Achieving the MDGs through Human Capital

As Laura’s post previously mentioned, 2015 is approaching and that means the supposed end of the Millennium Development Goals. As the end closes in and the prospects of achieving the goals gets gloomier, people are scrambling to find solutions. This week The Economist put out an article taking a human capitalist approach to discovering why gender disparity lingers in Africa based off of a study done in Uganda (not all of Africa).  Currently, according to the article, agencies like the UN are funneling money into girls’ education with little results; girls are still underrepresented in schools. The solution, determined by comparing the amount of rainfall to girls’ attendance rates in schools in Uganda, is to boost the household income because when there is less rainfall there is less income and girls are taken out of school to supplement the family’s income. Stated differently, we need to end sexual inequality. Since boys’ education is deemed more important on the basis of future rewards, they stay in school while the girls are removed.  If inclined to do so, you can find the original research study by Martina Bjorkman-Nqvist here.

This article really resonates with me because of the practicality that comes with using human capital theory in the field of development.  Human capital necessitates that we invest in the future of children through education (in this case girls) in order for a nation to subsequently develop. While it makes sense to adopt an economic viewpoint when creating development plans, initiatives for financing schools have not been enough and we will not meet the goal of ending gender disparity in education.  Therefore, new innovative ideas about how to close the gender gap need to be formed and researched, and that is exactly what Bjorkman-Nqvist is doing.  She suggests that we find ways to boost family income so there is no reason to take girls out of school. While this may prove to not be the answer, it is a step in the right direction. After all, we cannot do the same thing over and over expecting different results.

With that being said, I have to take issue with one aspect of the article.  While speaking about how the Millennium Development Goals are failing, the article says, “Although places like China, Bangladesh and Indonesia look likely to achieve the target, Africa, in particular, will not.” This article uses a study conducted in Uganda to justify plans for the rest of Africa. Africa is not a country like China, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, and therefore, cannot be compared to a country.  It is a continent with 54 countries, all of which are rooted in different cultures and histories.  While this may be very un-human capitalist of me, we need to take into consideration these differences when developing plans aimed at economic development.  What works for one country may not work for another and, similarly, what is true about one may not be true about the other.  While girls are taken out of school to supplement the family incomes in a time of drought in Uganda, the situation may be different in Togo or Eritrea.

Considering the source, a newspaper that predominantly focuses on economics, as the name The Economist suggests, it is unsurprising that culture was forgotten about.  But that does not excuse Africa being compared with countries.  It is a mistake too often made, and one that frankly needs to end for progress to be made. These economically based plans will only be useful if applied to each economy in a way that makes sense for that country. A plan cannot be made for an entire continent.  I am not suggesting that the study is useless; as I stated above, I like it. I am just warning that it cannot be applied  blindly and expect results.

Sources used:

The Economics of Sexual Inequality: When Education Dries Up. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from