Village movement.’ When I see what you’re doing here, I know we can succeed in achieving the MDGs.”

So I started thinking whether this integrated rural program had helped Korea transition from one of the poorest countries in the 1960s to the 13th largest economy- one of the most successful economic transformation stories of the 20th century. According to the OECD, part of Korea’s success was due to its effective use of ODA. The Korean government estimates that it received USD 12.7 bn in aid after WWII, which helped propel economic development and decrease poverty.

Korea joined the OECD in 1996 and has transitioned from an aid recipient to aid donor. Last November it attained Development Assistance Committee (DAC) membership. Korea has displayed interest in sharing how it used its aid effectively to other countries.

Sauri is the first MVP. Only four years in and there are already signs that people’s lives are improving: decrease in malaria prevalence due to mass bednet distribution, increase in maize yields, reduction in chronic malnutrition, increase in GER in primary education. The mid-term report, published last week, has preliminary data and the report indicates that further scientific results, including comparisons with other village, will be published later this year, including in peer-reviewed scientific literature. I think learning about success stories, such as Korea, is key to moving forward. Sure, we might try and fail but we won’t get anywhere if we don’t try.

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