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Examining Debate Surrounding Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project

In an analysis piece in Foreign Policy’s “Failed States” annual special report in conjunction with the Fund for Peace, journalist Paul Starobin examines the debate surrounding American economist Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project (MVP), “a series of model villages across Africa that would demonstrate the efficacy of targeted measures to address the corrosive lack of health care, education, and employment that keep so many people around the world in a pernicious ‘poverty trap.'” He notes, “Sachs dubbed his experimental communities ‘Millennium Villages’ in a nod to the Millennium Development Goals, the ambitious set of targets for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger agreed on by world leaders to much fanfare at a United Nations summit in September 2000. His villages, Sachs argued, would show how those goals could be met.” Starobin writes, “These days, though, Sachs is increasingly on the defensive, assailed by a growing number of critics for what they say are fundamental methodological errors that have arguably rendered his [MVP] — now consisting of 14 village clusters scattered across Africa and covering half a million people — worthless as a showcase for what can lift the poorest of the poor out of their misery.”

Starobin discusses Sachs’s background and motivation for the project and writes, “As critics see it, Sachs botched his project by not putting in place a system by which progress (or lack thereof) at the Millennium Villages could be objectively measured, evaluated, and compared with trends in surrounding rural communities.” Starobin provides a detailed account of arguments both for and against the project, writing, “While Sachs can be faulted for flaunting his mighty self-regard, the criticism he is encountering on MPV also reflects an important evolution within the development community and its more insistent demands for tough, transparent assessments of aid programs.” He continues, “Meanwhile, state-of-the-art thinking in the development field is in flux. There is no consensus on what works best to get rid of extreme poverty” (July/August 2013).