Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: USAID’s Approach, Myanmar’s Path, and More

by Isobel Coleman
May 7, 2012

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, along with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, is briefed at a stall during his visit to highlight the work of female micro entrepreneurs in Karachi, Pakistan, April 12, 2012 (Akhtar Soomro/Courtesy Reuters).


In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights stories from three developing regions, as well as Washington, DC. Enjoy!

  • USAID’s Changing Approach: Several articles illustrate the advance of business-oriented thinking at USAID. First, in an interview with, Administrator Rajiv Shah says his goal is “to make sure that when we’re spending taxpayer resources, we’re doing it with that absolute focus that we are making an investment against generating a result.” Meanwhile, a recent section of USAID’s Frontlines magazine focuses on public-private partnerships. Agency official Maura O’Neill writes that for sustainable development gains, “crafting effective public-private partnerships is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.” Interestingly, for all the enthusiasm, Harvard professor Jane Nelson says in the magazine that “remarkably little research has been done on assessing the ‘return on investment’ of partnerships.” For more, see Isobel Coleman’s interview with Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg.
  • Myanmar’s Potential Paths: An Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report plots the possible course of Myanmar’s economic and political opening. It estimates a 60-percent chance that leaders will continue reforms, but in a limited way meant only to gain legitimacy and escape sanctions. In this scenario, investment would rise in a still-difficult business climate. The EIU projects a 25-percent chance of a rosier scenario in which political reform speeds up, peace agreements with ethnic minorities hold, and the economy booms. Finally, it sees a 15-percent chance of a rollback, with hardliners ousting reformers in the “government-military hierarchy” and the economy growing only modestly. CFR’s Joshua Kurlantzick looks cautiously at Myanmar’s economic and political reforms in two recent articles.
  • Financial Inclusion in Africa: A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research highlights the problem of financial inclusion in Africa and a potential solution. According to the study, Africa’s financial sector is smaller than that of other developing regions, and population density is a more important driver of financial activity in Africa than elsewhere. This suggests a “particularly severe problem” in extending financial services to rural Africans. The authors examine a recent expansion of bank branches in Kenya, including by Equity Bank, a private bank targeting underserved Kenyans. “There is preliminary evidence,” according to the paper, that this expansion has boosted the incidence of bank accounts and loans. The paper concludes that Equity Bank could be a profitable model for addressing Africa’s “financial development gap.”
  • Anxiety in Iran: In the New Yorker, Laura Secor recounts a trip to cover Iran’s parliamentary elections in March. She chronicles an official election-day tour where anti-American bystanders seemed suspiciously plentiful. When she deviated from the agenda, she earned a tense encounter with authorities. But for all this, Secor suggests that Tehran feels its true vulnerability is economic. As she writes, “The inflation, the devaluation of currency, the coming privation when banking and oil sanctions took full hold: this, and not even the election turnout, was what the Islamic Republic wished to hide from foreign eyes.” Isobel Coleman interviewed Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi last year.

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