Nina Munk’s new book The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty examines famed Economist Jeffrey Sachs’ lifelong quest to end poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through the five-year Millennium Village Project experiment.

Mr. Sachs strongly believes that sub-Saharan Africa’s geographical and ecological misfortunes and its history of colonialism are the main reason for its struggle with poverty. He further poses that with enough motivation, desire and financial means, the rich nations of the West can, and should, help.

To prove his point—and to set an example for the rest of the world—he began the Millennium Village Project in 2005 with $5 million from a donor. The project provided a group of five villages in Africa with large sums of targeted aid. Each of the five villages served as a test site for “development theory.”

Ms. Munk, a journalist and author, followed Mr. Sachs through these African villages for nearly six years to observe their living conditions and to document the impact the Millennium Village experiment was having on them. She spoke to Ahmed Mohamed, the project’s manager of the village in Dertu, Kenya who used Mr. Sachs’ funds to establish a school, hire a teacher and persuade the local government to build a road connecting the village to the next town 40 miles away. Stores opened, and villagers improved their mud homes with tin roofs.

However, Ms. Munk noticed that Mr. Sachs’ “noble and important cause” did not account for the gap between “development theory” and “the reality on the ground.” She saw the citizens of sub-Saharan Africa struggling to overcome hunger, draught and disease.

Ms. Munk’s experiences led her to conclude that Mr. Sachs cannot help end poverty with large infusions of aid in a region where corruption, draught, isolation, conflict and scare resources tip the scales away from the quest to end poverty.

In one instance during the Millennium Village Project, Dertu experienced an outbreak of malaria. Mr. Sachs mobilized his resources and sent the villagers 3,000 bed nets to prevent malaria. Mr. Mohamed distributed the bed nets, but many of the villagers used the nets on their goats rather than their children. “The livestock has more value than humans” in this region, Mr. Mohamed reported.

A number of African countries have experienced improvement that Mr. Sachs insisted could not happen without foreign aid. Ms. Munk acknowledges that life definitely improved in another village involved in the project, Ruhiira, Uganda and is herself is passionate about understanding the environment in Africa and in helping to improve it. Perhaps the main disagreement between these two philanthropists is about how to do it right.

Yuliya Shokh

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Nina Munk, The Current
Photo: Jeff Sachs

Often referred to as “Father of the Nation,” Mahatma Gandhi is frequently credited for India’s establishment as an independent nation and its liberalization from British colonial rule. Despite being the son of a prominent state official, Gandhi would go on to reject the system in which he was raised. During his employment at a South African law firm, Gandhi worked to secure basic rights for mistreated Indian immigrants. From then on, he employed nonviolent means of civil disobedience through his concept of “devotion to truth.”

Reminiscent of the lead-up to the American Revolution, Gandhi strategically focused on protesting the British monopoly on India’s salt industry to slowly dismantle the clutches of imperialism. In the spring of 1930, he and over 70 followers marched by foot for nearly one month to the seaside village of Dandi. Once he reached his destination, Gandhi famously extracted salt by boiling water from the Arabian Sea, showcasing the injustice of British laws prohibiting Indians from producing their own salt. Through this simple act, Gandhi inspired millions across India to break the salt tax law by foregoing British salt and running cottage salt production industries. For transgressing the law and influencing countless others to do the same, Gandhi was arrested, which resulted in both domestic outcry and international attention. Upon his release from prison, he resumed working towards Indian secession from the British colonies, which was finally realized in 1947.

Known as a soft-spoken and kind-hearted man, Gandhi was nonetheless revered as a tenacious political activist. His emphasis on nonviolence influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement and Nelson Mandela in his fight to end apartheid in South Africa. His legacy resonates in the hearts of millions to this day, serving as a constant reminder of the importance of acting upon one’s beliefs. In the same vein, Gandhi’s political and philosophical discourse continues to serve as an indispensable well of wisdom for individuals standing up against global poverty today. They justify exercising one’s political voice to secure a decent standard of living for all in the face of systematic roadblocks and personal misgivings.

  1. “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
  2. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
  3. “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please—or worse—to avoid trouble.”
  4. “To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul, the dweller in the body.”
  5. “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always.”

– Melrose Huang

Sources: Gandhi Research Foundation, BBC, Famous Quotes and Quotations, Brainy Quote, Emory University
Photo: James Autcher


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