An article in Nature reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation realizes the importance of social science insights and indigenous/local knowledge in generating innovative approaches to improving human welfare in developing countries and promoting the adoption of such approaches.
This is not news to cultural anthropologists. What is news is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted this “innovative” approach. That’s very good news.
It is always been a major challenge to get those in power, with money, at the top, to adopt a more grassroots, local approach. Now let’s see if big money can actually lead to big changes in people’s well being by listening to the people (and the people who study people first hand).
It is essential for the Gates Foundation to also support adequate funding for long-term monitoring and evaluation of social impact, not just recording stats on micro-outputs. We need to be able to see what various innovations accomplish five, ten, twenty years out. We need baseline studies now and follow-up studies on into the future. Local people could be trained to collect basic social data and enter it into a computerized database each week, week after week. In this way, development monitoring and evaluation becomes participatory and sustainable. It’s development for local people, with local people, and monitored by local people.
Sounds like the Gates Foundation may be on an important learning and listening curve. Stay tuned.