A club that will accept me as a member

People who have met me in person know that I am a skeptic, either out of conviction or because somebody has to be. Part of this comes from my upbringing: too many Marx brothers films growing up. Like all good Marxians (of the absurd persuasion), I enjoy quoting Groucho’s famous message to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” Therefore, I find it difficult to say the following: I seem to have joined a club, and it is one I am happy to belong to. Damn you, Doing Development Differently!

The other day I posted the DDD manifesto, and earlier I shared some of my impressions about how it came to be. I was clearly among the least interesting or useful participants at the Harvard workshop where the manifesto was forged. Serendipity and a penchant for speaking out of turn are probably to blame for my presence there, more than achievement (still too early, if ever) or genius (definitely too late for that). But that’s the great thing: attending an event you were not meant to attend, see how the proverbial sausage is made. And in the process realize that you can be a skeptical enthusiast without needing to position yourself in opposition to those who are trying hard to build something new.

If you reed the growing list of signatories under the manifesto (rapidly approaching 200 people and organizations), you will find the kind of company every self-respecting development specialist would like to entertain: the likes of Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, Robert Klitgaard, or Derick Brinkerhoff. Big names all of them, perhaps making you wonder: “if those people signed on, maybe there is something to this DDD thing after all.”

But the reason I am particularly happy to belong to this club is the people you are not likely to know, many of whom were in attendance at the Harvard workshop: individuals who thrive on passion, creativity, humility and an almost overwhelming desire to do the right thing. Most of them would be better off in business, developing high-power portfolios for the likes of McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. But they all chose to devote themselves to development challenges, even when they are fully aware that their role in addressing those challenges can be incidental, epiphenomenal, even self-defeating. They are optimists but not delusional, believers but not zealots, agents but not attention seekers.

The reason why I am happy to subscribe to the Doing Development Differently manifesto – perhaps movement, or insurgency? – is that they have formed a club of believers that welcomes transparency, that invites questioning, that extends an invitation to skeptics. And what a rare thing that is in a professional field that so often thrives on saving face, restricting access, and strengthening the personal bonds among insiders.

I am sorry, Groucho. I truly am. This may be a messy, even confusing club; the fact that they would take me as a member proves how confused they are. But I am happy to belong to it, even if it is just to play devil’s advocate.

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For those who want to come along for the ride, add your signature on this site. For those who still dream of finding the perfect bet in development, I would advise them to check out this instructional video first: