PBF does, to some extent and at least in some countries, fit the current mood in development aid. So much is obvious. Performance, efficiency and results are highly valued in an era where Dambisa Moyo is the poster girl of everybody who wants to do away with development. So it’s no surprise that there are a bunch of Dutch people participating in this PBF workshop. After all, they work in a political environment that has been dubbed ‘Wilderiaans’. Geert Wilders, the Sarah Palin of the lowlands, might have a totally ridiculous haircut and he does (as far as we know) not shoot mooze, nevertheless he currently dominates the political arena in the Netherlands. The development sector is not immune to this surge of populism and xenophobia. So results matter, now more than ever, and not just in African countries where PBF is implemented. Wilders and co are electoral phenomena in a lot of European countries (the Swiss vote against minarets reminded us of their potential a few weeks ago), where large sections of the population feel alienated due to globalization and waves of immigration. And they won’t go away overnight. So PBF is potentially not just a tool to speed up the achievement of the MDGs, it could become a very important selling argument of people working in the development sector. (Admittedly, we are not entirely sure whether the likes of Palin and Wilders (or their voters, for that matter) are sensitive to rational arguments). So PBF does reflect the sign of the times in its emphasizing of efficiency, performance etcetera.
However, and correct me if I’m wrong, it also fits the ‘homo economicus’ view that has been a lot less in vogue in columns and opinion pieces around the world lately. The financial crisis has dealt a blow to this arguably one-sided view of human beings. Human beings turned out far more complex than anticipated. And markets do not always behave rationally, we all agree about that now. So people are increasingly calling for a more holistic view of human beings. In Holland, unlikely as it might seem, new spirituality magazines like Happinez and Flow are just as much a sign of the times as Geert Wilders and PBF. These glossies testify of the fact that more and more people are getting tired of being seen through the lens of atomized economic, rational consumers of services or need to be incentivized by management gurus in order to perform. People want a bigger story to be part of. At first sight at least, PBF does not match this holistic expectation. Not sure whether it ever will.
by Kristof Decoster email@example.com