We are…Development Economics X

By Kweku Opoku-Agyemang.

Welcome to the new blog.

A common refrain in international development has to do with bilateral aid being far more donor-driven than being locally-led, but nobody seems to know what, if anything, to do about it. I say, “if anything” because there are instances where that it legally and logistically really is the most prudent course of action. The reality is that most funding aimed at development does not technically leave the country of origin. At the same time, this creates problems to the extent that it arguably keeps governments from learning from projects that enable it to exceed its comfort zone.

However, this widespread sentiment, in my opinion, also reflects how development policy has shifted in recent times in ways that are closer to home for economists who are driven by political economy and the credibility revolution. That vast majority of development, boils down to one simple word.


In the past, the end-result of research meant advice. It still does, albeit to a relatively smaller extent. However, we are far from the late 19th Century and the electrochemical revolution and even the post-war large multinational firms in the space and their “shareholder revolution.”

Today, it’s about advice and implementation. That is, not only do stakeholders want you to write a paper and explain what it implies, they want you to follow through to the point where it’s NO work for them.


Explain it to me like I’m 5: Stakeholders used to say “tell us what we should do, O, Expert.”

They still do that here and there, but, now, they really want is something more like, “Solve the problem and wake me up when you’re done.”

What does this mean? It means a really weird equilibrium where traditionally-short-term management consulting is increasingly encroaching on the area that should be research-led, historically-informed and data-driven. At this time, many stakeholders are engaging management consultants who do not necessarily take a social science or even a research-based perspective to their craft. Stakeholders tend to go with consultants mainly because, as forthcoming research suggests, it is allowing them a path towards gradually outsourcing core state functions. This is quietly becoming the default in many countries and there are significant political economy implications.

My significant experience from working in an African government to becoming a researcher and presenting to stakeholders from 16 country officials from across Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America makes all this clearer to me than ever before. I remain a development economist, but the reason why I also took comprehensive examinations in political science and sociology departments (which I really do not recommend!) was to stay ahead of significant developments of this sort. It’s why we are delivering impact in 13 domain areas, from global health to agricultural development, democracy and institutions. We know that we need a bigger shift than ever before.

Nothing will ever replace a doctorate in economics or an economics-related field when it comes to being a development economist. However, the reality is that too few people who are capable will ever have access to world-class-level doctoral-level training in, of all things, development economics.

Not if we have anything to say about it. We also believe that Development Economics is a human right–so much so, that we are taking development economics training mainstream. We are the first and only company to attempt to make doctoral-level training in development economics go global, in our Developing Economists program. We are also training African and other policy makers in Python in areas like strengthening the local aviation transportation industry. In all of these professional trainings, no background, other than a Bachelor’s degree, is assumed. We are also creating an application to help students master the Graduate Record Examination, starting with the mathematics section.

We are also helping organizations in other ways. For example, we have a proprietary service to help large non-profit foundations to raise their impact with digital marketing. We hope that this will enable them to better support their partners on the ground and be less reliant on individual donors. The program is also available to colleges and their various development initiatives.

Big problems are also great opportunities. There is a need for research that always crosses the finish line in development. There is also a need for far faster and better program evaluations in general. So be it. We are inspired by the next-generation and their healthy desire for change. We also believe in a strong customer-service orientation to development when it comes to serving various communities.

At DEVELOPMENT ECONOMICS X, we believe that the gap between being donor-driven than being locally-led is primarily a logistical one.

We deliver development. We are…DEVELOPMENT ECONOMICS X.