LAS AMERICAS Third World Bizarre BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE Washington, D.C. Here we are at the World Bank’s “Development Marketplace.” This is so cool. For two days, the Bank has fitted out its palatial thirteen-story atrium to look like a combination game show, flea market, and grade-school science fair. Each eye-catching kiosk displays a smallscale, grassroots development project competing for World Bank money. Three hundred eager entrepreneurs from around the globe have flown themselves, their posters, photos, pamphlets, and gee-gaws into Washington and set up their wares here. Many of them are cleverly wearing native dress, hoping their exotic fashions will catch the eye of the project judges. If they are successful, they will win a grant from the $5 million pool made available by the Bank to “combat poverty.” That’s what the Bank is doing these days, you know. At the front door of the main building, in fact, is the statement of the World Bank’s core mission: “Combating poverty with passion and professionalism.” But, unfortunately, without results. And as we tour the displays here in the Great Hall this morning, we will see why. But in the meantime, if you have a catchy idea for coping with fiscal crises, surviving a natural disaster, or turning child ex-combatants into income-generating peddlers, come on down. You may already be a winner. Except that instead of Monty Hall or Ed McMahon, we have James Wolfensohn Wall Street financier, international philanthropist, and World Bank President presiding. Early on the first day of the fair, he tours the pitiful stalls with his entourage. The Bank has deployed its photographers all over the place to snap candids of Mr. Wolfensohn shaking hands with supplicants from the former colonies, all of whom point and gesture ingratiatingly at their displays. The Bank has billed this thing as a “search for solutions together,” but it actually looks more like The Third World Gong Show. The P.R. office tells us, “The Development Marketplace is to stimulate innovation within the development community in the fight against poverty.” If, however, you are serious about winning any money from the World Bank for your imaginative grassroots approach to the problem of 2 billion poor people, you are going to have to look and act like a gypsy beggar. Those are the rules. How fun. In order to do this, you will need certain entrepreneurial skills, and you will have to be completely shameless and willing to humiliate yourself utterly. For example, you might dress up like an Inca midwife, mount a display of your birthing equipment, and then stand by your stall, chattering with passersby, waving a string of chiles or something else colorful and herbal, and beseeching judges to listen to your spiel. You will know who the judges are because most of them are Bank employees, and this means that they are acting snotty and wearing expensive clothes unlike you, or the lady at the next stall, who seems to have wound herself into a turban and dressed up in a shower curtain. There are a number of awards up for grabs. First of course, are the cash prizes of around $150,000. These are highly coveted and relentlessly sought. There will be about forty of them for the most innovative development ideas in such areas as “Tackling Taboos,” and “Communications in Action.” Then there are the infoDev awards \(www.infoDev.org tive projects on the use of information and economic and social development with special emphasis on the needs of the poor in developing countries.” Here’s an example of these creative projects, which Bank President Wolfensohn is fond of citing. Suppose an entrepreneur in Ethiopia uses the World Wide Web to contact Ethiopian taxi drivers in the United States and sell them goats, which are delivered to their families in Ethiopia. Goats, Mr. Wolfensohn explains, are a traditional form of saving in Ethiopia. Cool. And innovative, too. But wait, if you’re still saving up goats, while a nearby entrepreneur is contacting your relatives in the United States on the www, you are probably just about to lose completely out. Unless you have two Dixie cups and a very long string to contact your relative and make sure that he paid only for the one goat you actually received from the entrepreneur, instead of the three goats that your relative thought he was sending. Well, so maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Never mind. We have others here. Some are winners and some are not. For example, there’s the “Love Boat” proposal from Myanmar, which will chug down the Who-Knows-What River selling low-cost latex condoms. Unfortunately, the Love Boat contestants did not win anything and were obliged to return to wherever they came from with nothing but parting gifts. But the Roundabout Outdoor H.I.V./AIDS Initiative got $165,000. This innovative project will construct special merry-gorounds for playgrounds in slums, so that the energy of poor children, which is normally wasted on pointless activity such as kicking soccer balls, can be harnessed to pump water. Plus, the merry-go-round will display AIDS awareness messages. Similarly, the “Female Genital Cutting” project won $150,000, and will teach people who perform these operations to develop alternative business skills and go into another line of work. The title of this project, however, is slightly confusing, and alarming to occupants of the surrounding stalls, who are not quite sure whose genitals are getting cut. After reassuring them, we suggest partnering this project with the Love Boat and the HIV Roundabout. After all, if you can keep your genitals intact, you might be needing some condoms to protect ing H.I.V. 161 Tut TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 3L 2000
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