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Open Letter to the Development Space

Dear World Bank, IMF, Academia, and other players in the development space,

We urgently request that you take action as follows to meet your proclaimed mandates to relieve suffering in developing countries, where the majority of humanity lives.

The heavy lifting has been done and the solution for persistent underdevelopment in postcolonial countries now exists. It’s called the Implicit Curriculum of Higher Education and the full details are on our site. All that remains to be done is help implement it so that developing countries can begin to indigenously supply the effective managerial leadership they need to develop instead of relying on scarce expatriates from the West and China.

For 2 years, proxies of your space have been informed of our breakthrough solution that’s based on the foundational premises of the development space itself and on empirical facts. Yet, it has been ignored! Instead, the source of underdevelopment that the solution targets remains a taboo subject. It’s the “elephant in the room” that every major player in the development space actively avoids in scholarship and in policymaking. It remains a mystery how you plan to solve the problem of underdevelopment by avoiding the cause?

The cause of underdevelopment is not a secret. Talking about it is the secret. Underdevelopment is the shortage of effective managerial leadership at all levels of the economy. Developing countries cannot indigenously meet their need for effective managerial leadership. They have to rely on expatriate agents only in the quantities they can afford or tolerate, which is much smaller than the numbers required to develop. Underdevelopment is persistent because the shortage of effective managerial leadership is permanent. The development space already knows this. Why else would the IMF frequently demand that expatriate managerial leadership take over state-owned enterprises after a loan default?

At the same time, the promise attributed to higher education in our world, the promise that every graduation ceremony stands for, the promise that academia does not reject, is that it will provide such leadership systematically. Accordingly, academia is the default and only source for supplying indigenous managerial leadership to developing countries. 

But the promise has proven empty. Developing countries have accumulated higher education graduates in large numbers with little effective managerial leadership to show for it. The measure of success is the performance of expatriate agents and their diaspora living in developing countries. They generally operate successfully and enjoy a first-world lifestyle under the same conditions that allegedly hold locals back.

In effect, higher education has served developing countries as technical training with a fancy name. Poverty, corruption, bad governance, instability, dependence on the advanced economies, and hopelessness for the masses. These are merely the symptoms of the attempt to operate the economic model imposed by colonialism without the required effective managerial leadership and with technical knowledge alone.

Underdevelopment is not a failure of developing countries. The failure is education that has no idea how to deliver effective managerial leadership yet consumes all available resources for the task. That is the problem our solution solves. The Implicit Curriculum utilizes existing educational resourcesnot additional resourcesto actually deliver the promise of “higher education for development.” This is measured in the individual graduate as effective managerial leadership. In the economy as a whole, it is measured as economic development beyond superficial modernization. But it’s also the problem that the development space actively avoids and denies. A position that is quietly endorsed by the deafening silence of the privileged educated elite in developing countries.

So, as the vast majority of the human species languishes in the degradation and hopelessness of persistent underdevelopment, the huge public and private resources devoted to the upkeep of the development space give the illusion that “something” is being done about the problem at the highest intellectual levels. The illusion that the development space is making incremental progress towards a solution. Nothing can be further from the truth! 

Despite the hope of humanity invested in it, the development space has remained stagnant for solving the problem since the 1950s when economist Robert Solow narrowed down underdevelopment to the concept of TFP.1 Probably no other area in the study of the human condition has remained as stagnant since that era. At the same time, organizations in your space have become increasingly bold in their disdain for a viable solution.

For example, the highest award in the field of economics, the Nobel Prize, has been given several times for “underdevelopment” while the problem remains unchanged. Huh? And then, the latest recipient had the hubris to openly declare that there can be no “grand theory” or solution that will solve underdevelopment.2 A statement that happens to be false because a solution already exists.

Every approach to the underdevelopment problem has failed miserably exactly because they have been piecemeal. By definition, a grand solution is whatever will predictably and systematically supply indigenous managerial leadership that’s as effective as the expatriate agents who already operate in developing countries. The sum of all piecemeal “solutions”, regardless of awards, does not add up to that. Given the significance of underdevelopment in our world and the resources already devoted to addressing the problem, the search for a grand solution should be the singular, unrelenting commitment of the development space with the urgency of the Manhattan Project. Not temporarily but permanently until such a solution is found. That hasn’t happened. Fortunately, that’s no longer necessary as we already did all the work.

Nevertheless, to claim that no grand solution can exist for underdevelopment is not only the epitome of “knowing everything”, it condemns developing countriesthe vast majority of humanityto eternal suffering. The same echo chamber that allowed such a declaration without challenge is the one that measures progress by the yardstick of doomed-to-fail MDGs and SDGs. Activities that give the appearance of incremental R&D in the development space while zero progress is actually being made and the real problem is ignored.

Worse yet is the unprovoked announcement by the World Bank in 2016 not to use the term “developing country” any longer for describing the global south.3 This was because the Bank considers it wrong to group a country like Malaysia under the “developing country” category along with Malawi. After all, the reasoning goes, Malaysia is middle-income and closer to the US in development than low-income Malawi.

It was a shocking broadcast that the World Bank is not only in denial of the essence of underdevelopment, but also engaged to classify it out of existence. Yet, the realistic interpretation of the Bank’s premise is that Malaysia is more like the US because it has a wider and deeper penetration of expatriate managerial leadership in its economy than Malawi does. This fact can’t be wished away. Middle-income and low-income countries merit the same designation precisely because both are equally dependent on expatriates and the diaspora of developed countries for effective managerial leadership with no means to attain self-sufficiency. By the same measure, the so-called “middle-income trap” exists because middle-income countries either can’t afford or tolerate the increased amount of expatriate dominance needed to raise them to developed status.

The announcement signals that the only means to indigenously fill the dire shortage of managerial leadership in developing countries is not expected by the World Bank to workFOREVER. It means that “higher education for development” is an empty slogan the World Bank itself does not believe in. And that increased expatriate dominance is the only option for prosperity. Or re-colonization, as Bruce Gilley wantonly implied.4 What an “uplifting” message from an organization with the primary directive to reduce poverty.

Research in the development space has proven to be self-serving dynamism that is tuned out from the real problem. For too long, the fear of confronting the cause of underdevelopment seems to have outweighed duty and obligation. If the situation was not so serious, if the endless suffering of billions of people was not involved, all of this would be hilariously comical.

Helping to implement a viable solution is a redeeming way past this abject stagnation. The solution is already here. What are you going to do about it?

Sincerely,

Samuel Odunsi, Sr

Director, Human Rethink

1 “What Is the Basic Theory of Robert Solow?” https://bit.ly/3zfzTxm

2 “Nobel Winner feels no grand theory can explain underdevelopment” https://www.dailypioneer.com/2019/top-stories/nobel-winner-feels-no-grand-theory-can-explain-underdevelopment–economists.html

3 “The World Bank is eliminating the term ‘developing country’ from its data vocabulary” https://qz.com/685626/the-world-bank-is-eliminating-the-term-developing-country-from-its-data-vocabulary/

4Resignations at Third World Quarterly” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/09/20/much-third-world-quarterlys-editorial-board-resigns-saying-controversial-article

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